By Jenny Neyman
Heinz Naef, of Dawson City, Yukon, is one happy hunter these days, what with the bull moose he shot Sept. 22, 2013, along the Yukon River near Stewart Island having recently been certified as the new Boone and Crockett world record.
That’s a feeling few hunters can claim, but it’s one with which John Crouse, of Soldotna, is familiar. His moose, taken in 1994 in the Fortymile River area, was the previous world record-holder, finally dislodged about 20 years later by Naef’s behemoth bull.
Naef was hunting by himself, more interested in winter meat than a trophy, according to the Boone and Crockett Club. He removed the antlers from the skull with a chainsaw, nicking them in the process, but they remained intact to measure 75 5/8 inches at the widest point — about the width of a king-sized bed. The left side had 17 points and a palm measuring 17 5/8 inches wide by 51 inches long, which is longer than the average shoulder height of a black bear. The right antler had 19 points and a palm measuring 23 6/8 inches wide by 50 7/8 inches long. The record was certified by a special judges panel convened at the Boone and Crockett Club Wild Sheep Foundation convention Jan. 24 in Reno, Nev. With a final score of 263 5/8 points, the bull has the largest antlers ever recorded for the Alaska-Yukon moose subspecies.
By just the antler spread, Crouse’s moose wouldn’t seem to measure up, at 65 1/8 inches wide. When he first spotted the bull, and even after shooting and butchering it, it didn’t occur to Crouse that he might have a record on his hands.
Crouse, a wildlife biologist, was living and working in Cordova at the time. This bull was by far not the widest antler spread he’d seen.
“The guy I was working for had an 84-inch Copper River rack hanging on the wall in our office,” Crouse said. “And so I walked up to (this moose) very happy thinking, ‘This is a nice, big moose,’ but I was not thinking record book at all because it’s mid-60s. My impression of records at the time was big, wide racks and I wasn’t familiar with the scoring system.”
Boone and Crockett takes into account points, symmetry and palm lengths and widths, as well as rack width. Crouse’s bull might not have had overly wide antlers, but it had substantial, well-shaped ones.
The right antler had 19 points and a palm measuring 54 4/8 inches long and 22 2/8 inches wide. The left antler had 15 points, with a 53 6/8-inch-long and 21 4/8-inch-wide palm. It was the first bull spotted on the trip, taken with brothers Doug and Dennis Chester. They’d gone to Fortymile for the experience of exploring new country, and because it allowed the ability to hunt both moose and caribou.
“The opportunity to take multiple species was attractive since there was three of us hunting. But we didn’t necessarily want to shoot three moose. One moose, three caribou, a moose and caribou — that’s all fine, but three moose wouldn’t be very attractive. Not needed, either,” said Crouse, who says he’s a meat hunter, looking to take the first legal animal he can in a hunt.
In this case, it happened to be a world record trophy.
The trio were a few days into their fly-in hunt, with Doug having already taken a bull caribou.
“We woke up in the tents before dawn and realized we were in the clouds, and so we started hiking up the trail in the clouds hoping the weather would change. About midday the clouds started breaking up and I happened to be the one who spotted the bull below us, bedded down,” Crouse said.
By then it was about midday. He hiked back up the trail to Doug and Dennis to report the sighting. They drew straws to see who would get to shoot.
“I got lucky and chose the right straw,” Crouse said.
They positioned themselves and waited for the bull to rouse. When it did, Crouse shot it with his .270-caliber Winchester rifle. It was Crouse’s first moose, on his second moose hunt — the first with Dennis getting a cow and Crouse getting skunked.
Crouse grew up hunting with his dad and brother in Nevada and Wyoming, starting with upland bird hunting when he was about 11 and graduating to big game at 15, hunting mule deer and some elk. He moved to Alaska straight out of the University of Wyoming, drawn to the idea of sparsely populated big country and opportunities to work in wildlife (he now works at the Moose Research Center in Sterling with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game). In Alaska he’s hunted for caribou, sheep and mountain goats, but moose were his first target.
“Living and working out of Cordova and the Copper River Delta was known for its moose population, and so that was the first species that I hunted once I got up here. Moose were of primary interest.” he said.
So he was plenty happy with just the harvest, satisfied with the meat and the memories. It wasn’t until their pilot, Charlie Warbelow of 40-Mile Air, saw the rack that anyone started talking about records.
“Charlie was the one who said, ‘You guys need to make sure to get this thing scored,’” Crouse said.
But first, they had to get it out of the Bush.
“Charlie flew in to pick us up and there was a little bit of discussion of how we were going to get that rack out of there with a Super Cub. He tied it onto the struts following some argument with his brother,” Crouse said.
They were about 100 miles out of Tok, where 40-Mile Air is based, and couldn’t fly the antlers all the way back to town.
“We flew it over to an old, abandoned mine strip where they could get a bigger plane into. So we just moved it about five miles and dropped it there with the intent of coming back with a bigger plane to pick it up and take it out,” Crouse said.
That intention was put on hold by a snowstorm that blew in. Crouse had to get back to Cordova so he drove down to Valdez to catch the ferry.
“And Charlie said he’d call us if and when he got it out of the woods,” Crouse said.
Four or five days later Warbelow retrieved the rack and got it as far as his hangar in Tok. There it sat, with locals and people passing through town stopping to admire it. A truck driver with an empty load offered to take it to Anchorage, where Doug was living.
Once there, Doug had it measured. It got a Boone and Crockett score of 261 5/8. Naef and Crouse’s bulls are the only two specimens on record to score over 260.
“Doug called and said, ‘You’re the new record holder.’ I thought he was yanking my chain. It took awhile to sink in,” Crouse said.
The rack had to be sent to Dallas to be certified by a special judging panel, where the new record was declared official. From there it spent a few years with Crouse’s family in Wyoming while he figured out how to get it back to Alaska.
It’s now on display at the Fish and Game office in Anchorage, where it perhaps will be seen by the hunter who will one day topple Naef’s world record, just like Crouse did the record before him.
If Crouse’s moose’s antler spread had been just a few inches wider, he’d still be atop the record list.
“It gets its points for being symmetrical, and then the palm lengths and palm widths are pretty outstanding. A few more inches in width would have made it hard to beat,” Crouse said.
As it is, he didn’t think his run would last 20 years.
“I’m surprised it took this long. There’s been a couple close calls over the years, people thinking they had the new record and then when the dust settled they came up a bit short. But there’s been replacement of the number-two moose a couple of times, so I’ve been put on notice,” Crouse said.
“I wish the new one well. Records are made to be broken.”