Photo courtesy of James Banks. James Banks, of Kasilof, makes burger out of a moose he shot on the opening day of moose season, within miles and minutes of leaving the house.
By Joseph Robertia
Opening day of moose hunting season is practically a holiday in Alaska, and just like there are sweet treats at Halloween or presents at Christmas, so does hunting bring rewards for those who have waited months, scouted for weeks and got up early on the opener to successfully set the crosshairs of their rifle scope on a bull.
James Banks, of Kasilof, left the house at 5:45 a.m. Aug. 20. Within minutes he did what many hunters are unlucky enough not to do all season — bag a bull.
Banks, a transplant to Alaska from Minnesota in 2006, grew up hunting in his home state, and said he has spent every fall since he arrived in Alaska pursuing game species.
“I have hunted all over the Cohoe-Kasilof area, and I hunt in the Kenai Mountains for black bear and sheep. I hunted last year but never saw any legal bulls. Saw a lot of moose, just no big guys,” he said.
Following research into moose population trends relating to the low ratio of bulls to cows, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game changed hunting regulations in 2011 so that spike-fork bulls were not allowed to be harvested. The legal bull size was also changed from having a 50-inch spread of three brow tines on at least on one side, to 50 inches and four brow tines.
But for this season, while the 50-and-four regulation still is in effect, bulls with a spike on at least one side are again legal to harvest. Banks said he was thankful for the regulation change.
“Last year was the first time in seven years I bought meat at the store, so I’m glad they brought back the spike rule,” he said.
Banks does his best to live off the land, catching salmon in summer and hunting various species in fall. When he hasn’t found hunting success, he said that helping successful friends pack out or process their meat has always been a fair trade to gain a little bit of wild game for his own freezer.
Moose have always eluded him, though, and as one of the most iconic species to hunt in Alaska, Banks said that he was determined not to have another season pass by without bringing down a bull.
“I had been driving around Cohoe and Kasilof for a week before hunting season. I also did recon in the woods and swamps in those areas. I had seen a lot of moose in that time, but I never saw any legal bulls until opening day,” he said.
In an odd turn of events, Banks spotted a spike just a few miles from his home on Cohoe Loop Road.
“I turned onto South Cohoe looking for a legal bull. I drove slowly, saw a cow, stopped and waited,” he said, hoping a rutting bull would be in tow, but it was not to be.
“Seeing nothing, I drove about five miles farther, then I saw him standing in the power easement,” he said.
It wasn’t a behemoth of a bull, like those seen on postcards with massive antlers of palms and a dozen brow tines protruding forward. But the chocolate-colored animal looked legal — as Banks spotted spike antlers on both sides. He had to be sure, though.