Shopping for Moose

November 3rd, 2015 by

Moose meat was a major part of our diet while living in the Koyukuk and Kobuk River villages.  Each fall for fifteen years we would harvest a bull, ideally a two-year old, but we generally took whatever was available and legal.  The last thing we wanted was an old bull with massive antlers, but sometimes there was no other choice.  The moose in this series of pictures is about 3-to-4 years old. Much of the meat would be shared with villagers, particularly elders.

The hunting tent camp shown in the pictures was on the John River roughly twenty miles north of the community of Bettles.  I had scouted the area prior to moose hunting season picking out a strategic site for our tent camp.  There was a nearby marsh with good graze for moose, ample dry wood and the site was open to breezes that helped to cure meat and keep off bothersome flies.  We moved by outboard powered river boat to the site at the beginning of the moose season. Pole racks were erected to hang meat and allow the blood to drain.

I found this bull about a mile from our camp.  Barbara helped in field dressing the moose, dividing it into manageable pieces and moving it to our campsite.  The real work of a moose hunt happens after the prey has been taken.  After transporting the meat to the village we spent several days fine-butchering it into steaks, roasts, ribs, ground burger, stew meat, etc..  Most of this went into a large chest freezer outside our cabin.  When cold weather set in we could pull the plug and allow mother nature to preserve our harvest.  We also cut flesh into long thin slices and hung them to dry on dry pole racks.  A cool smudge (smoke) fire of dry balsam popular helped in the curing process and gave the meat a pleasant taste.  This dried (jerky) meat served as snacks and trail food during our winter dog team travels.

I did not think of moose hunting – or the hunting of other meat animals – as “sport.”  It was a practical way of meeting basic needs.  Even though I qualified as eligible to subsistence hunt in the newly formed gates of the Arctic National Park, I did not do so.  It seemed inappropriate for me to take advantage of this privilege while also serving as an NPS employee.  I wanted to avoid any impression by local residents of a conflict of interest.  As it turned out, I was able to find ample harvest opportunities outside the park.