Some perspective you probably need

Church At 20 Below

By Bob Robb

“There’s a place,” Overly said, “two days’ ride from here that I haven’t had any hunters at in, like, 15 years. But it used to be a trophy moose honey hole par excellence. Wanna check it out for me?”

“Oh hell yes.”

It was mid-September, and this area was one of the very few in Alaska where bull moose hunting was still open after September 15, closing September 30–meaning it caught the real rut. 

“The bulls live in the swamp flats, the cows in the foothills, and there are zero good bulls where the cows are before September 25,” The Big O said. “Then, here they come, and you go from zero to hero overnight.”

So we went, guides Mike & Steve Davis, myself, and two clueless clients from Outside, as Alaskans call where everybody else lives, and a total of 12 horses. To make a long story short, the ride over was boring, but long. We got there September 22, set the wall tents, and got ready to hunt. And then the storm came, one of the worst for that time of year in state history, the temperatures plummeted to 20 below zero, snow piled up in waist-high drifts. Overly had to fly over and airdrop feed for the horses and bunny boots for all of us as we tried to make do. Of course, we had no way to get out and nothing else to do, so we went hunting. In three days we killed three bulls and a grizzly bear. 

My hunt was a wild one. Mike and I tied our horses up, climbed up on a small outcropping where we could see a ways, and built a roaring fire, way more worried about frostbite than punching a moose tag. Then, at high noon, we looked up and here came an old monarch over the top of the hill, pushing snow with his chest like a tall ship’s prow in a big ocean. He spied our horses and fell instantly in love. Holy Jesus! We were five miles from camp and if anything happened to the ponies, we’d be doomed. So I skidded on my ass down the hill, set up 75 yards above my horse, nocked an arrow, and here came Bullwinkle lumbering past at 25 yards, head swaying side to side, with crazy eyes. Not sure whether his or my horse’s eyes were bulged out more, but no matter. I ran a Thunderhead 125 through his ribs.

Fast forward two days. The skies cleared, we packed the horses, and set out for a long day’s ride to one of Overly’s line cabins, where we could spend the night before another day’s ride to base camp. The thermometer read 22 below zero. The pack string was too long to be winding through the pecker pole trees, and the Outsiders, frozen and whimpering, were absolutely no help. So when one pack horse wrapped his halter around a tree trunk and the rodeo started, it was assholes and elbows. Packs went flying, meat and antlers and gear scattered to hell and gone. Both Outsiders got bucked off; thankfully the only thing hurt was their pride. It took us three precious hours to put the puzzle back together and hit the trail again.

We arrived at the cabin about midnight, built a big fire in the wood stove, got the Outsiders warmed up and fed, and, against my better judgment, I even gave each of them two prized fingers of my Jack Daniels, which they tossed back before passing out in the only beds in the place. The rest of us? Three hours taking care of horses, sorting through the aftermath of the shitstorm, trying to feel our fingers.

So, when things calmed down about 0400 and the others hit the sack, I pulled my parka back on and walked down to the banks of the river, found a stump, and sat down. Still had a half pint of Jack, pulled the cork, took a swig. And then, magic. The sky was clear, the stars as bright as I’ve ever seen them, and the northern lights began to dance, starting slow, building to a crescendo as if choreographed by God, a 30 minute light show just for me.

When people ask me if I go to church I tell them yes, just not the kind of church they attend. It is moments, and places, and experiences like this, that humble me and make me realize what a pimple on the ass of the universe I really am. This is where I feel close to God. Nonhunters will never have a clue.

From the FE Films Archive

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