Story and Photos by: Lane and Liz Keator
Normally, there wouldn’t be a lot of correlation between planning a wedding and being successful in a hunting permit lottery, but the two events seemed to merge into one when the Alaska permit results came out.
November of 2020 was no different than any other fall hunting season. My girlfriend Liz and I applied for Alaska drawing permits as usual. We filled out the applications, paid the fees and crossed our fingers, anxious for the Mid-February draw results. We always look forward to the February draw results. It’s the time of year when a simple click of a mouse button can change our usual, harvest ticket hunt plans to a coveted trophy area. The twist in this story is that while waiting for draw results, Christmas Day arrived and I took a knee and asked my best friend and favorite hunting partner to be my wife. She said "yes," thankfully, and we began to plan for the big day with friends and family. Normally, there wouldn’t be a lot of correlation between planning a wedding and being successful in a hunting permit lottery, but the two events seemed to merge into one when the Alaska permit results came out. My wife was drawn for the coveted Delta Junction closed area tag for bull moose. We have jokingly referred to this hunt as “the poor man’s trophy hunt” because the area is relatively easy to get to.
Back up to late 2015. Up to that time, Liz had never hunted. As we began to date and get to know each other’s interests, she surprised me by signing herself up for the hunter’s safety course in Fairbanks and passed the next spring. That made her a certified hunter and gave me a new hunting partner. Through the following years, Liz and I had a number of hunting experiences together. Each one was special and seemed to strengthen our bond.
As we began to plan our wedding and our fall hunts, we realized that time was going to be in short supply. I still can’t believe it, but we both agreed to make Liz’s moose hunt our “interim” honeymoon. I jokingly referred to it as our #huntingmoon but I don’t think Liz found it quite as funny as I did. She reminds me daily since her moose hunt that I owe her a honeymoon on a beach somewhere in the future.
After our July 2021 wedding in Kenai, we immediately began to plan Liz’s September moose hunt and our #huntingmoon. At the end of August, we loaded up our camper and headed to moose camp. We left early enough for a day or two of scouting before the moose season opened September 1. I had hunted in this unit many times over the last 20 years but had never been fortunate enough to draw the tag. This would be my first time hunting moose in this unit. On top of that, it was our first hunt as a married couple and Liz’s first ever moose hunt. There were going to be a lot of firsts on this trip.
The first three days of season were unseasonably warm and there wasn’t much moose activity. I have been hunting for long enough to know that sometimes you just have to be patient and take a nap when you get the opportunity. Liz, on the other hand, was not of the same mindset. She was moose driven and focused. That meant very little napping and lots of time glassing and moving from ridge to ridge.
On the morning of September 4th Liz and I were up early and on the trail well before daylight. As we neared our favorite lookout, I spotted a couple of bulls on the horizon a short distance off the trail. They were steadily headed for a bedding area and we would have to move quickly to close the distance. We gathered our things and tried to calm our excitement as we started a stalk. I should add that this hunt was in a restricted area so a legal bull must be 50-inches wide, have at least four brow tines on one side or be a spike fork. When we started the stalk, we weren’t yet certain that either bull was legal. We were going to have to take our time and use our optics to confirm if either bull was legal before Liz could shoot.
The area we were hunting has a lot of willow patches and some open tundra. I thought at the time it would be easy to close the distance and relocate the bull. I was wrong. After cresting the last hill, we were quickly reminded that although moose are very large animals, they can easily disappear in the willows. The weather was as good as we could ask for. It was about 40 degrees, overcast, with absolutely no wind. That meant we could hear bulls if they grunted or broke a branch. It wasn’t long before both Liz and I could hear the unmistakable sound of two bulls sparing just ahead. Although we couldn’t see them, the sound gave us a bead on their location. It also gave us the time we needed to get into a position for Liz to make a shot if or when the bulls moved back into the open. That is, provided one of the bulls met the legal requirements.
It wasn’t long before both of the bulls stepped clear of the willows well within rifle range. Both were oblivious to our presence as they continued to spar and move in and out of the trees. We were able to confirm that the bigger bull had four brow tines on his right side, but before Liz could shoot, he disappeared back in into the thick bush. Liz took the opportunity to settle into a solid shooting position and prepare to take a shot if she got another opportunity.
Liz used my spotting scope as a rifle rest and was able to get her breathing under control just as the bigger bull presented a second shot opportunity. She started putting pressure on the trigger but again, the bull had other plans. Before she could shoot the bull took a left turn and began walking straight away from us. He covered about 100 yards and didn’t appear to want to stop so I made a couple cow calls. The calls did the trick and the bull turned back broadside. Liz was able to follow him in the scope when he was walking away so by the time the bull stopped and turned broadside, she was ready to make her shot. The thump of the bullet hitting the mark was unmistakable. The bull walked about 20 yards and collapsed in the willows.
Liz and I shared a couple hugs and a few tears in the following moments. I don’t think I have seen her more excited. We took a few more minutes to gain our composure before finding our way down to the bull. In a strange coincidence, just as we were getting to the bull, we heard the ominous howl of a wolf at surprisingly close distance. It was a reminder that we were a guest in this wild land and not alone.
Liz cut her moose tag and wanted to stay with the bull while I headed back to the trail and retrieved our ATV. When I got back, she let me know that while I was trekking, another much larger bull had come out of the willows within 100 yards of her and nonchalantly fed along the willows without giving her a second glance. I guess that’s hunting.
Liz and I worked together to clean the moose and quarter him. I use the term “quarter” loosely. For us to make manageable size pieces we could handle by ourselves, there were a few more than four. We made our final cuts and loaded the last piece 10 hours after Liz harvested her bull. I can’t think of anybody I would rather share a hunting camp or adventure with than my beautiful, loving and adventurous wife. I’m sure our actual Honeymoon will be just as much fun as our Huntingmoon.