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Midnight on the Muskeg
By Joseph Person
Genre: Non-fiction Level: Junior 7-9
Year: 2002 Category: UAA/ADN Creative Writing Contest

"Where is that vice grip?" Dad asked. "I don't know," Mom said, "It must have fallen off." My eight-year-old mind did not comprehend the severity of the situation, not yet anyway. Four hours and five miles later, walking over the tundra in the dark, I fully understood the consequences.

Mom and I sat near the carcass of the caribou and waited for Dad to come with the six-wheeler. The six-wheeler had some problems, but we had jury-rigged it together. As we waited another small caribou looked at us and ran circles around us. It was nice to be able to sit down and rest after the grueling stalk.

Dad arrived with the six wheeler and we loaded the meat into it.

The first half of the trip back to camp remained uneventful. Dad stopped to let me shoot at ground squirrels with my .22 and we kept our eyes open for ptarmigan. As we went down the trail I listened to the noisy clanking of the tracks. I was thoroughly enjoying the first hunting trip that I had been on that we actually got a caribou. We stopped to take a break and when we were finished we realized that the six-wheeler wasn't running properly. The vice grip that had been holding it together had fallen off. After trying to fix it Dad decided that we would have to walk back to camp.

We started our trek back to camp at about 8:30 p.m. It was scary. The night was pitch black although Dad had a flashlight. I was small and got tired pretty easily walking through the tundra, so we had to take lots of breaks. The willows we often had to walk through were way above my head and the threat of bears scared me. Using Dad's GPS (Global Positioning System) and a compass to find our way, we hiked through the night. We didn't reach our camp until well after midnight.

The next day Dad walked back in to see if he could get the six-wheeler out of there. With the help of some guys with four-wheelers, he was able to get it out. None of us felt any effects from our walk during the previous night. When I look back at my early hunting experiences, one of my most poignant memories is my midnight on the muskeg.

Blackrock on a Boot
Earlier this fall we went fishing down in Kachemak Bay. We have a cabin over there where we spend several weeks each year. It was a nice, sunny day, and it was calm enough that the two 55-horse outboard motors roared as we headed toward Seldovia Bay. We fished for halibut off Seldovia Bay, but didn't catch any. Matthew did catch a medium sized Irish Lord. We then headed over to a spot along the shore between Seldovia and Point Pugibshi.

That morning I had cut three rubber strips off a pair of old, black, chewed up hip boots. While we were traveling I doubled it up and threaded it on a J hook. This I planned to use to catch blackrock. The reason I tried this was because' commercial blackrock fisherman use black surgical tubing on their hooks to represent worms. I would try this instead of smelly, rotten herring.

We arrived at our destination and I dropped my line. We fished for a while but had no success. Then I felt the tug, tug, of a fish on the end of my line. When I reeled it in I discovered a small blackrock on my hipboot hook! Dad and Matthew were surprised and they put strips of rubber on their hooks too. Alas the rest of the day remained uneventful. Well, not exactly, only if you overlook the fact that I threw up; and, I back lashed my reel so bad that it looked like it had an afro. Oops.

Caught by the Tide
One Sunday when I was ten or eleven I went silver fishing with Mr. Kosterman after church. We fished in the Placer River Overflow, a short distance south of Girdwood. We had an enjoyable afternoon and I caught my limit of silvers. Before we left, my dad had asked Mr. Kosterman about the tides. He said that he did not think the body of water we were going to fish was affected by the tides. We didn't realize how wrong he was until that evening.

We had been drifting salmon eggs downstream with the current, when all of the sudden the current reversed directions and went upstream ten times as fast as it had been going downstream. I was in the process of cleaning my fish when Mr. Kosterman looked at me and said, "Joseph I think we have a problem." Apparently the tide was coming in, and fast. I finished cleaning the fish and we started the trek to the highway.

The water was coming up very fast. The creek that was two inches deep earlier was now about nine feet deep. We waded through knee-deep water across the entire plain. Mr. Kosterman was feeling for trenches in the water with a stick. When we reached one he would leap across and then help me. After an hour or so of grueling work we reached the highway. We then walked about a half of a mile to his car. We were cold and soaking wet, but it could of been worse.

My First Caribou
As the roar of the 8mm Mauser echoed throughout the valley, the bull caribou stood there, head lowered. There had been two days of events leading up to this shot. This is the story of my first caribou.

It had begun two days earlier on Monday. After school was over we were preparing for our hunting trip. We packed food, clothing, and gear. Earlier we had gone to the rifle range to sight-in our guns. I was looking forward to this trip because Dad had said that I might be able to shoot a big game animal. We would leave in the morning.

Tuesday morning dawned gray and cloudy with off and on sprinkles. We loaded the four wheelers onto the trailer and ate a scrumptious breakfast' of fried eggs and potatoes. Then we left the house and drove into Wasilla. After making a few last minute purchases, such as flashlights, batteries, light bulbs for my Maglight, and ammunition for the 8mm, we were on our way. Our destination: the Denali Highway.

After stopping in Cantwell on Tuesday afternoon, we reached the Denali Highway. Since there was little traffic, Mr. Kidder permitted me to drive his truck. I was following my Dad on the very dusty road. At times clouds of dust engulfed Dad's car and obscured him from view. When we reached our destination we went a short ways up the trail and set up base camp.

Now we were ready to hunt. We began the strenuous humpy, bumpy ride up to where the caribou were. Using the spotting scope, Dad looked at a far ridge and thought that he saw some caribou. We worked our way closer and closer. After that we parked the four wheelers and climbed a small ridge. Then we reached the top, and stared in awe at the incredible scene before us. The entire valley was alive with herds of caribou moving slowly along. There were thousands of animals as far as the eye could see. It was the Plains of Serengeti. We just sat there and watched the wonderful sight before us.

We picked a group of animals that we thought we might be able to reach. Dad and I then began our stalk. Mom, Mr. Kidder and Matthew waited on the ridge for us. We were able to walk the first part of the way, but then we had to crawl. Crawling on that wet, swampy muskeg was no fun. My gun kept swinging around and hitting me in the head. We were momentarily pinned down because of the caribou on top of the ridge we were trying to get to.

When the caribou finally moved off the ridge, we belly-crawled to the top where we had a clear view of the surrounding area.

Once we got into position things starting happening quickly. The herd that we were trying to get had two bulls in it, but the entire herd saw us and jumped up. Before I could get a shot ofl they thundered into the distance. Now all the caribou around us were starting to move. There was a bull at three hundred yards, but it had a cow behind it. Dad said that if I had a clear shot I could take it. The 8mm roared. I didn't even feel the recoil. After the shot the caribou ran out to a hundred yards and stood there head lowered. I chambered another round. As I fired the rifle at the distant caribou, I had no regrets.

The 2000-01 Trapping Season
During the 2000-01 trapping season I had a great time and caught lots of fur. I ended the season with two beavers, one otter, one weasel, and 16 muskrats. Trapping is a great way to see the outdoors and enjoy God's creation. I trap with my Dad and occasionally my brother.

This season I wanted to try to catch some mink. Early in the season, before the creeks were frozen, I trapped one small creek with hip boots. I made numerous sets down on the waterline, but' none of them connected. I think that part of the reason for this was that because of the lack of snow the mink were not forced to go down to the water. After about two weeks the creek froze. This brought the water level up about 300%. I spent the entire day trying to recover my sets from under two feet of frozen slushy water. Although I managed to get most of my sets out I was thoroughly wet and cold after I finished.

One of my most interesting catches of the year came on Thanksgiving week. I had gone with Dad to set up one of his bait stations. I had brought a weasel box to make a set with. While checking on the bait I was startled to hear a weasel. I ran back and retrieved my box and set it there. I then walked away and waited. When I walked back to check my set I was amazed to see the weasel standing right there. I ran all the way back to the truck and grabbed the .22. When I got back to the weasel I found out that I had neglected to grab the bullets. Since I didn't really want to make a hole in the hide anyway I resolved to trap it. When I checked my box the bait was gone. So I put more bait in it. This went on for several days. Finally on Thanksgiving morning I gave up on the box and set a trap in the trail for the weasel. When we checked them the next day there was a weasel in the trap. Although I tried for the rest of the season I never caught any more.

This year we trapped both the winter and spring season for muskrat and beaver. Winter trapping under the ice is difficult and hard work. You have to chop through the ice to make sets and it is very cold. Spring trapping is fun. The weather is nice and you get to trap out of a canoe. During winter trapping I harvested one beaver and 14 muskrats. In the spring I caught one more beaver and two muskrats.

During spring beaver trapping I made my best and worst catch of the year. I had made a set on a creek where Dad had caught a beaver last year. It was a castor mound set that had been set for over a week. Then came the catch. I was tremendously excited and terribly depressed at the same time. You see I had caught an otter. I was excited because I had really wanted to catch an otter this season. Yet I was depressed because otter season was closed. We took the otter home. After we had taken pictures of it we turned it in to the Fish and Game office in Palmer.

I have especially enjoyed my third trapping season. This spring I did a science project on "The Beaver as a Natural Resource" and displayed it at the Sportsman Show. Since I am homeschooled I was able to log the time I spent beaver trapping as research for my science project.

I am really looking forward to many more seasons of fun and work trapping.

The Muskrat Hunt
On Saturday morning Wesley and his dad picked me up at 7:45 in the morning. It was the middle of April and it was drizzling out. First we would go check our muskrat sets that were out on the fiats and then we would go to the creek and try to shoot some muskrats with Wesley's new shotgun. Wesley had bought a Winchester model 120 20-gauge pump action. This morning we were using two and three quarter inch shells with seven eighths of an ounce of number eight shot. We figured that this would be a good load for muskrats. Since we didn't have a canoe or rowboat, and I had forgotten the dip net, we could only shoot muskrats that were on the bank.

When we reached the flats Wesley and I checked my dad's sets as well as our own. Wesley and I worked as quickly as we could to check the traps. It was a gray, dreary morning with no sun so it was nice to get back to the car. Wesley and my Dad each caught two 'rats, but my bad luck continued. Once we finished checking our traps Wesley's dad drove us to the creek.

I went up one side of the bank and Wesley went up the other. I soon went to work on some sets and quickly had a float set and a bait set done. While I was doing this, Wesley was on the other bank with the shotgun.

As I finished up my sets I heard the roar of the 20-gauge. I looked up to see Wesley shaking his fist and yelling, "I got him!" I watched as Wesley started forward to retrieve his prize. Suddenly I heard a large crack and a big Ka-Sploosh! Wesley had just broken through the thin ice along the edge of the creek. He held his shotgun high above his head to keep it dry and then slid it across the ice to solid ground. He then retrieved his muskrat and clambered out of the water. Since he was soaking wet, he went back to the truck, took off his coat and put on his dad's dry one.

Now it was my turn to be the shooter. Wesley handed me the shotgun and I began my stalk. I had learned my lesson from Wesley's mistake and passed up any muskrats that were not on solid ice. It took me a while before I got close enough to one that was in a good place. Ka-blam! The 20-gauge bellowed again. "Hurry, Hurry" Wesley said. I carefully ran to the edge of the creek and fished the dead muskrat out of the water with a stick. We headed back to the truck hunting along the way, when another muskrat climbed out on the bank near us. After a short discussion with Wesley, that contained five words and took half a second, the 20-gauge scored it's hat trick for the day and another muskrat waited retrieval. I fished this one out without getting wet also.

That morning as we drove home Wesley and I planned our next excursion to the creek, but that is another story. For now the 20-gauge had a perfect record. Every single one of the shells fired through its barrel since Wesley had purchased it had killed a muskrat. I am sure that record will be ruined eventually, but for now it stands solid and the 20-gauge had provided us with an exhilarating morning.

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