Hunting the Hunters

An Alaskan's Pursuit of North America's Most Valuable Predators Rick Kinmon


Kinmon knows predators, that much is certain. Rick has left no stone unturned in order to provide some of the best information a new, or experienced predator hunter could find. I've had the opportunity to hunt all over Alaska, but Rick's book makes me feel like I've missed out on a lot of quality adventure. Rick's stories make me want to break out my 22-250, find my snowshoes, and tune up the snowmobile. Then again, I might need a new rifle.

Carl Brent, Alaska Registered Guide


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Part II - The Action, Chapter 11, Crash and Burn

“There is no education like adversity.” —Benjamin Disraeli

It took a day and a half of hard riding to find wolf tracks. Based on the sign, I guessed the pack at six or seven animals. If everything went right, I had time to connect before dark. The adrenalin started pumping. After unraveling the maze of tracks, I followed the freshest trail, probably made the previous night. They were traveling single file, heading for hilly country.


I was hunting alone in Interior Alaska in late February. I had hunted this area many times and knew it well. The weather was ideal for tracking wolves – clear and sunny. The temperature hovered at about zero. Snow conditions were great. I could go anywhere on my snowmachine. I was on a long lake that was bordered on two sides by slopes too steep to climb. Rugged mountain peaks could be seen in the distance. The creek that drained from the lake at one end was an ideal place for the log cabin that some old-timer built. There was open water near the creek. A smaller lake drained into the larger from one side. Hundreds of caribou tracks told me that caribou spent the night on the lake. The wolves had traveled between the two lakes. That’s where I intercepted their tracks.


Time is of the essence when tracking wolves. Every second counts. I pushed hard and tried to be aware of everything ahead of me. Terrain, snow conditions, rocks and tracks were monitored simultaneously. The tracks led up a steep gully that maximized the climbing ability of my sled. Standing, I leaned over the windshield, punched it and hung on. A windblown ridge near the top gave me the traction I needed to make it.


The pack followed a ridge, paralleling a large, brushy draw that ran for miles. After a couple miles, I found where the pack had bedded down, soaking up the midday sun. There were seven beds. Urine stains in the snow, scat and tracks showed they’d spent a lot of time there. The scat wasn’t totally frozen so I knew I was closing the gap. I moved fast, trying not to miss anything.


After running the ridgeline for another mile, the pack dropped into the draw and split up. I followed the largest tracks. The sun dipped behind the high mountains to the west. Tracking was slow in the shadows. I was racing against time as well as the wolves. After 30 minutes of hard tracking, I still hadn’t seen them. In the fading light, I stopped at a good vantage point and raised my Leica 8x40s. A single cow moose in a deep ravine stuck out like a sore thumb.


I studied her carefully and knew something was wrong. She was in the middle of excellent browse and didn’t move a muscle, not even to eat. The moose had to be seriously injured. The wolves had already attacked. The sound of my approaching snowmachine only delayed the inevitable. They’d be back under cover of darkness to finish her off and eat their fill. The fate of the moose filled my thoughts on the cold, dark trip back to my truck. I felt sorry for her, but knew in my heart that it was nature’s way. The wolves were doing what they were made to do. If the weather held and everything clicked, she would be the last moose that pack killed.

When I got back to my truck, I readied my machine for an early start the next morning. I topped off the fuel tank and oil reservoir before loading the machine in the back of my pickup. A hot meal at a nearby roadhouse was calling my name, plus I wanted to get into cell phone range to check in with my partner. He was hunting with a friend on the other side of the road system. They had been out for nine days, and I wondered how they were doing. As I pulled into the parking lot, my cell rang and it was my partner calling to check in with me. We were both thinking the same thing. Bad conditions in his area made tracking and riding difficult. Although he had seen a few wolves, his friend wasn’t quite fast enough.

I quickly recapped the day’s events and invited them to help me find this pack the following day. It would be his friend’s last day. The odds for success would be excellent if the weather cooperated. They were 150 miles away as the crow flies, but nearly 500 miles away by road. It would be an all-night drive.


The two, weary wolf hunters showed up just in time for an early breakfast. As we ate, I filled them in on the details. My partner knew exactly where the moose was, and we formed a plan. Excitement was building as we approached the ravine. As expected, the pack killed the moose during the night. She was half-eaten. A deep trough led toward rugged and rocky terrain. The wolves were heading for safety in nearby mountains.


My partner sped away, with his friend and me on his tail. We pushed hard and my partner quickly spotted the pack cresting a ridge on the closest mountain range. Picking our way through a rocky gorge, we slowly narrowed the distance. The wolves topped a round knob on the end of the ridge. We hoped they would cross open country and give us the chance for a play. When we rounded the knob, we saw one black wolf backtracking. The others were gone! We were frantic! Everything happens fast at moments like this, and we didn’t know where they went. My partner and his buddy went one way. I went the other. I circled the knob, and the only tracks I found were the tracks of the pack climbing the mountain. Where did they go? Did I miss them? I hoped my partner and his friend were doing better than me. A closer look at the original trail told the tale. They had carefully backtracked in their own tracks. I crossed a gully and headed for a vantage point. My partner and his friend were far below, heading my direction. After getting their attention, I continued to climb. They caught up to me as I glassed a long drainage on the opposite side of the ridge. There they were! The wolves were heading for some high ridges nearly a mile away. We rode down the dangerous slope, dodging rocks and flying off vertical faces. Snow would come over the cowling and windshield when we landed from being airborne. At times, we’d submarine completely under the snow and come out with snow flying everywhere. It took every ounce of strength to maintain control of the snowmachines.


The wolves nearly topped the mountain ridge before we got to the base of the mountain. My partner and I bailed off the machines and started shooting. Too far! The wolves beat us! Our friend was having a hard time keeping up but hung in there. Suddenly, my partner spotted a gray that had split from the pack, far down the drainage. He and his buddy blew out of there with machines screaming and snow flying. I evaluated my situation. I knew I couldn’t climb where the wolves climbed, but might have a chance of making it through a saddle about 400 yards away. I started traversing at full throttle, leaning hard into the mountain. The edge of my track cut into the snow and I hung on. A short shelf helped me gain speed for the last climb. I was making it!


Just before I crested the ridge, I saw gray ears bouncing ahead of me. A wolf was climbing as fast as me, keeping just out of sight. He was less than a hundred yards away. I had a chance. When I reached the top, I saw another gray wolf running across a snowfield toward the safety of nearby crags. The closest wolf was in the rocks so I blasted off after the far one with the throttle wide open. I hoped for a chance at the closer wolf later. It was a close race. A black was running for a knife edge ridge to my right. I stayed focused on the gray. At 200 yards, I locked the break and bailed off the machine. Shooting offhand, I knocked him down on the first shot and quickly anchored him with a second. Safety on, scope covers closed, rifle slung, go, go, go! I turned toward the black, and he immediately knew it. He was running at warp speed now, a black streak against the white snow. As I approached within shooting range, I saw the other gray running down the first ridge I climbed. Repeating my familiar dismount, I started shooting at the black. Three rounds remained in my rifle. The first one missed. The second found its mark and the third anchored him. I quickly loaded two rounds from my stock shell holder and pursued the third wolf. It had done a 180-degree turn and climbed back into the rocks.

From my new location I could get to this wolf. I zigzagged through rocks while climbing the ridge. He knew I was gaining on him and jumped off a cliff. I couldn’t follow. Jumping off the machine, I picked up the back end and swung it around, making a tight U-turn between two boulders. I followed the track I had just made so I could safely get off the steep ridge. The wolf was running the opposite direction from me. Arcing around the base of the mountain, I saw a small speck flying across the snowfield. He was heading for the same rocky crags as the second wolf. This would really be close. I closed the distance. He was almost to safety when my first shot knocked him down. A quick follow-up shot finished him. My chase was over. It all happened in minutes! Neither my snowmachine nor body was broken up. I had a lot to be thankful for. Too many chances are taken during the heat of a chase.

My heart pounded in my ears, I was out of breath, soaking wet from sweat with arms that felt like rubber. With three wolves down, I felt great. Catching my breath, I slowly traveled in a big arc, retrieving my wolves. All three, one black and two grays, were heavily furred with long, silky guard hair. They would bring top dollar. As I readied them for pictures, I admired their beauty, strength, speed and stamina.
My partner and his pal rode up as I finished loading them securely on my machine. A nice gray was bungeed on my partner’s rack. I could tell by the grin on his friend’s face that he’d been successful. He told me how he crashed during the chase and rolled the machine. An upside-down ski served as a rest when he made a nice running shot. He’s an experienced hunter and as tough as they get. He said this was the only hunt he’d been on where he thought he was really going to die about six times a day. It was the most physically demanding hunt he’d ever been on as well.

With a 350-pound load of wolves, I dropped downhill, taking it easy on my suspension and my body. My partner and his hunter went high, through a small slot in the horseshoe-shaped ridges. They crossed a set of running tracks on the other side. My partner scored again after a long chase. Another black! It was a long, but highly successful day. We met at the truck well after dark. A total of six wolves were strapped to our sleds, three blacks and three grays.

Our friend had airline reservations in Anchorage for the next day, so he and my partner had another all night drive ahead of them. We celebrated our success over a hot meal at the roadhouse and bid each other farewell. I decided to stay one more day to see if I could find the seventh wolf. While running his track shortly after dawn, I hit a huge rock hidden by deep powdered snow and totaled my $6000 Skandic. The impact launched me into the air. Deep snow kept me from getting seriously injured. After field repairs, I was able to limp back with no steering and pieces of the machine wired together. I should have quit while I was ahead!

 

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Reader Comments:

Kinmon knows predators, that much is certain. Rick has left no stone unturned in order to provide some of the best information a new, or experienced predator hunter could find. I've had the opportunity to hunt all over Alaska, but Rick's book makes me feel like I've missed out on a lot of quality adventure. Rick's stories make me want to break out my 22-250, find my snowshoes, and tune up the snowmobile. Then again, I might need a new rifle.

Carl Brent, Alaska Registered Guide

Definitely a "must read" for anyone even thinking about hunting predators. Rick is one guy that not only talks the talk, but definitely walks the walk. This guy puts forth more honest effort in the pursuit of his passion than anyone I've ever met before. Good job, Rick!

Rick C. Ellis, President - Alaska Frontier Trappers Association

I encourage all who love the hunt to invest some time and let Kinmon take you "Hunting the Hunters". You will be glad you did.

Corey Rossi, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, USDA Wildlife Services Program - Alaska

Rick Kinmon is a legend in the world of predator hunting.  ...This book will make you hold your breath. It will split your guts laughing. You will learn what few people have ever known. And you will be transported into a world that is magical, beautiful, and deadly. ...Come and join Rick as he fascinates you with his stories, wit, humor, and insights.

Leo Schreven, Director/Speaker, All Power Seminars Inc., www.allpowerseminar.com

 

 

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