For Brook’s Sake-Bring Enough Gun

PHOTO: Willis Mattison


“If that’s a moose’s antler, how can we get ’im up?” I whispered to Kenny. We were
lying prone on the arctic tundra, our rifles bridged across our daypacks in anticipation.
We didn’t know it, but spotting the off-white patch barely visible on the brush-covered
hillside above positioned us to fulfill a decades-old pledge in a way that exceeded our
wildest dreams. In 1958, two Minnesota teenage cousins had concocted a plan. Kenny
would move to Alaska and get established. After graduating from high school, I’d follow
and we’d hunt big game like caribou, moose and brown bear in the wilds of the Brooks

Kenny who had retired from being an ice-road trucker in Fairbanks finally called in 2009.
“Willis, I’m in my seventies and you’re soon getting there. If we still wanna do that hunt,
we’d better get ’er done.”

By 2011, we’d secured an outfitter with horses to pack food, gear and game. We’d also
located a Fairbanks bush pilot. Flying beyond the Yukon Valley and crossing the Arctic
Circle revealed an unblemished Brooks Range landscape below that began to satisfy a
yearning in our souls.

Now here we were, finally living the dream.

Before we could decide on a tactic to get the bull up, a nearby cow stood up and
nervously pranced back and forth across the ravine. I swung my scope back to the
whitish patch to find a massive bull standing broadside 200 yards above us. Our jaws
dropped at the sheer enormity of his body and gigantic rack.

Kenny already had an impressive moose mounted so we had agreed that any trophy
bulls were mine. With his distinctively wry sense of humor, Kenny elbowed me and
uttered just two words: “Your bull.” I fired, striking the kill zone. Unfazed, the bull stood
there. “Give ’im another,” Kenny said. My second round purposely hit shoulder bone,
the distinctive report echoing back.” He still didn’t go down.

“Let me give ’im one,” Kenny urged. Never wanting to be caught short of firepower,
Kenny carried a Remington .425 magnum—an elephant gun compared to my Sako .300
short-mag. Only when his big gun roared did we see the slightest flinch from the giant

Astounded but with wryness still intact, Kenny spawned another backwoods gem:
“Willis, we don’t have enough gun!” The bull took one step forward, legs buckling and
came crashing down. The momentum of his fall carried the bull down the damp tundra
slope toward us at amazing speed. Propelled by his flailing death throes, the huge
animal kept sliding headfirst toward us. He finally came to a stop upside down, legs in
the air, antlers buried deep in the soft tussocks. The mammoth beast now lay still,
some 50 feet below where he fell.

We’ve all experienced the deflating phenomenon known as ground shrinkage when
approaching what appeared to be a much bigger trophy. But when we walked up to this
supreme specimen, we experienced “ground swelling” instead. What an animal! Far
larger than we had judged through our scopes or could have imagined.

The next morning, I approached downwind of the kill site, stopping to sit on a hill where I
could see the entire valley below. Kenny was hiking the five miles back to base camp to
direct the outfitter and packtrain to the place where we had dressed, skinned and
deboned the moose. I spent the next hour cautiously scanning the landscape for any
sign of grizzlies that may have laid claim to our prize.

As I sat in that natural amphitheater, I marveled that the nearest human beings were my
cousin and our outfitter some eight miles away, and Arctic Village fifty miles further to
the South. No humans, no roads, no traffic, no noise, no hubbub of civilization, just
nature at her very finest. It was a moment of pure ecstasy with a powerful, compelling
sense of “aloneness.”

Then as if on cue, snow began falling at the higher elevations. Like powdered sugar
sifting over great mounds of bread pudding, it blanketed the peaks of the Brooks Range
to the north. I soaked in this magical scene with a deep sense of reverence, one I may
never know again.

I’m not a religious person, but just a few days in this remote pristine wilderness—so
removed from any signs of human desecration—kindled in me an awe so profound as to
create a lasting spiritual imprint. Soldiers say there are no atheists in foxholes. I would
wager there are no hunters or anglers who, after experiencing the Brooks Range as we
did, could escape feeling extraordinary gratitude to whatever higher power they may

As hunters and anglers, let’s ask ourselves: Do we have “enough gun” to defeat
whatever may threaten the future of this Brooks paradise?


PHOTO: Willis Mattison

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