Darin Mack almost didn't hunt Alaska with his son this fall. "Money was a little tight," says the 36-year-old technical advisor with Lancaster Archery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "But my wife and I talked it over and decided it was now or maybe never." They chose now, and on September 23rd, with his son by his side, Mack arrowed what may be the new Pope and Young world-record Alaska-Yukon moose. Click through this slide show to read his story, as told to Dave Hurteau .
This all starts with my son, Kevin, who is joining the Marines next spring. Knowing this would be our last hunting season together before he leaves home, I wanted to do something special. So I planned a do-it-yourself Alaska black-bear and moose hunt. But as the trip got closer, I started having second thoughts about getting a moose tag. I’d hunted the same area four years earlier and didn’t see a single bull. Also, I wasn’t sure I’d have the money to get a moose home even if I did get one. More and more I was leaning toward just making it an all-out bear hunt. But my wife set me straight: “Darin, if you don’t get a moose tag, you’re guaranteed to see a monster.” I got a moose tag.
On September 22, from a small town east of Valdez along the gulf of Alaska, Kevin and I boarded a bush plane that took us into the wilderness. The plan was to fly around our hunting area awhile before landing so we could get a layout of the land. But we were both airsick in no time and didn’t want to spend one extra minute on the plane.
Which was too bad, because the scenery below was spectacular: Icebergs calved from glaciers dotted the cold, gray seawater just about everywhere you looked.
Over land, raw wilderness stretched on for miles, stark and a little intimidating.
Once we landed, we spent the rest of the day getting our legs back under us, unpacking our gear, checking out our bows, and getting settled in the one-room rustic cabin we’d call home for the next several days. This is the view from the stoop.
Next morning, we were off by sunup. We’d covered about a mile when we turned a corner on the trail and spotted a nice black bear, but Kevin wasn’t able to get a shot. We were upset about the lost opportunity–but not for long. Just a few hundred yards farther up the trail, I made two long, cow-moose calls and immediately heard hear a bull rake his antlers against the brush. We covered another 100 yards, I called again, and he raked the brush again.
I snuck forward to try and get a shot, but the sun was squarely in my eyes. It was the only day we would see the sun on our whole trip and, of course, it was blinding me at the worst possible time. I could hardly see anything–until I grunted twice and the bull lifted his huge head, completely obliterating the sun with his antlers. And there he was, silhouetted, larger than life, 50 yards and closing. I picked a shooting lane 40 yards away and grunted as soon a he stepped into it. The bull stopped perfectly broadside, and I watched my nock disappear behind his front shoulder. I immediately grunted three more times, and as the bull stopped to looked back, I put a second arrow into him. Kevin came running over. I could hardly speak. “I think I just shot a huge bull,” I stammered.
We took pictures, took some time to celebrate, and tried to let it sink in a little. But mostly, standing in front of that giant animal, I just couldn’t believe it was real. It got more and more so, however, as we spent the next 7 hours boning him out and capping out the head and horns. By the time we packed the first load of meat back to camp, it was already dark. We had to leave the rest for morning.
All night, I tossed and turned thinking about a bear or wolves ripping into the meat and tearing into my hide and horns. As we approached the kill site the next morning, we were expecting company. But nothing touched it. Alaska state law requires that you pack out all edible meat from the field. We had our work cut out. Here’s what we left in the field.
It was an enormous job. All told, we made 23 round trips from camp to carcass and back. It was a long, long journey from pure elation to total exhaustion.
Just ask Kevin. Here he is on one of the last trips, pretty much groveling. But by Saturday we were done, and man what a great feeling to know we did it all by ourselves.
All the while, it never dawned on me for an instant that this might be any sort of record animal. All that mattered was that it was a really nice bull and I’d shared the experience with my son. That’s still all that matters. But back in town, a man swore my bull was bigger than a 71-incher he’d taken. He even took me into his house to see the mount; and he was right. Still I never put a tape on the rack; it just didn’t matter that much to me right then.
When I got to the airport, I bought the biggest antler box they had. Still, they said there was no way it would fit. . . unless I cut the head in half. And I’m telling you, I was this close to saying, “Just cut it.” But something stopped me, and I arranged for cargo shipping instead. Meanwhile, I’d sent a few cell-phone pictures of the bull to Dad and my brother, who claimed it dwarfed pictures they’d seen of the P&Y world record of 248 (shown here). I said they couldn’t go by pictures. But it did get me thinking. Since then, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to tally up a rough green score, and we’ve come up with 252 to 255, with a spread of 73 to 75 inches. But those are just guesses for now.
If it ends up being the record, or even close, I’ll be the happiest hunter on the planet. But that will never be the main focus of the hunt. It was an incredible experience from start to finish. For example, in town after the hunt, I was in the grocery store, checking out. The clerk was a young kid who had just taken his first bull and we were sharing our stories. Two women behind me in line heard that I wasn’t able to get any meat because the butcher couldn’t take it until Monday. I told them I’d given it all to a woman who owns a diner near the airport. “That isn’t right,” they said. The next thing I know, they show up at my hotel and take me to the diner where 15 people, including the owner, were cutting up my moose. “We’ll have it ready for your trip in the morning.” Of course, I gave them all some meat. Most of the time, I still can’t believe this really happened. . . . . But then I think about a particular moment just after we recovered the moose. It was the only day of the trip it didn’t rain, and looking out on all the snow-capped mountains around us, then down at the awesome animal on the ground in front of us, it really did hit home just where we were and what we’d accomplished. It was truly a hunt of a lifetime. And I shared it with my son. That’s what matters to me.