Brothers John and James were born and raised in Alaska. Both now in their 30s, John and James are now teachers of the great Alaskan pioneer tradition to their young children. In the interior of Alaska, fall is the perfect time of year for harvesting and stocking up on wild meat for their families, and today is a perfect day to take John’s daughter out for practice and a lesson on how to survive off the wild in the northern tundra.
Although John’s 6-year-old daughter Genevieve has no school today, John gets her up like any other school day and asks her if she still wants to go hunting with him. She replies with a simple “yes,” and one reindeer sausage-and-cheese omelet later, they are out the door and heading to the mountains.
After getting close to where John likes to set up his base-camp, they cross through an area that reminds him of a past experience and shares what would seem like a gruesome bedtime story with young Genevieve. “They claim wolves take only sick and weak animals. They do take some of the sick and weak. But in the middle of winter, I haven't seen any pack of wolves that couldn't bring down the healthiest of moose. Right over that spot, I saw a huge cow with all the meat torn off of her legs. They left her alive so that they could come back the next day and have a fresh meal,” says John. After a few hours of waiting and having Genevieve spot smaller wildlife through the scope, John decides to call it in and head back home. He tells Genevieve that on Sunday, he and her uncle James will be heading back to get their moose or maybe a caribou.
In this part of the state, snow begins falling early Saturday evening and continues for most of the day that John and James begin their hunt. Several hours deep inside the Chugach Mountain Valley range of interior Alaska is a 10-foot by 12-foot shelter made of logs. Inside sits a Yukon stove, two bunks on each side of the door, and a large piece of plywood laid across two oil barrels that offer plenty of space for playing cards or enjoying a meal to anyone who seeks an escape from bad weather. “Up in this spot, there is everything! Every animal in Alaska goes through this country. I’ve caught everything up here, except a damn wolf!” says John. The snowfall doesn't slow down, and James begins to get restless. He suggests heading to higher ground in hopes of spotting some larger game. “We know where moose are going to be . . . It’s nasty here, but you can count on them being in the same spots you've caught them before. I got my bull last month. Yup! The family was waiting there to all pitch in on getting the moose ready,” says James.
Although John and James have decades of experience hunting in this terrain, safety is still a major concern while at the mercy of the Alaskan wilderness. The darkness and severe cold also play a major role this time of year. “There’s no better place in the world for hunting large game. Next time we will just have to get a little further up the mountain,” says John. For today, their eight hours of daylight result in a handful of ptarmigan—and another reason to return to hunt one of the wildest areas on earth.
Story and Photography by Nels Evangelista
Follow Nels on Instagram