Charlie’s Missing Moose
Posted on 04/04/2022 Evan Swensen
Gravel sprayed off the big tires of 857 Charlie and peppered her horizontal stabilizer. Her aeronautical designers back in 1947 never envisioned her landing on a gravel bar off the Big Susitna River in Alaska. She was made to fly from airport to airport in the South-48, but with bigger tires on her landing gear and thirty more horses under her cowl, she was called a poor man’s 180. A Cessna 180, of course, is every Alaska pilot’s dream flying machine.
One look at Charlie’s horizontal stabilizer immediately showed that this was not her first off-airport landing. The leading edge was pitted where bigger rocks than pebbles had bounced against the aluminum. In addition, most of the red paint was chipped away, exposing the bright metal color underneath.
Charlie’s pilot eased her to a stop, keeping her nose pointed into the wind. Her occupants, the pilot’s two teenage children, removed themselves from their seats and stumbled-like to the ground—there is no graceful way to exit a light plane. All three reached back and produced hunting rifles leaning against the back seat.
The object of this exercise was a huge bull moose grazing on a small slough just off the river about a ten-minute walk from where Charlie came to rest near the end of her sand bar airport. It was legal to hunt the same day airborne, and Charlie’s pilot’s family was looking for their winter’s meat supply. They put skinning knives, a small saw, fresh homemade oatmeal-and-raisin cookies brought from home, and other odds and ends thought necessary to go after a moose.
The short walk through the woods was done in silence; only the squawk of a lone raven could be heard. The hunting party of three’s sense of direction was working and they exited the forest at the exact spot they wanted. Creeping slowly, the hunters took their time to get where they thought they would be able to see the moose and complete their freezer-filling activity by allowing the creation of Weatherby to fulfill the measure of its creation.
To this point in the hunt, everything had gone as planned—or perhaps even better than planned—everything except that their future steaks and roasts had disappeared—gone. Charlie’s pilot and kids stood silently for many minutes, looking deep into the surrounding woods for a glimpse of something brown, hairy, and wearing antlers, but nothing interesting moved or showed itself. Then, finally, they gave each other that knowing look signaling, “Let’s go back to Charlie; our moose has got away.”
Back at the gravel bar, Charlie’s pilot walked around the little red airplane looking for anything out of order. Then, keeping to his habit, he stood on Charlie’s oversized tires, removed the gas tank cap, and stuck his finger deep enough to feel fuel, confirming what he already knew. Charlie had plenty of gas to let them look around some more and still get safely back home. After draining gas, clearing any water from the fuel line, Charlie’s pilot and crew climbed back in and fastened their seat belts for takeoff.
Charlie cleared the gravel bar with ease and was soon circling back over the empty moose slough. But, to Charlie’s pilot’s surprise, the moose slough was occupied by a big bull moose. The same one as before, in the same spot, and eating the same browse.
Almost without thinking, Charlie’s pilot circled back to the gravel bar and repeated the earlier landing. Not a word was spoken. Each hunter knew that being quiet was vital if they were to fill their freezer with this woods-wise moose.
As before, when the wannabe hunters arrived at the moose slough, it was empty, and it stayed empty until they left. When Charlie was airborne again, the moose was back to dinner at the slough. Twice more Charlie landed on the gravel bar, and her pilot and kids wandered back to the slough in search of their hoped-for meat. Each time with the same results—an empty slough. The moose was gone.
Before the last gravel bar takeoff, Charlie’s pilot poked his finger deep into her tanks but couldn’t reach fuel. He used a stick to measure remaining gas and mentally computed the time, distance, and fuel requirements to get back home. Eyeing the setting sun and computing gas consumption, Charlie’s pilot decided that this day’s hunt was over. The next takeoff from the gravel would be this day’s last takeoff.
As Charlie cleared the ground and turned toward Anchorage, a big bull moose wandered out of the trees and took a big drink from the slough before going back to eating along the slough’s edge. His antlers, free of velvet, reflected in the setting sun as Charlie powered her occupants home. Home to their empty freezer.