The Bogs

I learned many years ago that there were a few places that you just don’t go.

Most of my youth was spent running after a pack of hounds. My hunting trips took me into dense river bottoms, broken rocky canyons, and steep timbered mountains. Too many times I came home in the wee hours of the morning bleeding from scrapes, scratches and bruises. Just about all of the time I was covered in mud and soaked to the bone. It was a time when I had the most fun in my life.

I had an old friend that lived down near the river. He never seemed to have many friends, but I spent a lot of time talking with him as a kid. He also had a taste for roast coon. I never could figure out if he was trying to keep me out of his coon trapping grounds, or he was concerned for my safety. He would lie in his bed at night and listen to my hounds run the river bottoms. Every time I would see him, he would look at me with those cold dark eyes and ask, “Been running those bogs again?” He knew very well it was me and some of my friends from town.
I would tell him that I had been running a few coons down in there. He always had the same thing to say. “You boys are going to go down in them bogs one of these times, and never come back out.” He would go on to say that there had been a lot of hunters who had gone down there and never were seen again.
I knew there were sink holes and quicksand, and I was careful to stay out of them. The worse things were the underground streams. It was possible to be walking along and fall through. Sometimes it was only a foot or so, and sometimes it was over your head.

I suppose that I was lucky because I managed to get through those years with only a few stitches and a broken bone or two. I never forgot what he would say, and it has caused me to probably be a little more careful than I would have normally been.

I found when I moved to Alaska, that things were a lot different. Everywhere I had hunted had been pretty much the same. It was always possible to walk about anywhere I wanted. Alaska taught me a whole new set of rules.
Alaska has bogs. Unless you are walking on ridge tops or climbing mountains, sooner or later you will have to deal with the worse bogs on earth. Just about every valley has a river, creek, or lake. It would be nice to be able to just walk down to the creek and wade across. The problem is the bogs that you have to get through before you even get to the creek, and then the neck-deep mud in the creek. It just isn’t a safe place to be, especially if you have short legs or a bit vertically impaired as I am.

I also learned about the “sage-head tussocks” in the bogs. They are round mounds of grass-like things that grow in the bogs. It is not possible to step on them because they bend and send you upside down in the muck. Being short legged; I can’t straddle them so I must walk around them in the water and mud. That is a perfect recipe for tripping and falling face down. I suppose that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except the 150 lb. hind quarter of moose on your back pack is now holding your head under water.

Last year my brother, Gib, and our wives were hiking back to moose camp. It had been a long morning and we were all tired and wet. The last little draw we had to cross didn’t look to be very wet. I picked my way down the steep hillside and was doing pretty well crossing the wet tundra in the bottom, when, without warning, I dropped straight down. That little stream was obscured by the grass and was only a foot wide. It was about six feet deep, however. Since I am quite a bit less than six feet tall, guess where that left me?

I was lucky to have wedged in with my head still above ground. They all had a nice long laugh at my expense. They said something to the effect that it looked funny to see a head protruding up out of the mud. I had to have help getting out of that mess. If I had been alone, I may have been in trouble.

Some hunters are actually dumb enough to shoot moose in the bogs. They usually only do it once. I never, ever shoot moose in the water. I am also careful not to let a moose run into the water once it has been shot. They will do it every time. They are used to running into the water to escape from wolves, so that’s where they go. You have not known pain, until you have had to dress out a moose in neck deep water.

Recently a friend of mine called me up and invited me on a bear hunt. He asked if I would bring my Hydro-Traxx amphibious ATV. It was good in swamps and it would float if needed. I asked him if there was going to be any bogs to deal with. His answer was no, just a few mud holes.

Somewhere down inside that little voice was warning me about the bogs. I could hear the words of the old wise man. “You boys are going to go into those bogs, one of these days, and never come back.”
I hadn’t been hunting since moose season last fall, so I ignored that small voice. I had never been in that area, so it would be a new adventure. It’s strange how dumb we can be at times.
The first five miles were on the beach of Cook Inlet, and then up the bank we went. We were greeted at the top with some of the finest mud bogs I had ever seen. I thought that as soon as we got inland a ways, it would be just a little mud and a nice trail. That was just the second miscalculation.

The old pipeline right-of-way would surely be easy going, or so I thought. We turned north and headed down the pipeline. Every mud hole was either two feet deep, or had no bottom at all. It was like running in a “peat bog,” because that is just what it was. I had to cross a log bridge that was made for four-wheelers. My tracks hung over on both sides. I thought that would surely be the worse thing I would have to do, and then I came to a river. The little bridge was too small to cross, so I decided to try to float across. I learned that tracks don’t propel very well in the swift water. My partners tied a rope on my machine and pulled me across.

The rest of the day was winching myself for what seemed like miles of mud. I found myself stuck on underwater logs and stumps. I found myself in mud that was almost running over the sides. I don’t understand how that happened with a machine that floats fairly high in the water.

There were times that I did wonder if we were ever going to get out of that mess. One of my partners had just gone through triple by-pass two years ago, and it would have been impossible for him to walk out. I don’t know if I could have done it either.
The return trip brought us back to the river crossing. This time I was going to enter the river, and float down stream to cross. I hadn’t noticed that my partners had tied the rope on my roll cage instead of the winch hook on front. When they tried to pull me across it tipped me enough to take on water when I tried to climb up the bank. I immediately backed out into the current and jumped to the other side to bring the machine back up to level. I was able to float down stream to a place where I could climb the bank. I was glad that my bilge pump worked well.
I don’t know how we did it, but we did make it back out of the bogs. Once again I had to learn things the hard way. It will be a lesson that won’t soon be forgotten. I guess we need to be reminded once in a while.
Those who come to Alaska to hunt will find some of the best hunting on earth. They will also find some the finest bogs known to man. By the way, I know a place where the moose are plentiful, and t he bears are thick. It’s only about twenty miles back in there, and there aren’t any bogs, only a few mud holes.

I will say this about that, however, should you encounter a bog, be careful. I hear that hunters have gone into those bogs and never have been heard of again!

George “Bubba” Hunt, the last of the Bog-Masters.