Cordova Chronicles: What a hunter won’t do for a moose

Tia Wade and Jimmy Reilly check out the view from Marty Cochran’s moose hunting platform before helping him disassemble it following a creative but unsuccessful season. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

Anyone who has tried to harvest a moose out on the Copper River Delta knows what a difficult challenge it is to spot the big critters in the ever-growing brush throughout its habitat.

A common strategy these days is to spot moose from the air, and then pursue them via air boat the following day. Hunting the same day as flying is illegal.

Today’s airboats, powered by massive automobile engines, can haul out an entire moose in one trip, after loading it aboard using booms and winches.

Other hunters use four-wheelers in areas where allowed, such as in the Scott River drainage, where the parking lot at Mile 8 is consistently full of trucks and trailers during moose season.

Additionally, some hunters use jet boats in sloughs, or canoes in more restricted waterways. Packing out quarters afoot is the last resort.

Then there are the road hunters, who drive the byways early in the morning or late in the evening, hoping to catch a glimpse of their bull or cow during the time when they most often seem about — while remembering the restrictions about shooting them on the road, or shooting across the road, or shooting while standing on the road itself.

Toss in the particularly tall alder, willow, and cottonwood that thrive along the edges the highway, and clearly gaining altitude to see over this brush barrier is key to expanding one’s odds of even glimpsing a moose.

One tactic to gain elevation is climbing nearby trees, which seems to become more challenging as one ages. Usually the youngest hunters get to enjoy swaying in the breeze. Other more creative hunters have tied step ladders in the bed of their pickups, and likely cut cards to decide who gets to ride atop as they bounce through arrays of potholes that are simply unavoidable.

Yet this year someone came up with an even more creative solution. At the edge of Mile 33 on the Copper River Highway, Marty Cochran assembled a viewing platform made of metal construction scaffolding, with a two-tier set of planks on top for comfortable seats — and can you believe also as a bunk?

Cochran spent four nights in his perch, with countless hours calling and spotting, to no avail, unless you include the visit by a curious brown bear.

Marty stated his creative approach, garnered significant Facebook attention, and also lots of comments from hunters passing by.

And of course, on the fourth day, the inevitable happened.

From his lofty perch, Marty saw a pair of hunters driving down the road, about 500 yards to his west. A bull stepped out on the road between them and Marty. The duo stopped, waited until the moose wandered off the road, followed it into the brush, and then filled their tag.

Moose season on the east side of the Copper for hunters that hadn’t drawn a special permit closed a few days later. 

On Sept. 25, when I happened to drive by late on a sunny afternoon, Marty was standing on the road sipping a cold beer, while waiting for help to take down the platform.

Who could blame him? I would have too.

After all, the fall equinox was Sept. 22, and you can figure out how many hours that meant sitting in the dark, with not only bears, but lots of mosquitoes for company.

But no moose.

Previous article20th virus case is Cordova resident
Next articleCordova student to address First Alaskans Institute conference
Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes.