FORT GREELY, Alaska — By design, this hunting opportunity for wounded veterans of the armed forces is supposed to give hunters as good a chance of shooting a moose as possible. Since it began in 2014, 18 hunters have participated in the hunt on and around the Fort Greely missile defense base. All 18 hunters have successfully bagged a moose.
But even by the standards of this hunting permit, one hunt this year was particularly fast. A bull showed himself along a quiet installation road a mere 10 minutes into the first full day of hunting. It was the biggest bull seen on post so far this season, said hunt organizer and Fort Greely environmental chief Rick Barth. The animal was 85 yards from the road and quartering away. A break in the burned trees and other vegetation gave a clear shot to its vital organs.
Barth stopped his side-by-side and quickly got out his homemade bipod, a pair of sticks tied together with a vacuum cleaner belt. He motioned for the hunter to use the sticks to stabilize his shot.
The hunter was Jerimiah Galloway, a British Petroleum well integrity engineer who lives in Wasilla when not working on the North Slope. Galloway is a former artillery platoon commander from the Fort Wainwright-based 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, who was injured during the unit’s 2008 deployment to Iraq. Like many veterans, he doesn’t like to talk about what happened to him downrange that earned him his Purple Heart. Like all participants in this hunt, Galloway has a 100 percent disablity rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Galloway grew up in North Carolina where he hunted everything from squirrels to white-tailed deer. He got right into Alaska hunting his first year in Fairbanks, shooting a caribou off the Dalton Highway that’s now mounted at his home. He’d also shot a small bull moose.
On this year’s hunt, he hoped to find a large bull moose to mount across from his caribou. He was after a more unusual trophy, too. When the Army sent him to Alaska in 2008, Galloway said he joked to his brother that he was going to send him a moose scrotum to make into a coin purse.
Galloway’s friend, Lee Pentimone, also came along on the trip. The two had been hunting partners on unsuccessful moose hunts the last two years. Both Galloway and Pentimone carried rifles for their Fort Greely hunt, although under the rules of the hunt, the second hunter is there strictly for bear protection.
Galloway and Pentimone got into Delta Junction on Sept. 6, in time for a few hours of hunting. Barth set the hunters up at a tree stand where they enjoyed watching a group of three young bulls fighting. Galloway was careful to watch with his binoculars but put down his rifle so he wouldn’t be tempted to take one of the smaller moose. In this hunt, any bull or cow without calves is legal. But Galloway was holding out for a bigger bull.
“He was like a kid in a candy store,” Pentimone said.
The next morning, their first full day of hunting, Barth met his hunters at 6:15 at their base camp, a comfortable — if institutional — apartment on Fort Greely. Some of his out-of-state hunters are disappointed in these accommodations because they want a true Alaska roughing it experience, Barth said.
“The Alaskans don’t usually complain,” he said.
The temperature was in the 40s, and thick fog hung over the installation. Galloway and Pentimone said they were happy to have spent the night indoors. The party got into a pair of side-by-sides and started across the installation just as a recording of reveille played over the post’s public address system. Barth led the group into a construction site where during the daytime heavy equipment pounds the earth to compact the site for a future missile field.
But at 6:30 a.m. the equipment was silent and at least one bull moose was active along the scar of an old forest fire off the side of the road.
After getting set up on the bipod Galloway spent about half a minute peering into the scope, making sure he was comfortable with the shot. When he pulled the trigger, the blast of his .338-caliber rifle was followed immediately by the thud of his projectile connecting with something.
The moose bolted away into the fog.
“Never had one take off like that,” Barth said with a curse.
In his 13 years of moose-hunting experience, Barth said he’s always seen moose stand stunned after being shot. But Barth brightened as he reminded himself he’d clearly heard the bullet make contact.
“Well, you got him. He can’t get very far. There are fences all around,” he said.
Electing not to send the wounded animal on a further adrenaline-fueled sprint, Barth advised they leave the animal to die. They would return after breakfast, in which time the sun might burn off more of the fog, making it easier to find the downed bull.
The moose of Fort Greely can be a nuisance, Barth explained, as the party walked to the mess hall for breakfast.
“I’ve seen windows with moose nose prints on them,” he said.
As if on cue, Barth walked by a splatter of moose diarrhea in the middle of the sidewalk outside the dining facility.
Barth wears Carhartt overalls and sports an almost Duck Dynasty-length scraggly beard, contrasting with the uniformed and clean-shaven National Guardsmen around base.
He’s hunted all over the world and previously worked as game warden at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where he managed hunts of animals including wild pigs, red deer and elk.
At Fort Greely, Barth keeps close track of the moose population, describing the animals as his children. By his count, Fort Greely is home to a population of 55 to 75 moose, including about 40 on the missile field itself. This is a denser population of moose than the average for the region, which Barth attributes to fences that surround the installation and to tasty ryegrass and oats planted on cleared lands on the base. In the winter, salted roads on the installation attract moose, bringing them into contact and sometimes conflict with residents, he said.
Limited predation also accounts for the moose density, Barth said said. A half-dozen grizzly bears frequent Fort Greely, but wolves are rare.
Barth sees his help on the annual moose hunt as his own small but significant part of Fort Greely’s national security mission. In addition to constantly training and being on guard for a possible missile launch from North Korea or another adversary, National Guardsmen at Fort Greely work to protect the perimeter of the missile field from attack. When wildlife wander onto the missile field too often, soldiers become less vigilant to security breaches.
“The moose can make people complacent,” Barth said. “My mission is that when they’re ready to push the button (to launch a missile), there’s nothing interfering.”
The fog didn’t lift while the party was at its breakfast of biscuits, gravy and scrambled eggs. Returning to the site where Galloway took his shot, Barth quickly walked into the woods and spotted a tuft of white moose hair where the moose had been standing.
There was no blood trail, so the group fanned out and started walking in the direction where the bull disappeared. They’d just gone a few steps when the antler of a bull moose popped out of the fog about 100 yards away. The bull was standing calmly and didn’t appear especially distressed. Galloway had brought his rifle in case the moose needed a follow-up shot, but Barth told him not to raise it.
“That moose hasn’t been shot,” Barth said. “That’s a different one.”
The party moved around the second moose and continued the search. After half an hour tromping around through the fog, they found no moose and no blood. They met back to regroup at the spot where Barth had found the moose hairs.
The disappearance of the moose without a trace made Galloway have doubts about the strong impact noise everyone had heard before breakfast. He wondered if he’d wounded the animal by shooting too far back and hitting the guts instead of the lungs. Barth admitted he was also starting to have doubts. He inspected the spruce trees, looking for evidence that a bullet had clipped one of them. He considered bringing in a blood-sniffing dog that the post’s deputy commander had made available.
Just then, Pentimone spotted an antler barely distinguishable from a tree stump on the ground.
The moose was down on its side, with its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth. The dead moose was right where the live moose they’d seen before had been standing, which is probably why they’d missed it.
“He was just standing there next to his buddy saying ‘What’s wrong, bro?’” Galloway said.
Galloway couldn’t stop smiling as he stood over the moose to inspect it. The bull was a three-by-four, with three brow tines on one side and four on the other. Its antler spread was just over 46 inches. The bull was just beginning to enter the mating season, and bits of velvet were still hanging from the antlers.
Galloway worked carefully to cut the hide off the animal’s shoulders so that a taxidermist can later make a mount.
His brother will have to wait for another moose to get his scrotum trophy. That part was left behind in the rush to get all the meat hauled out.
The fog that had hung around while they were searching for the moose abruptly gave way to bright sunlight as Galloway, Pentimone and an employee from Barth’s office worked for the next six hours butchering the moose. Processed nearby at Delta Meat and Sausage Co., the moose produced more than 500 pounds of meat.
Before 2014, the Fort Greely hunt was also a disabled veteran hunt, but with a minimum 50-percent disability rating instead of the current 100 percent requirement.
Barth said he pushed for the 100 percent requirement because he believes the special circumstances of the Fort Greely-area hunt — including the good access to moose and the on-base accommodations — should be reserved for veterans who have earned the right to better access. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game awards six permits by lottery drawing each year for the special Purple Heart hunt.
“I know a lot of those guys, and it didn’t seem like they had as great a need for that kind of hunt in my opinion. I was hunting with 90 percent guys who were hunting right along with me and didn’t think they needed a special hunt,” he said. “My idea with Fort Greely is that because we can provide everything we can provide and it’s only six tags, give me the most beat-up guys there are out there.”
Barth refers affectionately to the current qualified veterans as “one-legged ass-kickers who can’t see out of both eyes or hear out of both ears” and boasts that he can help anyone get a moose. When the program finds qualified veterans, the program works well, Barth said. The hunt has a 100 percent success rate, and last year Purple Heart hunters shot six moose within 36 hours.
But the hunts don’t always happen, because people often apply for the drawing permit without reading the requirements. When unqualified hunters get picked for the lottery drawing and don’t meet the requirements, the Department of Fish and Game doesn’t redo the lottery; the permit simply doesn’t get used. This year, for example, only two of the six drawing permits were used in addition to a related governor’s tag permit that also has the Purple Heart and 100 percent disability requirement.
Nationwide there’s a large population of Purple Heart 100 percent disabled veterans.
Barth is a one-man operation trying to find the ones who want go on a moose hunt outside Delta Junction. He’s in touch with military hospitals where he meets prospective hunters and offers to file their drawing permit paperwork. Everywhere he travels he brings flyers about the hunt to put on gas station bulletin boards.