David Gardner shows off his kill in Healy, Alaska, as he and his friends hunted moose. (Submitted photo)
David Gardner shows off his kill in Healy, Alaska, as he and his friends hunted moose. (Submitted photo)

Gardner lets wisdom prepare him for dangerous trip to Alaska

Published 12:01am Sunday, August 11, 2013

NATCHEZ — For David Gardner, hunting in Mississippi is fun, but he said he has to travel clear across the continent if he wants to receive a different type of hunting experience.

Traveling for Gardner means taking a trip to Healy, Alaska, every two years with his friends in order to feel an adrenaline rush as they hunt moose.

Garner has been going to Alaska since 1998, and he said he knows what he must do to prepare for such a trip.

“I train three days a week with weights on my back,” Gardner said. “It’s about the same weight my backpack will be when I’ll be hiking in Alaska.”

 Gardner’s friends Jay Sones,  from left to right, Jeff Knight and Jeff Elkins hike to their next hunting site in Healy. (Submitted photo)
Gardner’s friends Jay Sones, from left to right, Jeff Knight and Jeff Elkins hike to their next hunting site in Healy. (Submitted photo)

The humid Mississippi weather gives Gardner an extra obstacle when he’s training, but Gardner said difficult weather conditions are the norm in Alaska.

Hypothermia is one of many things Gardner and his hunting friends Jay Sones, Jeff Knight and Jeff Elkins must be mindful of.

Gardner said the way to prepare for the weather is by wearing dry clothes, preferably wool and never cotton.

“You will sweat with all of the hiking and the layers of clothes but you don’t want your sweat to dampen to your shirt and freeze,” Gardner said.

Sweat is not the only worry Gardner and his friends have when it comes to catching hypothermia. Gardner said he remembers one trip to Alaska when he fell through thin ice on Healy Creek, and if he weren’t prepared with an extra change of clothes, hypothermia would’ve kicked in.

“I was taking my time across the creek and I slipped on the ice and went down,” he said. “Now that I’m wet, I had to hurry and change into dry clothes before I got sick.”

Gardner said he would be staying in canvas tents for two weeks, and staying warm will be vital when he leaves for his trip on August 29.

Gardner carries his backpack throw a hiking trail in Healy. (Submitted photo)
Gardner carries his backpack throw a hiking trail in Healy. (Submitted photo)

Another important thing Gardner said he and his friends must remember is that in Alaska, they are the prey.

“We are in the food chain,” he said. “There’s bears out there and it’s very dangerous.”

Gardner said he received a wake up call about how alert he must be in the wilderness in a previous trip to Alaska.

As he got up early in the morning to prepare for the day, Gardner said he could hear something running through the snow.

At 2 a.m. there isn’t much sun out, so he could only see a short distance in front of him, Gardner said.

“I could see the snow being brushed off the limbs of the tree and I could see the shadow of something coming at me,” Gardner said. “In my mind, it was a grizzly bear.”

As Gardner tried to reach for his pistol in self-defense, he froze.

“I didn’t think that was possible for me,” he said. “But it happened so quick and so sudden. But at the same time, I could almost see it coming at me in slow motion.”

Thankfully, the shadowy figure that attacked Gardner was just the loving dog of one of his hiking friends.

“I realized that if that really was a wild animal, I would’ve been in trouble,” he said.

Through many close calls Gardner and his friends have encountered, he still never hesitates to return to Alaska and face dangerous obstacles time and time again.

“I get wiser every time I go, but I still have to be prepared,” he said. “If I’m not careful, I could die. I could easily slip and fall off a cliff, get trampled by territorial moose or get hypothermia.”

The main goal for the group during their trip is to make sure everyone catches a moose, especially those who have yet to make the kill, Gardner said.

Gardner said the most important part of the trip for him is getting to bond with his friends with no distractions and a lot of hunting.

“I go up there for the fellowship more than for hunting,” Gardner said. “I just enjoy being out there and exploring Alaska.”