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Caribou Adventure

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 at 9:35 am

Day 1 The Adventure Begins

Even for me 3:30am is early. I am wide-awake. No caffeine, just the excitement of finally beginning my caribou hunt. I have been inactive too long as my absence from this blog will attest. Too many hours in offices and meetings. My primeval skills have been dulled. I hope I can still read a compass!

 

My gear is already in my truck, so I just need to get on the road to rendezvous with my hunting partner. We are driving to Montreal today and will spend tonight in the airport hotel before venturing north to camp tomorrow.

 

Experience from multiple past hunting excursions into Canada makes the border crossing and firearms registration pass quickly and smoothly. My wingman, Ted is a young eighty-year old ex-air force fighter pilot. We swap tales of hunts past and he is entertaining me with his stories of flying combat missions. This guy is a real top gun and I can’t get enough of listening to him.

 

Day 2 Arrival at Camp

We are up early and weighing the gear for our flight north. We will be taking two flights today. The first out of Montreal will be on a Nolinor Airways Convair 580 jet prop cargo/passenger plane. This flight will take us north to Caniapiscau. There we will transfer to a DHC-3 Otter for the flight into the camps. In total about 5 hours of flying time.

 

The scenery enroute is spectacular. The landscape is littered with lakes and rivers and not a road or cabin anywhere to be seen. On the Otter I am sitting right behind the pilot and monitoring his GPS.  I am happy to see 10 minutes to destination come up on his screen. The camp comes into sight and we are eager to tumble out of the plane. A gauntlet of staff and guides meet and greet us. As the plane departs we know we are now in true wilderness.

 

Ted and I are sharing a cabin and we begin the task of unpacking what seems to be a mountain of gear. We then gather for our first meal together and meet fellow hunters and the guides. The food and hospitality is fantastic and I marvel at he logistics to keep such a remote camp operating at such a high level.

Sunset at Leaf River

 

Day 3 Caribou Hunting

Everyone eats quickly in anticipation of our first day of hunting. I am hoping to do a lot of walking to counter the numerous calories we are taking in. Breakfast is a full affair with eggs, bacon, pancakes, toast, and sausages.

 

Ted and I head down to the departure area and meet Remi, our guide. He is a likeable young French-Canadian who has been guiding here for four years. No messing around. Get in the boat and go. We head up river to Area 3, our designated zone for today.

 

The 30-minute ride offers great scenery and gives us a good sense of the rugged terrain we will need to cover in order to get a bull caribou. The full migration is just starting so we will see pockets of animals but not the hundreds or thousands that are often witnessed at the height of the migration and rut, later in the month.

 

Remi finds a nice landing spot and soon we are atop a hill glassing and looking for animals. We spot several cows and a few bulls that are downriver from us. A hasty retreat to the river and once again we are speeding along. The five minute ride to intercept those bulls has the beginning sensations of a stalk and once on shore we are quickly and cautiously moving inland.

 

After finding a good vista, Ted settles in behind a nice shooting spot and I head on ahead to glass a nearby small piece of woods. Remi heads over to another area to glass so we have good coverage.

 

I settle into a comfortable sitting position and realize that I am overdressed for today. The weather is in the high fifties and I am glad I have layered clothing. I know by noon I will be sweating. I start glassing the wide barren ridge beyond the few trees directly in front of me. There are no caribou to be seen but there is an abundance of colors everywhere with autumn already in full bloom here. A slight breeze from my back is of concern. Anything approaching off that ridge or from those trees will pick up my scent. After a short period of time I notice something move directly in front of me. I reposition my binoculars and three bull caribou have materialized in front of me!

 

Of the three there was one that was definitely a keeper. As they approached my position I quietly chambered a round in my .06 and waited to see what would happen. I was hoping they would pass my position and then Ted could get a shot at them.

 

The caribou split off into two groups. The larger one is to my left and is heading straight towards Ted’s position. Good. The two smaller animals kept coming straight for me. Not so good. They catch my scent about 100 yards out and freeze. We have a staring contest. Caribou have lousy eyesight and the large bull hasn’t picked me up yet. It will only be a matter of time however before he either winds me or is spooked by the other two’s increasing anxiety.

I decided to be greedy and take the large bull. I flip off the safety and grunted. The effort to stop the bull didn’t have any impact but the bullet did. The remaining caribou just looked bemused at their fallen companion. I grabbed my Nikon D90 and started taking pictures of the two of them. As Remi approached they finally flee the scene.

After pictures, we quarter the animal and back pack the meat and antlers to the boat.

 

In late afternoon we spot a nice group of animals including a real large bull. We put on a stalk and got close to a group of cows, but the bull was nowhere to be seen. Ted opts to take a cow for meat and it is soon on the ground.

 

As is typical of hunting camps stories are retold over dinner and a glorious sunset.

 

Day 4 – Tagged Out

After an hour long boat ride to Area 1 and a thirty-minute hike we are on the top of a ridge overlooking a migration crossing point in the river. We are trying to set up an ambush for several nice bulls we see approaching from the northwest. We are just south of the tree line and the landscape is predominantly scrub brush, stunted trees and barren tundra. The hills that rise 400-500 feet above the river are completely barren and are full of blue berries, lingon berries, and lichen moss. The latter is the sustaining food of caribou.

 

Several cows and calves approach our site. No bulls within shooting sight. They are just over the ridge with the tops of their antlers teasing us. We remain motionless for the better part of an hour. Ted and Remi are kneeling down in front of me and with the hot direct sun on me I am starting to drift asleep.

 

We decide to try and move the cows out and then put a stalk on the bulls. We slowly move forward and this catches the attention of the cows in front of us. They call to their calves and are soon headed up the hill and away from us. The bulls have not moved.

 

Remi and Ted position themselves behind a large rock ready to take a shot. I move forward to a rock and set up in case I have a shooting opportunity. Ted will shoot first and then I will see if there is a shot worth taking.

 

Suddenly a young bull gets up and starts checking us out. He wasn’t a shooter and Ted is showing remarkable restraint in not killing the curious guy. For the next ten minutes he is walking around where Ted is set up and then finally heads back towards the other animals. In an effort to get the big bulls up Remi starts calling. I can’t see anything from my vantage point. Then a shot rings out.

 

After Ted shot I was expecting another caribou to stand up. Instead three get up including a really nice big bull. I range him at 105 yards and he is coming straight at me. At 75 yards he is broad side and the on the ground. Two very nice animals about five minutes and 50 yards apart.

Day 5 & 6 – Salmon Fishing and Exploring

The next couple of days witnessed a much more relaxed pace and an opportunity to do some fishing and exploring. The focus of my trip now turned from hunting with my .06 to my Nikon D90.

 

I love fishing but I have a greater passion for photography and before I even wetted a line I needed to explore some waterfalls in the area. Ted wanted to get fishing and while I am snapping pictures he is landing a really nice fifteen plus pound salmon.

 

We spend the next two days fishing and exploring and I catch several really nice trout. No salmon for me. The highlight however is still the scenery and the shore lunches that Remi prepares.

Our first lunch consists of salmon fillets and a potato-vegetable fry. The meal is fantastic and I ask Remi if he would like to return to Maine with us. I am thinking I could set this guy up in a restaurant business that would be the envy of Portland.

 

The salmon lunch was fantastic, but was nothing compared to the caribou and french-fries that our master chef is cooking for us. While I am casting for salmon Remi is busy slicing up potatoes into homemade fries and soon has them in a pan with canola oil and butter. I stop fishing and grab the camera. I need to record this. Now he is pan searing some of the tenderloins from my caribou. This is not a meal I will ever forget.

 

Day 7 – The End of the Earth

No plane today. Strong winds. The news puts an initial damper on camp, but a few hunters have not yet tagged out and I still have more exploring to do.

 

I decide to walk around the area and survey the local landscape. Ted joins me and soon we are soaking up the incredible scenery. We find a small river nearby and can see a lot of trout getting ready to spawn. Back at camp I can’t get the trout out of my mind and very soon there are three of us furiously casting for the fish. We catch around two dozen. After the first few are landed we decide to cut off the barbs on the flies to minimize any damage to the fish. They have a voracious appetite and someone always has a fish on the line.

 

By 1pm the fishing slows and we head back to camp for some warm soup. I spent much of the afternoon playing cribbage and just relaxing. A final meal together is highlighted by the fact that every hunter got an animal today.

For our final night in camp we witness the most incredible light show I have seen in many years. The northern lights are spectacular and somehow put the final bow on what had been an amazing week.


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