If you have a look here:Caribou Camping
you will see a story I wrote last year explaining about how I respond when Steve says "Are you busy?" My response yesterday morning was the same - "Nope. What do you have in mind?" His response was the same too - "I've got a tag for Nelchina caribou. Wanna go caribou hunting?" My response was the same, "Yes." (We're a boring lot aren't we?)
The Nechina herd, is the most aggressively managed caribou herd in Alaska, and getting a tag is a real goat-rope. I'm not going to go into it, because it just ticks me off. Be that as it may, Steve had a tag, and we were going to get another 'slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am' grocery hunt in. I told Steve I could be ready in an hour.
In an hour, he showed up at my door, and we loaded my stuff up in his rig. There was a good chance that we might get into caribou 'today', but we planned on spending the night 'out' anyway and had all our camping gear and packing gear. There were a couple of errands that needed to be taken care of - take the dog to the kennel, let my wife know I wouldn't be home when she got home - and then we were wending our way northward.
Steve and I have known each other for a little better than 20 years and hunted together here and there over that time. I don't hunt twice with someone I don't care for. Steve and I pretty much share the same view of the world and especially about hunting, so the time spent getting to "caribou country" was spent 'solving the world's problems'.
We stopped in the Glennallen Department of Fish and game office to get the latest report on the whereabouts of the herd and to pick up a black bear tag for me 'just in case'. A few minutes of red tape and pleasantries and we were back 'at it'. Every mile north was deeper into caribou country.
Also as we drove north we got closer to the area in which the herd was known to be. Just about every vehicle we saw coming from where we were going had caribou. Our eyes were peeled. Sure enough, about two hours past Glennallen, there was a herd of about 100 off to the left of the road.
Unfortunately, that particular left side of the road was closed to all hunting for a 3.5 mile section. Fortunately, these are caribou we are talking about here, and they were headed to the 'bad' side of the road for them, and the 'good' side of the road for us. We pulled over and Steve got out and walked over to get well off the "maintained surface" of the road to make sure he wasn't shooting "from, on or across the maintained surface of a road". They started heading across.
Herd animals are generally 'stupid', and tend to do two things that are bad for the individuals, but don't generally harm the herd: 1) They 'follow the leader' regardless of danger, and 2) Once they decide they want to go somewhere, the herd is going there regardless of what danger lies ahead. In this case, the danger was a guy with a .338 Win Mag.
As they streamed across the road an into the woods on the 'legal' side, I gave Steve the 'report' on what was coming. I was still in the pickup up on the road, and could see probably 10 or so caribou as they came up the slope on the left side of the road to prepare to cross. He was down in a gully on the other side and couldn't see any but those already on the road's surface and moving on into the woods. As he shouldered his rifle to take the first animal he saw (this was strictly a meat hunt), I cautioned him to wait as there was a bigger one coming. I did that about five times for the first 25 or 30 animals across. Knowing he was getting 'itchy' I finally I said "Take this one", and at the 40-yd shot it nose-dived into the tundra. The others hardly broke stride at the shot, and the following ones literally jumped over their dead 'comrad'.
I took some quick pictures. Here's what he looked like:
We gutted (gralloched) him, and put him the back of Steve's pickup, and headed home.
Since I have been hunting this herd of caribou since I was 10 years old, there are certain traditions to be adhered to. One of which is stopping at Eureka lodge to have a burger after a successful caribou hunt. (In all those years I can only remember one unsuccessful caribou hunt.) We were home by 2100, about an hour after complete dark. We hung the little bull up to let him cool. We'd peel him, clean him up, and take him to the butcher tomorrow. Total distance traveled, right at 500 miles. Total elapsed time, 10 hours. Now that's a meat hunt.
While there were some grizzlies seen in the neighborhood about a month ago, it was a bit late in the season for them to be this low, and I wasn't worried. Also, if a grizzly had gotten on that caribou, I'd have killed it in a New York minute. Nothing touched it overnight, and in the morning it was nice and cool.
Completely dressed - no head, no guts, no feet, no skin - he weighed 86.4 kg. He'll be hamburger, breakfast sausage, and spicy bratwurst in about a week.
This time, it wasn't 'caribou camping'.