My last caribou hunt
About twenty years ago Laurie and I were attending a wildlife fundraiser when she bought me a guided caribou hunt in Alaska for two barren ground caribou bulls for only $2,000.
That was a good price even in those days. Today, if one could find a two-caribou hunt, the cost would be more like $10,000. Most hunts are for one caribou these days and run about $7,500 plus license, commercial and bush air flights.
I remember leaving Anchorage in late September 1998 and enduring a harrowing flight in a Cessna from Anchorage to the airstrip at Ekwok on the Nushagak River, and two Texans in camp—neither who could handle a rifle as well as I could when I was 12 years old. It took me a couple days to figure that out, but after the one guy bungled his third opportunity without even getting off a shot (he couldn’t find the caribou in his scope!), I shot a good bull from a group at about 175 yards.
My guide was a 57-year-old fellow named Arden from Dillon, Mont. and we got along very well. We were both anxious to get rid of the Texans, so Arden had the outfitter fly us one at a time, out several miles and drop us off where there was a tent already set up. That meant we lost a day of hunting, since one cannot hunt big game in Alaska the same day as he is airborne. But it didn’t matter.
There were caribou everywhere—a dozen here, a hundred there, two dozen over there… one time we saw a herd that must have numbered a thousand. The weather was cold, crisp with no bugs. If you have spent any time in Alaska, you understand that such weather is to be appreciated….maybe even treasured.
The next day we were hunting on foot in the Stuyahok Hills when we spotted a herd of about 100 caribou cross the river and feed in grassy meadows among the willow bottoms. There were several good bulls in the herd, and we decided to go after them. So we took off in a big circle across the tundra, dropped out of sight into a wash.
After a half mile we crossed a deep ravine and climbed back onto the tundra. Off to the east, the herd had been joined by still more caribou and they were heading our way. Arden figured they were going to head north so we walked back from the rim of a wide basin, turned east and walked some more.
Finally, we stopped near a lone bush on the tundra, I took off my pack and got ready with the .338. Minutes later, two caribou cows emerge from the basin at about 400 yards.
“We went too far,” Arden admitted, so we scrambled on hands and knees for a depression in the tundra, then we went at a crouch for about 100 yards. I dropped back to the ground and rested my rifle over my pack.
Here they came—cows and small bulls, then a group of mature bulls, all parading in line. Arden and I agreed on a white-maned bull that looked very good. I crawled behind the rifle, and when the bull stopped, I put the crosshairs what looked to be a few inches beneath the top of the bull’s withers and touched off a shot. I heard the bullet strike, the bull staggered about, and dropped.
My shot took the bull through the heart at 382 paces.
As with my other two caribou bulls, it scored in the 360s, in fact was 361 even.
It was a perfect ending to what was to be my last caribou hunt.
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