by Jim Haynes
Mid-September, 2012 – Northern Alaska Caribou Hunting
I will start with the criticisms. As with almost every outfitter, this Alaska caribou hunting guide was a little bit tough to communicate with. This is understandable as he was in the field much of the time and I’m glad I had you to answer questions for me. With that being said, after just a bit of confusion upon our arrival at the Kotzebue airport, the outfitter picked us up and got us rolling on our trip. He is a very approachable, guy who is easy to talk to. This made the prior frustrations seem insignificant.
Interesting land 50 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Very barren. With the exception of a few large rocks and shrubs in the valleys, it was wide open, which made stalking caribou fairly difficult.
Most of the first day was spent traveling to the camp. Camp was a three-man tent. The food was very good. We had caribou for dinner every night with some veggies. Each morning we would have oatmeal, and lunch was a cold sandwich..
Day one of the hunt: As we broke from breakfast, we noticed north of our camp about 1-2 miles away a group of caribou migrating down the slope. We ducked and crawled along the brush and rocks to stay out of sight of a group of 12, as they bedded down 300 yards away. We continued to push closer, and at 80 yards, Eric took a shot… at 9:00 on the first day, we had one bull in the book.
One of the guides and I decided to continue to hunt while Eric and the other guide processed the bull. We soon found another larger group (72) of caribou. We get out the scope and closed in on a shooter with large palms that was clearly the stud of the group. We made our way to cut them off down the ridge, and my guide was expecting me to have practiced 400+ yard shots. That was not the case; I felt comfortable at 300-400 yards. This meant we need to get significantly closer.
After running for nearly an hour, we both were very hot and stripped down to thin layers of clothing. I dropped my pack and pressed myself to the ground, moving slowly to within 300 yards and waited. The caribou all bedded down for about 45 minutes. Waiting 45 minutes, I was very chilled. I had my bipod set up and zeroed in my 300 Weatherby on the caribou. Now was the time.
Another herd appeared over the ridge and caused our herd to rise up. At this point, it was a matter of making sure nothing was behind the bull I was after. Once they had separated, I took the shot and the bull went down. Wasting little time, we approached the animal and began discussing the awesome hunt.
The rest of the day was spent processing and packing this caribou back to camp. The pack back to camp was a tough 2 ½-mile hike uphill with a full pack. I soon realized this was going to take part of the next day to finish. At dinner that night, we had an opportunity to discuss the day’s adventures.
Day two spelled confusion in camp as to which guide was going with what client. After sorting this out, I went back to the kill site to finish packing out my caribou. This took most of the morning. Meanwhile, the new guy in camp got his first bull. This made three caribou in two days. The rest of the day, we didn’t see much movement.
Days 3 spelled fog, snow, wind, and rain. During this time, I located a six-foot black bear four miles away eating berries. I decided to make a stalk, but he disappeared on me. On my way back, it began to snow and continue to snow till I could not see more than a few feet in front of me.
On day 4, we found some caribou along the same ridge where I shot my first bull. Once again we believed it had shooters in the mix, so we pursued them. Unfortunately, they continued to move, and we could not catch up with them after running up and down mountains for 2 hours. I was carrying my bow and had no chance of a shot.
Day 5 started off miserably. Freezing temperatures of mid-20’s, rain, and 35 mph winds locked down the caribou movement. Eric and I sat alone most of the day, waiting for a chance. Late afternoon, one of the guides joined us, and after a few hours, we decided to return to the tent. At about 4:00, Eric and I decided out of desperation to take a look over the other side of the ridge. We saw what looked like rocks a mile south of us. It was a group of 34 caribou. We moved sharply to attempt to cut them off before they saw us. We found a grove of bushes to hide in and wait them out. We had moved past them and found them 900 yards away, moving towards us. We made a plan to shoot at the same time. It took several minutes to find a shooter for each of us and make sure at the same time they were clear to shoot. We both shot, and mine went down at 330 yards. Eric shot 5 times to finally send his down. What a finale to a hunt.
Getting home found another challenge. Alaska had shut down the state for 2 days due to the weather, backing up the flights out. It took me 4 days to get home, but I would do it again.
On the way out we heard several stories of hunters not seeing anything for 5 days. This outfitter has a great area. Learn more about this hunt here.
Thank you for the experience,