In late August my wife and I went on our first float hunt in the Brooks Range. Our river of choice? Well it's that popular one so many know about We planned on taking our time driving up to Happy Valley but it rained from Anchorage to Coldfoot so we pretty much pushed on without stopping too long to see many sites. This was my first drive up the Haul Road and I was very impressed with that hills/mountains section between Coldfoot and Galbraith Lake. Very cool area! We made it to Happy Valley where 70 North would fly us into the mountains. Both Mike and Bob were great to talk to and did a fine job getting us to our destination safely.
Water levels were low but that was expected. The first two days were mostly spent walking the raft downstream and taking in the scenery. We did a fair amount of glassing but only saw Dall sheep ewes and lambs. Day three we saw what would be the nicest bull we'd see the entire trip. He was 2 miles away and headed down valley. We were just starting our float for the day so I thought perhaps we'd cross paths again. Day 3 and 4 went by with more glassing but few animals spotted. Four days and one caribou, I was getting a bit nervous but at least the weather had been perfect. Oh, and the fishing was out of this world!
On day 5 we decided to explore a side valley and not do any floating. So we loaded up our packs for a day away from the raft and hiked into the valley. As we rounded a small knoll we came face to face with a small bear, his head buried in the blue berries. Although I had a bear tag I could tell right away this fella was small so we opted to notify him of our presence and hope he would move along, which he did after standing on his hind legs to get our scent. As we watched him move across the valley my wife looked behind us on the slope and saw a cow caribou looking back at us. Our first stalk opportunity in 5 days so we elected to go for her. My wife suggested I go alone and she'd stay behind to watch through the spotter. I thought the cow looked to be on fairly high alert, so I figured within 15 minutes I'd either have my shot opportunity or she would move on. I ran out of cover quickly but she gave me the shot I needed. Finally we had one caribou down. We packed her back to camp and spent the rest of the day dealing with meat care. Temps were hot that day so after spraying on citric acid we submersed the meat in the river to cool it quickly. A couple more pictures of the area:
Day 6 we floated out of the mountains. Luckily flows had picked up so we did little dragging at this point. Most folks told us to hunt the mountains and not so much on the tundra, so once we left the mountains I didn't have much expectations for seeing caribou. We floated past a base camp and talked to two fellas, they pretty much confirmed what we'd been seeing - lots of scenery with very few caribou. But again, weather was amazing so that evening we enjoyed caribou tenderloins on the fire and enjoyed a late evening sunset as a rainstorm moved through the mountains.
Day 7 we got an early start and figured we'd push hard for the takeout. However, our plans changed as we rounded the bend and I saw some caribou on a distant gravel bar. We beached the raft about 1/4 mile upriver, my wife grabbed her rifle, and the stalk was on. We were fairly exposed but kept our profile as low as we could as we inched closer. But at 250 yards we ran out of cover with two caribou (both bulls) looking our way. My wife and I discussed the shot and she didn't feel comfortable with that range. I really hoped to get Cara her first caribou so we waited awhile to see if our situation would change. But the bulls were starting to move so when one gave me a shot opportunity I took it. I was a bit disappointed we couldn't close the distance for a closer shot for my wife, but we were both very happy to harvest our second animal. We floated the raft within 10' of this bull and processed him as the cow cooled in the river. A few hours later we moved downriver to set up camp.
Day 8 we floated the remaining 20 miles to the takeout and packed up for home. We had 8 days of amazing weather, were blessed with two caribou, and got to take a float hunt through some awesome country. Best of all, I got to do the trip with my wife, what a trooper
A couple more pics: