First of all, I would like to thank everyone for the kind words and congratulations on the Nelchina Caribou that I killed. I am still very much humbled and honored to be a part of taking such a magnificent animal. This hunting season has turned out to be, most likely, the best fall hunting season I've been a part of, and there are many people that I owe a debt of gratitute for that. Due to high demand for the story of my Caribou hunt, I figure I'll just give a synopsis of the entire season, start to finish, as it has been a month and half that I will never forget.
Unfortunately, my hunting season started on a somewhat sour note. It is a story for another time, and I won't air dirty laundry on the internet, but someone I trusted as a valuable partner, decided to sharpen their knife on my C6 veterbrae. I was very much angered, hurt, and dissappointed, that such a long time friend would betray my trust and loyalty by an inconceivable act. This happened towards the end of July, and it thrust my plans for the upcoming season into a downward spiral. The day following the knife sharpening, my long time best friend, and the best partner I could ever hope to have, followed up with news that the Brooks Range sheep hunt we had planned, wasn't going to happen. As it turns out, the dentist had different plans for my buddy, and surgery was scheduled for the day we were to leave for the Brooks. At this point, 2011 wasn't looking good, with the sheep opener fast approaching.
Around August the 6th, my luck began to turn. My great Aunt, and former long time Alaskan, was scheduled to arrive in Alaska shortly for an extended visit. You see, Aunt Hazel and Uncle Emil, were long time Alaskans, who still had many friends in the 49th state. Two of those friends, a wonderful couple by the name of Frank and Sue, along with their son Matt, happened to be three of the most esteemed hunting guides in Alaska. One day, while stopping at my folks house for lunch, I overheard a conversation my mom was having with someone on the telephone. I could tell by the tone of conversation, that my mother was chatting with someone she hadn't spoken to in a very long time.
"Who are you talking too", I inquired.
"Sue", my mother replied.
"Ask her if they need a packer", I said.
Well, sure enough, Sue answered that they were always in the need of good help, and maybe we could work something out, that I could come up and hunt with them. Fantastic, I thought to myself, maybe this hunting season isn't gonna be so bad after all. It's always been a dream of mine to be a guide, but never having known anyone in the business, or knowing of a way to establish myself, it was something I never thought would come to fruition. I proceeded to have a nice chat with Sue, and we made plans for me to head for Tok somewhere around the first of September. Whatever else might happen the rest of the season, I knew it would be a tremendous honor, and an invaluable experience, just to spend a little time in the woods with Frank, Sue, and Matt. Things were looking up, and I knew somewhere up in Heaven, Uncle Emil was smiling, hopefully proud of his nephew.
Me and Uncle Emil's 68 inch Bull Moose
At this point, it was time to start getting in shape, and what better way, with the sheep opener right around the corner. August 9th, I found myself riding into a heavy hunted sheep area. I wasn't expecting much, but this was the area I harvested my one and only 37 inch ram, so, you never know, maybe I'd get lucky.
My one and only Talkeetna Ram
Opening day, I found myself stalking a band of nine rams, with one being potentially legal. This area receives heavy pressure, and one day soon, I foresee it becoming a draw area. I've personally witnessed a sublegal ram being shot, after I deducted he wasn't legal, and wasn't worth the risk in banking on age. It is shame, and sad, that an area with so much potential to produce great sheep, is neglected to the point of ruin by unscrupulous hunters, and somewhat in part, by the failure of the state to properly manage sheep. Anyway, happy thoughts, going back to my happy place.
I soon found myself 100 yards above 9 unaware rams, peacefully grazing in the narrow canyon drainage. After looking over the largest ram, I was 100 percent certain he would not make full curl, although, he was only a very painful, inch and a half short. Yeah, I know, thats what she said. Anyway, it was a no go that night, he wasn't full curl, and that was that. Although, he was close enough, that I thought he may make it on age. Unfortunately, the opportunity to count rings to certainty, did not present itself, but, would provide me with a mission for the morrow.
The next day, I woke up, and expediously located the rams, all but the "big" one. He was a little shy, I take it, and figured while the night previous, I had em all dead in the crik bottom, today might be a day for climbing. I took off, picked my way up the creek bottoms, and found a nice ravine that would provide cover most of the way up the mountain. I started up, taking my time. Later rather than sooner, I found myself on the high ridge, parralleling the rams location. Long story short, fixed some lunch, found the largest ram bedded, and proceeded to practice ring counting from 75 yards, for about 3 hours. Not legal, no way, no how. I could get him to 7, at best, but once again, not worth shooting a young ram for personal ambitions, and risking, in my eyes, everything.
I chalked this hunt up to training, satisfied with learning some more sheep behavior, and getting a little ring counting practice. By the way, anybody with a cheap set of Swaro's for sale? My ancient Bausch and Lomb's just don't cut the mustard anymore.
Anyway, spent one more night, spilled some Chili Mac Mountain house on the Hilleberg, and rode out the next day. It was a good trip, much gained, and much learned, despite the Chili Mac mishap.
Found myself back in town, and preparation for the impending opening day of Moose and Caribou season. By the way, did I mention I had a Nelchina Caribou tag burning a hole in my pocket? You'll hear more about that in a bit.
Moose was the priority, filling the freezer is first thing first. Unfortunately, mother nature had different ideas. The days prior, hell, the weeks prior, provided nothing much more than rain, and rain, and some more rain. Change of plans, can't get across the river to the Moose spot. One underestimated skill of a hunter, is the ability to adapt, and adapt we did, right up to the Denali highway, and finally the chance to fullfill a longtime dream of hunting the Nelchina Caribou herd.
Unfortunately, as with mother nature, the Caribou didn't want to cooperate. While much was said of the Tier 1 opener and the abundant amount of Caribou along the Denali Highway during this time, August 20th, the opener for the permit winners, found us in completely different conditions. The Caribou scarce. A cow, here, a cow there, and maybe a dinker two here and there. It was not good. Covered much of the road, and much of the trail system on wheelers. It was simple, the Caribou just weren't there.
Ok, I see myself getting a little long winded here, too many celebratory soda pops, I'll try for brevity, here on out.
Got back to town, Bro-In-Law calls. He wants to take a day off and check out the opener for unit 14. "Sure, what the hell," I said. Off we went, 3 am on the 25th. Around 3pm, hunting season got a whole helluva lot better. Long story short, we split up, went for a little walk, I rounded a bend, and came across this guy at about 20 yards...
First and foremost, I am a meat hunter, and this little spork, was about the greatest thing that could happen to a guy like me. I was tickled, despite what happened from here on out, hunting season just became a resounding success, meat was in the freezer.
After a many days of hanging, butchering, and grinding, primarily a solo operation, I was spent. No rest for the wicked, though, I had work to do, and work turned out to be one of the greatest honors I've had in my life.
The next part of the story doesn't quite belong to me, but to a couple fine fella's from the state of Minnesota, so I'll refrain from sharing that awesome adventure, but if you've never done a "Backpack Moose Hunt", I highly suggest it!!! I was honored, and humbled for the opportunity to hunt with such great people, and only hope I lived up to my end of the bargain. Them Minnesota boys sure earned their Bull, and they got a helluva nice Moose, I was happy to be a part of it.
The results from 8 days of hard work...
Well, the Moose hunt was wrapped up, and time to figure out what was to come next. With some slight encouragement from Mr. Frank, it was decided that taking advantage of that hot burning Nelchina Caribou tag would probably be in my best priority. I called up my best friend, and hunting partner, and let him know I'd be back in town soon, and that we had some hunting to do. Fortuntately, he hadn't quite executed plans to head into the field solo, and I essentially caught him at the last minute.
Plans changing, once again. Adaptability, learn it, love it, embrace it, don't get set in your ways, complacency kills. Well, it just so happened that my buddy still had a moose tag, and filling his freezer was top priority, Caribou would have to wait, once again. The plan was to head down to the "Super top secret" honeyhole, and see what we could pull off. Well, once again, long story short, here's what we came up with...
Awesome, one day moose hunts, now thats what I am talking about. Fifty three by the way, 4 x 4, wide palms, he's a pig, looks 60". Anyway, we got my buddy a nice bull, and had him out of there the night of the 16th. Well, we decided it was most prudent to run the meat back to the Valley and get it hanging. Didn't really thing it was a good idea to leave a bunch of moose meat and horns in the back of a truck while hunting Caribou, so we made the drive home, and took care of meat, always first priority.
Meat hanging done, and back on the road. Caswell Creek brought upon an interesting surprise. Come to find out, taken by Kenworth...
We made it up to Cantwell pretty late, and only had about two hours of useable light as we made the drive in. The plan was to ride into a certain drainage near the big sue, the following day. Well, the drive in found quickly deteriorating weather. Overcast brought slight drizzle, soon followed by heavy rain. It was socked in, and things were looking dicey. Soon we had to decide what to do for the night, and were pretty much afforded only two options. Use a little of the remaining light, pitch camp, set up the cots, get a nice, cozy, good night sleep, or, sleep in the truck. I think we both preferred the cots, but we both had another consideration in mind. Pitch the tent, sleep on the cots, warm bag,etc, and we'd probably sleep in, missing first light and the prime hunting time. Or, sleep in the truck, be miserable, get the living crap beat out of me in cribbage, but, we'd be up and at em at first light.
First light it was, and we were up, although I was still feeling the psychological effects of being double skunked for the first time in a long time. But, to our pleasant surprise, it was a cold, with emphasis on cold, blue bird morning. Perfect, coffee, and get to hunting. The mountains were laced with a fresh cover of white, and if there was ever a time for prime hunting, it was this morning.