I had just returned home from a hunt in the fall of 2011 and my wife aske me, "What do you think about me getting a bow and learning to hunt with you"? I said, "Let's go get you a bow"!!! So, we went down to Full Curl Archery and got her a bow and she began practicing and got proficient at 20-30 yards pretty quickly. She took her bow certification course and passed with flying colors.
Long story short, we took two trips up that year to the Haul Road for caribou and struck out with her only having one shot opportunity at 30 yards. Fast forward to this fall and we headed back up in September, only this time, there were no caribou to be found. We knew that we'd be returning at the end of October for one last hurrah!
The time flew by and we were once again on our way up, for her fourth attempt to arrow her first big game animal. Now my wife had never hunted before until last year, but she learned quick about all the intricacies of hunting. She came up with good game plans and strategies and had become a great hunting partner. I was worried that without getting any shooting that she'd lose interest but that didn't happen and actually just drove her more to be successful.
We were on the road north and decided instead of pushing through the night that we'd stop and stay at Pike's in Fairbanks and continue on in the morning. What a nice change of pace that was! The next morning we kept on moving and arrived north of Atigun and chose a place to camp. The weather wasn't too bad, visibilty was a little low but not bad. We hunted that evening and made two stalks on a couple bulls. We got close on both but they just knew something was up.
That night the wind picked up and I couldn't sleep at all, it was deafening. After a long night we got ready to hunt and were worried about even trying to shoot an arrow in such high winds. I said, we'd probably have to be 20 yards or less and hope we can catch a break in the wind. We saw a few caribou but with visibility so low with blowing snow, we were missing lots of caribou I'm sure. We decided to try for two 5 bulls up right at the base of atigun pass on the north side. They up the hill a little ways and we thought if we went behind and over the top of the hill we could get a nice 20-30 yard shot and the wind wasn't as bad right there. So we tried climbing the very steep frozen shale hillside and part way up, Rose just slid all the way to the bottom. We said it's not worth it and headed back to the truck.
We headed north and visibily went to zero and we went back to camp to find our tent collapsed. I thought the poles broke but had just folded inward. I'd guess the wind was blowing 60-70 mph? Inside the tent was another surprise, SNOW! it blew fine snow dust up under the rain fly of our Alaska Guide model tent and it sifted down through the mesh in the top! We'd had enough and decided we needed to break camp and get to the south side of the pass.
After camp was loaded up we slowly made our way, you could only see one deliniater at a time! We ran into a guy that had gotten stuck and helped him get out. He was from the Toolik station and was trying to get out too. We teamed up and chained our rigs up and started up the pass. A short ways up I drove right into a small slide that was completely invisible, couldn't see what I was stuck in till I got out of the truck! Our new found companion pulled me out backwards as I was high-centered. We dug the road out...thankfully I brought a shovel...and after 4-5 runs at it I got through. We reached the top to find the other side closed due to avalanches and spent 3 hours on top waiting for it to re-open.
When we reached the south side it was clear blue skies and calm! What a contrast! We got camp setup below Chandalar Shelf and as I was getting gear ready for the next day, I pulled Rose's bow out and noticed the sights were dangling from her bow! I was so down and after everything, nothing could go right. I felt bad for her and just thought that we're done... I thought for a minute and said I'll just take my sights off my bow and put'em on hers and we'll sight the bow in in the morning! Thankfully I brought the target! Turns out when she'd fallen down the hill side, she said she her bow hit pretty hard and that had to have been when they broke.
The next morning we were north bound with crystal blue skies and no wind!!! We spotted a couple bulls on our way up to the shelf and put on a sneak but didn't work out. So again, northward! We got the base of Atigun with no other sightings. I said, "How do you feel about going over the top"? She was nervous and didn't like it but knew we had to try. The road was just find and no problems.
We immediately started seeing caribou but didn't like the stalk options. We continued on and saw tons of fresh tracks and trails that led northward. When we finally saw the herd, they were running. The binos revealed four wolves chasing them up the valley. As soon as we stopped, the wolves took notice and gave up chase and left the country.
We saw a herd that was working south and parallel to the road and thought they may try and link up with the large herd across the valley. We had the pipeline off the road a ways and the caribou working parallel to it and the creek and willow thicket beyond that. The large herd was on the other side of the thicket on the hill. We hurriedly made our way to the thicket as best we could and found a small flowing creek. With all the cover in the world, we just couldn't beat the caribou as they cut through the creek bottom and joined the herd on the other side. We saw them file through at about 80 yards.
I got up on a little high point to see if more were coming and sure enough I saw three bulls about 300 yards away feeding! I told Rose that they'll likely follow the same trail since the snow is deeper and it's the path of least resistance. An hour went by and hope began to fade as they hadn't moved much and contently fed. I told her to hang in there as she was getting cold, so was I! I said, as soon as the come over the hill, they'll hit the deeper snow and stop feeding and start moving our way. A half-hour later they did just that! With me about 10 yards away and higher than her, I spotted and relayed with signals what they were doing and which bull in line to wait for. They came all the way and stopped, they didn't like the willows and started skirting around them. They stopped and fed at 40 yards but there was too much brush in the way for Rose to shoot. There was an opening behind her and I signaled to step back and look through for a shot. She did and the first bull went by. I signaled to shoot bull #3 and that it was 30 yards! She could barely see bull #3 feeding through the branches and he finally started to move. Rose drew her bow and I grunted as he stepped into her shot lane. I couldn't see the arrow but the bull lunged forward and sprinted about 40 yards before slowing to a walk. I knew he was hit by that reaction. I threw the binos up and saw blood pouring out his mouth and blood all over the snow.
I jumped down to Rose and we stepped up on the bank, and said, you got him! He started getting tipsy and fell over at 60 yards! We were ecstatic! Hugs and high-fives! We went over and found her arrow first and walked over to the bull by way of an impressive blood trail!
I was just so happy for her, to watch that bull for over an hour and to see him come almost like we'd planned and to sit back and watch her take her first big game animal was a proud moment! She hasn't seen many animals up close like that and she kept asking, "It's a nice one right"? I said, "YA! It's a real nice one"!
We took lot's of pictures and I began caping it out and just then, here comes another herd of bou, following the same trail. They came by us at 60 yards! So with that, we packed that bull to the truck and called it a trip!
What started out as a nightmare turned into a memorable hunt just like that! I thoroughly enjoy hunting with my wife and get more excited to see her try to get something than I do myself. I hope you guys enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed the hunt!