On the night of July 26th my father, a good friend, and myself left our homes in Kansas to drive to Alaska for a scheduled caribou drop off with 70 North on August 4th. This was my father and I's second hunting trip to Alaska, but our first trip up the haul road. My friend, Jake, would be on his first trip to Alaska. This hunt had to take place early in August because I teach highschool, and I coach football. Football practice started the 18th, and I had to be back before then. We took our time on the drive up to Alaska, taking time to fish where we could. The grayling fishing along the haul road was great, and very tasty. We reached Happy Valley Camp on the 3rd of August, and scheduled to fly out the next afternoon to the Echooga River drainage near the Ivishak. The next day there was a small mix up, and it was around 8 when we could get out. Jake was to fly out first with our gear, and then my father would be flown out when the pilot returned. Unfortunately shortly after Jake's flight left, a dense fog rolled in to Happy Valley, and when the pilot returned, we knew we could not fly out that night. So we brought up a newbie to Alaska hunting, and he had to fend for himself his first night in the bush. Luckily when my father and I were flown out the next day, we found him in good spirits. 4 years prior my father and I hunted the middle fork of the 40 mile river where we harvested two nice caribou bulls, but the North Slope has a different beauty than we have ever experienced.
We have heard about the mosquitoes, but we couldn't really couldn't understand it in the true sense from our homes in Kansas. But we soon learned. The first day of the hunt was very uneventful. We hiked up ridges and glassed, but we saw nothing. The next day was the same story. With the constant nagging of the mosquitoes, one can tend to dwell on the worst case scenario, especially when not seeing animals. Late in the evening my father decided to hike up river to glass, and Jake and I decided to stay around camp. We watched as my father hike up river and out of sight, and knew that it could entail a long pack out. Around 8:30 Jake and I heard numerous shots. We are usually decent shots, and I wondered why my father had shot so many times, and I feared of a bear encounter. So Jake and I quickly loaded up our packs and headed up river to find my father, and soon seeing him round the corner of the mountain. Luckily it wasn't a bear encounter. He had spotted a bull making is way along the mountain base, and found his rifle off from the rough trip up. Although it took several shots to compensate, he did get his bull, and our spirits were lifted. We worked together to quarter the bull, wash the quarters in the river, bag in tag bags, and load on packs. The kill was about 2.5 miles from camp, and it made for a late walk back down the drainage; about 1:30 when we returned to camp.
The next day Jake and I hiked up to a ridge to glass, as my father stayed back at camp to tend to the meat. The temperature was higher than we would have liked, but he made a good bed of alders and suspended a tarp over the meat bags. That day Jake and I didn't see anything again, and we were starting to get worried. It was Thursday, the 7th, and we needed to be out no later than the 10th. And the constant annoyance of the mosquitoes **** near broke both of us.
The day of August 8th came much like the days before, with little to see. Late in the after noon I was sitting with Jake on a ridge when I thought I noticed something move behind us and slip below the ridge. As I moved along the edge of the ridge I soon spotted a young bull coming our direction. I called to Jake, and he followed my steps. He wanted me to shoot first since I had spotted the bull, and he would back me up. My rest was poor, and the bull was moving swiftly to keep out of the mosquitoes, and my shot missed. Luckily Jake's hit home, and He had his first Alaskan caribou. It was a great moment to share with a good friend. My father soon found us, and as he and Jake quartered out the caribou, I packed it the nice 1/2 mile back to camp. With all the meat back at camp by 10:30, we grilled fresh caribou heart over our fire. We went to sleep that night with full bellies and one tag left to fill, but not much time to do it.
I woke the morning of the 9th at 7:30 and fell back to sleep. 5 Minutes later I woke again with something telling me to get out and up on the ridge south of camp. I left camp in a dense fog and moved slowly knowing that I would have to pass the gut pile from the prior night's kill. Luckily I found it untouched. I traveled up the ridge and watched as the sun peeked through the mountains to burn off the fog. Sitting there I came to peace with the hunt. It was tough and mentally challenging, and its hard to take a big trip as this and not fill a tag. But I was ok with it. I helped my father pack out another caribou; not knowing if or when I will get that chance again. And I was able to help one of my best hunting buddies harvest his first bull. That what the adventure was about and the trip was a success to me, whether I filled my tag or not. Then Suddenly I spotted a young bull walking right past the gut pile that I stood at 15 minutes before. The bull was about 200 yards away, and again I had a poor rest. I'm usually a good shot, but rarely do I have to shoot over 200 yards. And now my adrenaline is pumping, knowing that I might not get another chance on this hunt. My first shot missed, my second shot missed, my third, my 4th, and my 5th. Each time the bull looked around a walked a little further away. The bull then stopped and turned broadside to eat some lichen. I had one bullet left in my gun; I knew i had to make this shot count, and the bull was farther than I have ever attempted a shot before. I raised my .30-06 and aimed with the last crosshair on my BDC scope, took a deep breath, and fired. As the bull dropped I marveled at the mysteriousness of Alaska. One day the land cam be so hard on a man, taking everything he has and beating him down; and the next day it fulfills his wildest dreams.
My father and Jake soon found me, wondering what the hell all the shooting was about. But they were glad to be woken by happy news. As they quartered my bou, I packed it back to camp. We called for our flyout, and were back at Happy Valley Camp by mid afternoon. Meat packed in a freezer we drove the 4,000 miles back to Kansas. 6 days later when I returned home my wife helped me butcher. Steaks cut, roasts wrapped, burger mixed and ground. That night we had fresh caribou burgers on the grill, and she says its the best **** burger she's ever had.
The caribou that we shot were not monsters by any means, but its the adventure, and the experience that makes the hunt. As Fred Bear once said, "A hunt based only on trophies taken falls short of what the ultimate goal should be."
I know I've left out a lot, and I know my father will fill in where I left out.