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Thread: Epic Caribou Hunt in the Brooks Range

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    Member JuliW's Avatar
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    Default Epic Caribou Hunt in the Brooks Range

    Well, not exactly epic, but dang, it sure was fun!

    We floated the Ivishak River....Got stuck in the tent for three days due to 'the storm' (which I am sure others have mentioned in recent days).

    We arrived in Happy Valley the late night of the 30th, after a marathon drive from Palmer....We were scheduled to fly out the following day, but found out that some poor weather prior to our arrival had caused a back up of hunters heading into the field. We anticipated the 'hurry up and wait' syndrome and crossed our fingers that we would be able to fly out that evening. Bob, at 70 north, was able to get everyone caught up and all 5 in our party made it out that night. The rafts would join us Monday, hopefully!
    The flight out was spectacular and we all were trying to spot animals below us (none to be seen, however). That night I watched a dark brown grizzly on a ridge line about 2 miles away, across the river...He would be on my mind for the next several days...


    Monday morning arrived and I gave a quick look across the river with my binoculars...1.5 miles away I spotted a pair of caribou bulls...And they were dandies...This is a photo taken from about 3/4 mile away with my little sony camera (30 power optical and 30 power digital allowed me to at least make them appear on the photo.)


    A nice stalk put on by my better half and his daughter brought both animals down. It was rather nerve racking for me to watch those caribou for the next 35 minutes...but they stayed bedded down the whole time. Often, one would rest his antlers on the ground while the other 'watched'...then they would switch. Once, the right bull had his head so far slumped over I thought he'd been shot and killed in his bed. LOL
    I told Em when they left to shoot the one of the left, as that was the nicer of the two...She did, and ended up with a double shovel, rough score of about 330" - a nice bull for a first time caribou hunter.



    Larry's was also pretty nice -

    Later that evening the snowstorm came, right about the time the happy hunters came back with their second load of meat and the antlers. (1.3 mile pack) Thankfully there were five of us to help pack!


    The next morning a break in the weather revealed the same dark brown grizzly, across the drainage from which he had previously been spotted, but still about 2 miles out. I watched him and asked Caleb (one of our group) if he wanted to go with me to see if we could 'cross paths' with this goofy bear. (Sunday night I watched him, out of the blue decide to run like gangbusters up and over the ridge he had been on, it was like he'd had a fire lit under his 'x$$')...By the time we got across the river the bear had again 'had a fire lit' and was running directly toward us, but still 1.5 miles away.

    We made a quick plan to try to intercept him...crossing a large gravel wash (dry river bed) as we anticpated his movement down the wash toward the river. We spotted him on a small hill/ridge..acting weird as all get out...first running one direction, then stopping and running another direction..then stopping again only to change direction in mid stride...The bear's antics continued while we closed the distance to about 400 yds..I figured he was after a squirrel..Shortly thereafter he went out of sight. Continuing on, thankful for snow, we cautiously crested the rise, stopping often to look and listen. No bear...but there were tracks...all over the place...Some quick deciphering showed the bear had gotten another 'fire lit' and was moving down the hill, toward the Ivishak, (basically the same direction he had been traveling all morning). Caleb finally spotted him..He was moving again at an all out run fully 3/4 mile from us, and I watched as he ran across the river and up into another drainage...crazy bear.. We emptied the chamber's of our rifles and got to looking around at the bear's tracks...It was then that I noticed the bear's tracks were chasing.....ptarmigan...of all things. Must be he had been successful in catching the young birds before they could fly..thus his weird antics......I thought for a time perhaps we had been winded and caused him to leave, but I think he was pissed he couldn't catch a bird and was just on the move, as his previous movements indicated. That would be the last bear we would see for the trip, unfortunately.

    We decided not to go 'home' empty handed' from our 'bear hunt' and shot 5 ptarmigan for dinner.

    That night (Tues) the storm came full force...we made ourselves busy gathering firewood and...gathering firewood...and staying dry.... I decided at this time that I do NOT like my Helley Hanson raingear...Sad to say, but I was highly disappointed in it...One of the other hunters had a Mtn Hardware 'DRYQ' jacket that was phenomenal...gonna have to get me one...Although Larry's frog togg did very very well...

    We finally were able to leave our first camp, the evening of our 4th full day. We made it only 7 miles, but the going was good...no issues with low water or dragging. In fact the entire float we only had to 'drag' the rafts a dozen times. The worst and longest being at the takeout on the haul road.

    The next day, the remaining 3 of us would fill our tags. Knowing our hunting time was very short, we all took the first decent animals we saw...Of which were in a group of about 25 caribou. Meat bulls, but we all were elated to know we would have great meat for the freezer. Mine was a little guy..

    these are animals from the same group...they hung out about 150yds from us while we dressed out our caribou.


    That night, after we all had filled our tags (no one wanted more than one caribou) this group of about 100 caribou crossed the river 200 yds upriver from our camp... this is the tail end of the group...I also took some great video of the group...Seeing these animals, in this type of setting, far and away trumps hunting them. (though I do love to eat them!)

    Next morning we packed up and headed toward the echooka. We did not quite make it that far, but close. And we were joined the following morning by the chorus of 3 wolves (pup and parents) about 500 yds away... I howled back at them and they showed themselves...then we had ourselves a little 'howling' competition and I watched as the male walked over to a bush to pee on it, after answering my howl...LOL. The pup sat on his bum and took in all the activity... We would have gone after them, but time was not on our side, at this point...We watched them watch us, and then they headed up onto higher ground.

    moonrise over the Brooks - just above the echooka.




    What an incredible land we live in. I feel so honored to be a part of it, that sometimes it just humbles me to my core...An incredible hunt and awesome time with family and friends.... I would absolutely do it again.

    One thing I would definitely do is plan for crappy weather (we didn't plan for it, but the trip was long enough to allow us to have some 'camp time')...at least 5 days...Nothing like being able to 'hunker down' if you don't feel like fighting the elements. Thankfully we did not have to. The sun was shining the entire time we were floating.
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    Moderator stid2677's Avatar
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    Great report, love that moon photo,, I know a picture just can not capture how beautiful it all is.
    "I refuse to let the things I can't do stop me from doing the things I can"
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    Moderator bkmail's Avatar
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    Awesome photos, great country, and love the smile on Em's face with that big old bull.
    BK

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    Member Jeff U's Avatar
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    Awesome hunt, Congrats!!!

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    Great write up and photos! Thanks for sharing. Someday I'd like to do a caribou hunt up north like that! Just another thing on my bucket list!

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    Great story and pics- thanks for sharing. I am sure the moonrise photo didn't capture all of the splendor, but those smiles can't be beat!

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    Thank you for sharing. Our hunting season ended before it started as my son broke his pelvis in a wheeler crash 2 days before our planned hunt. So for now I live vicariously through folks like you.
    Paul

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    Awesome post....great pictures and story. Alaska is truly the "Great Land". I miss living there (except in the winter LOL)

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    Juli,

    Great write up. Where did you get dropped? Just wondering whether we floated past you on Monday or Tuesday while you were holed up in the tent. That storm was intense and I'd have much preferred the warmth of my sleeping bag!

    Matt

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    Jealous... thanks for the great story and pics. congrats..

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    Member JuliW's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MBURNS2244 View Post
    Juli,

    Great write up. Where did you get dropped? Just wondering whether we floated past you on Monday or Tuesday while you were holed up in the tent. That storm was intense and I'd have much preferred the warmth of my sleeping bag!

    Matt
    We were dropped 3 or 4 miles below you guys, I think. There is a section of the river that has 3 large knolls on the north side. We were camped on the opposite side. Perhaps it was Tues that you passed us by as Monday we were back and forth across the river many times. We were definitely staying close to camp both days. Surprised you did not see the rafts..they were on a gravel bar in the middle of the river, where they had been dropped off.

    We considered trying to float in that storm... for about 1 minute. LOL...Oh, we had a herd of 25 caribou walk to within 50 yds - downwind - of our campsite, in the willows... We were all hunkered around the fire or in our tents, but Larry had gone to check the rafts due to the 40+ mph gusts the prev night. He saw them heading back up the river away from camp after they had apparently 'busted' us. We walked through the willows to discover all their tracks when Larry returned... They stood looking directly at us without our ever knowing it. LOL...Must be they were part of the herd that was working it's way down the river....If only we had known, we would have stayed there to hunt! LOL
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    Quote Originally Posted by JuliW View Post
    We were camped on the opposite side. Perhaps it was Tues that you passed us by as Monday we were back and forth across the river many times.
    Darn, I knew that was likely you after you left us to chase that dark bear. I feel dumb for not bringing it up at the time. Apparently even those left-handed rifles can kill animals!

    Matt passed your camp on Monday afternoon between the 1-3 in the afternoon time frame; saw both parties on our way in. That storm shut everything down for us and we were just far enough behind to miss all the emmigration except for a small band of cows and small bulls where we filled 3 tags on Sunday. Same band of caribou passed 40 yards from our tent as well but all we saw were tracks. Thursday night when the storm broke we sat on those knobs and picked off a really neat blond grizzly. Trying times but it was an adventure. Didn't expect to not see ANY caribou on the hoof until the 7th day.
    Go Big Red!

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    Well Done, nice pics. I hunted that area last fall, using 70 Mile and Bob the pilot. No snow for us then but we had some excitement with several grizzlies. What a beautiful area, thanks for the reminder.

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    Member JuliW's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PG13 View Post
    Darn, I knew that was likely you after you left us to chase that dark bear. I feel dumb for not bringing it up at the time. Apparently even those left-handed rifles can kill animals!

    Matt passed your camp on Monday afternoon between the 1-3 in the afternoon time frame; saw both parties on our way in. That storm shut everything down for us and we were just far enough behind to miss all the emmigration except for a small band of cows and small bulls where we filled 3 tags on Sunday. Same band of caribou passed 40 yards from our tent as well but all we saw were tracks. Thursday night when the storm broke we sat on those knobs and picked off a really neat blond grizzly. Trying times but it was an adventure. Didn't expect to not see ANY caribou on the hoof until the 7th day.

    LOL! The left handed gun can shoot straight..not always so the shooter! I wondered if that was you guys. I'd rather have been chasing a toklat bear than that dark brown one..but he was certainly a good sized bear for a grizz....(give me the pretty 6 footer over the 'plain' 7 footer any day!) If the weather had been more inviting, we would have surely had you guys over to our side of the river for a dinner or something...we had enough food to feed a small army. LOL...Were you guys wearing chest waders? I don't recall...We lived in ours...the best type of footwear for float trips, even if we did have to thaw them in the river most mornings!

    It was certainly an adventure..the kind you can only have in the Alaska wilderness!
    Taxidermy IS art!
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    Your mount is more than a trophy, it's a memory. Relive The Memory!

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    Member Hunt'N'Photos's Avatar
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    Congrats and great report! Looked like an amazing hunt! Love the pics!
    US Air Force - retired and Wildlife photographer

    To follow my photography adventures check out my facebook page

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    Member JuliW's Avatar
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    Thanks to all for the congrats and comments...

    Here is a video of the caribou that were hanging around after Caleb and I shot our bulls. A bunch of cows, calves and young bulls.video number 2 coming in a while, and it is the one worth watching. LOL (not that this one isn't - but no big bulls to see on this video)
    http://youtu.be/IO175Ykgi2A
    Taxidermy IS art!
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    Your mount is more than a trophy, it's a memory. Relive The Memory!

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    Member JuliW's Avatar
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    http://youtu.be/0WxO3jsMe50

    caribou crossing the ivishak....taken in the evening about 200 yd from our camp...maybe less. LOL... obviously it would have been futile to try to shoot any of the bigger bulls. Too many animals stacked up, but it sure was a fun sight to behold. Probably the highlight of the trip.
    Taxidermy IS art!
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    Your mount is more than a trophy, it's a memory. Relive The Memory!

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    Great report and pics. HOWEVER, all of you doing float hunts reports might want to consider omitting the specific river name. If you enjoyed your hunt, would like to go back someday, and hope to see the same or fewer hunters you are definitely not doing yourself any favors. This particular river is no secret (I've floated it twice and written reports without the name) but I will not go back due to its' increasing popularity. All it takes is a Google search and this river name keeps popping up. The more times you name it the more often it will show up in searches for the next group and the more difficult it will be to book transportation and avoid hunting on top of each other. Drop hunts spread everyone out. Float hunts concentrate everyone.

    Y'all are shooting yourselves in the foot!

  19. #19
    Member JuliW's Avatar
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    Birdstrike,

    I thought (briefly) about omitting the name of the river. I decided in this case, being that it is a very popular river/destination aready, it would not make a real difference in the number of people going there. Heck now you can hire a ride upriver in an airboat if you want, then float down....The Ivishak is no secret, that is for sure...Really it is no different than the haul road itself, especially when you get down to the Echooka and areas the airboats can reach (even still, we saw those three wolves in an area with 3 different airboat camps within sight). I think for many people it is a one time or maybe two time trip...then off to other adventures Alaska has to offer.

    If folks are looking for a 'true' wilderness (not another soul in 25 miles) the Ivishak drainage is not the place to go, that is for certain. But for anyone wanting to get a taste of remote Alaska on a budget, and maybe put some good meat in the freezer, it is certainly a viable option.

    Besides, you never know what kind of lifelong friends you might make on a journey like that, if you are comfortabe with 'sharing' a little bit of the wilderness you are temporarily inhabiting.
    Taxidermy IS art!
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    Your mount is more than a trophy, it's a memory. Relive The Memory!

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    Member bushrat's Avatar
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    Wonderful writeup and pics, Julie. Was just crazy luck when you guys came in how the caribou were hitting the Ivishak. And we lucked out too getting you all out there that day. Was great to meet you all and glad you had a successful float hunt.

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