This trip would make me realize just what my daughter is capable of. To say that I am extremely proud would be a gross understatement. When she told me that she could only get 4 days off from work to try and fill her Caribou tag I was a bit bummed and skeptical that we could pull it off, especially since we couldn't hunt the first day after flying.... I have never been in a situation with my daughter that would make me understand just how tough my baby girl was. Her energy and drive has impressed me more than I ever could have imagined! Follow along with the pictures and the story as my daughter takes her first ever big game animal! I am positive it will not be her last!
Finally after a day wind delay of an already short hunt we were packed to the gills and ready to head to the mountains. Little did she know what was in store!
This was going to be her second hunt ever and hopefully her first big game animal. She came along on one other bear hunt that was unsuccessful a few years ago. She use to accompany me on many deer hunts back in SD along with her brother, but never to hunt on her own
After all the wind the day before, I was worried. It was actually great weather, however, so we climbed high and went in over the peaks to save some time.
The higher we got into the Talkeetna's the more fresh snow though... Ciera was starting to get a little nervous.
For the first snow of the year down this way, it was a little lower elevation than we thought it would be.
We were getting close to the strip we had scouted out a couple weeks ago and it looked like it would be in the snow for sure!
This is the area we scouted and in the bottom center you can see the strip I landed on. After seeing how much snow there was Ciera was not too upset that there was already a plane parked there. Her vote was to head to our backup strip and see what it looked like. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of it, but there was a plane parked there as well. Time to head a little closer to the headwaters of the Talkeenta river and see if we could find some place else.
After about a half hour of flying we both needed a little break so we landed down along the river to do some glassing and stretch. Didn't see much that interested us and it was a long way to treelike so we loaded back up and headed to the ridge tops to see if we could find any place to land above tree line.
As we flew the ridge there was one spot in particular that we saw several caribou, a black and grizzly bear and a very large bull moose all within a half mile of each other. That was what we were looking for so I tried hard to find someplace I could land. The elevation was approaching 5000 feet so I was a little nervous about how the plane would perform. After circling this spot close to a dozen times and dragging the tires across it we committed. It was still a little rougher than I thought it would be, but with the 35's it was manageable. Definitely a one way in, one way out strip though. After I got on the ground we took my range finder and discovered that it was only 522 feet long from the plane to the edge where I am standing in the pic below. I knew we were going to have to shuttle the load out of there if we were successful and likely even if we weren't.
There were so many blueberries that my tires, struts and underside of my wings were covered in blueberry juice from the landing!
Ciera helped me pitch the tent and then hiked around a bit while I finished setting up camp.
Here is another view ask we hiked the ridge below us to glass the whole valley. It was definitely not the smoothest option for a runway, but it worked to get us up where the caribou were. We started seeing them right away.
And within an hour of glassing we looked back and found a small bull was walking right behind the airplane... This had our hopes pretty high, but there was nothing we could do today since we flew in. Your not allowed to start hunting until the following day after being airborne.
There was a beautiful mountain stream within a hundred yards of the plane flowing straight down the mountain. We went down there to fill the water bags and cook diner.
That was some of the best tasting and clearest water I have had. Left it unfiltered and just set the clear bladder in the sun for a bit just in case.
We started finding very large sheds that evening. Looks like were in the right place!
After picking up these two she was pretty optimistic.
As the second day dawned it started off a little cloudier and colder than we expected. I got up and started to climb the ridge to warm up a bit and see if there were any caribou around.
Today was the day she could start hunting. I don't think anything could get rid of that smile, even the temps! She also got to see the Aurora that night when she woke up for a nature break.
Within 10 minutes we had a small caribou about half a mile from camp.
We saw a total of over 50 that day, and we thought that this guy was going to be the one, but he never came within range and didn't stick around long. He was the only decent bull we found that day so we were bummed when we just couldn't close the distance. Anyone that hunts caribou knows how difficult they can bee to get close to if they are moving. Even at a slow pace its amazing how much ground they can cover...
As we hiked back down to the plane we had to stop and take in all the beauty. We had hiked a total of about 9 miles and went over the top of two mountains. Kind of discouraging that we only saw one decent bull, but we were seeing lots of caribou so we ended the day with hope of what tomorrow would bring.
On the third day we woke up to caribou right outside the tent about 350 yards above us. As they moved through we started noticing lots of them on the ridge to the south, but they were all feeding up the mountain. As tired as we were Ciera new today would have to be the day if we were to get something down, butchered and back to the plane in time to make it home Monday. Her level of energy and spirit was much higher than mine, and we decided to climb the mountain again and see if we could get above them and find a decent bull.
While we ate a quick breakfast I glassed all the surrounding area.
Hot Mountain House Granola and blueberries along with a handful of fresh blueberries thrown in had never tasted so good on a cold day!
We left the plane, crossed the creek and headed upward.
Her hopes were pretty high and her spirits. I was hoping it would be a little warmer as I wasn't sure how she would do in the cold, but she impressed me in every way on this hunt!
As we climbed the mountain the plane quickly faded into the distance. We were seeing lots of caribou, in the distance, but they were all pretty small! We figured that if we got to the top and didn't see any bulls she would settle for a small guy close to the plane since her tag was for any caribou and she really wanted to take her first big game animal.
This guy came pretty close just as we were getting into the steep stuff, but he was not what we were looking for. If it were later in the day and we were much closer to the plane we would have considered it.
She found another huge shed as we got close to the peak. Hopefully we would find an animal anywhere even close to this.
As we reached within 100 yards of the top we found what we were looking for. A very large bull bedded down with 6 other caribou. Unfortunately the wind was in the caribou's favor and we had to drop our packs and circle back way below them to try and get on the good side with the wind. We lost sight of them for quite a while and only hoped that they would still be there when we crested again. About 15 mins later we peaked over a small ridge and the bull had stood up to feed just above the group. Ciera used my spotting scope tripod as a rest, and made a perfect 212 yard shot! He flinched hard and just stood there for about 10 seconds before falling in his tracks. The rest of the group stood looking at him for quite a while, and one of them actually went towards him until they finally saw us approaching and turned away.
As we came up to him I had a tremendous sense of pride at what my daughter had accomplished. The shot was as perfect as it could have been and we were blessed with some incredible eating and a tremendous first animal for her!
Absolutely exactly where I told her to put it. Took out both lungs and the top of the heart was completely gone. She definitely held her composure better than I expected!
We notched the tag and got to work. Now the fun really begins!
We took a moment to take it all in and get the shots of a lucky young lady. We were truly blessed!
I have my work cut out for me to try and top this experience on her next hunt!
One proud papa! I think the smile says it all!
Ok, now its time to get busy! Good thing she shot it early in the day!
I told her we were going to have to make two trips to get him down and I think her heart sank. She said that she wanted to at least try to get it all down in one load. I had the whole animal cut up and put into the packs. I had two rear quarters and one front shoulder with the rack. Made for a very heavy pack, but the big Barney's pack made it look much lighter than it was.
She had the other shoulder, the ribs, all the neck meat and trimmings and the cape. I would guess hers to be around 80 lbs and mine around 120. I was going to take some out after I felt how heavy it was but she said she wanted to give it a shot. I was incredibly impressed to say the least!
We had to take lots of breaks, but luckily it was just over 2 miles and all down hill to the plane until the creek crossing. I thought for sure we would have to stop somewhere and lighten the load, but to get it at least part way down would have been better than to have to come back up for a second trip.
When the plane finally came into view it was one of the most welcome sights of the day next to her caribou hitting the ground! ;-)
The view the rest of the way down was nothing short of spectacular!
Just had to take it all in and reflect on the day and the trip!
As we got down by the creek I had to stop and at least get a shot of her with the rack on her back with the beautiful scenery!
One happy and proud girl!
She decided to go on and finish the trip with the rack! The hill climb on the other side was a challenge, but she toughed through it!
And still managed to keep a smile on her face!
As we broke down camp I had to get one last shot of the cub and our trophies! I had to shuttle the load down to a long gravel bar below us in three loads to safely get off the mountain. That proved to be a very wise decision, but the cub performed way better than I expected. Even at that altitude with a heavy load on very rough terrain it was off the ground in less than 400 feet. Ciera videoed a few of the takeoffs and landings. I will share them as well.