A few weeks ago I posted my first posting about my decision to go hunting for the first time for my mid-life crisis. Although born in Alaska to homesteading parents, I had never gone hunting. So I thought taking up hunting would be preferable to getting the newer younger wife and the sports car. Thats the mistake my dad made back in the 70s. The blond dumped him after a couple years for a school bus driver. But driving his Porsche was fun.
I drove down to the Denali Highway Wednesday afternoon and arrived at the McClaren River about 10pm and camped for the night. I was out on the road before 6am Thursday morning and immediately saw a group of what appeared to be cows and calves on a big hill about 3 miles west of the river. I parked and climbed up the hill to see if I could spot any bulls. I hadn't seen any with large antlers from the road. Got to the top and spotted quite a few caribou. Due to the high brush it was impossible to identify any young bulls. I did discover I was about 50 yards or closer to one with a fairly large set of antlers but it turned out to be a cow with a calf. So I gave up on this group as the conditions weren't good for identifying bulls and if there were any bulls they would have been fairly young.
Also I had spotted a large group of caribou on the other side of the road high up on that hill. They were fairly far away and moving away from me so I didn't pursue them as it would have been too much work packing out a kill from their location.
I carried on down the Denali Highway heading west. Sometime after the Clearwater creek I spotted three caribou from the road--all fairly young looking. I decided to see if I could stalk them. There was a steep drop off on both sides of the road down about 100 feet so they saw me coming. I thought they would be difficult to stalk since they could see me coming. But I took my time threading my way through the brush and got in position so that I could glass them. The largest one was definitely a bull and I was fairly successful in sneaking up on them. I don't have a scope on my rifle so I need to get within 100 yards to be confident in my shooting. I was getting close to shooting range when the two younger ones spotted me and they all ran off. So I circled round to where I thought they might be and discovered them again. I approached them on my hands and knees and then they all decided to lay down and rest. I was 130 meters from the bull I had identified. The bushes were getting scarce and I had to start slithering snake like from bush to bush. The two younger ones were a bit further away and I could only see the tops of their heads and antlers. The bull was lying in a position I could not shoot at. I was geting close to 100 meters out from him. I managed to slither in within my maximum allowable range I could confidently shoot from. At that range I definitely need something to rest the gun on and was hoping the bush would lend enough support for a steady shot. Anyway I was face down for quite a bit waiting for the bull to get up. I was very surprised to raise my head and see that the bull had disappeared but the other two were still resting. So I knew he hadn't spotted me or the other two would have run off too. Shortly the other two lazily got up to do some more eating. I was able to see that one of them was a young bull but wasn't sure about the other one until I saw her urinate. I wasn't too sure I wanted to pursue the bigger bull that had disappeared as I thought I would wait to get one a bit older. Also I didn't want to carry him up that very steep 100 foot bank to the truck. So I canceled the stalk. When I stood up so the two caribou could see me it was fascinating to see their reactions. They ran away but kept returning as they were super curious to see what I was. The did this several times. The whole stalk took about two hours and was a great learning experience observing caribou behavior and learning what to expect from them when stalking.
I carried on down to mile 70 and saw a number of fresh caribou tracks there and spent a couple hours scouting the area but saw nothing. So I started back to the McClaren River. I saw one small caribou from the road not far from where I had seen the three. I didn't investigate since it had such small antlers. Later on a couple miles east of the Clearwater Creek there was a cow less then 50 yards off the road. I wasn't sure she was a cow until I stalked her. She had run off into the brush after I got out of my truck. I came upon her suddenly about 25 yards away and I thought she had seen me but she didn't run away. I was directly upwind from her but apparently something in the terrain didn't carry my scent to her. I couldn't see any brown vulva but also didn't see any penis sheath. Finally she urinated and I left. Saw no more caribou on Thursday. I was feeling rather discouraged at the end of the day. The last thing I wanted to do was shoot a caribou at the end of the day when my energy was all spent.
Friday morning I was on the road before 6am and decided to head down to where I had seen the lone female. I saw nothing from the road on my way to about mile 52. There is a nice parking area up on a little knoll right where I had seen the cow. I headed north and the terrain was fairly flat with some very gentle rises and low areas. There were plenty of caribou tracks and trails to follow. After about 30 minutes I was standing at one end of a long open area about 800 feet long and maybe 150 feet wide. I was getting ready to glass up there when suddenly several caribou appeared out the brush up about 150 yards. They appeared to be cows with calves and they seemed very cautious. About ten of them darted across the open area to disappear into the brush on the other side. So I thought I better stalk them to see if there were any young bulls there. But suddenly three more appeared out of the brush. I had read that often younger bulls appear last. They stood up there for a minute before they started in my direction. It didn't take them long to get about 50 yards from me. By this time my heart was pounding. I attempted to glass the biggest one but the lenses were fogging up and my glasses started fogging up. I managed to wipe away the fog. Eventually it looked like the biggest one had a penis sheath but I wanted to get a second look to be sure. He wandered off into the brush for a couple of minutes but eventually came back out. Again I saw a penis sheath and decided he must be a bull. In the mean-time the two younger ones had been staring at me a lot and were very cautious. A couple times they heard me breath out from stress. But eventually they seemed to dismiss me as a threat. I never was able to determine if they bulls or cows.
So after two good looks at the biggest one I decided to fire. I took aim but my rifle was rather unsteady. I pulled the trigger and the shot rang out. I remember thinking how it didn't seem as loud as usual and there was no ringing in my ears. The bull immediately took off running. I was worried I had not delivered a lethal shot. But after about 150 yards he stumbled but managed to carry on for another 100 yards before he collapsed.
The other two caribou seemed unsure of what was happening. They bolted only a short distance before they stopped and turned around to look at me. I started walking and eventually they ran off into the brush. When I arrived at the caribou he was almost dead. He moved his back leg a bit and then died about 30 seconds after I arrived.
The first thing I did when I got there was to make sure he was a bull. I was immediately relieved to find testicles. My two great fears were that I would shoot a cow or not deliver a lethal shot.
I looked at my GPS and it said it has been only 37 minutes since I left the truck. Later I went back to where I had been standing when I shot him and it looked like it was a 43-45 meters distance. Coincidentally I was in the right spot motionless when they appeared out of the brush. Coincidentally they decided to come my direction. One never knows what fortunate or unfortunate coincidence will bring you. He appeared to have enjoyed his last jaunty stroll towards me and his last few mouthfuls of lichen. But I felt no great joy in his demise.
I was in the non-motorized hunting area but fortunately was only .82 miles from my truck. It took me four trips for my 48 year-old bones to carry him out and I finished at 2:15pm. It was quite an experience cutting him up and I'm sure I'll be able to improve on that next time. I discovered I had shot him through the heart.