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Thread: North Brooks Range Float Hunt Trip Report

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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    Default North Brooks Range Float Hunt Trip Report

    After almost a year of planning, my family float hunt turned out to be a spectacular trip on a popular North Brooks Range river. We took three days to drive from Anchorage to Deadhorse. Although the trip could be done in 20 hrs or less we chose a more leisurly pace. We took the time to enjoy the sights and stops along the way, including a guided tour of the Prudhoe Bay oilfields and sampled a bit of North Slope camplife at the Arctic Caribou Inn.

    Day 4, August 4th had us loading up 70 North's Helio http://www.seventynorth.com/ for the first trip out of Deadhorse with myself and most of the gear. The second load with my wife and 2 kids departed from Happy Valley after they dropped off the truck at the takeout. The river had enough water for us to fly a little deeper into the Brooks than we'd originally hoped for. This gave us 1 more day of floating, camping, and hunting in what has to be some of the world's most spectacular scenery.



    We managed to catch what apparently was the last day of the arctic summer. The temp. was 80+ up in the mountains under mostly blue skies. Fortunately, this was the last day of spectacular weather. The warm weather would've made for great rafting and camping, but would have made meat care very difficult. After moving the gear about a 1/4 mile from the strip to the river we opted to set up camp there for the night and relax.


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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    After getting most of the camp chores done, raft rigged, and a dutch oven stew & biscuit dinner finished, we started seeing caribou approaching camp. They came in several waves. Most of the time within 150 yds or less of camp where they's stop and check us out. They were just as curious of us as we were of them.




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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    We woke the next morning (our first legal day to hunt) and once again had caribou walking through camp as we ate breakfast. The kids could barely contain themselves with caribou at 35 yds while they were eating oatmeal. They were blood thirsty caribou hunters ready to put meat in camp. I tried my best to explain that we had a long, long ways to float to get back to the truck and that there's be more 'bou farther down the river.

    This river, like many Alaskan rivers is very braided and shallow. Our first day of floating did nothing to improve this river's reputation and had us out of the boat 3 or 4 times an hour dragging the raft back into deeper water. This was not my first braided river trip and I'm pretty good a reading the water. But, sometimes it came down to just picking the least worst channel and 2 or more of us getting out of the raft until it floated again. We spent about 10 hrs on the river trying to put some miles behind us and looking for an ideal hunt camp. Just before a rain shower approached, we found a nice gravel bar with a large herd of caribou between it and the mountains. Pretty soon it began to rain steadily and we hurriedly set-up camp and cooked dinner. Hunting would wait until tomorrow.

    It rained through the night causing me to get up twice and check the river level. We were camped about 3 feet above the river when we went to bed and I didn't want any surprises in the night. The rain continued into the next morning and into the evening. The river slowly came up about 6 inches and went from gin clear to silty grey. By early evening the rain started to let up and we decided it was time to hunt.



    We spent an hour or so glassing where we had seen 'bou the evening before and that morning. However, the few in the area were 2 miles off. We decided to slowly hunt the river bottom and willows closer to camp to see if there were still some caribou there. As my younger son and I rounded a clump of willows we came face to face with a grey wolf at about 15yds. I'm not sure who was more surpried the wolf or us. As I was shouting "wolf, wolf, wolf" to my wife and older son who were a bit farther back, my wife heard "bull, bull, bull" and came trotting up with her rifle ready to go. By then the very surpised wolf had started his retreat, but stopped several times to take a look at us. He'd been downwind of us and I'm sure was just trying to figure out what he was smelling. Lucky for him wolf season didn't open for a few more days. Also probably lucky for me...my wife and kids said they wouldn't have wanted me to shoot him and would have disappoved. A very cool experience for all of us!

    We circled back to the tent, ate a snack, and spotted a dozen caribou at the base of the mountains behind camp. We made a decision to cut them off where we thought they would cross the river and the stalk was on. My wife was the designated first shooter for the trip and after a glassing the herd picked out the bull she wanted. We closed to within 100 yds using the wind to our advantage and the available cover (note the lack of high-tech camo). The caribou decided to bed down for a bit with a stand of willows between us and them and no clear shot. We watched and waited.


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    Eventually we closed the gap to about 40 yds to get a clear shot around the willows. I giggled to myself watching my wife army-man crawl on her hands and knees to get into shooting position. After 17 years of marriage she still amazes me. Finally she got a clear shot and the easy part was over.



    My wife and kids had only been bird hunting with me up to this point, so field dressing was somethng new to them. They all pitched in, my older son was fascinated, my younger son less so, and my wife helped more than I expected....she's turning into a true AK girl.
    3 loads later I had all the meat and the rack back at camp and everyone in bed by midnight.

    The rain started again bringing the river up a few more inches. Our original plan was to hunt hard for 1 caribou. Then if an easy opportunity presented itself on the float out, my oldest son would have his chance to harvest one. Camping and rafting in the rain is not much fun and we'd all had plenty of experience with this on other trips. However, the bright side was the higher water made for a much easier float. We went from dragging 3 or 4 times an hour to 3 or 4 times a day (and those were short sections)



    The rain continued off and on for the rest of the trip. Meat care was always in the back of my mind and we did our best to keep it dry after a generous dose of citric acid and covering it with dry TAG bags.


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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    We continued the float out to the truck. I had a new GPS and hadn't familiarized myself with all of the features so I didn't get actual distance travelled or moving time. The trip took us 6 days/5 nights to travel 64 straight line miles from the put-in to take-out. I'm not sure how many river miles this equaled with all of the twists and turns of the river, but 75 miles is probably a pretty conservative estimate. Total float ime was about 32 hours. The high water saved us at least a day and a whole lot of frustration.





    The amazing sights and experiences continued every day.



    We finally saw our first person on our 5th day about 35 miles upriver from the trucks. Eventually we floated past a few guide camps set up in the foothills that had meat hanging, but we never saw another caribou once we left the mountains. I guess that means we'll have to go back again next year. lol

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    Member WaterWolf's Avatar
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    Cool post and thanks for sharing it. Ya had me refreshing my computer every few minutes after that first post.
    I'm Pro-Pike.

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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    Sorry about the typos. I guess I waited to long to edit and now I'm locked out.

  8. #8

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    That is a great story. Just awesome to see your kids and wife out there on such an awesome hunt in a truly gorgeous place. This is an experience that no one in your family will forget anytime soon. I am sure your boys will reflect on that hunt many years from now thinking "Remember that awesome float in the Brooks Dad and Mom took us on when we were younger?" There is nothing better than hunting with the folks you love. Thanks for the great story and beautiful pics. Really enjoyed it. Oh and camo is over rated anyways.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    The sheep stories always get me missing AK but this story has me missing home and the family more than anything I have read in some time!! Simply a fantastic hunt!!! I know your kids will look back on this as one of their best childhood memories for the rest of their lives. I know most of my fondest are hunting with my dad.

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    Member power drifter's Avatar
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    Thanks Birdstrike. Enjoyed your story and good for you and your family.

  11. #11
    Member kodiakrain's Avatar
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    That's a FANTASTIC Hunt Story,

    What a Dad, Husband making way for family stories around the campfire, for a lifetime,
    Thanks for all the picftures and details,

    just a Great Read, and that "High Tech Camo" picture...

    A Classic for the Wall, Family Hunting, Mom as the Shooter !!
    Ten Hours in that little raft off the AK peninsula, blowin' NW 60, in November.... "the Power of Life and Death is in the Tongue," and Yes, God is Good !

  12. #12

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    Nice hunt, thanks for the story and pics.Hope to be able to get my wife to do that with me some day.

  13. #13

    Default Great Job!!!

    fantastic story. That is the way it's supposed to be. I can't wait until my kids grow up a little so I can take them out too. My wife would love to go, but I have an 8 yr old, a 5 yr old, and a 3 yr old. The 8 yr old is almost ready, but the other two are a little bit to young yet. It's nice to hear stories where the family get's involved. We need to teach our kids how to hunt, fish, and spend time outdoors. My wife got a kick out of the high-tech camo. I am always giving her grief when we go out and she wears pink.

  14. #14
    Member tboehm's Avatar
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    Looks like you repeated my wifes and my first trip down to and including flying on the same kind of plane, man what a work horse. Glad to see that you all had a wonderful time and a successful hunt. Thanks for sharing the memories.

  15. #15
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Spectacular trip; wonderful family experience.
    Congratulations too - it's a big achievement to solve all the logistic issues involved in a trip like this.
    Small things matter too, like checking on river levels during the night - and go a long way to insuring a good, safe trip.
    Thanks for posting this and good on you, man.

  16. #16

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    Very cool. Hope to do something similiar with my family once the kids get a bit older. Kudos for getting everyone outdoors.

  17. #17
    Member fullkurl's Avatar
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    Our family really enjoyed your experience. Thanks for sharing!
    Proud to be an American!

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    Member akaviator's Avatar
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    Nice write and great pics man. You guys are cooler than Swiss Family Robinson.

  19. #19
    Member Heg's Avatar
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    Great photos and trip report. I too am looking forward to my kids growing up; hopefully, they take after their mom and not me...I am a pretty lousy hunter. Thanks for sharing man.

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    Member Berto's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Awesome!

    i have 3 kids about the same age as yours and would love to get them out on a similar trip. i float hunted a river on the north side of the brooks range, so i know the scenery alone is worth every penny. which brings me to my question: would you mind PM-ing me the cost of your flight and total trip? this is always the first step in my planning process because without proper funding, no trip gets off the ground

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