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Thread: Brooks Range Family Caribou Hunt Trip Report - Long

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    Member Birdstrike's Avatar
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    Default Brooks Range Family Caribou Hunt Trip Report - Long

    I originally posted this under the Float Hunting forum, but figured it was appropriate here also.

    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.



    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.



    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.

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    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 thoughout most of the next day. 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 that morning and the evening before. 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 about. 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. After glassing the herd for a few minutes she 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.



    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 the meat and the rack back at camp and everyone in bed by midnight exhausted.

    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 a caribou. Camping and rafting in the rain is not much fun and we'd all had plenty of experience with this on other trips. We'd had enough of the rain by now so the priority became floating to the take-out. The bright side to the rain 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)


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    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 T.A.G. bags and a tarp when it rained.



    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 time 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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    Bird,

    Those are truly some exceptional photos. Congrats to your entire family. I'll be flying with Mike (70 North) next week. The first shot of the plane looks a lot like the spot I was in last year. I won't say where either - what a great spot.

    Thanks for the story.

    Don Mulligan
    www.outdoorswithdon.com

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    Member Smokey's Avatar
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    Very nicely done - thanks for sharing...!
    When asked what state I live in I say "The State of Confusion", better known as IL....

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    thanks for the post! realy good pics and story, makes me super antsy to get out there!!

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    Really enjoyed this, Birdstrike, love to see the whole family getting out in the field together. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bushrat View Post
    Really enjoyed this, Birdstrike, love to see the whole family getting out in the field together. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.
    Agreed...

    BTW, that Ox looks like a bruiser! Maybe the 'Nomers' can chime in to see if I'm right...

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    One of the best write ups w/pics this year! Thanks!

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    Great report and pics! This has the blood stirring again. Soooo, as Robert W. Service said "And I want to go back-- and I will."

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    Awsome post. I was up there right after you and have some pics across the river from where your meat was hanging. Great job getting the family out...they will remember that forever. Oh...fyi, the animals moved out into the plains about 2 days later.

    Great job!

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    Quote Originally Posted by hunt_ak View Post
    Agreed...

    BTW, that Ox looks like a bruiser! Maybe the 'Nomers' can chime in to see if I'm right...
    Young bull. Not much seperation of the boss yet and fur still in between. However, I bet mighty tasty!!
    Know guns. Know peace. Know safety.

    No guns: no peace. No safety!

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    Moderator hunt_ak's Avatar
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    Thanks, man!

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    Wow...cool trip and write up...the pic's are good too!
    That's awesome that you took your family on a trip like that...good for you!

    Dave

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    Default Great!

    A family; the eastern Brooks Range; game harvested and handled in a responsible manner; their original posting should be made a "Sticky".
    To say "refreshing" would be a gross understatement.
    THANK YOU for posting.
    Joe (Ak)
    (Note: the lack of "camo" may speak volumes , again thank you for posting!)

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    Moderator hunt_ak's Avatar
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    I agree, this is a great example of enjoying the outdoors and spending an awesome time teaching the next generation a thing or two about 'how it's done'.

    Did ya see my wifes moose, Joe . Haha!

    Birdstrike, you should be proud!

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    Member Roger's Avatar
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    Awesome!!!
    PEOPLE SAY I HAVE A.D.D I DON'T UNDERSTA.....OH LOOK A MOOSE !!!

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    YES I did! Sounded like a great time - and - looked
    like a lot of good eating!
    Hard (impossible) to equal or beat time in the field with family members.
    Another great account - thank you for posting.
    Joe

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    Excellent account and trip and pictures and thanks for sharing that! (+1)

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    Just read it all again and have to admit I am even more jealous the second time around! Simply an awesome experience and one I hope to duplicate in the next year or two!!

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