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Thread: First Brooks Caribou, From Happy Bull Pond

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    Default First Brooks Caribou, From Happy Bull Pond

    Had the opportunity to hunt the Central Arctic Herd around the end of August. What a dream. I walked out of the corridor with a rifle, in bluebird weather, over golden tundra, and a caribou obliged on day 1. Not much in the way of photos from the hunt but thought I would share the tale. Wish this were a pic-heavy thread as the scenery warranted it and then some, but you have to put up with my verbose account instead, and if you've been on Brooks range tundra on a sunny day, then your mind can no doubt fill in the blanks.

    Nothing like harvesting an animal for subsistence with sticks and rocks to make a person's bones feel rooted in the laws of the land, grateful for every sunrise.



    I arrived at about 11 pm and camped in the Northern Brooks foothills. Was up at 7:30 am making coffee and breakfast. Weather was phenomenally clear. Met a friendly guy from North Pole who said hello, he'd been stalking bou for a couple days with his bow but had not connected. We were both planning to walk outside of the corridor with rifles that day, and decided to pool resources and effort, bringing just one GPS, water filter, etc along. Out of nowhere saw a group of 8 or 10 bou dance across a ridge just across the small lake from us, at 200 plus yds, 5 or 6 mature bulls and a few cows, with two very large bulls in the lead. I knew that many of the animals were further north on the sag flats, so this was a good omen it seemed.

    We collected necessities and walked out 2.5 miles, cresting a large, broad rise which got us out of sight/hearing of the road, but left us slightly disoriented as we couldn't really see what was ahead. Had a curious single cow run circles around us, approaching within 50 yds and trying to wind us. A few more steps dropped us below the rise and we were in view of a river bottom and several tiny ponds out in the distance. At 3 1/2 miles we spooked a large lone bull and pushed him out across the river. No way was I chasing after that fleeing bull, but we could see another mature bull straight ahead but way out near a tiny pond. No other caribou in sight.

    Out we continued, spotting and gazing the river bottom undulations hoping for a nice band of caribou with two bulls, that never presented itself. The lone bull in the distance was nearly motionless, apparently quite satisfied with the sedges growing around "happy bull pond" and he was appearing more and more within reach as we walked farther. 4.5 miles straightline from the road and we were closing in on him and "he just might be outside the corridor..."

    At 4.8 miles we stopped on a rise to glass him, and he was right where he was supposed to be. We snuck behind a very low rise and popped over the top at perhaps 250 yds. we were now at 5.05 miles. A providentially placed caribou, no doubt. My new friend belly crawled up through some blueberry bushes to the last low rock that provided cover, and I followed a few minutes later. The bull stole a few glances our way but developed no desire to change activities or location.

    Happy bull pond was in a fairly flat and exposed area, but there was one additional low rocky rise, covered in bright red arctic bearberry and blueberry, that would present enough cover to approach, with a much closer shot. New friend said, "Why don't you take him, or I'll take him, if you want". Ambiguous, to say the least, but I sensed he was genuinely offering to me.

    "I'd like the shot" I replied, "and I think I'll head to that rise over there. we have time. he's not going anywhere. Is it ok if I take him?"

    The shooter being agreed upon, tension and butterflies set in, and the bull knew something was up. Over he walked to the lone patch of knee high willow shrubs, and down he bedded, completely hiding us from his view, while displaying antler tops high for all to see.

    What a cooperative fellow! Should have left his genes in the pool solely due to this wonderful demeanor, but the need and opportunity to harvest food for winter sustenance was emminent.

    Over to the rise I snuck, doing a big U turn retreat and then return to the low crest, again spotting antlers fully in view. Arriving at the perch, it just did not present a comfortable prone shot, which I prefer to avoid anyways, so I opted to jump up and grab a quick seat on a nearby rock, elbows inside my knees, poised and ready. I waited for mr bull to get up, but soon decided to scuffle my feet in the rocks to pop him up. Up he rose presenting a perfect side profile, and BOOM went the 7mm stick. The 160 gr rock departed at 2200 ft / sec, and made quick and destructive contact, with good horizontal accuracy, though a bit low. He reared up on powerful hind legs, both front knees obliterated, and stumbling, lurched forwards while turning away from me, driving with his hind legs. "If you get a vitals shot take it" I yelled to my friend. Out of the mucky sedge meadow surrounding happy bull pond, the bull drove with just hind legs to the upland base of a small dry ridge, where he was finished off with a second round from my 7mm and then a resounding boom from my companion's 375 that penetrated 6 ribs and lodged at the base of the neck. Excellent mushroom on the 375 round, which was retained, with a solid inch and a quarter wound channel, while my 160 grns, one through both knees and one in the hip, were not found.

    Then the work began in the afternoon heat, about 2:30 pm and 60 degrees plus, but boy how nice it was for this fellow to at least move up to dry ground. There being substantial time left in the day, I told my new friend that he was welcome to continue hunting, if he wanted, it had been a lot of work to get out there, after all. He was hesitant but saw me comfortable with skinning solo and opted to go hunt and leave me with the bloodthirsty gnats. We decided we maybe ought to introduce ourselves, exchanging names, as we'd somehow felt no need to do so that morning. I wished him luck and he set out to see if there was a way across the river, which there wasn't.

    2-3 hours later I had four boned out quarters in my pack, with straps and loins on top. Probably 80-90 pounds, leaving just 20 pounds of neck/brisket/scraps in the field by placing it in sacks on a nearby rock and generously spreading out the meat.

    I was somewhat tempted to split the two loads more evenly, but I did not think I could bear having to do an equivalent pack the next day, so I went for a grueling grunt the first time, and an easy second load. The trip "home" was brutal. I stopped at every rock and rise between me and camp to sit down and gasp for strength and I started wondering why there weren't more rocks. If I hadn't had a rifle to use as a walking stick i would have fallen over at least a dozen times. The gnats, quite territorial, provided the incentive to stand up and move on from one rock to the next. The caribou in my pack simply was not pulling his weight, and I started wondering if he hadn't gotten the better end of the deal. I nearly wished I'd been skunked.

    Just before sunset, the full moon rose in the East, and the orange sun was descending in the west, finally cooling me down. The tundra was golden and the gnats began to bed down, offering slight reprieve. Staggering and nearing home, I spotted a nice bull in the distance, and knew I would spook him but didn't care. On I trudged without caution, yet he began to run towards me, turning and heading up onto a nearby tundra horizon. At no more than 80 yards he stopped and looked at me head on, displaying his full wishbone profile on the horizon, glowing orange and standing just to the left of the full and rising moon. Unbelieveable. Where's the camera? in the pack of course. No way am I taking this thing off, I thought, so I am sorry to be unable to share a visual photo, but it was the sort of sight that sends chills down your spine.

    Straight towards me he ran, within 50 yards, perhaps 40, stood still and broadside to me offering an excellent bow shot, sniffed the air, grinned (or so I think) and then headed for them yonder hills, never to be seen again.

    What an end to the day. Somehow I made it to camp in the dusk about 10:30, though while eating dinner I had suspicions that I was still out sitting on a rock and merely having delusions of being in camp! (Anyone else been there?)


    The next morning greeted me with a wonderful frost for chilling meat, and joints that actually moved (thanks to a generously lended generous dose of ibuprofen from some adjacent Michigan bowhunters, wonderful fellows to meet). I headed back for the small sack of remaining meat and antlers, killsite untouched through the night and morning (by all but the gnats). The antlers had large sweeping tops, though few points, and a very large front shovel. First time I've ever kept antlers from a bull, have never felt the desire before, but this guy was something special, and I had so little meat to pack back that it seemed reasonable to take these bones as well.

    The second packing trip was a piece of cake compared to the day before, I probably did it in half the time, and would probably split the loads similarly were I to do it again. My gps said 5.2 miles straightline from the corridor to the killsite and it was a LONG ways away, even hiking with an empty pack. Keep that in mind if you are thinking to do a similar hunt.

    I found myself wondering how many have hiked outside of the corridor, bagged a bull with a rifle, packed it back solo, and vowed to never do it again.

    This one was probably as easy as it gets for a walking in rifleman, and I was absolutely whooped. However, as the pack chafing subsides from my shoulders and hips, I can't help but feel the call to return, though I think I'll ask my wife to come along to pack the heavy half of the load.

  2. #2
    Member Vince's Avatar
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    great story!!!!!!!!!! so what happend to your new partner? did he bag one also after giving you the shot?
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

    meet on face book here

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    You sure earned that one!!
    A thin strong walkingstick is a MUST on a Tundra haul

    Regards!! Great write up!
    If you can't Kill it with a 30-06, you should Hide.

    "Dam it all", The Beaver told me.....

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    Thanks for the great write up. Being new to Alaska, its accounts such as this that help to educate me on what to expect and how to better prepare for my future Haul Road hunts. I plan to bring along both bow and rifle to provide the most flexibility to hunt the animals where they choose to be. Would a sled have helped in your pack out?

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    Moderator stid2677's Avatar
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    Great story and greater attitude..

    Congrats and I encourage you to take the wife, best thing I ever did.

    Steve

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    I have hunted 3 times up there and walked back past the corridor once. I was 15 and thought I was going to die from exhaustion! I said to myself over and over that I would never do that again. My dad and I walked 8 miles in and 8 miles back without a caribou. I tip my hat to you that is not an easy feat. Great job and thanks for sharing
    Cheers
    Jason

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    Quote Originally Posted by stid2677 View Post

    Congrats and I encourage you to take the wife, best thing I ever did.

    Steve
    what he said.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stid2677 View Post
    I encourage you to take the wife, best thing I ever did.

    Steve
    Absolutely. She would have loved to be there but logistics did not allow this time. I asked her to go out for moose severla times in the last 10 days or so but 4:30 AM wakeup is not her cup of tea. This past saturday night I really encouraged her to come with me but she declined. Well 6:10 am I jumped a forked-antler bull at 15 yds and put it down with one shot and then called her with her cell phone I had. Boy was she bummed (happy about the harvest, but disappointed that she hadn't come). It's tough to sneak for moose with two people though...

    So, on that note, I don't think she will be declining the next opportunity, but she says she's not ready to shoot big game yet. Has been on several moose/caribou hunts with her dad and grandpa, but prefers watching game, and then helping process meat. I plan to chase more ptarmigan/grouse in the coming weeks with her and go from there. She's becoming a good shot with the .22, and she's hard to keep up with in the high country, even when she's breaking trail. She emphatically told me last night she wants to go after sheep next fall. Sounds good to me!

    Quote Originally Posted by iturner8 View Post
    Being new to Alaska, its accounts such as this that help to educate me on what to expect and how to better prepare for my future Haul Road hunts. I plan to bring along both bow and rifle to provide the most flexibility to hunt the animals where they choose to be. Would a sled have helped in your pack out?
    I feel my fitness is average to good, and this pack ranks up there as possibly the hardest I've ever done, and the weather was perfect, and the caribou cooperated immediately. Even if all goes perfectly, this is ONE TOUGH TASK for a walk-in rifle attempt. I think a sled would have been awful in the area I was in. Too much up and down and too many willows and tussocks would have made dragging anything heavy absolutely horrendous. I've heard of people using a drag-tarp, but think that would only work well on flatter terrain, or in winter, or if you are an OX.

    Quote Originally Posted by strangerinastrangeland View Post
    A thin strong walkingstick is a MUST on a Tundra haul
    I had one in the truck and foolishly opted to leave it behind. A walking stick is a MUST. I concur!

    Quote Originally Posted by Vince View Post
    so what happend to your new partner? did he bag one also after giving you the shot?
    I sure hope so. He was up there for at least a week, having been recently layed off from work, and I had just a couple days, hence him allowing me the opportunity. He did not bag one that day, though did see a few cows later in the evening, but was definitely after a nice bull for his wall. Hoping he may have bagged one with his bow later on in the week, but i've not touched base with him yet. We exchanged info and I have been meaning to befriend him on Facebook but returning to work, trying to get dirt work finished and a slab poured for a small shop/shed, harvesting potatoes, and now processing a moose this week has me caught up in a whirlwind of activity. September always has me running from start to finish but things will settle down soon.

    If he's on the forum and reads this, I hope he chimes in, as it was a priviledge to take part in this hunt with him. The folks I met from Michigan were wonderful as well. Wonderful country and wonderful people all around.


    Quote Originally Posted by jnalaska View Post
    I tip my hat to you that is not an easy feat.
    Jason
    Thanks for the support. No it wasn't easy, even for a fairly young whippersnapper like myself, and I really mean it when I said that I almost wished I had been skunked.

    -Andrew

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    Congrats and a well written story. Its picture perfect hunts like this where you really have to work to fill your freezer that make you appreciate such a wonderful state we live in.........

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    New member fishnhuntr's Avatar
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    **** good write up, having done it, I can appreciate your exhaustion, well done! You have about 12 months to forget all the bad parts and regain the desire to go at it again.

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    This is such a great write-up I gotta say, even without pics, Great Job

    Both the extreme hunt packin' and the story told, experience gained and passed on, and the coop with a new found hunt partner,....

    Really Cool Hunting
    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 !

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    Wonderful write-up and thanks for sharing your success with us. Your writing did allow me to see the scenery and reminded me of the beauty. Next time pictures are required!

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    Thanks for the great write-up Andrew. That is some tough packing for sure over that tundra.

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    GREAT written account. You've got writing skills, Andrew.

    HOWEVER, it's all fantasy without photos! :-))

    I've started putting my camera in my front pocket and whenever the urge hits... A picture memory.

    Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your bull.

    Taylor

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