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.