The town was a lot smaller than now, and when we went to the Malamute Saloon for a drink, a bunch of boys were whooping it up as a piano player was hammering out a ragtime tune. There were actually some characters walking around with guns and knives in their belts, and rowdy, semi-attractive women seemed to be everywhere. Ah, for the good old days.
A friend and I had signed up for a 10-day hunt with a wild man who called himself an outfitter. Many interesting things happened before and during this hunt. First of all, about three weeks before we left, my friend asked a friend of his to join our parade, and then the friend of a friend asked a friend of his to go. Thus we had four people on the hunt. One of which was unknown to two of us but we did have a very friendly outfitter who liked the idea of extra revenue.
Fortunately the camp, which was beautiful, had ample space for four hunters. When we got to the camp after a rather bumpy two-plus-hour plane ride, I somehow ended up in a cabin with the guy I didn’t know. He’d killed one deer in his life and had come to Alaska with a borrowed .300 Winchester Mag that he’d never fired. I had killed only one deer and an elk in my limited hunting career but at least, I had been on my college ROTC rifle team.
My roommate’s first major blunder occurred the first afternoon in camp when we went down to a makeshift range to sight-in our rifles. It didn’t take my roomie but one shot to half moon himself. Actually, he’d “Grand Canyoned” himself to the bone. Twenty minutes later, we’d stopped the bleeding, iced his head and retired to the bar.
That night, after a great meal cooked by an ex-Navy Seal (everyone in camp was some type of war hero – one Seal, one Ranger, one Special Forces, and my guide was on R&R after two years in CIA ops), we returned to our cabins, and I found my roomie, who hadn’t eaten, in the king-sized bed by the stove.
That left me the bunk beds. After pitching my stuff onto the top bunk, I stripped and dove into the lower bunk, and started dreaming of big hairy monsters. About halfway through my first palpitation, I was aroused by a piercing moan. “Oh God, my back, oh God!”
Rolling over, I saw my roomie sitting on the edge of the bed, doubled up in pain. “Oh God, this bed’s too soft. It’s killing my back,” he whined. “I have to sleep in one of the bunk beds.”
Okay, I’m a reasonable person. “Fine, take my bed,” I grunted, “and I’ll take the king.”
A minute later the switch had been made, and I was snuggled up nicely under a down comforter. Then the stillness was shattered. “Oh God, this is worse than the king. Please change with me, and do you have any Vicodin?”
Starting to roll out of the king, I said, “Yes and no.” Actually I had six Percodan with me, but I wasn’t about to let this nut have one. After the second switch, things remained quiet for a few minutes, and then another of his wretched moans reverberated off the walls.
By this time, I had had enough. Pulling my blanket up, I snarled “Either die in that bed, or try the floor. I’m not moving.” Three hours later, when I got up to have a urinary moment, I almost killed myself when I tripped over my roomie’s prone body sleeping on the floor next to the pot-bellied stove.
Through the days, there were many, many episodes and misadventures involving this gentleman, but fortunately, I was not the only recipient of his follies. As the days went by, we rotated partners and guides and hunted different areas for specific game.
I was lucky enough to miss his bear hunt, which ended in a charge. When he and the guide got back to camp that night, the guide was ashen and immediately got into his cups. It seems that, somehow, my roomie had pulled the bolt out of his rifle as he attempted to load a shell into the chamber. With bolt in hand, he looked at the guide and whispered, “Help.”
The guide dispatched the bear with a very good shot between the eyes at 12 feet. My roomie didn’t eat that night, but the guide drank both quotas as he related the story. To be quite frank, the stories could go on and on and would more than use up the space allotted for this story, so let’s shift gears.
After a week of hard work, fun and thrills, our Navy Seal cook brought up the fact we had yet to bring in a caribou, and he was dying for us to taste his world-famous caribou stroganoff. Ergo, after a brief strategy meeting, my roomie and I became the designated caribou providers.
Needless to say, I had mixed emotions but for the sake of the group, I bit my tongue. So the next morning, we headed out with our guide of the day, the Special Forces vet from Arkansas. We loaded into some type of strange Alaskan vehicle – part tractor, part truck, part snowcat. Surprisingly, the ugly beast started with very little coaxing, and we began a brutal trek over and through the tundra.
About half way, to we knew not where, there was a tremendous jolt and bang and the great beast convulsed and died. As we climbed out of the beast, the guide uttered a rather prolonged diatribe concerning the characteristics and lineage of the beast. “Well, she’s lost a tread,” he said. “So it looks like we’ll have to walk.”
The walk wasn’t really that bad until we got to a beautiful stream. The water didn’t appear to be too deep, but you didn’t need to be a hydrologist to realize that what water there was, was flowing at an alarming rate.
As my roomie and I studied the situation, the guide said, “See that rise over there. They’re over there.”
The walk to the rise didn’t appear to be too strenuous, so I looked at the guide and said, “Okay, lead the way.”
Turning away, the guide mumbled. “Oh, I can’t go. I’ve got to get back to the vehicle and see if I can fix that tread.”
“What happens if you can’t fix the tread?” I asked, smiling.
“Oh, we spend the night,” he replied, “and wait for them to find us tomorrow.”
As he started to leave, I asked, “I know you said the caribou are over there but exactly where over there?”
“Oh you won’t have a problem,” he reassured us. “Just ease your way up the side of the rise and you’ll see a small valley below you. If they’re not in there now, just lie down and relax because they’ll come by sooner or later.”
With that, he mumbled goodbye and left us. Turning to look at my roomie, it was obvious he was having some type of anxiety attack, so I volunteered, “I’ll go first. Let me have your rifle and after I get across, take your time, and take small shuffling steps.”
Before he answered, I slung his rifle over my other shoulder and started across. The current was very swift, but thankfully the bottom was mostly small stones as opposed to slippery rocks. The going was very slow, and I’d be a liar if I told you I wasn’t frightened, but finally I reached solid ground and sat down to await my partner.
It was a longer wait than I wanted but finally after a lot of begging, taunting and name calling, he waddled across. He actually made better time than I did. Pausing for a few minutes before we headed for the rise, we relaxed and ate a Hershey bar (gummy). As the guard had said, the rise really wasn’t a bad hike and as we approached its apex, we dropped down on our hands and knees and crawled to the top.
Peering over the top, we were amazed to see nothing. A half-mile in either direction and not an animal in sight. Slipping down from the top, we looked at each other and said nothing. Finally, my roomie ventured, “Do you think this is some type of joke?”
I turned over to look back at the stream. “Its only nine thirty and we’ve got water and Hershey bars,” I said. “It’s not snowing and we’re armed so let’s just lie back and see what happens. I really don’t believe they’d leave us here on purpose.”
Thus began a three-hour wait. Every 15 minutes or so, one of us would peek over the rise and check for animals, but nothing appeared. Then at about one thirty my roomie slid down next to me and stammered, “There are caribou coming down the valley.”
“How many?” I asked.
“I don’t know but there’s lots of ‘em, he replied.”
The next 40 minutes was truly amazing as a steady stream of caribou walked leisurely down the valley past us. It was breathtaking. About every 10 minutes my roomie would roll over and say, “There’s a big one. I’m going to take him.”
“No, you’re not,” I’d say through clenched teeth. “Remember what they told us. The big males are always at the end of the group. Just be patient. We’ve got lots of time.”
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, we saw the last of the caribou in the distance. I turned to my roomie. “Okay I’ll give you first shot,” I said, “but tell me the one you’re aiming at so we don’t shoot the same one.”
As the last of the unsuspecting animals began to meander by, my roomie was about to jump out of his skin. He was absolutely wired. Bringing his rifle up, he said “I want the one on the right with the mud on his front leg.”
As I looked at the few remaining animals, I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. I didn’t see any animal with mud on his front leg, but what I did see was two magnificent looking animals bringing up the rear.
“Roomie, hold up,” I said. “Look what’s coming farther back.”
Before I could continue, he whispered, “I don’t care; I want the one on the right.”
Taking a deep breath, I grabbed his arm. “You pick the one you want from the last two,” I said. “Not any of these.”
When the pair was about 100 yards away, I rested my rifle on a small scurf of some unknown plant and zeroed in on the caribou on the left. Feeling very comfortable I began to squeeze the trigger when I heard, “No, no. I want the left one. He’s bigger.”
Taking my finger off the trigger, I moved my rifle a little to the right and picked up the right, or lead caribou. It was going to be an easy shot. Maybe 80 yards at the most. Patiently I waited for my partner to shoot, but nothing happened. Not taking my head off my rifle, I asked, “What the hell are you waiting for? They’re almost on top of us.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” he replied. “I want the right one. He’s bigger. “
Not bothering to look up, I slid my rifle back to the rear caribou and waited for my partner to let fly. Nothing.
By this time, the two bulls were past us, so I growled, “What the hell are you waiting for now? They’re getting farther away.”
“I’ve changed my mind. I want the rear one.”
Sliding my rifle over again I picked up the first caribou, took a deep breath and fired. Down he went. Then I heard boom, boom, whap and I saw the rear caribou drop. We’d done it. We’d gotten the two big boys.
Then from behind us, we heard the guide say, “Good shooting fellows. Those are two dandy caribou.” It was amazing that we hadn’t heard the guide come up behind us, but as everyone knows, the thrill of a hunt can do strange things to a hunter.
After a few minutes of jubilation we walked down to the caribou, and the guide hadn’t lied. They were both superb animals. Then my partner said, “You @%&*%. You shot my caribou. It’s bigger than mine.”
Well, he was right about one thing, it was bigger.-– Bob Gallagher