Flashback Friday – First Caribou

safarimagMA1998Editor’s Note: On Friday we dig deep into the extensive Safari Club archives and revive a story from our past. This week we follow a young huntress and her father as they travel to Alaska to hunt caribou. This story first appeared in the March/April 1998 issue of Safari Magazine.

For more than a year, my dad and I planned a trip to Alaska to hunt caribou. But this would not be my first hunt. My dad is a hunting guide for deer, elk and mountain lion, and I have accompanied him on several of these hunts. We also go duck, pheasant, dove and antelope hunting. He has been to Alaska four times and also has hunted in Africa, Mexico and the Northwest Territories.

In mid-August 1997, we began our journey, driving from our home in Colorado to Salt Lake City to catch a flight to Seattle. We then flew from Seattle to Anchorage, where we were met by my aunt. She always meets my dad when he flies to Anchorage and is happy to provide accommodations for him.

flashbackfridayfirstcaribousupercubThe next morning, Aunt Ann drove us to Merrill Field. From there, we would fly to Port Alsworth with Lake Clarke Air. We said our good-byes and finally were on our way. The view from the plane was beautiful, and I caught a peek at snow-capped Mount McKinley.

From Port Alsworth, two bush pilots, Mark and Jim, flew us the rest of the way to our caribou camp. Dad and I were getting sick of these little, bumpy planes, so we stopped for a breather on a dry lake bed. From that point on, we started to see caribou, and I even saw a little black bear on a distant hillside. We decided to do some scouting from the plane to make sure that the spot we had picked had caribou present. Our landing area was called Finn Mountain. There, Mark and Jim dropped us off and said they’d be back to check on us on Wednesday, weather permitting.

mountaincaribou2From the start, there was no question that we were in the middle of caribou herds. There was a herd on the landing strip and another about 100 yards from our campsite. The hillside facing us was just covered with caribou. Every direction we turned we could see them.

We set up camp and went hiking to get the feel of our surroundings. The walking wasn’t bad at all, and because we wouldn’t kill anything farther away from camp than we were willing to pack, I knew I could handle the hunt. I had been with Dad on a lot of tough hunts in much rougher country, especially when hunting mountain lions in the winter.

That night, two planes landed and three men camped not 40 yards away. They had a camping spot in the bushes that they had cut out years ago. What were the chances of our having company? Our pilots hadn’t known their campsite existed, but they’d never landed at this spot before. The other hunters didn’t mind the competition, and neither did we.

We were up by 7 the next morning and out of camp two hours later. We saw several nice bulls, but their antlers were not large enough. We were in no rush. I told Dad that if we had to think about antlers, then the bull probably wasn’t good enough. I wanted a big one. We knew if we were patient we would find a nice bull. When we did spot a good one, I thought, this one could be mine. But we saw a bunch of bachelor bulls in a different spot and I realized that we were in no mad panic, that we should go look at them first.

We found a spot where we could sit and have a look. All of a sudden, Dad blurted out in an excited whisper, “Look in those bushes with the binoculars!”

I am no caribou-ologist, but when I saw a massive rack of antlers with huge tops, I knew it was my caribou.

This young veteran huntress proudly poses with her first caribou.
This young veteran huntress proudly poses with her first caribou.

We crawled to the bushes, I got settled in and waited for the bull to rise. The shot was about 200 yards, so I didn’t want to risk shooting it in its bed. After a few minutes, the bull stood and I shot – and missed. I couldn’t believe it! I was so relieved when the caribou didn’t hightail it out of there. Two other bulls were blocking my next shot. Finally, they moved, I drew in a breath, aimed, held the gun steady, slowly pulled the trigger and the bull fell dead.

I didn’t believe my dad at first when he said I had killed it. We walked over to see it, took a lot of pictures and began the dirty work. The fun had ended.

We had to pack out two loads that day. For the second load, we found a shorter but steeper route. As we walked to our camp returning from our final load of the day, a caribou herd not 150 yards away seemed to hold a fairly nice bull. We dropped our packs and snuck to our tent to get the binoculars. It was a nice bull, and for this close to camp it was good enough for Dad. One shot with a rest over a camp stool, and it was over. We did a quick skinning job and packed our meat to camp. We were exhausted and were ready to go to bed after dinner.

flashbackfridayfirstcaribou2A steady rain was falling the next morning and our area was fogged in. We knew the pilots wouldn’t be checking on us today, so we visited our neighbors’ camp. They had strung a tarp over their table and stoves. When the weather cleared, we finished our packing.

When the pilots checked on us the following day, we decided to leave two days earlier than planned so I could get to school on time.

When we flew out the next morning, the ride was not as bad as when we flew in. We had lunch at Port Alsworth before continuing on to Anchorage. The week’s caribou antlers were all in Lake Clarke’s Air office when we landed at Merrill Field. From more than a dozen racks, Dad said mine was by far the best of the lot. When we reached Salt Lake City, our caribou antlers were quite the rare sight. People kept asking questions. Most did not believe that a little girl had killed that big caribou.

As we neared home, I was anxious and a little sad. I missed my aunt and Alaska. We had had a wonderful experience, one that neither my dad nor I would ever, ever forget.–Andie

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