The Great Caribou Hunt of '08
So, I'm all packed, gun and bow in tow, and I met Matt and Davin in Ontario. (Each time I hunt with them, I get further in debt.) We were on our last leg to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The next morning we are up early and met by none other than John Andre himself; Owner/operator of Courageous Lake Outfitters. John ensured we got our hunting licenses and all of our gear on a float plane bound for 150 miles north of Yellowknife.
Since the hunting trip included one guide per every two hunters, I was the odd man out in our group. I met a fella from Plains, Georgia named Ricky. Ole Ricky just happened to have grown up with none other than President Jimmy Carter. (Relax, I said he grew up with him, I did not say he liked him.) He will forever more be known as "Ricky Bobby" in our circle of friends. Ole Ricky Bobby was the odd man out in his group so it just seemed natural that he would partner with me. We met our guide, a Canadian resident, and he explained that the hunting had been slow but we would try it anyway the next morning.
Ricky Bobby and I enjoying a break from hiking on the Tundra.
Ptarmigan on the Tundra.
No Caribou and no sign of Caribou on day 1 of the hunt. John Andre made the decision to re-locate us to another camp the next day.
When we arrived at what would be our new home for the next five days, we met our new guides. Ricky Bobby and I drew an Eskimo known as "Tommy". (Works for me, I probably couldn't pronounce his Eskimo name anyway.)
We sat around all night and got introduced to the game of "Cribbage". I did not know this before the trip, but Cribbage is Eskimo and it means take all of Ben's money. (Davin managed to beat them but I know he was cheating!!)
Next morning we met Tommy at 0700 and off we went. After walking several miles and driving several miles on the lake, we spotted two Caribou feeding about 600 yards from the shoreline. (Matt and Davin had observed the same two Caribou a few minutes earlier but had opted to pass on them in hopes of finding some bigger bulls. (But more on that later.) Tommy landed the boat and off we went. So the three of us started our stalk; I informed Tommy that I didn't think we would be able to "sneak" up on those Caribou. Tommy never missed a beat and proclaimed, "They not too smart. We be ok." Who am I to argue with an Eskimo? (Remember he's the same Eskimo who took all of my money playing cards). He must know what he is talking about, right? We started moving laterally toward the bulls in hopes of "sneaking" up on them. The bulls were having no part of it. When we stopped moving, so did they. Tommy announced that it is time to shoot. Ricky Bobby asked, "which one is bigger Ben?" "Are you kidding me Ricky Bobby? These are the first Caribou I have ever laid eyes on. Just shoot one and I will shoot the other!" Ricky Bobby, not happy with my answer said, "but I want to shoot the biggest one!" "You gotta be kidding Ricky Bobby! SHOOT!" "How far is he Ben?" "I don't have a clue brother; Tommy made me leave my bag back at the boat! Just shoot it for 500 yards and you will hit something!" Wham! He hits 100 yards short and 30 yards to the left! "Ricky Bobby, what are you doing? He ain't gonna stand there all day!" "Well I shot it at 400 yards and hit short". "Well shoot again brother, and raise it up this time." He shot again and whamo! Ricky Bobby had placed lead in the belly of a bull Caribou. "You gut shot him Ricky Bobby! Shoot again!" Ricky Bobby took careful aim and shot again as we heard the round ricochet off of a rock and go in the opposite direction. "Ricky Bobby, stick that barrel in a rock and straighten it out and put some more lead in that beast boy! His fourth shot struck the Caribou in the gut a little further forward of his first well placed gut shot!! (It may sound as if I am being hard on ole Ricky Bobby. But it was all in good fun and we were laughing the whole time; even Ricky Bobby. In the end Ricky Bobby harvested his Caribou and that was all that mattered. Trust me when I say that had the situation been reversed, Ricky Bobby would have been doing the same thing to me. The hunt would not have been nearly as much fun had it not for the teasing and the bonding that took place.)
Ricky Bobby with his caribou.
Tommy finally said, "Ok Ben, your turn to shoot; kill your Caribou." I thought, I will never hit that bull from this distance. Ricky Bobby yelled, "Ben, mine was at 500 yards so yours must be further!" Tommy yelled, "He is 600 yards, at least." I told Ricky Bobby, "I am going to hold a foot or so over his back, I "guaronetee" you I hit hair!" So I leaned across a rock and that Pro-Hunter jumped; the Caribou fell right in place! Ricky Bobby screamed, "Great shot!!! " Tommy was going crazy yelling great shot!!! I was elated to say the least. (Obviously I had a little luck working in my favor as well. But I would rather be lucky than good any day!) We noticed Ricky Bobby's bull was still standing in his original spot and so I asked Tommy if we should go kill Ricky's. Tommy said not to worry. "We give him a little more time. We go see yours." We walked what seemed like for ten minutes and made it to my bull. (I am not sure how old Tommy the Eskimo was, but as you can see, he has been doing this for a while!!)
Tommy the Eskimo and me immediately after my kill.
Well, with a couple pics made and a lot of back slapping, we turned our attention once again to Ricky Bobby's bull, which at this time was slowing dying from lead poisoning I'm sure. "Tommy, do we need to shoot Ricky's bull again", I asked? "No, we will drive him to the boat." "What did you say?" "We will drive him to the boat and then kill him so we don't have to carry him so far." I looked at Ricky Bobby and said, "You gotta be kidding me. " So we started walking toward Ricky Bobby's bull with our arms out, shushing him like he was a calf that had gotten out of the pasture fence. I told Tommy that I had my doubts as to his plan working out. Tommy looked at me with a smile and said, "No problem, they not too smart!"
When we got within 40 yards or so, Tommy told both of us, "walk around front and make him look at you." I asked, "Do you want us to shoot him?" Tommy said, "No I kill him", and at that point he pulled a small pocket knife from his trousers and opened a blade. "What?" "Are you kidding me?" Tommy said, "No problem, I kill him." I told Ricky Bobby that I was going to take pictures of this because "nobody's gonna believe it if I don't!" Sure enough, as we walked to the bull's front, Tommy eased around behind him and believe it or not, jumped on the back of that Caribou while simultaneously sticking his pocket knife in the spine of the bull and twisting it. As the bull hit the ground, Tommy landed on his feet, stuck his arms in the air and screamed, "Yippee!" Tommy said, "That how Eskimo do it!" (With my right hand to God, it happened just like I described. I could not make this up!)
"So, I can die now for I have seen everything"! Well, Tommy made a believer out of me, I "guaronetee"!! (Now I have a friend in Louisiana named Danny Grant. Danny told me when I invited him to the Arctic, "I wouldn't go up there to watch them put an elephant in a fruit jar!!" But believe you me, seeing Tommy finish off that Caribou was just as good.)
Tommy told us that our hunting was over. He said a "norther" was blowing in and we would likely not get to hunt the rest of the trip. I thought, yea right, whatever, I traveled 3500 miles to hunt. I ain't sitting in the camp for two days." (Little did I know what was in store for us?)
Upon our return to camp we found a total of 7 of us had killed Caribou that day. Now hunters are a special breed. Because mine and Ricky Bobby's trophy's weren't world record Caribou, we had to listen to the, "Why did you kill a baby Caribou Ben?" stories. Davin was relentless. "I can't believe you killed a baby Ben. I still see milk on his lips in this picture. Look, is that his momma over there behind you guys in that photo?" Oh it was funny at the time. But the next morning when we all woke up to 70 km wind gusts, blowing snow and below freezing temps, the situation began to turn. Turns out ole Tommy the Eskimo knew what he was talking about. Day 4 of the hunt was spent sitting around the camp house eating some great chow; telling hunting lies and playing the Eskimo game of "Cribbage", that we all came to love!!
Day 5 was no different. Did I mention that day 5 was the last day of the hunt? Ole Tommy the Eskimo was looking like a genius since he had Ricky Bobby and I shoot two average Caribou on what was rapidly becoming the last day of the hunt. The weather was not cooperating and it looked more and more like our hunting days were over for this trip. Who cares right? Ricky Bobby and I have our baby Caribou, I am winning at cribbage and Davin and Matt are going to have to live with me for the rest of their lives. Life was pretty good for ole Ricky Bobby and his tag along redneck buddy Ben, the baby Caribou killer.
Day 6 proved to be just as nasty as days 4 and 5. 70 km winds, blowing snow and freezing temps were still the flavor of the day. That's right hunters, planes were grounded and we were going to be stuck in camp another day and night. Oh well, John Andre is feeding us well and we have grown to love cribbage.
About 1030 that morning Davin went outside for a moment and came right back in announcing that there was a herd of Caribou about two miles behind the camp. John Andre took about 2 seconds to decide and told us to go get them. Only five of us dressed to brave the cold. Like I said earlier, I had traveled 3500 miles to hunt and as far as I was concerned, it didn't get too cold.
Five hunters and guides, dressed warmly because of the horrific weather, start the 2 mile stalk on a herd of Caribou. 45 minutes after starting out, we were close enough to shoot the bulls. Obviously with 4 hunters still not having taken an animal, I was to shoot last in an effort to allow others a shot at bull. Everyone picked out their Caribou and the shots began to fly. I was with Matt when he shot his. He dropped a big bull right in his tracks from about 425 yards. Paul, the other Eskimo guide, looked at me and said, "Okay, shoot one Ben." I had a tough time with the wind. I had no rest; no rock to aim from; just Matt's 6'5" frame contorted and bent over, shaking in the wind. I picked out a bull that looked nice at 419 yards and shot. I did not get a great shot on him. I wounded him in the front leg. The bull started moving toward the north. Paul and Matt decided to track his bull and Paul allowed me to venture off on my own tracking mine. (Paul did instruct me to not get eaten by a grizzly or he would go to jail. And believe me; we had seen as many grizzly bears as Caribou at this point.) I followed him for half mile or so and he entered a large pond of water. The water was halfway frozen over and the bull seemed confused about what he was doing. He kept making back and forth trips in the middle of the pond; all the while giving me more opportunity to get closer. At a point when I was 275 yards away, I took up rest on a large rock and waited. When the Caribou stepped out of the pond on the other side, I placed a round in his heart. He fell instantly and lay perfectly still at the edge of the water. "Wow, are you kidding me" I thought. I just killed my second Caribou, on the day after the hunt was supposed to end. A week ago I had never seen a Caribou and today, I have two great trophies!!
As I told you, both Matt and Davin killed great bulls. And of course both of them were bigger than either of mine so once again, the heckling started. But now you know the truth behind the heckling. They were almost the "guys who did not kill one". And as you suspected, the teasing started back up. "Ben, are you sure that one wasn't sucking his mom's tit when you shot him?" It never ends. But like I said; all in great fun!!! What a great hunt!!!
The three of us together with our trophies; what a great couple of hunting buddies.
Group picture of the trophies taken on day 3 of the hunt.
Matt and I with our kills on day 6 of the hunt.
Matt and Davin with their kills from day 6.
As I said, it was a great hunt. John Andre and his folks were first class. I would recommend Courageous Lakes Outfitters to anyone planning a first class Caribou hunt. John Andre and his folks are customer oriented and the whole trip was superb.