Author’s note: George Flournoy has made numerous hunting trips to Canada, Alaska and Africa and is a PSE pro. He also provides information for hunters about hunting in these countries and books trips for hunters.
Now’s the time to start planning for and saving your money for a North American big game hunt. The good news is if you do your research, begin to collect the gear that you will need, interview and find the outfitter you want to hunt with, you only may have to put down a 20-percent deposit. Then you will have two years to save up the money to pay for the hunt. For many bowhunters and rifle hunters, taking a caribou in Canada or Alaska is the trip of a lifetime. So, let’s look at some things you may want to consider.
For instance, if you want to get within bow or blackpowder rifle range of a caribou, you’ll need an experienced guide who has worked with hunters in the past and knows how to get them in close enough to take shots with their bows or muzzleloaders.
To begin to develop your plans for the hunt of a lifetime, I suggest that you go to one of the big sports and outdoors shows, like the Safari Club International show in Reno, Nevada. The next show will be held January 23-26, 2013. The Dallas Safari Club show will be held January 3-6, 2013. These places are where many outfitters go to meet potential clients.
Just remember, some of these outfitters are like used car salesmen. You can hear just about anything you want to hear that will cause you to book a trip with them. Some of your information will come from talking with friends and acquaintances who have been on hunts with caribou outfitters in Canada and Alaska. Find out who they recommend and why, or talk with a booking agent who has hunted with one of these outfitters. They can give you first-hand information about which outfitter can provide the type hunt you’ll enjoy the most. Remember, a booking agent has his business and grows his business from satisfied customers. Therefore, the agent wants to help you find the type of outfitter who will help produce that dream hunt of a lifetime for you. In considering an agent, make sure you also talk to someone who discusses with you the possible down side of a hunt.
- Does he have any openings for the year you want to hunt and the dates you want to hunt?
- Can you hunt a caribou bull in the velvet, and when?
- Ask about the outfitter’s bad weather policy, because in Canada and Alaska you may lose two or three days of hunting due to bad weather. Find out how many days the hunt will last, and whether you can extend your hunt at no extra cost for three to five days if bad weather prevents you from hunting during your scheduled time.
- Learn how much experience the outfitter has with bowhunting or blackpowder hunting, because the guide’s responsibility is to get you in close enough to take a bull.
- Ask about how far you’re expected to shoot accurately.
- Know your guide’s past experience with hunters who have used the equipment you plan on using.
- Learn if there has been a herd die-off in the area, and how dependable the migration has been each year, before you go. In a September hunt, all the bulls will be in hard antler with white capes, and the bulls will be on the march, migrating. There have been huge die-offs of caribou in Quebec and Labrador, and among the Barren Ground caribou in Alaska. Caribou numbers are down almost everywhere, due to disease, and in Labrador and Quebec, the increase in the number of coyotes. The result has been that quite a few caribou calves have been killed. But I can’t say what the truth is about the declining number of caribou. Knowing herd trends in the area you plan to hunt is critical.
- Find out what the total cost of your actual caribou hunt will be. At this writing, the cost is about $6,500 to $7,500.
Unexpected expenses and hassles to consider:
The airline fees keep changing, including costs for luggage. If you’re going on an extended caribou or sheep hunt, you’ll probably need one or two additional bags, which means you’ll have three or four pieces of luggage. These extra bags may cost you $100 or $200 each on every leg of your flight, to get to your destination. Say you’re flying from Florida to Chicago, then from Chicago to Edmonton, and from Edmonton to Fairbanks, well, every one of those legs of your flight will cost you $100 or $200 for your extra luggage.
Most outfitters will limit you to 50 pounds of gear when you’re on your hunt, but you can take all the gear you want to into your base camp. That 50 pounds on the hunt is usually considered your maximum, whether you’re getting to your hunting destination by horseback, float plane or canoe. You’ll always need rain gear, two pairs of boots and if you are hunting later in the year, pack some snow boots. When you consider these basic essentials, 50 pounds isn’t much gear to take on a hunt.
You need to be aware that if you’ve ever had any type of law enforcement violation in your past, regardless of how minor it may be, all the way back to college or high school days, you may not be permitted to enter Canada with a gun. Recently, I had a party on a bear hunt to Vancouver Island. One of their members had been arrested for a DUI 35 years ago, when he was in college. The Canadian government wouldn’t allow him to enter Canada because of that DUI.
The person you meet with as you go into customs can make these kinds of decisions. I had some Mexican clients from Sonoma, Mexico on a September hunt a year ago. The customs officer even asked them if they ever had been to the Middle East. Getting your guns into Canada can be difficult. Before you arrive, the Canadian government will send you a form. When you fill out the form and send them the serial number of the gun you’ll be hunting with, you cannot take a different gun into Canada. You absolutely have to use the gun that has that serial number on it. For this reason, many Canadian outfitters have guns that their clients can rent or borrow. This way you don’t have to be concerned about getting your gun into Canada.
You’ll want to bring your meat home, but that’s usually limited to 50 or 100 pounds, depending on how much you have to pay to ship the meat with you on the plane. If you want to bring all your meat home with you, instead of flying, you may want to drive to your hunting destination with either a pickup truck or towing a trailer. Then, you can bring all your meat home with you. Your capes have to be dried, and your horns have to be crated to ship home. Oftentimes the expense can be about $500 for crating and shipping your horns home. Because of the additional expense, I believe the sportsman can save a lot of money, depending on where he lives, by driving to his hunting destination instead of flying. If you plan to drive instead of flying, all expenses for the trip will be about $10,000. If you fly, your expenses will be close to $12,000, all inclusive.
If I was booking a caribou hunt for me or for my best friend, I would book a September hunt. I like hard-horned caribou, the capes would be white by then, and the caribou migration starts in September. You may be looking down in a canyon and see 200 or 300 caribou in one day. Once you find one of those migration trails, you generally can set up a good blind along that migration trail and have a really good opportunity for a trophy bull.
Equipment checklist for a caribou hunt:
- 1 good external-frame backpack (Kelty Omega, Camp Trails, Cabela’s Outfitter)
- a proven means of carrying a bow or gun so hands are free
- 1 par of good broken-in hiking boots; preferably one-piece leather sides and waterproof
- 3 pairs of heavy socks
- 1 pair of long underwear
- 3 pairs of underwear
- 2 polar fleece shirts for layers
- 1 light sweat-wicking shirt
- 1 pair of polar fleece or light wool pants
- 1 2-piece lightweight rain suit
- 1 wool jacket with a hood, lightweight but warm
- 1 lightweight warm sleeping bag
- 1 lightweight Therm-a-Rest mattress pad
- 2 wide-mouth 2-quart water bottles
- 1 lightweight rifle with 300-yard capability, 60 shells
- 1 bow with 70-yard-plus capability, 30 arrows (carbon recommended)
- 1 mosquito jacket
- 1 quality pair of binoculars
- 1 good camera
- 1 plastic or metal cup and spoon
- 1 waterproof bag; 16×30 inches
- 1 range finder
- 1 spotting scope
- 1 video camera
- stocking cap
- 1 stuff pillow
- any of your own preferred food
What to understand:
You will have to put a bulk package of food in your backpack, consisting of freeze-dried food, chocolate bars, drink packages and salt. The total weight of this should be 10-12 pounds. Make sure that you have used your pack before you hunt, and test all the straps and fittings. Please work out physically before you come, because that will make your trip that much more enjoyable.
For more information, you can contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 1-755-673-5513.
To get Bowhunting Deer: The Secrets of the PSE Pros by John E. Phillips, go to http://www.amazon.com/kindle-ebooks, type in the name of the book, and download it to your Kindle and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.
Images courtesy John Phillips