For a couple of years, Dwight Schuh (of Bowhunter Magazine) and I had been kicking around the idea of possibly doing a hunt together for mountain caribou in the Northwest Territories. It finally all came together for the first hunt of the 2005 season with outfitter Eric Mikkelson, in his gorgeous section of the wild and remote Mackenzie Mountains. It was the first time Dwight and I had shared a camp, and the experience turned what had been a casual acquaintanceship into a solid, lasting friendship. Hunting has a way of doing that for people.
Dwight is one of the humblest, most down-to-earth people you could ever hope to meet, and I will always cherish the memories of the 10 days spent with him. Besides our passion for bowhunting, we found we had much in common—including a penchant for yodeling when we weren’t worried about scaring off caribou. When one has many long miles to hike in a day, it’s a great technique for reducing the chances of sudden, unexpected grizzly encounters along the way.
It was a tough hunt, however. The weather alternated between very hot and very wet, and there seemed to be very few caribou around in that early part of August. Later in the season, more animals were bound to move into the area, but the pickings were pretty slim while Dwight and I were there. Eric Mikkelson’s territory was chock-full of ragged, rugged peaks. At that time of year, hunting mountain caribou is much like hunting Dall or Stone sheep. You usually have to elevate yourself well above the treeline just to find any.
When we booked the hunt, Dwight had asked me if I minded his bringing along a professional video camera for the purpose of trying to film me putting the sneak on a bull caribou, and (hopefully) arrowing one. I told him that sounded just fine, as long as he’d agree to teach me how to use it so I could return the favor and film him shooting one. He assured me there would be no problem there, and that—if the hunt went well and provided us with some good footage—our adventure might well end up on the Bowhunter TV show (which it later did, in 2006).
The idea had certainly appealed to me, and the dog days of summer passed with glacial slowness until I finally boarded the first of three flights that landed me two days later in Norman Wells, NWT. The bush-flight from there into June Lake was in marginal weather and lasted over an hour—scaring me half to death, as momentary glimpses of nearby, vertical rock faces kept appearing through keyholes in the clouds at eye-level with my little window. When we finally came down below the cloud-cover and landed on the surface of the lake, I stopped praying for our survival and began to look forward to the adventure ahead.
Day one saw us and our guide, Craig Walls, off to a slow start. Leaving camp around 11:30 a.m., we only hiked to the top of a knob about a mile from camp and spent the rest of the day, into early evening, glassing for caribou from there. Although we soon spotted a lone grizzly feeding on the blueberries 300 yards distant, the only two caribou we managed to find before dark were miles away across a broad river valley and several thousand feet closer to heaven than we were. Not only were they way above the timberline, but they seemed to be standing—vertically asleep—on a steep, barren scree-slope well above the highest spot of vegetation. For perhaps two hours, we could detect no motion. It would have been an all-day trek just to get to where they were, assuming we could have gotten across the big river between us.
Day two dawned with the promise of excellent weather. Craig was eager to get an early start and take us off in the opposite direction. Dwight and I were more than ready for a full day of serious hunting and the serious exercise that would be required to get us up into the alpine. I knew I wasn’t yet in the best of shape, but there’s nothing like actual hunting to get you in shape! Especially, mountain hunting!
Our base-camp lay right between June Lake and a nearby range of mountains which Craig told us often held caribou in the early season. A hunter’s/game-trail—of sorts—led us up into the high country, but when we reached the treeline, a bit of bushwhacking was still necessary to get us into the true alpine. It had taken two-and-a-half hours of steady climbing to gain 2,000 vertical feet and the high saddle we had targeted on the backbone of the main mountain ridge.
Once there, the scenery was incredible, and we found ourselves looking nearly straight down into a beautiful, very green alpine valley that had a sizable creek flowing through it, coming from somewhere up in the distant yonder. The valley floor right below us had only a modest incline and was covered with lush grasses, wildflowers, mosses, a few willow bushes, and the occasional thick clump of mountain alders scattered here and there. Within minutes, we had the spotting scope set up and were all glassing for ‘bous. I must say, as the older of the two grandpas in the group, it did feel awfully grand just to sit and rest a while.
Upon initial inspection, the long, narrow valley appeared to be completely devoid of caribou. There seemed no point in descending down into it unless we could first find a bull worth going after. The plan was simply to remain in the saddle all afternoon until something showed up—somewhere—that dictated a different strategy. A full hour went by with nothing spotted. Then, suddenly—materializing out of thin air—he was there: a wonderful bull, straight down below us, trotting toward the stream in our direction, and sporting large antlers covered in dark-chocolate velvet.
“Where did he come from?” was the instant chorus on all our lips. “Maybe he was bedded the whole time on the far side of that one big clump of alders,” ventured Dwight.
“Must have been!” Craig chimed in. “I don’t see anything else around big enough to hide him.”
Utterly fascinated, we watched the bull continue his unhurried jaunt across the creek and then take a jag-right onto the very-well-used game-trail that ran straight up the valley bottom only yards away from the flowing water. His trot was steady. Though he wasn’t wasting any time, neither did he seem in a hurry to get somewhere. After traveling a good 250 yards upstream, the bull—without slackening his pace—quite unexpectedly turned around and trotted right back down the valley to where he’d come from.
“Looks like he’s just out taking his daily jog,” I remarked to Dwight.
“Just your typical fair-weather jogger,” he replied.
When the bull arrived at the point where he’d crossed the creek earlier, he swerved to his left, jogged back across the water, and then vanished behind the big alder clump. Five minutes later, he still had not reappeared.
“Craig,” I said, “he must have a well-used bed on the back side of those alders. Do you suppose he’s living down there, and we just witnessed his daily exercise routine?”
“I dunno, Dennis. Maybe so. I have to say, I’ve never seen anything like that before,” was Craig’s response. “I do think, though,” our guide continued, “that if he is in his bed right now, you’ve got a good chance of being able to run down there and shoot him at close range. You may catch him napping, and that stream should give you excellent sound-cover.”
Well, I certainly needed no second urging. It looked like a great opportunity, indeed, and Dwight was just as eager to try to film the final stalk from a few yards behind me. Careful not to dislodge any rocks on the way down, we completed the 700 feet or so of vertical descent in about 15 minutes. So far, so good—as the bull still remained entirely hidden from view. Crossing the shallow stream proved no great obstacle, either, and now the dense grove of alders lay only 30 yards beyond. Our trophy bull just had to be directly on the other side of it!
After wading the babbling brook, however, Dwight and I immediately began worrying about what the wind was doing. I had already placed an arrow on the string. My bow in my right hand, my white-powder puff-bottle in the left one, I was testing the air movements every few seconds. The trouble was, I could hardly get the same result two squeezes in a row. About ten yards closer to the alders, all of a sudden I distinctly felt a breeze at the back of my neck. I turned to look at Dwight, and the sour expression on his face told me he had felt it, too.
Within mere seconds, we heard the sounds of an animal departing, and—a few seconds later—we saw him pop into view some 50 yards beyond his cover. He had caught our scent and had not waited around to see what we were, or which of us was the better-looking. The brief stalk was over, and the very handsome bull wasted no time putting some serious distance between us.
Our minimal consolation was that Dwight had perhaps gotten a bit of usable footage with his video-cam—plus the certain knowledge that we had at least forced the afternoon jogger to double his cardiovascular output for the day. What I’ll never forget about the long, steep climb back up to where Craig was waiting for us in the saddle, was Dwight’s kindly insistence that I let him shoulder my pack and carry it for me. In deference to his junior years, I finally acquiesced—grudgingly, of course—but, as a result of his carrying a heavier load, I was able to reach Craig almost as quickly as Dwight did.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking along the crest of our high ridge, glassing for caribou as we went. A single cow was all we discovered, but the spectacular views and the forthcoming sunset more than compensated for all the effort it took to get off the mountain and back down to June Lake before dark. It had been quite a day! And quite a typical day of bowhunting: i.e., “Close, but no cigar!”
The simple fact was, however, that we just weren’t seeing the numbers of caribou around that we should have been seeing. Eric Mikkelson proposed a change of strategy that night. Ten miles by old horse-trail from June Lake was a spike-camp which some of Eric’s hunters had used in years past. The outfitter was no longer using horses in his operation, however. With no horses available, the change of location for a four-day “spike-out” meant a long trek with heavy packs on our backs, and I knew—at age 65—that a 50-pound pack and 10 miles on foot in one day were going to test my mettle, not to mention my aging body.
Yet adventure was beckoning! For the wilderness hunter, the grass is always presumed to be greenest in the next alpine basin beyond the farthest one he can see. That’s where the biggest ram or bull is bound to be hiding. It works much the same way for the wilderness fisherman. His or her imagination just assumes that the biggest fish of all are waiting to be caught in that last lake in the chain—just beyond the farthest one he’s ever visited.
Eric assured us we would find at the spike-camp a sealed drum full of foodstuffs and other survival gear. He also promised to make an airdrop of additional food and supplies at the site, including salt for any capes obtained during the spike-out. It was a hot day for hiking, but the insect harassment was negligible, and the grade of incline up the river bottom was pretty gentle most of the way. What made the trek that day a hard one was not so much its length, but the fact that the old horse-trail crossed the very substantial river four different times.
So thick was the brush along the riverbanks that leaving the trail and bushwhacking was hardly a viable option. There was really no choice but to wade the river on the slippery rocks against the very strong current, hope you didn’t go down, and then—once safely across—remove your soaking-wet boots, wring out your socks, put everything back on again, and soldier on to the next crossing. Dwight had had the foresight to pack a pair of collapsible walking-sticks. They proved a big help in the stability department, and—by hurling them across the water like javelins—we were both able to make use of them on multiple occasions during the hunt.
As the sun marshalled its energies for another fiery assault on the western horizon, slate-colored storm clouds were gathering in the east and to the north. A churlish wind was on the rise. Craig suggested we quicken our pace, to increase our chances of reaching the spike-camp before the rains hit. By the time we arrived in the vicinity of the old wall-tent and managed to locate its plywood floor and wooden, skeletal frame, the first heavy raindrops were starting to fall. While Craig opened up the big drum to access the hammer and nails, Dwight and I—thankful to be free of our heavy packs—went looking for the airdrop. Luckily, it was located with little searching.
We were clearly in a race against time and water. Rebuilding the roof of the structure, and getting the big tarps we had carried with us nailed in place—those were the primary challenges, made all the more difficult by the pelting rain that soon reached downpour proportions. The howling wind only compounded problems, and by the time the task was done and we could move our packs “inside,” the inside of our shelter was every bit as wet as the outside. Yet at least we now had a home away from home—away from home. A place where, for three nights, we could sleep, cook, take meals, and keep our heads dry. The “fun” would begin the next morning, with much-improved weather in store for us.
The steep climb into the high country began only 300 yards from our new camp. Day 4 brought mostly cloud-cover, but at least the rain had ceased by the time the three of us shouldered our daypacks and headed for the alpine. Before long, a spidery mountainside cascade allowed us to refill our several water bottles—making us fully ready for a long day above timberline. Another hour of climbing brought us to our first new sighting of caribou: four bachelor bulls on the move, with a deep, nasty canyon between us.
It was Dwight’s turn to make the stalk, and mine to film—if only we could get close enough without first being spotted or winded. Most of the day was spent in the attempt, but, in the end, the bulls somehow managed to pull off quite a vanishing act.
What I remember most about the trip back to camp that evening was how treacherous the footing was on a steep, unstable rockslide we were forced to cross on a long side-hill traverse. It was not a shale slide, by any means. The rocks ranged from very large to boulder-size, and a high percentage of them seemed to take a perverse pleasure in moving on you the instant you committed your weight to them. When one rock moved, the one above it usually did also.
Halfway across the intimidating traverse, one boulder suddenly started shifting onto my uphill ankle. Had I not instantly hopped straight upward off that same uphill foot I had just set down, I would likely have been pinned forever in that spot with a fractured ankle. The lightning-like maneuver sent me sprawling forward over the rocks, but nothing else moved—grâce à Dieu—and I regained my feet with a huge sigh of relief and a prayer of thanksgiving.
Day five saw our threesome strike out from camp on a different vector. Shortly before noon, there came into view (at least two miles distant) another group of four bulls—way high up in a tiny, “hanging” basin which marked the extreme uppermost margin of green below the barren rock summit dominating that part of the range. A long, two-hour climb brought us, sight-unseen, to within 150 yards of where our quarry just had to be. Though we hadn’t seen them for nearly two hours, we knew they couldn’t have exited the small basin without our spotting them.
The final bit of slope was very steep, and—as we crawled on all fours up the last few yards in order to ease our eyes, ever-so-slowly, above the sharp lip of the basin—our grass-parting gaze settled on a sea of velvet antlers. No two racks were quite the same color, but the darkest two seemed to be by far the most impressive.
Sliding back down the slope a few feet, Dwight handed me his video-cam and proceeded to get his archery gear ready for action. We then slithered back up to the lip for a second peek, only to find the bulls no longer bedded, but milling about rather nervously. We had realized ahead of time that we might be vulnerable to the afternoon thermals, but it was a chance we’d had to take. Would our scent be wafted right up and over the heads of the bulls, or would the air currents betray us by curling over the basin’s rim and sliding back down into the bachelors’ boudoir? It appeared as if the latter had occurred. If, indeed, it was a smell brand-new to their nostrils (which I thought likely), then their natural curiosity could yet yield Dwight a shot opportunity.
For his part, he was trying to decide what to do. He already had an arrow on the string, but his rangefinder had given him a reading of 56 yards to the nearer of the two largest bulls. Either one looked to be a 375-class animal, or even better, but Dwight had told me at the start of the hunt that -—because of old shoulder injuries—he was not shooting a very strong bow and would not allow himself to take a shot at more than 50 yards.
Two of the animals were now staring in our direction, having no doubt spotted some slight motion of the tops of our heads. It seemed that a couple minutes went by before the group could develop any clear consensus in favor of relocation. Not feeling that either trophy bull was within his comfortable range, Dwight displayed his professionalism and personal code of ethics by refusing to chance the marginal shot. His judgment and self-discipline were typical of what usually distinguishes the experienced hunter from the eager novitiate.
Unfortunately, the bulls never rewarded Dwight’s patience with the shot opportunity he deserved. As they ambled nervously out of the basin and up onto the high shoulder of the mountain, Dwight tried to keep up with them, and I managed to get some halfway-decent video footage of him trying to mount a successful sneak-attack. After three-quarters of an hour, however, with no cover available to him, he finally abandoned the effort—realizing that to continue was futile. By then, the bulls had nearly reached the very summit of the peak above us. Once again, it had been “Close, but no cigar.”
Day six greeted us with successive sheets of liquid sunshine—plus the rumbling promise of much more to come. Our food supply was running low, and this was the day we were scheduled to return to June Lake. The only thing worse than setting up camp in a driving rainstorm is taking one down in the same conditions. Or perhaps they’re on par.
The first six hours of the hike back to base-camp constituted the wettest, most miserable forced-march of my life. The old horse-trail was deeply incised into the ground, and much of it on our return was a flowing rivulet of muddy water up to 10 inches deep. We couldn’t see through to the bottom of the trail, so we often found the hidden rocks by means of a slip or a trip. Going down with your pack on your back didn’t happen often, but it was always disconcerting, and getting back up was never easy, yet always messy! Just breaking the suction-grip which the underwater-mud kept clamping around each boot on every stride soon became exhausting!
And the four river-crossings were something else again! The water level was significantly higher, the current swifter, the bottom less visible, and the overall experience—for each of the four traverses—even more intimidating than on our trip upriver. Thank God for Dwight’s walking sticks! Without them, I’m not sure I would have made it back to June Lake alive.
Once the last crossing had been accomplished safely, Dwight metamorphosed into a “horse headed for the barn” and quickly left me in his mud (there being no dust around). His patience with my gradually-slowing pace had finally worn thin, and he knew Craig would lag behind enough to keep me from turning into a Grizzly’s quick supper, should one of those sudden, nasty trail-encounters occur.
That last mile or so, my 65-year-old tail felt like it was dragging 65 feet behind me. As I slowly made the last few uphill steps into the base-camp compound, my stagger changed into a swagger—a sense of pride suddenly suffusing my ego with the thought of what I’d actually managed to survive that day!
Day seven (for me, anyway) was a day of rest. I really needed to recharge my batteries. Dwight and Craig went off hiking in a new direction out of camp, but returned that evening having sighted nothing worth pursuing. Over supper that night, Eric made an important decision. Since the available animals were proving so scarce at the moment, Dwight and I should split up and hunt separately in different locations.
A successful sheep hunter from Colorado named Carl Hansen had returned to base-camp that day with his guide, Clint. With Carl having filled his tag, Clint was assigned to me, and we started making plans for the next day. Carl asked if he might tag along, just for the adventure of it, and I told him he was most welcome.
It was, in fact, day eight that provided the victory we were all hoping for. Dwight, unfortunately, was not to be a part of it. He and Craig, who was an accomplished pilot, flew out to another lake that morning to hunt a totally different area for the last three days of our scheduled hunt.
Overnight, I had been thinking a lot about the “jogger.” I had developed a powerful intuition that he was truly living in that high valley where we had first found him six days earlier. My feeling was that Dwight and I had dislodged him temporarily, but that we would find him there once again, if we were willing to climb the same tall mountain and take another look.
Clint was skeptical, pointing out that caribou are extremely nomadic by nature. I felt pretty certain, however, that my conviction was well-grounded. After spooking the handsome bull early in the hunt, Dwight and I had examined his bed, which gave evidence of having been used for many days on end. Ten feet from the bed was a spring and a well-used wallow. I had seen enough to convince me that this particular bull was a loner and had “set up shop” there for the summer. Since it was still early August, and the rut was yet a ways off, I just somehow “knew” we would find him again in that same beautiful alpine valley.
“Clint,” I said, with great optimism in both my voice and countenance, “even if my hunch is wrong, maybe some other nomads will have wandered into that valley since I was last there.”
Clint smiled and replied, “Well, let’s go find out! With the return of the good weather, we’re bound to have a fine day in the high country, regardless.”
By 9 a.m., our trio was “on the trail,” and by 11:30 a.m. we had gained the high saddle once again. At first glance, the valley appeared the same as it had before—empty and devoid of life. Nonetheless, we all sat down to wait and watch. I pointed out to Clint and Carl the big clump of alders and told them I was betting that my bull was bedded behind it there, even as I spoke. I thought I detected a bit of skepticism in their faces, but they were too polite to say anything, and before long we were all glassing up and down the valley—trying to find a nomad somewhere.
I don’t think 30 minutes had passed before I said to my new companions, “There he is! See him right below us, feeding on the front, left-hand fringe of that same alder clump?” My binoculars told me instantly that this was the same bull we had seen on day two.
“By golly, that’s amazing!” Clint piped up. “He’s just where you said he’d be!”
“I’ll be doggoned!” Carl chipped in. “Now all we have to do is wait till he beds down again!”
“You’re right,” I responded. “But he hasn’t yet taken his afternoon spin around the jogging track. We may have to wait a while.”
“Are you pulling our legs, friend?” Carl queried, with a quizzical look on his face.
“You wait! You’ll see!” I said, with more conviction than I really felt. “If he does what he did six days ago, his exercise regimen should start in the next 20 minutes.” Clint and Carl looked at each other, and I’m pretty certain I saw Carl wink.
Roughly 15 minutes later, as if on cue, the bull stopped feeding, broke into his familiar trot, crossed the brook, and headed up the well-worn valley-trail.
“Well, I’ll go to hell!” muttered Carl under his breath, as he followed the jogger through his binos.
“Boy, have you got a crystal ball!” added Clint.
Even to my own amazement, this “bull of destiny” retraced almost exactly the same course I had seen him run on the second day of the hunt. At the upper end of his jogging track, he stopped briefly to sniff the ground, then turned down-valley, resuming his steady trot and finishing up his lap by disappearing behind the big alder clump once again. Then nothing. No part of him was visible. Several minutes went by, but nothing more.
With more bravado and confidence than I really felt, I finally said, “Guys, I think it’s time to go down there and kill that big dude! What do you think?” They agreed, of course, and as we donned our daypacks again, I asked Carl if he’d be willing to use my camcorder to film the upcoming action. He replied that he’d be happy to. After descending to a small hummock about 70 yards shy of the creek, we decided to make that our staging area for the stalk, and I proceeded to show Carl the basics of using my video camera.
It took me a few minutes to dig out my green camo-shirt, my matching camo headnet, and my squeeze-bottle for testing the wind, but I was soon ready to tackle the challenge that lay below me, just a hundred yards away. Clint and Carl stretched out prone on the hummock, ready to film whatever action I might produce. I hustled down the last of the slope to the creek, crossed it as quietly as I could, and began testing the air movements every few seconds.
The big decision I had to make was whether to try to move around the broad alder clump to the left or to the right. The puff-bottle was giving me mixed smoke-signals. The air couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it wanted to do. First it was drifting upstream, then downstream—back and forth, back and forth. I finally decided to attempt circling the right side of the alders. My arrow was nocked now, and I was ready to draw at a moment’s notice.
The dense “wall” of little alder trunks was less than 10 yards away. I was still not hearing or seeing anything. I lifted my binos to my eyes and tried to see “through” the base of the alders—looking to spot some recognizable form or motion. Once I got the glasses properly focused at such a close range,
I suddenly realized I was staring at a leg: a thick, vertical, immobile, lower portion of a caribou leg—perhaps eight or nine yards from me through the heavy vegetation. He was there, all right, within spitting distance, but was he oblivious to my presence? I had to think so. Since I’d already dropped my puff-bottle into a pocket, I was now at the mercy of the fickle air currents.
Now that it was too late to change direction, I suddenly discovered I’d really handicapped myself. Being left-handed (and needing, therefore, to shoot off the right side of my body) meant I could only continue to circle to my right by walking (more-or-less-blindly) backwards! Three slow, painful steps brought me to a point where the bull’s head, neck, and front shoulder were finally in view. The sight gave me greatly renewed confidence because—although he was not bedded and napping, as I had hoped—his head was down close to the ground, and he was shaking it for all he was worth, doing battle with several squadrons of whitesox, no-see-ums, and other assorted flying insects. One more step backwards was all I would need to give my arrow a clear path to the rib cage.
Alas, it was just not to be! I probably should have drawn my arrow before attempting that last step, but I wanted to see where I was placing my boot so that nothing would snap or go crunch as I lowered my weight onto it. I knew I could not do that if I were at full draw. My luck ran out a second or two too early! Whether the bull heard a faint sound or a fickle air current gave me away, I’ll never be certain. What I do know is that the bull suddenly bolted off his bedding platform like a cruise missile off a naval vessel in the Persian Gulf. Though I did draw, I chose not to release the arrow at the speeding target.
Deeply disappointed, I watched my quarry curve to his right and head down-valley. He soon slowed to a canter, however, and then to his familiar trot. Suddenly, 100 yards or so below me, he swung right again, crossed the stream, and headed back up the valley in my direction! This was too good to be true! I rushed forward, low to the ground behind a bank of willow bushes, and stopped just short of the creek-bed, kneeling down right in front of the last big bush anywhere nearby. Knowing that he would pass directly above me, at something like 30 to 40 yards, I drew back, anchored, and waited for the proper moment to arrive. When I released the feathered shaft a few seconds later, the animal was about 35 yards away, perhaps 18 feet above me in elevation, and in the process of slowing to a walk.
It turned out to be one of the luckiest shots of my entire life—and for more reasons than one. Angling somewhat forward, the arrow struck the bull amidships—passing through his liver, his diaphragm, his far lung, and then exiting the far side, to stick in the grassy tundra. The bull switched direction again and headed back down the valley. I knew instantly it would be a quickly-fatal shot, and the blood-sign on the arrow confirmed that.
As I looked uphill to relocate Clint and Carl, it dawned on me, with horror, that they had been right in line with the bull at the moment of my shot! Since the bull had been directly between us, if my arrow had come in high and skitched off the back of the animal, it could very possibly have struck one of my companions! I broke out in a cold sweat as I trudged up the hill to meet them, but—if, indeed, they had even been aware of the danger—their jubilation certainly masked all of that now.
“Great shot, Dennis!” was the chorus that greeted me. “I think we saw him go down,” said Carl. “Just as he was disappearing from view into the throat of that draw, about 150 yards from here.”
“Did you get the shot on film, Carl?” I asked, starting to feel a tremendous sense of elation.
“You bet I did!” came the reply.
“In that case,” I rejoined, “we ought to be able to see the arrow exiting the rib cage! That would really be cool, since virtually no bowhunting shots ever get filmed from such an angle!”
A two-minute walk took us to the bull which I’m convinced it was my destiny to harvest. There were simply too many details of the strange hunt that had conspired to produce this outcome—and/or to prevent any other. We found the gorgeous animal lying in some willow bushes on the edge of the stream. He appeared to have died on his feet. Clint went to work immediately with his knife, and in just over an hour he had deboned all the meat and somehow stuffed most of it into his oversized packsack. I put the backstraps in my daypack, as well as Clint’s tripod and spotting scope. Carl insisted on carrying my cape, head, and antlers back up the mountain, and all the way down to June Lake. Did I ever feel lucky! In contrast to six days earlier, I practically floated back up to the high saddle—so happy was I with my good fortune and the day’s events!
At base-camp that evening, Eric, Lorna, Clint, Carl, and I celebrated our success, but I really missed Dwight’s being there. I kept wondering what kind of luck he was having. Sad to say, I found out later that his luck did not take a turn for the better. Although Dwight has taken far more animals in the field with his bow than have I, when the hunting gods decide to get involved, all the experience in the world can pass for naught.
Whatever the reason, in early August of 2005, Diana showered her blessings upon my head, rather than Dwight’s—by introducing me to a most peculiar caribou bull. One that died, ultimately, a victim of his own habits.
Whitetail Deer hunters talk a lot about “patterning” a particular buck: studying his habits, so as to be able, eventually, to take his life. But who ever heard of “patterning” a caribou? Especially a mountain caribou? I don’t doubt it can be done with the summertime woodland bulls of Newfoundland, but a mountain caribou? Or even a barren ground caribou? It still boggles my mind every time I think about it!
Editor’s note: This article is the forty-ninth of the BAREBOW! Chronicles, a series of shortened stories from accomplished hunter and author Dennis Dunn’s award-winning book, BAREBOW! An Archer’s Fair-Chase Taking of North America’s Big-Game 29. Dunn was the first to harvest each of the 29 traditionally recognized native North American big game species barebow: using only “a bow, a string, an arrow—no trigger, no peep sights, no pins—just fingers, guts, and instinct.” Each of the narratives will cover the (not always successful, but certainly educational and entertaining) pursuit of one of the 29 animals. One new adventure will be published every two weeks—join us on the hunt! You can learn more about the work, and the various editions of BAREBOW! available, by clicking here: http://www.barebows.com/. You can also follow BAREBOW! on Facebook here.
Top image by Dennis Dunn