31 August 2015

North Slope Brooks Range Caribou Part IV

When I woke the next morning I had to force my eyelids open. My head was pounding from dehydration and my body felt like it had been used as a crash test dummy. Once I fell asleep I don't think I moved for six hours. I dragged myself up and out of the bag, I heard Throc ask from outside my shelter, "Are you in there?" I said yes and he said "I wasn't sure if you were even alive".

I retold the goings on from yesterday as I got breakfast ready. He was planning on hunting the path I had taken the day prior as once you get some elevation the rocky ground becomes much easier to walk. We watched a massive blonde grizzly work the shore line across the lake. I was more than a little uncomfortable because he was working in the direction I was going to have to go to recover my meat.

Post grub up and hydration I had my rifle on my shoulder and was glassing the griz that was still going in the wrong direction. Dustin was gearing up as he was going to help me with the final 2 miles of meat recovery. I cannot say with enough emphasis how grateful I was that he was going to help. I was in pretty bad shape, knees were swelling and lower back was screaming from paying the stupid tax for killing a 'bou that far from camp day prior.

With a generalized plan formed we set off towards the north east corner of the lake and the head high willows that marked the trail towards my meat. We kept an eye on the grizzly that continued in the same direction. As the distance closed it became obvious to us that he wasn't going to alter course. If anything he had increased his pace. About 50 yards from the willows and perhaps 110 yards from the bear we stopped and yelled 'Hey Bear" and "GO AWAY BEAR" but he was undeterred. I told Dustin to watch his ears and slid the safety off the 7mm Remington Magnum. I dumped the warning shot into the ground maybe 20 yards in front of us, the mud and water sprayed into the air, the detonation shattered the air around us and echoed hard in the bowl formed by the lake. The grizzly was clearly startled as he broke from his path and charged up the hill at full speed. He looked back once, and then took off in a dead run and didn't stop. With a bit of relief we continued on our walk. we both lamented over not getting pictures of the bear though I must admit it was the furthest thing from my mind at the time.

Our route took us along the willow bottoms and creeks back in the direction I had come the night prior. In the clear light of day I was surprised at just how rough the terrain was, the tussocks on the tundra are  difficult to explain. If you try to walk on them they roll, when you try to put your foot between them they trip you or force your foot into awkward positions, twisting and turning. Some areas they are mild to moderate, in others they are exceedingly large, tall and wide and you have to really stretch it out to get your foot into the next 'safe' hole between them.

As we walked Dustin and I covered a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, we discussed many subjects and looked over our shoulder constantly for the big grizzly bear which was probably still running.

Once back to the meat Dustin graciously took two of the five meat bags from my pack and helped me get my pack on my back again, I was exceedingly stiff from the prior day and struggled even under the reduced weight. Before we set off on the march back to camp he snapped this pic.

I think it took us over four hours to cover the two miles back to camp. I had to stop frequently. I could feel the damage I'd done and knew I'd pushed it a little too hard. We finally made it back to camp and I got my meat hung in the willows, I started forcing water in order to begin recuperating.

In the distance we could see a storm brewing in the mountains, knowing Throc had gone off in that direction there was some concern he'd be caught in it. The visual distances on the tundra are incredibly deceiving. What appears to be just a couple hundred yards is actually over a thousand, distances you think you could cover in thirty minutes are actually well over an hour away. Getting caught in a storm on the tundra could be very dangerous.

We caught sight of Throc on a distant hill as he was glassing for caribou about three and a half miles from camp. The ominous clouds in the mountains were turning dark.

I was sitting in front of my shelter working on re-hydrating when the first shot rang out behind me in the direction of the mountains and Throc. Then another three in rapid succession. I grabbed my Kifaru pack and stripped it down to just the grab-it and put it into meat hauler mode. Ditched everything else, as tired as I was I figured with the shooting that he had a bull. Dustin took off as I was getting ready, I set off behind him by about 500 yards.

As I closed the distance I watched Dustin wave and point to the horizon on my right. I could see nothing and he was too far to hear, I'd left my glass in camp and couldn't find what he was pointing at.

Once the distance closed I could see Dustin had Throc's pack and gear. He started telling me how "He went full Alabama! Dropped his gear took some ammo and started chasing the caribou!" I laughed at that and we looked on the horizon for any sign of him. As we started walking in the general direction we thought he went Dustin saw Throc coming out of camp! He had sprinted across the tundra and complete circled us.

We met up at camp and got the story, got our stuff ready and headed off to recover the bull. Thankfully it wasn't that far away, not nearly as grueling as my own recovery and I was damn thankful for that!

We had a good time cleaning the animal which is an odd thing I suppose. I realized at the time that three dudes who had never met outside of a digital domain were now on the tundra of north east Alaska. Thousands and thousands of miles from home, laughing as we cut up a caribou, and how a shared love of hunting and the outdoors had facilitated friendships that would last and last.


  1. And damn you, Jim. I so wish I could've been the forth man.
    I am so enjoying myself reading your accounts....

    Sounds lie you (re)learned some lessons the brutally hard way. Hope no permanent damage is done.

  2. Reminds me of caribou hunts from my youth. We used to hunt the Mulchatna River Drainage west of Lake Clark. A long way from where you were but remarkably similar landscape when I compare your photos with mine. It always amazed me how easily things could disappear in the tundra - bears especially.

    Glad to see you had a successful trip. Congrats.

  3. Ok, how do you keep the meat from going bad on such a trip? (yeah never been hunting)

    1. The temperatures were conducive to keeping meat a good while. Once you've removed the meat from the animal and placed it in breathable meat bags you hang them in willows so the air can continue to cool the meat. Once cooled and aired it'll keep for a good while. If temps were to rise you can place in drybags and sink it in the lake. Cool, dry, and bug free are the keys to keeping meat while in the field.

  4. What an adventure! i love your writing and feel like i am right there along side you with the vivd imagery you create! can't wait for more, Thanks