Recently I had the opportunity to help out with some guided hunts North of the Arctic Circle here in Alaska. Targeting caribou, wolves and brown bear. Based out of Kotzebue, we would shuttle hunters out into the tundra with a Cessna 180, 206 and a Super Cub. Often times hunters were flown out to gravel bar staging areas where the larger planes had enough room to land and then shuttled one at a time with their gear into tighter locations where only the cub could get into.
Most of the time camp is going to be set up adjacent to a river in which thrive arctic char and grayling. Never do you have to travel far to find a water source for drinking and cooking.
When looking out in any direction, it is an endless view of tundra, hills, mountains and valleys filled with water braids, brush and gravel bars. Waders are a necessity. No matter where we are heading to glass for animals or make a move to intercept, there is going to be water to navigate through.
Caribou are the main objective for most hunters, although many also purchase a wolf tag and/or brown bear tag in case the opportunity presents itself. Predator control is just as important in managing populations as is the limit placed on game animals. Wolves and brown bears have a huge impact on caribou herds – it is important to manage both. In this particular hunt unit, a hunter could take as many as twenty wolves and two brown bears in a season.
My first day out with the first two hunters we had in camp was a huge success. Early morning we started hiking out across the gravel bars and through brush to gain an advantageous high point to glass from. Upon cresting the hill, caribou were spotted running away on the other side of the valley and stopping to look back. That is when the guide spotted the two wolves working their way down the valley toward us. We all laid down to stay out of site and crawled to the edge where the hunters got ready for a shot. There was a big male black wolf and a female gray. With rangefinder out, I was giving yardages as the animals trotted closer. The female laid down over 300 yards away. The black male continued closer and dropped into a trough at about 220 yards. I informed the hunter as the wolf comes out the other side that it would be just under 200 yards. As it came up out of the trough into the open it stopped and stood there and the hunter wasted no time in making the shot. The black wolf was down.
The female jumped up and started running away. Attempting to keep up with the yardages (it was approaching near where I first ranged it) I stated it was over 400 yards. Blowing on a distress call, the guide managed to stop her on a dime. Immediately the second hunter made the shot at 460 yards with his .300 Win Mag and both wolves were down. It was quite an eventful morning and we were just getting started.
While we were getting busy with caping out the wolves, the hunters glassed a small group of caribou making their way down the valley. Once it appeared they were bearing down upon us we stopped everything we were working on and laid down ready to shoot again. The caribou began trickling down the edge of the hill directly in front of us less than 100 yards away. Patiently waiting for the larger bull of the group to come over the ridge, we held still as the others were making their way close by. The bull appeared and the hunter made an ‘easy’ 80 yard shot.
With three animals on the ground, we kept ourselves busy for the rest of the day with caping, quartering, and packing them back to camp.
Our second day hunting the same two hunters started off much the same, early morning glassing from our vantage point. We kept our eyes on different groups of caribou feeding and moving along off in the distance, waiting for a decent bull to show up some place near enough for us to make a move and intercept.
After a short while, I spotted a group that came over the top of the mountain right behind our camp. As they were making their way down the side of the mountain toward the river valley I could clearly see a large bull in the group, visible even without binoculars. Once they reached the bottom and began crossing the river and making their way through the brush, we hustled about a half mile into position – another high vantage point close to where we anticipated the caribou to start filtering out the other side of the brush.
No sooner did we get setup and already they were showing up, we spotted the bull but I was only able to range to the edge of the water which was about 350 yards away. The bull was still further. Once he stepped clear for a shot and no other caribou were standing near or behind him, the hunter made the shot. We watched as the bull stood there, then staggered and dropped. After running down the hill, across the tundra and through the water to where he lay, I ranged back to the hill – 460 yards.
This father and son duo exceeded expectations and began their trek home the following day with grand memories of some amazing hunts that I was privileged to be a part of.