AK caribou 2017
This year, on my annual haul road caribou hunt, I was joined by a friend named Dorian from Missouri. Dorian and I arrived in Fairbanks very early in the morning on August 1st and drove to my sister’s house in Healy for some sleep and to pick up my gear that she keeps in her storage shed! After a few hours of sleep, we packed up the truck and headed back to Fairbanks to fuel up and buy supplies for the week. We headed north around 10 pm on August 1st! After stopping for a few more hours of sleep on the way up, we finally arrived at Toolik lake around noon on August 2nd and found hundreds of caribou almost immediately! We spotted a decent bull bedded in a stalkable spot that very afternoon and Dorian went on his first stalk. Unfortunately, the bull got up to feed before Dorian was in position, thus ending his first stalk. We set up camp and got some rest before going after them again the next morning. There were a lot fewer caribou within sight of the road that next morning and there seemed to be quite a few hunters working the area so we decided to head north to see if we could find more animals and fewer hunters!
We traveled all the way to Deadhorse which turned out not to be a good idea because of the road construction north of pump station #2 that stretched for miles and miles. We finally made it to Prudhoe Bay and fueled up, took pictures and headed back to camp. Since we hadn’t found any decent numbers of caribou up north, we traveled back to the Toolik lake area and arrived just in time to hunt that evening. Unfortunately, it had been raining on us all day and continued well into the evening hunt. We parked at a good glassing spot near camp and shortly spotted a bull on the hill about 600 yards from our location. After watching him feed in the light rain, he finally bedded down so we decided to move in for a closer look. We made it to a rise about 200 yards away and made a plan for Dorian to circle the caribou using the terrain and come in over the top of him. Just as Dorian was about to crest the hill above the bull, he noticed the bull was moving toward him and appeared to be aware of Dorians presence. Dorian did the only thing he could do and crouched down to the ground. The caribou was curious and came closer, circling Dorian and getting very close in the process…. A little too close it turned out. Dorian drew back and waited until the caribou stopped broadside at 40 yards. The opportunity was too good to pass up and Dorian let fly, hitting the bull perfectly behind the front shoulder. I can’t explain why the caribou acted so stupidly except that sometimes they seem to have a death wish. Maybe he was depressed and decided life on the bug infested tundra just wasn’t worth living anymore and felt suicide was the only way out. Whatever the reason, Dorian was more than happy to hang his tag on this bull! While were processing his bull, two more bulls came within a couple hundred yards of our location but saw us and bugged out. We were soaked by the time we got his bull packed out but a change of dry clothes and a warm bed made things good again!
The next day, after hanging Dorian’s caribou quarters in a cool shady place, I was able to crawl within 88 yards of a sure fire P & Y bull but was busted by a cow and the herd gave me a wide berth. There were caribou find a quieter place to hunt and have some solitude. In this area, as a general rule, after the caribou cross the road, they continue traveling south and eventually cross the pipeline. My plan for the day was to spend the whole day along the pipeline, glassing for caribou and staying away from the insanity that happens within a half mile of the haul road. As I was making my way along the pipeline to a high point in which to glass, I bumped a pretty good bull that was hanging out in the shade of the pipeline. He proceeded to walk up the road that parallels the pipeline and over the hill out of site. As I topped the hill, I noticed the bull had been joined by 3 cows and were continuing down the pipeline road eastbound. I worked my way the same direction glassing to the north but not seeing any caribou coming my direction. The bull and 3 cows then headed south, away from the pipeline and into the tundra, so I kept an eye on them hoping he would bed down in a stalkable spot. When they got a half mile to the south, the bull and one cow turned west and headed back toward the pipeline and toward the very spot I had buggered him from an hour earlier! Since there weren’t any other bulls in the vicinity, I began making my way back to the west, using the pipeline for cover. I found the cow and bull standing in the shade of the pipeline in exactly the same spot I had buggered him from just a few hours earlier! I made it to within about 80 yards of the cow and bull but was afraid to try to get closer as both caribou were pretty alert and standing up. I was quite sure they would walk up the road past me at some point during the day but it could be a long wait. About a half hour later, I noticed our truck headed south down the haul road on the way to camp…. That’s when the idea started to take shape. I could sit there all day waiting for those caribou to walk back up the pipeline or I could possibly speed things up a bit…. I’ve never done a caribou “push” but I knew exactly what the bull did when I walked up the pipeline from camp just a few hours before and decided it was worth a shot so I called Dorian on the radio:
Me- “Hey Dorian, are you in camp?
Me- “Do you mind bringing me your rangefinder, the battery in mine is dead”.
Dorian- (silence) “ Ummmm … sure… where are you?” “
Me- “Just walk up the pipeline road and you will see me, I’m close to the top of the hill”.
Dorian- (more silence) “Okaaaay”
I’m sure he thought I’d lost my mind but Dorian is a good guy and always willing to do whatever necessary to help out. Plus, he was a little bored because he was tagged out. In hindsight, I should have asked him to bring me the second frame pack instead of the rangefinder as it would have been a lot more useful!
I waited until I saw Dorian getting pretty close and I found a good hiding spot in some rocks a little ways away from the pipeline as I didn’t want to be too close when they walked past. It worked perfectly! About 10 minutes later, the caribou trotted past me at 35 yards so I drew and stopped him with a whistle. It was a pretty good hit so I was very confused when he didn’t go down immediately and ran over the hill. When I found my arrow laying on the ground, I discovered the broad head hadn’t deployed! About that time Dorian walked up with a big grin and said, “Now I understand why you wanted me to bring my range finder instead of walking your lazy ass down and getting it yourself!” We watched the bull for a while as he was bedded in the tundra and I decided to try a stalk to get another arrow in him. Unfortunately, I made it to 60 yards when he stood up and walked directly away from me and laid down a few hundred yards away from the pipeline. We watched him lay there for another hour before I decided to try another stalk on him. I belly crawled the last 75 yards at which point I was still 62 yards and had run out of tundra to belly crawl through. There was a strip of boulders in front of me so I was stuck. I really wanted a closer shot since I don’t even have a 60 yard pin! I decided that I would need to be patient and wat for an opportunity to get over these boulders. It was then that the bull stood up and stared right at me. He knew something wasn’t right but wasn’t sure what. He walked around in a small circle continuing to stare in my direction. He was convinced that suspicious rock would give him a good reason to run at any moment but I stayed frozen doing my best rock impression. This went on for about 15 minutes before he finally decided to lay down in such a way that he could continue to keep an eye on that suspicious rock. I decided at this point that if he laid his head down again, I was going to get up and hustle the 12 yards I needed to get within 50 yards for a good shot. No more sneaking, it was time to press things. I felt I would be able to get within 50 before he stood up and bolted. In my experience, caribou will stop and stare for a few seconds before they bolt which would give me time for a shot. Another 15 minutes goes by with him staring at me from his bed. Then he starts getting tired and rests his head on the tundra for a few seconds, then his heads up looking again…. A few minutes later it goes down again so I notch an arrow. Just before I stood, his head is up looking around again. Then, he lays it down and it stays down for several minutes. Now is the time! I stand and immediately start moving. I cover the 12 yards and am ready to draw but he hasn’t moved… I decide to keep moving and close the distance to 40 yards… then to 30…. Then to 20… and now I’m at 10! I can’t believe how close I am so I decide to draw and move sideways to get a better angle since I know he was facing me. As soon as I get in full view of him, his head snaps up and he looks right at me and freezes! I settle my top pin on his shoulder and release! He jumps up from his bed and travels maybe 20 yards before expiring for good! The weather was hot with very little breeze as we were eaten alive by bugs during the process of quartering, boning and packing my bull back to the truck. Especially in contrast to the cold rain we processed Dorian’s in! As we broke camp, I already start to miss this place and look forward to coming back in 2018!
As we were driving back to Fairbanks, (5 days early) I reminisce about all the years I’ve been caribou hunting on the haul road. In 7 years, I have taken 8 friends up the haul road to experience caribou hunting on the tundra. In those 7 years, we have harvested 10 bulls and 2 cows with all of my guests having had shots at bulls. The tundra has definitely been good to us! With both tags filled in 3 days of hunting, we had plenty of time for some salmon fishing at Montana creek, which was great timing as the silvers were starting to run!
"Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud"