Thursday, May 1, 2014

In Search of Caribou

Gander Mountain

I have been told by hunters and friends that of all the wild game they have dined on, Caribou was their favorite.  With this little piece of information, the decision was made to start the research about the animal and where in North America would be a reasonable place for me to go.  Of course, success is what it is all about first, and then comes the dining. 

The Caribou is also known as the Reindeer and in Europe and Eurasia is known as the Wild Reindeer.  Now this opening sentence stopped me right away.  I am not interested in shooting  Santa's Reindeer.  However, the animal is a member of the Cervidae family which also includes elk, moose, and deer.  That fact just eliminated my first objection.  The range of the animal extends from Alaska through northern Canada, the Northwest Territories, and into Manitoba near the town of Churchill.   This animal is a specialist for cooler climates with hollow hair fur that covers almost all of its body.  This provides protection from the cold weather and gives added buoyancy for swimming rivers and lakes during the migration.  What is really unusual in some of the sub species, both male and female grow antlers.  On an average the animals weigh around 200 to 240 pounds and stands about 5 to 5.5 feet tall at the shoulder.  The largest of the specie in North America is the Alaska Caribou that can weigh in as much as 680 pounds.  Dressed meat would come in at around 40%, similar to that of a deer or elk. 

When it comes to feeding, the Caribou is classified as a ruminant.  That means they have a four chambered stomach.  In the winter they eat mainly lichens and are the only animals that have this ability.  This is due to the bacteria and protozoa in their gut.  Otherwise, they will feed on grasses and other foliage that grows on the tundra. Reading about their dietary habits makes me a little cautious about how they will taste.  My decision to go as of this writing, has not been made, and more research about the cooking and taste will have to be determined.

In the fall the Caribou migrate from their summer feeding grounds to their winter grounds.  It is during this time that the mating season takes place.  The large antlered animal loses its velvet and the antlers harden for the fighting that will take place.  After mating has taken place, the antlers will fall off and a larger pair will grow back in the spring.  The cycle will repeat itself.

In the fall the migration is in smaller groups as mating is taking place.  But in the spring, they will form herds ranging from 50,000 to 500,000.  Covering 12 to 34 miles per day, nothing will stop them and they will swim any lake or river in their path.  The swimming speed can range up to as much as 4 mph.

Besides hunters, their predators are bears and the wolves that will follow the migration.  Other animals will feed off the kills made by the larger predators.

Spending several hours on Caribou recipes, I found the majority of them were for stews, casseroles and pies.  Also, there were a lot of really upscale restaurants that advertised Caribou dishes prepared in all sorts of ways.  Where they get their meat was not mentioned, but the recipes looked very good.

Since the hunt would involve going out of the country, the research will take place to find an outfitter.
My usual requirements include a reasonable price, good history of success, fully guided with meals, and a warm place to sleep.  We will see how this comes out. 

Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck.  Hank



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