Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Hunt of a Lifetime

Gander Mountain

Last year at this time a fantastic experience took place as I stepped onto the tundra in Northern Manitoba.  For me this was a trip dreamed about and here I was staring out across the beauty of northern Manitoba.  After getting the gear stowed and the paperwork taken care of, the hunt for caribou would take place.

The animals we would be hunting are part of the Qamanirjuaq Caribou herd with over 400,000 migrating animals. Hunting them consists of exploring the hills and areas around Commonwealth Lake by boat.  Moving slowly and using high powered binoculars, we studied the terrain.  If Caribou were spotted, we would  bypass their position and move downwind if possible and put the boat ashore.  Then the work started.
The tundra is spongy and there are small puddles of water everywhere in the lower levels of the gradual sloping hills.  The object was to move to the top of the ridges and check on the Caribou that were just spotted.  Besides the spongy walking, we encountered small boulder fields that had to be circumvented.  Walking across was a good way to have a fall.  The question was asked, "Who put those there?"  The answer was, "God."  At times we walked across areas that looked as if they had been plowed up by a mold board plow.  The question was, "Who plowed this ground?"  The answer was, "God."  The ground had probably been that way for centuries or longer and had been formed by the glaciers.  The sky remained gray and a light mist would come and go constantly.  Having waterproof clothing was a must. If you hunt in the north without it, you will be wet.

 As we approached the top of the ridge the ground turned from spongy to very firm.   We walked on the surface that was gravel and hard rock mixed into the surface.  This was great and was more like walking on a sidewalk at home.

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Moving slowly out about 50 to 100 yards,  the bank was studied to locate Caribou.  We finally spotted a small group on the top of one of the ridges.  They appeared to be grazing and moving very slowly along the top of the ridge. 

After putting the boat ashore,  the stalk began as we got to their location.  Carrying the gun, the pack, all the clothing, and wearing the knee high boots was a lot of work going up the hill.  We reached a point where we could spot the animals, but they did not see us.  I shed my pack, and if it had not been so cold and wet, I would have shed all my clothes.  Then we began crawling up to a good shooting position that would be about 150 yards. I have not crawled since I was a baby, and it was a lot of work.  The guide moved ahead of me. Then he got on his knees to take a better look and stopped.  After setting up the shooting sticks, I got on my knees and laid the rifle into the V.  The shot was not taken as two hunters from our camp with their guide crested the hill to our left, and we passed on the shot.  The boo were spooked and took off like a herd of scalded dogs.  It was so beautiful to watch them run with their heads thrown back as they disappeared over a ridge and were gone.  

The first day was done and the rules of the outfitter required us to be back in camp by 6 PM.  Tomorrow is another day.

The next morning started out with a really hearty breakfast after a great night of sleep.  Hiking over the tundra took it's toll on my body, but a good night's rest corrected all the pain and I was ready to go.  It was two hunters per guide. The weather just could not have been more miserable.  We moved up some hills to the top of ridges where the caribou had been seen only to find nothing.  The fog made it really difficult to glass the top of the ridges and the mist now seemed to come in sheets.  We would be in dry air except for the fog, then a sheet of mist would descend on us and come in waves.  Staying dry was no problem as I was wearing a waterproof shell consisting of top and pants that were purchased years ago and were resurrected for this trip.  It pays to buy and hold on to our hunting gear.  We must also remember, we cannot have enough gear.

My guide and fellow hunter wanted to check out a ridge about a mile away, but I decided to stay in a valley with a small stream going by.  It was recommended that I move around to 3 different spots and wait for traffic to come by.  While I waited a couple of hours, caribou moved up and down the valley, but none came within gun range.  A group of five came out of the pines opposite my position, started toward me, then moved going upstream away from me.  They might have been 400 to 500 yards out, but with the wind, it would be a bad shot and presented the chance of wounding one.  That was not wanted.

 Soon the guide and my fellow hunter came trudging across the tundra and it was plain to see a really nice caribou was harvested. The antlers were carried on his back behind his head with his hands hanging on to them.   My partner had made a 200 yard shot and dropped a really good size animal.  As they reached my position, they noticed up on the ridge behind me about six animals.  We all got down, binoculars were pulled and their direction was studied.  It looked at first like they might be coming directly toward us.  Then they moved back over the ridge.  The guide said to me, "Drop your pack, hunker down low, and stay right behind me."

Up the ridge we moved, until we got to the top.  It appeared they were going to go by us, and one really small animal did, but was not worth shooting.  Then we moved back to the top of the ridge.  I need to point out that when I got toward the top of the hills or ridges, the walking became much easier than slogging my way across the swampy marshland and tundra.  Still, I was huffing and puffing.  Then I broke my shooting sticks.  The shot would have to be made without them.  

At the top of the ridge came the small herd of caribou with a decent size one in the front.  At about 100 yards, a round was sent and the animal folded and went down.  The guide said he dropped like a sack of bricks.  The herd only moved off about 50 yards and stopped and stared.  They may have never seen a human being before.  Up close the animal looked good.

The meat on the animal was then removed from the bones and packed into large plastic bags.  The guide then packed all the bagged meat into his back pack and off we walked to the boat.  The antlers were put over my shoulders, and I carefully made my way to the boat.  

Back at camp, the meat was then removed from the bags and hung outside along the side of the lodge.  It was then allowed to drain and start the aging process.

Dinner never tasted better that evening, and a great nights sleep was welcomed.  Another boo was shot the next day, then it was two days of fishing and pitching giant northern pike.  For me, this was the trip of a lifetime.

Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck. Hank

Gander Mountain

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