Thursday, May 17, 2012

Caribou Adventure

Posted by Janis Putelis
I'm spending the summer in Alaska.  My wife Jennifer took a job in Fairbanks.  In our spare time we are trying to do as many adventures as possible.  I was invited along on a Dalton Hwy spring Caribou hunt.  Here is the basic rundown.  200 miles north of the Arctic circle, 9 hr drive from Fairbanks, North side of the Brooks range.  Hunters must be 5 miles off of Dalton Hwy before shooting.  No motorized vehicles allowed.

We left Fairbanks Friday morning and headed north on the Dalton Highway aka the Haul road.  We crossed  the mighty, yet still frozen Yukon River, passed the Arctic circle, through the town of Coldfoot, and over Atigun pass around dinner time.  Beating the darkness was done easily since it won't get fully dark again until sometime in late August.  

The following morning we packed our gear, strapped on our Cross Country skis, and headed due West to an imaginary line at 5 miles that would allow us to hunt.   

Atigun Pass

Brooks Range

Caribou tracks
Almost immediately we started seeing Caribou tracks and soon the Caribou themselves.  After setting camp and melting lots of snow for water, we took off to a high point to get a look around and plan a hunt for the morning.  That first day we saw close to 1,000 Caribou and were able to pick out the two main travel routes in the vicinity of our camp.  It was amazing to see such a migration.

Mountains as far as the eye could see.

Well worn.

The second morning, after a breakfast mixed with aerobics to get warm, we posted ourselves on a ridge that  
most of the Caribou seemed to be coming to.  We spotted our first group quickly and two hours later the group of eight were feeding right to us.  My cohorts, Andy and Dash, made three shots at 100 yards and we had three Caribou down.  As a non-resident, shooting a Caribou would've cost $400.  I decided to pass on pulling the trigger and just enjoyed the adventure.  It was Andy and Dash's first ever big game hunt and it was exciting to experience their process of becoming hunters.  I was glad to introduce two more to the sport.  

Looking north across the foothills to the coastal plains.  That is where the Caribou are heading to calve and spend the summer.

Last day of April and still frozen solid.
We took our time skinning, quartering and processing the meat for transport. To shave weight and save space we deboned the shoulders and ribs.  The Caribou were getting ready to shed their winter coats which made for a hairy mess.  We had to be super careful to keep the meat clean.  After a long day we decided it would be best to stay in the field one more night, get some rest and head out in the morning.

We were greeted by four inches of fresh our last morning in the field.

Lows around 0 deg and highs in the low 20's.  I lived in two layers of KUIU merino wool and my KUIU Spindrift jacket the whole trip. I added layers of the KUIU Guide jacket, Chugach jacket, and my Mountain Hardware down jacket accordingly, sometimes wearing all of it at once.  It was cold!

Packing up camp after three days of fun.

Packed up and ready for three miles out.  The Pulk sleds hauled our gear and Caribou meat very well.  In the foreground is my KUIU Icon 6000 pack loaded to gills.  At 60lbs. with extra gear strapped all over the outside, the Icon pack was still very comfortable and allowed me plenty of movement to kick and glide myself home.

Smooth sailing!  

The whole adventure was accomplished via a Honda Civic hatchback topped with a Yakima skybox.  By getting almost 40mpg, we did the trip for $100./ person.  

The highlight of the trip was our Wolverine encounters.  We spotted him the first day loping along the ridge the Caribou were favoring.  After closer inspection with our optics, we could see he was carrying the whole head of a Caribou.  Another hunter had been successful prior to our arrival and the Wolverine was doing clean up!  The evening after we killed, he came cruising along the frozen lake edge near our camp.  He would stop at every mound or spot where the snow had melted and mark his territory.  Every time he did this, he would eyeball the three visitors and then continue.  He definitely was not afraid of us.  To top it off, on our way out, two miles from our campsite, I look to the flank of the mountains and see a small black dot loping up a slope steep enough I would be scared to ski.  With my binoculars I confirm another Wolverine sighting and can't help to wonder where and what he's going to get himself into.

1 comment:

Yanis Putelis Jr. said...

Very impressive, first with the Kuiu gear performance and second the cost of the adventure. Definitely no lack of imagination or dedication with you guys! Hurrah, we want more.

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