Long Range Hunting Online Magazine

Barren Ground Caribou Hunt

Barren Ground Caribou Hunt

By Shawn Carlock

On August 27th 2008, my hunting partner JR and I flew into the Nome, Alaska airport. We met some friends of mine to go on a long range barren ground caribou hunt near the Arctic Circle. Tony met us at the airport and took us to meet Chuck and Jack at Dexter, Alaska where the base camp was located.

Barren Ground Caribou Hunt

We spent the entire first day and half of the next packing gear in preparation for the 8 day hunt. We loaded 2 Polaris Rangers, a Polaris 6x6, 3 trailers/tankers and enough gear to spend a month on the tundra on a trailer and in an old U-Haul truck. Now when I tell you a mountain of gear, I mean a mountain of gear. These guys believe in being comfortable in camp. One trailer had a freezer, Vacu-Pak and generator for processing the meat at camp!

With our pile of stuff loaded, stacked and strapped down we drove to the end of the road. Only in Alaska do you truly come to the end of the road where there is a sign that says, “End of the Road”. At the end of the road we stayed in a cabin that belonged to a friend of Tony’s. Early the next morning we left in an ATV caravan for our hunting area. This was a unique experience for me as I am not used to traveling 6+ hours by ATV to get to my hunting area. This is where I got my first taste of tundra. For those of you who have never seen tundra it is very much like taking a boulder field and covering it with wet sponges. How something so soft and wet can be so rough to cross I’ll never know.

We saw a few caribou, musk ox, moose and even a red fox on the way into camp. We arrived at our destination (the “secret” camping/hunting spot) about midday. Midday is a relative term in Alaska this time of year. It was in reality almost 5:00 PM, but felt like noon. We got a monster sized wall tent setup, cots, kitchen, gassed up the ATV’s, loaded hunting gear back into the ATV’s and waited for nightfall so we could get on with tomorrow’s first day of hunting. I waited and waited and waited, finally it got dark around 11:00-11:30 (you could still see color on the horizon though).

The next morning finally came and I was up and ready to get to where we needed to be by first light. The old “pros” almost laughed me right out of camp. It seems that this is not as critical or even important as it is hunting deer and elk in the Northwest. So at the ripe hour of 9:00 AM we left camp in search of caribou. I had expected to see the mass migrations you read about in the magazine articles, you know hundreds of caribou at a time moving in front of you. This was a little different. What we ended up seeing were small groups of mature bulls. I did not see a single cow caribou the whole time we were there. It is critical that you have migration routes timed just right for this action, as you are on the very tail end of the action and close to missing the last of the migration pattern in your area.

Sometime around noon, I spotted with my binoculars what I thought were 3 caribou. JR broke out his Leica spotting scope and discovered that they were in fact 3 Artic wolves: 2 grays and a nearly all white one. This was good news and bad news. Good news for JR. He had a wolf tag. And bad news for me as I did not. Big barren tundra is very range deceiving. We drove below a ridge line until we were almost in sight of seeing the wolves again, and moved over the ridge to glass and locate them. Tundra lesson # 1: the terrain is so flat and rolling that simply getting to the top of a “ridge” can take several hundred yards. Once we located the white wolf, we set up for a shot.

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