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First Caribou Downed

By , Fairbanks, AK

Ray was swearing like a sailor. We had gotten stuck in the swamp on the trail to the cabin. It was a cold night in the fall. The ATV shut off and we couldn’t start it without putting it in neutral. This was difficult because the wheels had to be turning for that to happen. The two wheels in the back were stuck in the bog. I hopped off the vehicle into the knee-deep water to help him rock it back and forth. We kept trying but it wouldn’t start. After a while we decided that it was no use and instead we lifted it up together to get it to dry land. We didn’t want to do this because the water was deep and it was dark outside. We stumbled through the logs and deep water until we found some solid ground. Then finally we got it in neutral and started it. We had then realized we found the better trail and the rest of the trip there was easy.


We had decided together that we would hunt for caribou more than moose, but we had tags for both. For the first few days we went four-wheeling around. We went up to Grayling lake, which was about an hour trip. We brought some small fishing poles and caught a few grayling. Before we went back down to the cabin, we went up a little farther just to see if there was possibly another lake. There wasn’t another lake but we did see a pika on the rocks. It was only visible for about thirty seconds. After that it just ran under some rocks.


We were going back down to the cabin and we saw a couple caribou but there wasn’t anything worth shooting. We got back and cooked the fish. This fish was actually really good even though I don’t usually eat grayling. We walked down to the cabin that we were sleeping in. We got down there and put a couple of logs in the wood stove. There was a generator out there but it didn’t do anything for our cabin, it was only used for the main cabin. We just used an LED lantern for light and we had one of those DVD players with a small screen connected to it, so we watched American Sniper.


The next morning we had some breakfast and then went up the hill a little bit. Ray and his father built a small lookout up there with windows all around and some binoculars in there. This was used to watch for moose, caribou, or even some bears. We stayed up there for about an hour watching moose in the valley below. There were mostly cows and a couple small bulls. Then we saw a bull that looked like it might be big enough to shoot. We watched it a while to see if the antlers were wide enough or if it had enough brow tines. The moose didn’t have enough brow tines but we guessed that it had wide enough antlers.


Once we decided it was worth the effort we went down the hill to shoot it. By the time we got down the hill the moose had run a bit. Then we tried to chase it down before it could get across the river. The moose managed to get across the river before we could get a clear shot. All we could do was watch the moose across the river. The Brushkana River was way too swift to cross. We just went back up the hill to the cabin on a separate trail.
We got back near the cabin and there was a herd of caribou on the ridge to our right. We didn’t try to shoot any of them because there were a few hunters already chasing them. Just behind the herd were hundreds of ravens flocked up. I haven’t seen them behave like this before so I was pretty amazed. The ravens must have been eating some dead caribou or something.


We went back to the lookout and searched for another animal that we might go after. About thirty minutes before dark I spotted a bear that wasn’t too far away. Ray really wanted to get a bear on that trip so he went to try and get a good shot on it. He walked along the ridge and found a good spot. By this time it was pretty hard to see. He fired the gun but it was off target. The bear took off immediately into the thick brush. It was too dark now to try and chase it down, so we just went back to the cabin below.


On the last full day we were there we decided we better go and really try to get a caribou. We went back up near Grayling Lake and saw a herd of caribou. There were probably about two-hundred caribou in the herd. We saw a few huge ones but they saw us too. I got down to try and set up for a shot but they bolted over the hill. Then we went the rest of the way up to Grayling Lake and saw a smaller herd of caribou but they weren’t very big so we left them.


We thought we might have lost our chance so we went back towards the cabin. About half-way back we saw a herd with some decent sized caribou. I found a good spot and took aim at the biggest one we saw. Ray told me to aim for the shoulder so if I didn’t get a kill shot it couldn’t run away. I took the shot and hit the upper part of its leg. The rest of the herd ran away and the wounded one tried to limp away. I shot it again and the bullet hit the back of its head. It went down immediately. We rode up to it and we were surprised to see that it was still kicking. It died shortly after. We skinned it and cut it in half so that we could each carry half of it.


We got back down to the cabin and cut the antlers off so I could keep them for myself. We took the rest of the caribou and hung it up to drain some blood so it would be lighter. After that we went to the cabin and went to sleep for our last time on our trip.


The next morning we took the caribou and put it on a six-wheeler. We got through the swamp with no problems this time. We wrapped the meat in a tarp and put it in the back of Ray’s truck. We drove back down the Denali Highway to Cantwell.


When we got back, my parents were pretty happy that I shot a caribou. I didn’t get to eat any meat though because I gave it to Ray. He said that the first large animal that is shot is supposed to be given away and it’s supposed to give luck to future hunts. Then he gave me the antlers and I brought them home. This was definitely a great hunting trip.






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