4 in 48
That rare occurrence where success is 100 percent
An Alaskan adventure has been on my hit list for what seems like forever, and a barren-ground caribou ranked high on the bucket list of animals I always wanted to pursue. In 2015 the stars aligned and I put it together with good friends Steve Hoover, Ed Fanchin, and Nate Treadwell. Ed is a seasoned Alaskan hunter and has made more trips to the Promised Land than anyone else I know. He assured us that the hunt dates, logistics, and herd genetics were going to make for an epic adventure. Little did I know it was going to be the trip of a lifetime.
After months of preparations, arranging flights, and gathering equipment, we set out for Alaska on September 2nd. Ed had every detail of the trip planned, including an overnight stay in Anchorage with the legendary Jack Frost. Mr. Frost was gracious enough to house us for the night and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his stories and admiring his trophy room.
The next morning we gathered last-minute supplies and hit the road for Tok, where we would be transported out into the bush the next day. I enjoyed the scenery along the way and saw my first glacier.
After a long day on the road, we sorted and weighed our gear for the bush plane ride, had a hot meal, and settled in for the night. I was eager with anticipation and the morning couldn’t come quick enough.
The next morning we woke up to rain and clouds. It looked like our flights might be delayed, but high cloud ceilings allowed us to fly out to our remote landing strip. Our plane ran out of fuel due to a loose gas cap mid flight and we were forced to switch tanks mid air after a rather scary couple seconds. We then made an emergency landing on a neighboring airstrip - not exactly the way I wanted to start the trip. I sure was glad when we touched down.
Ed had flown out in the Super Cub prior to us arriving, scoping out the surrounding areas and the caribou migration. He made the decision to have the pilots drop us on a hilltop rather than a river crossing. At first glance, it wasn’t as bowhunter-friendly as a river crossing, but the migrating herd coming straight in that direction helped him make up his mind. After shuttling all four of us and our gear out, we set up camp, did a little scouting, and made preparations for the following day.
Well That Was Quick
Day 1 of our hunt dawned clear skies, and we immediately glassed caribou right from camp. They were a long way off, but it was awesome to see caribou.
After a quick breakfast, we made lunches, packed up, and headed out. Our original plan was to split up in pairs and hunt different directions. However, upon reaching a couple vantage points, Ed thought we should stick together for a while to try and see exactly what the caribou were doing and how they were traveling.
The morning started slow - a few groups of cows and calves with small bulls hanging out. They weren’t really moving, so we decided to venture farther into a neighboring drainage. This proved to be a good decision, as we found the major travel route of the herd. We could see several groups of caribou with some good bulls making their way across this hidden valley.
We quickly assessed the travel route and could see caribou coming from a long way away. The plan was to make our way down into the valley to a heavily covered creek crossing to ambush the caribou as they made their way through. Caribou were coming across an open tundra hillside and through the creek crossing, which was made up of thick alders and small spruce trees. At its widest points, the cover spanned a couple hundred yards and gave us the perfect ambush scenario.
As we made our way down, I spotted two bulls that had just crossed the creek and were now bedded alongside the creek. Nate anxiously jumped at the opportunity and I followed along behind.
Before we knew it, we had slipped inside of 40 yards with the camera rolling. Nate wanted a good representation of the species and this bull fit his standards nicely. The bull stood and Nate was able to make a great 35-yard heart shot. We looked at each other in astonishment, realizing we had a bull down only halfway through our first day!
After a few high-fives and congratulatory hugs, I looked across the creek up on the open tundra hillside and saw a string of bulls heading our way, with a shooter in the group. I’ve developed one strict standard over the years on my hunts. While I love wild game meat, I hold out for an animal that really gets me fired up; one I feel is of mature age class. This usually results in last minute of the last day miracles, but this bull was a no-brainer.
I had only seen him for 15 seconds, and had only seen a couple hundred caribou in my life, but I knew this was a bull I had to have. Nate agreed, so off I went to shadow the bulls down the creek drainage until they found a point to cross. This led me several hundred yards down below Nate’s bull.
Once they committed to the crossing, it became a game of cat and mouse, playing the wind while trying to estimate where they would emerge. My target bull was one of the first bulls in line, so I had to time it perfect.
I could see flashes of caribou through the heavy cover and made one final move to get in position. I made it unnoticed and the lead bull stepped out at just 25 yards. He looked around and continued on his path. He wasn’t my target bull, but I knew the others would follow suit.
I ranged the spot where the first bull stepped out and sure enough, the second bull in line was the one. I tried to keep calm and focus on executing the shot. This was my chance at a giant.
He cleared one last bush and I didn't bother to try and stop him, as he was walking ever so slow. The arrow flew true, taking the bull through the heart, just as Nate had done only minutes earlier. Little did I know, but Ed and Steve had made their way down to Nate and watched the entire event unfold. The urgency to get into position didn’t allow us to capture the sequence on film, but Ed has footage of the aftermath and it's evident in his monologue that he knew just how big this bull was.
Although my bull lay dead within sight, I wanted to wait for the guys to share in this special moment with me. I could see them making their way down, but just as they approached my position, two lone bulls crested the ridge and made their way toward us. Ed and Steve were up to bat, so my recovery was going to have to wait!
Nate followed the guys down into the creek crossing and I filmed from my position. The bulls were on the same travel route as the string of bulls I had just ambushed. Steve was able to capitalize on a 20-yard chip shot on a beautiful Pope and Young bull with a snow-white mane to claim his first caribou and our third bull within an hour!
Our pilots had been skeptical of how we were going to achieve success with a bow and arrow in this terrain, but we had just punched three tags on the first morning of our hunt! We were on cloud Nine, but I had yet to really lay hands on my bull.
Ed joined me in my recovery as Nate helped Steve with his. I could see the giant tops of my bull’s rack sticking out of the tundra. I was overwhelmed with emotion when I finally got to admire this stud caribou up close. He had huge tops, with extra long tines, great bez points, and to top it off, he even had double shovels.
Now it was time to do work. We had three bulls down several miles from camp. Ed decided to put his bow down for the rest of the day and help us quarter and cape our bulls. We rolled into camp right about dark on the first night with several more meat loads left hanging in a tree by the creek. The smell of sweet success was intoxicating around the campfire that night, but our trip was far from over.
Completing the “Slam”
The next morning we woke up bright and early, making preparations for hunting and packing. My focus was to help Ed get his bull and lay it down on film, as we already had some great footage from Day 1. Nate and Steve spent the majority of the day shuttling meat back and forth.
Toward the end of the second day, we finally found a bull Ed was excited about after watching hundreds of bulls pour over the hillside in front of us. I filmed him sneak within range of the unsuspecting bull and he made the final shot of the hunt on a very unique and beautiful 360-class bull. This was Ed's best bull and he was pumped.
Dark was closing in and we hustled to get Ed's bull cleaned and in a safe place for the night. We rolled into camp that night very late and shared the good news with Steve and Nate. We had more meat to pack out, but our hunt was over. Four bulls in 48 hours exceeded our wildest expectations.
We spent the majority of Day 3 getting Ed's bull and the rest of the antlers and meat back to our landing strip. With several days left to kill and no other tags to fill, we arranged for an early bush flight out. We headed back to Tok to take in the local scenery and enjoy everything Alaska had to offer.
We also made the trip with four other friends from California who were hunting in a different camp. They tagged out on Day 3. We met up with them back in Tok and decided to catch an early flight home.
What an amazing experience in one of the most remote and beautiful places I’ve ever been. I couldn't have asked for better people to share it with. The only problem is I’ve officially been bitten by the Alaska bug and have to return soon!
By: Brent Miller - Alaska Caribou 2015