Matt Rice-USA Guest Author
Class 5 Migration
As we headed across the lake, I recalled the different classifications that were used by the outfitters in Quebec in regards to the caribou migration. Four levels had been set – Class 1 through Class 5. A Class 1 designation meant that camps were seeing on average one to five caribou a day. Not ideal hunting by any means. A Class 2 meant that the numbers had increased to around 25 caribou a day while a Class 3 ranged from 50 to 100 caribou. A Class 4, which is the most preferred, meant that camps were seeing as many as 100 to 500 caribou a day and that the migration was in full force across the area. A Class 5 indicated that the caribou migration had ballooned to 1,000+ animals. My heart quickened at the thought of seeing so many animals at one time and I tried to picture the scene in my head. It didn’t take long to witness the scene in full view as hundreds of caribou could be seen walking across the various ridges for as far as I could guess.
Wade quietly beached the boat on the north shore of the lake and we discussed our next plan of attack. After glassing the numerous animals that lined each valley and ridge, we spotted a nice mature bull resting on a ridgeline, surrounded by a herd of cows. The bull’s antlers were nicely proportioned and Wade assured me that he had one of the nicer racks that he had seen so far this season. I took him for his word and we quickly devised a plan to get within rage. Staying downwind as best we could and below the bull’s line of sight, we stalked within 250 yards. As we crawled up the side of a ridge that provided the last cover between the bull and us I could see for the first time the size of the animal without the need of binoculars. For this shot, time was not a factor as the bull sat quietly where we had first seen him from the shoreline. Knowing that I would have ample time to take the shot helped calm my nerves and I immediately began to setup on my shooting sticks. Once gaining a sturdy position, I aimed the T/C and waited. While distance was not a problem, the other cows and smaller bulls sitting in the same were. I did not want to take the risk of hitting another animal so I waited patiently, watching the bull through the Nikon optic.
In what seemed like hours, we watched the bull sit lazily in the sun while the other caribou shuffled around. I soon found myself growing even more anxious and it must have shown on my face as Wade quietly asked, “Do you want me to make him stand up?” Affirmative I replied, wondering how Wade would perform such a feat. Before I had the chance to ask him what he intended to do, Wade stood up, waved his cap in the air and made a sound deep in his chest that was totally unexpected. I smiled at the sight of Wade and his repeated antics to make the bull move and just as I did the bull rose to his feet. Wade quickly sat back down and resumed watching the bull in his binoculars. Wade had previously called the distance at 200 yards and I watched the bull stand and shake its antlers through the riflescope.
I tried to be patient as I waited for the bull to clear the animals and just as he did, I took the safety off. This time accounting for both the wind and distance, I carefully aimed just to the right of the bull’s front shoulder. Wade tapped me on the leg, indicating that I was good to take and the shot and I took dead aim at the bull. Again, the sound of the Hornady bullet echoed across the tundra as I watched for the impact. To my surprise I did not see the bull drop to its feet but instead heard Wade’s quiet monotone voice informing me that the bullet had landed just over the bulls back. I knew at once that I had slapped the trigger and quickly reloaded another round into the chamber.
The bull had not moved any if at all – nor had any of the other surrounding animals despite our close proximity. So I informed Wade that I was going to try again. As I repositioned the reticle back onto the bull, the other misses quickly entered my head and my confidence began to shrink. Had the scope and or rifle been knocked off balance during my close encounter with the bog or during the ATV wreck, or had the jarring ride across the tundra affected my rifle? I didn’t have much time to reflect on each question, as the bull was now following the other caribou to its left, so I pushed the negative thoughts from my head and took aim. As I pressed the trigger for the second time, I half expected for Wade to call out another miss but was instead greeted with the sound of the bullet making contact with the large bull. It was a confirmed hit, but the bull seemed not to share my opinion and began to move slowly after the other caribou.
While it appeared to be hit, several other caribou now encircled the bull and my heart sank at the thought of another missed opportunity. Wade told me to stay on the bull and be ready for when – and if – a third shot presented itself.
The bull suddenly moved ahead of the herd and was clear of any other animals. I got a new yardage for Wade (225 yards) and squeezed the trigger. This time the shot was perfect. When the bull fell to its side, I glanced over at Wade who was sporting a large grin across on his face. “Congratulations,” he said. “Now lets go take a closer look at ‘em.”
A Mature Bull and a Hunt Concluded
As we approached the bull, all of the day’s emotions came to mind. It was only 3 o’clock in the afternoon – a little more than eight hours since we left camp – and I’m about to lay my hands on my first caribou. In just a few minutes, Wade would have the bull ready for packing, making short work of the chore after 10 years of guiding in this part of the world. I tried to assist where I could, but I felt like I was only getting in the way. We examined the bull for the first shot and noticed a hit high along its back, causing it move slowly and awkwardly.
For the next two hours I would sit not more than 100 yards from where I had taken the bull, watching the hillside move with the migration of caribou. In every direction, the hillsides and valleys seemed alive as thousands of caribou came flowing across the tundra. After glassing several mature bulls, I finally decided upon a second and waited for him to quickly narrow the distance between us. The bull was headed in my location and I waited for him to walk within 100 yards of my position before I squeezed the trigger. This time, the bull immediately fell to the ground, bringing an end to my hunt. I stood up and took a deep breath as caribou continued to stream in from all directions – some passing within 25 yards of my position. Inspired by the time and place I couldn’t help but thank God for giving me chance at such an experience, as well as safe passage through the day’s “adventures.” This time I was on my own to field dress the caribou, which I did proudly but with much more effort then it had taken Wade a short time ago.
Success was awarded with a refreshing coke and granola bar stowed in my pack and I sat contented by my accomplishments and brimming with excitement. Just before 5 o’clock, a guide returned to my location to transport the two bulls back to camp. Although he offered me a ride, I politely declined. I’d had enough of ATVs for one day, I figured. And besides, the camp lay just a few miles away. So I walked back to the camp in the fading light, gazing at the wide-open, tundra plains, feeling far less intimidated – but no less respectful – of the rugged and unforgiving nature of the land. With two bulls to my credit, I felt like I had conquered my own piece of the tundra and my gait gained an extra bounce despite the rigors my body endured that day. And all the while I wondered how – and if – I’ll ever be able to match the excitement of my first caribou hunt. Honestly, I don’t know. But paired with my T/C Venture, there’s nothing to keep me from trying.