A few years back, my friend Russ Fullerton and I went on a caribou hunt in Gander, Newfoundland. We have always hunted in Pennsylvania for whitetail deer, black bear and grouse but had never been on what we considered a hunt of a lifetime. When we arrived at the outfitter’s cabin, there were seven or eight other hunters. Most of them had been on caribou or moose hunts before, and their stories fueled our excitement.
On the first day of the hunt, we passed up a few caribou, awaiting one with a sizeable rack. On day two, our guide loaded all our gear onto a six wheeler, and drove us into the marshes. After passing up a few caribou, the guide spotted a decent one and got us in position to wait for a good shot. I took the first caribou that day. The guide explained that we would return to pick up the caribou later, and we ventured further into the marshes to find Russ a caribou.
About an hour into the marsh, the six-wheel quad broke a sprocket on the drive and was disabled. The guide radioed for a new sprocket, which would be dropped off by a small plane. About an hour later, the plane circled our area but never dropped the sprocket. The guide radioed the plane and learned that the sprocket was in a small bag lodged on the plane’s wheel strut, and the pilot would have to return and try again. In the meantime, the plane reported a large herd of caribou about a mile west.
To the protest of our guide, we decided to go off on our own to find the herd. About 45 minutes later, we spotted the caribou in the distance. Because my hunt was over, I became Russ’ eyes as we slowly approached the herd. As I looked through my binoculars, I pointed out a large caribou for my hunting partner. Concerned that we might spook them and ruin Russ’ chance of getting his first caribou, we stopped about 250 yards short of the herd. His first shot missed, but the caribou didn’t take off running like the deer we hunt. Russ steadied his rifle on a rock and took careful aim, this time dropping the caribou. We gave high fives, excited that we had gone off without the guide and found our own caribou. As we approached the kill, the rack grew much smaller than the one I shot earlier that day. We laughed about it, and Russ said I would never be his guide again.
At that time, we saw the small plane returning. It circled over us a couple of times, so we decided to make our way back the guide and the broken quad. Our guide was just completing the repairs, when we reached him and told him about the caribou. He already knew because the pilot had radioed him with our location and reported a down caribou. We were pretty excited and joked with the guide about how we went without him and found Russ a caribou. On our way to pick up the caribou, we spotted another herd with one of the largest racked caribou either of us had seen. Our guide just looked at us, smiled and said, “that’s why you need to hunt with a guide.”
After hunting together for more than 25 years, Russ and I have plenty of stories to talk about, but this one is our favorite. We still laugh about our first caribou hunt. I have the picture of me with my caribou hanging on the wall in my game room; Russ has his rack displayed by the whitetail deer racks in his game room – it’s slightly larger.