I’m very excited to announce a new contributor to the Thin Air Outdoors website, Warren Anderson Jr.
Warren is a Colorado Native and probably logs more hours in the field than anyone I know, he literally eats/sleeps and breathes hunting. He sent me a list of animals he’s taken with a bow and arrow and it’s so long the Internet won’t let me list them all! He is also a dedicated waterfowl and turkey hunter pretty much keeping himself busy in the field year-round. I couldn’t be happier he has decided to contribute to the site and look forward to future stories. He’s also considering putting a book together documenting his time in the field, I for one will be anxiously awaiting its publication. And with that I’ll turn it over to Warren Jr., thanks for sharing Warren!
Caribou in the Northwest Territories by Warren Anderson Jr.
Original published in Bow and Arrow – August 2009
I think Caribou are fantastic animals. Not many other species in North America can grow as much antler in such a short amount of time or cover the open landscape they call home faster than an Olympic track star. They inhabit pristine country and going to the Northwest Territories to chase them with a bow is always challenging. They also are excellent table fare yielding a flavorful meat that is tender and worth the effort.
I had hunted Caribou once before in Newfoundland a few years back, and that experience left me with a hankering to chase them again. So in January 2007, my wife and I met with the folks from Peterson’s Point Lake Lodge at the Denver Sportsman’s Expo. After talking with the owners and some of their staff, we decided to send a deposit and book a hunt for the first week in September 2007. Although my wife doesn’t hunt, I was able to talk her into going as a non-hunter and sharing this once in a lifetime experience with me. Some friends of ours had hunted with Peterson’s in the past and all gave glowing references. Although all of my buddies were rifle hunters, the staff at Peterson’s had guided several bow hunters and were well versed in the challenges that archery equipment poses.
We arrived in the town of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories via commercial airline and then took a floatplane an hour and a half north to camp. The Peterson’s camp sits on the shore of Point Lake, which is a large body of water seventy miles in length and is located just south of the artic circle. The area is so pristine that the ice-cold water is safe to drink straight from the lake. After cabin assignments and introductions with all the staff and the other hunters in camp that week, I headed down to the beach and to check my equipment. I had been paired up with another bow hunter named Vince (the only other archer in camp that week) and he also came down to check that his equipment had made the trip without incident. I knew Vince had been to Peterson’s a few years earlier and had not gotten an opportunity at an animal so we decided that he would have the first crack at an animal when we went out the first day. We shared a few stories and I knew he would be a good hunting partner for the next week.
Our first day on the tundra we had great weather and spotted several groups of bulls right off the bat. Our guide, Egan, helped judge the quality of the animals and suggested that we could do better. That afternoon we found a group of six bulls that made the grade and Vince was on the chase. He slithered into position as the rest of us sat in a boulder pile and looked on. The way he crept to within range of these bulls, you would have never guessed that he was a tree stand hunter from Wisconsin that had never stalked animals in such open habitat. The caribou stood, sensing something was up and Vince got his chance. The distance was a little closer than he had estimated and the arrow sailed harmlessly over the largest bull’s back. We headed back to camp empty handed but with a great first day on the books. That night in camp we ate like kings and shared stories of the day. Some of the other hunters had taken animals so we listened to their adventures and admired their trophies.
On the second day of the hunt, we were again treated to great weather, a gorgeous sunrise, no bugs and plenty of Caribou. We each had a few stalks, but no shots presented themselves. We also saw several bear tracks along the beach and that night we had a bear visit camp. It had found the buried freezer that the lodge used for storing eggs, peaches and jalapenos! Needless to say, after the surprise of jalapenos, we didn’t think the bear would be back.
On the third day of our trip, my wife elected to stay in camp and relax. We loaded into the boat and headed for one of the large islands on the lake. When we neared the island, we spotted two groups of bulls. After sizing them up, we beached the boat and made our way to the top, over a series of saddles and rock outcroppings. We slowly inched our way around the numerous dips and peaks and could not re-locate the target animals. After getting the slip from the bulls, we were headed back to the boat when a bull appeared out of nowhere and busted us. We were in a little meadow crossing a boulder field when I heard Vince sharply say my name in a high-pitched whisper. I froze and got our guide’s attention and when we looked to our right, there stood a good bull, with the sun shining from behind him, illuminating his velvet- covered antlers. Vince whispered, “Would you shoot that bull?” I answered yes, but in our current situation, it seemed unlikely that I would get the chance. After a few minutes, the bull moved off behind the saddle and the chase was on. The bull busted us again as we were making our way to him and trotted around another saddle. We stayed in the pursuit but at the next ridge, he had a cow and a calf with him. I was able to stalk within 30 yards and got drawn on him twice but each time, the cow or the calf was blocking his vitals, preventing a shot. The group headed back in the direction they had come from and now Vince was back in the game. Egan motioned for me to slip around behind them and cut off the escape route while Vince crept close trying for a shot. I hustled around several knobs and lost track of both the bull and my two hunting partners. When I eased up over the saddle and looked to my right, Vince and Egan were motioning frantically that the bull was to my left. I was confused because there was nothing but a large expanse of tundra and I though I should surely be able to see a caribou in the wide open! Just then I saw his antlers bobbing from behind a large rock shelf and knelt down to range the distance. When the bull took a few steps out away from the rock outcropping that had concealed him, I drew and placed the 30-yard pin in the sweet spot behind his front shoulder and triggered the release. The arrow hit home with a thud and I watched him tear out across the tundra and tip over. After some back slapping and photos, Egan caped the head while Vince and I packed the meat back to the boat. When I returned that evening, my wife was happy for me but a little sad that she missed out on the whole experience.
That night, just before dark, the skinner was coming out of the meat shed when he encountered a grizzly bear about ten yards away. He had just closed the electric fence and was reaching in to turn on the power when he turned around and saw the bear. Both he and the bear were startled at the same time and all he could muster to shout was, “Bear!” The skinner made fast tracks for the guide’s quarters and the rest of the staff came piling out, shooting into the air to encourage the bear to move along. As I watched the bear running out through the tundra, the owner of the lodge walked past me and said, “I told that skinner to keep the shotgun loaded. I bet it will be loaded tomorrow.” He just kept walking back to his cabin, as if nothing had happened. The skinner was still shook up the next morning, and re-told the story over a cup of coffee. He was in no hurry to get out to the meat shed and he took a good ribbing from all of us before we headed a field.
The last day of our hunt, my wife again elected to stay behind. I still had my second tag in my pocket and we spent most of the day trading stalks on different groups of bulls we found. In the early afternoon, while out on the lake, our guide spotted a lone bull in some thick cover. We beached the boat and tried to get the drop on him. We lost track of him in the tall willows and on our way back to the lake we were walking through a saddle when Vince and Egan froze. The bull had looped around and was standing up sleeping when we came through the saddle. He had now spotted Vince and Egan, but hadn’t seen me. Vince said they were busted, but if I thought I could get the drop on him, for me to go ahead and do it. I belly crawled ahead to a small rock and ran out of cover. I was still sixty yards from the now bedded bull and no chance for a shot. I slid backwards until I had some cover and motioned to the guys that I was going to go over the top of the ridge and come at him from the other side. As I was sneaking around the knob, I felt the wind hit my back. Had I been stalking a deer or an elk, I would have just headed back, but I knew that sometimes you can get away with a bad wind on caribou. I crawled to within 35 yards of the bull and waited for his next move. After about ten minutes he got up and started to feed to his right, which brought him to thirty yards broadside of my position. I drew the bow and slid the thirty-yard pin behind his front leg. When the arrow hit, he crow hopped in a circle and fell over dead with in fifteen yards. We soaked in our final afternoon on the tundra as we worked on quartering and skinning. We shared a few laughs and admired the orange and red leaves of the landscape we were about to leave. It was a great way to end a fantastic hunt. He wasn’t the largest bull in camp, but the stalk was one that I will remember for a long time. As we said our goodbyes before getting on the plane, my wife and I filled up our Nalgene bottles with our last drink of the pristine waters of Point Lake and wished that the end of our trip hadn’t come so soon.