View Full Version : Caribou Hunting Story from Bob Long

02-15-2002, 10:06 PM
<center>I pumped the floats yesterday
Bob Long
I pumped the floats yesterday, but ritually again today even though I know they are empty. Two years younger than me, built in 1953, she waits like my lab waits for the gun to fire.

Imagine she?s a year older than my wife, who is also coming on the annual caribou hunt to the Itcha Mountains.

Itcha Lake is 5124 feet above sea level and about a mile and a half at its widest part, usually crosswind to the prevailing westerlies from the coast mountain range 40 miles to the west.

As boys we talked of airplanes, usually Spitfires and Lancasters, today its supercubs and their clones. Bush planes for freedom, a chance to own that which you can see. The ticket to live.

I?m a dinosaur; I plod around in a nostalgic haze pining for the gold rush or the commercial fishing of my youth or for the biplanes of the 30?s and 40?s. To me the past is real, all of our pasts, the Indians, my grandfathers and their grandfathers. I take these dreams and in my supercub they turn to desires.

Sherry is apprehensive, she knows the lake is short and high, but forgets these issues only come to play 10 days from now when we depart the lake. We drone on for 45 minutes across the Chilcotin Plateau once crossing the incised valley of the Fraser River running south to the ocean. We cross BC?s grasslands and ranches, dry belt fir into lodgepole pine and further. There are lots of lakes, big, small or shallow, swampy, with fish and most not telling. We circle over a cow/calf moose and start to see less logging. Elevation is increasing from 1767 ft. of Williams Lake towards the 5000 ft. of Itcha Lake. In another 40 minutes we can see the Itcha Mountains standing as a testament to one last volcanic interruption to ruin the smooth plateau. The peaks go to 7500 ft. with lots of alpine; that glorious open green lands that beacon the hiker and hunter alike. The Itcha?s have it all, streams, a lake, pine flats, meadows, mountains and alpine. Of course at closer look the alpine is full of hassocks and buck brush, rocks and holes. You are drawn there by sight but you stay by hard work, sweat, pain and the constant pushing through low bush and tripping in holes wet from the snow melt.

We started late, so the sun is setting in our eyes and makes the lake glassy, not good for a floatplane. I set up a slow sink rate, line up into wind, about of a mile of the lake to use. An eagle puts up on final as we cross the nearshore; no problem he flies better than I. Glassy water is like loosing your understanding of where you are vertically, no light returns to your eyes from the lake?s surface. You could be 20ft high or 2 it?s a guess. I set the flaps 40 degrees; slow to 50 mph, check the wings are level against the horizon and wait; sinking slowly towards the silent surface. A duck takes wing and her ripples send feedback to my eyes, we are almost there, a touch of power and thump we?re down. Stick back and we coast to the beach in front of our camping spot.

Ever since the Indians hunted this place there has been a campsite here. Its flat, grass and gravel ground, on the beach and abut a steep knob hill that is great for spotting game in the back. Its private, with lots of high alpine pine and fir scattered around. Horse trails run out from the camp. Last year we built a latrine and Sherry brought in a toilet seat which the old guys turned their eyes up at, but I noticed they used it. The camp is clean having hauled out the old garbage last year. We are home, or maybe heaven.

This year we have our new wall tent and wood stove luxury. We set up the tent, get a fire going and tie up the plane and its dark. The wolves greet us with the howl that makes us glad we have the tent and gun. They call across the flat from where we know they have their den and the call?s returned from about two miles up the mountain. Soon they are on the kill and yipped their triumph. It is good to be on the top of the food chain. We seldom see them during the day, except once when the big white alpha male was tracking the caribou, but they leave their tracks every morning like seeing the evidence of the midnight shift going home without a sound. We say it is hard to compete with those that hunt for a living.

Each morning Sherry and I and maybe a friend make the hour trek to our stand. These are actually just trees in the middle of the open meadow, that we hide behind to wait for the caribou to cruise by and laugh, which they do regularly. The regulations require us to take only a large mature bull caribou so the parade of not so large bulls, cows and calves or combinations walk around the flats and amuse us greatly.

We play with them for mutual amusement, we see how close we can get to them, we talk to them, we call them, one year one followed us for a couple of hours. In short we love the caribou, as do every hunter with his prey. It is easy to reach back thousands of years and be what we have been. We can feel that connected to the caribou. This is to live, without pretence, no known outcomes, no control, it is in real time, no playbacks.

Sherry casually notes an unusual noise in the distance, sounds like antlers banging together. I dismiss her comment and go back to sleep under my tree. Half-hour later I hear the same sound and say, ?lets check it out?.

`The Itcha meadow and flats look flat until you?re on them, they have no trees to speak of except in a few islands, but caribou can disappear in the gullies and hollows almost instantly. We figure out that the crash is coming from about a mile down the flat behind some small hills that are shaped like cones. These hills are the remnants of the last glacier. We have to jump a small stream and then climb the first of about six small hills protruding from the flats. Glassing from the first and second hill we spot no game. On the way up the third we spot two cow moose standing next to a small swamp in the open meadow. Ten feet away are two huge Bull Moose staring each other down, square on 12 feet apart. I whisper ? OK you?re right maybe they do charge each other every hour?

These are outstanding moose, 4-5 ft antler spread, big bearded bells, shinny and hormone driven. We can almost smell them 500 yards away.

The cows see us and stir. The bulls couldn?t care if we were Mac trucks with our horns blaring they had other things on their minds. Since we didn?t have a moose tag we were going to take some pictures to show the kids. Before I could get the camera from the pack Sherry noticed some more animals coming towards us in the open meadow. They were caribou and lots of them, 21 in fact with 9 or 10 big bulls. These were the bachelor groups that form before the rut starts in earnest.

My wife had just turned from mother,
supporter, and cook to hunter. Her senses heightened, she was on point. We are over the next two hills in a heartbeat and are now 450 yards from the bulk of the herd.
Sherry slides under the last small tree on the hill 25 ft in elevation over the meadow. The herd is milling around, antlers are everywhere, and we start counting antler points (a necessity of modern wildlife management). It is difficult because they are always moving, but they have averaged closer now 350 yards or so. I?m ranging them with my laser range finder. Sherry is pumping adrenaline and still sweating from the last hill, but she has instinct in her eye. Finally, we decide on the right bull and she lines up for the shot.

My rifle is a .270 Brono, had it for 25 years and it has never let me down in the field. Sherry?s gun is in camp because mine is lighter with less kick. The Brono will shoot inch groups at 100 yards; it has a set trigger that can be tripped without the gun firing if the safety is on. In the excitement we forget the safety is on. Sherry trips the set trigger and nothing happens, I say, ? that?s for practice?. Again she lines up. Sherry is an excellent shot, we used to shoot competition and she always did well, out performing me when it counted: under pressure. After some more required breathing, calm, when space, time and feelings merge into one. As the gun recoils I see we are 385 yards away from the caribou.

Sherry is attempting to chamber another round and does so with some trouble. There are 21 caribou going in all directions. I try to identify the target bull, no luck he can?t be seen. Sherry looks at me with that disbelief look. ? I?m sure he?s down? I say not knowing. The bulls are all lined up now heading quickly down the trail, and I can still not find the bull. ? Lets go and check it out? I say and we are covering the 385 yards, at 50 yards there he is in the tall grass. One shot through the heart and lungs no karma to pay here. We celebrate and take a quiet moment to reflect on our own mortality and show respect and love for this magnificent animal. Only the hunter can experience the dichotomy of the hunt and its ultimate conclusion.

Dinosaurs don?t like change. I don?t want to loose this experience for my son and daughter. I want a place in my country where I can define being Canadian. Flying my supercub and hunting caribou in the Itchas shouldn?t be my privilege it should be my heritage.

Bob and Sherry Long.


<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: steve on 2002-02-15 21:11 ]</font>