There I was, crouched in a puddle of water behind a sparse, 4-foot pine tree as two big bulls meandered toward my blind, ripping lichen out of the tundra floor as they approached.
I went through my mental checklist of things I was going to do when the bulls reached the pre-marked, 34-yard opening: Wait for all four eyes to be hidden; rotate to my right; come to a slow and steady draw, fingers on bow hand open; breath released halfway; and wait for the bigger of the two to step ahead. But the little voice inside my head is quick to interrupt my thoughts; it has a knack for appearing at the most inopportune moments. I'd just gotten off the plane a few hours ago and here I was, about to fulfill my dream. Remember the movie Animal House, with the little angel and devil. While they're both sitting on my shoulder, the devil is doing most of the talking. "You're about to get an enormous caribou." These words put a mystical hoax on what was about to happen and it made me lose focus on the task at hand. I did everything as planned except I didn't account for the small twig between the beautiful animals of Quebec and myself, and that little piece of wood succeeded in redirecting my arrow that was traveling at 300 fps.
I chose North Country Outfitters USA Inc., which is run by Greg Bonecutter Sr. because he's honest and straightforward. He didn't promise me the world nor did he promise me a guarantee kill, but Greg did say that he'd do everything he could to get me a shot at some nice bulls. I scheduled my hunt for Sept. 13-20, at Camp Palmer in Quebec. We actually hunted near Lac Minto Lake, which is a small lake just east of the Hudson Bay. The first day I only saw 13 bulls and about seven cows. I was hoping to immediately be in the center of a massive caribou herd that you see on magazine covers. So, I was disappointed when I saw only 20 caribou on my half-day hunt.
I spoke with my guide Ben Arsenault who told me in his French accent, "Maybe it's good the caribou not all come today. Save some for tomorrow." Through further conversation I found out what Ben meant was that from his experience it's better to have the caribou spread out instead of all grouped together. He said that if you do see "the mother herd" today, you might not see them tomorrow. He also went onto explain that you get better opportunities with the bulls spread out. Ben also related that when the caribou are bunched together the bulls have a tendency to be in the middle and offer no shot opportunities.
Ben was right. The next day I saw approximately 100 caribou, but there were no good shot opportunities. On the morning day 3, we were confined to hunting on our base island. This was due to tsunami-like waves and gusting winds. We couldn't cross to the island that held all the caribou. After lunch I was bouncing off the walls in anticipation to go out to "Caribou Island." But I think Ben and the higher powers noticed this because the weather broke and the lake calmed. We took the 14-foot wooden boats and headed toward the island. We hadn't even made it to the bank when we saw herds coming toward the island. This time I was packing my .338 Ultra Mag. and I meant business. I vowed that I wasn't going home empty handed. There were five guys in camp with two bulls down and none with my tag on them. I'd actually photographed my hunting buddy, Dru, take a nice bull with a muzzleloader. It was my time, I was due and I could feel it.
After running like a chicken with my head cut off from rock to rock, trying to get in front of the caribou herds finally paid off. As I climbed onto a rock for a better view, I spooked a nice bull and five of his cows. Frustrated and tired, I looked back to where I'd just come from only to see caribou heading toward my former position. My brain debated with my legs over whether I should run back over to where I'd been sitting. The distance was about a half-mile and I figured I had about 2 or 3 minutes to cover the ground in hopes to get a shot at these caribou. While my legs felt burdened by the weight of my clothes, backpack and gun, I was optimistic about finding a nice bull-despite the chance there might not be any shootable bulls.
But I proceeded to do the half-mile dash with all my gear, across a swamp, up a hill and then ... I saw them, four little cows all by themselves. Breathing hard and sweating even harder, I turned my head to wipe my brow only to see 10 to 12 monster bulls trailing behind. I dove into a prone position, unfolded my bipod and began to scan the herd. I thought the herd saw me because they picked up the pace and would be over the ridge top in less than a minute. I finally saw a bull stand out from the crowd. The first one, and he was the biggest. I scanned the herd one final time to be positive. The lead bull was still the biggest. I positioned my scope ahead of him and awaited his arrival. When he entered the scope picture the recoil of my Ultra Mag lets me know it's all over. I come back to sight picture to see my bull stagger downhill and fall on his side. It was a good 350-yard shot.
I put my gun in safe mode and ran over to my trophy with the high expectation that every hunter has who's just harvested an animal. How big is it going to be? Will it have everything that a good-scoring caribou has? Once I reached the animal and grasped his rack, I felt a true appreciation of how big caribou really are. With my right hand on the right antler and my left hand on the left antler, my arms were stretched as far as they could go. Then something happened that I'd only heard of: Once a caribou is harvested its stomach has a chemical reaction to the lichen, which causes it to rapidly bloat. I've heard rumors of caribou expanding even before hunters could get to them, and even heard of one exploding. But I thought it was an exaggeration. Before I could get the camera out of my bag, I noticed the bull's stomach start to rise. I couldn't believe it. Just like when my mom baked bread in the oven, I watched it swell in front of my eyes. It was only 3 or 4 minutes from the time of the shot. I had to quickly snap a few pictures and then cut a slit in the stomach, so it had room to expand. I then finished the photo session and proceeded to tag it when one of the other hunters came over the radio and said that several more big bulls were heading my way. They wanted to get a shot but the distance was too great. They noted that one bull was really wide and the other was wide with big palms.
It didn't take long for those bulls to cover the distance. They marched in single file, like kids playing follow the leader. The herd was already at the highest point and it was coming right at me. I peered through the scope and saw that two bulls really stood out. As they approached they started to veer off to my right side, offering an 80-yard shot. But I was still debating which one I thought looked nicer. I concluded that the bigger rack would look nicer on my living room wall. So with one well-placed shot the bull was mine. And was he a beauty, he had everything for scoring and a beautiful unblemished layer of velvet over his massive rack. It made for some beautiful pictures with the two different looking racks side-by-side in a photo. It was only day 3, and I'd taken my limit.
My first bull looked just as big as my second, but scored 323 7/8. My second bull scored 351 4/8. The Boone & Crockett Club score for a Quebec-Labrador caribou has to be 365 to get in the record books. So it was "close, but no cigar" as the saying goes. Although my caribou didn't make the B & C book, I consider them trophies in my book. I also got to bring home close to 250 pounds of some of the best game meat.