My dad, Dick Laube, a life-long dairy farmer and NAHC member, introduced my three brothers and me to hunting, fishing and the great outdoors when we were barely able to walk. When he wasn’t busy running the farm or helping raise four rambunctious boys, he’d head to the woods in search of big game or big fish. Elk, whitetail, turkey and walleye trips were annual events, but every so often he’d travel across the continent in search of mule deer, pronghorns, moose or wild boars.
In 1998 he and a few friends made a trek to Labrador to hunt caribou, but the trip turned out to be a bust, and he’d been eager to return ever since. Each passing fall he hoped to go back to the wild lands of northern Quebec to claim a trophy Quebec-Labrador caribou.
Knee and lung surgery along with two separate bouts with cancer had slowed Dad’s steps, but not his spirit, and he really wanted to give caribou hunting another shot. After a few conversations with my brothers, we agreed to plan a tentative hunt and surprise him with the news during the upcoming Christmas holiday. After extensive reading and a few phone calls, I decided to book our hunt with Club Chambeaux, an NAHC-approved outfitter.
A month later on Christmas Eve, we shared our plans with Dad. His face lit up like a 10-year-old who had just gotten his first Daisy Red Rider BB gun. Later that evening, Mom told us privately how Dad had been wishing he could go on another “big” hunt with his boys but was afraid his health might not allow it. Determination and pride, however, were two things my dad always had plenty of, so there was no way he was going to miss out on this opportunity.
Down But Not Out
By early summer we were already preparing for the hunt when after a routine medical checkup, Dad was given some bad news. His cancer had resurfaced and this time it was in his lymph nodes. This news was made even worse when he learned the only feasible treatment was radiation followed by chemotherapy. The news almost squelched our plans for the upcoming hunt, but Dad was steadfast in his desire to make the trip a reality. As the time for our scheduled departure drew near, a few deals were made with the doctors, which allowed Dad to switch chemo treatments. One of his last doses was given just a week prior to our departure. The harsh medicine seemed to zap what little strength he had left, but we all agreed the trip might just be the best thing for him.
Before we knew it, our things were packed into the motor home and we were leaving central Wisconsin for northeastern Quebec. Once we reached Montreal, the tired, hollow look on Dad’s face had been replaced with a bright, cheery smile that only seemed to grow as the trip progressed.
Soon after arriving at camp, Dad realized he’d mistakenly packed two boxes of the wrong cartridges. Luckily for him, there are still a few really great people in this world. An NAHC member in the camp next to ours heard about Dad’s dilemma and insisted that Dad use his rifle. After some discussion, Dad agreed to accept the generous gift from the complete stranger. The interesting part of the story is the borrowed rifle actually belonged to the man’s father who had recently suffered a stroke, which caused him to cancel his own hunt.
The first morning of our hunt was filled with anxiety and excitement as we made plans for the day. The first couple of hours were spent scouting the lake and river system for possible ambush sites, and since the lake trout were hungry we did our best to feed them as well. The weather was beautiful but apparently the caribou didn’t think so, as they stayed hidden from our view all day.
A Perfect Ending
On Day No. 2, the weather seemed to change from summer to late fall overnight. Periodic rainsqualls, snow showers and high winds seemed to trigger the movement of the migrating caribou. Many small bulls, cows and calves began moving through our area.
During the course of the second day, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a prominent rapids crossing, where I watched more than 75 caribou pass by in the span of 2 hours. I downed a beautiful double-shoveled bull while warming up my lunch. I then spent the better part of that evening trying to convince Dad he should sit at the rapids the following day. In typical fashion, he wanted someone else to sit there, but good old-fashioned peer pressure was applied in full force. The next morning found him sitting at the rapids crossing enduring strong winds and a mix of rain and sleet.
It wasn’t long before two nice bulls made their way onto the scene, and Dad dropped them both! The excitement at camp had reached a fevered pitch by the time he returned with his two trophies. Our camp and the neighboring hunters were there to share in the success as his skiff entered the camp. The wide grin on his face will forever be etched into my memory, and won’t soon be forgotten by those in attendance on that chilly September day.
Although doctors and modern medicine can certainly slow the ravages of cancer, I truly believe my dad used those awesome memories of our caribou hunt to continue his fight against the disease for more than a year after our adventure. His mind forced his body to compete against the odds, but on a cold, rainy November day just hours before the 2004 Wisconsin deer season opener, Dad finally succumbed to the cancer, deciding it was time to find out if the hunting in heaven is as good as everyone claims.