Saturday, March 21, 2015

Answering Critics...or Barking Up the Wrong Tree

As much as I detest dirty laundry in public...I've got to say something here that might torque a few screws. The topic at hand is something all writers must deal with-  criticism. Bear in mind this doesn't include thoughtful commentary, which I love- even when it runs counter to my opinion. The difference can be vague and admittedly can be based on how I feel at any particular moment, day or occasion but thoughtful commentary is appreciated while an ad hominem attack on me or my work is not.

In short- I will typically not respond to criticism via email or comments. Just won't do it. Wouldn't be prudent.

Allow me to explain in brief since these are recurring patterns.
1. Criticism of my writing style. I appreciate the feedback but I don't have time to engage in long private discourses on the merits of the Oxford comma and my considerable love of hyperbole. I primarily write this for my own personal amusement, ego stroking, etc...generally without revision. So expect some mistakes, I'm human. Putting twenty hours into a 2000 word unpaid blog post isn't something I can do- sorry, now go find some illiterate person and teach them to read and write.

2. Criticism of my opinion. I've formed my opinions over many years of personal experience. Your experiences may have lead you to different opinions. That's OK. Since the content I have presented here varies from narratives, techno rifle geekery and some Op-Ed type stuff- it's a mixed bag. If you disagree with me that the .30-06 is a dreadfully boring cartridge choice or that the Chuitna Coal mine is a bad deal for Alaska, so be it. Belittling me is unlikely to change that and I don't feel compelled to explain myself to everyone who can hit 'send' on an email. I also do not "owe" you equal time to express your opinion on my forum. Blogger is still free, so have at it. Again, this does not include well reasoned correspondence- as a guide,  if your note to me includes the word "idiot" "moron" or "dumbass" then it likely doesn't make the cut.

3. Criticism of my vocation. I am an outdoorsman: a hunter, an angler, and a gatherer. Many, if not most, of my activities are pretty hunting-centric. I feel like I'm a respectful guy in the field- I respect the animals, the environment and my fellow outdoors-folks alike. Trust me- "hoople-heads" in the field bother me more than they bother you. And for the love of God, do not ask me if I "ate that animal I murdered" one more time.  The answer is, I DID and will do so until I am no longer able.

So there- sorry for the little rant but my email inbox is becoming increasingly filled with correspondence from people "taking me to task" for all sorts of things, including not responding to their "taking me to task". Some advice I got a very long time ago from a writer I respect a great deal was simply this, "If you believe you have something interesting to say- say it with conviction. And never, ever, ever....respond to a critic."

I see no reason to not follow his lead.

Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Other Hunters...Thoughts on Competition

I got an interesting piece of correspondence regarding dealing with competition in the field. Being that I hunt in a relatively crowded section of the state, I see other hunters frequently and have come to a few conclusions.

So in brief-
Just because another person is in the field- doesn't actually mean they're competition. From my experience, about 10% of the folks you see simply don't have a clue what they're doing. If they're your competition...better find a new vocation. Most of them will never venture off the pavement very far and after talking to them, it's really apparent they stand a better chance of killing an animal with the car. I usually try to help these folks to the limits of my ability.

Another 80% are people who are there to "hunt". They typically show up in RVs, have a giant trailer of ATVs, and a giant cooler full of beer. The typical day will be sleep in, big breakfast, a ride in the afternoon on the ATV called "hunting", shooting in the gravel pit, a big dinner, capping the day off with a half rack around the bonfire. You seldom find these folks very far from the road or trail and if they're on foot it's just to pee. I'm all for folks having fun in the outdoors, but I find it hard to consider what they're doing..."competition". I usually find them an annoyance, just more folks clogging the trails and if they take an animal it's dang near an accident.

The remaining 10% though...are killers. The hunting guide and author Tony Russ once subtitled a book, "Why 10% of Hunters Take 90% of Game" and I think he is spot on. That 10% is up early, out late, on foot far from roads and trails, and will be looking to avoid you just as much as you look to avoid them. Competition? I have a hard time looking at them that way, because if you see them in your can bet there's game there and likely enough to go round for all of you.

Pulling Tags...the ADFG Drawing System

Well, the ADFG drawing was held yesterday and a great many people managed to pull the tag of a lifetime. Still yet, many more were bitterly disappointed.

I've received a couple inquiries about how the draw works.

In short- unlike a lot of the West, Alaska's drawing system doesn't accumulate points. Every year, everyone has exactly the same chances of drawing. Some people think that isn't fair...well, maybe. But with few exceptions- every animal available on draw is available over the counter. Maybe not in the areas, or seasons but a sheep hunter can still hunt sheep and a moose hunter can hunt moose.  Bison are too limited to have an OTC tag and muskox are subject to a complicated system of registration and subsistence tags.

But then- how does a guy actually draw some tags? Easy- apply for a lot.

My family has pulled a half dozen draw tags over the years, the latest a very nice "Any Bull" moose tag. We typically put in for anywhere from a dozen to twenty per year. Every year. I did draw a coveted DCUA Sheep tag with very long odds, but I may not ever draw another. I've never drawn a bison tag and may not. But I have drawn a couple of good caribou tags and a couple moose tags. None of those tags had long odds at all.

When I hear people complain of "never drawing a tag" or "the system is rigged"...the facts are they usually put in for very few tags and the ones with the longest odds to boot. If you only apply for DCUA sheep and Bison you can expect a long dang wait to pull one.

How bad are the odds- well the ADFG publishes that in the draw supplement.
Several Bear tags on famed Kodiak Island are nearly 100% draw, sure it will cost a small fortune to get you in there to hunt that tag...but you will draw it.

Almost ALL of the trophy area sheep tags like DCUA and Tok Management are less than 1%. These are simply a hard tag to draw...few permits and a huge number of applicants.

Everything else is in the middle.

So here are some rules of thumb...
1) The easier the tag is to draw....the harder the hunt area will be to get to.

2) The more desirable the species as a trophy (ie. Dall Sheep) is...the harder the tag will be to draw.

3) Bison are the equivalent to winning the "Alaska Meat Lottery".

4) DO YOUR RESEARCH...figuring out how you'll hunt a tag after you draw it, isn't a very good plan.

5) Apply for a lot of tags. My circle of friends pulls some sweet tags every single year. Collectively we apply for (without exaggeration) hundreds of tags so the odds are in our favor.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ballistic Chit Chat....or Anecdotal Evidence, Pt. 2

A while back I posted up some anecdotal terminal ballistics results... found here As mentioned then it is hardly definitive, but rather data for the wider body of knowledge.

The year's results are as follows-

.300 WSM/ 180 Accubond- this load continues to give good results. 2 caribou this year, one at an easy 150yds and the other my longest shot to date- 355 yards. The 150yd shot showed perfect expansion, very few bullet fragments in the wound channel and a large exit wound. Placement was good on the rear of the on side shoulder and it exited the gap of the last two ribs. Death was near instantaneous. The 350yd shots- took two, neither placed perfectly. The first was a bit far back, through the liver. The second through the shoulder blade and spine. Both were solid hits, but not immediately fatal. 350yd. energy figure are down quite a bit but both bullets exited despite some bone  being involved. No fragments were found.

.338WM/ 180 Accubond- this load accounted for two caribou. Both dropped at near 400yds. The light for caliber but tough Accubond in the .338WM has turned in good performance- particularly on light game (for a .338 at any rate) at long range. Good expansion, no fragments and one shot kills. This combination makes the .338WM a very versatile cartridge when compared to what was available in the last couple of decades.

7-08 Rem/ 140gr Fusion- this load out of my son's Savage carbine did not impress. On the first shot at his caribou, the bullet failed to expand much (if any) on a high lung shot. The animal showed little reaction but would have expired after some period. 2nd shot hit a veterbrae, results were instantaneous and would have been so regardless of bullet weight, construction or cartridge. Limited testing showed acceptable accuracy in the rifle- better than a couple of competing brands- but I think the 140r Fusion is a Speer DeepCurl bullet and was designed for 7mm Remington Magnum velocities  and not the milder 7-08 Remington. The Savage's 20" barrel further exacerbates this reducing speeds over a 24" barrel to a degree.

It seems that poor performance on game follows last year's results- simply put, bullets being too hard for impact speeds. This is in stark contrast to previous trends in bullets as too soft for magnum velocities and premature expansion being the rule.  In the 7-08 I will try to find a load with the typical 120gr bullet given how open our usual environment is and the shorter barrel length of the carbine. I'll do tests on the 120gr Ballistic Tip and the TTSX, both at 2950. The BT should open at lower impact speeds while the TTSX will provide greater penetration within our usual ranges.

The "tipped and bonded" bullets seem to produce good results at all ranges to date, with a balance of expansion and penetration.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Evan Scores a Bull

It is with some trepidation that I write this for fear of not doing the event justice or somehow leaving out essential elements I'd want remembered since this is something I'd like to get right from the start. In cultures around the world, the taking of a young person's first animal is generally regarded as a step toward adulthood, a rite of passage, a milestone. I've helped several young folks (and several more "not young" folks) take their first animals but this one is different- it is my son. My son is not particularly an inexperienced hunter, he's accompanied me on trips since he was 5 years old, but he had never shot a big game animal. One year was spent chasing caribou and never getting into satisfactory range. The next year, his best opportunity passed to another young man who might not get another one. This year both he and I resolved to work hard to get him on one.

It hadn't worked out yet. We'd seen plenty of caribou and gotten close enough to several. On an early weekend despite my stoved up back we had gotten within 80 yards of a band of six. They were nervous and moving through the brush and never presented many really good shots. I had some mixed feelings there- feeling a little frustrated that he was being kind of picky about what shots he'd take and happy that all the lessons about not wounding game and passing any shot you weren't completely confident in. We played cat and mouse with the band of caribou for about an hour. An experienced hunter would have had little trouble taking as many as he had tags for, but for a 13 year old with poor eyesight and limited shooting ability- discretion was probably the better course.

On another outing, a band of caribou moved through a wide valley and we had to do some hard uphill hiking to intercept. We were successful in the intercept- the lead cow stepped from the brush a mere 30 yards away and was oblivious to our presence- but the young shooter was panting like a dog in hot weather and couldn't steady the gun enough for a clear shot. As they moved off through the drainage, the brush concealed them and we caught numerous glances of antlers, or bobbing heads, or a tail- but nothing you could shoot at. Anyone who has worked hard with a young person to get them on a Western animal knows exactly the kind of frustration I'm talking about.

My own first animal was an Eastern white-tailed deer and was positively anti-climatic compared to this. No disrespect to the white-tail hunters, but in the big oak woods you're likely going to have different challenges, finding a spot to hunt and keeping the kid quiet on the stand (that was my problem). When both hunter and hunted are moving through semi-open country it adds an element of complexity not fully appreciated until you've been there. And we were there all season.

That is until the last weekend.

We awoke early and got the fire going. It was a very crisp 15F and the large lake we were on had rim ice around the edges and smaller ponds and puddles were frozen solid. We'd had a very warm fall and it had kept the caribou in the high mountains, well above tree line to escape the heat and the bugs, and delayed the migration substantially. In just the last few days the temperatures had fell into the teens at night. I took it as a good sign. The cold weather would start the animals moving and it would be a good thing, since the season was just a couple days from closing for the rut.

After a light breakfast, my frequent partner Gary, Evan an myself inflated Gary's Pro Pioneer raft. The plan was simple, float the raft down the lake a few miles to some areas that had been productive in the past  and see what we could find. The hunters on the highway had been stymied to date and the herds were ganged up further back. The raft has proven to be a good method in the past since it got you out of range of the road hunters and had good carrying capacity for hauling back meat. In the cold dawn we launched and floated our way down the lake toward a series of steep mountains.

As we exited the first lake and wound through a set of narrows toward a second I glanced over at the pressure ridge just coming into view. Caribou. And lots of them. I was on the oars and tried to row as quietly and urgently as possible- aiming for a spit of land that would deposit us about a quarter mile from the group visible. As I was working the oars, the group fed to the top of the ridge and off the back side. When we hit the shore, we all sprang out ready for action. We had a fairly steep climb of a few hundred feet to get to the ridge top. I had been here before and new the area well. The lake was rimmed with a series of low pressure ridges and a open basins beyond and the vegetation was just low tundra grass and occasional dwarf willow- nothing over 6" high. In short- a perfect place to shoot  caribou. I had taken a couple of caribou a half mile from this spot and help a couple friends take a couple more. As I was climbing, I was nervous- there would be no close shooting here- everything was wide open and devoid of cover and all the previous shooting here was in excess of 200 yards. Well beyond Evan's shooting ability.

As we came to the top of the ridge, we slowed to catch our breath. Not sure if the animals would be mere feet beyond the summit we crept on hands and knees and went slowly. It was a sight that only people who hunt caribou a lot get to appreciate. As we gazed into the basin beyond, the caribou were simply beyond counting. Not dozens, but hundreds of animals were there in several distinct groups.

We made a plan of war. Evan and I would creep forward and go after a couple of stragglers near the base of the ridge and Gary would hike out the ridgeline about another quarter of a mile and pursue a large band of cows. Shooting cows this late in the season was preferable. Some bulls would be going into rut and the meat would be strong flavored at best and inedible at worst. Many people who hate caribou meat have eaten just that, rutty bull. And it turns them off on the best game meat in the world forever.

Gary had disappeared off the lee side of the ridge and would be traveling quickly. I gave him a few minutes to get to a small knob near the cows. Judging enough time had passed, I simply aimed the rifle from prone on the nearest cow, placed the crosshairs behind the shoulder, and pressed the trigger. Shooting a rifle in open country is always surprising. Since there is little to direct the noise back at the shooting, the report has a hollow sound to it and not nearly as loud as you'd expect. I clearly heard the impact- a hollow "boom" of gunpowder, a brief "woosh"as the bullet tore thorough the air at several times the speed of sound, and a "slap" as the bullet found home. The cow collapsed in her tracks. I was tagged out. 2 cow caribou for the season.

I looked at what else was there. The remaining cows has wandered over toward the group Gary was pursuing and were over three hundred yards away. A lone bull stood there, just a few yards behind the now expired cow. He was fairly big, but I believe fairly young and had most likely been denied access to the breeding cows by the big bulls who dominated the herds a half mile to the north and south of me. He should be just fine. In fact, more than fine. I asked Evan, "Do you want that bull?" and he nodded rapidly.... "Yes!"

I looked carefully as Evan got into position to shoot and loaded his rifle. The bull was perhaps 150 yards away but he was apparently undisturbed at the shooting that had just happened. Evan was prone over a day pack and about as steady as a 13 year old can be. The basin was literally open for miles- even a poor shot by Evan could be easily backed up by me. The bull would not escape wounded, which was a primary fear of his, and mine. I had reloaded my rifle already so I lined up on the bull and began coaching Evan through the shot.

"Just get steady, that bull is in perfect position. Aim where I told you. Shoot when you're ready." I glanced over at Evan, he was intently concentrating, his breathing was controlled, the muzzle was dead still pointed downrange. I peered back through the scope and locked the crosshairs on the bull, ready to finish it quickly. I heard the oddly hollow "pop!" of Evan's 7-08 and it stunned me briefly. The bull didn't flinch or move, it stood there staring off into space. Absent the noise of impact and reaction from the bull- I reported back to Evan.

"A miss. Reload and shoot him again."

"It's going to get away...shoot him Dad!", Evan was getting panicky.

I calmed him down, "He's not going anywhere. Just breathe and shoot him again. You know how- just relax and do what you did a hundred times on the range." I peered back through the scope doubly ready in case of a poor shot or a bolting animal. Evan's rifle barked again. Through the optics in the morning sunlight I saw a giant puff of the bull's white mane explode from his neck and the bull simply collapsed. A neck shot.

"You got him Evan!" I exclaimed as he reloaded the rifle and searched desperately for the bull in the scope.

"Where is he?" Evan yelled, clearly panicked. "I don't see him!"

"He's down. For good. You hit him in the neck. Unload your rifle and make safe." I resumed my coaching again. Evan dutifully unloaded the rifle- dropping the magazine and opening the chamber. He got up and sat on his knees and used his binoculars. After a few minutes the surreality of accomplishing the goal of several seasons, slogging through many miles and packing out other people's caribou; it dawned on- he had done it.

And the shaking started.

The shaking is often called "buck fever" and while many people use it to describe a hunter who is quick on the trigger when an animal comes into view it is certainly present in a large number after the shooting is over. As the tension, anxiety and adrenaline drain away- muscle spasms are not uncommon. I had to remind Evan that Gary was still hunting as we notched our tags. No need to actually lay hand on these animals. They were clearly visible and obviously brought to bag. I decided that Evan need some movement to ward off the shakes so I sent him the several hundred feet down the back side of the ridge- back to the raft- to retrieve my pack and field dressing equipment.

As Evan scampered back off the ridge. I turned my binoculars to the group of cows Gary had been pursuing. They had walked away form the knob and were now 400 yards out in the basin. I had watched several hunts through optics and it is always interesting. I saw a cow collapse, then heard the impact of the rifle and then heard the boom of the report. Exactly backwards of what the shooter normally does. Gary had scored a nice sized cow.

Thirty seconds later- he did it again. We had four caribou down. It was 9:00am.

We would work all day on these animals, dressing, skinning, butchering and hauling them load by painful load over the ridge. Evan did well, wielding the knife and the pack without complaint. Evan was delighted to find that his first shot had connected- a perfect 7mm bullet hole was obvious through both ribs. The bullet had imparted little shock but it would have been effective in a few more moments. His second shot had been entirely unnecessary. Whenever we reached the ridge top we would look at the large herds and watch the big bulls fight for dominance over the harem of cows while we rested. Near dusk we would start the long row back up the lakes and would finish the traverse in full dark, navigating the upper lake by moonlight. It would be 1:00 am before we reached camp as the northern lights erupted across the sky and Orion stood sentinel on the southern horizon. We were utterly exhausted but satisfied as the wood caught flame so we could warm ourselves. We were all hunters.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Gun Safety, The Remington Decision

This past week saw the announcement by Remington that as part of a settlement in a class action lawsuit, Remington would replace the trigger/safety units on what essentially amounts to almost every Model 700 rifle made. That's about 8 million rifles.

In the long, drawn out affair that is the Remington 700 trigger we've been made privy to a lot of sad stories of people who were killed or maimed by their friends and relatives in accidents that a bunch of folks have sourced back to the trigger safety. Some of the stories are heart-wrenching at the best and soul crushing at the worst. It is without judgement on these folks that I present the following. This is not a piece written as a "coulda, woulda, shoulda" type piece or condemnation of those folk's skills or even an implication that they lacked skills. I've done some stupid stuff in the field, and so have most other folks if they'll own up to it- the only difference is that we're all still vertical.

So I'll present here the "4 Rules of Firearm Handling" for about thousandth time in my career and for at least the 5th time in print. Why? Because no matter how safe you think you are- you need to read it again. You need to teach it, again. Until you recite it in your sleep. I don't take credit for the 4 Rules, they are widely attributed to Jeff Cooper, the inventor of the Modern Technique, which is really a fancy way of saying he taught us to fight and kill with something other than a musket or a Colt Single Action revolver.

So here they are.

1. All Guns are Always Loaded- this does not mean, as has been widely disseminated, that you keep all guns loaded, all the time. It means that you treat every gun, in any condition like it has live ammo in the chamber. What Rule 1 establishes is uniformity of purpose. You don't have to memorize rules for loaded and unloaded guns. Just treat them like they are all loaded, regardless, because some of them are and some aren't and the single most frequent thing heard after a negligent discharge is "I didn't know it was loaded." Rule 1 dispenses with that- they are ALL loaded whether they have ammunition or not.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy- to further simplify this rule is to say, don't point a gun at something you don't intend to shoot. This rule encompasses a prohibition against all kinds of acts- horseplay, "scoping" for game with the riflescope, and general inattentiveness to where you are pointing a weapon. It is this rule that makes the whole "faulty safety" concept so infuriating. If the weapon was managed as to not point at other people, then the material condition of the safety is irrelevant. That is not to alleviate a maker of responsibility for their wares, but guns are mechanical devices and can, for a wide variety of reasons, become broken, jammed, dirty, ill adjusted and just flat fail- but when the safety fails Rule 2 keeps us alive.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target- this one suffers the most. When many people pick up a gun, their finger moves to the trigger as if by forces as inevitable as gravity. I've seen this one cause a negligent discharge in an action pistol match. Luckily for the everyone around, the shooter was observing Rule 2 and the shot hit the dirt several feet downrange. The Range Master was not understanding- disqualified from the match and unable to return to the facility until he completed a hunter education or range safety course. Keep your "booger hook off the bang switch" until you're ready to shoot. You see this one so commonly broken by the Hollywood action star it has become modus operandi for the masses. Bad show.

4. Be sure of your target- even in this advanced age of safety training and an endless stream of information at our fingertips, you still hear the occasional moron talking trash at the hardware store about "brush shots" or "sound shots". Often people chuckle at such foolish, I wish it was an immediate "Get out of jail free" card to whip the bejeezus out of them on the spot. You simply must positively identify your target and, furthermore, what is behind it before you put your finger on the trigger and fire. Hunter education has done much to hammer this home and blaze orange requirements make it easier but there is room to improve as "hunting accidents" still happen.

There are the 4 Rules (with commentary by me)...can you improve upon these? Certainly, but adherence to these 4 will prevent most injuries.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Worst...and Best Shot of my Hunting Career

The fall hunting season had been an aggravation. I had sustained a substantial back injury right out of the gate by hauling an inflatable raft over a mountain goat path masquerading itself as a portage around a waterfall. Neither my partner or I had expected it to be nearly so rough but we got into a position of having half of our camp on one side and half on the other as darkness began to fall and at that time I made a terrible decision. I strapped the entire rolled up raft onto my pack and took off down the mountain. Somewhere halfway down I stepped on a piece of inclined rock and something in my lower back just let go. The pain was immense but I managed to get the raft the rest of the way to water. The rest of the trip was horrible. I even managed to yell at a bear sniffing around the camp that night in such a cross voice the bear scampered off. I was pretty happy about that, I doubt I could have even gotten up if I'd wanted.

A trip to the doctor confirmed what I feared- an aggravation of an old injury. He would do his best to keep me out of surgery but I had to do my part. Which essentially was- don't carry anything and take it easy. I protested to the doc (who was also a hunter) that I had a long anticipated goat hunt planned in just two weeks. He looked at me sternly and just replied, "No, you don't." So the fall just drug on... I went on some hunts, all taking it easy. In the car, close to the road, on the wheeler. Several attempts to camp just led to frustration and a long sleepless night of not getting a wink of sleep. Unable to get any rest, I pulled out of one trip early and cancelled another all together. I will say, that I have some very good friends and hunting partners. Gary was very understanding when I had to leave early from camp and he was excellent about helping me not hurt myself worse than I already was. Another friend of mine who I was mentoring volunteered to ride along on a weekend hunt and serve as chief packer in exchange for showing him how to field dress an animal should we be so fortunate to get one.

The hunt commenced pretty normally. We rolled through several of my favorite areas and seeing nothing, travelled further west looking for the herds. We came to a feature called "Crazy Notch" and on the western side of the most unlikely mountain pass you'll see we found them. We climbed a small pressure ridge and spotted several dozen caribou over the next 7 or 8 hours but none came within rifle range except for one cow. She was about 250 yards away and I believed she'd come closer, instead she vanished. I must admit I was feeling the pressure at this point. We were 6 weeks into the season, the bottom of the freezer was visible and I had a new hunter along for the ride. Sometimes when you feel that internal pressure- you don't always make good decisions.

As we made our way back through the steep sided pass just a few minutes before dark, my partner spotted a couple of caribou on the side near the top. They were traveling quickly and would soon be over the summit. I made a snap decision and made perhaps the worst shot of my hunting career. I snapped into sitting position and looped into the sling. I peered through the scope in the dim light and settled the crosshairs just as the animals stopped and peered back down the steep slope at us. Ka BOOM! I have noticed the sound our Germanic brethren call the kugelschlag several times over my life- that is the sound of a bullet striking the ribs of a slab sided animal. It sounds like a guy whacking a side of beef with a mallet or a bat, or in odd instances like a cardboard box being dropping on cement. At close range the sound of impact isn't very distinct against the report of the rifle but at about 150 yards it will stand out as a distinctly separate noise.

Except in this case that sound of bullet striking home occurred much later than I thought it should. I had made a terrible shot in the fact I had been so focused that I didn't realize that this animal was over 350 yards away. Much further than I thought- the worst shot of my career.

I worked the bolt quickly found the cow again in the scope. She was regaining her footing and started to run to the west on a course that would take her over the summit in just a couple of seconds. I applied generous lead- with the crosshairs standing out in front of the animal- and caressed the trigger again. Ka BOOM! The rifle thundered in the tight canyon we were in and I heard the sound of the bullet striking home again, this time accompanied by a sharp crack as the bullet found bone. The cow tumbled from inertia end over end through the bushes and for a second I thought she might fall all the way to the bottom before coming to rest on a small ledge.

My inexperienced partner looked at me in disbelief and exclaimed, "What a shot! That was unbelievable!". I was shaking badly, knowing that the second hit was a lot of luck and without it we'd be headed to the top to conduct a long and, likely, fruitless tracking job in the dark. We dropped our rifles and stripped packs down to just essentials given the steep nature of the terrain. I dropped my .357 Magnum into my pocket as afterthought thinking it would be a comfort packing the meat back down to the road in the dark and not wanting to haul a rifle all the way up the steep face. We made our way up quickly and had to detour around several vertical sections. My partner was a big guy and much heavier laden than I and I wanted to find the animal while we still had a little trace of light in the sky so I sprinted ahead. When I found the ledge, the caribou did the most unexpected thing- which was tried to stand.  She was unable due to a broken shoulder and spine. I grew sick to my stomach and drew the small revolver and fired twice. I'm certainly not a novice with a pistol but due to adrenaline, fatigue and lack of breath, I just flat missed despite being only a few yards away.

By this time I was growing more disturbed. I take every effort to prevent this kind of thing and I was only so much happier that my partner was still down the mountain. I briefly considered that I just had 3 rounds left in the cylinder so I charged the last few feet and fired a single action shot at near point blank range and caribou collapsed. Finally. Down for good. I shouted back to my partner who had no idea what had just transpired that all was well and that I had finished off the caribou with the pistol. I walked into the low bushes and though about retching for a moment and stripped off my jacket to let the cool mountain breeze dry me off as my partner made his way up and the sun's rays in the West faded to dark. I was relieved. Meat at last.

My partner was in shock when he finally saw the animal on the ground- much larger than he expected. He'd never been this close to any large, wild animal before and its size impressed him. I had regained my composure somewhat and was able to resume my role as mentor as we took some photographs. The distance would later turn out to be 356 yards and a 58 degree up angle. I've passed up much better shots than this on numerous occasions and I can't exactly pinpoint why I took it this time but thankful I was. My first shot had hit a little far back and had destroyed the liver. It was a fatal hit but not immediately so. The second had hit the shoulder blade and due to the extreme uphill angle, smashed the spine. The caribou was indeed only moments from succumbing to the wounds and unable to escape when I topped out and perhaps the time wasn't as long as it seemed right then. I was pretty happy to have the handgun to apply a quick coup de' grace and finish what I started.

Later that night after the work was done and we had the caribou off the mountain, after we had made camp, eaten a quick meal and turned in; my aching back stirred me from slumber. I painfully crawled from the tent into the cold mountain air. There was a layer of ice on the fly and built a small fire. Looking skyward and shivering, the aurora borealis blazed overhead. We had meat on the pole, a fire in the camp and an Aurora in the sky- all was right with the world.