Sunday, November 3, 2013

Godzilla the Caribou vs. Evan and The Scout

The early caribou season had progressed slowly. We had hunted a lot, but the hot dry summer kept the bulk of the herd socked away in the high mountains- well out of our reach. Not that we didn't try, having hunted 10 days in the 2 weeks between my Coffee Cr. caribou and the beginning of this tale. We would go out frequently and always see caribou- small cows and calves, a yearling bull maybe- nothing I was going to burn my second tag on. It's not that I'm overly picky about trophy quality since I am first and foremost a table hunter, but size is also pounds. The small bull we shot in the early season was delicious but we'd eat through it by New Years.

Evan had a wonderful encounter where we had a cow and a bull calf walk straight through our area. Even though the bull calf was legal on our "Bull Caribou" tag- we passed, my Labrador retriever weighed more. We decided to let him grow up a few years before we shot at him. Evan did however decide to stalk the creatures for practice and in a show of growing independence made me stay at our lookout while he went solo up the ridge to where the pair had disappeared. After leaving me with the rifle he made his way through the brush and was soon over the summit in pursuit.

I was there enjoying the day when Evan burst over the edge running flat out. It was rather comical afterward- the look of terror on his face while he sprinted down the ridge, his feet hitting the ground about every third step. Within seconds he was back at my side panting. I was chuckling since nothing had followed his hasty retreat and he was apparently whole despite the heart rate and gasping.

"What in the world is that about?" I inquired, certain this was going to be entertaining.

"That caribou, she was going to charge me!" he replied. I was immediately doubtful since a caribou's first  and only defense is to run like heck when threatened. I've never heard of a caribou charging anything despite the fact they have the largest antlers of any deer species on earth relative to their body size. Evan went on to explain (between gasps) that he had found the pair and he crawled through the bushes to get closer. He reported that he was making his way when he looked up and was nose to nose with the cow.

"And then what happened?" I queried.

"She snorted really loud and then pee'd all over the place! She was going to charge me!" he recounted in wide eyed terror. The thought of Evan crawling right up to a caribou and then having them "discover" each other at bayonet range was hilarious. I don't know who was more scared- Evan or the cow- but they both hauled butt from the scene. I carefully explained that caribou don't really charge but if that had been a cow moose she would have stomped him into a hole in the ground. I'm betting that lesson will stick for life.

Without a shootable critter showing up to the party we headed to camp.

We met up with my friend Gary the next day and headed back to the field. Although the caribou had been scarce and few had been taken, the migration had to start sometime. I awoke with a good feeling. The autumnal equinox and the harvest moon had shown brightly the week before. It just felt like a good day to be hunting despite a lot of evidence that it shouldn't be. An overnight snow storm had left 12-18" of fresh powder on the ground which would make stalking hard but tracking easy. We only had a few days left on our early season tags and we both hoped to get a good sized animal after we both took smaller bulls earlier in the season. It was with a renewed sense of optimism that we left early that morning.

As we made our way over a small ridge in a new area we saw what we had been waiting for. Caribou. Lots of them, including some big bulls. The deep powder made the approach difficult but within a few minutes we had closed on the herd's flanks which were being guarded by a couple of big old bulls. Evan immediately named the one he wanted Godzilla. In retrospect it was probably the largest caribou he had ever seen so the name is more apt than I thought at the time. These were old animals, already pushed out of the herd by younger, stronger bulls. These old gentlemen were on their way to checking out…we decided to speed them along on the journey.

We decided to take them. We closed to a small barren rise and looked across the snow covered ground. There was no cover and no way to approach- the bulls had already spotted us. The range was nearly three hundred yards. I had been trying to get Evan on a caribou all season and set up the Scout rifle on it's integral bipod. He lined up the shot on one bull and Gary had went prone over his pack. Evan, being the most inexperienced would shoot first and then Gary would take the second animal. I was rifle-less, intending on letting Evan do the shooting and not wanting to finish the day packing two rifles if we were unsuccessful. In just a few minutes I would want my pet .300WSM.

Evan got into position. He had practiced out to 150 yards with confidence but this was twice that far. He looked through the scope and breathed and as much as I love my Scout- this was not the most ideal situation for the carbine and certainly not with a neophyte on the trigger. After a long moment's consideration and in a moment of exceptional restraint, Evan exhaled long and said, "It's just too far for me to shoot Dad. You take it."

Regardless of whether we'd score an animal or not today- this hunt was a success. For a young and eager hunter to peer through his scope at a big bull after a long and hard season and then decide to pass the shot was something I was extremely proud of. Many youth and a lot of adults get overwhelmed with their blood lust and send bullets across the tundra at impossible distances. I had coached him on the importance of knowing when to make the shot and when to pass and it was gratifying as a Dad and mentor to see that lesson sticking in the heat of the moment.

I slid behind the rifle and lined up the shot. With a scope magnification of only 2.5x- the crosshairs obscured a lot of the distant animal. I had previously shot a whitetail at 225 with the rifle so I new it would carry the distance. Even though we were spotted, we were still far enough away that the bulls just peered at us without much alarm. They would get nervous and feed up the mountain away from us and push the larger herd in front of them so we would have to conclude this pretty soon or risk them moving out of reach.

My bull was rock steady in the scope with the bipod deployed and Gary had been ready to shoot for a minute. I whispered to him- "Take yours Gary." He must have had the slack in the trigger already taken up because the punctuation on the sentence hadn't left my mouth with the big .338 boomed. The 180 grain bullet streaked across the distance in a flash and I heard the impact- a hollow thump and his bull collapsed in a heap. Even though I don't care for the .338, there is no doubting it's considerable killing power.

I looked at the remaining bull through the scope, applied pressure to the trigger and the gun rang out. My 150 grain, .308 Winchester crossed the distance much slower than Gary's magnum bullet and the impact of the shot was clearly discernible- what the German Jaegars call the kugelschlag. The bull humped up at the impact but stayed on his feet. I reloaded the rifle, lined up the crosshairs and shot again. Boom…Whap! The bull took a couple of steps in the deep snow and was making a run over the hill.

I had reloaded the rifle and applied a generous lead- Boom! I saw a geyser of snow erupt in front of the bull. I had applied to much lead and shot in front of the animal. Even though the shot didn't connect it had a desired effect in that the bull stopped, turned 180 degrees and started back across the small bowl he was in. I reloaded again and applied what I hoped to be the correct lead and pressed the trigger.


It has often been said that the two loudest noises in the shooting sports are a bang when expect a click and a click when you expect a bang. I can attest that is true and am happy to report it on the latter; the striker hitting the dud primer was so loud in my mind that I could swear it echoed off the far hills. It puzzled me briefly but I ejected the faulty round and chambered the last remaining round in the magazine. I  acquired my sight picture, briefly exhaled and executed what Cooper called a "compressed surprise break". Better known as shooting in a hurry.

The gun roared for the fourth time and the bullet sailed downrange. I clearly heard the impact and the bull turned in his track, spraying a geyser of blood as he fell into a heap. Although the elapsed time couldn't have been more than a few seconds, it felt like an eternity. We made our way to them through a snow and brush choked ravine, taking the time to scout out and stomp a good trail in the snow since we would have to ferry several loads of meat apiece back through here. We soon had the bulls in hand and set about the usual tag cutting, trophy photo taking, and butchering tool arranging that is our usual ritual.

We started on Gary's bull first, and while such things are frequently given to exaggeration, I believe I would have had a hard time rolling it over solo. A very big bodied bull with large antlers, I looked back at mine- equally large.  I was very happy the day was shaping up to be a nice one, temperature right at freezing with a warm sun and a cloudless, windless blue sky- the perfect day for both field butchering and meat care. I felt fortunate that we had got on these early in the morning because hauling both of these off the mountain on our backs the mile back to the camp would take most of the day. If this had been at dusk we would have no choice but to leave these here in the dark and start again in the morning.

Gary had placed his shot very well. The animal had been quartering away and he hit it right behind the last rib and punched his bullet clear through and out right in front of the bull's shoulder. The carcass was an impressive wreck internally and death was largely instantaneous. We moved to my bull and saw that my shooting was good but the .308 carbine's mild ballistics really showed at this range. Shots 1 and 2 had both punched cleanly though both lungs but lacked the velocity and energy to create a lot of drama and neither had resulted in an exit wound. Don't get me wrong-these wounds were clearly fatal even individually but the bull might have travelled a couple hundred yards before succumbing to the inevitable. A lot of hunters would be content with such a follow up- admittedly in 12" of fresh snow tracking the bull would be a piece of cake but I like to finish such things quickly and I'm not afraid to expend ammunition. Shot 3 was a miss and 4 a misfire but shot 5 had hit where the chest joined the neck and blown out the bull's jugular- death was extremely quick albeit a bit gory on the fresh snow for the faint of heart.

Butchering took on a leisurely pace and we took great pains in the meat care. With the gorgeous weather, difficult ground conditions and mild temperature there was simply no need to get in a hurry. To rush would only invite an injury- quite likely with sharp knives and heavy loads on uncertain terrain. By day's end we had all the meat recovered and in an unusual twist for both Gary and I, both heads saved for mounting in the vehicle. At check in Gary's bull was somewhat lighter but live weights on both bulls were estimated at 450-500 pounds which is pretty darn big for the area. They both took five trips to get off the mountain in our packs and each load weighed 60-80 pounds. Which was plenty for the steep and snow covered terrain.

At the conclusion though, the finest bulls either of us had taken or likely will for some time to come and both yielded an abundance of meat for the impending winter.


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Good day out then?
My congratulations to Evan, thats being a great hunter.


hodgeman said...

Very good day. I've got several more hunts to write up…a late fall and a busted finger have kept my writing to a minimum. What a great season we've had!

Phillip said...

Love the whole story, but my favorite part was the boy's decision to pass the shot.

Always thought the .308 was a great, but limited round for really big critters. Had a big boar take three vital hits at appx. 250 yards before I finally managed to knock him out with a head shot.