Crazy bush pilots, caribou cowboys and bulls with nine lives all add up so some entertaining times around a Quebec caribou camp.
Yes, there is good caribou hunting and bad, but it’s always fun. Like any kind of hunting or travel, it’s more fun if you learn about the country and the animals.
A book I have calls caribou, “a gregarious but nomadic denizen of the arctic prairies.” In English, this means you see them in bunches running around on the grass. But you also find them often in the water, their huge feet acting as paddles that can outspeed small motorboats.
That doesn’t keep some idiots with boats from chasing after them, though. In one camp I was in, one of the hunters allowed that he didn’t see anything particularly unsportsmanlike about shooting a swimming caribou from a boat, and announced that he indeed would next morning. Mysteriously, at daybreak his bow and arrows were nowhere to be found, and never did show up again.
I heard a story about one guy, a crazy Quebec native, who liked to jump on the backs of caribou as they swam, then see how long he could stay on after his ride reached the beach. Unfortunately he was observed by a Mountie (they have planes now), who took a very dim view of this disrespectful behavior toward caribou. For what the guy eventually paid for his wilderness rodeo he could have bought his own small bronco ranch.
Find Lake-end Funnels
While caribou seem to spend a lot of time in the water, they don’t really like to. They know they can conserve energy and perhaps avoid a game of “Ride ’em Frenchy” if they go around the ends of lakes. Knowing about these lake-end funnels is helpful for a hunter, who otherwise might have a hard time deciding which of the 200 trails within sight he should stand near.
If you want to increase the challenge and excitement (along with the chances you’ll go home without a caribou) you can go after them. But if your sense of direction is like mine, taking off across the vast wasteland after a herd of tundra joggers will increase the chances you don’t go home at all. I know, I’ve been there, and if not for a lucky break, I could be at the North Pole right now still trying to figure out which way was south.
A Quebec Caribou Camp: A True Wilderness Adventure.
I had been out still-hunting when I spotted a gregarious, but nomadic denizen of the arctic prairie jogging the soggy boggy. I knelt down to start stalking to where I could intercept him and came face-to-face with a big pile of blueberries — blueberries that had already been processed by a bear. I dodged the pile, crawling on hands and knees, until I finally came to a trail. The caribou would pass here — I just had a gut feeling — but then again it could have been the ptarmigan chili I had for lunch. The bull veered off, though, and I went after him. When it dawned on me that I had as good a chance of catching a Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl bomb as I did of catching this caribou, I realized I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was or how I’d gotten there.
I wasn’t lost, really, I just didn’t know how to get back to camp. I did know that if I kept walking that way I’d eventually come to Greenland. Or was it Norway?
You might assume this predicament resulted from that typical faux pas (sorry, but I’ve got to practice my French) of forgetting a compass. Wrong. I had a great compass. It would point any direction I wanted it to. If I knew that west was that way, I could twist my compass to a certain angle and make it say so, even if the sun was setting on the opposite horizon.
Searching For Camp
Unfortunately, the sun was setting. Fortunately, I was able to use my uncommon deductive powers to figure out where camp was. Unfortunately, my deductive powers are uncommonly unreliable, and when I got back to where camp had been when I left, it wasn’t there. Being thoroughly familiar with wilderness survival techniques, I shot three times into the air to summon help. I picked up my arrows and waited. And waited.
I was considering whether I should start out for Minneapolis when it happened. I spotted a wolf about the same time he saw me. He looked me over suspiciously, not like he was afraid, but like he was trying to decide what to do. I nocked an arrow in case I needed to limit his options, but remembered what the guide had told me. “In Quebec you can shoot a wolf only if he is eating one of your calves — one of your calves below your knees.” Then the wolf disappeared like a wisp of smoke.
Smoke! I dropped my bow, grabbed my binocs and started scanning the horizon. Finally, just as it was getting dark and the binocularitis was setting in, I spotted it: the thin line of wood smoke from camp. I put down my binoculars, waited for my eyeballs to roll back into their proper position, and struck out for camp.
When I got back no one seemed overly concerned about my protracted absence. Jack was mixing a Wild Turkey and Tang cocktail, obviously just one in a long series. Ralph, a rather accident-prone fellow who could hardly screw on a broadhead without losing a piece of himself, was going frantically through the first-aid kit. Jerry, one of those guys who makes sure to blow the dust off his bow and “sight in” a good two days before season opens, had refilled his quiver twice, and was now negotiating for more arrows. Greg was in the cook tent negotiating something with the camp cook — I don’t know exactly what, but the loud slapping sound gave me a clue.
Greg came into our tent holding a wet cloth to the side of his face and said it was time to eat. There’s nothing as satisfying as a hearty meal after a day of hunting.
Oh good, ptarmigan chili again. “You know, these ptarmigan are a ptaste ptempting ptreat,” Jack grinned slyly.
“Stop talking like that,” I said, “You’re spitting chili all over me.”
Will our hero bag his ‘bou — check out Part 3.
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Mike Strandlund is editor of Bowhunting World Magazine and bowhuntingworld.com, and is a member of the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame.