Caribou Gear

2016 Sheep, Moose and Mnt Caribou hunt story

mulecreek

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Joined
Nov 16, 2010
Messages
1,031
Location
Rock Springs, WY
With all that is going on around us at the moment it is easy to get depressed. I was getting a bit that way yesterday evening. I was looking at some of the taxidermy on the wall and reliving those hunts helped lift my spirits. I thought others might need some of that as well so I thought I would write about a hunt in NWT I did back in 2016. I have noticed a few others doing that with past hunts over the last few weeks and I know I enjoy them so hopefully you do as well. I am not the story teller or as talented a photographer as others on this website, so bear with me. This might get long winded but what else do we have to do during isolation. You have been forewarned. Hope you enjoy.

I have not been on many guided hunts in my life. I went to AK on a sheep hunt a few years earlier and while I had a great time in some awesome country, we had a hard time finding legal rams and, truth be told, I did not mesh well with the guide. We were in rams every day just nothing that we could confidently identify as legal. I left that hunt not sure if I would do an outfitted hunt again. Fast forward a year or two and I was ready to try sheep hunting again. This time I chose Mackenzie Mountain Outfitters in NWT. At first I was just interested in a sheep hunt but after talking with Stan I decided on a sheep, moose and caribou hunt. He is almost always booked several years in advance so I had a couple years wait ahead of me.

I arrived in Norman Wells on August 24th and met the other hunters that would be hunting MMO’s S/M/C hunt. There would be 7 of us in total. Everyone seemed like a fine group of people. It was an interesting mix of doctors, business owners, financial planners and a coal miner. We took the obligatory group photo at the North-Wright Air dock.

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From Norman Wells we all flew to MMO’s main camp. It sits on a lake with miles of open tundra on one side and mountains on the other. Nice setup with a main cooking/dining cabin along with several smaller cabins and tents for hunters and guides. Stan has a mix of planes and a helicopter for transporting hunters and gear.
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Once at the main camp everyone is assigned to a tent or cabin and told to dump all your stuff on a cot. One of the guides then comes by and checks your gear to make sure you are not packing too much stuff. This is apparently very common. I have plenty of experience on backpack hunts so this was not an issue for me. I’m told my guide will love me since I am packing my own tent.

Then we are all shuttled to the range to check zero. On the walk to the range one of the guides, he appears to be around 19 years old, asks me what I am shooting. I tell him it’s a 300 RUM Remington model 700. Then he asks what it’s made out of. I tell him walnut. He responds with “I think my dad has a gun like that”. I mention something about them selling 5 million or so and that the odds are pretty good. I find his questions odd. That is until I see what the other guys are shooting. I am severely out gunned. They are all packing Red Rock, Jarrett, Christensen Arms, etc. and I have the only walnut stock in the bunch. The collection of scopes is equally impressive. They made my Leupold VX3 seem like a Tasco. I shoot first, zero checks out perfect, 3” high at 100 yards, same as when I left Wyoming. Next guy up shoots a couple, adjusts his scope, shoots a couple more, adjusts his scope, shoots a couple more, more scope adjustments. I decide this is a good time to leave and head back to camp as I vomit a little in my mouth. From the sounds of it, he used up a good portion of the 40 rounds he brought. Sounded like most of the others shot well.

You get the sense the whole time that Stan and the guides are sizing up the hunters. Who can hunt where? Who to match up as guides? Who is going to need more guidance? Who is not? They don’t say much but at some point they decide who goes where and with whom. The normal sequence of events is sheep first. Provided you get that done in time before moose opens then you hunt caribou. If moose is open when sheep is done then you go directly to a moose spot. Caribou is either hunted as seen, after sheep or after moose. You get the impression that caribou is a relatively easy tag to fill.

All the other hunters except for me and another guy from South Dakota, Darlys, get taken that day, to different drop spots. From there they will live out of there packs. They are all told to get 5 days’ worth of food from the food shack. After 5 days they will be picked up if successful, resupplied with food if seeing rams or moved if not. Each hunter along with his guide and their gear is helicoptered to a different spot. Stan does this for the rest of the day.
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Darlys and I are told we will be taken to a different camp tomorrow about an hour away and then shuttled to a different drop spot from there. I am told that this camp is great moose country, good caribou hunting but not as many sheep as the area around this camp. I am told that we will not find as many rams and that when we do find a legal ram we will want to hunt that ram until we either take him or run out of time. This all sounds good other than we will lose at least 1 day of hunting, possibly more, due to flying restrictions. It worries me a little. My nature is to want control. I try to tell myself to just go with it. I mention my concerns to one of the guides, Stan’s son, and he just smiles and says “You have nothing to worry about. Enjoy the hunt you are in for a great adventure.” This helps a lot. We have a great meal of caribou ribs, get to chat a bit with Stan, he is a fascinating man, and enjoy some great country.
 

mulecreek

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Joined
Nov 16, 2010
Messages
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Location
Rock Springs, WY
The next morning after a short rain delay Darlys and I jump in the helicopter with Stan and head out to his Mountain Lake camp. This camp is a similar setup as the first just smaller in scale.
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There are two guides waiting at camp for us, Ryan and Rob. Both seem like great guys to spend a week or two with. Same drill as before, drop your stuff in one of the tents, pack 5 days’ worth of food and get ready to go sheep hunting.

I am paired up with Ryan and Darlys with Rob. Once again, not sure what criteria are used but you get the feeling this is all well thought out and not by accident.

As I am bringing my loaded pack to the airstrip, Ryan has a spotter set up looking across the lake. He tells me take a look at the caribou bull he has spotted. As I focus the spotter, I am surprised by the size of this bull. While Mountain Caribou was not my top priority on this trip, this bull is everything I have dreamed up. Incredible mass, crazy palmation, beautiful cape and still in full velvet. I am surprised by the size but to be honest this is the first caribou I have ever seen alive. I doubt that I am the best judge. Ryan is noticeably amped up. Stan comes walking by and Ryan asks him to look at this bull. Stan says he doesn’t care, there is no way he is delaying a sheep hunt for a caribou. Ryan asks a few more times and Stab begrudgingly looks through the spotter. After looking at the bull for only a few seconds Stan turns to Darlys and me and says “One of you is killing that bull!” He says he has been doing this for 30+ years and that is one of the biggest bulls he has ever seen.
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The bull is on the slope in the center of this photo.

Darlys and I decide to flip a coin to decide who goes after this bull. Stan is going to flip and I tell Darlys he can call it. Stan flips, Darlys calls, I win. Ryan tells me to dump everything out of my pack except for knives, ammo, game bags, tags, etc. We quickly make a plan for how to approach. I already realize I am going to enjoy hunting with Ryan. He asks my thoughts, provides his input and then ultimately leaves the final decisions up to me. He knows a ton about this country and how to hunt caribou, far more than I do. His thoughts mesh nicely with mine; we have a plan and are off.

It takes some time to get over to the bull. He is bedded down on a small bench on the slope. We can check on him on the way and he stays put the whole time. On the way Ryan mentions that earlier he saw a grizzly feeding on a kill near the bottom of the slope. We find the grizzly, he is a several hundred yards away for the bull. We give the bear a proper distance and ultimately cut the distance to the bull down to 310 yards. From this spot the bull is uphill from us, still bedded. We can see his antlers and the top of his head. We decide to wait is out until he stands. After about a 20 minute wait, I make sure I have a steady rest and Ryan gives the bull a reason to stand. As the bull stands, he gives me a good broadside look. One shot, he drops and rolls a short ways down the slope. I didn’t compensate enough for the steep slope, so the shot was higher than I wanted. You can see what I am talking about from the exit side in the photos. Either way, it did the trick.
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While we are caping and deboning the bull we hear another shot very close by. Turns out there were two more bulls’ just a couple hundred yards away. Darlys, Stan and Rob watched the stalk that Ryan and I made through the spotter, spotted the bulls and then made their way over. Darlys made a great shot and took a great caribou as well. Ryan and I packed my bull out while the others took photos, caped and deboned Darlys bull.
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Forgive the packing job. Some of this was rushed with a grizzly so close by.

We got back to Darlys’ bull just as they started deboning quarters. Darlys was new to hunting. This was the second big game hunt he had ever been on. His first was a Utah elk hunt the year prior where he took a 397” bull on a Ute reservation. He had never deboned anything so I was able to show him how to do it while Stan, Rob and Ryan worked on the other quarters. The five of us spent the rest of the day packing this bull back to camp. We finished up shortly after dark so we planned to head out after sheep the next morning.
 

mulecreek

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Joined
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Messages
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Location
Rock Springs, WY
Sheep hunt

The next morning Daryls and Rob where shuttled out to a sheep spot. Ryan and I head out shortly after. The spot we are dropped is not too far, by helicopter, from camp. He runs us down the valley and across a river. We are dropped along the river bed.

I know some hunters have a negative impression of helicopter based sheep hunts. I understand why. The helicopter definitely gives you more options on where to land and therefore opens up a lot more country. I could also see how it could be used to take hunters up to the top of the mountain and eliminate a lot of the effort that should go into a sheep hunt. All I can speak to is my experience. Stan took us to a gravel bar on the river and said see you in 5 days. I am not sure if he would have taken us further up the mountain if we wanted. I did not ask and he did not offer. My experience with a helicopter transport was not altogether different than my experience in AK with a super cub, just more options.

After Stan left, Ryan and I made our way up a new drainage. It was a great climb up through some amazing country.
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Drop off point looking towards where we are headed.
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It took most of the day to get to the top of a pass we had planned to camp the first night at. Along the way we spotted two bull moose and several caribou cows and calves. We made camp with some time left to glass the other side of the pass.
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Looking towards the other side of the pass.
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Looking towards where we had started the day.

We only walked a short distance before spotting two small rams. They were feeding along a ridge line on the other side of the drainage. As we climbed closer to the top of the pass, more of the drainage came into view. We found another ram farther down the ridge and farther down the slope. After getting the spotter setup I was obvious that one of the rams was legal and the other two were not.
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The other side of the pass. The rams were feeding along the ridge in the center of the photo. The legal ram was in the scree slide on the left side.

We were able to watch the rams for some time. The legal ram was everything I was looking for. Full curl and had a nice flare out at the tips. I would have been happy as hell to hunt this ram. We decided to hold off pushing any further into this area and return to the tents. If he was there in the morning we would make a plan. If not, we would press on.

Next morning, after coffee we made it back to our glassing spot. All three rams were in the same general area, just closer to the top of the ridge. As we watched, all three rams fed over the ridge to the back side. We made a plan to come around a nearby peak and get onto the slope we had originally seen the rams on. We would then cross over the top and hopefully they would be within range on the other side. It took a couple hours to get to the ridge but it was not a bad climb at all. Near the top we dropped our packs and worked our way to the top of the ridge. Just as the other side of the ridge started to come into view, Ryan dropped and said he could see a sheep right in front of us. I dropped and inched forward. I could see the back of a sheep feeding his way up towards us only 30-40 yards away. I put the gun to my shoulder and looked through the scope. As the head came into view I could see it was one of the sub-legal rams. I then heard Ryan say “take him” I knew he couldn’t be talking about this ram as it was nowhere near legal. I took my cheek off the stock to dial down the scope and got busted by the small ram. Then I saw the legal ram walking towards us as well. I found him in the scope, not easy at 40 yards. The first shot hit right behind the shoulder but the ram just stood there looking at us. I put another round in him and he reared up on his hind legs and went over backwards. He proceeded to roll, slide and bounce his way down a scree slide out of sight.
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He is down there somewhere.
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We are getting closer.

He came to rest about 200 yds down the slide.
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Pics, caping and quartering took some time on the slope but we were finished with plenty of day light left. The pack back to the tents was not bad at all. Working up the scree slide was fun as you can imagine but not overly long. We got back to the tents before nightfall.
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Camp is through the pass just above the end of the barrel.

We spent the next day tending to the cape and cleaning up the quarters. Ryan texted Stan on his InReach to let him know that we had tagged out and see when he wanted us to head to the river. Stan was busy with other hunters and told us to either stay where we were or head to the river but that it would be several days before he would return. Ryan and I decided that rather than wait we would just walk our way back to the main camp. We figured it would take two full days of walking to get there. We made it back to the river that night. We would cross the next morning and make it as far as we could. Ryan has a healthy respect for bears and was not overly excited about camping down low along the river but at least down low we would be able to make a fire.
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The next morning, shortly after crossing the river, we spot a nice size grizzly at the edge of the tree line. A little bit of shouting and he runs off. Unfortunately he ran in the direction we are headed. Ryan wants to get to a pack trail that one of the other Outfitters uses to trail his horse in each year. We need to pass through this stuff to get to the trail.
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We are headed to the base of this mountain. We jump this bear, or possibly a different bear a couple times. After jumping him the first time both rifles were off our shoulders with rounds in the chambers. The next time, we came around a spruce tree and the bear was feeding on grass about 30 yards away. Ryan suggested we both get our guns up before shouting just in case he moved towards us. He did not and ran off in a much better direction. That was one of the closest encounters I have had with a grizzly. Very cool!

We spent the rest of the day walking back to camp. We arrived shortly after dark.
 

mulecreek

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 16, 2010
Messages
1,031
Location
Rock Springs, WY
I have not mentioned enough of how nice it was to hunt with Ryan. He is an absolute bad ass in those mountains. He was a pleasure to share camp with. He would teach as much as I wanted to learn. He was quiet but funny and very tolerant. If anything I was doing was pissing him off, and I'm sure I was, I never knew about it. I could not have asked for anyone better to hunt with. Now on to moose.
 

brownbear932008

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Joined
Jul 15, 2011
Messages
2,329
Location
SWVA
Wow what an adventure hopefully some day I will experience this before I croak. Awesome animals in even more awesome country.
 

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