AMK Sportsman

A Goat Hunt Gone "North"

Ovis

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Aug 10, 2002
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USA
As many of you know I headed to Alaska earlier this month with a coastal goat and black bear hunt on the books. After a highly successful hunt in the same area during the fall of 2002, I could say I was very ecstatic and dejected about the hunt...if there is such a thing. I mean, let's face it, I saw more critters than I ever imagined, killed a phenomenal goat, was in the presence of great company and saw some of the most beautiful country there is to be seen. But, despite the many perks to the adventure, I knew the hard work and mental preparation entailed in the hunt. Constant rain, steep and slippery slopes, white knuckle wall climbing and arduous packs all take their toll on the mind and the body. Plain and simple, goat hunt isn't fun, it is hard work, BUT it can be rewarding and I was ready to do it again.

Upon my arrival to Fairbanks, I spent two days visiting and catching up on all the gossip in the company of great friends. Early morning on the 3td arrived and Rich, my partner for the trip, arrived at my hotel. We loaded the truck up with all my gear, topped off coffee cups and started the 8 hour trip south to Valdez. It was good to be back in the presence of the land I love. Icy road conditions made for a slow trip, but it did permit ample opportunity to leisurely take in the scenery.

Arriving at one of the few pay phones between points A and B, I called my air taxi up to verify our rendezvous.

"Yah, we got you down in the books, but it could be two to three days before we may be able to get the plane up," spoke the pilot. "Damn squalls have us sitting tight. If you want, get yourself a room in Valdez and we'll give you a jingle when there is a window of opportunity."

When you plan so much time and effort in a hunt like this, the last thing you want to hear is "Mother Nature" is playing havoc with your long awaited hunting spree. I hung the phone up, but not before telling the pilot we would continue on to Valdez and give him a call once we got there. As many will tell you, in Alaska, if you don't like the weather...wait 5 minutes. I guess, I was hoping for a miracle, but the outcome wasn't looking good.

About an hour and a half north of Valdez, Rich and I started thinking seriously about what to do. We both agreed we definitely didn't want to spend days upon days waiting for the weather to lift. I suggested finding a water taxi at the boat harbor to take us out. Rich liked the idea, but thought if it was too nasty to fly it would likely be too nasty to hunt. My other suggestion...turn the truck around and head for none other than the "Top of the World" for a late season caribou hunt. Not much of an adventure hunt, but it beat sitting in a hotel room watching cable TV. We both agreed on the idea and Rich flipped a "U-E" 7 hours into the trip.

We swung back by the pay phone at the "Hub", called the pilot up and told him of our plans. "I don't blame you," he said. "I'd have done the same."

It was late that evening when we arrived back to our origin. I checked back into the same hotel and rested up for 6 hours before Rich was back in the parking lot and we were headed out again, this time in the opposite direction.

Here at Hunttalk, many of you have showed interest in the Dalton/Haul Road Hunt. Well, this is it people. I'll try to illustrate it the best I can, so that you it may help you decide if this is a hunt you would like to do.

A hunt on the Haul Road never starts off without a pit stop to the Hill-Top gas station, just north of Fairbanks. This isn't your typical gas station though. This is the first of three major "Greasy Spoons" along the 400+ mile journey. The other two are located at Coldfoot and Deadhorse. This is authentic truck driver food where omelets are made with 1/2 dozen eggs and a brick of cheese and small burgers start off at a 1/2 pound. Tasty stuff, but will definitely clog the old arteries. I recommend the Combination Omelet.

4a.m. and we are on our way to the "Slope". The road, despite much of it being paved since my last trip up 3 years ago, is a complete sheet of ice. Rich runs the little "Toy" in four-wheel drive and at a snails pace...35 mph to be exact.

We stretch our legs and relieve ourselves at the Yukon River bridge and then continue our way on to Coldfoot. We fuel up and grab one of those burgers I was telling you about. I opt for the small burger being the sissy guy I am. ;) Last hot, greasy meal for a few days.

Back in the truck and we putter on up to the pass...Atigun pass. It's a good thing to run chains here. The steep grade ascends several thousand feet in just a short distance. The first thing I notice when I drive through the pass is not the jaw dropping beauty or the dall sheep. Nope, instead I affix my eyes to the heavily dimpled guard rail that is the only thing that divides you from the ride of your life. Honestly, I think most of the damage isn't due to vehicles suddenly becoming airborne, rather DOT bangs them up with the snow plows. If guard rails could talk though.

At this point you probably have had enough of the jabber. You're tired of reading and you want to see pics of "dead chit", "horn porn", the ol' "meat pole". Well tough, it isn't happening. Okay, so I lied. Be patient though, they are coming.

The pass is behind us now and we are closing in on our destination. As the range starts to widen, we start to realize the abundance of caribou. They are all around, hundreds...no thousands of them. They are everywhere. And they are ripe for the pickings too, but only if thou has a bow. We do not. No sir'ee, we are packing in the five miles, a requirement for hunters using a firearm. As we idle on along, it is noticeable several of the bow hunters have taken some nice looking bou. I hope Rich and I can duplicate. We head just a few more miles north to I little place known as Galbriath Lake, nestled in the foothills of the Brooks, just beyond the pass. This place is no big secret, in fact it is a very popular place to hunt, and for good reason...the caribou like it here.

A good North Slope hunt requires a good base camp. One that beckons comfort; cots, heaters and good protection from the elements. Nothing beats a good wall tent or GP tent. Rich has a Hex tent that will be perfect for the evening. It doesn't take long to get camp erected.

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The sun settles south of the Brooks. I know it is bone cold outside, but I don't let it bother me as I snuggle deep into my cold weather bag and shut my eyes. In the morning, the work begins.

There was no rush getting up and at it the next morning. Rich and I didn't start our hike in until roughly 10 a.m. Unlike the last time I trekked in for the 5 mile hunt, this time I found the walking much more pleasurable. I've never been on the "Slope" in October, only late August and September. Factoid...if you come up in August and September conditions are wet and icy, bugs will drive you insane and the walking is tough. Not true in October. Snow has filled in all the gaps between the ankle biting tussocks and the tundra is completely frozen. We make record breaking time covering ground on our magnesium snow shoes.

We check our GPS's to see how far from the road we are. Four miles...one more to go. I screen the land in front of me with my binos. What is this I see? Bear, no, caribou, no...ahh, a single wolf, about a mile out. I hope he is still there when we cross the red tape. He isn't.

Rich and I bring out the GPS's again. This time we are good. We both read 5.2 miles. Interesting how cold it is, yet we manage to find running water. We find a nice level area for the tent...this will be home. The ceiling falls and the fog settles in.

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We glass what we can until it is no longer possible. A Mountain House to dine on and we hit the sack. It is early still, but conditions aren't right and it is too cold to stand around.

Rich is a retired Air Force Chief and a survival instructor by trade. He now enjoys the pleasure of self-employment as a very gifted taxidermist. He turns a half a century old this week and has hunted for as long as he can remember. The guy is a tank and his seasoned background makes hunting with him a hoot. Each night, to make the time pass, he'd dig into his bag of stories and begin to tell me "lies". The man can tell some stories.

Morning finds us crawling out of our bags at 9:30. Our boots are frozen and my water bottles are in bad shape. One Nalgene bottle is completely frozen, the other, very slushy. It takes awhile for our boots to thaw. Rich enjoys hot coffee and oatmeal, neither of which I favor. I resort to my frozen breakfast bar and water slush. Rich tells me I might enjoy winter hunting more if I start the morning off with something hot. What does he know?

The first of the caribou start rolling over the hills.

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I'm looking for "Big Papa". It is an all or nothing hunt for me. Rich starts the hunt with a similar attitude.

When you commit to a rifle hunt on the slope, you have two choices. Walk in and out every day (10 miles a day can quickly add up to 30, sometimes 60) and spend most of your time walking through the corridor instead of hunting outside of it OR you can pack a camp in. A little slower getting in and out, but more efficient hunting if you ask me. If you choose the latter and are successful, you are pretty much guaranteed a minimum of 20 boot miles. That gets camp 5 miles in, a heavy load of caribou out, then another 5 miles in to retrieve camp and what remains of your bou, generally a little meat, antlers and the cape.

Two years ago, Rich and a buddy of his both took great bulls. They had just dropped a heavy load of meat off at the truck and were going back out to camp to overnight and walk back to the road the following morning. Upon arrival to camp though, they found their tent shredded and their caribou capes turned to confetti. They only thing salvageable were a few camp articles and their antlers. The day was old, fog was creeping in and they had no shelter. The end result found them headed back to the truck. I guess it doesn't take a survival instructor to make a gee-whiz decision like that.

I bring up to Rich the possibility of him taking a smaller bull and using the cape from it to marry with his big bull from two years ago. His answer, "No Way".

Later that morning, he wanders off from camp to get a closer look at some bulls rolling in. I stay behind, as I have other things on my mind. Other things like nature. I have this "rumbley in my tumbley" and head off to take care of business.

A few minutes later, I am back at the tent strapping on my snow-shoes and pack. The adrenaline is flowing and I am in a hurry. I've just spotted a string of caribou headed in this general direction, but a few ridges over. Just as I get ready to set afoot, I see the silhouette of Rich headed towards me.

"Did you see them," I asked.

"What do you mean," said Rich, "I shot one. You didn't hear me shoot?"

"Uh, no," I replied.

He laughed when I told him what I was up to.

I explained to him where I was headed. He wished me luck and told me he would be over tending to his kill the rest of the evening.

My short trip to further investigate the caribou headed this was short lived. I climbed over a number of ridges to find their whereabouts, but instead found "nadda". At the higher elevations the atmosphere was eerie. The light from the sun filtered through the dense clouds only barely.

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During my 1.5 mile walk from camp I cut a set of fresh wolverine tracks, my first ever. I thought how cool it would be to see the feisty critter on a day like today. Figuring the caribou I spotted earlier took a alternative route, I returned to camp and then on to Rich's kill site.

Rich had already removed the front shoulder and rear ham from the right side of the animal, as well as both backstraps. He was just starting to tackle the left side when I showed up. Figuring the young bull was still in good condition for a photo-opp, I snapped off a few exposures of Rich and his beautiful winter bull.

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[ 10-15-2004, 21:05: Message edited by: Ovis ]
 

Ovis

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Offering assistance with dressing out the caribou, Rich said he was fine and that I should continue hunting. I returned to camp and began to glass again.

Over the course of the day I spotted very little caribou. I found myself walking a 20 yard oblong track in front of the tent. Simply bundling up in layers to stay warm wasn't enough. I had to keep moving in order to keep the toes thawed. To say my goat boots were a little under rated for an arctic hunt was an understatement, but I learned to cope with the problem. By the time Rich returned to camp with the load of meat, I managed to work my track down to bare dirt. Rich returned to his kill to retrieve his antlers and cape while I fetched water to heat up for our evening meal.

Like the previous day, bedtime came early. Rich began his series of short stories and I soon dozed off.

Hunting partners, you gotta love them. At some point during the night, I became startled when I heard the sound of an aggressive growl. Turns out it was Rich. He was actually growling in his sleep and though the words were mumbled it did appear that he was playing a dual role, man and beast. If I had my guess, man was definitely kicking some but in that dream.

Ahhh, morning again and I am ready to put the creep on a bull. I slowly pop my head out of the tent and begin the glassing. I spot my first herd, south of us a mile. There is hardly a cloud in the sky. The day is grand and it would be all the more better if I could score on a bull. Rich tells me the day is too nice to pack meat and I should stay and hunt. He states, he'll take out a heavy load back to the truck and try to get a lighter load at least half way back on a subsequent trip. It'll be a long day for packing, I feel guilty not lending a hand.

Before Rich could get his pack dawned, I spot movement on the hillside above. I throw my glass up...BOU! And there are two great bulls in the batch. They are inline with the tent, making them just legal, but if we don't scoot up after them, they'll be inside the corridor and illegal to shoot. They turn and start trudging down the backside, out of visibility, of what will be forever known as Nipple Knob.

Rich asks me what I want him to do. Though I would like to propose him walking up and around the backside of the hill to push the bou back around, I don't want to sound like I am pawning off the climbing to him. I decide we will both walk up and around the hill.

We make great time, but the caribou are just way too fast. Already, they are in the corridor a 1/2 mile. What to do?

It has been my experience that there are two types of Barren Ground caribou; the Curious George variety and the skittish type. Rich finds a large shed and starts to trot around the skyline with the shed above his head. I do the same, but with my rifle and we both begin to whistle to grab the attention of the eight caribou. It works...the caribou turn around and run full stride in their own tracks. They disappear out of site. Rich and I wait for them to pop out...nothing. What seems like five minutes goes by then Rich exclaims he thinks we have made a mistake. He believes the caribou are on the same hill as us, but further below and looking for us. We descend a little and sure enough, they were.

Now downwind of us, they pick up pace and head for no other than...you guess it, our tent. Two magnificent trophies are not 10 steps behind our tent. I am cussing myself under my breath. The shot is too far. I angle toward a path I feel I will intercept them at. I start picking up ground. The caribou cross a small ridge and vanish out of sight. This may work if they calm down...I might be able to pull this off after all. Suddenly, a shot rings off. What??? I stop in my tracks for a moment, then continue on. A hunter camped out on a large hill 1/4 mile from our tent just fired the round off. He must had taken a 800-900 yard shot. Unbelievable! The caribou are in my sight path again, all eight of them, and they seem to be unphased. The shooter missed, I'm glad, but there is no sense in continuing after them. More so than before the caribou are picking up speed and soon are cresting up and over a large mountain. Boy, those creatures know how to really cover some ground. What a morning!

Rich made a detour for the tent at some point during my failed attempt at the two bulls. He managed to get quite a bit on video. He was now packing it up and beginning to make the trip out to the road with his first load.

Glassing this day was much more productive. I spotted many caribou, just nothing I was really interested in shooting. I decided to grab some snacks, top off the water bottle and walk a mile or two north of Nipple Knob. It was really the only area we couldn't see from our camp. The thought of not knowing got to me. Who knows, maybe a stud bull would be there awaiting me.

I couldn't get over the beauty of the land when the skies are clear. Amazing how an area can rapidly turn to hell with heavy wind, snow and fog. I was enjoying this day.

To my dismay, there were no large bulls needing culled. I did see a fair share of caribou though. Take a look at this guy...maybe in a few more years.

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From where I stood I could see the pipeline, road and everything that lay beyond it. Conditions were better than perfect and I was still optimistic.

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As I continued my descent back to camp, I could see Rich leaving the tent with another load. I only hope I am in the kind of shape at 50 that this guy is...bravo!

The caribou situation hadn't changed much since I departed. I glassed over all the same bou though, again and again in hopes I might have overlooked a good bull or one had moved in.

To liven up the day I broke the camera out for some more shots of the landscape that lay around the tent. It was just too gorgeous not to.

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[ 10-15-2004, 21:03: Message edited by: Ovis ]
 

Ovis

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USA
In exchange for the cloudless day, Rich and I would experience our coldest night in just a few short hours. My hands were now too cold to operate the camera, so I put it away and started my walking routine around the mini track. I could see Rich returning in the horizon, so I began bringing water up to boil for the evening dinner.

Some might ask, "Just how cold was it?"

Well, our water hole was 20 paces down a hill from our tent. By the time it took me to round up a pot of water to boil, a layer of ice an 1/8" thick had formed on the surface of water. Now this was arctic hunting.

My meal was already prepared and I had Rich's water boiling by the time he arrived at camp. I know what you are thinking...I make a good little camp B&*ch. Well, it is true, I do. ;) Rich explained, tomorrows coming could bring severe temps, frost-bite temps. Up until now, I hadn't been worried...now I was, just a little. I mean, how well does hunting attire for a goat hunt work on an arctic hunt?

Amazingly, I stayed toastie overnight, but I don't think I slept a lick. It was an awake sleep, if you will.

I rose early, 7 a.m. and it was bitterly cold. It was almost impossible for me to get my boots on. They were frozen solid and were hardly pliable. I was eager to cash in on my bou now. Rich managed to kill his bou and pack all of it back to the truck with the exception of 15 pounds which laid buried under snow a short 1.5 mile from the road. I didn't want to keep my friend waiting in the cold any longer than we had to. I decided I would give it until mid-day and if I hadn't seen anything to my liking, we would pack it up and call it a day.

I managed to glass for roughly 1 1/2 hours before I returned to my bag. My feet were numb, I could hardly feel them at all. Unlike most mornings, Rich didn't come out from his bag, he just laid there exchanging words with me. I now had my boots back off and my feet in my bag. I kept the door of the tent open so I could monitor what was going on outside. A slight breeze entered the tent. Around 10 a.m. Rich decided he couldn't tolerate laying there anymore. He cranked his MSR stove up and something any smart survival instructor would do. He began to cook (or thaw) his boots to warmth.

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I pretended to be a good student and duplicated his actions. Ahh, "mo better".

Once again, the caribou had gone into hiding. We slowly began to roll up sleeping bags, organize gear and take down the tent. The bags were packed and we were ready for the walk out.

The single point of interest on the hunt was Nipple Knob. So before setting afoot. We snapped off a picture of our favorite hill.

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As our bodies started moving, the bitter cold seemed an after-thought. We made great time back towards the truck. The State-Troopers paid us an aerial visit, backtracking to our campsite and Rich's gut pile via Cub. I guess snowshoe tracks really show good from the air. He then turned around and passed overhead tilting his wing tips, perhaps signaling we were "legal beagles".

Rich and I dropped packs 1.5 miles from the road. I crammed a few items from his pack and into mine and he grabbed his last bit of meat and tossed it into the pack.

There were lots of vehicles back at the road. Columbus Day weekend the slope gets pounded by GI's from Fairbanks. I was glad we wouldn't be competing for game with all of the people who were rolling in. New base camps were scattered throughout the pull-off and it was time for us to go.

Rich and I busted down his Hex tent, hopped in the truck and made way for Coldfoot. Along the way we passed more trucks than I can remember loaded with hunters...oh yah, it was definitely a good time to be leaving.

For those wondering, a one night stay at the luxurious Slate Creek Inn will cost $150 bones. The room is fully furnished with 2 twin beds, a sink, shower and toilet...oh and those "Was Wood" walls. TV's, clock, art, painted walls, pool, complimentary breakfast...what is that?

Here I am on the steps of this fabulous hotel. I find this picture a little humorous. Something about the fancy luggage at a rundown truck stop in the middle of nowhere. Guess you would have to be there.

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Another pic of the Coldfoot facilities.

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We were back in Fairbanks around 3 p.m. that day. It wasn't what I had planned for, but it was hunting none-the-less.

Skunked again, and that my friends is the end to this little story. If you actually read all the way through, thanks for joining me
.
 

Daniel in Ak

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Joined
Mar 22, 2004
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385
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Fairbanks,Alaska
Ovis..........dude! Thats awesome.Sure wish I'd have known you was in the Area as I live right here on base in Fairbanks.......and no Im not active duty,my wife is.
You could have stopped by for a few and I could have told some lies and fed ya some bou steak and grouse and whatever else I have down in the freezer

Anyhow what a fantastic post and beautiful pic's.It was down right enjoyable to read it.Thanks for sharing.Daniel
 

Oak

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Dec 23, 2000
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Colorado
Thanks for the story, Ovis. Sounds like a pretty good trip. A lot of work, but I wouldn't be opposed to trying it someday. Great pictures!

Oak
 

Ridge Runner

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Sep 21, 2003
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On the ridge
Great story and some awesome pics Ovis. Put together very well. Thanks for posting it and congrats to Rich on his bou. very cool. :cool:
 

Ovis

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Aug 10, 2002
Messages
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USA
Glad you liked the story and pics. Thanks for the compliments.

Daniel

So much to do, so little time. Maybe next trip up I can meet with you. I appreciate the offer.
 

Daniel in Ak

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Joined
Mar 22, 2004
Messages
385
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Fairbanks,Alaska
Offer is always open Ovis! Granted the freezer is full,I'd hate to have to take ya huntin just so's we'd have something to cook fer ya! lol! Not that Im complaining,thats just another excuse to get out of the house
Daniel
 

Moosie

Grand poopa
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Dec 9, 2000
Messages
17,654
Location
Boise, Idaho
Ovis... I did See this post, But I'll need to print it out for some Night time reading in camp later this week


Awesome pictures again bud !!!
 

BW

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Joined
Jan 1, 2001
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Sitka, AK
Ovis,

Great post! Having been stationed at Ft Wainwright for 4 years, I can relate to the cold and snow. Sure brought back some good (and bad) memories. Thanks for sharing!
 

1_pointer

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Dec 20, 2000
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Location
Indiana
Great story! I can only hope I'll be able (time, money-wise, and physically) to go on a trip like that.
 

Wylee

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Dec 14, 2000
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345
Location
Boise, Id.
Jim,

Wow, what an extreme hunt. Third time should be a charm eh, next time you'll fill all your tags and wish you had a couple more. :D
 

schmalts

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Aug 22, 2002
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Location
WI
great story, but damn, too cold for me, i dont go anyplace colder than wisconsin for "fun"
 
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