North to Alaska

Hatchie Dawg

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Joined
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619
Location
West TN
Well after a little more than 3 years of planning I was able to make a trip to AK for caribou. I've got to thank my wife Toni here as my trips out west are certainly not a necessity. She has always supported me within reason and doesn't fight me over following some of my dreams while I am still able. It is one of the many reasons I love her dearly.

In the beginning I sent out a text to 4 guys that I thought might be not only interested but also competent in making the hunt. Right off the bat Kevin Timm answered back that he was already considering a hunt. I met Kevin in 2015 if I remember correctly, when Nathan Coleman, someone with whom I had only talked on the phone, put me in touch with Kevin who rallied help to assist me pack out my first bull elk from the high country of CO. Nathan and Kevin worked together to design the pack and frame I was using then and to this day really. I was hunting solo that year and pushed too high and too far when I killed the bull. Alone, it would have easily taken me three days to pack out the meat and horns, that is if I could have done it without giving up at some point. Anyway, Kevin and I have been friends ever since. Kevin and his wife Angie own Seek Outside, an alpha level ultralight backpacking gear company. Nathan is also very involved with the company. Kevin has some connections through the industry and was already talking with 40 Mile Air out of Tok, AK about a fly in caribou hunt when I sent out my text. 40 Mile is one of the premier transporters in AK and you have to wait until a hunt slot is left unfilled by previous clients before you can schedule with them. We originally scheduled for August of 2020 but the pandemic cancelled that trip. 40 Mile, living up to their reputation as a quality, stand up company, offered to just hold the deposits and hunt slots for 2021 for anyone needing to cancel, so customers didn't lose anything. In the end our hunt group was made up of Kevin and his son Owen, Nathan Coleman, and myself. We made plans for the middle of August 2021.

So a comment on the guys in my group. Over the years I would see Kevin and Angie on occasion but had never met Owen or Nathan in person. Kevin is a good guy with a wealth of experience using backcountry gear. He has a bit of genius when it comes to shapes and geometry which helps him with his company and product design. He kinda reminds me of Dr Emmet Brown from the movie Back to the Future. Like Dr Brown, there will be a conversation or an experience and you can see the wheels start turning in Kevin's mind. He's thinking about the next thing, whatever that may be.

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Owen was the youngest in the group and a nice mix between a boy and a man. He seems to appreciate the experience and is much more thoughtful about things than I was at his age. I liked him immediately.

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Finally there was Nathan Coleman of Totty's Bend, TN. After all these years I had never met Nathan in person but we exchanged texts and such from time to time. Nathan is a quiet guy who hunts in old woolen caps and shirts. Like others I've met of his kind, Nathan is not going to stand out in a crowd but he is supremely competent in the outdoors. He has a lot of skill in the little details that make one successful on a hunt and we all leaned on him at times. Nathan strikes me as the kind of guy that once he has a skill or knowledge, he has it. I don't think he forgets much. I heard him described as a stone cold killer with a rifle and after a week with him, I don't think I'll argue.

Here's a pic of Nathan at the weigh in.

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Then me of course. I'm fortunate to have these guys as friends and have no great skill set. I get by with a modest amount of knowledge, but I will go and I will hardly ever quit.

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So Nathan and I flew out of Nashville on August the 14th and arrived in Fairbanks the same afternoon albeit with a three hour time difference. The Timms were already in AK doing some fishing as a family, so Nathan and i would meet them in Tok. Nathan and I picked up a rental SUV for the Timms and then I had reserved a UHaul for us all if we were fortunate enough to get animals. It was hard to find a place to stay in Fairbanks and what was available was very expensive. So finally we found an Airbnb outside of Fairbanks a bit without running water but it had electricity and was very clean. There was also a five gallon cooler over the sink for drinking etc. It was a cool start to the trip.

Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

We had a lot of business to take care of with picking up the rental vehicles, sat phone, bear spray, getting our licenses and a few odds and ends. We finished a very long day with a meal at this place. I highly recommend it.

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So on the 15th Nathan and I headed east on AK 2 if I remember correctly, which eventually turns into the ALCAN Hwy. At times it felt like I literally bounced along in the UHaul with all the frost heave. Having never seen AK, the ride was beautiful and intimidating at the same time.

Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Made it to Tok and caught up with the Timms. Got our gear together and made check in with 40 Mile. Each man is limited to 50lbs of gear plus his rifle. At least for our hunt we would all travel at some point in a Super Cub so weight is a big issue. We all weighed in and made our marks. Janoa at the Hunters Office was very nice and very helpful in all aspects. We set up communication expectations and planned to fly in the next morning.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr


Contd
 
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Hatchie Dawg

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
619
Location
West TN
Angie cooked supper for us all Sunday night. We had hotdogs and some killer mac and cheese.

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We got gear ready

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

and then off to 40 Mile Air Monday morning the 16th of August. There was some sort of standoff in Tok that morning between some guy and law enforcement. When we were pulling onto the main highway I ran into this fellow. Highway dept had the roads blocked off. I suspect the Good Lord sprinkles just enough of us around the world to make sure everything keeps running ok.

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Nathan and I were going in first. Once again Janoa covered everything. I wish I had taken her picture.

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My pilot Leif Wilson. President of 40 Mile

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Flight in was spectacular. Massive, grand country.

Leif's back. That's how close your are in the Cub. My knees were literally around his seat.

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Some scenery

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We landed at an intermediate strip as Leif and Jake, other pilot, needed to get some sheep hunters off a mountain that had been stranded by weather for a few days.

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So here is a pic of the Cessna that came in to get the sheep hunters out. Little did I know that the tag holder was a 16y/o girl who not only spent 9 days in the mountains but also shoots a .300 Win mag to boot. She was petite and pretty but I think a bit tougher than I. She hunted with her dad and a good friend. I can only imagine the great memories they made.

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Hatchie Dawg

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Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
619
Location
West TN
So at the intermediate strip I learned a little about backcountry air service. The Cessna that came in for the sheep hunters offloaded some gas from its wing tanks into cans stored in a shed. Then when the Cubs got back or at least before Leif and I took off, he resupplied his wing tanks from the cans. These pilots are constantly shuffling fuel, clients, schedule etc. It puts into perspective the size of their job. Anyway we were eventually off to our hunt spot.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Everyone made it in and we got camp set up. We had a bear fence but the rocky soil prevented us from setting it up. We clustered the tents and hoped for the best.

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Of course the fly in day you cannot hunt. We were seeing a lot of caribou right from the jump so excitement was running high. We spent the rest of the day glassing and getting the lay of the land. Blueberries were thick and we stopped to eat a few and pick some for camp.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

Tuesday morning we awoke to rain and fog. Visibility was poor and there was a damp, cold nature to the weather. We eventually got out to do a little hunting. Whenever the fog lifted we were seeing caribou. We had gone back and forth about bringing spotters but we were glad we did. We had a Nikon ED 50 with a 27x fixed eye piece and a Leupold 12x 40 x 60 HD. The spotters were invaluable. They let us scan the high ridge lines where the bigger bulls seemed to hang out.

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Hatchie Dawg

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Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
619
Location
West TN
So through the first hunt day, which is a very long day that far north, we made some stalks, had some encounters and got familiar with the area. It is much larger than the pictures indicate and the ridges are much higher and further away than they look. It is large country that I suspect will gobble you up without a thought. Owen scored first later in the afternoon, making a great shot on a good bull at 280 yds.

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For my part I spent the afternoon sneaking up on a group of bulls that had two giants in it but I never could get a shot at them due to brush and just how it played out. I got real close to the group though. I crawled and slithered through some brush to get into bow range really. My rifle did me no good though because of the brush. In the end I didn't get an opening for the ones I was after and left the group alone for another day. I was a long way from camp.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

I heard and saw my first wolf. The howl is nothing like a dog and took me a bit to recognize. It was a low moaning call with a primal, prehistoric ring to it. The wolf was blond with a black tip on its tail. The caribou paid strict attention to it. It came out over there somewhere.

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So on to the second hunt day

Contd.
 

Hatchie Dawg

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Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
619
Location
West TN
Wednesday dawned clear and cold. There was snow on some of the mountain tops around us and there was a bit of ice in the water bottles at camp.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr


We mobilized early and started glassing. Almost immediately we spotted a nice herd crossing the ridge line in front of and above camp. There were two very nice bulls in there. It didn't take me long to decide to make a play. I gathered gear and took off up the hill at an angle that would give me a chance if the bou didn't move too fast.

The herd slowed down and I was able to get an angle on them at about 315yds. I had practiced to 400 and felt good about the shot but looking back I think I shot under the bull. I missed one of the giants after the hard work getting up the hill and all the practice back home. I was a bit down to say the least but made it over to a rock outcropping about 2/3rds of the way up the slope. I was sweating terribly by then and basically stripped down to my underwear and let the wind and air dry me. I was standing there looking at my caribou wander over the high ridge when they started to settle and eventually bedded down. They were just under the ridge and would give me a chance for ambush if they stayed. It didn't take long for me to make up my mind to get in a low spot out of sight, climb to the ridge and come down on the bou from above. I set off on my stalk.

Ran into these on the ridge.

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I had the herd marked on a Christmas tree that was about a foot tall and when I slithered down I could see the two giants in the open but I would be shooting back down towards camp. I slithered back up the hill and came down from a better angle that gave me a safer shot. I'm not sure how long it took but it was a long time. I spent most of the stalk on my belly sometimes going forward and sometimes sliding down the hill feet first or sideways. Sometimes I was on my back, all the while pulling my rifle along on my glassing pad. When I got tired I rested. I even stopped and ate some blueberries at one point but I kept going. Finally I reached a shooting position but when I looked up the herd was on the move. I'm not sure if they finally saw me or heard me or if it was just time to get up. Whatever the case I couldn't find the big bulls. However there was a nice bull in the open. I didn't wait too long and took the shot and heard it impact. Of course the giants stood up then at about 200yds and even milled around for a while. My bull was mortally wounded, didn't take many steps and eventually laid down. I had my bull. Turns out he was 130 yrds away and I liked him more and more the closer I got. I get emotional at these times and this was no different. He was a beautiful chocolate color with beautiful chocolate velvet, double shovels, a white nose, and a white do lap. I had my bull. Please forgive the advantageous angle of the foto. You know how it goes.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

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In the sunshine, the spot would rival any the Lord has made.

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Of course as the old saying goes my work had just begun. I took pains with harvesting all usable meat and got both front shoulders and the back straps/tenderloins to camp in the first load. I felt it. Owen was good enough to help me pack out the next load when we got the horns, grind bag and the two back quarters. Owen carried the two bone in quarters at one time. It was a heavy load, real heavy.

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I've just got this same picture of Owen, but let me tell you he has a lot of muscle on his legs and is made for packing meat.

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Hatchie Dawg

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Joined
Jan 2, 2011
Messages
619
Location
West TN
So it turns out Nathan and Kevin had also harvested caribou that day. Nathan took his about a mile from camp on another high ridge at about 300 yds.

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and then Kevin took the largest bull of the trip just out of camp again at about 300yds

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There was a bit of celebrating that went on that night as relief and a bit of exuberance swept over us. It was just a great day. We cooked up an inner loin with a wild blueberry/whiskey reduction that looked like hell but was surprisingly good and I mean really good. We also found out how good caribou fat is and likened it to that off a beef rib-eye steak. It was just a dang good day and dang good night. The Timms and Nathan were testing a prototype hot tent that we could all fit into and a large time was had by all.

So the next day we finished a lot of camp and meat chores and eventually flew out back to Tok. We saw a couple of wolverines on my animals carcass before we left so that was cool.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

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The final leg home called for about 36 hrs without much sleep.

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Untitled by Hatchie, on Flickr

So I've checked off a bucket list item but now want to go back. I've learned so much that I feel like I have to go back. If the Good Lord blesses me, maybe it will be so.

In the end it was a great adventure with good men, filled with a mix of excitement, anxiety, waiting, hurrying, rain, wind, ice, wolves, wolverines, bear scat, caribou, and friendship. That's really hard to beat.

I've said it before and I will say it again. If you are considering ultralight backpack hunting gear at least look at Seek Outside. Guys and gals that live the OYOA lifestyle using the equipment they make and improving it along the way stand behind the products. Start to finish, at least from my standpoint, they are solid all the way.

HD
 
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rtraverdavis

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Joined
Oct 20, 2016
Messages
2,660
Location
OREGON
These epic caribou trips have the wheels really turning in my head. Inspiring stuff. Awesome trip and great bulls—congratulations.
 

burtonsean

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Joined
Feb 4, 2021
Messages
7
That's awesome! We did Kotzebue last year and have been looking for a moose/caribou combo out of Tok for next year. How was your experience with 40 Mile Air?
 

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