Caribou

tacklejacked

Capt./ Ho if I get to drive
Jun 2, 2009
3,128
3,493
Seabeck
Name
Greg
Boat
22 Hewescraft Searunner ET HT
Ak Trip in the works hopefully 2021.

What advice do you have. Transporters, location, gear... let's hear it.. drop camp is the plan, self guided.

I know this is not Washington hunting...
 
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Mukilteo69

Balls Deep
Dec 21, 2011
114
83
Mukilteo/WA/Snohomish
Name
Rick Matthews
Boat
Miss Easy Glacier Bay 2670
We have a group of 4 that are trying to put something together for early fall 2021 also. Talked to Deadhorse Outfitters. Drop camp via Airboat after flying to Prudhoe Bay. Talked to someone else (maybe Wright Air) about flying us in. My group is/was working on intel independently. Not sure where we are at with the COVID crazyness going on.
 
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tacklejacked

Capt./ Ho if I get to drive
Jun 2, 2009
3,128
3,493
Seabeck
Name
Greg
Boat
22 Hewescraft Searunner ET HT
We have a group of 4 that are trying to put something together for early fall 2021 also. Talked to Deadhorse Outfitters. Drop camp via Airboat after flying to Prudhoe Bay. Talked to someone else (maybe Wright Air) about flying us in. My group is/was working on intel independently. Not sure where we are at with the COVID crazyness going on.

We are doing the same.. independent research then compare options. Hoping to book in the next month as I've heard allot of transporters are booking up already.
 
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danny warren

Almost A Member
Jun 1, 2014
136
167
44
Name
Danny
Boat
14ft minnow,17ft Willies driftboat
We took golden eagle air taxi out of katzebou Alaska. We did a self guided float trip to the noatak River. Lot’s of animals and lots of grizzly bear. Make sure you separate the meat and the raft along with washing the raft really well. We took 4 monsters and 3 meat bulls. Great trip
 
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Nookie Hooker

Aquatic Slayer
Jul 10, 2010
700
823
Custer, Wa
Name
Chris
Boat
Capt. Red
TJ-
My nephew and I are doing a Self-Guided fly in 'Boo hunt in August ( hopefully !) out of Bettles. More than willing to fill you in on details and how it goes.

We did a self-guided fly in, float out trip for Moose last year out of Bettles. THAT did not go well at all, with the flying service ( Bushwacker Air )sucking shit, as well as the outfitter/Hunt Consultant (Northwest Alaska Backcountry Outfitters) who recommended this hunt and rented us the gear. Wrong raft for the river, forgotten equipment that we rented and they were supposed to provide, horrible fly in service, etc. Very expensive lesson learned. The one good thing to come out of it was meeting the people who own Brooks Range Aviation. We watched and listened to how they ran their business and treated everybody, whether their clients or not. Absolutely First Rate, and my nephew and I booked right on the spot waiting to fly by to Fairbanks.
 

tacklejacked

Capt./ Ho if I get to drive
Jun 2, 2009
3,128
3,493
Seabeck
Name
Greg
Boat
22 Hewescraft Searunner ET HT
Good info ...Im avoiding the float trip idea to many horror stories about raft dragging. I was also not considering kotz because of the extra travel. But it's not completely out of the picture.

To bad about bushwhacker they where on my list. But BRA has been at the top of my list and flying out of bettles seems like one of the better options so I'm excited to hear how that hunt goes for you Nook.
 
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TooManyHobbies

The guy that makes the glass stuff
May 10, 2010
1,843
1,290
White trashville
Name
Garrett
Boat
21' SeaRay Laguna CC "Sea 'Scape"
Looking forward to pics. I wish I had Steve Rinella’s job some days.
 
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spin05

Newbie
Aug 26, 2021
2
0
55
Camano island
Name
Scott
Boat
Wooldridge
TJ-
My nephew and I are doing a Self-Guided fly in 'Boo hunt in August ( hopefully !) out of Bettles. More than willing to fill you in on details and how it goes.

We did a self-guided fly in, float out trip for Moose last year out of Bettles. THAT did not go well at all, with the flying service ( Bushwacker Air )sucking shit, as well as the outfitter/Hunt Consultant (Northwest Alaska Backcountry Outfitters) who recommended this hunt and rented us the gear. Wrong raft for the river, forgotten equipment that we rented and they were supposed to provide, horrible fly in service, etc. Very expensive lesson learned. The one good thing to come out of it was meeting the people who own Brooks Range Aviation. We watched and listened to how they ran their business and treated everybody, whether their clients or not. Absolutely First Rate, and my nephew and I booked right on the spot waiting to fly by to Fairbanks.
Too bad about your expierence with Bushwacker. We flew with him in 2015 and was a great pilot. Not sure what he did on your trip. We also used back country for some camp rental stuff. He got us everything he said he would and worked with us on some changes we had too. No complaints on either one. We are going back in 2022 to south brooks range
 
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Nookie Hooker

Aquatic Slayer
Jul 10, 2010
700
823
Custer, Wa
Name
Chris
Boat
Capt. Red
Hey Spin05_

Glad your experience with Bushwacker was good. Ours could not have gone worse: I will list what I can remember. Please note that I am not a constant bitcher. My nephew and I are pretty pragmatic fellows and things don't have to be "perfect", just reasonably safe..

1- As we could not fly out with fuel for the ultra lite stove we rented from the outfitter associated with him, Jeff was to have purchased this fuel for us. As we are about 1/2 thru our flight out, I asked him about the fuel. His reaction " Oops, forgot about getting it". As flyout weight was a hard 50 lbs per person, for a 10 day float hunt, ALL our food was freeze-dried, requiring us to now build a campfire and boil water over it anytime we wanted to eat. Huge waste of time and effort instead using a jetboil stove.

2- We asked a meat haul if needed. "Yeah, I will show you other pull out spots on the river where I can get you or meat as needed." Same deal, about 1/2 thru flight I am " so, you mentioned other pull outs?". He just shook his head no... WTF!

3- The river ( Middle fork of the Chandalar) was way too small for the raft we rented and brought from the Outfitter. From the get go we were constantly bailing out and having to drag the raft over shallows, sometimes for 100's of yards. We killed a moose on the 3rd day, and it just got worse. On day 5 we called Jeff on the Sat Phone and told him we needed a meat haul as we were exhausted from pulling the raft constantly and we totally stopped hunting because we knew there was no possible way to put a second moose in the raft and be able to move it. His reply " Just stick to the main channel and it will get better" Total bullshit and asshole move! It did not get better for a long, long ways. The total length of our float was about 120 miles, and we spent the last 7 days pulling and paddling the raft, 18 hrs a day, to be able to reach our pullout location. Oddly enough, when we were loading the raft into his plane at the pullout, he told me that he hated this brand of raft and we should have gotten a different one, even though this one had been recommended by the outfitter (Northwest Alaska Backcountry Outfitters) affiliated with BushWacker. It is also important to note that it was made crystal-clear to both Walt with NABCO and Bushwacker that both my nephew and I would have both Moose and Caribou tags, so potentially up to 4 animals to bring out.

4- Here is the topper- We called Jeff in the afternoon before our pullout date and let him know we had arrived. He promised to be in in the morning. Pullout day was a clear blue day, and he finally arrived around Noon. He took my Nephew and majority of the moose out on the first flight, even though he was flying a Beaver with much greater capacity. When he finally arrived back on the second flight, around 4 PM, We loaded up the raft, rest of the meat, and then he turns to me and says, and I shit you not " Got enough stuff to spend the night here?" WHAT! He says, " Yeah, I am not getting you out on this flight, and won't be coming back tonight". ZOOM, off he goes leaving me on the Moose-blood soaked & Grizzly-infested gravel bar to spend a rather sleepless night. When he landed in Bettles, my Nephew asked him where the hell I was. Jeff said "I left him there". Even though there was still several hours of good daylight left, Jeff told my Nephew " I am going to change the oil in my engine".

The kicker is that Bushwacker had 6 Caribou bowhunters in Bettles that he was supposed to fly into the field on the same day as our pullout. So he flew 2 out the first trip, 2 out the second trip, and told the last 2 "Yeah, sorry, not going to get you flown out today". The other 4 did not even know their buddies were not going to make it in that day, or if they crashed, or whatever!! Jeff is a complete and total ass, and I would not trust him to be my Uber driver, let alone be my only lifeline in an extremely remote and dangerous place.

I cannot tell people strongly enough to RUN, don't walk, away from any interaction with these people.

Nook

IMG_0049.JPG
 
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Vek

Newbie
Jan 17, 2008
71
27
Blaine
Name
Jerry
Boat
28' Almar
Hooker, I floated that river with three other guys back in 2009. For boats we had my pro pioneer (smaller version of yours), a 14' NRS otter with frame, and the SOAR levitator. You might have gotten stuck with a low water year. We had no trouble with 2 moose and could have done 2 more.

Not that that excuses what your pilot put you through. Our guy bent over backward to get us in and out together and economically, but he stays pretty busy with repeats! I think things were a bit cheaper back in 2009 also, to say the least. He got us out in two flights...four guys, two moose, three boats in his beaver.

I've done enough of that sort of thing to know enough to be dangerous. The boat you show will do a ton of weight, but it draws some water loaded because the floor sticks down ~4" or more below the tubes. if the river is riffled out shallow at all you're screwed. The round boats do better when things get shallow. Also I don't see oars or rowing saddles. That's a game changer for a boat like that, or any boat for that matter. All of our rigs had oars. The added weight and expense of oars and saddles for your rental boat is nothing.

If "Walt" is who I think he is, he's a far-left liberal dirtbag who haunts other hunting forums. The south brooks seems a little bit out of his area of expertise...he's a NW alaska guy.
 
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tacklejacked

Capt./ Ho if I get to drive
Jun 2, 2009
3,128
3,493
Seabeck
Name
Greg
Boat
22 Hewescraft Searunner ET HT
As a kid growing up there are certain images etched in your memory that feed your passion for certain hunts, in certain places. Whether it was from magazine covers, hunting videos or even travel brochures. As far back as I can remember one of those images was caribou, the place, Alaska.



As with everything, life happens. School, work, family, kids etc…before you know it your life has consumed you; time is passing you by. But your passion is still hungry. The last few years life has shown me that it’s a short ride, so you need to start making the best of it. Get those boxes checked, feed your passions.



A year ago the decision was made to check one of those boxes. Alaska Caribou. The text went out to 3 buddies. After some back and forth, and a little uncertainty one guy decided he was all in. Unforntuanly the other two couldn’t guarantee the commitment, I get it, life happens.



The planning went full speed. Well, mostly me, my buddy is super busy, job, side business…I get it…and no worries, I had just retired, I got it handled.



Research was time consuming, but we settled on a transporter with a good track record. A few emails and phone calls and luckily ended up with dates that where perfect for us. Deposit made.



Over the next 9 months I obsessed over locations, migration routes, AFG rules, you tube videos, food, gear, more gear, and even more gear. Training also kicked up a notch. The horror stories of tundra made me focus on getting in the best shape possible, considering current injuries and ongoing issues.



(I’ll do a logistics, gear and food write up separate)



As the time got closer flights where secured, hotels reserved, gear was purchased, it was getting real….really fast.



Day of departure came and found us north bound with duffle bags stuffed in large plastic totes, hunting packs cinched down to pass as carry-ons, and a gun case I hoped I would see again.



A quick overnight in Fairbanks and an am jump flight put us in Bettles by mid-day. A middle of no where town with a handful of full-time residents that at times had the hustle and bustle of a large airport. A town where time is controlled by the weather.

…………………..

Excited as a kid’s on Christmas day we organized our gear. A day early for our flight into the wilds but still hopeful we would be an early out. That hope was dashed as we quickly realized groups where in front of us that where a day late getting into the field. So we waited our turn. And, we waited. Two days passed, as weather controls all in Alaska. We quickly learned to watch the pilots, learned their expressions as they watched the weather to the west. Looking for that window of opportunity to drop the unsuspecting into the wilds for their reality check trip of a lifetime.



Day 3 arrives, and now we are top on the list, with groups backing up behind us. As the morning progresses, we get the call up. Big league baby. Its our time to go. And when they say go its go time.



Down to the float plane pond, load the beaver and off we go.



………………………….



An hour and half flight with ever changing scenery. At first the conifers where thick with vibrant yellows mixed in with the alpine greens. Meandering rivers, numerous lakes and bog ponds dotted the landscape. As we traveled North through the mountains a fresh blanket of snow mixed with the black rockslides and swift current streams made we want to chase sheep, for just a brief moment. Farther North and the mountains decreased in size and gave way to vast basins of meandering rivers, numerous lakes, and black rock mounds, all surrounded by soft seemingly harmless swaths of tundra. The fall colors just starting with a mix of yellows, reds and oranges. The Nigu River valley, endless scenery.

………………………………



As the landscape became more familiar from all my research, we pass over lakes I had studied. Bummed we weren’t landing. See, when we arrived in Bettles and had to choose our location, the four lakes I had so intimately researched where occupied. Given options of other lakes they have dropped people in the past we picked one at random. A lake our pilot called the “blow Hole”…..um, yikes.



We travel father north and approach a lake that looks like the one we picked. We look outside the window of the beaver and see a Grizz wandering the tundra. At that very moment the pilot decreases throttle to land…great. Our lake, and a Grizz is in our neighborhood. We land, unloaded gear doing the tundra float plane shuffle, its breezy, the pilot wants to go, points to where people have camped in the past and off he goes.

……………………………………



Well, standing in the tundra, a pile of gear, plane is gone, kind of feels like we got stood up for prom. It just got real. First order of business, load rifles…check.



We scout camp spots and shuttle our gear about 300 yds to a suitable spot, not flat, but not hilly either. Camp gets set, gear laid out, water filtered……now what. Lets look around.

…………………………………….



The hill behind camp commanded an expansive view of the valley, 10 miles to the north, 10 to the south, 15 up a valley to the west and a mile to a mountain range that meandered down to the edge of our lake. A large 10’ diameter rock ring occupied the high point, an obvious tepee ring, one could only assume its been a fixture of the landscape for decades.

………………………………………





We hike a short distance to another hill. Our first experience with tussocks. 400 yds separated the hills. Not bad, we can manage. We arrive at the hill, basically mounds of broken rock and dirt covered in low growing berry bushes. The view was just as good. We spot our first Caribou. A group of 6 with 4 bulls about 3 miles away, and across the river. Hmm….can we cross the river if needed. We brought necessary stuff for bogs, and streams but not rivers….



Not being able to hunt till the next day we decide not to stress about it so we went fishing. The lake was loaded with trout who were eagerly awaiting our next cast. Not wanting to stink like fish to bad we played catch and release for a while and called it a day.

…………………………………………….



As we lay in our tents that where dimly lit by the midnight twilight a familiar sound starts. Rain…It quickly turns to slush, and just as quickly turns to snow. Welcome to Alaska boys. We awake early as the snow tapers off. As we exit our tents a fresh blanket of 4” of snow covers the landscape. Well, no going back now. Little did we know what the day had in store for us.



…………………………………………………



I do a quick hike to the glassing nob and can see the caribou across the river. Put the spotter on the best bull and he looks good. But how to get to him….impossible and not a smart play day one. I catch the glimpse of a bigger group down river from us but a long ways out. They disappear out of site.



As we glass we see a hill about a mile north of the lake that looks like its hiding some good country and probably the herd I saw earlier. We make a move. After some mixed high/hard ground hiking and some tussock slogging we get to the hill. We quickly locate the herd and glass up one possible bull out of a herd of 30. Good tops, good fronts, but short and narrow frame. As the herd moves our way we watch as they pass by us and decided to bed down on the mountain side above camp. Now we have their movement figured out, where they would cross the creek to the north, and what side of the lake they would traverse…or so we thought.



As we sat and glassed, I expand my search swinging the spotter way to the north. To my amazement, nearly 15 miles away I see what I never imagined I would witness. Caribou…..after Caribou, after Caribou. A migration, a true Migration. I watched in aww as groups ranging in size from 30 to over a 100 traveled north across the snow-covered landscape. Some running down mountain sides coming from the north slope, the fresh snow feeding the urgency to move south…. And they were heading our way. Not truly having a grasp of how fast caribou walk or run. I could never have imagined how fast they could cover ground. Within no time it seemed the first group was upon us. As we watched the group of over 100 walk into our laps we figured we had them…yup, they turned at the creek where the other herd went. We did the tundra two step and rushed a crossed 500 yds of bog to cut them off and take cover in the thick willows surrounding the creek. We would have 200-300 yd shots …..wait, the caribou are what, doubling back and crossing behind us as my buddy and I exchange a couple words of frustration.



We double back and as fast as humanly possible re trace our steps to our hill just in time for the caribou to move through a choke point. Dozens of shooter bulls in the herd, one monster that I loose track of. We get a range, 350 on average. Dial up the scopes. Take up shooting positions and play the which one are you on game for the next two minutes. We quickly realized seeing that many caribou was a blessing and a curse. Shooting lanes wouldn’t stay open and they wouldn’t stop walking. I finally got a clear lane on a good bull. Took a breath, got my walking lead set and slowly squeezed the trigger. As the gun recoiled I got smacked in the side of the face with a good ole Alaskan random 30mph gust of wind. That’s guna be a miss I told myself as I knew I didn’t have nearly enough lead for the wind. I was right. After the shot the caribou got skittish and picked up the tempo. I was devastated as I thought I had just put in all that effort to miss a golden opportunity. As the herd moved off into the distance I took the walk of shame to check for possible blood. The snow helped to verify I had missed a great opportunity.



My buddy had stayed behind at the glassing hill offset to my east so I decided to look over another hill directly to my North. Little did I know my buddy was frantically waving trying to get my attention. As I made my way up and through the small crevices and rock formations of hill I came to a high point and found myself looking at caribou at 30yds. A group of cows was right in front of me. And behind them a group of 5 shooter bulls was walking right at me. I hunkered down behind a pile of rocks, dumped my pack and readied for some close encounter action. I peeked over the rocks and ranged the bulls at 100 yds. I didn’t have time to look them over, and at that point I didn’t care. They all looked good. I waited behind the rocks as the first bull came into view, I centered the cross hairs and let the Browning sing. The bull changed direction and went out of view. Good hit and I knew it. I peered over the top of the rocks and watch the bulls tops drop out of sight, bull down. Zero to hero, lows to highs….in minutes..



The other bulls weren’t sure what was going on, they hurried their pace but weren’t spooked. I watch as my buddy got set on the other side of the tundra swatch. The bulls moved past us grouped up tight, as if they knew there was protection in numbers. I prepped to video my buddies shot but it was not meant to be, the bulls stayed tight as I took a parting picture of them, as a memory of what could have been.

……………………………………………….



As all our focus had been on the bulls I turned my attention north and found myself looking at another herd of 20 heading out way. Bino’s up verified shooter bulls in the group…seriously, was this going down…I franticly try and get my buddies attention as he’s still focused on what could have been. Caribou are now moving closer and taking the exact same path the previous herd had. I finally get his attention and get him to glass me, I give him the pre arraigned caribou signal and point. He figures out what’s going and hurries to a shooting position. As the caribou move closer I want to film the shot but don’t want to spook the herd and blow his opportunity. I get low behind my rock pile and a few seconds late I hear the report of his rifle. I peek around the rocks and see him stand up after a few seconds, obviously satisfied with the results of his shot. I then watch as the rest of the herd walks between us.

…………………………………………



I look over the hill I’m on and reality sets in. I see my bull a couple hundred yards away; buddies bull is laying 100 yds from mine. Two dudes, two bulls, 30 minutes, 100yds apart….well who would of thought.

…………………………………………..





High fives and holy craps and we lay our hands on the bulls…..ya, definitely what I was looking for in an Alaskan bull. Those magazine covers and images etched into my memory. What an Alaskan Caribou should look like…that passion, that idea and dream that just became reality…..wow. No words…..

…………………………………………………….



As we looked them over our bulls seemingly where genetically related. Similar tops, good bez, double shovels, beautiful animals. Exactly what we wanted….

……………………………………………………….



Reality check number two. Two bulls, two dudes, two miles from camp…..ummmm…ok, good problem to have. Spend some time taking pics, get them gutted and drug next to each other for more pics.



……………………………………………….



Then the work begins. Each man for themselves we decided. Capped, quartered and meat shuttled a few hundred yards to a high spot we could see from camp, but still a mile and half away. Then the work began. Over the next 8 hours we would pack. Luckily at midnight its still kind of light. Unforntuanly at midnight the wind and snow started up. We packed until 3 am in 40-50 mph winds and blizzard conditions. Two steps forward one step back. Neither of us wanted to leave meat or cape/ head in the field overnight, so we dug deep and got it done.



Back at camp meat got tarped and covered with rocks, heads where set inside my Luxe Tepee we were using as shelter/cook tent. The wind howled all night. Reaching gusts of 60 easy. I knew I should of dropped my Tepee but I didn’t, I was tired. Unfortunately, the next morning the wind had taken its toll and spilt a seem on the luxe. Ugh, oh well. Its Alaska you can’t argue with her. She’s always right. Our sleep tents held up fine, so no worries.



We spent the day building willow beds for the meat and trimming it, a coat of citric acid and lots of air flow and we had a good crust in two days. We also spent the day caping our heads and fleshing the capes. Again, off the ground, lots of air flow and we had the capes drying nicely.

…………………………………………………………



The following day I sent the In reach message looking for early pick up. We will try was the response. Be ready at any time. After 5 when no one showed we re set up camp and went for a hike to find my brass. 6.5 PRC isn’t something you leave laying around I couldn’t find it in the snow the day of harvest.

After we hiked back to the kill site and collected my brass the wind and rain came up with a vengeance. The hike back to camp was miserable and pushed our rain gear just a little past its limits. I guess I would equate it standing in front a pressure washer for an hour. Lucky we where still 95 percent dry so no worries. We did come to realize that there was a line of rocks near the north end of the lake. Very much like the tepee ring it was obvious they had been part of the landscape for decades. We decided amongst ourselves that that rock line had some influential spiritual power associated with crossing it. Every time we crossed it something good or really bad happened. One could wonder if we weren’t rewarded with Caribou harvest after crossing the line but then at the same time punished for it. But I would have to suspect that mother nature, Alaska, and whatever other powers where at work where simply welcoming us. We had clean kills, well cleaned carcasses, well cared for meat, and felt honored and blessed at the opportunities we where provided. Ya, I think it was just a welcome to the club, remembers who’s in charge type of thing.



For two days we broke camp, cared for meat and hides, and fished while waiting for a ride. Finally cooking some lake trout which was awesome.

……………………………………….



On the evening of the day we were scheduled to get out of the field the weather had calmed. Temps rose ( got us anxious about the meat and hides) and we where treated to a rainbow over our lake. As we hiked to the tepee circle to sit and ponder. I realized we where blessed. Everything on the trip happened for a reason. The delays, the weather, everything worked out for us. We hadn’t seen but a few caribou in the last couple days. The initial push south had stopped with the warmup. We couldn’t have timed it better.



………………………………..



You often wonder if you are living life to the fullest. As days turn to weeks, to months into years you realize it really is short. You realize you need to start living because we are all, in a way slowly dying. In that moment, far away from civilization, in a place that would happily end your life, I was at piece. My body was broke, but my soul was alive and my spirit was high. I didn’t want to be any place else, hot meal, hot shower mattered not….I was happy sitting right there on the tundra…living a dream….



And with that…as my In reach went off “planes have left be ready for pick up”…..we once again had to snap back to reality, break camp, haul meat and be ready for pick up. Besides some flying, meat care in Bettles, travel logistics etc……My Alaska dream hunt was over…….Child hood dream, box checked……
 
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Elkfins

Ungrateful Prick
Aug 8, 2008
4,427
3,589
Tacoma, WA
Name
Steve
Boat
"Cleanup Required" '99 Grady White 232 Gulfstream
Well done Greg. Great write up!
 
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