It was a spectacular, warm, fall day when Christian, François and I drove north to our rendezvous with the float plane. The leaf colors were stunning. Unfortunately, we would have preferred them on the ground and the weather much colder. The flights were booked in the spring and there were no alternatives. Christian was special guiding his adult nephew from Montreal for hopefully his first caribou. Myself and François went in on the first plane load and had the wall tent up by the time Christian came in with the second load. By dinner time we had the boat and motors ready, firewood cut, stove up and running, clothes and sleeping gear organized. We tucked into a roast chicken dinner on the beach with a rather gaudy sunset and the sound of hundreds of Sandhill Cranes flying east overhead.
In spite of the previous day’s preparations, it always takes a little longer on the first day to get hunters and gear into the boat and moving down the lake. The lake was like glass and the morning mist was slow to move off. When there was finally a breath of wind, we just travelled with it at the same speed so our scent and that of the outboard motor did not move ahead of us. We trolled for lake trout and did a catch and release almost every twenty minutes. We kept one small trout to smoke on Christian’s portable smoker. Other than bald eagles, ospreys, swans, ducks and the occasional grey jay, we saw no other wildlife for two days of hunting.
On our fourth day we were treated to an event that I have witnessed several times on this lake before. From out of a clear blue sunny sky we got a rainbow on the water. One can actually drive right into where it hits the water. We have yet to find any pot of gold but it sure does light up the hunters and the boat.
Late morning, we briefly pulled ashore on an island to stretch our legs. François had his binoculars out and announced shortly that he had spotted a bull moose about one and a half kilometers away, feeding in the shallows. After tracking down Christian, who had wandered off to take pictures, we cut across perpendicular to the moose to get the sun behind us. It was a long, quiet troll with the electric motor but we were within 130 feet of it before it knew we were there. Our prop got tangled in the lake weed and the moose looked up and started to bolt. Our 32 ¾” meat moose dropped within 30feet with a single heart shot from my .350 magnum. My backup shooter Francois gave him an additional warning shot through an antler.
We tied a rope around the antlers and after clearing the prop of weeds, we very slowly towed the moose around that end of the lake for an hour and half, unsuccessfully looking for some reasonably flat and clean beach. While conducting our search, I picked up a 30” pike for dinner, several actually. We finally had to settle for a rocky 3’ slope and with a rope puller,got the moose out of the water and onto a tarp. It wasn’t the ideal location but it was getting later in the day. Within three hours we had him skinned, cutup and on tarps in the boat. By then the wind had picked up and we started the long slow motor to the far end of the lake and our camp. With a rather full load, we had to hug tight to land and carefully make our way up the shore. Too tired by the time we got back, we tarped over the meat and pulled the boat upon the beach. We would deal with the meat pole first thing in the morning, or so we thought.
Christian was first up and Francois and I were still getting dressed when he rushed back in and said there was a bull caribou swimming across the lake. Christian and François laid out a tarp and started unloading the meat from the overloaded boat. After they had the quarters out, It old them they were out of time. They jumped in the boat and went off in pursuit in the hopes of meeting the caribou on the far shore. In order to reduce weight, I opted to stay ashore and watch with my binoculars.
I was able to follow the whole adventure from the comfort of a camp chair. They finally reached the far side about two kilometers away and began to move along the shore to intercept. I lost sight of the caribou and I assumed it had reached shore and leapt into the dense bush out of sight. The boat had stopped and beached when I saw a plume of mist and several second slater heard the single shot. About twenty minutes later the boys were slowly heading back to camp. By the extent of their smiles, I knew we had a caribou down. I made breakfast and boys reloaded the moose quarters, and spread a tarpbelow the meat pole further down the beach from camp. They unloaded the moose and any other non-essential equipment.
After breakfast we all returned to the caribou, still in the water and caught up in driftwood. We untangled and towed it 75 yards to a nice flat pebble beach. We pulled the caribou up onto the beach with our roper puller and after a few photos, we rolled it onto a tarp. It was almost the same size as the young moose but we had him all done and loaded in the boat in three hours. Back to the meat pole and the boys unloaded the meat and hung it with the use of my 12 volt battery and ATV winch. We have a second battery always recharging on a solar panel and we alternate between them. By dinner time the boys had cleaned the meat, bagged and tarped over the two animals on the meatpole.
The next morning, we spotted a cow moose on the far shore but that was the last animal we saw that trip. We had already decided we did not want a third animal anyway, with more than enough meat and work ahead of us. We spent the next two days fishing and our last morning was the usual frantic pack up of the camp.
Up early, we took all the meat down and loaded it into the boat. When the plane arrived at 10:15 we just pulled the boat up to the pontoon and loaded directly into the plane. After the meat, we topped it up with light, bulky stuff and Christian went out with the first load. François and I cleaned the boat and moved everything else down to the beach on tarps. We had just finished the last of the cleaning and sat for ten minutes when the plane was back. We loaded the plane and headed back to the float plane dock. There was quite a crowd of hunters all heading out that were admiring Françoise`s caribou. When we finally had everything stuffed into my seriously overloaded truck, we got on the road by 2:00 pm. After our long drive back to Whitehorse we put the guns away and left the rest for the next morning.
Due to circumstances beyond our control, we had started our hunt a week earlier than we had wanted. The weather was unseasonably warm and fall weather was very late. The large bull moose were still way up in the high country, not rutting and not responding to calls. The caribou also were mostly still up high to avoid the bugs. It was sheer luck that we were able to take our two animals. The next day we finished unloading the truck and boned out and froze the four front quarters, two necks, four ribs, four belly flaps and cleaned up the organ meats. (We donate the tongues, kidneys, livers and cheek meat to the First Nations outreach program.) We hung up the four hindquarters and four pieces of backbone to age.
Francois had originally said he did not want a head mount but I had caped it out anyway, fleshed, salted and dried it. As it turned out,it scored very well and I was able to convince him he should get a taxidermy head mount.
We repacked and headed to Haines, Alaska fishing. It turns out we were too early for the coho run as well. One of the four of us got two small jack coho and that was it for four days of fishing. My butcher friend was still out hunting his moose so we ended up cutting and wrapping the rest of the meat when we returned.
We froze all the burger and sausage meat in 8 lb plastic bags. It was November 10th before we ground up 100 lbs of moose and caribou burger and made up an additional 190 lbs of salami and sausage in nine different flavours. The burger and sausage making and wrapping was an all-day social event for myself, Christian, my wife Maureen, and my butcher buddy. François had to catch a flight home earlier.
Processing your own meat is an important part of the whole hunting experience. That extra 103 man hours of hard work at the end makes you appreciate the reward for all your efforts. You know there is no waste and the meat is well cared for, clean and double wrapped.
We can be thankful that our hunting trip was too warm and too early. Who knows what would have happened if we had booked later. Maybe our caribou and moose would still be roaming and you’d be reading about an amazing coho fishing trip in Haines. But that’s one of the joys of hunting and fishing – always fun, never predicable.