48 Hours in Alaska Part II

Posted on March 27, 2014

To read Part I, click here!

Ed Fanchin and his trophy caribou, which he shot by getting in front of it.

Ed Fanchin and his trophy caribou, which he shot by getting in front of it.

48 Hours in Alaska-Part II

Join this bowhunter and his friend for an unforgettable experience in the wilds of the Alaskan backcountry.

By Ed Fanchin

Time to Shift Gears

The problem we were having was that these animals would not commit to a direction. Then the biggest bull quickened his pace and headed off to our right. As soon as the last bull went out of sight in a depression, I told Jason “now,” and started running side hill across the tundra to cut them off.

For anyone who has experienced walking on tundra, you can appreciate how difficult it is to walk in the uneven spongy terrain, much less run. Within the first 10 steps, I was on the ground. I picked myself up and made it over to a depression where I anticipated the herd to come out. I had to sit to conceal myself enough so that they would not see me before they were in range. As fate would have it, the biggest bull stepped out first and stopped. I was all ready at full draw.

The loud noise of the shot told me something had gone wrong. I watched the arrow in flight and thought that it dropped low, below the bull. My heart sank. My bow string had caught on my wet rain jacket sleeve and I completely missed the bull… or so I thought.

My Bull Goes Down

The herd did not know what happened and hadn’t seen us. They moved out of range for a second arrow and just walked away from us. Then, the bull I had just shot at lay down. I thought to myself that this was odd behavior, even for a caribou. I brought up my binoculars and could see the crimson red spot behind his shoulder. The bull was dead within a few minutes. I hadn’t missed. I looked up in the sky and said a prayer of thanks.

Jason and I admired the bull and started to get set up for some photos when I heard a distinctive popping noise. A noise I had heard before and recognized it was bear popping its jaws, not a welcome noise. Upwind, and about 100 yards away a Grizzly sow and her two cubs came in to view. It was obvious by her behavior that she did not want any part of us and she was taking her cubs away. She must have walked up on us as we were busy admiring the downed bull. I snapped a few photos of the bear and prepared for the work ahead of us.

 

Jason’s Turn 

Before taking a single photo of my bull, we spotted a group of caribou heading for the saddle above us. I pulled out my spotting scope and saw that there was one bull that was much bigger than the rest. His tops were not palmated and he had long points coming off of his main beam, similar to a whitetail deer. Things were moving quickly. We came up with a route for Jason to get over to the saddle and intercept the herd. Jason gathered his gear and asked me “which one should I shoot”? I told him “shoot the one that looks like a whitetail”!

That’s exactly what he did… I watched through the spotting scope as Jason hustled over to the saddle and concealed him in a clump of bushes near a trail he hoped the caribou would come on. They fed single file past him. The first few seemed to spook and then the biggest one walked into Jason’s shooting lane. He made a great shot. The bull fell just over the hill. Jason later told me that he was going to shoot the first bull but it caught him drawing. Jason was fortunate and was able to harvest the biggest bull in the herd, “The one that looks like a whitetail.”

Hard Work Begins

Now we had a predicament. We had two caribou down, we were a long way from camp, the weather was worsening, it was getting late, and there was at least one not so happy bear in the area. I made my way over to Jason’s bull which was a magnificent animal. We took some photos, gutted the bull and tied it to a small pine tree. We hoped a hungry bear wouldn’t haul it off. Then we hustled over to my bull, took some photos, broke him down, and deboned the meat. It was a brutal pack job with each of us carrying near one hundred pounds. We arrived back in camp past dark.

Our original plan was to go back out and retrieve Jason’s bull the same evening so that we would be ready to be pulled out first thing in the morning, weather permitting. We aborted that plan when we evaluated what a big job that would be. To add, it was very dark and we had already seen five grizzlies in the past 24 hours.

Before daylight we headed out to get Jason’s bull. The fog was thick around the kill site as we cautiously approached it. Once we saw there were no bears on the bull, we made quick work of the butchering and got the meat, cape and antlers back to camp.

Just as the script was supposed to be written, within one hour of our return to camp, the fog started to lift and patches of powdery, blue sky could be seen. I called 40 Mile Air with our weather report and was told to be patient as they would try to squeeze us into their tight schedule. Because of the two days of bad weather and limited flying, everything had been pushed back and they were working feverishly to catch up. After six do-it-yourself trips to Alaska, I’ve learned that nobody in Alaska is in a hurry, especially safety conscious pilots. Surprisingly, two hours later the humming noise of a Super Cub engine came from down the valley. We were on our way home.

I learned from my calls home that my mother had a minor stroke with no permanent damage. This was good news but she was still in danger and being watched carefully. I needed to be at home. In less than 48 hours we had come and gone from a magnificent tundra covered valley in the remote wilderness of Alaska. Surely that’s not enough time to have a trip of a lifetime, nor enough time to take two record class caribou with a bow and arrow. If I hadn’t been there and experienced it, I’d say it couldn’t be done… but it had and I did it.

 

Author’s Note: You can contact 40-MILE AIR at (907) 883-5191 or visit www.fortymileair.com.

 

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