May - June 2003 Volume 1, Number
3 ISSN: 0 Number 3
cover... Cover Photo Mike Barlow
There are few sights as spectacular
as a large herd of caribou silhouetted against a skyline with necks stretched displaying
their unusual C-shaped antlers, which always seem large in comparison to their body size.
I watched countless herds everyday for a week, and even though I was holding a very busy
fishing rod at the moment, I couldnt help but watch yet another almost endless
stream of caribou some 300 yards above on the skyline.
I had been in this arctic wonderland
for a week and was reluctant to leave. When my ears picked up the distant sound of the
bush plane preparing to land on LakeIkirtuuq, I reeled in the line, harnessed my
pack and headed back to camp to board the plane. It had been an adventure I would never
When my old friend Dave Brown
invited me to join him on a caribou hunt in late August, he simply stated, Brian, its
a great time, trust me. So I accepted but gave it little thought until it was time
to begin making final preparations and sorting out the details, such as passport, type of
firearm, clothing, boots, rain gear, etc. Nothing Dave could have said would have prepared
me for the great time that was ahead.
Caribou are not particularly
difficult to hunt, so it seemed that selecting a favorite nineteenth-century Winchester levergun like a Model 1876 .45-60
or Model 1886 .45-70 would add a certain element of fun to the hunt. On second thought,
there is always a risk that airlines might lose or damage them, or they might get held up
at customs - risks I was not willing to take with hard-to-replace antique guns.
So why not a modern Model 1886 made
in Japan or maybe a Model 1874 Sharps reproduction from Shiloh or C. Sharps Arms Company? Canada doesnt permit replica
firearms, so they were unfortunately out of the question too. Because of strict weight
limitations on bush planes, only one rifle was allowed, and I toiled over what to bring.
Realizing I was making it way too
difficult on myself, a Ruger Model 77 MKII stainless steel 7mm Remington Magnum was
finally selected. This particular rifle has always held its zero in a variety of
temperatures and being made of stainless steel and synthetic materials, it would handle
the daily rains in northern Quebec without a hitch. If it somehow
failed to make the trip home, it would be easily replaceable. Another reason the Model 77
MKII was chosen is that it has one of the most rugged and reliable actions available
today, and the 7mm Remington Magnum cartridge is ideal for hunting caribou, as it offers a
flat trajectory and enough power to anchor them reliably at any reasonable range. (To
fellow handgun hunters, Canada prohibits handguns.)
The only complaint with this
particular rifle is that it doesnt have iron sights as a backup (in the event the
scope is damaged). Certainly this is unlikely, but unlikely things do happen! To help
reduce the possibility of scope failure, a top-quality Swarovski AV 3-9x36 variable was
installed, and a second scope was mounted in Ruger rings, sighted in, then scope and rings
removed and taken as a backup should it become necessary.
This particular Swarovski AV model
features a one-inch tube and readily mounts in standard Ruger rings. While Swarovski makes
an extensive line of premium scopes, this particular model is my favorite for a big game
rifle used in this application, as it only weighs 11.6 ounces, which keeps the rifle from
feeling top heavy and the overall rifle weight reasonable. Optical clarity is still
Being an avid handloader, a 7mm
Magnum load was developed using 70.0 grains of Alliant Reloder 22 and a 140-grain Barnes
XLC coated bullet. This produced a muzzle velocity of 3,123 fps, and four-shot groups
consistently clustered into less than .75 inch at 100 yards. Besides being accurate, the
X-Bullet offers a level of terminal performance that is coveted by other bullet makers, as
it peels four petals into an X shape (when viewed from the front), then acts like a solid
(which technically it is) to penetrate incredibly well - at least for an expanding bullet.
This combination produces a shock and wound channel that few bullets can equal.
At the risk of sounding like a
travel report, I flew to Montreal, spent the night and flew out early
the next morning, north to Kuujjuaq (pronounced just like it is spelled). Kuujjuaq is a
small Inuit village of less than 2,000 people, located about 30 miles south of Ungava Bay, but to the east of Hudson Bay. Besides being friendly, the people
and culture were fascinating to say the least.
From Kuujjuaq we took a bush plane
to LakeIkirtuuq, which is approximately 130 miles
west. (More specifically it is latitude north 57.40.00, longitude west 71.20.00.) The
amount of water in the form of lakes and streams was unbelievable, and the ground became
barren tundra with only an occasional tree but with plenty of brush and vegetation. There
was no sign of civilization that could be seen from the air, although there were other
caribou camps in the region; the closest was probably 50 to 75 miles distant. To put this
in perspective at just how far north this camp is, polar bear are occasionally seen in the
Upon landing (on LakeIkirtuuq), we were welcomed by our host
Cliff White, who runs a first-class wilderness camp for Arctic Adventures. The food was
fabulous and could be compared with any five-star restaurant. I liked it there from the
start, as the view was spectacular and there was a feeling that cannot be described but
can only be enjoyed from a truly remote wilderness camp.
Best of all, this was a self-guided
hunt, something I prefer, as I dont care to let others do my work, and sometimes its
nice just to be alone to study and ponder this beautiful world we live in. (I suppose this
is the hermit side of me coming out.) That afternoon I reorganized my pack, grabbed my
rifle and took a walk to get familiar with the surrounding area. It wasnt long until
I found some pretty respectable bulls as they crossed the open county in their peculiar
running gait, wherein they lift their hind legs high, yet gracefully, as though traveling
in deep snow. They always seem to be on the move and only occasionally slow down to browse
or lie down to rest. This was the first day, and it would have required an exceptional
bull to take one this early in the hunt.
Before leaving Idaho, Dave Brown forwarded a new
German-made Leica Duovid 8x42¥12x42 dual-power binocular, which is unique and innovative.
Basically each barrel can be adjusted to 8x or 12x. There are no settings between these
two numbers. This is a practical glass, as terrain, conditions and light change regularly
and usually 8x is best, but there are instances when 12x is ideal and can be an advantage.
Its the best of both worlds in one glass.
The Duovid is a first-rate roof
prism binocular. Many hours were spent observing caribou, a variety of other game -
including a very entertaining two-tone arctic fox - and gorgeous sunsets. There was never
a pull or eyestrain felt, which is an indication that collimation (or
alignment) is correct. And the optics were brilliant, as the scenery and game were
remarkably clear, without distortion. Their construction makes them one of the toughest
glasses made, so they should provide trouble-free service for generations.
It was a casual camp, with hunters
coming and going at will. On the second day, after eating a good breakfast, I loaded my
pack with coat, rain gear, bug spray, camera, lunch and other essentials and headed out to
zigzag several miles around the countless lakes and streams that seem to take up more
territory than did the tundra. (Notice I didnt call it dry land.) The Inuits have an
appropriate name for this region, which roughly interpreted means waters you cross
many times. Perching myself near the top of a hill, endless streams of caribou could
be seen making their way along various trails and strips of land, so I repositioned myself
beside two large rocks that were close to a couple of joining trails. Before , I must have seen close to 700 head
of caribou, and there were many good bulls.
Caribou dont have a reputation
for being especially brilliant; however, they are smarter than commonly believed and
possess all the senses necessary to survive in their world, which is sometimes infested
with wolves and bears. Keep in mind that most caribou have never seen a human, and they
dont understand the potential threat, like whitetail deer that have been around
people, living in their backyards since birth. I intentionally made myself visible just to
watch the caribous reactions to my presence.
They apparently have pretty good
eyesight, as they were quick to spot me, even when I was lying flat on the ground and
dressed in suitable green-based camouflage clothing. The young ones seemed especially
curious and often stopped, then walked closer in an effort to identify me, some
approaching within 10 or 20 feet. The mature bulls, on the other hand, generally indicated
they wanted nothing to do with me by either changing direction or breaking into a run.
Again I changed positions so oncoming animals might gain my scent without seeing me. When
the scent was picked up, they usually stopped instantly or reversed their direction, as
they clearly knew that something wasnt right, and took the long way around.
I was thoroughly enjoying myself,
but the wind slowed down, and the black flies came out of hiding and began to snack on,
and then devour, me. So rather than coat myself with bug spray, I harnessed my pack and
began traveling to see new country.
After drinking and filling my
canteen from a crystal clear lake (and, yes, they are absolutely safe to drink from), a
lone bull traveling straight toward me caught my attention. He was an estimated
three-fourths mile distant, so I climbed the ridge and waited. Like all caribou bulls in
late August, he was still in the velvet, but what was especially impressive was that his
antlers were quite wide. By those who judge trophies by points, he wouldn’t score
particularly well, as he was weak on top in terms of points and his shovels weren’t
the heaviest, but I liked his impressive width and decided to take him.
There was a series of small ridges
between us, and as he topped the last one, about 80 yards, from a standing position I
placed the crosshairs on his heart and squeezed the trigger. The 140-grain Barnes X-Bullet
found its mark, the bull jumped, then reared up high on his back legs and collapsed.
After taking a few photos, he was
field dressed wilderness style by peeling back the hide from the center of his belly to
his back bone and removing front and rear quarters and back strap. He was then rolled
over, and the same procedure was followed on the other side. The body cavity was not
opened except to retrieve heart and liver. At this point meat can be boned and placed in
cloth sacks and loaded into a pack with cape and antlers tied on top. In this manner a
complete caribou can be packed out many miles and no excess weight is carried.
That evening, after visiting with
good company and enjoying a fine gourmet-style meal, the northern lights (aurora borealis)
came to life, and even though I have seen them from other angles including Alaska, this was a distinctly different
show and can only be described as spectacular.
The hunt was only half over, as each
hunter was allowed to take two bulls, and there were still several days to fill the second
tag, or so I thought. The next two days were spent carefully looking over every bull that
came into view, and there were some magnificent specimens. All the hunters in camp filled
both their tags, with the exception of myself and one other, so they spent their time
caping trophies and playing tug-of-war with the 20-plus-pound trout in nearby lakes. One
of the cooks even managed to take a nice sized black bear, across the lake in front of
camp, with a custom .264 Winchester Magnum built on a Remington Model 700 Titanium action.
About this time, the number of
caribou dramatically dropped, and only small bunches were observed here and there. It was
possible they could totally disappear for several days at any moment, and the decision was
made to take the next good bull.
Late in the morning, I found two
respectable bulls across LakeIkirtuuq, and even though slightly larger
bulls had been passed up the day before, they were uniform and beautiful specimens. I
gathered my rifle and pack, boarded the canoe and had Cliff leave me on the other side of
After locating the bulls about a
half-mile away, I moved along at a robust pace in an effort to catch them for a closer
look. There was a series of small draws, and as I came to the top of one, they looked back
and spotted me at something around 450 yards. I hustled and tried to lessen the distance,
but they were on the move, as they knew I was following them. They stopped near a patch of
brush and small trees, and I was able to narrow the gap to 331 yards, which was later
determined by a Leica rangefinder.
I quickly shed my pack, put my
Filson hat on a large rock (as it makes a great rest), took several deep breaths and
assessed the bulls through the binocular. The better one stopped and turned almost
broadside. I rested the rifle across the hat-covered rock, brought my right knee up to
rest the right elbow on, aligned the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. At the shot, the
bull went straight down, and the familiar “ker-whack” of the Barnes X-Bullet
Again, a few photos were taken, the
cape removed and the meat placed in the backpack. Like most of the other days, the rain
and snow came and went, which was no problem as my clothing and equipment handled it
without a hitch. This was one of those enjoyable afternoons that will stay embedded in my
memory forever. After the meat, cape and antlers were packed to the edge of the lake,
Cliff returned with the canoe, and we made our way back to camp.
Incidentally, the Barnes 140-grain
X-Bullet entered just behind the left shoulder and exited the right shoulder. The wound
channel clearly showed it had expanded almost immediately upon impact and held a true
direction even as it broke the shoulder and exited. The first bullet that took the bull at
80 yards expanded and completely penetrated, leaving a large wound channel. Can’t ask
for more than that!
There was still plenty of time to
prepare antlers and meat for shipping, get all the paperwork (export) in order for the
airlines and do a little fishing. The fish are unbelievably big, so big you would probably
have to catch a few to believe me.
Just minutes before the plane
arrived, a respectable bull wandered across the hill just above camp and Mark, the only
hunter with a tag left, dropped it with a .300 WSM. All hunters had now scored 100 percent
- pretty normal.
Someday, I’ll go back, but when
I do, there are a couple things I will do differently. First, I will take an antique
rifle, probably a Winchester or Marlin levergun, or maybe an
original Sharps. And if it gets lost, that’s a risk I am willing to take.
(Incidentally, there were no problems getting rifles through customs, but there is a small
fee and registration.) The second thing, I will bring one (or more) of my young sons and
then we can share a memory together that will last a lifetime!