Outdoors & Recreation

My 34 Hour Caribou

Photo by Devon Stevenson

Photo by Devon Stevenson

It was supposed to be nothing more than a scouting trip. My wife and two-year old son were headed out of town on a plane to attend a funeral. The unexpected loss of a family member in the Lower 48 meant that the hunting trip I’d been planning would have to be delayed until later in the season. Besides, I had deadlines coming up at work, which somehow seemed to pay no mind to the fact that it was hunting season.

The plan was set. While my wife and son were gone, I would be playing catch-up at work, making sure our five-year old daughter made it to kindergarten each day, and watching over our new four-month old puppies.

My wife and son departed on a Thursday, set to return a week later.

Then came Friday. It was fall. It smelled like hunting season. I needed to at least get out in the woods for a bit on the weekend, even if only to scout out a future hunt.

I had registered for a subsistence caribou hunt in Interior Alaska, and I knew the fall colors on the Denali Highway would be beautiful. I approached my daughter Friday afternoon. “Sweetie,” I asked, “do you want to go with Daddy for a long drive this weekend and try to spot a caribou?” “Can we bring the puppies?” she replied. “And can I bring my DVD player and my Barbies, too?” “Of course you can, honey. After all, it will only be a scouting trip. We will have fun and stay in one of the lodges out there. It will be like camping out, but in a cabin.” She liked that idea, so we prepared to head out.

As part of our preparations, we prayed to the Lord for safety and for the opportunity to see a caribou on the trip. Our family desires to be dependent upon God for all things – even basic requirements like food and water. And knowing that God is sovereign over all things, we offered our thankfulness to Him and asked for His will to be done on the trip.

Zero Hour

We left at noon with our supplies packed, but lacking some essentials. I didn’t even have a spare tire. Looking back, that was not a very smart decision. I had tried to find one, but ran out of time. Grabbing lunch, we headed toward the Glenn Highway. We would begin our scouting trip on the eastern side of the Denali Highway, a 135-mile (mostly) gravel road stretching east-to-west across Interior Alaska and connecting the Richardson and Parks Highways at the towns of Paxson and Cantwell. There are a few lodges on the Highway that are opened seasonally, an innumerable amount of blueberries, and ample opportunities to spot and harvest caribou with a subsistence permit.

We drove the rest of the day and made it to the Denali Highway. The sights were fabulous, including white snow-capped peaks, an array of yellow, red, orange and brown colors, not to mention streams and lakes galore. When we stopped to glass, there were even a few handfuls of blueberries available to us. We continued to drive until we arrived at the lodge where I had reserved a cabin. No sign of caribou the first day, but we were just getting used to our surroundings and feeling blessed to be able to get out of town and into the outdoors.

Hour 9

Upon reaching our destination, we dined on a full meal and treated ourselves to some hot chocolate before heading to the cabin to get some shuteye. It was a great day, and my daughter and I were loving our adventure. So were the puppies.

“Do you think we’ll see caribou tomorrow, Dad?” my daughter asked. “Well, let’s pray that God would continue to keep us safe and that maybe he might show us some caribou.” “What happens when we do see one?” “Well, Daddy might shoot it and bring home some meat so we can make hamburger and stew and other yummy things to eat. Does that sound good?” “Yeah! I want to shoot one,” she responded. “Well, maybe when you are a bit older Daddy will teach you how to shoot the big gun and you’ll get your turn. Until then, remember – we never touch a gun, okay? They are great tools for hunting and target shooting, but kids can get really hurt if they go touching them without their daddies. So you need to be careful, okay?” “Okay, Dad. I won’t,” she replied.
We prayed that night for the Lord to show us a caribou – and if it was God’s will, that we would get to harvest that caribou. I walked the dogs in what was now turning into foul weather. The wind was blowing and rain was falling. We got into our pajamas and our beds and went right to sleep, knowing we had to wake early the next morning if we were to have a good chance of spotting a few caribou.

Hour 18

Up and at ‘em! Just after 6:00 a.m., I roused my daughter out of bed and into the truck. We got some coffee and juice at the lodge, ate a quick breakfast, and headed out as the sun was rising. The chances of harvesting a caribou on a simple weekend drive-through? Slim to none. The chances of doing it with a five-year old and two pups along for the ride? Nearly impossible. But we believe in a big God, who for no other reason than His own good pleasure, might choose to make the seemingly impossible possible.

We passed into the Maclaren Summit, a ridge overlooking the Maclaren River. At the high elevation it was starting to sleet. Then snow. We were in what other hunters have termed “the killing fields” – the stretch of the highway between the Maclaren and Susitna Rivers where caribou often congregate in the fall. There were campers and 4-wheeler trailers parked at most of the pull-outs. Many were 4-wheeling miles away from the road to find their animals. We stuck to the road, glassing now and then. Looking at a mountainside as I drove, I looked back to the road and braked suddenly because a hunter at a nearby camp had let three of his dogs – Great Danes, no less – off the leash to roam. They now crossed the road right in front of me. “Who takes Great Danes hunting and then lets them loose to roam around the Denali Highway?!” I thought. “Wait a minute. Those aren’t Great Danes.”

Hour 22

The Great Danes crossing right in front of me turned out to be three caribou crossing the road. I pointed the animals out to my daughter, who looked up long enough from her My Little Pony DVD movie in the back seat to see them. We were both quite excited.

I grabbed my rifle and briefly started a pursuit on foot while staying in sight of the truck before realizing the futility of chasing these swift-footed animals. I returned to the vehicle and informed my daughter that we would drive up a tad more and park for a while. She was content to continue with her movie in the back seat, while I walked just off the side of the road. I squatted down to the ground behind some willows, sitting in a plentiful patch of low bush cranberries.

The weather at this lower elevation was holding for the time being, and I could see a herd in the distance! I stayed in this location for some time, moving slightly now and then to better my position. After about 45 minutes of waiting—still hunting—and only slow moves, I could see I was in direct line with the movement of seven or eight animals. They trotted along, then behind a hill. Up they came to within 150 yards of where I was squatting. I picked out a large cow in my scope and steadied my rifle.

065

As the shot rang out, the whole herd moved—except for the animal I shot. It stayed still while the others moved on. I shot two more times for insurance and waited. After several seconds, the animal dropped. I quietly celebrated and made my way up to the truck, not wanting to disturb the animal while it was bleeding out. My daughter was beginning to grow restless and the pups needed another breath of fresh air.

Hour 25

By 1 p.m. on Sunday, just over a day since we had departed Anchorage, we had a caribou down in the field. The cold wind and rain were beginning to turn again to a point that it was not bearable outside the truck for my five-year old for more than ten minutes at a time. I had work the next day, and my daughter had school. I had a decision to make. I would gut the animal in the field and flag it; then I would wave down someone with a 4-wheeler driving by and offer to compensate them for helping strap the animal to their vehicle and delivering it to my truck.

The first truck driving by was a group of three men, also hunting for caribou. I told them to look no further, as I had just shot one and seen a couple of small herds roaming about. I explained my situation and they obliged, but first they wanted to see if they could harvest some animals. They parked their vehicles and walked into the brush a bit. Within minutes we heard the gunfire. The three men each harvested a caribou and would soon be venturing on the 4-wheelers to claim their meat. I gutted my caribou and waited for them to assist. It was quite a courtesy to have the animal delivered right to my tailgate; they refused any compensation, possibly because I had provided them with valuable information that was going to fill their freezers. Not having to skin or quarter the animal, and pack it all out, saved me oodles of time. Perhaps we would get to school and work the next day after all? We had meat in the truck! My daughter was completely floored, and I was honestly shocked.

We checked the clock. It was 3 p.m.. If we left now we would be home shortly after 10 p.m. – it would end up being a whopping day and a half scouting trip, ending with the blessing of an answered prayer.

Hour 34

We arrived home just after 10 p.m.. My daughter had fallen asleep in the truck, so I carried her to bed. The pups had managed a full days sleep during the ride, so they were ready to play. I covered the caribou with a tarp, planning to bone out the meat the next day. We got a decent night’s sleep and woke the next morning so thankful and so impressed with what God had done. It was a rare occurrence to go for a quick drive to a lodge and come home 34 hours later with a caribou in the truck. God didn’t have to do any of it … but He did! He blessed us with safety, with time together, with time in the outdoors, and with food in the freezer. And He did it all for His good purposes, so that we could today glorify Him for making the seemingly impossible possible.

 

Story by Kalb Stevenson, PhD

Categories: Outdoors & Recreation

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