WILD HARVEST: Hunting Trophy Barren Ground Caribou

We spotted a really nice bull walking away from us, and I quickly evaluated the situation more carefully through my binoculars. The big bull was in a small band of caribou walking into expansive swampy barrens, almost 800 yards away, and not angling our way in the slightest. A client I was guiding couldn’t help but admire the impressive rack this caribou sported, only just recently stripped of its velvet. His bright red, still bloody antlers were sky lined against the horizon, and then lit up in the late afternoon sun. It was quite a sight.

Around this time my client couldn’t help but turn around and ask, “He sure is a dandy, any chance we can try going after that one?”

Lowering my binoculars, I replied, “Better forget about him bud. Unless you’re an Olympian, we’re not catching up to that one.”

We both knew it, and I certainly cannot blame my hunter for asking. I would have done the same thing. Every possible way to get within range of that great bull raced through my mind, but I came up blank. Sometimes, on the tundra, you just have to let certain bulls walk, or risk wasting a good part of the day chasing caribou rump; and if successful it’s an extremely long pack job back to the boat, or camp.

Successfully hunting trophy barren ground caribou is all about getting in front of the animals. Start by glassing from high vantage points, to both dissect the landscape and hopefully spot migrating caribou. These animals are always on the move, so upon locating them, determine where they seem to be coming from and going to, and what route they are taking. It’s there you need to find a concealed position that not only offers a view of the approaching caribou, but also where they will naturally walk into range. A natural funnel along a well-used travel corridor, in the middle of a migratory push, is the ultimate set up. If the stars align, an endless stream of caribou could walk by for hours on end.

Other times, caribou movement is sparse, sporadic and they move randomly about the landscape with no particular pattern. At times like these, I step up my game and conduct more intense glassing and spot-and-stalk hunting. I notice many of the best caribou sightings are in the mornings, and making the right judgment calls keeps you from finding yourself hopelessly behind the caribou all day. Don’t get caught up desperately chasing them in circles across the tundra, like some starving wolf.

The key is spotting them early and, before anything else, determining if there is a bull good enough in the group worth a closer look. If so, interpret their body language and learn as much as you can about them before making any move. Knowing when there is a sense of urgency to close the distance before they slip away across the tundra is something that just comes with experience – and many failed stalks!

Field judging this majestic ungulate is not the easiest. There is so much to look at and they are constantly moving, often with multiple bulls in a group. Let’s face it – they all look huge; but velvet bulls appear larger yet. Sometimes peeling velvet can deceive you and you think you see extra points, and the oldest bulls have huge frames but little else. A trophy should carry long beams with several long points per top, and long matching “backscratchers” protruding from each. Big, palmated bez hopefully sport lots of points, and the bigger the shovel the better. At times overlooked due to the impressive size of the overall package, double shovels are only determined from a head-on view. If your caribou has everything else going for him, big double shovels should land you in the record book. If not, caribou hunts often allow you to “best your first bull” with a second tag!

A trophy, however, is in the eye of the beholder, and in this day and age, we should be thankful for any nice caribou we are lucky enough to harvest.

Aside from luck, what does it take to bring home a Boone & Crockett caribou? Well, you need to be able to judge them and know what to look for, be in peak physical condition and have knowledge of the landscape to intercept fleeing caribou. And finally, have the experience to make long-distance shots at moving targets, while out of breath in a windswept environment, under pressure. I’ll go with luck…

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