March/April 2012 EBJ (Issue 70) - It was the last day of hunting and there I sat, 37 yards from the big palmated bull. I had an arrow knocked and my heart was beating so hard I was sure the two bulls could hear it. I had just crawled 150 yards on loose shale. My hands were sweaty, and my knees were numb from the sharp rocks. Two ridges back all four of my friends and my dad sat watching everything unfold.
This caribou hunt in the Arctic Circle of Alaska took three years to plan. One of my best friends, Dustin, and I made a promise that in 2010 we were going to Alaska. We were going to chase the massive antlered caribou that we had once only dreamed about as kids. After finding three more friends and convincing my dad to go, we hired a pilot. We hired Matt Owen with Northern Air Trophies out of Kotzebue, AK, to fly us into and out of camp. The hunt was a DIY hunt with Matt providing our flights to and from our camp.
The flight out of Kotzebue into camp was amazing. We flew off the coast of the Arctic Ocean up into the Brooks Range of Alaska in Matt’s Cessna 180. We set up our camp along the Noatak River where Matt was able to land his plane on a smooth gravel bar. This was our home for the next week where we had a large grizzly bear living upstream, we had moose and muskox wandering the river bottom, and we watched the northern lights dance at night above our campfire. We were in the middle of absolute solitude more than 100 miles away from any civilization. I was sitting in the tundra with my dad and friends watching caribou migrate along distant ridge tops and hearing the lone cries of an arctic fox echo down the river bottom. Just the flight into camp and sitting there with my dad had made the trip a success.
The first evening that we were in camp we started spotting caribou along a tall ridge that extended for several miles out in front of our camp. This ridge ran parallel with the river we were camped on and it seemed to be the migration corridor that all the caribou were following. The top of the ridge was hard, rocky, and had very little vegetation which made it easy traveling for the caribou compared to the boggy, swamp-like river bottom we were camped on. After that first evening watching the caribou we were determined to make it to that ridge top the next morning.
The first hike through the swamp and up the hill to the top of the ridge was a tremendous amount of work. The terrain in the northern slopes of Alaska is much different than the Montana mountains and plains we were all used to. Every step I took I would sink to my ankle in the mossy swamp-like tundra. The two and a half mile hike to the top of that ridge seemed more like a 10-mile hike back in Montana. For the next seven days, each morning we hiked through the swamp up to the top of the ridge. We hunted several miles of this ridge over the next week, which is where we ended up harvesting all of our caribou.
For a full account of Joshua's adventure, go to page 22 in the March/April 2012 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.