March/April 2013 EBJ (Issue 76) - After I returned home from a hunt in 2011, my wife Rose began asking me what I thought about her learning how to shoot a bow and the possibility of going hunting with me. She saw me going on these adventures and felt like she was missing out and wanted to share in my experiences. I was excited at the idea, so we got her set up with a bow and she practiced and practiced. I thought the best hunt to take her on would be for caribou on the Haul Road in northern Alaska, which required her to pass a bowhunter certification course. She took the necessary steps and passed the class and shooting course with no trouble.
Long story short, we took two trips up the Haul Road that year for caribou and struck out both times. There was a big learning curve on her first hunts, with many things to learn. Fast-forward to this fall and we headed back up in September, only this time there were no caribou to be found. So with that, we knew that we’d be returning at the end of October for one last hurrah!
A hunt during this time period presents many challenges, mostly due to temperatures and unpredictable weather. Days are shorter, with shooting light not arriving until after 9 a.m. and ending around 5:30 p.m. Temps are around or below zero, so keeping water and food from freezing is a chore when staying in a tent.
Leading up to the hunt, the weather was supposed to be pretty rough and I asked Rose, "Are you sure you still want to do this?” She was sure…she wanted her caribou!
On Monday, October 29th I had everything ready to go and picked Rose up from work. We were on the road north and decided instead of pushing through the night that we’d stop and stay in Fairbanks and continue on in the morning. What a nice change of pace that was!
The next morning we kept on moving and arrived north of Atigun Pass around 3 p.m. and chose a place to camp. The weather wasn’t too bad; visibility was a little low, but not bad. We hunted that evening and made two stalks on a couple bulls. We got close on both but they just knew something was up.
That night the wind picked up and I couldn’t sleep at all, it was deafening. After a long night we got ready to hunt and were worried about even trying to shoot an arrow in such high winds. I said we’d probably have to be 20 yards or less and hope we can catch a break in the wind. We saw a few caribou, but with visibility so low with blowing snow we were probably unable to see a lot of animals.
As we reached the base of the pass we spotted a group of five bulls and decided to make a stalk. They were up the hill a little ways and we thought if we went behind and came over the top of the hill we could get a nice 20-30 yard shot and the wind wasn’t as bad right there. So, we tried climbing the very steep frozen shale hillside and part way up, Rose slid all the way to the bottom. It was just too difficult to get footing in the frozen shale. We decided to bag it and trudged through the drifted snow back to the warm truck.
We headed back north and visibility went to zero. As we reached camp, our tent had collapsed. I thought the poles broke but they had just folded inward. I’d guess the wind was blowing 60-70 mph. Inside the tent was another surprise – SNOW! The wind blew fine snow dust up under the rain fly of our Cabela’s Alaskan Guide tent and it sifted down through the mesh in the top. We’d had enough and decided we needed to break camp and get to the south side of the pass where there was hopefully better weather and at the very least, cover in the timber.
For a full account of Rose's adventure, go to page 38 in the March/April 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.