October/November 2013 EHJ (Issue 139) - I am laying on a warm, sandy beach in Maui, concerned with tan lines, SPF ratings, the melting ice in my drink and whether we should have steaks or sushi for dinner. As I lay here, I reminisce over my past guiding season – the highs, lows, successes and failures. One trip stands out in stark contrast to my current environment.
Rewind four months to mid- September in the Arctic Red River country, Mackenzie Mountains, Nor thwest Territories. A campf ire popped and crackled at my feet as I alternated between warming my frozen toes and my numb fingers and flirting with the disaster of melting my Zamberlan boots. I had just added the last stick and would to have to dig through the deep snow to find more. David and Tom Parish squatted across the fire from me lost deep in thought, staring into the fog and falling snow and coming to grips with the fact that they had paid to be here.
We had seen five days of the same scene, waiting for a break in the weather. I was somewhat comforted by the fact that I knew 11 Dall’s rams lay on the slopes across the valley and herds of caribou hung in the high basins waiting out the same storm. I had finished my only book four days before and I was feeling the fatigue of too little activity and too much time to think. Outfitter Tavis Molnar later told me that in the 20 years he had been hunting this area he had never seen this much snow in September.
I stood, walked to the tent and shook off the fresh layer of snow from the rainflies. Tom and David’s tent had a long, ragged tear running lengthwise – lesson learned about summer tents in September. I stared out across the wide valley, took in the solitude, the gentle hiss of falling flakes and the frustrating lack of visibility – time to make some hot Mountain House and crawl into an ice-crusted sleeping bag.
As the water boiled, I pulled up my increasingly loose pants and dreamed for the millionth time of a greasy burger and chocolate milkshake. As I unzipped my tent the fly showered me with frost.
In spite of the discomfort, I was pleased to find the snow had stopped falling, and while fog still hung in patches, I could finally see some of the high peaks surrounding us. I hastily checked for the group of rams we had located days ago. After 10 minutes of glassing I started to panic. The slope the rams had occupied was open, with a few scattered willows and the odd shallow ravine; they should have been visible if they were there, even with a white background. With almost two feet of snow, taking our camp and travelling to locate a new band of rams was going to be nearly impossible.
Finally, the sun poked through and I could see the trails they had plowed. At the end of a trail was a little round ball, which through the spotter turned out to be a ram’s head. The snow was so deep his bedded body was completely covered! I frantically looked for more heads. Another appeared, and another and another. With a relieved sigh I packed up the scope and accounted for all 11 rams.
The going was slow, the valley wide, but it felt good to be moving. The rams were bedded in a diff icult spot and inactive despite the brilliant, warm sunshine. The caribou had seen their opportunity to move out of the high country and headed for their wintering grounds. A few small groups were still scattered within sight and white-maned bulls pushed, shoved and prepared for the rut.
By late afternoon, our chances of making a play on the rams had all but disappeared. In the scattered spruce beneath the rams we picked up a herd of caribou bulls and cows following the base of the mountain. One bull was high and wide, with sweeping main beams and a full shovel, the biggest we had seen so far. It took little to convince Tom and David to give chase.
For a full account of David and Tom's adventure, go to page 38 in the October/November 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.