Life is Good
By: Gord Follett
Dennis wasn’t looking for “just any” caribou; he wanted an impressive stag with a rack worthy of mounting. He’d seen a respectable cape mount at the Newfoundland Sportsman office the year previous and said he wanted an animal “at least” that size.
“A respectable set of antlers; nicely symmetrical with 30 points, minimum, is what I’ll be hunting for,” he told me a month prior to the season opening several years back. “I’m not looking to make any international record books; I’m not a trophy hunter. But I’ve harvested a couple of caribou in the past with relatively small racks, so that’s what I’m going after this time and I’ll pass on anything less, no matter how many animals I see.”
With a total of 490 licences issued in his preferred management area – evenly distributed amongst either-sex and male-only – during that 2004 season, Dennis drew an either-sex tag, “but I wasn’t gonna take a doe, even if it bit me on the ass on the last day of the hunt.”
He spent parts of several days scouting Area 69, Northern Peninsula, during the latter part of summer and early fall, but not even from a lengthy distance did he spot anything “to suit my fancy.”
My former track and field teammate set off on his mid-September excursion with his girlfriend at the time (we’ll call her Sharon), aboard his Ford F-150 pickup, with a homemade camper occupying the truck box to serve as their sleeping and evening cooking quarters. Breakfast and/or lunch would either be sandwiches or something cooked outdoors as part of a good ol’ fashioned boil-up. Dennis was looking to impress with his own “woods savvy,” you see, because Sharon was no slouch in the outdoors. She’d harvested her own moose two years before, along with numerous birds and small game animals while hunting with her father over the years.
They pulled into a small pit along a woods road around noon the day before season opening and unloaded his old Honda Big Red three-wheeler from the trailer.
“This road and its off-shoots go on forever; don’t know how many kilometers in total,” he told his partner, “and there are several bogs on each side of it; one massive yellow marsh about seven or eight kilometres in. Let’s go for a ride and see if there’s anything around so that we’ll have a general idea of where to head tomorrow morning… And we’ll be leaving at first light,” he cautioned. “No sleeping in.”
Sharon grinned and said nothing.
They hadn’t travelled more than three kilometers when the clumsy trot of a very young stag 50 metres ahead brought the bike to a halt. As the animal moved into some sparce trees and bushes off the road, Sharon pointed to four other caribou, including a juvenile stag and three does.
“At least we’re seeing animals,” Dennis commented. “Ya never know; we could spot a huge adult male with some other does crossing in this area tomorrow.”
Two kilometers further along, they noticed several “white spots” way off in the distance.
“Boulders or caribou?” Dennis asked, raising his Vortex binoculars… “Caribou! Ten, 11… 12 of ‘em. Two seem to have fair-sized racks, but… hopefully we’ll see them again tomorrow and get a better look.”
Back to the truck camper they headed for a feed of pan-fried cod and potatoes, after which Sharon got a small fire going and they relaxed on lawn chairs until an hour or so after dark.
Breakfast just before daybreak consisted of a cup of tea and some homemade bread covered in partridgeberry jam, then it was back on the trike to cover the same ground as the previous afternoon.
Travelling at a speed of 20-25 kph, Dennis felt a tap on his shoulder.
“You’re going a bit too fast,” Sharon offered. “We’re not getting a chance to have a really good look, especially in places where there are trees around.”
“Ok, I’ll slow down a bit.”
It would be more than an hour before they spotted an animal – a rather heavy-set stag with respectable headgear, standing alone at the edge of a gully less than 100 metres away – and Sharon felt certain her man would take a shot.
“Nope,” he said after a short observation. “He’s a good one – fairly wide rack with probably 20 points – but not quite what I’m after.”
They admired the animal for a few minutes before moving on to where they saw the young stag heading towards the four other animals yesterday. There they turned off the machine and scanned the surrounding countryside for 15-20 minutes.
“Nothing,” he said. “Let’s head on.”
A couple of bald eagles and a large black bear about a kilometer across a marsh would be their only sightings for the next three hours, so Dennis unstrapped his backpack from the bike rack and began his preparations for a boil-up. Within 15 minutes the kettle was boiled, and while Sharon was sipping on her tea, “the man” cooked eggs, beans and ham on a cast iron frying pan before offering Sharon a paper plate and slice of toasted bread.
“Oh, forgot the fork,” he said. “Sorry… here you go. Hope you enjoy it.”
“Looks delicious,” Sharon said. “And I’m starving. Thanks for doing this.”
“Nothing to it… I have some of my aunt’s famous bakeapple tarts in a plastic container here, too …. More tea?”
(Oh, he’s good.)
Once cleaned up and the fire put out, Sharon climbed onto the driver’s seat and slid ahead as much as possible to give big Dennis enough room on the seat for about half of his butt. He slipped the gun strap across his chest, made a slight adjustment so the rifle scope wasn’t digging into his back, and off they went, though at an even slower speed than before.
Sharon was the first to spot a group of five animals in the general area of where they saw the herd of 12 yesterday, but again, Dennis didn’t bother to ready his firearm.
She suggested turning left just ahead onto a road which cut between two fairly large marshes.
“Why not?” the hunter responded. “We can try it for a few kilometers, anyway.”
Barely squeezing the throttle each time they approached patches of trees along the road, Sharon suddenly stopped the machine and pointed to her right. There, in all its glory some 400 metres in the distance, was a most impressive stag with a pair of does.
“Oh yeah,” Dennis whispered somewhat frantically, “this one suits my fancy. Gotta be 30 points or more there, and it’s an absolutely beautifully-shaped rack.”
The animals were moving every-so-slowly on an angle towards the road ahead, and Sharon guessed that if they kept the same speed and line of travel, they’d be within a comfortable shooting range about a kilometer further along within half an hour.
They left the Big Red and proceeded on foot until they reached a patch of woods 10 minutes later, and waited.
Sure enough, with the females slightly ahead, the caribou came into view about 150 metres from where the couple was waiting. Dennis chambered a round in his .270 and flipped the caps on his scope before steadying in the kneeling position and thumbing the safety.
Knowing Dennis would fire whenever he was ready, Sharon never made a move or sound.
The big male staggering immediately, and as he made his third attempt at remaining upright, he fell back and to the side. The does remained nearby for 10-15 seconds, then casually trotted on.
“Fine shot there, Dennis; way to go!” Sharon exclaimed.
“And on the first day,” he said. “Incredible! I got what I came for. I don’t know how the experts measure these racks, but he’s good enough in my books. Perfect, actually. And I gotta say, Sharon, you played a major role in this hunt; wouldn’t have done it without ya… now, to get this cleaned up and back to camp, then I’ll break out that $95 bottle of wine I picked up in case we accomplished our mission.
Life is good, m’dear, life is good.”