First things first. In my last post I made a serious mistake. I stated that Eric Sjodin packed both moose after my two lazy packers gave up. Actually, Jeff Hamburg packed the first moose and Eric packed his client’s moose. Jeff had packed for AAA the two previous years and was now guiding his first client for us. The story has been corrected. Sorry Jeff and thanks again for always going the extra mile.
I truly love caribou hunting and have made some wonderful memories hunting with my friends. The caribou hunts in this article took place on the wild Alaska Peninsula. These are just a few highlights of those adventures.
I think I have enjoyed caribou hunting more than any other type of hunt. They are really beautiful animals especially those white maned big bulls. The terrain isn’t as dangerous as hunting sheep or goat and, packing them out is much easier than packing a giant moose. The key to a great caribou hunt is timing the annual migration. As they say being in the right place at the right time is a must for caribou hunting.
In the mid to late ‘70’s I experienced some great caribou hunts on the Alaska Peninsula. On each one of my hunts, I usually had one or two different Air Force hunting buddies along in addition to Earl Boucher, Ron Watts or Chuck Berry. We went around the last week of September or first week of October. We knew that was when the Alaska Peninsula caribou herd would be coming out of the mountains and moving north toward King Salmon.
We flew to King Salmon on a commercial flight. Back then it was Wien Airlines and the military could fly stand-by for half price. I remember it costing $28 one-way the first couple of years. One year we got bumped from the flight to King Salmon. At that time, I was working on obtaining my commercial pilot’s license at a local Anchorage flying service and was using the G.I. Bill to pay for my instruction and classes. I called the flying service and asked if I could get some multi-engine instruction in the Beech Baron Aircraft. It was a plush six passenger plane. They said no problem so my three buddies and I flew to King Salmon in the Baron. I flew second seat with the instructor and only had to pay 10% of the cost so I think it cost us $125 total for the four of us to fly to King Salmon. Taxiing up in a Beech Baron made four G.I.’s feel pretty special.
Once we arrived in King Salmon we took a charter flight with Peninsula Airways. They were using the Cherokee Six to land in the cinder blows. I’m pretty sure they don’t do that anymore. Three good places to hunt were “the dunes” which were north of the Egegik River, Jensen strip which was south of the Egegik River and the cinder blows down next to Cinder River. I think I went six or seven times over a ten year period. The cost of the flying service depended on how far down the Peninsula we flew. The cost was usually between $100-$150 per person. So the cost of the trip would be around $200. Something a G.I. could afford.
Karen bought me a 4-man Eureka Draw Tight tent so I wouldn’t have to use the visqueen anymore. That was a good thing because the weather and the wind on the Peninsula could be pretty severe at times. Four-man tents do tend to get crowded with four guys and their gear. I really don’t think they’re made for four normal sized people. We all used the G.I. air mattress which was issued when we arrived at Elmendorf AFB. Blow those up and you have wall to wall air mattresses. I’m sure that some of my buddies remember my ability to instantly fall asleep. I would say good night and as my eyes closed, the noise began. I don’t know how many times I was woken up by the laughter and someone would always say, “How in the world can you do that, say goodnight and start snoring.” I would always say, “Because I have a clear conscience!” The noises and smells, especially after skinning a couple caribou, I’m sure would drive some people crazy. However, I think we all had a good time.
After the hunt was over stuffing four guys, gear and four caribou in a Cherokee Six was quite a feat. I can’t believe that we weren’t overloaded most of the time. One time coming back from Cinder River; we stuck Marv Buckley in the back of the plane because he was the smallest and then loaded all the meat and antlers around him. On the flight back he yelled out for me to wipe his nose as he couldn’t get his arms out because the antlers had them pinned in. I complied, what are friends for anyway!
On one of our trips to “the dunes” we camped by Shosky Creek. Once we returned home I found myself not feeling well. If you were standing next to me you could actually hear my stomach growl. I wasn’t the only one, but for some reason I got it the worst. We had Giardia or what’s better known as “Beaver Fever”. That was my first time but unfortunately not my last. It might be a great way to lose weight but after a couple weeks it gets pretty serious. They treat Giardia with Flagyl. It works real well and once I started guiding I kept it in all of the first aid kits and carried it in my pack. I missed two days of work, which were two of the three days total that I missed for sickness in my 20 year Air Force career.
We only missed the migration one time. My cousin came up from the lower 48 with a friend and we flew down to the Peninsula. During our week long hunt we saw less than twenty caribou and he killed a small one year old bull. You had to check underneath to make sure he was a bull.
I was always looking for that B&C record book caribou. One year when I arrived at King Salmon I met my good friend and later my partner Brent Jones. He was returning from his caribou hunt. He told me he had spotted a record book caribou south of Jensen strip. He said the two longest top points almost went back and touched the caribou’s back. He told me he thought it would score 440 or so and should make it to “the dunes” in three or four days. When we set up camp we started glassing the area and only saw small herds of five to ten caribou. The next couple of days the hunting got better and everyone, except me, took a nice caribou. I was waiting and hoping to see the big guy that Brent had spotted. On the morning of day five, we had numerous herds with numbers between 100 to 200 coming from the southwest. We set up my 15x60 power Bausch and Lomb spotting scope checking for the largest herd bulls. I had upgraded from my 18 power Mayflower spotting scope. We found one bull that had just merged his herd with another 100 caribou making his herd now about 300. He was pretty impressive. Nice tops and a double shovel but was definitely not the one Brent had spotted. We checked at least three different herds and this guy was the largest. I told everyone to stay back and I would try to get a little closer. I crawled to within 200 yards and after getting my old .300 Winchester Magnum set up on my pack, squeezed the trigger. It was a good clean shot. We all gathered at the caribou and while everyone was congratulating me all of a sudden another herd of caribou appeared and you could see a giant bull on the far side. He broke from that herd and came over and rounded up the 300 caribou that were still milling around after I had shot the lead bull. It was the caribou that Brent had told me about. He looked like he had two rocking chairs on his head. The two top points touched his back and had three or four small points running off of that point. I couldn’t believe that I had waited for five days and fifteen minutes after I shot a really impressive bull, this monster shows up. The limit was only one bull until October 1 which was in two days so I was out of luck or I will say, “That is my luck.” The bull that I shot would later score 395 B&C, five points shy of the magic 400 which is minimum for the B&C record book. I took another caribou scoring 396 on a later hunt. Over the years Earl and Ron both took caribou scoring around 390. I never killed or guided on a B&C caribou on the Alaska Peninsula. My first hunter in our Otter Lake Area, Leonard Anderson, killed a 403 B&C record book caribou which also scored 444 SCI points. The caribou in that area were from the Mulchatna caribou herd. AAA Alaskan Outfitters would take a few B&C record book caribou at our Dog Salmon River area in our early years of operation before the State closed the season on caribou.
In September 1983, I worked for Tracy Vrem and guided three caribou hunters all taking caribou, with the largest scoring 390 B&C points. In October of that year I guided for Rich Guthrie and took three caribou hunters. All took caribou with the largest scoring 396 B&C points. All of these hunts were on the Alaska Peninsula. The Peninsula caribou herd has never recovered but I hope that changes in the future so hunters can enjoy and experience the fun of caribou hunting on the Alaska Peninsula.