One of the main reasons I loved our Western Alaska area so much was hunting the Mulchatna caribou. I have always enjoyed caribou hunting and the scenery during the September season with all the beautiful fall colors. In my opinion the white maned bull caribou is one of the most regal antlered animals.
When we first started hunting around Otter Lake in 1987 we only had a few scattered bulls on the mountain tops. However after the herd started its rapid growth, we would have caribou somewhere in the area by the thousands for two or three weeks during September. The initial population of the Mulchatna herd in ’87 was somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000. By 1990 it was believed to have been around 80,000 and by ’94 it was approaching 200,000. It peaked around ’98 with 250,000 caribou. Some days flying in the area I would see 20,000 to 30,000 and at their peak many clients would see 5,000 plus in a day. That was quite a sight!
Around the year 2000 some of my guides were telling me that they were seeing many limping caribou. They thought they were just getting old but they were actually suffering from “hoofrot”, a disease caused by a bacterium that is in the soil. It enters through cuts around the hoofs and multiplies if the animal’s feet never dry out. It becomes an open sore and since the caribou are herd animals migrating in the same direction using the same trails it spreads quickly. They get to where they can’t get enough to eat and basically starve to death. It didn’t help that during this timeframe the wolf and brown bear populations were at an all-time high. By 2005 the herd was back down to approximately 80,000 and was quite a disaster. The herd is currently recovering but very slowly.
The great thing about the Mulchatna caribou is the gene pool produced record book caribou. My first hunter, Leonard Anderson from WV, took a Boone and Crockett caribou that also scored 444 points making the SCI record book. We harvested two B&C caribou in ’90, six in ’91, three in ’92, eleven in ‘93, two in ’94 and five in ’95 for a total of thirty record book caribou. We didn’t take any record book caribou our last nine years of operation but did take many in the high 390’s. I think that was mainly because the herd had peaked and the “hoofrot” had started.
Our largest caribou was a majestic 437 5/8 B&C taken by Jeff Gross from NJ. Next was another beautiful monster scoring 434 6/8 B&C taken by Shannon Schave from IL. The largest I personally guided was a 427 B&C taken by John Herr from ND. This caribou only had a small single shovel that was actually broken. I can only imagine how big he would have been if his shovel had been normal. One of my most memorable hunts was with my wife Karen as she harvested her B&C caribou.
What fun times we all had during those days. The guides were always trying to beat each other by trying to get their clients the biggest caribou. We would have measuring nights around the wood burning stove at base camp with everyone guessing the scores while I measured the antlers. Those are some wonderful memories!!
The following pictures are of some of our largest caribou. Just seeing them gets me fired up!!