Connecting the dots ...: as generally happens in bowhunting, a complicated sequence of events leads to a simply amazing outcome.
"Uh, Pat? You might want to rethink that decision" Steve said. His tone got my attention, so I stopped organizing, stood, and raised my binoculars.
What I saw shook me to the core, and from that moment, it was a race against the clock to get into position. What certainly could be one of the largest Quebec-Labrador caribou ever shot was approaching quickly. In a concerned tone, Steve started the countdown: "Pat, you have 15 seconds ..."
THIS WAS MY FOURTH hunt for a Quebec-Labrador caribou, and my third trip in as many years. On the previous year's hunt, I was fortunate enough to help my buddy Bill take his first caribou. Despite having no shot opportunities myself, the hunt was complete--Bill got a P&Y bull, and I had the satisfaction of sharing the moment with my best friend.
So the following year, I jumped at the chance to organize a Bowsite.com group hunt. The guys who booked the Bowsite hunt counted the days (online) on our message board. The speculation, discussions, and lighthearted jabbing added a fun twist to the anticipation, and after months of waiting, eight of us from all corners of the country met in Montreal. Some were experienced bowhunters, others novices. I paired up with Steve Kremp, a traditional archer from Pennsylvania. We all hit it off immediately; this was going to be a fun group.
Twenty-four hours later, Steve and I were hiking the hills surrounding Lac Minto. We had landed only an hour earlier, but we weren't about to squander three good hours of daylight. Immediately, we found caribou traveling through a funnel a mile behind camp, and when Steve spotted two good bulls there, he decided to go for them while I videotaped over his shoulder. A perfect stalk positioned him just 10 yards from the passing bulls, and he put an arrow through the bigger one's heart. Technically, the hunt had not begun, and we had one tag filled!
The next day, with high winds and pouring rain, the weather was horrible. Most of the guys headed to the funnel while Steve and I hiked farther to look at some new country. We tried a couple of stalks on bulls, but the 'bou were widely scattered and cover was scarce. That evening, we learned that several of the guys had already filled both of their tags, and several of their bulls would easily make the P&Y and SCI minimums. Over dinner, we all agreed everyone should concentrate on the funnel.
The third morning the weather was just as bad, but the temperature had dropped overnight and was now hovering just above freezing. We were all thankful for good raingear. Other hunters spread across the mile-long funnel ahead of us, so Steve and I headed to the far eastern end before looking for an ambush spot.
This put us at the end of the line, which wasn't all bad. We were downwind, where we would not mess up anyone's hunt. The bulls would have to run the gauntlet before they could reach us, but we didn't mind. Steve already had a bull, and I had killed nice bulls on previous trips. Mostly, we wanted to avoid messing up the other guys.
We walked the main ridge until we found a series of trails dropping down and converging into a single path through a marsh. This looked like a good location, so Steve stayed there as I picked my way across the marsh to look for another potential ambush spot. Following a caribou trail, I came to higher ground separated by two bogs. At the edge of that high ground I found the spot--a caribou "highway" 10 feet wide and torn up by thousands of caribou tracks. It looked to me like every caribou trail within a mile converged at this very point.
Wanting to confirm that, I continued on for another half mile and found no other location nearly as impressive. So I turned back, and on the way saw a herd of caribou walking through that 10-foot funnel. Definitely, this was the spot.
Steve also could see what was happening and headed my way, and by 9 a.m. we had constructed an ambush nest and were waiting for action. From here, we could see the other hunters. Two traditional bowhunters, both named Brian, were perched on top of a hill next to a boulder. One of the Brians was tagged out already, and the other had yet to fill a tag. Kevin from Wisconsin, who had one tag remaining, was stationed a quarter mile ahead of them, and between them were three guys from Michigan.
WITH EACH PASSING HOUR, the weather deteriorated even more. Caribou moved steadily all morning, but after winding the other guys, most of the animals stayed high on the ridges.
Then, about noon, a small herd walked near the rock where the Brians huddled, but at the last moment they skirted wide and descended the hill into the marsh. We lost sight of them for a few minutes and then spotted antlers bouncing in our direction. Studying them through my binoculars, I judged the lead bull to have a 50-inch spread and good tops and bottoms. I would take him.
Just as we'd planned, he picked the highway trail, and as he walked past us at 14 yards, I shot. The bull dropped in sight, 50 yards away.
Thrilled with this success, we wasted no time in quartering and caping the bull. We then hid the meat and antlers behind a bush and hurried back to our little ambush nest. It was Steve's turn to shoot.
An hour later, Steve said, "Pat, bulls on the skyline. One is a good one!" We watched them for a few moments. "I think they're going to take that trail I was sitting on first thing this morning" Steve concluded.
"That looks like a possibility" I said. "But I doubt you'll ever make it over there in time."
Well, that boy proved me wrong. Steve raced across the marsh, ran up the hill, and took the largest bull with a 10-yard shot as I videotaped the whole event from 300 yards away. When I saw the bull go down, I left my bow and pack at the ambush nest and picked my way through the marsh to help Steve. What a day!
WITH TWO GREAT BULLS down, and rain pouring, we decided to call it a day. We definitely did not need any more meat to pack right then. To keep things simple, I left my camera at Steve's bull as we headed back to my bull to begin the packing process.
When we reached our ambush spot, I knelt and started removing items from my pack, which was filled with all sorts of junk. I needed to make room for meat, cape, and antlers. As I worked at getting things organized, Steve continued to scan the ridge for caribou.
"Pat, a group of caribou is heading toward us" he said.
"I'll pass on these" I said. "We've got too much work to do already, and my video camera is back at your bull."
As I pulled more items from my pack, Steve spoke again, "It looks like they're going to come down our trail. One of them looks really big. You'd better check him out."
"Nah," I responded, looking at the gear strewn around my feet in the driving rain. "We've killed enough caribou for today. I'm going to pass."
"Uh, Pat? You might want to rethink that decision" Steve said. "Just stand up and take a look at this bull"
This time his tone got my attention. So I stopped organizing, stood, and raised my binoculars. Instantly, my heart began to pound, and for the first time in a long while, I started shaking. Those antlers were huge, almost supernatural. And the bull was going to walk down the exact trail my previous bull had walked. Muttering unmentionables, I literally threw my Swarovski binoculars to the ground. Everything was coming together.
Except for one problem--I could not find my release. Frantically, I searched the ground. I remembered seeing it while organizing my pack. It had to be here. Steve started to count down: "Pat, you have 15 seconds ..." I was throwing gear all over the place, going through pocket after pocket.
"Ten seconds ... " Just then I found the release.
But I could not get it buckled. This was a horror movie, and like a frightened victim struggling to find the right key to the car door, I fumbled frantically to buckle the release.
"Five seconds ... "
As the buckle finally closed, I pulled out an arrow, dipped the release to the string, and drew. I could hear the hooves of the first bull sucking in the mud. He was already walking past us in plain view. He glanced at us but kept walking. Two more bulls following close behind glanced our way but remained calm. Then, as the next bull came into view, I realized that in my haste I had pulled out the bloody arrow from my earlier bull ...
It took me a second to comprehend the ethical dilemma. This would not do. As the last three bulls came into view, I undipped my release, threw the used arrow to the ground, and quickly nocked a clean arrow with a razor-sharp broadhead.
Seeing my movement, one of the bulls stopped, and like a train car still in motion, the monster bull bumped into the bull in front of him--and stepped behind the smaller bull. Now I had no clear shot.
As they began to move forward again, I drew my bow and prayed for an open shot. In a seemingly polite gesture, the big bull paused and let the smaller pull ahead, giving me a dear view of his chest. At that moment, I put the sight pin behind his shoulder and released. The great beast ran 40 yards and fell over, mere feet from my earlier bull.
STEVE AND I WERE ecstatic, but not until we got close did we realize the true enormity of this bull. His antlers were all mass. He had huge bottoms, huge tops, and was extremely heavy all around. Even his points had points. His rack was unlike any I'd ever seen on nine previous caribou hunts, including trips for mountain caribou in British Columbia and barren ground bulls in Alaska.
Upon our arrival in camp, the story spread fast and took on an eerie twist. The bull had somehow slipped by the Michigan boys. Kevin then spotted the bull and moved to dose the distance but could get within only 45 yards, a shot Kevin had practiced all year but now decided to pass on for ethical reasons. It was just too risky in the wind. The bull then trotted up a ridge trail that led him within eight feet of the boulder where the two Brians had sat all day. Unfortunately, the Brian with the tags had just walked away to stretch his legs, and the Brian with no tags left could only videotape the incredible animal.
As this was happening on the hill above us, I had my head buried in my pack. If it weren't for Steve actively watching the hillsides, we never would have seen this bull until I was strapping hindquarters onto my pack. And, of course, if Steve had not killed his bull 45 minutes earlier, I would not have been in line to shoot the big bull. Steve would have.
The chain of events leading up to my killing this magnificent caribou in Quebec is difficult to comprehend. What I do comprehend is that I was fortunate enough to take one of the most massive bulls ever taken by a bowhunter, completely by accident, as a dozen events came together at the perfect time, like a complicated dot-to-dot puzzle. Of course, I know from experience that virtually all bowhunts are exactly like that. It's just that with this bull, I was able to connect the dots ...
AUTHOR'S NOTES: For this hunt I shot a BowTech Allegiance set at 60 pounds draw weight. My broadheads were Muzzy MX-4s, and I wore Realtree Hardwoods Green HD camouflage.
Based on the SCI measuring system, my bull scores 401 4/8, which would rank him No. 6 in the latest available listings at this writing.
This hunt took place in Northwest Quebec while hunting with Tuttulik Outfitters. For more information on Tuttulik, contact: Greg "Boney" Bonecutter at (931) 232-9989 or at www.tuttulik.com.
Pat Lefemine is the founder of Bowsite.com and a frequent Bowhunter Contributor. Video clips from this hunt can be found at Bowsite.com's "features" section under Live Hunts.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2007|
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