Double action in the arctic: what does it say about a man who lives to take on the challenges of bowhunting the far north?
"I see a sow and two cubs," I told my polar bear guide. That sow was the 10th polar bear we had seen in just three days of hunting.
My guide was glassing off in another direction, when he quietly said, "I see one, too."
"Is it a big one?" I excitedly asked about number 11.
"It's too far to tell," he replied, so we jumped on the sled and took off to inspect the bear's tracks first, so as to better judge his size.
This was the second of two adventurous Arctic bowhunts I took part in this past spring. The first was a muskox hunt in March, in a small native village in far Western Alaska. As with most Arctic bowhunts, the logistics are just as extreme as the hunting. The travel to these remote locations is limited to small aircraft and a very limited flight schedule, and the goods and services that can be found are oftentimes Spartan as well. Compound that with the specialized gear necessary for an Arctic bowhunt, and you start to understand the level of difficulty.
March in Alaska can be downright cold! Thankfully, I've done enough of these cold bowhunts in the past to figure out how to dress and stay warm. Good clothing and gear is not just a luxury or treat on these hunts, it can be a lifesaver. The Arctic is unforgiving, and my muskox hunt definitely exemplified this.
Shortly after riding out of the village on a snow machine, we spotted a large herd of about 25 muskox off in the distance. Leaving the snow machine behind was essential to keep from alarming the herd. The stalk on foot across the cold, snow-covered tundra took some time, as it was several hundred yards to the muskox. I had to take it slow, stopping periodically until I closed the distance. The closer I got, the slower I went. The muskox were aware of my presence, but by going ultra-slow and not walking in a straight line toward them, they stayed calm and stationary. I zigzagged towards the herd, crawling and wallowing through the snow. It is amazing how close you can get to some wild animals, if you just pay attention to their body language and GO SLOW. I forgot to mention that the wind on this day was blowing 30 to 40 mph. Getting closer, in those conditions, was going to be necessary in order to make an accurate shot. With the muskox fully aware of "something" crawling ever so slowly closer, I eased up to about 30 yards from the herd.
Now I had to lie there and wait on two things. First, there was one particular bull in the group that I wanted to shoot. I was going to have to wait for him to move around in the group and present me with a shot. The animals were always changing positions, rubbing up against one another, and intermingling. With so many animals, I was wondering if I would ever get a clear shot. Second, I had to hope for a lull in the gusty wind to occur at the same time I had a clear shot at the big bull.
This is where having some really good clothing paid off. Lying there on the frozen tundra in that kind of wind was tough. I wish I knew what the wind-chill factor was that day. Fortunately, that bowhunter adrenaline we all get kept me warm to some degree. The stalk to get to this point had probably taken the better part of an hour. Then it was over an hour, lying there in the snow 30 yards from the herd, with the cold wind howling, before these two things occurred.
First, the big bull singled out from the herd just a bit. I had to make sure that there were no other muskox close, as I didn't want to risk shooting the wrong one, or worse, more than one. The wind was so strong, I knew I could not count on super-accurate arrow placement. Just getting the arrow drawn back and keeping it on the arrow rest without the wind blowing it off was a challenge. At full draw, fighting to steady my bow, I saw my window of opportunity. When the arrow struck the bull, the herd got uneasy and quickly moved off of the sideh i 11 where they had been staged for so long. I could see my bull, and Was fully expecting him to go down anytime. That didn't happen. The herd moved a few hundred yards before stopping and settling down again, with my bull still with the group. So many challenging obstacles had contributed to my arrow hitting lower than I had wanted. I approached the muskox herd again, taking it very slow, and once more I had to wait for the window of opportunity. It was a challenging day in tbe Arctic, and when I finally walked up to the big muskox bull and put my hands on him, I could not help but feel a great sense of accomplishment.
About six weeks later, I was off on my second extreme Arctic adventure bowhunt of the year. This one was big--a polar bear hunt. The anticipation and planning leading up to a hunt of this caliber was intense. Just traveling to polar bear country is an adventure and commitment in itself. From my home in Alaska to Nunavut, Canada, where I would hunt polar bears, took six flights totaling more than 15 hours in the air, and four layovers in towns and villages. The Arctic provided its usual hardships and surprises with some bad weather, cancelled flights, and delays. I was relieved to arrive at the last village, even though I was three days late. However, my enthusiasm wasn't dampened. In the Arctic, I fully expect such things. It's very important to be flexible, remain positive, and just go ' with the flow on these types of hunts.
My delay into Grise Fiord actually worked in my favor. Initially, I was supposed to ride a sled pulled behind a snow machine from the village to my hunting area. This was going to be a long ride. It was more than 200 miles, and would take 14 to 16 hours. Camping somewhere around the halfway point of the trip, it was also going to take two days. A Twin Otter ski plane was chartered to fly six 55-gallon drums of fuel out to my hunting area to be used in future years of hunting. I happened to arrive in the small village on the same day as the chartered Twin Otter was going to my hunting area. My hunt coordinator in Grise Fiord recognized this opportunity, and arranged for me to ride on the airplane out to my hunting area. Sometimes what appears to be an unfavorable delay, turns out to be a blessing in disguise.
As the Twin Otter approached my hunting camp, I could see my guide and his two helpers on the ground waiting for us. They had marked out what they thought was a good landing area with red gas cans. After a couple of low passes, I could tell that my pilots did not like the looks of it. They elected not to land there, and continued flying around trying to identify the best place to land on the frozen ocean. They eventually found a good spot and made an uneventful landing. After we were on the ice, I told them I could totally relate to their decision process, since I fly in Alaska myself. One bad decision, in a remote location like we were in, could lead to a very unfavorable outcome.
Introductions were made, and after they unloaded the fuel from the Twin Otter, the plane took off and headed back to Resolute. I appreciated getting to my hunting area by plane, rather than by the long sled ride. We readied our gear the rest of that evening, anticipating our hunt to begin the next morning.
On the first day of my hunt, it didn't take long to see a bear. We actually saw four bears that day. The first were a sow and two cubs, and then my guide spotted a single bear that was actually a legal bear, if I would have chosen to take it. But it was just the first day, and the bear was not a big one. Hunting polar bears on the frozen ocean, with the incredible scenery, sounds, lighting, colors, sled dogs and action, is indescribable. The entire experience is wonderful.
That night back at camp, my guide mentioned he thought he might have misjudged a polar bear track that we had seen that day. The next morning over breakfast, my guide still had that gut feeling of having maybe misjudged the track. "No problem," I told him. "Let's go back and find the track and make sure."
We spent most of the second day traveling back to find that bear's tracks. We found it, and my guide laughed and said, "That bear shrunk during the night." We had used a lot of time and energy already that second day, so my guide suggested we go back to camp early, eat a big meal, get some rest, and start day three really early.
The next morning, we headed off in a different direction to hunt some new country. Again, it wasn't long until we saw a sow with one cub. We continued hunting and spotted another single, legal bear. This was not the caliber of bear I was interested in, but it still felt funny leaving a legal polar bear behind. An average bear is definitely better than no bear, and you never know what the weather is going to do, not to mention the fact I had started the hunt three days late. We continued hunting, with the old adage, "Don't pass an animal on the first day that you would shoot on the last day" rolling around in my head.
This brings us back to the point at the beginning of this story, where my guide jumped off the snow machine to evaluate the track of the big bear we saw in the distance. I could tell my guide was not sure of the track. The snow was hard and firm, and the bear was not leaving much of a track. It was difficult to decipher in the snow conditions. We followed it on foot for a few yards, and in some spots the bear's body weight caused it to break though the snow crust. We could still see the bear off in the distance a few hundred yards, so we got on the sled and closed the distance to get a better look at the bear.
Once we got closer, we both knew this bear was a good one. My guide let all of the dogs loose, and I took off on foot in pursuit of the bear. The dogs did not cause the bear to stop for some time. They were all just steadily walking away. The bear would get irritated at the dogs from time to time and stop, which allowed me to close the distance. The snow machine one of the helpers was driving had a gear sled behind it with a tent, tools, food, and seal meat for the dogs. He had left the sled sitting on the ice when we all spotted the bear, and now the bear spotted the gear sled and was curious about it, sticking his nose up in the air and smelling it. He turned and slowly started walking towards the sled, which was conveniently located between the bear and me. This is perfect, I thought. I'll stalk to the sled and keep the sled between the bear and me.
That is precisely how it happened. The bear slowly approached the sled from one side, and I slowly approached the sled from the other side. The bear showed no fear of me. He was also curious of me, looking at me with his nose in the air. When he turned broadside at about 30 yards, I took my shot.
The spring of 2016 was a good one for me. My muskox was my sixth taken with a bow, and all six have made the Boone and Crockett Club's record book. The polar bear was my second taken with my bow. I shot the first one in Resolute, Nunavut, 10 years prior.
The challenges of hunting the Arctic have a special attraction for me, and I seem to find myself on these difficult bowhunts more and more these days. The Arctic can be both Beauty and Beast. She can be unpredictable, gorgeous, cantankerous, and tranquil, all in the same day. She can provide a fantastic hunting experience, or she can kill you if you're careless. I suppose all of that is what draws me to the Far North and her inhabitants. That, and the tremendous feeling of satisfaction and achievement one feels when it all comes together.
AUTHOR'S MOTE On all my hunts I use PSE bows, Victory arrows, Rage broadheads, Trophy Taker and Schaffer Archery accessories, a TightSpot quiver, and KUIU clothing, packs, and sleeping bag.
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|Title Annotation:||BIG GAME SPECIAL|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2016|
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