Winter Caribou Hunt 1975

Winter Caribou Hunt 1975

It was a cold morning, it was 8 am. We were boarding a bush plane, Otter and on our way to a caribou hunt. My buddies Andre, Julien and brother-in-law JM. It was the 23 Feb. and a minus -23 outside. We had no choice we had to go this morning; the plane was chartered for today and only bad weather could cancel this trip. We were all well dressed with good warm clothes, snowmobile suits and boots. Each our packsack, lunch and a thermos of coffee for the day. It looked like a beautiful day the sky was blue.

We had been flying for a good 2 hours, no tracks and no caribou insight. Yes I forgot to introduce our pilot Jean Charles, 10 years experience as a bush pilot. I asked him where are we heading? Lake Vital they saw a big herd there yesterday.

A couple of hours more flying and nothing in sight. The pilot looked back at us and said we will have to think on going back. One, the gas is getting low and about 5 hours of day light left. He said, 15 minutes more. I said look caribou tracks. The pilot made a 90 degree to the left and over on the second lake he landed. There was a herd of over 200 heads, they were standing there looking at the plane.

Jean Charles said, first if you guys do this fast we still have time to head back home, if not and it takes to long we will be sleeping in the bush at -30. What do you want to do? Yes that was cold and very cold to sleep outdoors without a sleeping bag. We looked at each other and said we came hunting and that’s what we are going to do. We told the pilot we will do this as fast as we can..

We had landed the Otter a good ¾ mile away. To close would have scared the caribou off. I said 200 caribou; it was more than 500 caribou. Out of the plane and got those snowshoes on so fast and away we went, but not Andre, Andre is not an outdoors sportsmen, he takes his time and is very slow. He yelled, you guys go ahead I will fallow behind with the camera. We said okay, take your time. We were heading for the point of wood about 1000 feet away; we could not see the caribou. I said that they won’t be far from that point. JM and I had to run if we wanted to keep up with Julien, he was 6’4” 200lbs and skinny and those long strides he was taking kept us running.

Once at the point we were all pretty well disappointed, the caribou had advanced a good 1000 feet or more and were just about ready to enter the bush. They were a good 2000 feet from us; I said shoot up high and into the bush just ahead of them. They each had 30.06 rifles and I had my 32spl. They shot; the herd turned around and yes heading right straight for the point and us. That’s happens when you shoot like this, in the bush ahead of them, is the echo they hear in front of them and makes them instinctively turn and head in the opposite direction. The herd was heading straight for the point and for us. I was laying face first in the snow and no moving at all. They were 500 feet away and still coming for us. JM said get ready their 200 feet away. Up we got and let me tell you they were at 150 feet, they all stopped and looked straight at us or in our direction. I aimed the biggest one looking at me and bang, in the neck and down it went. I shot my second one. I yelled stop we are only allowed 8. I counted 1. 5… 7, one missing, but before I finished my phrase, bang, bang two shots and two caribou down. (the pilot had a license and took the extra one)

I heard the pilot starting up the otter engine, taking off and came and landed beside us. He got out and said it’s too late to head back home; we will never make it before dark. You have a choice sleep outside at minus 30 or it will cost you $80.00 more for the charter. There’s a hunting camp 20 miles away, we can stay there for the night. No one argued about that.

We fixed up the caribou, then dug up holes in the snow with are snowshoes, and buried our caribou. This would help keeping the meat fresh and not freezing over night. We brought back with us 3 hearts and 2 livers, this was for supper.

It was starting to get pretty dark and not much time to get to that cottage. I hope that there’s a stove and wood. I was starting to feel the minus 30 it was very cold. I could see the hunting camp as we approached and yes it looked like a big and nice cottage.

We landed and Julien was the fist out and said I’m going to light the stove. The pilot asked if we could help him take out the two batteries. I have to keep them inside the cottage, warm, if not this plane won’t start tomorrow morning. We also covered the nose of the plane with a canvas tarp. Jean Charles said it’s up to -35 and I think that it may be more in a couple of hours.

Julien had the oil stove going and the wood stove. It was so cold inside that linoleum had curved up. We had to be careful not to break it. There was a bottle of Vat 69 0n the table ¾ full and over half of that was frozen solid. You can imagine how powerful the non frozen part was. This was a very nice cottage, 4 bedrooms, living room and big kitchen and washroom. Blankets, pillows and everything, but no food, yes a box of Kellogg’s cornflakes.

JM was the cook and yes caribou heart and liver plus a shot of Vat 69, powerful stuff. The meal (meat) was great, we talked for about an hour and then to bed. Yes we could hear the wind. The pilot Jean Charles’s got up and said I’m going to check the tarp and tie it down more. I asked, do you need a hand? No thanks I’m okay. When he got back he said I don’t want to discourage you guys but were here for a couple of days for sure. There’s a big storm out there.

Let me tell you that it was a storm, you could not even go outside, the wind was so strong. I prayed that we don’t run out of fuel oil because there was no more wood and no more food. We slept 4 nights in that warm cottage and thank god we did not decide to sleep outside.

The third day was nice with that beautiful rising sun; we help the pilot place the batteries back in place. I hope this thing starts this morning, I want home I told myself. We had to cut the ice around the skies as there was slush that had accumulated after the landing. Jean Charles was hoping that we did not chip a piece off the skies. He said: they cost $10K’s a pair. Off we were and back to Havre St. Pierre, back home. Everyone seemed happy to get back home.

This was all in 1975 the way we hunted. Today you don’t hunt like that anymore, unless you have your plane. Today is the American plan in some outfitter camps. Everyone travels buy snowmobile with a guide. All you have to do is shoot it. The rest is all done by the guide. But it’s still pleasant to experience.

I can book you any time in March and April for a good winter caribou hunt. Well it’s a 5 days snowmobile adventures guided by local native, living their culture, includes also, ice fishing big lakers, rabbit snaring, ptarmigan hunting and just relaxing. Cook, snowmobile and guide all included.