2008 Caribou hunt in northern Quebec
By: Nick Tortorelli
We touched down on the dirt runway at Lac Pau in the pouring rain and loaded onto a bus that took us to the flight office for our float plane leg of the trip. After weighing all our baggage in, the hurry up and wait process began. A low cloud ceiling prevented the float planes from flying. Two planes were scheduled for our camp (Camp Arbique). Via luck of the draw I was chosen for group two, when the ceiling lifted enough to fly we quickly loaded onto the plane and taxied out into the lake. For some reason group two got loaded up before group one did. It was finely time for take-off, what a noisy ride. The float plane we were on was a mid 1950ís vintage complete with loud engine noise, shakes and rattles, you needed ear plugs for the ride. Our flight time was around two hours, roughly 175 miles into the middle of northern Quebec. As I looked out the plane windows I was amazed at all the water, it was everywhere, it looked there was more water than land, it is definitely a unique landscape.
We arrived at camp Arbique around 2:30 pm. As we unloaded the plane we were met at the dock by the out-going group of hunters. They were not a happy bunch to say the least; their hunt didnít turn out to be a fruitful one. Many of them said that they put on a bunch of miles to see nothing which was the first downer note for the attitude of our camp. We continued to get settled and take care of licensing etc. By dinner the other plane had still not arrived and we didnít hear anything about it until 7:00 that evening when the camp manager said that the other plane wouldnít be in until the next morning, because of the weather. The weather is a major factor in transportation out in the tundra. I had the cabin to myself that night which was blessing in disguise because after that night the cabin was filled with a chorus of snoring sometimes it sounded like a three or four part harmony. By night three I slept with ear plugs in though I could still hear some snoring.
On day one we all got going with good attitudes, we loaded into boats to get to the trails that we would walk. The landscape is very different than what Iím used to every hilltop looks like the next and lakes everywhere; needless to say my GPS was my best friend for the week. By day two we still had descent attitudes we hiked a different trail but with the same results as day one, saw more tundra and water. I could go on and on about the landscape because for four days that was about all we saw. I spotted a large porcupine and some of the others saw wolves and bear but no caribou. By the end the second day we had asked for a float plane to move us to an area where the caribou had been spotted. The owner of the outfit told us that we would have two planes for two days, day three and four. On the third day we awoke to a pouring rain with low clouds and fog everywhere the day basically was useless especially for glassing the terrain for animals, not to mention it was miserable to walk in. All of hunters stayed in camp that morning, by noon the weather cleared some and a handful of guys went out to see if they could spot something. We stayed in camp and dried our clothes from day before, shot a few arrows, played some cards and I could feel the moral slipping downward. At the end of the third day the hunting party returned with the same report, nothing spotted but some wolves. That evening the mutiny plans were in the works. We hadnít seen the planes we were promised and not a caribou in sight. The morning of the fourth day the morale of camp had sunk even lower with the float planes still not in camp some of us decided to wait to see if they would arrive.
A few of the guys went out after getting tired of waiting. By the end of day four, no planes and no caribou spotted. The attitude was approaching hostile, the take-over was about to begin. That evening after dinner the camp manager came into our cabin and said that the owner of the outfit was willing to offer all of us a free hunt next year because he was unable to get us into caribou. The consensus in our cabin was to take the free hunt. The other cabin wanted their money back. I donít think Iíd have wanted to be the camp manager about then, although we all knew it wasnít his fault, he took the heat of the moment.
On day five we had given up on the hunt (at least the guys in our cabin) and we were already looking to next year. I unpacked my day pack and started to organize my gear for the trip home. There was a big Texas holdíem game going on in the cookís cabin. Some of the hunters went out just to fight the boredom. At around 2:30 pm I decided to take an afternoon snooze, at 3:00 one of the guys came into the cabin and said there were caribou spotted on the hill behind camp. The mad scramble had begun, I hurried to put some gear back together, got dressed, grabbed my longbow and headed out. We all arrived at the top of the hill, six of us, two bow hunters and four with rifles.
There were caribou everywhere, Iíd never seen anything like it before, and theyíre beautiful animals. Because theyíre not used to seeing people they donít seem to get too concerned when they do. When the shooting started I decided to go my own way, away from the blasting, it sounded like a war zone and I wasnít very comfortable with that. Not long after I broke away from the shooting I got my first opportunity at a decent sized bull. I could see them coming toward me at a pretty good pace so I got set where I thought I could intercept them. Two caribou stopped in front of me at about twenty five yards, I got so excited I couldnít tell you what the shot felt like, my form, if I picked a spot, etc., needless to say I missed, shot too high. That was my first shot at a caribou ever and I blew it. After looking for a few minutes I didnít find my arrow and moved on. Some more caribou moved through the trees that I was in but they were out of range for my stick bow. A spruce grouse flew out from under my feet( I think I jumped about a foot in the air) he landed in a tree 10 yards away and for reason, I canít tell you why I decided to shoot at it I hit the grouse and my arrow kept on going, second arrow lost. Now Iím down to three arrows, I kept moving through the trees toward the open hillside where I met up with Mark, my hunting buddy from Spokane, WA. He looked like he had something spotted out in the field so I moved out and around behind him as I did I spotted a band of caribou to my left. I tried to get close enough for a shot but they move too fast so I moved over to their trail and waited for few minutes. Another small band was moving toward me so I knelt down to wait and a medium sized bull walked in front of me at about twenty yards. All I cloud see over the brush was top of his back, I had to stand to shoot, I drew and stood at the same time and shot, again my arrow flew over yet another caribou bulls back by probably half an inch. After I missed the bull he took off in a direction straight toward Mark and gave him a good open shot, I watched as markís arrow exited from the caribou and I knew that one was down. The brush was so thick in this area that I wasnít able to find my arrow. Now Iím down to two arrows. I walked up to Mark and congratulated him on his shot and headed toward the trees to try and get in front of another group of bou. I paralleled a large band for about 200 yards to a point where I thought I could intercept them and only a few showed up mostly too far to shoot at.
I decided to move on toward the shore, when I got close to the shore I spotted some more caribou milling around, eating and whatever else caribou do. I watched for a moment until I saw two nice bulls in the bunch and the stalk was on, I crawled on my hands and knees for a quite a ways until I didnít try to move in any closer. There were two big bulls about twenty five to thirty yards from me maybe ten yards or so on the other side of some trees. As I watched them I looked around to pick out a few shooting lanes. I had the wind blowing from my left to right, perfect for the situation or so I thought. A smaller bull decided that he would feed out around the trees to my right and when he was almost exactly downwind and broadside I thought I had better shoot before I lost the opportunity all together, considering that this was the last hour of the last day. I turned and drew at the same time, I released the string and hit the bull at mid chest but my arrow took a turn toward the diaphragm, not good. All of the caribou took off and I moved out from behind the trees to get a good look at the direction of my bull. I spotted the caribou I arrowed standing on the shoreline looking out at the lake, I got a real bad feeling about that. No sooner had I spotted him and splash into the water he plunged. I thought he was going to try to reach a large heard that was already swimming across the lake but he turned and paralleled the shoreline so I followed. While I was moving along the shoreline I could hear someone calling out my name, I didnít know who it could be and I didnít want to answer and chase the caribou further out into the lake. The calling sounded more frantic so I called back several times, the wind was really blowing so who ever was calling me Iím sure didnít hear me answer back. I heard my name being called more frequently so I kept calling back, I turned to see the bull coming into shore so I didnít call back then they sounded really frantic so I answered back. About that time the caribou instead of stepping up onto shore turn around to head back out into the water, I quickly moved into position to shoot, about the time I released he turned, dropped into the water, my arrow glanced of off his head and now was floating in the lake about twenty yards off shore. I stood there, looked at my arrow floating in the lake, looked at my empty quiver, looked at the bull swimming away and wondered what to do next.
It was all too clear to me that it was time for a swim so I proceeded to strip down to my birthday suit and crawled hands and knees on the rocky shoreline out into the water. Surprisingly it was not the coldest swim Iíd ever taken, though it could have been from the adrenalin pumping through my system. I succeeded in retrieving my arrow and stood on the shore shaking and wiping the water off of me to get dressed and continue the chase. Now Iím back on the trail again and I keep hearing my name being hollered only now it sounds closer so I called back this time I sure he heard me because the sound is getting even closer. I probably moved a hundred yards from where I took a swim and the caribou started to head back into the shore, I knew this was going to be it. I turned to Travis, the camp manager at about a hundred and twenty yards and he saw me so there was no more screaming at that point. I watched as the bull stood at the edge of the shore, I could see his horns through the brush so I got into position and waited for him to step up onto the shore. When the caribou finally stepped up at about eighteen yards I shot and hit him in at mid chest and he immediately dropped. There were two arrows an inch apart from one another at the entrance site almost perfectly perpendicular from each other the last shot exited at the opposite shoulder. That was the end of day five. All the excitement happened in about three hours and there had to be close to a thousand caribou moving through that afternoon/ evening.
I did an opportunity to hunt the morning of our outbound flight and got another chance to miss a really big bull. I set up between some trees as he moved toward me and if he stayed on his path I would have had a fifteen yard shot. As luck would have it he hung up at about twenty five yards on the opposite side of the trees that I set up in. The wind was right but I guess he decided he needed to join the rest of the caribou to his left about seventy yards away. He turned around and headed to his left, by the time he was open enough for me to get a shot he was probably at least thirty yards away from me (a lengthy shot for a long bow). My arrow was right on target for the first twenty five yards or so then it dropped out and I would guess it came close to shaving his chest for him but no blood. That was the largest bull I had the opportunity to miss over the course of the week or I should say the last 12 hours of the hunt. I did see anything for the next couple hours and at 11:00 I quit. I walked over to the shooting stand where the rifle hunters sight in, the guide left his 7mm rifle there for me to use if I wanted. I wasnít convinced that I wanted to use a rifle so my intention was just to bring it back to camp for him. As I started walking back to camp I turned to my right to see another band of caribou slowly moving in so I decided to walk a straight line toward them. At around a hundred fifty yards they started to move out so I picked one out that was bedded down and looked at him through the rifle scope, when he stood I squeezed the trigger and he nosed over It was too easy with a rifle but I filled my second tag at the last possible second.
Thatís my hunt and Iím sticking to it.