My family and I spent the latter half of the 2011-12 winter and subsequent summer living in Fairbanks, AK. In our spare time we tried to do as many adventures as possible. For one such adventure I was invited along on a Dalton Hwy spring caribou hunt. Here is the basic rundown of the hunt: 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, 9-hr drive from Fairbanks, north side of the Brooks Range. Hunters must be 5 miles off of the Dalton Hwy before shooting. No motorized vehicles allowed.
We left Fairbanks on a Friday morning late in April and headed north on the Dalton Highway, aka the Haul Road. We crossed the mighty, yet still frozen Yukon River, passed the Arctic Circle, through the town of Coldfoot, and over Atigun Pass around dinnertime. Beating the darkness was done easily since it would not get fully dark again until sometime in late August. We pitched camp near a gravel pit and tried to get some shuteye.
The following morning we packed our gear, strapped on our cross-country skis, and headed due west to an imaginary line at 5 miles that would allow us to hunt. Almost immediately we started seeing caribou tracks and soon the caribou themselves.
After setting camp and melting lots of snow for water, we took off to a high point to get a look around and plan a hunt for the morning. That first day we saw close to 1,000 caribou and were able to pick out the two main travel routes in the vicinity of our camp. It was amazing to see such a migration.
The second morning after breakfast, interspersed with aerobics to get warm, we posted ourselves on a ridge that most of the caribou seemed to be coming to. We spotted our first group of caribou in the distance and two hours later the group of eight cows came right to us. My cohorts, Andy and Dash, made three shots at 100 yards and we had three caribou down. As a non-resident, shooting a caribou would’ve cost me $400. I had decided earlier to pass on pulling the trigger and just enjoy the adventure. It was Andy and Dash’s first ever big game hunt and it was exciting to experience their first steps to becoming hunters. I was glad to help introduce two more to the lifestyle.
We took our time skinning, quartering and processing the meat for transport. To shave weight and save space, we deboned the shoulders and ribs. The caribou were getting ready to shed their winter coats which made for a hairy mess. Just a light touch to the hide would result in a plume of white fur. We had to be super careful to keep the meat clean. After a long day we decided it would be best to stay in the field one more night, get some rest and head out in the morning.
Packed up and ready. The Pulk sleds hauled our gear and caribou meat very well. In the foreground is my KUIU Icon 6000 pack loaded to gills. At 60lbs. with extra gear strapped all over the outside, the Icon pack was still very comfortable and allowed me plenty of movement to kick and glide myself home.
Unbelievably, the whole adventure was accomplished via a Honda Civic hatchback topped with a Yakima skybox. By getting almost 40mpg, we did the trip for $100/person.
The highlight of the trip was our wolverine encounter. We spotted him the first day loping along the same ridge the caribou were favoring. After closer inspection with our optics, we could see he was carrying the whole head of a caribou. Another hunter had been successful prior to our arrival, and the wolverine was doing clean up! The evening after we killed, he came cruising along the frozen lake edge near our camp.
He would stop at every mound or spot where the snow had melted and mark his territory. Every time he did this, he would eyeball the three visitors and then continue. He certainly was not afraid of us. To top it off, on our way out, two miles from our campsite, I looked to the flank of the mountains and saw a small black dot charging up a slope so steep, I would be scared to ski it. With my binoculars I confirmed another wolverine and couldn’t help but wonder what his next adventure would be.