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Bowhunting with Paul Atkins: Caribou Success

Within the hour we had two very nice bulls on the ground. We were thrilled, thankful and excited. My BowTech bow and Gold Tip arrows preformed flawlessly and the big Arctic bull didn’t go 20 yards after the shot. After taking photos of mine we headed towards my buddy’s bull, which was within eyesight. We discovered his bull had double shovels, which is pretty rare, and after putting the tape on him he measured 43 inches between the beams, a super nice caribou for a first-time bowhunter to Alaska. We took more photos and then began the to work on getting them apart and packed back to camp. A good day on the tundra

I have hunted caribou every fall for the last 15 years and I would say that every year has been a success whether we harvested anything or not. It’s just that some years are better than others. We have a lot of caribou, the Northwest Arctic herd, which I hunt, is the largest herd in the state, with over 300,000 animals total. Every year I also learn something new, the country or an area, or what to bring or not, or something about the wildlife. All in all it is part of the grand experience.

As a new hunter or a long-time veteran there are a few things you need to do in planning that hunt to The Last Frontier. Getting ready for the hunt of lifetime is part of the hunting experience and part of the whole process; for example over the years I have learned a lot about clothing. The weather in late August and September can vary from sunny and warm, to driving rain and in some cases snow. Having the right clothes will make all the difference. First and foremost, cotton is out. I stick to fleece or wool and good quality rain gear. Fleece and wool are quicker to dry and usually keep some of their warmth when wet. Hunters should also dress in layers, adding more if the temperature drops, or if it warms up, you can shed a few layers. Four or five pairs of wool socks are also nice to have along. There is nothing better at the end of the day, after pulling off those hip waders, than to put on a pair of dry socks. Remember you never know what the weather will do in Alaska; it could be 60 and sunshine one day and then 32 and freezing rain the next.

Also if your plans are to go unguided then you will need to select a transporter. A transporter is not a guide; his or her job is to take you out into the field and drop you off at a hunting site and then return to pick you up when the hunt is done. When you hire a transporter you need to make sure that you’ve done your homework.  My best advice would be to ask for references. Talk to hunters who have flown with them. That should give you a good feel on how you will be treated. There are many great transporters out there, but at the same time there are those that are not so great.  Once you have decided on your ride you need to book early. Many of the good pilots are booked long before the fall season arrives.

You need to also consider the ride on the big jet. Once you get to the state, Alaska Airlines flies to just about every hub. Hubs are some of the bigger towns where generally your hunt will begin. If you’re a non-resident or a resident flying in-state I would suggest that you get your plane tickets early. Better prices and getting the flights you want make the long trip a little more pleasant.

Eating while hunting will vary from hunter to hunter, as some like to eat big meals while others stick to energy bars. Most who go at it alone always ask, “What about food?” Hunters can usually buy what they need once they get to the town they will be transported from. Find the local store and get your goods; I recommend this highly. I usually take along a big cooler on most of my hunts and fill it with all the necessities. Buying food can be expensive, but purchasing it when you get there will save time and room. Also you will need a water purifier or tablets and something to put it all in. The last thing you want to get while hunting the tundra in giardia or the beaver fever.

Meat is another consideration, and a big one. Getting that trophy bull is important, but you want make sure you take care of the meat. If you are going to spend all of that money for the Alaska hunting experience, then take the time and make preparations to get the entire animal home. The meat you get will be a well-deserved reward that will remind you of that time you spent north of 60. Many of the hubs that transporters fly out of have various airline carriers that will work to get you and your animal back safe and sound. Remember a trophy animal also includes the trophy meat.

When hunting caribou in Alaska guided or unguided there are a few things that you can do to make the hunt a lot more enjoyable.  Other than the basics here are few things that I don’t leave the tarmac without.

  • My SAT phone. I once developed a kidney stone on a five-day caribou hunt, it saved my life.
  • My GPS. Buy one and learn how to use. Not only will it get you back to camp, but also they are actually a lot of fun.
  • A good set of binoculars. In all conditions being able to see is everything.
  • Warm waterproof clothes. Layer up with fleece and have good dependable rain gear.
  • Wool socks. Take 4 or 5 pair. Nothing is better than having dry socks at the end of the day.
  • A good sleeping bag and a pad to sleep on. Rocks are no fun.
  • Two quality tents. One for you and one for your gear. For two or three hunters I usually take two small North Face tents. They make camp a lot more comfortable and keep your gear dry.
  • Knee high insulted rubber boots. For years I wore waders on every hunt and still use them in some cases, but the new knee-highs made by Cabela’s or Lacrosse are warm, rugged and provide excellent support.
  • Dry bags. They have plenty of room and keep the rain out.
  • Game bags, you can never have enough.
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Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on hunting big game throughout North America and Africa. He is a contributing editor for Hunt Alaska magazine and Bow Hunting World.

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