Two brothers share an exhilarating hunt in the Yukon
The moose continued barrelling on his path for another hundred yards or so. Between us was an elevated creek bed and then a tiny meadow. Then he enters the meadow and drops his head to the ground while keeping his eyes trained on the horizon. It’s almost as if he can smell our tracks from crossing the meadow yesterday. He’s still grunting as he continues his initial course, dewlap swinging wildly from the speed of his canter. He continues to pick up speed.
Mike nocks an arrow and quickly ranges the little clearing. I follow suit, ready to call his final range if the moose decides to come in. Just as the moose disappears behind the willow berm, I wonder if we shouldn’t press up to close the remaining distance. Unsure I even want Mike to shoot this animal, I keep the thought to myself. A minute or two goes by, and no moose. “I think it slipped up the creek, back towards the spot where we saw him yesterday,” I whispered. Mike nods. “That’s okay,” I continued, “I don’t think we busted. I think he’s just going back up the mountain because the sun is coming up.”
Mike nodded again. He’s calm and composed … but you can tell he’s excited (that’s probably the biggest animal he’s ever encountered in the Yukon). We returned to camp to eat and reorganize our gear for the day ahead.
It’s about 10 a.m. and we’re running behind schedule after the morning’s excitement. As we head back to camp from our food cache, my eyes wander down the lake. I stop and stare as Mike and Lisa continue marching ahead. I can clearly see a sizable rack shaking the willows down the lake, some three kilometres away. It appears to be another moose, but given the spread of the antlers, I figure it may be worth a closer look. With one hand, I raise my binoculars to my face and struggle to relocate the animal. I finally spot it and I need to readjust my hand placement for a steadier look. I can’t believe my eyes. Standing down on the shore is (what I can only presume to be) the caribou we spotted yesterday.
“Pstttttt,” I hissed, trying to stop the other two. They kept trudging towards camp, laughing and chatting about the morning’s little drama. “Pppsssttt”, I screeched again. Mike spins around and gives me the “What gives?” face as I’m shoving my finger down the lake like a pissed-off hockey coach. “There’s a massive bull caribou down by the water,” I exclaimed, failing to contain my excitement.
Mike comes running over. “Where?!” I steer him down the lake and he raises his binoculars in the general direction. “What do we do?” he asked, spinning to face me. “Do we take the bow?”
“Forget your bow. Grab your rifle so we can set up further away if we have to.”
There’s a flurry of action, as bags are being unceremoniously dumped and reloaded. All the while, I’m snapping my neck back up to see if the caribou is moving. We get our bags loaded and start running down the shore toward the animal’s location. The closer we get, the more it becomes a broken jog.
Three full strides, stop and look. Three half strides, stop and look. Just as we get onto the same side of the lake as the caribou and begin walking down towards it, it turns into the water. “Shit, it’s swimming across the lake!” The wind is rushing into our faces, and the sun is high in the sky behind us. We know there’s no way this caribou has seen or scented us yet. Maybe he’s just keen to get back to the mountaintop we saw him on yesterday. We spin around and begin sprinting down the beach, back the way we came. I’m practically stumbling over because I’m keeping my eyes locked on the caribou. Just as he gets into the middle section of the lake, the wind really picks up. At this point, the bull decides to call off his voyage, turns around and makes his way back to shore. As he begins his shameless retreat, I inform Lisa and Mike that he’s turning around again. And like a bad comedy skit, we spin around and begin a mad dash toward our original destination.
Back on solid ground, the caribou is now fixing to cover some miles, and he’s moving down the shoreline directly toward us. Before we lose sight of him around a small shoulder, I take a line on the animal’s path and realize we will bump into him any second now. I slowly creep ahead of Mike and Lisa to see if I can figure out exactly where this caribou will cross us. As I carefully poke around the corner, I see massive blood-red antlers rocking through the willows, not fifty yards ahead. I drop to a low crouch and backtrack quietly.
“He’s fifty yards away. You’re going to have to shoot him offhand,” I whispered to Mike, practically forcing him to lip-read what I was saying. I use my hands to convey a “5” and “0” and then point to Mike’s gun and make a trigger-squeezing motion. He nods.
Mike barely gets a round into the chamber when the caribou swings the corner, his antlers glistening in the sunlight. The bull suddenly stops, with only his head poking out and half of his body still hidden behind the willows. Like many animals, he freezes in his tracks, seemingly having a sixth-sense moment. He knows we are there, even though he can’t see or smell us.
Without warning, the caribou leapt into the air and landed about five feet into the lake. It was only about fifteen yards away. Luckily, it was only standing in ankle-deep water and looking blankly over at us.
“Shoot now,” I whispered to Mike. He doesn’t hesitate.
There’s an audible “Thwack!” It’s a solid impact to the center of the lungs—an ethical and well-placed kill shot. The caribou turns and takes a step toward the middle of the lake. “Shoot again,” I urged him. Mike chambers another round, aims for the base of the neck and pulls the trigger one last time. The bull drops forward instantly, motionlessly swaying in the waves.
“Well, bull caribou down,” I said matter-of-factly, then added, “Nice shootin. Don’t forget to prove your gun” (as though this was something we did every day, something that’s not entirely and utterly novel to us).
I turned to Mike and he was standing there, his mouth open, looking about as shocked and amused as anybody I’ve ever seen. And, just like that, almost a decade of waiting had come to a swift and enthralling crescendo. Mike walks over to me, with the same puzzled expression, and claps me into a back-breaking hug. It’s a good one.
There are many moments in life when brothers may be hesitant to show emotion in front of each other. This wasn’t one of those moments. Lisa came over and the celebrations and congratulations continued. We stood there for a moment, embracing and laughing about how crazy our morning had been. I was stunned that something that had evaded us for so long could happen that easily.
“Well, how the hell are we going to get this guy out of there now?” Mike asked.
“The work has only just begun, my friend,” I shot back at him with a smirk. “We’re going for ‘a swim.’”
Mike was in the water up to his neck before I knew it, towing the caribou in by its antlers. As I waded into the water, I couldn’t even feel the cold. The amount of adrenaline coursing through our veins could probably drown out almost any pain, including the sting of a glacial-fed lake. Within a few minutes we had the caribou up on the shore and in a perfect spot to field dress it. The sun was beaming and I could feel the last of its energy, for the year, seeping into me.
“It’s been a long time coming, Stevie,” Mike said in a particularly endearing tone.
I looked up at him, squinting as the sunlight shone brightly over his shoulder. He was grinning from ear to ear. “What’s it been now?” I asked him. “Eight years in the making? Well worth the wait, isn’t it?”
“For a mountain caribou like this … I’d wait my whole life,” Mike replied.