Once, while watching the two rams, both Gnarly and I noticed the rams watching something below them on the rock face. As we continued watching, I suddenly saw a wolverine running across the steep rock face just below and off to the right of the rams. There was no question it was a wolverine, but I didn’t know they could be found at nearly 5000-feet in elevation!
We were seeing caribou every day on either side of the valley’s ridgelines, and often both, but they were usually well over 1000-yards to a couple of miles away. The head-high, thick brush made walking difficult and, while the ground was generally flat but uneven, trying to walk on the ground covered with thick brush while wearing a framed backpack would prove to be tough, as we found out later.
We had flown into our site on Monday and had seen caribou, grizzly bear, Dall sheep and a wolverine all in the period of four days. On Saturday, Gnarly saw a young bull caribou walking along the eastern ridge about 60-yards above the valley bottom. He grabbed his rifle and shooting stick and took off to try to intercept the animal.
I stayed in camp and watched through my spotting scope. I could see the caribou watching Gnarly. I’m talking to myself, telling Gnarly to hurry up or the caribou would be gone. At that instant, I heard one muffled shot and saw the caribou crumple and roll down the ridge toward Gnarly. We had one ‘bou in the bag!
I grabbed my backpack, Gnarly’s bag, and my walking stick and headed toward the kill site. I met Gnarly a couple hundred yards from where the caribou lay, gave him his pack and took his rifle. He returned to the downed animal and began gutting and cutting the caribou into manageable sized pieces.
This is where we learned how hard it was to pack 50 to 60-pounds through that brush. I also learned that, while my replacement right knee was holding up better than I thought, my left ankle, shattered in an automobile accident 14 years ago, would only allow me to make two trips in helping move the meat back to camp. We both suffered from leg cramps that evening, Gnarly worse than me, but all the meat was bagged and under cover.
That night, the temperatures dropped into the twenties with a hard frost, so the meat was thoroughly chilled. We had it in meat bags covered under a tarp to protect it from the little rain we had later in the week and to preserve the chilled air layer under the tarp during the day. The weather for the entire trip was mostly clear and sunny, but not real warm. We had a couple of rainy evenings, one for about three hours and the second all night, but visibilities were generally clear. However, one morning, we did wake up to thick smoke from the wildfires. As the day progressed, the smoke cleared.
We had been hunting for five days and had one caribou harvested. Because of my ankle’s failure to stand up to the hiking and packing conditions, my options for taking a caribou were quite limited. I would need the ‘bou to be somewhere along the landing strip, not requiring much walking on my part. We started to discuss the possibility of coming out early.
On Sunday, another air charter dropped three hunters into our valley and placed they at the other end of the landing strip, less than a mile away. Their camp set up would disrupt the caribou movement from the eastern ridge toward us. On Monday, we used the satellite phone to call Mike Meekin and see about an early pick up on Wednesday. Mike said he could do it and told us to call in a weather report about an hour before our scheduled pick up time Wednesday morning.
Over the next couple of days, we continued to watch for a potential opportunity to take a caribou given my limited options, but nothing materialized. We began packing up gear Tuesday evening and finished taking down the tent and moving gear over near the landing strip Wednesday morning.
Mike Meekin and his son-in-law, Matt Keller, arrived about 10:30am with two 185’s to pull us out all at the same time. Gnarly, the caribou meat, and some of the gear were loaded in Matt’s plane and they took off. Mike loaded me and the rest of the gear into his plane and we headed out. The air was becoming smoky as we flew back, but the flight was pleasant as Mike and I talked about a wide range of topics. We landed without incident on the strip at Meekin’s home base.
After loading gear in my truck and paying our bill, Gnarly and I drove up to the Eureka Lodge and had a burger – our first “real” food in ten days. It tasted great! We left to make the uneventful drive home.
We had a wonderful hunt. Weather couldn’t have been better. We saw more animals than we thought we would (25-50 caribou, 13 sheep, one grizzly, and one wolverine) and Gnarly made a great shot to harvest his caribou. If you have any reason to fly in GMU 13, 14, or 16, I heartily recommend you contact Meekin’s Air Service. You won’t be disappointed!