Howard Delo

As many of you are, I’m scheduled for my first COVID-19 vaccination shot next week. Once that series of shots is complete and the vaccine has had a chance to take full effect (around two weeks after the final shot), I’ll feel much freer to move around in public. I’ll probably still wear a mask and maintain social distancing, but I won’t be nearly as concerned about interacting with folks. The waiting should all be over around the end of February.

I know many don’t think this virus is as bad as it has been portrayed, especially the younger folks. Unfortunately, I’m not a younger folk anymore and I do have background health issues, as many older folks do. All my doctors have strongly encouraged me to get the vaccine and I figure they know more about these things than I do.

I’ve sort of been following the Steese and Taylor Highway caribou hunts on social media and things sound like they are going well. Almost daily, I see a post or two about how someone harvested one or more of their allotted number of caribou. For the most part, the photos shared of harvested caribou depict female animals, which I’ve found to have a better flavor and no “gamey” taste when processed.

Nearly forty years ago, I got a chance to hunt caribou out on the Alaska Peninsula near Eek with a friend. We flew out from Dillingham and had about a four-day hunt. This hunt sticks in my mind because I was hunting with a handgun. I was using a Thompson/Center single-shot Contender model in 357 Herrett caliber.

At the time, this was probably the best hunting handgun available for this type of hunt. The caliber was a “wildcat” cartridge I had developed some loads for and had shot regularly enough that I was comfortable taking it out and trying to harvest a caribou. The one thing I really didn’t like about loading this caliber was the fact that no bullet was available that was designed especially for this cartridge.

I had my choice of handgun bullets designed for the 357 Magnum revolver cartridge or 357-diameter bullets designed for the higher velocities a rifle, like the 35 Remington cartridge, developed. The rifle bullets meant thicker bullet jackets and heavier weights. My load development centered around the handgun bullets because I could more easily buy them locally.

I’ve told this story before, so I’ll skip everything but the results. I had an opportunity to shoot a bull at about 100-yards. The animal was standing broadside with no knowledge I was anywhere around. I held behind the shoulder about midway from the top and fired. The animal hunched and turned 180-degrees around but took no steps to leave. I reloaded, held the same sight picture, and fired a second time. The bull dropped where he stood.

The caribou’s rack had looked nice on the left side, which is the side I could see. The rack had a nice crown of points and a small, double-shovel off the front. When I was able to study the entire rack, however, the right side was not nearly as well developed, but the overall rack was a nice representation of the species.

I tell this story to say this. The timing of the hunt was mid-September, and the bulls were in rut. We salvaged all the meat and when I was butchering it back home, the meat had a distinct odor and a strong taste. I didn’t know about sausage then, nor did I have the equipment and seasonings to make it which would have salvaged the bulk of the meat, so I just cut streaks and roasts.

The meat was marginally edible if you had a strong digestive system and held your breath. I offered some to my dog and he refused to eat it! I ended up with a section of the cape I had saved and the rack. My friend on this hunt, who was new to hunting, harvested a cow and that meat was flavorful and good. Lesson learned about which gender of caribou to harvest when the fall season is happening.

Once the “dead of winter” has pasted us by, I’m looking forward to doing some icefishing. I usually don’t go in early winter because of ice thickness concerns. Mid-winter means short days, often with intense cold temperatures. Besides, I like the weather in March as the days get longer, brighter, and warmer. I’m not a kid anymore!

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