Kuujjuaq—Koo Ja Wak—just the name lets you know you’re a long way from home. Located just below the Artic Circle in Northern Quebec, it is a small town founded by the Indian people of the Great White North. The Northern Lights, musk ox, polar bear and caribou are all common here. On August 26, 2007 my bear hunting buddies Tony Constance and T.K.Addison, my long time hunting buddy Larry Daughdrill, my son Josh and myself started our search for the reindeer of the north out of Kuujjuaq.
Shortly after landing we were assigned caribou camps. Our luggage and weapons were loaded on the waiting twin Otters, the most amazing plane I have ever flown on. Strong is an understatement. Fourteen men, all our gear, supplies for a week, pilot and co-pilot and we were in the air in less than100 yards. The planes are equipped with tundra tires for landing in the spongy man made runways of the artic. Ten minutes into the flight and we suddenly realized what the “tree line” meant on the map in the airport. Above the big blue line the trees disappear and the landscape is covered with small short bushes and rocks of all sizes left there by traveling glaciers many years ago. As we settle in for the 45-minute flight to camp we’re all looking out the windows hoping for a glimpse of a caribou herd. We did see a single majestic bull swimming across one of the thousands of glacier made lakes. Soon the camp appeared and our pilot made a circular pass around it as if to give us a good look at our home for the next 7 days.
On the ground, plane unloaded and a ¾ mile walk to camp. We are introduced to our sleeping quarters and everyone picks a bunk. Shortly after we get unpacked we eat a welcomed bowl of hot soup and start sighting in rifles and bows. When everything checks out we are introduced to our guides and in less than 90 minutes after landing we are caribou hunting.
Larry, Josh and I are assigned to Ira, a 73 year old man with a perpetual hand rolled cigarette in his mouth. After a week with Ira I am convinced he could walk around the world and not break a sweat. Tony and T.K. are assigned to Pierre. Pierre is the camp manager and his wife Marsha is the camp cook and boy what a cook. Off we go. Because it’s the first afternoon everyone hunts close to camp. This is just a tune up for the week ahead. Back at camp one caribou is killed by one of the other hunters, it’s a good sign but more importantly it has everyone excited and even more ready to hunt.
After a wonderful supper the long day ends and we are all in bed for 7. At 6 A.M. we are awakened by the sounds of the generator starting. The generator came on every morning at 6 and was shut off every night at 10 P.M. I can tell you that after chasing caribou all day no one ever heard the generator shut off.
By seven we’ve all had breakfast, gotten our gear ready and head for the boats for a long day of walking, climbing and glassing the horizon for a shooter bull. Caribou trails are everywhere. The same trails used by caribou for thousands of years. The guides know what direction the animals are migrating and try to place you in the best possible spot. As we climb the mountain for our first hunt we find a caribou that has been killed by a wolf the year before. The skull and horns bleached clean and white. Another indication we are a long way from home.
Josh and I are bow hunting so our game plan is to spot a good bull and stalk him. Larry is gun hunting so it is not as critical that he gets as close. As we sit on top of the mountain, binoculars to our eyes, a caribou cow just appears out of nowhere to our left. These animals are a sight to behold. Long legs and huge feet for swimming and walking on the spongy tundra, and walk they do, never stopping it seems in their 3000-mile migration. Eating while they walk they are on the move constantly.
About 45 minutes after the cow wanders off a nice bull with chocolate colored antlers comes around the mountain to our right. Larry sizes him up and promptly lays him down. Down the mountain we go, pictures are taken, Josh and I jerk the britches off the animal, Ira loads the meat up on a frame pack, we load the cape and antlers on Larry’s back and off they go to the boat. Josh and I head back up the mountain to continue glassing for bulls. This is caribou hunting and over the next 5 days this process repeats itself over and over. Larry, I must say, was the lucky one as he killed both of his bulls on day one. Being the trooper he is, he got up with us every morning and came along on the hunt to give us an extra set of eyes and the much-needed help in case someone killed.
As the week progressed more and more antlers started piling up around the meat house and more and more hunters were finishing up. About mid week several hunters from Colorado had harvested their 2 bulls each and decided to fish and hunt ptarmigan. We were treated to a supper of fresh fried lake trout and pot-roasted ptarmigan breast. A feast fit for a king.
Tony and T.K. both killed two nice bulls each and Josh finished on Thursday with 2 bulls within 15 minutes of each other; one a nice double shovel.
Each night the stories would fly in the dining room with everyone trying to one up the next guy. As the week went on caribou stories changed to the big lake trout that got away or how good Tony and T.K. could kill ptarmigan with their bows.
I, for some reason was the only one in camp without a bull. I just hadn’t had a chance at a shooter bull all week. On Friday my luck would change. Larry and I had made our way to the top of a mountain west of camp. We were set up on a small lake and out of nowhere a bull appears on the other side. He drinks and just stands there. As I glass him I realize he’s asleep. This late in the week I have put the bow down and picked up the gun. After sizing him up he’s not a trophy but he is a nice bull and will do quite well in my freezer. I start trying to close the distance. The last 50 yards I had to belly crawl over the tundra to get a good vantage point to take the shot. I get to a nice flat rock and put the range finder on him. 184 yards. I put the crosshairs on his shoulder and in less than a second I have a story to tell at supper tonight. Everyone is waiting at camp as all the guys were really pulling for me. Congratulations all around.
I did manage to kill my second bull on the last day with about 30 minutes if hunting time left, a day that we walked 12 miles.
As we waited for the Otter to arrive to take us back to Kuujjuaq, Josh and I agreed this is a trip we want to do again. As harsh as the artic can be this is a first class trip with first class people. The camp staff is second to none, the hunting was outstanding and the scenery is something you have to see for yourself to believe. As the plane left the ground Ira and Pierre were waving us goodbye but Josh and I both knew we would be seeing them again.
By: Steve German