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Fire at Will (part two)

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August 9th, 2015

The Caribou!

The day had progressed to near darkness by the time I had finished caping Paul’s Newfoundland moose and had the quarters cut, cleaned and hung to dry in our meat shed.

“It’s too late to go out now for woodland caribou because it will soon be dark, let’s wait till morning” I said.

Paul agreed.

Overnight it rained steadily and continued on the next morning so Paul made a decision to stay in camp until “nine”, maybe it would be stopped by then, I agreed as often times the majority of woodland caribou would not be seen at or around daybreak like moose, but several hours thereafter, unusual for a member of the deer family, but true. We hunted till noon with no luck.

“After dinner I’m going back to where I wanted to go yesterday morning, so as soon as we finish eating let’s get moving” I told Paul.

Once finished I dressed and went out to gas up the ATV and strap things on. Paul approached with a knapsack bulging at its seams.

“What’s in that, you only need your rain clothes and something warm. Don’t carry anything that’s not necessary. It’s a hard walk with nothing on your back” I said. 

Paul began going through his bag removing various items and in one pouch he took out three boxes of ammunition.

“What the hell you got all that for” I said “You only need a magazine full and at the most ten more for good measure”

 “You never know” he said and placed the bullets in one of the compartments on the ATV.

Having strapped things down we set out. Arriving at the edge of the bog system I drove the ATV to the first high spot where we could see up the bog in hopes of seeing woodland caribou. Sure enough off in the distance about 600 yards away were a group of woodland caribou feeding. Putting my binoculars to my eyes I could easily see a respectable stag with nice antlers was among them.  Thinking of the moose from yesterday I wanted closer.

“Come on we’ve got to get closer in order to shoot, they are way too far away”.

Bending over I kept to the low ground as much as possible with Paul close behind doing the same gaining some 200 yards. The final 400 yards was wide open so the only option was on our hands and knees and belly in some places. I wanted to get to within 100 yards. I told Paul the plan and dropped on all fours and headed towards the woodland caribou. Due to the rain the bog was soaked and without rain suits on, it didn’t take long before both of us were too. We closed the gap to 200 yards much of which was on our stomachs, when I glanced behind and much to my dismay Paul was nearly standing saying “he couldn’t take it anymore”.

“If they see you they’re gone” I hissed at him.

He bent over but it was too late, a doe on watch had already spotted him, and instantly all of the woodland caribou turned and stared in our direction. Without warning the lead doe snorted sounding the alarm, leaped into the air and all the caribou began to run uphill through the bog and disappeared over the next ridge from sight.

I knew it was close to a mile to the end of the bog system but we knew the woodland caribou had headed in that direction and thus we decided to follow. Walking on a bog is hard enough but doing so while wet makes it even harder. I followed the clearly visible tracks the near mile up to top of the bog system where a huge boulder lay as if dropped from the sky. I always used this rock as a vantage point for looking when I hunted there because of its height. I scrambled up the side of it and reaching the top of it I took out my glasses and began looking in the tuck along the bogs edge. Sure enough it didn’t take long before a “white patch” emerged briefly but long enough for me to know that it was a woodland caribou.

 “Come on Paul they’re up there” I pointed.

 They were still out 300 yards but we had more cover this time so we approached them fairly quickly on our feet. I scanned the tuck as we got closer and could see the woodland caribou among it. Locating the stag I pointed him out to Paul and we began moving closer. At about 75 yards the stag came into plain sight and I motioned for Paul to place his gun on a broken tree for a rest and told him to shoot. Bang! The woodland caribou stag never budged.

 “You missed shoot again” I said.

 Bang! The woodland caribou turned and bolted then stopped again.

 “Did I hit him” Paul said.

“I don’t know shoot again”

Bang! The woodland caribou obviously confused, turned lowered its antlers and headed towards a young stag standing in awe just yards away, so I knew the shot was certainly a miss. It flicked the young stag sideways with its antlers and turning headed straight towards us.

 “Let him come” I ordered.

It stopped at about 30 yards, facing us.

“Shoot”

 Bang! With that all hell broke loose, woodland caribou were running in every direction except for the stag, he began walking towards us. What the hell!!!

“When he stops give it to him and don’t miss” I said.

“I can’t” Paul promptly replied.

 “Why” “I don’t have any bullets they are all back in the bike”

 “You got to be joking” I said.

“No you told me to take them out, I only had what was in my magazine” he replied.

“Paul you got to have one in your pocket somewhere don’t you” I pleaded.

“Nope they’re all back in the bike” he replied.

 The huge stag now close enough to smell us and hear our dilemma suddenly turned and headed in the direction the rest of his harem had just run. I went over to where the caribou had been standing and looked for signs of blood but turned up nothing.

“Come on there is nothing we can do here you’re not going to get close enough to club him to death”.

 We began walking down the bog and after clearing the first rise about 400 yards away, we saw all the woodland caribou out in the bog, except for the stag. I looked at the bike back down the bog; it looked to be about an inch long.

“I don’t suppose he’s still injured back there in the tuck somewhere do you” I said.

“I don’t know’ Paul said.

 Even though I watched as Paul fired each shot and was pretty sure he had missed each one, I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure that he had now that the stag was missing and this made me second guess myself.

“We’ve got to go back and look again to be sure” I said.

Turning around we again walked the 400 yards uphill to the scene of the crime and both of us began looking in earnest for signs of a wounded animal. We could not ascertain which tracks were the stags all of the time but the tracks of all the caribou together were fairly easy to follow which we did, crossing back and forth, looking in the hollow spots for the downed animal, but nothing. Walking through tuckamore is like walking through cactus; it tears at your clothing and gets tangled in your feet and legs and makes walking twice as hard as normal. However we eventually made our way down the edge of the bog to where all of the caribou were feeding and low and behold there standing among them was your honorable stag, large as life with no signs of injury.

I pointed out a large flat rock to Paul a short distance away and told him to go there and sit and keep an eye on the woodland caribou, I was going to go and get bullets.

‘Don’t worry” I said to him “There is no other explanation for what’s happening but that God has your name on that woodland caribou stag”.

 I skirted around the woodland caribou, emerged onto the open bog and broke into a trot downhill towards the ATV a half mile away. I made it most of the way before stopping and having to walk the remainder of the distance. Reaching the ATV I opened the side pouch on the passenger seat and grabbing a full box of bullets I turned around without a break and broke into a trot again, this time uphill. Panting and gasping for breath I eventually broke over a rise in the bog and standing facing in my direction was the stag woodland caribou and his harem. I quickly dropped to the ground and headed in Paul’s direction on my hands and knees and at times on my stomach. Reaching Paul on my stomach and completely out of wind I took the box of bullets from my pocket and throwing them over my head to him, like you see soldiers throwing hand grenades while keeping their heads down.

 I said “Fire at will”.

Paul loaded his magazine and began firing at the stag standing in the bog about 100 yards away. On his forth shot the stag stumbled and I knew he had hit him. Now out of bullets again he reloaded his magazine and this time, on his second shot, the stag woodland caribou fell.

We walked up to where it was and I could see Paul’s last shot was well placed, it had hit him in the lung area. I could also see that his previous shot was only a superficial wound on the inside of the back leg. He was one lucky guy to be bringing this trophy woodland caribou home!

When we returned to camp and shared the story with the others, Art told me that the gun Paul was using he had purchased for him the day before they left to come on the trip, the scope was one that he had and was not using so he mounted it on the new gun and sighted it in for 200 yards, supposedly it was fine that last time he had used it. In fact Paul, Art and Ron were all experienced hunters but Paul had decided on a new gun at the very last minute thus he was using a gun he wasn’t used to, and it also had a bum scope to boot. I’m sure all of these factors coming into play at the same time played a huge part in the events that transpired, and of course you can’t discount the adrenaline rush of hunting big game like moose and caribou in a strange land, with a hunting guide you’ve only known for a couple of hours.  

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