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Taking Caribou-sness!

22 Feb

I first met Chris & Thorene (Thor) Schippmann of Liard River Adventures at the 2007 SCI Convention in Reno Nevada. I was very impressed with them, and what they and their area had to offer, so the following year we booked a moose & caribou hunt with Chris & Thor for the 2009 season. Liard River Adventures is located along the Liard River and Alaskan Highway, not a great distance from the Yukon border. The area’s spectacular wildlife fauna and hunting opportunities consists of eight species of ungulates, namely Stone Sheep, Mountain Goats, wild Wood Bison, Canadian Moose, Elk, Mountain Caribou, White-Tailed and Mule Deer; plus at least seven species of medium-sized carnivores including Wolves, Coyotes, Foxes, Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Lynx and Wolverines.

My wife Paula & I drove from California to Liard River Adventures in Alberta and ‘vacationed our way’ there through BC, Banff & Jasper National Parks. Paula spent a day or two with Thor at the Liard River base camp and then flew home… that’s when my hunt began.

At the main lodge, I was introduced to Chris’ brother Ty, my guide. Ty has several Belt Buckle awards for largest mountain caribou taken in British Columbia and without a doubt, one of the toughest and best guides I’ve had the pleasure to hunt with. Foggy windy weather delayed the start of the hunt by a day, which began with about a 25-30 mile flight north toward the Yukon, into the wilderness and the Caribou Range. Once we finally reached the upper camp we made up time, by riding horseback to make it to the Caribou range by dusk. The plan was to take a mountain caribou first, as they had a shorter season, and then go for a moose. With all of us at the one camp and cabin, it was a bit cramped, but still comfortable. As I turned in for the night, I had no idea that the following day I would be signing the inner wall of the cabin with the trophy moose I harvested.

The next morning we all went our separate ways. As luck would have it, not 30-40 minutes from the cabin, I spotted a very nice moose sitting by himself off to the right of the trail about 150 yards. Ty was not anticipating finding moose up in the caribou area, but you need to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself. I got ready as Ty called and stood him up – and just like that- it was all over. By all accounts, he was an old moose, the length of the palms of his antlers were receding, but he was still about a half an inch over 60 inches in width outside to outside. We headed back to the cabin, unloaded our gear, and went back for a full day of photography, skinning, boning and loading. The next day while hauling the moose meat back to lower camp where we would base our remaining caribou hunting, I spotted a grizzly off about a quarter to half mile below us. Ty could tell he was a smaller bear. I was thrilled to see a grizzly … That is, until about 15 minutes later he came running up on us from the side, when he caught wind of the meat. He was just as surprised to see us as I was to see him. He whirled around and ran off. Though Ty never saw him, he definitely heard me behind him yell “Holy S___!”

We continued to hunt the caribou range. Saw lots of caribou, and ptarmigan, but nothing legal (5 points on top). Finally on the last day, we spotted a herd off several miles, actually very near where I took the moose. We decided to give it a shot. We rode all day to get across the range to them. When we finally neared the mountain caribou Ty turns to me and says, “Well, there’s a bull, and he’s legal, but he’s no belt buckle – what do you want to do?” I said, “This is the last evening, of the last day of the hunt, and I’ve never taken a caribou before – I am going to let the air out of him”. It was a 300-yard shot, but not difficult for my Christensen Arms 300 Ultra Mag with Swarovski 3x12x50 scope. He wasn’t the largest caribou in those mountains, but I was very pleased.

It was a very long, cold but contented ride back to camp with my caribou that evening. We did not get to the first camp until well after nightfall and rode to the base camp near the airstrip the following day. But that’s where the next half of the adventure began. Weather prohibited the plane from coming in that evening, nor was it able to come in the next few days. We quickly decided to ride out to the main camp, some 30 miles and 2 solid days on a horse away. First day, without exaggeration, was 14 hours in the saddle – with one stop. We ended up at a camp well after dark where of the hunters met at on the way back down the mountain. A very, very cramped sleeping arrangement, but that’s just how the weather in Canada can change your plans. A 9-hour horseback ride the following day put us back at the main lodge. Everyone was walking a bit bole legged from the ride. But those sore muscles were soon forgotten while sitting in Liard Hot Springs that evening.

But, my hunt wasn’t over. I was still supposed to go for mountain goat with Darwin Cary of Scoop Lake Outfitters. The following morning, I drove 4 hours up to Watson Lake just over the Yukon border where I was to meet the plane. It was relatively good weather getting to Watson Lake, but began snowing like no one’s business that evening, and for days afterwards. Darwin and I agreed to postpone that hunt to the following year. I drove back to Fort Nelson to pick up my moose & caribou meat, and set off for home. I made it close to Chetwynd that evening before not being able to keep my eyes open any longer. My truck heater not working and the front seat as a bed made it a short night. I made it to just outside Portland Oregon by the next (middle of) night, and home to Gilroy, CA the next … a great, great hunt and memorable time, even with the weather.

-Tom Kelly CEO

 

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