Manitoba Caribou

Two Different Episodes In One Trip: It Can Be Done, Right?

You’d think going from one trip to another would be easy in the sense of packing, but it’s not. With only two days between trips I needed to unpack, pack, and quickly re-supply my camera equipment. Going from a hot Wyoming Pronghorn hunt to the cold conditions of the Far North requires very different attire. 

I also needed to pack smart because most fly-in lodges have weight restrictions for their guests. With my bags stuffed to the limit, a heaping pile of clothesstacked a mile-high on the floor in the “cut pile” I was barely under-weight but ready for departure.

This trip had two main objectives: Complete a show for North American Fisherman-TV and a show for North American Hunter-TV. North American Fisherman’s Steve Pennaz joined me on this trip as we headed to Nueltin Lake Lodge in northern Manitoba in search of the caribou migration and giant lake trout. Usually it’s hard enough to complete one full show on the road. To accomplish both in limited time, we’d need everything to line up just right.

Upon arriving at the lodge, it was apparent things weren’t going to line up just right. The caribou still had some distance to travel before the migration would hit camp. With this in mind, we shifted gears to fishing- hoping to give the caribou an extra day or two to migrate south. If we were lucky, we’d catch a ton of fish for a couple days, then have the caribou come into camp.

We weren’t lucky. After a hard-hitting effort, the fish were anything but cooperative, and still no sign of the migration. We completed the show for North American Fisherman-TV, but we never found the monster lakers.

Once again, as luck would have it, we were about a week early. The Lake Trout normally filter into the shallows to spawn, but this year they were still hanging deep. The days fishing were spent reeling in lakers and pike, and also scouting- we were constantly glassing the shores in search of caribou.

Once our focus was entirely on hunting, it’s as if the caribou simply vanished.  In days past, we were at least seeing a few small resident caribou.  Now that the bow was out, nothing. 
On the afternoon of the last day, we finally spotted a shooter bull. He was swimming about a mile out, but was headed in our direction. We
quickly found an island along his path in hopes of intercepting him if he stopped to rest.

It would be a long shot, but at this point we were happy to take our chances.  The island was very small, maybe 100 yards long and 50 yards wide.  If the caribou came ashore we should surely have a shot, but at this point, no one was holding their breath.

Lesson No. 1: Caribou swim fast … very fast. I thought we had plenty of time to setup and prepare for his arrival, however I was stunned when I heard him shaking off on shore. We had only been on the island for a minute and he had already reached shore.  The good news was he was on shore; the bad news was we had no idea where would this big guy appear.  I tried to focus through the thick brush that separated us from the water. Without any prior warning, he stepped out into the open looking directly at us.

To our advantage, these animals have very little contact with humans so he wasn’t overly spooked. The wind was also in our favor, and after a split second stare-down, he was off. Steve drew and took a shot as the caribou was fading into the distance. The footage was short, but very intense. The caribou appeared right over Steve’s shoulder and within seconds our hunt had completely turned around. 
Lesson No. 2: Your hunt is never over until it’s over- anything can happen at anytime. This swimming caribou and Steve’s great shot saved an episode of North American Hunter-TV.

The migrations finally funneled down a few weeks later, but we never did get to experience the clicking of heels at night as the caribou migrate right through camp.  In years past, hunters had the option of hunting out the front door because there was a selection of caribou literally at their feet.
Even though we didn’t see the migration, we experienced another stunning work of nature, the aurora borealis, or the northern lights. To anyone who has not had the opportunity to see this phenomenon, I urge you to step outside if your travels ever take you to the far north. The sky looks as if it’s dancing with lights, literally moving before your eyes.

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