A Walkin’ and A Rollin’
Caribou Hunt for Two
By Kay Mespelt
Paul has been in a wheelchair since 1987 due to a nerve disorder but he hasn’t let that get him down. Despite his handicap, he’s always had a positive attitude. He’s always said that “One must know their limitations.” Course sometimes, he pushes his own limitations but that is another story!
Paul has always enjoyed hunting even after his disability began. Since his disability, he’s hunted for Pronghorn Antelope, elk, White-tail and Mule Deer, moose, Ring Neck Pheasant and even a 2000 pound buffalo! “Buff” was a big boy!
Paul has always dreamed of traveling to Canada for caribou hunting. With his health progressively getting worse, I decided to make his dream a reality. He had already been researching handicapped hunting on the internet and found Wylie at Accessible Canadian Adventures Inc. Wylie was very helpful even from the beginning answering all our questions concerning being able to take Paul on a caribou hunt, despite his disability.
During the next few months I found myself becoming obsessed with caribou. I wanted to find out more about the Barren Ground Caribou which we’d be hunting.
Paul watches a lot of hunting shows on television, as I think it puts him into another world so to speak of being able to do anything he wants to do without the cumbersome wheelchair. I occasionally watch the programs except when Paul would say “There is a caribou hunt on!” I would immediately stop what I was doing and eagerly watch! I would imagine myself there in the hunter’s place and wondered “So this is what it’s going to be like!” I was increasingly getting excited but realized our hunt was still a few months away. I also looked at the hunting brochure describing the experience we’d be having only a million times-ok a thousand!!
The day had finally arrived-we were about to start on our dream adventure! We arrived 2 hours earlier at the airport. Not traveling with firearms before, we weren’t sure how much time to allow for paperwork or possible searching. The check in process went very smoothly and we would soon be on our way to our dream adventure!
Upon arriving in Schefferville, we were not only were met by Chuck our outfitter and Dave our guide, but with a light rain and much cooler temperatures. Kinda of funny when we left Wyoming- it was 100 degrees!! But we have to realize that we are in Canada now!
Paul and I left with Dave to go our cabin while the other five hunters from Pittsburg left with Chuck traveling to Mary Gibb, an isolated camp approximately 50 km away. The outfitter has several locations of outpost and drop tent camps in the area.
Driving up to the cabin, I immediately noticed some caribou racks that the previous hunters had harvested. One set was very impressive- we were finally here where the excitement happens and it pumped me up even more!
Inside the cabin, we were met by Mado, who would be our cook. She says “Hello” with a delightful French accent. She is unable to shake our hands as she is busily making bread for this evening’s dinner. Ummm, how did she know that Paul and I are very fond of homemade bread!
After changing into our camouflage gear and grabbing a quick sandwich from Mado who was finished with her bread, we would soon be on our way. Dave had to make sure Paul’s wheelchair was securely tied into the bed of his truck. A couple times we’ll find Dave stopping to tighten up the ropes or to place mesh under the wheelchair to prevent any paint from rubbing off the chair. No wheelchair has ever been giving such loving care! As we make our way along the roads, Dave tells us that as early as mid Sept some years, it can start snowing and can get as deep as 22 feet in the winter!!! The roads we now travel will be turned into snowmobile trails. The temperatures can also reach down to minus 40 degrees with minus 20 degreees being a “good day”!
The roads we will be traveling on have been roughly made by the iron ore excavating crews. And I do mean roughly made! I swear that some of these roads go straight up while others go straight down. This seems more like mountain goat country!
About 17 km from our cabin is the borderline between Quebec, where Schefferville is located, and Labrador-Newfoundland. We are unable to hunt in Quebec but now on the borderline, we can now take our guns out of their cases. Each day we travel we will be taking out our guns at this location going into the bush and putting our guns back into their cases going back to the cabin.
As we travel along our route, we are always looking for any movement of caribou. The caribou can be there one moment and not the next! Dave stops at several favorite spots that caribou are known to appear. Using our binoculars we are carefully search the area before moving onto the next spot. Along the way, we see many remnants of vehicles that didn’t pass the rough road test. An old transmission sits on top of a rock and this area is now called “Transmission Hill’. We see an old muffler, a battery and even old trucks. Dave chuckles as he says “They lay where they died”. It’s not hard to imagine the toll that vehicles take traveling on this rough terrain.
We are now entering a forest like area called “Green Bush”. Dave says if you ask a native why they call this area “Green Bush”. They’ll say “Because it’s green”.
Not a site of any caribou on the first day. We did see caribou racks in the clearings. These were left by natives who harvested a caribou but were not interested in the antlers. Dave explains that if you ask a native why he doesn’t take the antlers, the native would say “Can’t eat the horns”. I jokingly said if we didn’t see any caribou, we could always take the racks home! Both Paul and Dave said we would be finding caribou with their racks still attached!!
We made our way back to the cabin and were hungry for a home cooked meal made by Mado. After dinner, we visited with Mado and Dave. Mado explained that Paul and I were a party of two but there are times when there are up to 45 to feed, some of these being the guides. Mado made those folks eat in shifts.
Looking around the cabin walls, we see maps of different areas. These are necessary in determining where the caribou’s latest positions are. It’s also helpful for the hunters to see how vast the hunting areas are.
Another day of light rain which turned to snow from time to time. There is also a light fog that does make the nearby lake beautiful early in the morning making it look so mysterious! Let’s hope the weather gets those “boos” a movin’.
After breakfast, we make our way to the border to take our guns from their cases. Dave had told Paul that the fog would be gone by 10:00 am and by golly, he was right! The rest of the day gave us blue skies and nice temperatures—but it’s not supposed to be this nice to get those caribou moving!
After driving and searching for several hours, it was now around 3:00 in the afternoon. I am so proud to say that I saw the caribou first! I saw 5 stags, looking so majestic, traveling fast along a hillside. Dave immediately drove the truck to get a better look at them. We noticed with our binoculars that the lead bull would stop occasionally to wait for the others to catch up, then proceed. Dave asked “How good a shot are ya?” We decided that neither of us were that good a shot to make an ethical 500 yard shot on those fast moving caribou. It was both a beautiful yet sad sight to see those caribou as they topped the ridge and traveled to the other side. I don’t know about Paul, but my adrenaline was racing especially when Dave exclaimed “Four of them were shooters!”
As we made our way back to camp, Dave had stopped the truck on a hillside over looking a valley. He was hoping those same caribou would be making their way in this direction and we would see them. Apparently, the caribou decided to go a different direction!
The next day started with fog again but it lifted about 5:30 am. After another hearty meal from Mado, we were on our way about 7:00am. Throughout our trek, I notice several stacks of rocks. I ask Dave what they are. He explains they are called “ Innukshooks”. The natives make them to show others the way to a nearby lodge or village. He goes on to say that sometimes caribou jerky is left at the base of the rocks for others to eat on their journey.
Later this morning we see a lot of activity in the way of hunters, guides and even Quebec Game Wardens. Many were saying that the caribou are on their way-just over the other side of the mountain, but the other side of the mountain is Quebec where we are not allowed to hunt. We have to wait for the caribou to travel over to the Labrador-Newfoundland side. Most agreed that the caribou should be here in this valley within 1 -2 days.
Tonight, for dinner, is our first taste of caribou-what a treat! Mado marinated the steak with a steak seasoning. She later cooked the steak with strong tea which helps keep the steak moist. Caribou like other game meat dries out quickly as it is cooked. After cooking, she put a brown gravy with mushrooms on the steak and served it. Wow- what flavor! We can’t wait to put some caribou in our freezer!
Monday morning found us leaving the cabin around 6:00 am. Chuck was with us today so we would have double guide coverage, as he usually has 1 guide to 2 hunters. We traveled to Marcel’s, another guide, home to pick up a four-wheeler. After putting it in the back of the pickup, we were quickly on our way to the border where the caribou hopefully would be coming over the mountain. We stopped along the way to check for movement along the hills and valleys, but didn’t see any.
I was watching the clock as we arrived at the border. It was 9:45 am. I am not kidding one bit when I say that at precisely 10:00 am, Chuck saw 5 caribou on the ridge! Alright Mado-way to predict!!
Excitedly, Chuck told Paul he could take him on the four-wheeler to where he saw the caribou. Paul thought for a brief moment and said “Go ahead and take Kay as I’d rather her get the first chance to shoot”. I was so excited and thought that I was given such a great opportunity! Chuck got the four-wheeler out of the truck while I was getting ready for the ride of my life. I zipped up my jacket, put gloves on and put my hunter orange ski cap on. After I got a good luck kiss from Paul, Chuck told me to get on the four-wheeler. As I got on, I held tightly onto the gun with one hand as I didn’t have a gun sling. A sling will definitely be on our future hunting shopping list! The other hand was gripped tightly on the bar frame. As I planted my feet on the foot pegs, I wondered if this is what a bull rider feels when he’s cinched down and ready to have the gate opened! Bouncing along the roads, Chuck would occasionally ask if I was doing ok and said that I was fine. This four wheeling is accelerating to say the least!!
With the cool yet wonderful Canadian wind in my face as well as an occasional whiff of gas from the four-wheeler, we made our way up and down rocky hills, through mud puddles and even through a small creek. By the time we reached the ridge where Chuck had first seen the caribou, they were gone. Paul and Dave said they could see where Chuck and I were as they could see the hunter orange ski hat that I was wearing bouncing along! Now I realize that once caribou are spotted, the guides are excited and in a rush to get to the best location for a shot. As Chuck walked around the ridge a bit, he was talking to Dave on the walkie-talkie. Soon it was realized that the caribou had left our location and were traveling straight for Paul and Dave. As they saw the caribou coming closer, Dave quickly moved the truck so Paul could get a better shot. Paul then got out of the truck and was getting ready. Suddenly the caribou shifted their movement. Paul quickly got back into the truck with Dave’s help. Once again Dave moved the truck to a different location. Paul was starting to get out of the truck when Dave came around and suggested that Paul get on Dave’s back. Paul said “I’m afraid you’ll fall”. Dave just said “Let my legs be your legs”. Now talk about what a guide is willing to do!!! Paul got on Dave’s back and the two of them went a short way for a better shooting angle. Once Paul was seated down, Dave ran back to the truck to get Paul’s 50 cal. muzzle loader. Dave gave the gun to Paul and Paul made a shot. Unfortunately, the shot missed and with the muzzle loader there simply wasn’t even time to pack the gun for another shot. Paul wished he had his 30.06 back as he could have tried several shots.
After talking about the missed shot, Dave squatted down so Paul could get on his back again and they went back to the truck. I would have loved to seen pictures of this or better yet a video of the excitement these two had just experienced! As these two great white hunters moved around to get the best possible shot and to see the piggy back ride. This indeed would have been a site to see!
Around noon, Dave with Paul and Chuck with me traveled to the tent camp Chuck has set up in “Green Bush”. There we had lunch and got the chance to warm up a bit. Soon after lunch, Chuck thought we’d again travel up to the same ridge in case other caribou might be using the same trail. Once we arrived on the same ridge, Chuck had me sit by a small tree and before he left on the four-wheeler, he said “If you see any caribou, let them come to you”.
Sitting there by myself, in the softness of the caribou lichen, my mind thought of many things while I took in these wonderful Canadian sites, sounds and smells. Something suddenly came over me. I thought that in my 50 years, I don’t recall a more peaceful time to appreciate what God has given us. This simple beauty of life and the ability to enjoy all that is around us. Alas, it was not to be. At 3:00 pm, we were making our way back to the cabin for another wonderful meal prepared by Mado. It had been an exciting day!
The next day found me a little sore from my wild ride. But the excitement I felt was worth every ache! You’ve heard the phrase-“No pain-No gain!” Before our venture out today Chuck and Dave wonder if we should spend the night at the Green Bush camp. That would indeed save us some traveling time that we could turn into hunting time. Paul and I are game and we pack accordingly. Mado and Dave quickly pack for the day’s meals and we are ready to start by 6:30 am. It was very foggy and raining going past the mine area and Dave had to occasionally stop the truck to allow the fog to lift before he proceeded. Going past the entrance road to the Native Indian’s camp, we saw ravens frolicking in the sky. Dave said the Natives believe that ravens are the sign of the Creator. We’re hoping this is a good sign for the day’s hunt.
Raining heavily at times today, we thought it best to go back to the cabin instead of staying at the Green Bush camp tonight. We didn’t want the chance of having Paul get chilled. As we make our way back to the cabin, we all realize that this day was the last full day of hunting.
As we go to bed tonight, we’re hoping for a miracle tomorrow! As I try to sleep, my mind keeps racing. My body wants to rest but my mind wasn’t cooperating! My mind kept anticipating the next day’s activities. Would we possibly find caribou on our last half day of hunting?
As the time progresses to a more suitable time, Paul and the others awaken. After one last delicious meal from Mado, we are on our way at 6:00 am. We all agree that we have only 6 hours to hunt as we need to get the airport shortly after. Paul and I have packed our baggage so we are basically ready. At the airport, Paul and I hope to see the work of a local Native craftsman. Dave has been raving about this man’s work and we hope to catch a glimpse!
The weather is very unpredictable today as there has been fog and rain most of the morning. I’ve never seen fog lift as another fog bank rolls in. In between the fog patches, we eagerly search for signs of caribou. We all laugh as we share several stories that we have experienced. From the sounds of it, Dave needs to write a book!!
It was one of the saddest days of my life leaving the bush for the last time on our way back to the cabin. I’m a very sentimental person who has always had a hard time saying good bye. It not only was sad to say good bye to our new friends but to the land that I had learned to love. The people and the land were all wonderful. Not harvesting the majestic caribou that I so desired was also difficult. This dream was a year in the planning and I had worked so hard to get here. I now realize there will be no caribou meat in the freezer, no caribou mounts to hang on the wall, and no hides to have tanned.
I do feel that we are going home with much more than success at caribou hunting. We are going home with so much more! We have the priceless memories that no one can ever take away! We have met new friends, shared adventures and laughs. We have seen some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. In the last week, we were a part of all of this and this is our memory!
We have nothing but praise for everyone involved in our adventure. From the very beginning when the hunt was just a dream, Wylie Harvey from Accessible Canadian Adventures helped us out. Wylie got us in touch with Chuck and Beth, the outfitters who finalized the hunt.
And a big thank you to Dave, our guide who proved himself to not only to be a great guide but a great friend!
And last but certainly not least, a big thank you to our beloved cook, Mado who helped filled our lives with delicious food along with her friendship!
Thanks to everyone for helping to make our dream a reality!