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Author Topic: ONE OF A KIND - by Mickey E. Lotz  (Read 328 times)

Offline Terry_Green

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ONE OF A KIND - by Mickey E. Lotz
« on: May 11, 2003, 05:41:00 AM »
ONE OF A KIND

by Mickey E. Lotz (Ferret)

 

As I peered out the tiny windows of the little Piper Cub it seemed there wasn’t much to look at. Large expanses of “nothing” really, as far as the eye could see. Oh, there were little lakes here and there, a winding stream tributary, but mostly the landscape below us appeared featureless. I tried to carry on a conversation with John, my pilot, but he was busy reading a small paperback, which only worried me a little. Considering how loud the motor noise was and how bumpy the ride, I’m surprised he could concentrate on the words on the pages at all.

An hour and a half later we cleared a mountaintop and in the large bowl that opened up before us we found them. Caribou. Barren Ground Caribou to be more specific and lots of them. I had never seen so many big game animals in one place at one time. John turned his head and said he’d set us down right there. I was concerned we’d slam into a caribou, or 50, but John insured me they would get out of the way and after a pass to scatter the herd he banked, brought her back around and bounced the little plane down on those huge soft tires that resembled big black doughnuts. We taxied to a stop right next to a big alder thicket. Alders are stunted gnarly trees with green leaves, and the only kind of above ground vegetation that grows in this barren land. We climbed out of the plane and started unloading the camping gear. John suggested using the alder thicket as a windbreak and that I should get busy hacking out a spot for the tents while he went back for one of my buddies. With all the gear unloaded and laying on the ground he cranked up the little plane’s engine, aimed the nose into the wind and gunned the throttle. The little plane bounced like a bobber on a wind blown pond, picking up necessary speed before lifting off and gaining altitude. Bush pilots are truly amazing, and also crazy if you ask me. I stood there on the tundra absorbing my first taste of Alaska. There were caribou literally all around me. Some were nice bulls with huge racks and snow-white manes, but according to Alaska law one cannot hunt on the same day they fly so all I could do was admire them and think about tomorrow when I’d be able to chase them with bow in hand. I turned my attention back to the plane growing decreasingly smaller until I could no longer see or hear it.  I suddenly realized if he crashed on the way back no one would know where to look for me. This is where I would most likely die. Now I’ve hunted alone in vast rugged places before, but until that plane disappeared from sight and I realized the grave consequences I’d never felt truly lonely. As I stood there in deafening silence, 160 miles from the nearest Eskimo village, I was suddenly very, VERY lonely. I didn’t want to think about it and got busy clearing some areas within the alders for our tents. We were cautioned not to sleep in the same area as we cooked in because of the local grizzly population so I cleared one spot for the cook tent and two more a short distance away for our sleeping tents, with a narrow path leading between them.

Four hours later I once again heard the little plane and John arrived with my buddy Randy. I must say I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me. At least I wouldn’t die alone ha ha. Again John took off and headed back for John and Gary, the two remaining members of our party who would be dropped off later that afternoon. By then Randy and I had camp in pretty decent shape. With the four of us together we split up into two man teams who would sleep and hunt together for protection, and started unpacking our personal gear in our respective tents. Randy and I had elected to hunt together. After getting settled in, we assembled our bows and pulled our arrows from their tubes and shot a few practice arrows at the mushy mounds. Being in Alaska was overwhelmingly exciting.

Alaska or at least this part of it wasn’t anything like we imagined. It was chilly and windy as we expected, but it was also strangely beautiful. The tundra was covered in little red, white, yellow and green plants called lichen, which the caribou fed on. I tried some of it and discovered it tasted like a soda straw. I’d prefer the reindeer sausage and rice I’d end up eating most of the week. Although from the air the surface appeared to be flat and solid, it was actually covered in lots of small mounds and resembled an egg carton turned upside down. They were wet and mushy to walk on. Awkwardly spaced you couldn’t walk on their tops and you couldn’t walk between them. It was up, down, up down. It was very tiring to say the least. The easiest way to navigate was to walk on one of the many caribou trails that thousands of caribou walking single file had beaten down. Easier, but certainly not easy. They were narrow, barely wider than your boot, and you kept kicking the opposite inside anklebone every time you took a step. Alaska is so large that you lose depth perception. A hill that looked to be a twenty-minute walk away could not be reached in two hours, a trick that was played on us many times. The wind, which blew at a constant 30 miles an hour, would eventually play a huge part in this story.

It stayed light until 10:30 in the evening and even though we were exhausted, excitement caused sleep to come with great difficulty. At times during the night, the ground unexpectedly shook and rumbled, which kind of frightened us. The rumbling turned out to be hundreds of Caribou driven by some primeval instinct to migrate, passing close to where we were sleeping. Bright and early the next morning we were up and dressed, ready for an adventure unlike anything any of us had ever experienced before. Climbing out of the tents we were greeted to an unimaginable sight. Everywhere we looked were caribou. Some lying down, others standing, many others walking. You could hear them grunting like the vast herds of Gnus or Wildebeest we had seen on television and, in fact, we imagined the whole scene similar to what one might see on the plains of the Serengeti.

We headed out in opposite directions with John and Gary exploring due west while Randy and I headed east. By mid morning Randy and I had found an excellent ambush site. We discovered where groups of caribou numbering from one hundred to several hundred would stage in between two big hills and then all of a sudden come streaming out like someone had opened the gates to a dam. From there it got a little trickier. There were at least a dozen trails they could or would take, and picking the right one was paramount if you expected to get within shooting distance. If you picked the wrong trail it was useless to try and catch up with them. Caribou walk faster than a man can run. Randy and I picked a small clump of alder bush in a 100-yard row of alders to hide behind. It was located on one of the upper trails in the bowl. We figured the caribou would stay on a shelf like a whitetail rather than walk down into the bowl, across the bottom and then back up the other side. We quickly found out there is no figuring caribou. Whichever direction the lead animal took, the rest followed. Caribou appeared to be truly schizophrenic. Sometimes they would just start trotting for no apparent reason and keep it up for miles, while other times they would mill around and stand with their heads down, butts to the wind for hours in something we called “the sleep mode”. They always traveled with their noses into the wind.

Randy wanted me to shoot first while he spotted for me. That afternoon a truly magnificent bull along with some smaller bulls, cows and calves walked in our direction. I set up to shoot with Randy right behind me. When the bull didn’t appear as expected I whispered to Randy “where is he? Randy replied, “He’s right behind us”. I turned to find the bull 10 yards behind us, staring, trying to figure out what we were. Randy was directly between us so I couldn’t shoot. “Take him Randy,” I barked, and Randy instinctively swung his Robertson Purist longbow up and put a Zwickey tipped cedar through the bulls’ lungs as it turned to bolt. The P&Y class bull went maybe 75 yards, stood for a moment on wobbly legs and went down. What a great start to the hunt. Randy and I took a few pics, and then set about the task of cutting up the bull and transferring the meat, hide and antlers to camp.

The next day it was my turn. Randy and I were back at our hiding spot watching the caribou stage between the hills. Like before, all of a sudden the floodgates opened and the herd headed our way. I was down on one knee, with a snuffer tipped cedar snapped on the string of my Rocky Mt recurve. I had taken many animals with this bow including several whitetails, black bear, antelope and mountain lion as well as a ton of small game. I shot it well and was extremely confident in my ability to put an arrow where needed at any reasonable shooting distance. What I hadn’t counted on was the effects that 30 mph wind would have on my arrow. From his spot over my shoulder Randy advised me to get ready that a great bull was coming and was the sixth one in line. As the caribou exited the line of alders I started counting them off, one, two, three, four, five, and then the big bull. I came to full draw, picked a spot low and tight behind the shoulder, swung with the bull and released. As I concentrated on the bull I could see my yellow fletching eating up the 30 yards of air between us, but it was going left of where I had aimed. It just kept going left until it was no longer on the bull at all, and I watched in horror as the arrow hit the 7th animal in line. That 30 mph wind had carried my arrow a good 10 feet off course. Because I was concentrating on the arrow I had no idea what kind of caribou I had just shot, I just knew that I had seen my arrow disappear thru a piece of brown hide. Now the animals were bolting and the entire herd was just a blur. “#*&#*” I screamed. Randy thought I had missed and told me to get out another arrow because another bull was coming. “ I can’t Randy, I hit one” “What was it, was it a bull?” I had to admit I had no clue. It could have been a bull, a cow or even a calf for all I knew. After the herd ran up over the top of the bowl, Randy and I went and looked for my arrow, which we found, covered in blood 30 yards beyond where it had passed through the animal. We waited 30 minutes and then started searching for my animal. One hundred yards later we found it laying in a shallow depression. Rather than the magnificent heavy horned bull with the white mane that I had dreamed about we found an immature bull with one horn broken off near the skull shot cleanly through the heart. Had it been the one I was aiming at it would have been a hell of a shot. Of the approximately one half million animals in the Mulchatna caribou herd, many of which were P&Y and B&C bulls, I managed to arrow the only one we had seen with one horn. For the second time in two days we set about the task of butchering and carrying caribou parts back to camp.

 Now every time I look at the shoulder mount of that little bull which hangs on one side of the fireplace in my trophy room I am reminded of a wonderful time in a strange land with close friends and realize, just like that little bull, my Alaska experience was “one of a kind”.

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