Alaska Caribou—The Hunt of a Lifetime
Written by Brian Magee, Sightmark and Pulsar Pro Staff member.
In 2015, Pulsar and Sightmark Pro Staffer Brian Magee and his friend and business partner Chris Walls from Fired Up Outdoors went on a drop-style hunt of a lifetime near Deadhorse, Alaska— an unincorporated community in North Slope Borough, 495 miles from Fairbanks. Here is Brian’s story.
We spent a great deal of time planning and preparing for our Alaska Caribou hunt! Well over a year in the making, we headed to Alaska to hunt Caribou north of the Arctic Circle. We chose to do a drop style-hunt—no guides, no knowledge of what to expect and no experience on the tundra. It was sure to be an adventure and a learning experience.
We packed and repacked everything we would need for the trip—checking our gear and then checking it again. To keep weight down, we chose to take only one rifle with us. We headed to the range the day before our departure to double-check the accuracy and zero. Everything was in order and our excitement and anxiety were high.
We arrived in Fairbanks without incident. Baggage and weapons were accounted for—our first obstacle overcome! We looked forward to the long but scenic drive along the Dalton Highway to our destination near Deadhorse, Alaska. The drive was amazing as we crossed numerous types of terrain and habitat. The Brooks Range was absolutely breathtaking. No picture taken could ever do this place justice.
Stopping at several river and creek crossings to stretch our legs, we caught grayling and saw bear and moose tracks in the mud. I was having the time of my life and we were still making the journey north. Upon arriving at the Happy Valley airstrip, we met with our pilots and began condensing gear to fit in the small compartments of our bush planes. In Alaska, you are not allowed to fly and hunt on the same day, so we were anxious to get into camp, set up and begin to glass and scout our area for caribou. As always anytime we travel, double-checking the rifle and bows is a top priority. There was a target and bench set up next to the airstrip for exactly that. Despite the best efforts of the commercial airlines, the .270 WSM was exactly as we had left it in Oklahoma!
After a quick but very beautiful flight in the bush planes, we landed on a small gravel bar in the middle of a river. During the flight, I couldn’t help but notice several caribou and even a grizzly in the immediate area. We thanked our pilots and began to set up camp. The area we were in seemed to be perfect. Several peaks with large bowls fed down into the river bottom where we had set up camp. Our optics would be able to do a good deal of work right from where we were. Tents went up, water was gathered, and the spotting scopes came out. Several small groups of cows and calves worked their way through the area that afternoon and anticipation was high for the next morning.
We woke to heavy fog and less than desirable conditions. Visibility was reduced to the first few hundred yards from our tents. Mountain House biscuits and gravy and several cups of instant coffee broke the chill in the air and really tasted good. Despite the fog and drizzle, spirits were high, and we were just enjoying the entire experience.
Days passed, and we experienced every possible weather condition from fog and drizzle to snow and even had a bright sunny day mixed in.
Day six started out pretty much like most of the others, fog and light drizzle. However, the fog quickly lifted, and we were excited to see several bulls feeding in the bowl about two miles from camp. There were several good bulls in the group and we decided to attempt a stalk on the group in hopes of getting within range of one particular bull. The tundra is tough walking, especially uphill! The bulls casually fed across the tundra and it seemed like we needed to jog just to keep up with them. We worked a small drain that was bordered by blueberries on both sides and eventually found ourselves within rifle range of the group. I was running the camera and allowed my friend Chris the opportunity to put the .270 WSM to work. The wind was right, the distance was right and there was a bull in the group that Chris really liked.
Chris worked to a position where he could clear some of the leaves and limbs from the blueberry bushes and eventually settle on a tundra hummock that offered a good rest. He pressed the stock of the .270 WSM down into the tundra to give himself a solid rest and eased his cheek into position. He went over all the little details of the bull aloud: “good tops, good mass, big shovel.” The next question was, “Are you on him?” I quickly replied “yes,” and the deafening muzzle blast almost caught me off guard.
We watched as the giant bull only took a few steps and then fell over dead. We were celebrating and swapping high-fives in some of the most beautiful country we have ever set foot. Two point-of-view cameras captured Chris getting settled as well as the look right down the barrel. The big bull lay motionless in the viewfinder of the main camera. What an amazing hunt in some amazing country! I recommend trying a drop hunt on the North Slope of the Brooks Range if you love adventure and beautiful scenery.
What is your most memorable hunt? Share it with us in the comment section.
Brian is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but has spent most of his life in the Oklahoma City area. He achieved a life-long goal of becoming a firefighter in 2003 and is now a part of the Oklahoma City Fire Department as a Lieutenant. His love for the outdoors, hunting, and fishing began at a very young age thanks to a family who shared that same interest. He grew up with a fishing pole in hand and began hunting with his dad around the age of 6. At the age of 14, he received his first hunting bow for Christmas and his love for bowhunting was born. He has been bowhunting for over 25 years and has had the privilege of harvesting many animals with a bow. While he spends most of his time hunting and fishing, reloading also ranks high on his list of hobbies. He is married to a very understanding wife and enjoys every minute they spend together.