Core Stories

Partner Spotlight: A Caribou Hunt in British Columbia

Embrace The Adventure

Guest Story by Connor Gabbott

Woodland Caribou still roam the “big country” of Northern B.C. as they have for thousands of years. Their home range is made up of rugged mountains, mature forests, and high plateaus. To hunt caribou in this terrain, and do it right, requires a lot of planning and legwork.

Leading up to this hunt, I spent days pouring over maps and reading up on caribou habits and migration patterns. With their long legs and big hooves, caribou tend to cover large distances and spend summers in mountainous terrain. The best advice I ever received about caribou hunting was "don’t go after a caribou that isn’t moving toward you.” The distance that would take a hunter an hour to cover would take a caribou mere minutes.

The location I chose to hunt would require a float plane drop off and multi-day hike just to reach the base camp. For months leading up to the trip, our hunting crew would talk every other day to make sure we were all packing the proper gear: comfortable packs, rugged optics, durable boots, warm clothing, food, and everything else you need to pull off an 11-day backcountry hunt.

As the hunt approached, anticipation was high. My best friend Carey, Steven Drake, and myself drove the 22 hours to our float plane charter in Northern British Columbia. During the hour-long flight in a tiny plane the size of a midsize sedan, we didn’t see a single trace of human impact anywhere on the land below us. We were officially in caribou country.

With our packs fully loaded and the plane flying off into the distance, we began the trek through the thick forests and muskeg that separated our base camp from the plateau we planned to hunt. There are no trails in this country, which made it a long haul - two days of bushwhacking to be exact. The hunting started out slow, but as we worked our way up to the plateau we spotted movement.

Unfortunately, what we saw was the last thing we wanted to spot. The area is known for predators and we watched for hours as a momma grizzly bear and her cub sniffed and dug, trying to reach a ground squirrel den for their next meal. Eventually, the hole became so deep that her entire body was out of sight. It seemed like a lot of effort for such a small meal, but in such desolate terrain, anything counts.

After reaching our base camp, we spent the next few days hiking and glassing the area without seeing the huge numbers of caribou we were hoping for. Our spirits were starting to break. But on the fourth evening, we finally had our first legal bull in sight. He was in full velvet, wide, and big bodied - just the type of caribou we were looking for. Unfortunately, the bull was two miles away and shooting light was fading fast. We opted to keep tabs on him and come back the next morning with hopes he would move closer to us. Remembering back on the piece of advice I was given, I knew it was not worth chasing after him this late in the day.

We woke the next morning to find cold, damp air filling our tents. In the middle of the night a cold-weather system had moved in on us, blanketing the entire plateau in thick fog and light rain. The temperature continued to drop and the wind only intensified as the day went on. We spent the entire day huddled under a tarp on the ridgeline, making hot ramen and cider, trying to stay warm while waiting for a window to relocate the bull from the night before.

The window never came. We were forced back to our tents as the fog and rain worsened, and spent the rest of the evening warming up with some Mountain House meals and a good book.

Just as quickly as our spirits lifted after finding our target caribou, they were torn down by the sounds of high-winds and blizzard conditions that invaded our basecamp that night. According to our inReach satellite forecast, the weather would continue to worsen over the coming days. We wrestled with the idea of pushing through, but with limited food and only a small window for our plane to pick us up in the coming days, we made the tough decision to cut the hunt short.

The next morning we loaded up and began the multi-day pack out to the lake. The snow continued to fall and the wind continued to whiplash our faces. It was one of the most exhausting and somber hikes I’d ever experienced. After reaching the lake, we spent two days in a constant drizzle, quietly reflecting on our hunt and waiting for our float plane to arrive.

It wasn't until we were almost home that Carey and I started to talk about the trip on a deeper level. What I was chewing on as a complete failure, he saw as one of the biggest adventures he had ever had in the bush. Where else do you get to watch a grizzly hunting squirrels in its natural environment? Or glass a massive caribou on a mountainous ridgeline?

For those of us who hunt every year, it’s easy to forget just how lucky we are to spend time in the mountains. If your definition of success is tied to what ends up in the freezer, then take a new hunter into the mountains with you and let them set your priorities straight. Stay relentless and enjoy the adventure - no matter the outcome.

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