Over the years I began to formulate a strategy to hunt as many new big game species as time and finances would allow. Form me; I didn’t care about hunting animals like polar bears were I wouldn’t be permitted to import the hide back to the US. Instead, I made two lists. The first list had all the North American big game species I could legally hunt and import back to the US without the services of a professional guide or outfitter. Some of these animals included mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, elk and so on. The Second list were all the animals I could not legally or easily hunt without the service of an outfitter or guide. Some of these animals would include brown bear, dall sheep, stone sheep and the focus of this story, woodland caribou.
My hunting strategy is simple, pay attention to which hunts in the second column continue to increase in price faster than others and book those hunts accordingly. Studying these trends is a great way to save a tremendous amount of money if your goal is to harvest all or as many North American big game species as possible. After watching the price of the woodland caribou hunts steadily increase, combined with the recent decline in the herds population, it was time to take the plunge and book my hunt to Newfoundland. Having booked this hunt almost two years in advance proved to be a wise decision. By the time my hunt rolled around the average cost of hunting woodland caribou had sky rocketed, almost doubling in some instances.
Given the fact that this was my first trip to Newfoundland and it was going to be a lodge based hunt, I figured this would be a great opportunity to invite a group of friends and make this a fun, social experience. Typically I prefer to hunt solo or with just one or two other friends so gathering six buddies to hunt Newfoundland or “The Rock” as it’s sometimes referred as, was a welcome treat.
The hunt itself started out relatively uneventful. We meet our guides, organized our gear and prepared for the 5:00AM departure from camp the next morning. One of my good buddies Chuck Kerr was also hunting caribou so we decided to drive up the mountain together which ultimately proved to be a real blessing which I’ll get to later in the story. The morning hunt was slow, not seeing many animals me and Chuck decided to split up to cover more ground. My guide for the week “Danny” was a real go getter. He had a great attitude and was a ton of fun to hunt with. He was constantly climbing trees to get a higher vantage point to “spy the herds” as he liked to say. Danny had a keen eye for spotting caribou and it wasn’t long before we found what we were looking for.
Once I laid eyes on the massive stag, I knew he was the one I wanted to pursue. The problem, like with many herd animals, was he was surrounded by cows and smaller stags. With this many eyes and ears it was going to be virtually impossible to slip in undetected. We tried numerous stalks over a period of several hours but nothing worked out like we had hoped. We were either surrounded by feeding cows or pinned down by smaller satellite stags looking to steal a few cows for themselves. With daylight fading , we decided to get aggressive and make one last push.
While on the final stalk we had an extremely close encounter with some cows feeding in our direction. Before we knew it they were right in front of us! With hooves merely feet away from our faces, the cows slowly feed off unalarmed. Talk about a close call! At this point our bull was bedded down 80 yards away and we were out of cover. Just when you think it’s never going to workout it happened, another mature stag showed up out of nowhere and all the bedded animals got up and started meandering in every direction. The stag walked through a small opening giving me a fairly long shot. It was now or never. I always have two types of broad heads in my quiver, a mechanical two blade Rage and a fixed blade Magnus Stinger. I grabbed the rage which was a big mistake. I learned a valuable lesson this day; don’t take long shots with a mechanical broad head. I thought I made a great shot, which I did, we just didn’t get the penetration I needed for a quick kill.
As the stag bled profusely I expected for him to drop dead in his tracks any minute. Unfortunately he did not! We ended up tracking this animal several miles before getting another shot opportunity. This was going to be our last chance at putting this old boy down. Danny stayed behind as I slipped to within 55 yds of the bedded bull. Now at full draw once again, I took a couple deep breathes to calm my nerves and sent a four blade Magnus Stinger deep into the caribou body cavity! A very short run later and our bull was finally down! Luck, perseverance and a good attitude certainly played a huge role in recovering our animal.
After the initial excitement wore off and the realization that we were at least 6-7 miles away from the truck with a snow storm setting in, we knew we might be in trouble. The radios Chuck and his guide were carrying didn’t seem to be working to well. We didn’t have a GPS, big mistake. I was the only one with a flashlight and we were officially out of food and water. The decision was made and we reluctantly left my caribou behind so we could try to get back to the truck ASAP.
Long story short, we got lost….extremely lost. The cloud coverage blocked all our visible landmarks and the radios weren’t working very well. We over shot the truck big-time and ended up in an unbelievably dense forest where we couldn’t see five feet in front of us….thank God we didn’t have the caribou antlers on our back! By 10 PM that night we were so dehydrated and thirsty we drank out of peat bog. At this point I had resigned to the fact that we would be sleeping out in the bush that night. Fortunately for me I had all the proper clothing to do so. Unfortunately for Danny, he did not. At the very moment Danny and I were looking for dry ground to make camp, we saw headlights in the distance. With a renewed since of enthusiasm we ran as quickly as we could towards the lights. 20 minutes later we regained radio contact with Chuck and his guide Nelson. Talk about a momentum swing. Chuck and Nelson were driving up and down the logging road pulling up on all the hillsides they could find to shine the headlights in the air. From the time we saw the headlights it took us nearly an hour and half to walk back to the truck. Wet, exhausted and starving, we finally made it back to the truck. From the time we left in the morning to the time we arrived back at camp that evening we were gone for a total of 20 hrs. Talk about an ordeal!
The stag grossed 302 inches and netted 293 inches earning him a trip to the biannual Pope and Young Convention in Dallas where he was scored by a panel of judges.