When you do a season as a hunting guide and wrangler in the Canadian Yukon territory you are setting yourself up to go on many adventures and have more stories than you know what to do with. However, a couple of stories stick out for me from my time in the Yukon. Here’s one of them.
Keeping warm in the Yukon
Our hunter flew in the day before, Mike from Minnesota, we could already tell he was a good bloke and a real hunter. He turned up, cowboy hat on, big grin on his face and full of enthusiasm for the hunt ahead! We were about to embark on the longest continuous horseback ride I have done, to one of the coolest hunting areas in our 4.5 million acre concession.
The next day we saddled up, we had 14 horses in our group. Four riding horses for, myself, Cam Nicol (another Kiwi wrangler), my boss Bill Sandulak, and Mike, the hunter. And then ten pack horses to lug gear and hopefully successful kills there and back. After the big job of saddling and packing all the horses was done, we finally set out from our base-camp to a cabin a solid 11 hour ride away deep in the Glen Lyon mountain range.
When you ride for that long, it very quickly becomes a monotonous ride where you kind of just sit back and let the horse do its thing. You entertain yourself by looking at some of the most incredible landscapes you will ever see, and little things like breaking twigs off passing trees, or my favourite, breaking icicles off them to crunch on as some sort of flavourless ice block. One of the parts of the ride that stuck with me was riding directly over a fairly large mountain which looked down on amazing lake vistas where you just know there has got to be some nice moose; however we had a different destination, far off in about as remote a landscape as you can find.
We rode for hours upon hours, got caught in rain that threatened to make the ride miserable, but luckily it quickly passed. We finally reached a ridgeline that was high above the valley of thick timber in which somewhere lay our cabin, and respite from the saddle. However, the distance was incredibly deceptive, what I thought would take maybe another hour or so to cover, took us around 3 hours. And soon enough darkness fell, the temperature dramatically dropped, and so did my will to want to be there. Moments like this popped up here and there, and they were rough physically and mentally. My feet were frozen, I could barely keep my eyes open I was so tired, it was pretty much pitch black and you had to entirely rely on your horse knowing where to go. Not what I would call “fun”.
Minnesota Mike all saddled up
But in moments like that, at 1am, so completely over the ride, all it takes is one thing to make it all worth it. I remember leaning back in my saddle and staring at the sky, to find myself looking at an incredible display of the Aurora Borealis, green and purple lights dancing covering most of the sky. You could really see how back in the day people thought there was something spiritual about them.
Anyway, enough about riding, more about hunting! We set out one morning, and bush bashed our way up a very old trail that had mostly grown over. Once we got above the treeline, we proceeded to hammer up the side of a good-sized mountain until we got to the top. Glassing for caribou we found a nice bull and planned to stalk in for a shot; however, on the way we bumped into a larger herd of caribou. We watched them for awhile and suddenly a huge mass of antler raised up and we had found him. The king on the mountain. We watched and planned for quite awhile, then Bill and Mike started making a move to close the gap, Cam and I held back. From our vantage point we watched them close the distance, set for the shot, and absolutely hammer the caribou bull! He went down on the spot.
And now the hard work begins
We field dressed him, cut off a couple of choice cuts, and planned to come and get the rest of the caribou the following day. We then bush bashed another route down the mountain and hiked all the way back to the cabin. Dinner that evening was caribou tenderloin! Not something you get to eat every day.
Packs getting loaded
The next day, we could not figure out a way to get the horses to the caribou for an easier pack out, so we donned our big packs and busted our way back up the mountain. Fortunately, no Grizzlies, Black Bears, or Wolves had gotten to the caribou through the night and it was just as we left it. We skinned and butchered it out, loaded up our packs as evenly as possible, mine had a hind quarter and a backstrap, and on rather shaky legs made our way back down the mountain.
Once all was said and done, we successfully got the entire caribou back to camp by foot. There aren’t too many sights more satisfying than a hanging log full of meat and a massive caribou rack sitting outside the cabin. It was one of those hunts, that as Kiwi hunters we all know and love; a hunt full of bloody hard work, damn good friends, a story you will always have, and to top it off a great success for our client!