The Northwest Territories
When I unzipped my tent this morning we were socked in bad. Thick low clouds made it to where we couldn't even see the mountains that surrounded us. We had a tough climb yesterday so a weather day wasn't a terrible thought. At least it would give us time to dry our boots and socks by the fire, and I could doctor up my feet a little. Around 11:30am the clouds lifted a bit and we glassed a really big looking ram on the same mountain that Gary passed a different ram on late yesterday. The weather looked sketchy but we all said screw it and packed food and rain gear and made the 4 mile hike to the mountain to take advantage of the weather window. When we got there the ram was gone so we stayed in the river bottom glassing up the mountain as we pushed further up the river. A few hours later we found the rams again a couple hundred yards above us but by the time we got set up they had seen us and disappeared over the top. We made it this far and they didn't seem too spooked so we had one option, climb the near vertical loose rocked rotten mountain to try and find them again. Ass kicker of a climb. We got to the top and spent a few hours picking the mountain apart with our glass but nada. Weather started getting real cold and windy with snow starting to fall. We realized if we stayed any longer we'd have to rough it and stay on the mountain that night which isn't a bad thing but with weather like this it could almost be a death wish. We made it back to our camp on the river at about midnight. I took the tape off my heels for the first time in 2 days and this is the first time I've been worried, my feet are a bloody mess and my right big toe is dislocated bad. Patched them up as good as I could and re-set my toe, I can't keep my eyes opens any longer, early morning tomorrow.
Covered quite a bit of country today. We started the day packing my Caribous horns, cape, and meat 7 or 8 miles down the valley to a gravel bar that Tavis could land the super cub on so he could take some of our weight back to basecamp. After we got all that situated we headed back up the valley to get into better sheep country. We saw one young ram but kept pushing a few more miles and gained quite a bit of elevation before calling it a day. As we were setting up camp we had an 8.5ft Grizzly come over a ridge and stand up on 2 feet to check us out, after eying us down for a few minutes he went on his way and gave us no problem. We're going to push into some never before hunted country in the morning that's super rugged so we're calling it an early night. Tired, cold, and wet but I wouldn't change a thing. The winds starting to howl and it's getting colder by the second. My tent's acting like it's going to blow away and there's a dark wall of clouds to the north. Crossing my fingers the storm doesn't come this way and hoping my prayers make it through the clouds.
...We had to cross the same deep swift river on the way out but we were all loaded down with 100+ pounds of meat, cape, and horns so we just went for it...we got soaked. About a mile from where Gary had his tent set up it got real cold, windy, and rainy so we picked up the pace but the storm beat us to the gravel bar leaving us to set up camp in a sideways icy rain freezing our asses off. As brutal as days like this are, they're my favorite and the ones I always look back on...
Waking up freezing cold and wet putting bloody, torn up, dislocated feet in wet socks and frozen boots sucks, there's no other way about it. But these hunts are about pushing yourself and seeing what you're made of. It's funny though because no matter how miserable you are, something incredible happens everyday out here that makes it all worth it. We're hunting the best, cleanest, most organic meat in the world and it doesn't have a price tag from a grocery store, the price we pay are the scars we take home.
My first thought was the storm from earlier had gotten bigger because the willows we were camped in were shaking so much. Then it all stopped and all I could hear were heavy deep breaths and loud footsteps around our fire pit 30 feet from my tent. The fire was out and everyone had been asleep for hours. I was feeling around in the dark for my headlamp when something started scratching the outside of my tent. It was a clear night and the northern lights were blaring so I could see the outline of something taller than me standing on two legs trying to get in my tent. I started scrambling for my rifle that wasn't there when a 9 ft grizzly tore a hole in my rain fly, and broke the frame of my tent making huge swipes at my head with his claws inches from my face. Just as he ripped through my tent I heard a shot and the bear fell on top of me. As I was trying to push him off of me I woke up tossing and turning tangled up in my sleeping bag. That dream was almost too real though, because the first thing I saw when I unzipped my tent to get some fresh air were the same northern lights that were playing in my dream. It took me a bit to fall back to sleep so I laid there and watched the lights realizing we had just been dropped off in an area with the highest grizzly density of anywhere I've hunted. While we were eating freeze dried eggs around the fire the next morning I kept my dream to myself but had the most insane deja vu of my life, an 8.5 ft grizzly bear came out of the willows not 75 yards from camp stared us down for a bit and went on with his day. This is one of the most wild places left on the planet, a place where your nightmares can easily become reality.
We caught the tail end of the caribou migration to lower country. About 10 days ago we were moving camp to better sheep country and we found an old bull that we wanted to get a closer look at. He was across the river so we took our boots off and rolled up our pants and made a pretty deep crossing in 35 degree rushing water. A few miles later we got on the old bull again and after looking him over in the spotter I decided to take him. I was putting my pack back on so we could get a little closer when Lorne and Cole watched another old but bigger bull come out of the timber so our plans changed, we got to about 350 yards and my first shot missed, I took another shot dropping the old bull right there. After 4 or 5 hours of caping quartering and packing him out we got back to camp in a freezing rain so we set up camp and spent the rest of the night by the fire warming up drying out and eating caribou backstrap over the fire. We felt like kings in the middle of nowhere. Weather has taken 6 of the last 20 days from us but that's just how it goes out here. We've been snowed in at basecamp the past 2 days with no end in sight. Since we got here 3 or 4 weeks ago I've dreaded the inevitable, going home. But with our hunt over the plane ride home can't come soon enough. We're all beat up and some of us have broken bones but it's tough to leave this wild place, the north country is good for your soul.