It wasn't what I expected. In many ways my first caribou hunt in Quebec with Safari Nordik far exceeded my expectations. I left the house on Saturday August 24, 2008 headed for the airport exactly one year after having been diagnosed with breast cancer. Looking back, it had been a rocky year to say the least, but now I was going on my dream hunt and only looking forward.
Vicki Cianciarulo of Archer's Choice Media invited me to go on this hunt, knowing that it had been my dream to see the tundra and hunt big caribou bulls. Fellow SHE Safari TEAM member Kandi Kisky was going too and they teamed up to film each other. Field producer, Deb Blackwelder would be filming me for SHE's Beyond the Lodge, a new TV show sponsored by SHE Safari that will begin airing on the Outdoor Channel in January. A total of 8 women were going on this trip, to the first ever all-women's caribou hunt. As it turned out, this would be the first annual, as many more are planned for the future.
Safari Nordik decides at the last minute what camp you are going to because the caribou can be anywhere. We were supposed to be in Camp Victoria.
On our first attempt to fly to caribou camp the cloud cover quickly closed in on us and visibility made it impossible to get to camp. We turned the plane around and headed back to Kuujjuaq. I actually got to fly the plane for a few minutes on the way back so my first float plane trip experience was awesome.
We waited at Johnny May's Charter's headquarters as we waited for another break in the clouds. It soon came and we piled back into the plane and made it through the 1 ½ hour flight to Camp Victoria on our second attempt. I have to admit the reality of how far north we were first started to sink in when we flew over a small group of musk ox. It was confirmed when Lilly, our cook, showed us pictures of a polar bear and cubs that had gone through another camp in previous years.
We weren't sure if the second plane, with all the rest of our gear was going to make it to camp that day since the weather was still overcast, drizzling and threatening to fog over again. We opted not to go out that afternoon since we would not have any dry clothes to change into if the plane didn't make it, plus rain and video cameras don't like each other. However, SHE Safari field staffer Mandy Webb did go out and brought in the first caribou of the trip.
Camp Victoria was made up of insulated wood floor cabins near the water. One was the guide's cabin, the other a kitchen and dining area with showers and toilet in the back. The 8 of us shared a third cabin with 4 bunk beds and a 4th cabin was empty. Lilly, our cook, worked magic with the meals she prepared.
When they arrived at this camp to get it ready for the season they discovered a bear had broken into the kitchen and torn the place apart. If they had not told us, we would never have known, because the kitchen was clean and efficient.
By Day 3, Wednesday, we were all hunting. The weather was still overcast and drizzling off and on, but not enough to keep us from filming. My guide was also the camp manager, Fabien (Mio) Provost with 9 years of experience and a wonderful temperament. The slight language barrier was easily overcome and we laughed at his antics, good humor and attempts to explain things in mixed French and English. "My English is good for short conversation; long conversations, not so good." He did just fine with both.
The guides had been stranded in camp for 4 days prior to our arrival since the planes could not fly, so supplies were dwindling. Mio loaded us in a boat and took us across the lake to our first assigned area. He had to go back to camp because a plane was bringing supplies. After explaining where we could go, Mio left to go unload the plane and we headed for a high vantage point.
The caribou were frequent, but not in great herds as one imagines the migration.
Mio returned just in time around noon because moments later a small group of caribou crested the ridge and headed in our direction. It was my first close up sighting of a bull. It had a decent sized rack, still in velvet and I decided to take him. We were allowed 2 bulls on this trip. This first bull would have tremendous sentimental value to me as he would always remind me of my one year anniversary of surviving cancer.
I was shooting my Thompson Center 270 Pro Hunter with Winchester 130 grain Ballistic Silvertip Ammo. One shot put the bull down quickly and I had my first caribou trophy.
Story continues below
When we finished taking care of that bull another one appeared within range. For my second tag I wanted to hold out for a big trophy dream bull and this one did not fill the bill.
However, he would be the perfect bull for Deb's first caribou and we traded places. She gave me a quick lesson in how to run the video camera and I handed her my gun. She gave me a funny look, but at the time I didn't notice why. I had only given her one bullet. Heck, I figured that was all she would need! And it was. The shot was good and we had our second bull less than an hour apart. By the time we finished with him it was about 3:30. Even though we spotted another big bull we decided we had done enough for the first day and headed back to camp.
Mio took us up the "small mountain" behind camp to a place they call Mio's Rock. We saw a small bull and I decided to pass. But Deb said that would be her second bull. Once again we traded places, and yes I only gave her one bullet, again. She made a good shot and I got it all on film. One thing I learned is that male and female caribou have antlers, but the females' are much smaller. This caribou had us fooled because it turned out to be a female with a very nice set of velvet antlers. It really is a nice trophy.
Mio took us higher to a place that seemed like it was on top of the world. We could see for miles and miles in every direction. Although I had scanned the same hillside dozens of times I put the Nikon's up and nearly had a heart attack when they focused on a giant bull. Deb and I scrambled to get ready and into position. I put my Nikon Field Recon Back Pack over a rock and placed the TC across it. He was 1000 yards away, but headed toward us with a small dark bodied bull. The big one was blond and easy to see. He drank from a small lake and disappeared behind some evergreens. The small dark bodied bull hung around for awhile, but we never saw the big blond bull come out from behind the trees.
I couldn't take my eyes away from the binoculars as I searched every inch of the terrain where the bull disappeared trying to see if he had bedded down behind the trees. Deb was searching through the camera lens when she just happened to look up and to the right and spotted the bull. She whispered, "Don't move, there he is!" The bull had separated from his smaller buddy and slipped to our right, closing the distance from 1000 yards to 150 yards by walking below a small ridge line that kept him from view.
We quickly got set up and I made the shot and Deb recorded everyting on film for Beyond The Lodge. I have no idea what he scores. I just know he is the dream bull I always wanted. As we worked to get him ready to take back to camp, Deb commented on the storm clouds on the horizon. Luckily we made it into the cabin seconds before the storm hit and drenched the camp with heavy rain and high winds.
Vicki and Kandi were caught out in the storm with a bull down. After an hour or so, the storm passed and they made it safely back to camp. Kandi got 2 nice bulls and Vicki passed on her second bull. In fact, of the 8 women in camp we killed 14 caribou. It was great sharing the hunt with these women. Vicki is experienced in hunting Canada for many species and having her as source of information was invaluable. I lost track of the number of times I called her just while trying to pack for the trip, let alone the hundreds of questions I asked her during the trip. She always had an answer and knew what to do.
Another great source of information was Kelly Santoro, who, with her husband, runs a taxidermy shop and acts as a booking agent for Safari Nordik. She had caribou hunted with them 4 times before and knew what to expect.
Located in the Great Northern Quebec Tundra, Safari Nordik promises "to make you live an experience that you’ll want to repeat or cherish for a lifetime." For me, they accomplished both.