An Emissary Goes on a Caribou Hunt
April 3rd, 2023
5 minute read
Last year, I was lucky enough to harvest a caribou bull in Alaska while solo hunting. It truly was an experience that I will cherish forever. I had to work extremely hard and relied solely on myself to find a good bull, kill it, and pack it out.
After that experience and eating a year’s worth of delicious caribou meat, I knew that I had to travel back to do it again this year. In 2021, I started hunting caribou in mid-September. Temperatures were cold, caribou were scarce, and I pretty much had the mountain to myself.
Too Many People, Too Few Caribou
Traveling to Alaska for the opening weekend this year brought an entirely different experience. The mountains were littered with people. I saw more people, campers, four-wheelers, and UTVs than I’ve seen on any hunt. I took my boyfriend Hunter this year in hopes we could both harvest a caribou or two together. We arrived a couple of days early to scout, and it was clear there were way more people than caribou.
The caribou didn’t like the pressure of people either, so before the hunt opened they moved to a desolate area only accessible by plane. As much as we hoped we could work hard and get to them, it’s genuinely impossible with just your feet as a resource.
Opening morning, we hiked eight miles over ridge after ridge and we only saw other hunters, but no caribou. We had a similar experience on the second day and decided that this wasn’t our hunting style, so we decided to head back to Utah with hopes of traveling back to Alaska later in the season when fewer people would be around.
Wolves, Grizzlies and Wolverines — Oh My!
Caribou country in Alaska is also wolf, grizzly and wolverine country. Hunting in desolate areas with top predators makes it essential to have a sidearm you trust on your hip. My open-carry gun of choice for most of this year’s hunts has been my Springfield Armory 1911 Emissary chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge.
My Emissary fits comfortably on my hip in my Bianchi Minimalist holster. If I’m carrying my backpack, it is often loaded with a significant amount of gear. Therefore, the hip strap is cinched up tight around my waistline with the holster attached to it. If I need to ditch my backpack and go on a hike without it, I’ll carry it in the same holster on my belt.
The whole purpose of carrying a sidearm is to always have it on you and have it easily accessible. I figure that the one time you forget it or decide to leave it behind will be the one time you need it. For this reason, I personally don’t go anywhere without it, as it’s not worth the risk. Besides the fact that it’s the smart thing to do, it also gives me a feeling of safety even in the most dangerous, and desolate environments.
This year I bumped into more grizzly bears in Alaska than I ever have in the past. The closer you get to these dangerous animals, the more you realize the importance of always having a capable pistol on your hip. No human should mess with their claws, teeth and extreme aggression.
Part of why they are so dangerous is because they see so few people. Brown bears truly have nothing to lose if they bump into you, and they won’t back down simply out of confidence and curiosity. Do everything you can to avoid them, as you do not want to engage with them. If you cannot avoid them and one attacks, having a sidearm is a must.
After working in Alaska and joining clients on moose hunts all September, I had a few days left to chase caribou again. Hunter and I still had caribou tags in our pockets and made a full-day journey to caribou country.
We prepared for a long day hike in hopes of spotting some caribou. Upon stopping at the first glassing knob, I was excited to spot four caribou in the distance, made up of two cows and two calves. We needed bulls for our tags, but we knew that where there’s a small group of caribou there are always more somewhere close. Caribou live in giant herds, which makes hunting them really fun. You and a friend or two can easily tag out alongside each other because the herds are so large.
After glassing around some more, I nearly jumped for joy when I spotted an entire herd of caribou in the distance. They were just about to peak over the mountaintop, but I could tell that there were at least a dozen good bulls in the herd. The problem was that they were miles and miles away, and it would be dark in a couple of hours.
We took off running towards the caribou to cover the ground as fast as possible. After about an hour’s hike up and down strenuous mountain tops, we were about 500 yards from the herd. Hunter and I snuck in closer to about 350 yards, and we both made shots at great bulls. They both went down just before sunset, and we couldn’t be happier!
It was time for the hard work. We had two caribou to cut up and hike off the mountain. The sun was setting fast, and temps were very cold. Once the sun was gone, temperatures would drop further.
We got to work immediately and handled the expedited field dressing of bulls in the dark. We each hiked a hind quarter and front quarter out and came back for the rest in the morning. The pack-outs were almost entirely uphill for miles; it wasn’t easy at all! The entire process took about two full days, and then we were finished and ready for a big burger in town.
This hunt was incredibly fun. I was excited to be alongside Hunter as he took the shot on his first caribou. It was also fun for me to take my second caribou and be successful in hunting them two years in a row. I’m already looking forward to pulling the trigger on more caribou again this fall! And, I’m glad I had my Emissary on me just in case I needed it.
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