Where the trees are short…and the caribou huge

Associate Editor

On the final night of the hunt, we danced.

Our guides were now drummers; those who cooked, cleaned, and
smoked the meat at camp were now partners in dance with those of us
who’d pursued the caribou of the Northwest Territories for six long
days.

Dean Bortz, editor of Minnesota’s sister Wisconsin Outdoor News,
myself, and another hunting compadre, Mike Harrington of
Minneapolis, arrived at MacKay Lake Lodge, a one-hour flight by
twin engine, north of Yellowknife, on Sept. 9. We were quite novice
caribou hunters, knowing little about the intricacies of
back-scratchers, shovels, and bezes. It’s amazing what you can
learn in a week, or even a day.

Here in the Barrenlands, fall was well under way. The lush
ground vegetation had turned to hues of blazing red, orange and
yellow. While admiring all that around us, we had a constant lunch
of blueberries and cranberries at our disposal. It’s a short season
this far north. Ice-out on the 100-mile long MacKay Lake usually is
in late June. Caribou hunts wrap up around the end of September as
ice again starts to lock up the big lake.

Much hunting and fishing must be compressed into a short time
period. We made the most of our time there.

The first day, we were told by our hunting predecessors of the
week before, should be for seeing only. Shooting would come
later.

We heeded that advice and spent much of Day 1 hunkered in the
sparse pine growths or shallow ditches in the landscape, scoping
migrating caribou. As the sun set, I shook my head and asked guide
Malcolm Jaeb how many we’d seen, including the one that nearly
stepped on me as I sat motionless in the small dip in the
ground.

“I’d say between 3,000 and 5,000,” he said. We’d see about the
same number the second day.

I trusted Malcolm. His father, Gary, runs MacKay Lake Lodge, and
Malcolm had been a guide for seven years. So had Malcolm’s friend,
Keith Sangris, who showed Dean and me the landscape our final three
days.

It was Day 2, however, when, for our group of three, the first
caribou fell. I dropped the bull at about 200 yards. Unofficial
scorers at the camp had it in the 350 to 360 range, perhaps enough
to make the Boone and Crockett book. My .270 rifle had served me
well.

Before the week was out, Mike had taken a nice bull, and Dean
had done the same. On Day 5, I took my second bull. Both Dean and I
had two tags. We also carried with us tags to shoot a timber wolf
should one appear. None did.

Other wildlife, including a seemingly healthy supply of grizzly
bears, made regular appearances. In fact, one of the grizzlies
visited our boat as we hiked the tundra in search of bou. That bear
left rain gear strewn in the water, radio antenna snapped, and boat
seats bent. That was the first day and we watched for that bear, or
any of his buddies, the rest of the week.

While caribou demanded most of our attention, we found time to
drop a line for MacKay’s massive lake trout and grayling. The lodge
offers guided fishing trips during July and August. You won’t find
much angling pressure that far north.

That Sunday night, as the drums pounded and the Den guides sang
songs of their culture, we knew why we celebrated.

To contact Jaeb, call toll free at (888) 359-9532, or at (867)
873-8533. His e-mail is: tnsafari@internorth.com; his web site is:
www.truenorthsafaris.com. Or, you may write him at True North
Safaris/MacKay Lake Lodge, 3919 School Draw, Yellowknife, NT,
Canada X1A 2J7.

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