I believe it was the early fall of 1998 when I made my first caribou hunt. At that time I had just recently signed on with Petersen’s HUNTING magazine. A regular advertiser, Sammy Cantafio, wanted an “Arctic virgin” to come up and experience his caribou hunting operation out of Ungava Bay. If your Canadian geography is a bit scarce, Ungava Bay is the first large bay east of Hudson Bay. At the back of Ungava Bay is a tiny Inuit community of Kuujjuac. During World War II it was known as Fort Chimo and served as a fueling stop for planes on their way to Europe.
An Air Canada Boeing 737 ferries people—mostly caribou hunters in the fall—to and fro from Montreal to Kuujjuac daily. When the plane touched down in Kuujjuac I was 750 miles from the nearest road that can get me to civilization. From there I got into a 1950’s-vintage Otter float plane, along with my gear and several other hunters. I was told to sit in the right front seat—what would otherwise be a co-pilot’s seat. You know all those gauges and dials and such that are in a cockpit console? Every one of them was literally hanging out of their normal spot by the wires—except for a fuel gauge and an air speed gauge. A GPS was stuck to the console with Velcro. The pilot was from Quebec and spoke no English whatsoever. We took off from Ungava Bay in a light chop and headed 200 miles out onto the tundra, landing on the eastern edge of Lake Minto.
Our camp was pretty lavish, given where we were. The hunter’s tent was heavy plastic stapled to a 2×4 framework. An oil heater kept us quite comfortable. The cook tent was fully equipped and stocked, and adjacent to it was a shower tent with a real water heater. After breakfast the following morning, we headed to the lake and each hunter got into an aluminum skiff for a ride across Lake Minto. Caribou were regularly crossing the lake, and I was able to get some stunning images up close of these Arctic deer. Unfortunately, the best of those images had to be left at the magazine when I moved on.
Caribou hunting is pretty much a feast-or-famine proposition. They are either there, or they are not. The caribou herd is considered to be migratory, but I think a more accurate description would be nomadic. On this hunt we were well within the herd. Caribou were virtually everywhere, and although the limit was two animals, it was difficult at first to make a choice as to which animals we wanted to stalk. Most of the caribou had probably never seen a human, so while they would not stand for you to walk right up to them, they were not spooked much by the sight of us.
Eventually I took an ancient bull whose antlers were in decline. He was so old; his teeth were worn to the gum line from a lifetime of chewing the sandy lichen that sustained him. A day or two later I took the bull you see at the top of this. I apologize for the fuzzy images. They are scans from prints I had. For those who may wonder about the quality of caribou meat, I’d say it is quite rich but, of course, very lean.
As a full-blown, unrepentant wilderness junkie I have to say that this trip really whetted my wild country appetite. I have been on several more caribou trips since this one. Each has been a grand adventure, and I highly recommend that if the wilderness temptress beckons you, go ahead and submit to her by going on a sub-Arctic caribou hunt.