Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A caribou hunt is a messy affair. It's a visceral sensory experience, featuring sights, sounds, smells and textures that you will find in no other situation. Trust me when I say that's a blessing. The routine was generally the same, whether it was fall or spring. In Stony Rapids, the local government would give maybe a thousand dollars to each local hunter who signed up, to put toward the cost of a hunt. They'd come to us, and we'd load 3 of them and myself into a 185 on skis, then jump in and head to where the caribou were running.

It was a stunning and beautiful sight to fly over the caribou as they ran across the frozen north; there were thousands upon thousands of them making the trek across the land, and it gave me hope that the earth hasn't been totally destroyed by humans just yet, and that nature was still in charge in some places. If you have ever flown at 3,000' and seen a hundred thousand large animals take up all the space between you and the horizon, you'll know what I mean.

Once we found the herd, we'd buzz them in such a way as to seperate a few of them from the main group, perhaps using the plane to chase a half-dozen of them toward the open shoreline of a frozen lake, or into a dead-end open space between two thickets of trees. We'd land quickly, not giving them time to bolt past us and rejoin the herd, and the hunters would immediately jump out of the plane and start knocking the caribou down with their rifles.

Actually, they'd try, but most of the locals had rifles that had probably seen service in the previous century, complete with tape over rust holes in the gun barrels, so their accuracy wasn't so great. I had bought a hunting rifle, a Ruger 223 Mini 14, from Luke, the gun-nut Navajo-roller I wrote about a while ago. It was a good deal; I bought it for $250 and a whole bottle of rum, my thought being that a rifle might come in useful in the great outdoors and even more so if I had a mechanical failure and wound up in the bush for any length of time. It was in good shape and had a scope, and it wasn't long before I started helping out the hunters on the hunts. Years of playing video games had apparently helped my aim, and after a short while I got to be a pretty good shot, so much so that on some trips the hunters would simply bring a box of ammunition for my gun and ask me to do the actual shooting, as my ammo was cheaper and my gun more accurate than theirs. It really saved a lot of time and effort if I could knock down 6 caribou with 6 or 8 rounds in 2 minutes rather than them knocking down 6 caribou in half an hour with maybe 30 rounds. I take no joy at all in killing animals, but I understand that's where meat comes from, and I did my best to be quick and humane.

As an aside, my mother teaches yoga, and she owns her own yoga studio. She also reads this blog from time to time, and I'm thinking right now she's going "Oh my Goddess, my son is a murdering carnivore!" Sorry mom, but it really was quick and my rifle was a better end for the animals than at the tender mercies of the local hunters who only cared about immobilizing the caribou for long enough to chop them into caribou burgers.

Anyway, once the furry beasts were dispatched, the hunters were very efficient at converting caribou to caribou cutlets, and it only took a couple of hours before a small herd was reduced to a large pile of of meat. Very little was wasted, if any, and I was always impressed by that. This isn't like a hunter blasting an animal just so they can mount the head on their living room wall; up north, it all got used and when the hunters were done, all that was left behind was a little bit of darkened snow.

The hunters would then cut blocks of ice from the ground and carefully stack the ice around the meat, which would deter predators such as wolves or ravens from feasting in our absence. We'd all get back in the plane, and head for home, where the hunters would disembark.

If there was enough daylight left, I would fly back to the spot where the caribou met their end, stretch a blue tarp inside the back of the airplane, then move the ice blocks and load the frozen meat bits for the return flight to the airport. If there wasn't enough light or the weather was bad, I'd maybe wait until early the next day, hoping that the ravens hadn't gotten into the meat cache. The ravens up north were the size of small ponies, and depending on the weather it could be upwards of a week before the meat got picked up again, so proper storage was very important. Otherwise it was entirely possible to return to a meat cache where 800 lbs of frozen caribou had been stored a few days before and instead only find a few bone chips, along with some steaming thank-you notes from a pack of wolves.

I once broke a rear window in the 185 while loading a leg - I wasn't paying enough attention and accidentally heaved the sharp part of the hoof through the plexiglass, which shattered into little tiny pieces. It was a loud and cold flight home, and when I landed at the airport and told the boss, he took it off my paycheque.

I estimate I personally got 50 caribou in total during the trips I did. If reincarnation exists, you KNOW what I'm coming back as.


Aviatrix said...

And here I was thinking I might someday have paid enough dues to earn a job in the south. Anyone who ever looks at you and thinks they deserve a shiny Citation as much as you do needs to go to Stony Rapids for a bit.

Anonymous said...

You're coming back as a raven right? or was that a wolf? An airplane? A rifle? Okay I give up..

Anonymous said...

Are Stony Rapids and Fond du Lac still that bad?