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Arctic Wilderness Adventure

December 2022
Story by Evan Brannock
State: Alaska
Species: Caribou - Barren Ground

On day one, Caleb White and I flew from Medford, Oregon to Deadhorse, Alaska. We arrived at about 8 a.m. on August 26th and then flew into camp. We had caribou stew and told stories about all of our adventures. We got to check out the camp, and this place was set up great.

We woke up on August 27th to low clouds and snow on the mountains and tundra as far as we could see. We were sitting in the cabin with Riley, the outfitter, and his wife, Stephanie, and their kids along with D (pilot), Bob (guide), Kevin (guide), Ethan (guide/pilot), and John (another hunter). While we waited for the weather to change, we made sure all the correct paperwork was done and signed. The day ended with D and Ethan flying Caleb and me out to a spike camp on the marsh fork of the Canning River for a few days to try our luck on filling my grizzly and caribou tags and our wolf tags. We saw a few caribou and muskox on our way to spike camp.

While we were eating dinner, we looked across the small valley and saw an absolutely amazing blonde body with dark chocolate legs. We watched this grizzly bear feed for almost an hour. Caleb said it was a great bear, possibly over seven feet. We couldn’t tell if it was a boar or sow, but if it came back out tomorrow, we would be closer and ready to get a chance. Unfortunately, with it being the same day we flew in, I couldn’t do anything but watch it and hope we cross paths in the next few days.

On August 28th, we woke up to beautiful blue skies and cool air with frost on everything. We saw two bears way too far to even try to go look for them, and after watching them, it turned out they were a sow and about a 2-year-old cub. We also saw over 40 Dall sheep and a couple dozen caribou that I got a couple shots on, but my nerves got the best of me. However, I still had close to two weeks to make it happen. We glassed across the mountains and river for the evening to see if another caribou or grizzly came back out to give me another try. We headed to bed as the weather changed to a possible snowstorm.

The next day started off with beautiful weather and a light, cool wind. We had a group of bull caribou coming through the valley headed our way to cross the river. A group of hunters up the valley got an opportunity to get two of them before they got to the river where Caleb and I were waiting for the opportunity to get a shot. I was not going to be discouraged. I knew the right one was out there for me. I just needed to be patient and ready to make a good shot when they came close next time. We finished up the day with a Mountain House meal and watching the sheep on the other side of the river.

Day five started off like many others. We watched the sheep on the surrounding mountains while we ate breakfast. At about 10 a.m., Caleb spotted a group of bull caribou coming through a saddle between the mountains and headed our way, so we went out to give it another try. They slowly filtered across the hill, giving us plenty of time to get the plan together and get within 500 yards. We found one that gave us an opportunity, and he was down at about 450 yards. Thanks to a group of other hunters who were up the river from us that were very helpful getting my caribou closer to me. He was everything I had imagined – big, white mane, almost white velvet, and one huge shovel and points coming off the tops. I can’t thank everyone enough for this amazing opportunity to follow a dream I’d had since I was a kid, and I got to do it with an amazing friend.

I still had 10 days to make it happen on an Arctic grizzly bear, but unfortunately, Caleb had to leave today or tomorrow. At least I got to experience Alaska backcountry and get a caribou with him. Dan, Riley, and Kevin were picking up Caleb, and they helped me cape my caribou head to get it ready for the taxidermist. Flying back to base camp with D, we saw a few small groups of caribou bulls and some cows and calves. We met up with everyone at base camp and drank a celebratory shot out of the ram horn with Caleb and the rest of the crew to congratulate me on my successful caribou hunt.

I woke up feeling great and accomplished the next day. A lot of hunters and Chef Tandy were leaving today, and a few were coming out to base camp. We watched caribou walking across the tundra not far from camp while we were looking for a bear. It still felt so surreal that I was out here in the Brooks Range following a wild dream. I hunted hard for an Arctic grizzly bear, but it didn’t work out for me to harvest one this time. Leaving a piece of myself in the Brooks Range was a little sad, but I also found a piece of myself while I was there that I knew was inside. I just needed to push myself out of my comfort zone to know what I was truly capable of doing. I will be back to find my Arctic grizzly bear in the near future.

Thank you so much everyone with Big Game Backcountry Guides and all of my family and friends for always encouraging me to do everything I can to achieve my goals. Riley and Stephanie Pitts and your daughters, Caleb and Kayla White and your family, Bob, Kevin, Jerry, Ethan, D, Dan, Tandy, Lyn, and all the other hunters, I truly appreciate everything you have done for me. I made some great memories, connections, and friendships while out there hunting.

I’m not sure, but I believe I’m the first person to hunt the Brooks Range in a wheelchair. I plan to get out more and show the world anything is possible with the encouragement and support from family and friends.