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Bucket List Alaska Caribou

December 2023
Story by Jeremy Miller
State: Alaska
Species: Caribou - Barren Ground

Hunting Alaska had always been a dream. My uncle, Merle, from Colorado asked me a year before if I wanted to go hunt caribou in Alaska. Absolutely! Six months later, I told him I couldn’t go due to work. However, two months before the trip, Merle bugged me again. I run a construction company, and my best worker, Kevin, was going to go too. Two people were now pressuring me. Deep down, I knew I should not pass up this opportunity. Bam! I was going. It was a scurry of buying tickets and gear, although I had quite a bit already, which helped.

From Kansas City, we flew to Fairbanks on August 17th. The next day, we flew Wright Air on a nine-passenger plane to Bettles. What an awesome little Alaska village! We waited a day on weather to fly out of Bettles. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about in Alaska? From there, we flew out on a floatplane operated by Brooks Range Aviation to Akuliak Lake. They dropped us off, and we began our self-guided caribou hunt. We set up camp, and before dark, we saw 40 caribou from camp. Due to Alaska’s no hunting on drop-off day rule, we watched them go. That was a great way to start, and our spirits were high.

We woke up to north winds and a heavy mist. Knowing where they came through last night, we set up a bivy shelter and hunkered down and watched for caribou. Around midday, we spotted a few loner caribou on the hill. Suddenly, we saw the whole group of 20 or so about 300 yards from where we were.

We wanted to give Kevin first chance since he had never shot anything out of state. Boom! He hammered the bull he had picked out with his .257 Weatherby. Kevin shot an awesome bull with double shovels. Merle could have taken a good bull out of the group, but the herd was moving fast and he wasn’t ready. I could have shot a smaller one, but Merle said we could do better as it was only the first day. We quartered out Kevin’s bull and packed it back to camp, which was almost half a mile. Not bad at all except for the crazy Alaska tundra which consists of water and balls of grass that were great ankle sprainers.

The next couple days consisted of wind and heavy mist and sitting under the tarp. Typical Alaska weather, I suppose. It was those days we had to keep that mental focus and stay positive because we hardly saw any caribou.

Day four of the hunt, we put seven or eight miles on “looking” for caribou but seeing very few. We comforted ourselves that we did what we could, but we were somewhat frustrated that evening.

Wednesday morning, Merle and I were sitting in the Seek Outside teepee, which was our shelter if we were at camp just hanging out. We had a little soul talk. What if we had to leave with no caribou? Merle seemed to accept it and said he was coming back next year if that happened. I was still mentally battling it as it was a hard thought to swallow. Kevin was happily tagged out.
Merle and I were regretting not taking shots the first day when Kevin shot his.

Our scheduled fly out day was Friday the 26th. We decided to just stay at camp and watch for caribou that day because we could see miles from camp. We were randomly sticking our heads outside to see if any were passing through. One time, Merle checked and we instantly knew he saw bulls. There were four bulls, and two were good shooters. I took the first shot from camp, but he didn’t go down. They were a good distance away, so we decided to get closer. Kevin and I went after them and then we stopped and waited on Merle because we saw he could have a chance too if it all played out. My caribou was hurt and not moving much at all. We got Merle close enough for a good shot, and he dropped him! My caribou took off, so Kevin and I went after him. I finally got another round into him that dropped him. I then snuck closer and finished him off. Merle and I were both shooting 6.5 PRC. To say we were happy doesn’t even state it. From the lowest of lows to highest of highs, we had two bulls down. Thank you, God! We spent the rest of the day getting two bulls to camp. Merle’s was 0.6 miles from camp, and mine was right at a mile. We were super happy that evening.

We waited five days after Wednesday for the plane to be able get us out due to weather. It was a long wait, and to say we were ready to get out is an understatement. However, we remained patient (most times) and just hung out.

I want to give thanks and awe to God for giving me this beautiful country to enjoy. The privilege of hunting these animals is humbling. He gave me strength and health to be able to do this. Also, thanks to my amazing wife, Jana. Thanks so much for allowing me to pursue my dream and passion of hunting. Ten days was a stretch for you, but I am so proud of you for staying strong. There aren’t a lot out there like you. Thanks to Merle and Kevin for putting up with me and pressuring me to go. It was awesome being “stuck” out there with you guys. Good luck to all!