Caribou Hunting 101

caribou hunting
Herds of caribou include thousands of animals making your odds higher for caribou hunting then deer hunting or elk hunting.

Hunting is often a low percentage proposition. If you go deer hunting and hope to harvest a record book trophy buck, it will probably take you years to achieve your dream. If you go elk hunting with hopes of killing a monster bull, you will probably hunt them for years before you get that lucky. The same can be said for most big game animals except caribou.

Herds of caribou often include thousands of animals. If you hunt hard for five or ten days, you will likely harvest a bull before going home. Most Canadian and Alaskan hunting outfitters who offer caribou hunts almost guarantee success. In many cases, they guarantee two caribou bulls. For example, two caribou hunters in five days of caribou hunting, harvested three caribou. The success rate on caribou hunts often exceeds 90% in most Canadian provinces and in Alaska.

One of the best things about caribou hunting is it takes place in remote country that can only be reached by bush plane. Flying over the Canadian tundra staring down at the thousands of lakes is a sight caribou hunters will never forget. In addition to seeing thousands of lakes, this caribou hunter saw caribou runways that were etched into the tundra by the caribou who used the same path for hundreds of years.

Make sure to bring your patience when caribou hunting; you might not see caribou for hours or even days. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

After being dropped off in the bush, the caribou hunters' home was a cabin that consisted of canvas and plywood. It didn’t look like much but it kept the rain off their heads and the hot wood stove kept them warm and cozy after long days of caribou hunting.

Caribou hunting isn’t like any other type of hunting. You don’t sit in tree stands for long hours, call them in or hunt them on the edge of food plots or corn fields. When caribou hunting, you glass for hours until you find caribou. For the most part, caribou follow the same travel routes year after year and migrate from spring and summer calving and feeding grounds to fall and winter grounds, eating as they go. Most hunting outfitters place caribou hunters near typical migration routes and the caribou hunter glasses for caribou and waits until they pass within range of their bow or gun.

Often one of the best places to sit and wait for caribou is near a water crossing. “Often caribou will travel to a certain spot along a lake edge and cross the lake, heading to their wintering grounds,” one caribou guide said. “I often place hunters near the waters’ edge by the crossing locations hoping that the caribou will cross by the hunter. Year after year, caribou often cross large lakes in the same places. I have certain spots that have been very productive for hunters.”

Most caribou hunting takes place in remote country and only accessible by bush plane.

It is not uncommon to spot herds of several hundred or several thousand when caribou hunting. On this caribou hunt, the caribou hunters hunted for five days without laying eyes on a caribou. The sixth day, however, was a different story. Over two hours, they saw thousands of caribou and that’s when one of the caribou hunters tagged his.

Seeing thousands of caribou cross in front of you single file is a great sight to see but not always ideal. “When hunting, I believe seeing several small herds of caribou during a week can result in better hunting than seeing several thousand in one day. When you are able to see several small bands of caribou during a hunt, you have the opportunity to sort of choose the caribou you want to harvest. When you see thousands of them in one shot, you have to quickly take advantage of the situation and shoot quickly,” the hunting guide noted.

On this caribou hunt, from the moment they saw the caribou until they tagged their bulls was less than an hour. One of the neatest things they've seen in their life occurred after they tagged their bulsl. As they made the several mile hike back to their boat, they bumped into several herds of caribou. At one point, they had large bulls within forty yards of them. One of the hunters put the caribou rack on his head and walked towards them. They stopped and stared at him, not knowing if he was a caribou or some crazy creature they had never seen before. Caribou hunting is an amazing adventure!

If you plan on going on a caribou hunt, get yourself into the best shape of your life. Although in most cases you will have a hunting guide with you, you’ll need to pack out much of your own meat. When these caribou hunters hunted in Quebec, they harvested three caribou in fifteen minutes so they had lots of meat to pack back to the boat. One of the caribou hunters had 125 pounds of meat in his pack when they left the kill site! They know this because they weighed his pack when they returned to camp. He packed that meat several miles back to the boat.

Caribou hunting can happen very quickly once you see a herd.

In addition to being in good shape, having top notch hunting gear is vital. It’s likely that you’ll do plenty of walking when caribou hunting so having good hunting boots can make your hunt much more enjoyable. Your ankles can roll when walking on the tundra or you can get lots of blisters if you use cheap hunting boots. In both cases, your dream hunt could turn into a disaster if you don’t have good waterproof hunting boots.

Having a good hunting pack is also important. You will likely pack out meat that can weigh over 100 pounds and although that sounds like a lot, if you have a good hunting pack, one hundred pounds can feel like fifty pounds. On the other hand, if you buy a cheap backpack that doesn’t fit right, one hundred pounds can feel like two hundred pounds. Some hunters prefer a hunting pack with an external aluminum frame while others prefer a hunting pack with an internal frame. Try on a few hunting packs before deciding which type of pack you prefer.

Some caribou hunters prefer to hunt caribou with a gun while others prefer a bow. Both weapons can quickly bring down a caribou. If you are a bowhunter, practice shooting at long ranges. Forty or fifty-yard shots are not uncommon in caribou country. You’re often caribou hunting in open terrain where stalking can be difficult. The longer shot you feel comfortable taking, the better chance you have of getting a caribou or two. Although caribou look large, your whitetail bow will probably get the job done. When these hunters hunted caribou, their broadhead and arrow combination was slightly less than 400 grains. He also use this arrow setup for deer and elk.

If you plan on caribou hunting with a gun, use the gun you feel comfortable shooting. The most common gun used for caribou is a 30.06 because it’s what many deer hunters use. The other caribou hunter brought a .270 and it quickly killed caribou!

You might think you need to take long shots with a gun when caribou hunting, but in most cases you won’t have to shoot beyond 100-150 yards which most whitetail hunters can easily make. Any basic 3x9x40 scope will get the job done.

Make sure you have a good hunting pack to carry all of your caribou meat.

If you don’t want to hunt caribou with a hunting outfitter, hunt in Alaska. They allow nonresidents to hunt caribou without a hunting guide. You can hire a bush plane to drop you in the middle of the tundra where they know caribou hang out or you can hunt from the Haul Road outside of Fairbanks. The Haul Road is the only place in Alaska you can hunt caribou without having to leave the road system. The road follows the oil pipeline and you can often see caribou on the tundra from your vehicle. If you want to bowhunt, you can park your vehicle and start hunting. If you want to gun hunt, you have to be at least five miles off the road. Many bowhunters who hunt the Haul Road report having to take sixty-eighty yard shots in the wind. If hunting the Haul Road sounds like fun, practice shooting your bow!

When caribou hunting, the most important thing to bring with you is your patience. You are at the mercy of the caribou. If the caribou migration hasn’t reached where you are hunting, you must wait for them. Unlike deer hunting, you can’t get up and drive to a new spot or hike over the next ridge. It doesn’t work that way. These caribou hunters hunted five days before seeing a caribou. They glassed for hours and hiked all over the place. Eventually the caribou showed up!

The planes fly when the weather is right. If there is a lot wind, rain or snow you might not fly in or out the day you were planning. Caribou hunting teaches you to roll with the punches. It doesn’t matter if you have to be at work on Monday or if you want to kill a caribou. Everything in the bush is on a different schedule than ours. The planes fly when they can and the caribou migrate when and where they want to.

If you are looking for a wilderness adventure where you can walk in places rarely touched by man and see wildlife galore, go on a caribou hunt. It will be a trip you won’t forget and you will probably come home with a mindful of great memories, a rack or two for the wall and a freezer full of fresh caribou meat.



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