From Austin, Texas to the Arctic Circle, the trip just to get to their hunting destination was rather extensive. Austin to Seattle, Seattle to Anchorage, Anchorage to Kotzebue and from there, an hour plus flight on a puddle jumper into the Arctic Circle near the Noatak-Cutler Confluence. The pilot identified a location where there had been some caribou activity and dropped them off in the remote wilderness for a few days, giving them the opportunity to fill their tags before he returned to pick them up. What followed was success, challenge and a whole lot of bear encounters.
Derrick says their 4-man hunting party set up camp and saw some caribou the first evening there and, in a bid, to check off yet another bucket list item, he got up early to see the northern lights. They did catch the spectacular light show, but what he didn’t expect was to see a bear right outside their camp as he was shining his flashlight along the water’s edge. The bear didn’t pose a threat, so they headed back to their tents.
Because there were several people in the hunting party, the friends drew to establish the order in which they would hunt/shoot. Derrick says based on the draw he was the last shooter, so he went out with the first hunter to film and help scout/guide him. They spotted a herd of caribou a couple of miles away, to reach them, it required crossing the Noatak River. In order to do so, the pilot left behind an inflatable canoe like boat. Derrick said he had his doubts about the ability of this inflatable boat to carry two hunters and all their gear, but it sufficed. Making it across the river, they then began to hike across the tundra. Derrick says what many people may not realize is just how rough the terrain is. What looks like plains as you fly over, in actuality, is more like a marsh and can make traversing the landscape difficult. Illustrating his point, Derrick says that they could travel three to four miles in pursuit of a herd only to have the caribou gain two miles on them. There is no doubt that the animals definitely have the advantage in this terrain and the hunter is the underdog. Eventually, Derrick says they found a group of caribou with several nice bulls and were able to position themselves for a shot opportunity. His friend keyed in on a bull and made a successful shot. While Derrick drew the short stick and was supposed to be the last shooter, the other two members of the group weren’t with them. So, at that point, with bulls still around, Derrick was able to drop a bull on the spot. While many people say caribou are like a big mule deer, Derrick says when walking up on their bulls he realized just how inaccurate that comparison is, noting they are much larger. Two miles from camp, two caribou on the ground, 60 yards apart - the work to get their bulls back to camp began. A big caribou can weigh 350-400 pounds. That’s a lot to work up and a lot of weight to pack out, each one requiring multiple trips to pack out.
With both of them on one side of the Noatak River, each cleaning caribou, quartering and bagging it, Derrick says his friend went back to camp to retrieve the boat and float it down the river. Their plan was to load the caribou in the boat and float it back upstream which would be easier than packing it all upstream. On the way back to camp the hunter ran into a grizzly on the water’s edge, yet again. While waiting for the boat, Derrick says he stayed behind and walked back and forth, packing the caribou quarters, capes and antlers all down to the river side to get ready to load it in the boat. When the friend made it back, they were able to load the entirety of two caribou into the inflatable boat where they then made a harness from paracord and pulled it several miles back up river to their camp.
Derrick says by the end of the day, they were exhausted and woke around 1:00 a.m. to the sound of a bear in camp, right outside their tent. Yelling to scare it off, the bear went from one tent to the other, where they eventually fired a round into the ground to scare it off. However, the bears weren’t easily deterred. Derrick laughs saying the nighttime visits were an every night occurrence with three different bears, happening about the same time every night. The first night the only thing that succumbed to the bruins was the proof of sex the bear stole from one of the hind quarters. The following day, the group decided to move their meat, however that night the bears found it yet again and tore into it, robbing a cape and more.
The following days saw both other hunters in the party take nice bulls, so everyone met their goal of tagging out. While the hunt was all about caribou, the grizzlies in the area played a big role in the overall experience. On the final night of the trip, Derrick says the bears won. Moving their meat yet again and trying to secure it as best as possible, the grizzlies found it and this time obliterated it. Out of 4 caribou, the group only walked away with 82-pounds total, the rest was seized by bears, a bummer considering Derrick says it is one of his top 3 favorite game meats. What they lacked in meat when returning to the lower 48, they undoubtedly made up for in the overall experience!
Now, the question everyone is probably asking themselves is, what were these boys packing for firearms? Derrick says that his three hunting partners all carried custom 6.5 Creedmoors made by Horizon Firearms. Derrick on the other hand was carrying his personal custom Horizon Firearms 6.5 PRC, a caliber that he has discussed in more detail with us in prior visits on the show. The 22-inch 6.5 PRC has a KREMLIN stock and carbon fiber barrel and Derrick notes he was also shooting suppressed. Overall, he says the 6.5 PRC ran about 200 fps faster, with factory loads, then the other 6.5 Creedmoors in the group. He’ll also talk about the different loads chosen by each shooter and how those performed.
What is your most memorable hunt? This is one that, no doubt, Derrick and his friends will never forget! Be sure to check out Horizon Firearms on both Facebook and Instagram so you can see more photos from this cool DIY Alaskan Caribou hunt. Plus, you’ll also get to see, and drool over, the incredible custom rifles the Horizon Firearms team creates. If you want to look at their selection of “rifles ready to ship” be sure to look them up at www.HorizonFirearms.com.
Thanks for listening friends and here’s to bucket list hunts!