Caribou And Friends
Hunters: David Blanton; John Tate; Gary LeVox, lead singer of Rascal Flatts; Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo with Archer's Choice TV show; Lee and Tiffany Lakosky with Scent-Lok's Gettin' Close TV show and Realtree friends Jon Powell, Richard Reid and Rafe Armstrong
Location: Mirage Outfitters in Quebec, Canada
Dates: Oct 5-10
Weapons: compound bows
Weather: Beautiful three out of four days with one day snowy and windy. Temps in the 30s
THE 'BOU BRIGADE--By David Blanton as told to Stephanie Mallory
I've been asked before, "What is the most fun hunt you've ever been on?" This caribou hunt with Mirage Outfitters has to be it. One of the coolest experiences of my life has been hunting caribou with this outfit. After hunting with Mirage Outfitters two years ago, I couldn't wait to get back out there. The guides know how to put the hunters into a tremendous amount of animals. That's why we took such a large gourp of folks hunting with us this year. My goal was to book the entire camp with friends and member of Team Realtree. I wanted them to experience one of the most awesome hunts available.
I like to hunt in October when the rut is starting, which is just perfect because its colder weather and the caribou are harder horned. The bulls are chasing, running and fighting, which makes it a more exciting hunt than the typical late-summer or early fall hunts.
Because it's late in the year, the weather can become an issue. It's cold, windy and snowing, which eliminates travel by boat out of the camps to the hunting locations. So, in lieu of that, Mirage has float planes on hand to fly hunters out every day to the herds of migrating caribou. No one handles the logistics as well as Mirage Outfitters.
The outfit has permission to hunt thousands and thousands of square miles, everything south of 57 parallel, which is owned by the natives. That area of Quebec is so vast that chances are when you're out there searching for caribou, you're most likely walking where no man has walked before.
JOURNEY TO MIRAGE
We had an adventure from the time we left Atlanta. We spent the night in Montreal then took a three-hour charter flight to the main lodge. Then we transferred our gear over to a float plain and flew to the outpost camp. They take us to whichever one happens to be closest to the caribou at the time. This trip requires a lot of travel--4.5 days worth to be exact with four days of hunting, but it's worth it. I was especially excited about spending the week with Gary LeVox and watching his reaction when confronted with the herd of caribou for the first time.
As usual in October, the weather was iffy. It was cold, windy and rainy so we had to battle the elements. After flying on some pretty rough float plane flights, we finally arrived at the outpost camp where we would spend the week. The camp was 1,000 miles from civilization. The accommodations and food were incredible. We had hot and cold showers, running toilets and fantastic food.
We checked our bows and shot some arrows that evening to prepare for the next day. Everyone was so pumped. I got more satisfaction out of watching the excitement level of the people who had never done this before than anything else. Needless to say, there wasn't a lot of sleep that first night.
LET THE PURSUIT BEGIN
When we awoke that next morning, to our delight the weather had cleared. It was cloudy and cool with temperatures between 35 to 40 degrees. After a 60-mile float plane ride, we landed on a lake near the caribou migration.
Gary, John and I hunted together with our guide Pierre. From the very beginning, we were all over caribou, but we couldn't find a setup with the right wind. After walking for a few miles we finally found a good place to set up. We built a makeshift ground blind and enjoyed a fantastic day of hunting.
As one of the Realtree guests, Gary went first. After setting up that blind, it was only a matter of minutes before Gary got a shot at a nice bull only a few yards away. He ended up killing his first caribou ever on that first afternoon of the hunt. When we returned to camp, we saw that several caribou had been taken. Everyone was giddy with success.
The next day, we flew out once again on float planes. We hunted hard that second day. Suddenly we realized we only had a couple of hours left to hunt and no one had released an arrow. We were having a hard time finding a setup that was perfect for the camera. We couldn't get any big bulls within bow range. There were so many animals around, but we just couldn't get in position.
EIGHT MINUTES OF MADNESS
With only two hours remaining before it was time to fly back, we found a place where the caribou were funneled into a point by some rocks as they walked up a hill from the lake. The wind was just perfect. Before we knew it, Gary had tagged out on a second caribou at 25 yards. After that, within six minutes, I tagged out by killing two caribou. We had three bulls on the ground within eight minutes. That's just the way caribou hunting is. It's either feast or famine. You can go all day without luck, and then have the opportunity at several nice bulls within a matter of minutes. If you find the right setup, it can happen very quickly. We were all just beside ourselves with excitement.
When we returned to camp, we found out that many of the other hunters had tagged out as well. My buddy Jon Powell had never bowhunted before this trip. He ended up taking his second bull with a bow. He was thrilled with that accomplishment. We were all very content.
That next day, John Tate was going to hunt and I was going to run the camera. John had two bulls to kill. When we woke up that morning, we were upset to see that it was snowing and the wind was blowing 50 mph. Because the weather was so bad, we couldn't fly out to the caribou in the float plane, so we ended up spending the third day of the hunt in camp playing cards, eating, sleeping, telling jokes and just hanging out.
We were down to the last day of the hunt and were just praying for good weather. When daylight broke, the weather was perfect. The wind had died down considerably.
CARIBOU-LOOZA--By John Tate as told to Stephanie Mallory
I was pretty excited about the footage I had taken of both Gary and David's hunt. I knew I'd have a chance to hunt once I was finished with the show responsibilities, but I was most concerned with capturing their hunts on film. I was disappointed when we woke up the third day of the hunt with bad weather. But, as with any hunting situation, we're at the mercy of Mother Nature. We made the best of the situation and ended up having a good time in camp. Any time you have Gary in camp, you're going to have fun. He's a hoot to hang out with.
One of the cool things about the hunt to me is that we got to spend time with some of Realtree's pro staffers. They're out there promoting the brand, but we seldom get to see them anywhere other than at the trade shows. I was happy we could hang out together during a hunt.
The last day of the hunt, the weather couldn't have been any better. We boarded the float plane and had to fly almost 100 miles to find the caribou. The bad weather the previous day had slowed them down. When we flew over them, we saw that they were either bedded down or milling around. They weren't up and migrating as they had been the previous day. We landed the float plane and got out.
As the morning progressed, the caribou began to get up and make their way down the migration trails. As the sun rose in the sky, we saw more and more caribou. Just like the previous days, we were having a hard time setting up on them because of the wind direction. After scouting around for a while, we spotted a few caribou crossing downwind where the island jetted out into a lake. We thought if we could get to the spruce trees by that crossing, we'd be sitting pretty.
We made our way over to the trees and spooked a few caribou along the way, but we managed to stay out of sight of the big bulls. We saw a group of caribou 400 yards away headed in our direction. David moved in front of me and I backed off so that I could shoot through the biggest opening in the spruce trees. The group made its way to 50 yards in front of us.
HERD OF PLENTY
The herd staged up on a rise while the bulls grunted and ran the cows around. Then one or two bulls started coming down the trail, which ran only 5 or 6 feet in front of us. We were only 18 yards from the farthest side of the trail. All of the sudden, they all decided to make their way down the trail. I couldn't believe how many animals were coming by us. I saw two really big bulls that I would have liked to have shot, but the herd was seven animals deep, and I knew if I shot one I could end up killing several more caribou. I didn't want to take the chance.
After about 30 minutes, the herd began to thin out. David and I both spotted a really good one. I came to full draw and shot him at just 18 yards away. He was really wide and palmated with nice bezes and shovels. I was tickled and David was tickled for me. What I had just witnessed at such a close range was unlike anything I'd ever experienced.
David and I had such a good time. It's cool to be able to share that type of experience with my best friend. We worked really hard that week trying to get good footage, and everything worked out perfectly despite the weather. We've decided to take this trip every other year. It's such a hard trip, that you can't do it every year, but when the time comes, I know I'll be itching to do it again. Mirage Outfitters is such a first-class outfit. They really take care of their clients, and the hunting is just phenomenal.
MORE ON MIRAGE
A warm welcome, unbeatable service and a top reputation for excellent fishing and hunting await you.
From a simple dream, Mirage Outfitter has become a reality thanks to the unrelenting work of a team which overlooks nothing, making your stay in the North an exciting experience that you'll remember for life.
That explains why almost 90% of visitors return year after year, and how the outfit has so quickly become the largest winter outfitter for caribou hunting on the entire eastern seaboard of America without losing, in the process, the personalized touch which tourists value so much!
For more information about Mirage Outfitter, call 1-866-339-6202, or check out www. www.mirageoutfitter.com