Covered Up In Caribou
Cameramen: David Blanton, John Tate, Ralph and Vickie Cianciarulo
Dates hunted: 10/8/04 - 10/17/04
Location hunted: Quebec, Canada
Booking Agent: Bullseye Outfitters & Adventures Service http://www.bullseyeoutfitters.com or phone 724-941-6811)
Mirage Outfitter http://www.mirageoutfitter.com
Weather conditions: Highs were in the upper 50s and 60s during the first few days. The last couple of days the temps didn't get out of the mid- 30s to 40s. At night it would dip into the 20s.
Phase of Season: Hard Pre-rut migration
Hunting weapon: David Blanton bowhunted with his Mathews Legacy, with Easton ACC 33-60 arrows, and 100-grain Thunderheads. Tate was shooting a Mathews LX with Blackhawk Vapor arrows in Realtree, Muzzy 3-blade, 100-grain heads and used a Nikon laser rangefinder and Monarch binoculars.
Hunting strategies: Caribou herds were spotted by way of flying grid patterns in float planes. Once found, hunters were dropped into the general vicinity of the herd. Then the spot, stalk, ground-ambush strategy came into play.
Recap of the Hunts:
We've always enjoyed hanging around with Ralph and Vickie Cianciarulo. They are two of our favorite pro staffers and good friends of Realtree. This was to be my first time sharing a hunting camp with them. Last year, Michael Waddell and Steve Finch hunted caribou in Quebec with Ralph and Vicki with a different outfitter. This year Ralph called me and said that they had an invite to go with Mirage Outfitters. Ralph sounded ecstatic over the phone about this hunting opportunity. Peter Palmer, who works for Mirage now and has been in the caribou hunting business for 30 years, was the first person with the idea to hunt caribou during the rut. What excited us about this trip was that is was not going to be your typical caribou hunt in late August or September when the bulls are still in velvet, the weather's real nice and the bugs can be a problem. This was in October when the temperatures average around 30-35 degrees with light dustings of snow on the ground. The caribou were all hard-horned and they were beginning to rut. Now they're still migrating, but the bulls were rutting! What excited us the most about hunting these animals under these conditions is that you don't really ever get to see any of that on video or television.
Personally for me, I was looking forward to it because it was going to be hunting during the cooler weather, which I enjoy most. If I have a choice between cold weather and bugs, I'll take the cold weather all day long.
Plans For The Trip
We made our plans back in the spring to commit to this hunt and I knew immediately that it was going to be a situation where whoever I took with me was also going to have a chance to hunt-we'd simply take turns running camera. John Tate to me was the perfect choice to take along. First of all, John has worked his tail off producing Realtree Outdoors with ESPN this year. He's really taken the bull by the horns working through all of the new challenges. Also, John loves to bowhunt and I just enjoy his company. So John and I got really excited about going early on.
On October 8th, we left Atlanta and flew to Montreal where we spent the night. We met up with Ralph and Vicki at the hotel the following morning and had breakfast and also met the other gentlemen in camp. Their names were Rick and Joe Scott. The father and son team-Rick being the son-were from Buffalo, Minnesota. Also there and from Buffalo were Brandon Anderson and his dad named Al. They were all in camp with us and turned out to be a great bunch of guys.
From breakfast, we all boarded a charter flight that took us to a place called LG4. LG4 is an airport used mainly for the working industry. We landed around 3pm on Saturday afternoon and Mirage Outfitters was there to pick us up. The folks drove us to the main lodge. I could just not believe what they'd done with the main lodge, which was up in this country out in the middle of nowhere. It was unbelievably nice. It was an award-winning lodge with awesome facilities. But this was not where we were to be hunting.
We did spend the night in that lodge and the following morning we took float planes another two hours north and west up to one of Mirage's five outpost camps. They strategically have built outpost lodges throughout their territory in northern Quebec just to the east of Hudson Bay to accommodate where the caribou happen to be at a given time of year. We were the only hunters that they booked because they want to keep the flexibility of being able to move hunters around as to where the caribou might be. It's a migrating game and you have to find them first, then go and hunt them.
Let The Planes Soar
We took our floatplane and landed on a lake near Clearwater Lake lodge where the guides awaited us. I guess we arrived about noontime on Sunday. So there was a lot of traveling to get to our final destination. When we got there, once again I was totally amazed at what they'd done. You are several hundred miles from electricity yet they still had very nice accommodations. A generator that runs the camp gave us plenty of electricity. There were hot- and cold-water running showers in every room. And they actually had flushing toilets, which is unheard of in that country. I was impressed right off the bat with Mirage Outfitters.
That afternoon, everybody shot their bows and simply could not wait to get to hunting. Now Peter had told us when we flew into LG4 that they had not spotted the caribou in the numbers they wanted to so he said that it might me a little tough trying to find the caribou at first. The problem is that that country is so vast and access is confined to boat or float plane. You have to have the mobility of a floatplane to find these caribou because they can be 50 to 100 miles away. You can't just go 20, 30 or even 50 miles in a boat.
When we got there in the afternoon the rifle hunters-the Anderson and Scott duos-flew out and went hunting while John Tate, Ralph, Vicki and I got with our guide Ben LeBlanc. Ben, John and I tooled around camp for a while, then got in a boat to see some of the country. We really didn't have a lot of time because we needed to be back at camp for 5 p.m. We did have fun because the weather was incredible-a blue bird day. It was very sunny, almost unheard of in that country during that time of year. Even the guides couldn't believe the weather. Highs at this time were about 55 degrees-it was just awesome.
We went around in the boats for a while but didn't see any caribou that day. Ralph and Vicki saw only six caribou. Back at camp our hopes were not dashed at all, because we knew it'd only be a matter of time. Meanwhile Peter and the other guides had been flying grid patterns to try and find a herd of caribou. On the way up to Clearwater Lake, Peter and the owner of the lodge (Luc Aubin) had took a Cessna and flew grid patterns in an area they had not flown in some time and they started finding some caribou. Then they found a little more, and more still. They were pumped because they had finally found some game and they let us know about it back at camp. They could tell that the caribou were migrating to the north and northeast--totally opposite of what they should have been doing. Normally the 'bou migrate south where they winter down near the main lodge. For whatever reason, the herds tended to be moving in this abnormal direction. That information at least gave us a good starting point.
Our First Mornings
So the next morning after a tremendous meal and having a great time with Ralph and Vicki we were taken out in two groups. The Andersons and Scotts when out first to where they had hunted the day before. They took three caribou on the very first afternoon! The limit is two apiece and they were looking to fill their tags by getting into the same herd from the day before.
The key is finding them again the next day. Normally it's just a matter of going maybe 15 or 20 miles in the direction the herd was moving and you'll find them again. We went into our area having four or five hours of hunting time and we saw caribou. We had some encounters but didn't see and big bulls. We never could get the wind and the situation right for video. We headed back to camp. We had not scored and neither did Ralph and Vicki, but still we knew that it was again, just a matter of time. The rifle hunters again took a couple of more caribou that morning.
The next morning, Peter told us that it was our turn to score and we were to be the first flight out on the floatplane. He also said that the afternoon before they "found 'em big time." They dropped us off in a general area of the caribou. We got all of our gear out and got up to a good vantage point where we could see a lot of country. Before long, we had caribou coming by us and it was awesome. It really was unbelievable, yet we hadn't seen a good video bull to make a move on. We could see way over to the southwest and there was this mountaintop and there was simply caribou piling up over top of it only a couple of miles away from us. They were like ants, one right after another. Ben, John and I knew that we had to get over there to where the 'bou were headed. We hiked over and as we got closer we could see the incredible trails coming off of the far mountain. The caribou were swimming across this lake onto another piece of ground. Again, it was just unbelievable the number of animals that were coming through there.
Up Close To The Grunting Monsters
We got situated and got the wind right and there were animals coming by us maybe 10 or 15 yards away. I was like a kid in a candy store. I'd never hunted a migrating animal before-it was a sight to behold. John was running camera as I watched the big bulls. The vocalizations that we were hearing from these animals made the entire trip. The grunting and fighting sounds of the bulls we heard from a half-mile away. As the bulls were filing through I heard this one bull snorting really loud and I immediately forgot about the size of the animal. This particular bull was snorting at and chasing a cow, which seemed abnormal. Nearly 95% of the animals we were seeing were bulls and they were migrating to the north. The reason for this, according to some of the locals way up north, was that there was a huge herd of cows in the area. So these bulls instinctively knew that those cows were way up north and they were going north to hook up with them and then head south to the wintering grounds.
So what we were in was almost all bulls and here comes this one bull sounding as loud as anything I have ever heard. I immediately went into kill mode. I told John that I was fixing to shoot him. The bull came up to about 15 yards from us giving me a perfect quartering away shot and John was in good camera position. I made a really good shot and the bull ran 30 yards and fel over. I had my first caribou ever on the ground. We were so excited and had a great hunt behind us, but it was John's turn and we were still in the middle of the caribou.
Go Get Him 'Tater'
We immediately switched over-John grabbed his bow and I grabbed John's camera. We just resumed hunting. The caribou were migrating--they were still coming, and coming-we were in 'em!
So John started hunting and we let a bunch of bulls go by and all of sudden there was a monster coming up the hill. I had the camera on him getting good footage and Ben and I told John that if he had a shot he ought to take it. John made a great shot and the bull ran a short way and fell over. Within the course of an hour we had two fine bulls on the ground. It was just awesome. After doing our cutaways, picture taking, caping and quartering we waited for the plane to come back and get us. We flew back to camp and everybody had had a lot of success that day. As a matter of fact most of the people in camp had already tagged out. Ralph and Vicki had also both scored where they were dropped off on this day.
We all knew that we had one more tag each left so John and I decided that the next bull either of us would take would have to be a real trophy. What I mean by that is to really hunt with the camera in mind, getting really good light, a really good setup and really make sure it was going to be awesome footage. So on this day we flew out again, same drill as the day before. They found the caribou from the day before and they'd gone a little more towards the east 15 to 20 miles from where we were the day before. It was probably the same heard but it was a different vein of the same herd. They set down John, Ben and I. It was a lot colder with a good stiff breeze blowing in the mid 30s.
They let us out by this big crossing and it didn't work for the cameras because the area was too thick and there was a pesky swirling wind. We immediately went on a hike. We waked for about a mile and once again saw a big mountaintop with a lot of caribou coming over the horizon. They were piling over it big time! They were being funneled down from a mountaintop that was about a mile wide in between two small rock hills 30 yards apart. It was one trail about two feet wide with animals just pouring by. We crawled on our hands and knees up into this rock outcropping, got the wind right and it was cloudy so we knew sun wasn't a camera concern. We sat up there where the caribou couldn't see us and they were just parading by one by one. My plan was to hold out for a really big one. I don't know how many animals walked by, but it was several hundred before we saw one bull that really stood out above and beyond any other bull that we'd seen. My shot was 15 yards to the trail. When we saw this bull coming we all got ready. John as usual did an awesome job of filming. I led this walking bull by about six inches and made a great shot. The bull went 50 yards and fell over. He was truly a monster, a Pope and Young caribou.
We were cold, but we were pumped at this point as we did the recovery by my animal. When we were done, John and I looked at each other and figured there was no reason to go anywhere else because the bulls were still coming by in great numbers. We just switched onto the other side of the hill and the wind was still good so we set up again. We sat and glassed bull after bull and finally John looked way up on the horizon about three quarters of a mile away at a giant. "Man that is a freaky looking bull up there," he said to us. Next thing you know, the bull he was referring to bedded down. We watched him for about 20 minutes, and then he got up and started in our direction. When he did, we knew he'd be in bow range in about 15 minutes.
Sure enough, John made another great shot on a giant bull that fell in view of the camera. We had tagged out Quebec-Labrador caribou and it was awesome! It was more exciting than anything I could have imagined. Mirage Outfitters, they are the class act when it comes to caribou hunting! The facilities, the people, the planes, food, and hospitality were all first class! What amazed John and I most was the logistics Mirage Outfitters had to deal with to ensure that there was plane fuel available at the different camps. The area we were in was so very remote country-the aviation capabilities, the food the electricity-it was unreal what they accomplish in that country.
Our video Monster Bulls III, due out next spring will include these caribou hunts, along with elk and moose hunts, too. We can't wait to bring that to the Realtree Outdoors fans.
John Tate On—
Realtree Branching Out
"I was so excited that we were going to do this show. After moving into the producer roll I really wanted us to start branching out as much as possible to give the Realtree audience as much diverse hunting as possible. Our main focus will always be whitetail but a good elk hunt or the Jeff Foxworthy Dall's sheep hunt makes for interesting television. I realized earlier this summer that David and I were going to go on this hunt and I started counting down the days. I knew this hunt had the potential to make an awesome show."
The Lovely Weather We're Having
"Flying up there to camp on the float plane and seeing how quickly the weather changed from minute to minute was amazing. We flew through fog, would come out of the fog to sun, and five minutes later we'd be flying in snow. Like they say in some places, 'If you don't like the weather we're having right now, stay for a while, it'll change.' That was the case we were in for sure up in Quebec."
Filming Caribou Vs. Whitetails
"We got to where the caribou were crossing this area and it was unbelievable. There were so many caribou coming by us. I'm trying to film one caribou and there's 50 coming by in one frame—this was really different than our normal routine of filming one or two whitetails at a time. I was kind of freaking out at first not knowing which caribou to film. It was a goat rope; David didn't even know which one to shoot! This October trip was a real cool time to be there-the bulls were hard-horned and rutting and chasing cows and fighting, too! What a hunt to film!"
"Within one hour, David and I both tagged out on our first caribou. We were caught up in the whirlwind and really couldn't believe it. The rest of the afternoon of our first successful day I spent filming from this set of pines. Caribou were all around me and I got some awesome footage."
The Absolute Perfect Funnel
"The hunting on our third day's setup was at unbelievably close range. No matter how far up the mountain we were seeing caribou, we knew that if we gave them 15 minutes they were going to be within 15 yards of us. They caribou were all using the same exact trail. It was like just an unbelievable treestand setup for whitetails, but it was a guarantee that the animal would use the exact trail we were sitting over. Several hundred bulls came by us just piling off that mountain."Smoked Caribou
"When it was my turn again, I glassed up the mountain and saw an absolute freak of an animal. He looked great! The bull started to come down the hill to us then decided to bed down. David kept his glass on him and about 15 minutes later told me that the monster was getting up. He got ready with the camera and I got set up with my bow and sure enough 15 minutes later here he comes. David pulled back showing me coming to full draw and the caribou in full frame. I smoked him at about 20 yards and the bull fell right out in front of us in plain view of the camera. This was an unbelievable bull with some really high tops, awesome shovels. What a great hunt it was!"
John Tate's Digital Camera Incident
Going back through customs is always an ordeal with our camera gear, our weapons and all of our gear. U.S. customs agents were fine with us; they weren't too bad at all. They checked our passports and our paperwork and all was fine. We got through customs in Montreal then we put our carry-on luggage on the conveyer to let the security guards check it. Then we walked though the x-ray machines. In my Avery Outdoors/Ducks Unlimited blind bag carry-on I carry the camera I use to film the hunts along with batteries, battery chargers and all the tapes of the hunt so that I have them with me. Also in that carry-on was my digital camera containing 170 pictures that I'd taken on the hunt.
The security guard opened up my bag and started checking though it. He pulled out the batteries, my digital camera and other stuff as I looked on. They did the 'paper' test on the video camera and the batteries and so on. The guard asked me what all the gear was for and I told him. All the while I wasn't really watching my gear like a hawk-it's security, why would I? The security guard finally started piling all the stuff back into my bag, zipped it up and David and I headed home.
I didn't unzip that bag until I got home the next morning. I opened the bag up because I wanted to look at my pictures again on the digital camera. My digital camera was not in there. I started tearing the place apart and I knew that the last place I'd seen it was in Canada in front of the security guard that went through my bag. At that point I started second-guessing myself and figured that I'd done something with it and put it down some place or something like that. I checked for it in my truck. It wasn't there. I completely dumped out the blind bag on my bed and it wasn't there!
I spent the next several days calling the Montreal customs and security office trying to track down the camera to no avail. I begged and pleaded with the folks to call me as soon as they find it. All the pictures of my bulls are gone. All the pictures of the bulls close-up and the scenic shots that I took are also gone. Pictures of the camp and the float planes—all those good memories that I took pictures of are completely gone. If it was misplaced by accident I can understand that, but being that I know it was stolen by a security guard—it really hurts. There were memories in that camera that I simply can't replace. They are in my head, yes, but it sure would be nice to share it with folks, too. Fortunately, our outfitter did take a few pictures of my bulls and me from the field. Glad we could share those with you here on Realtree.com. The moral of the story is, keep your eyes on your stuff!
Booking A Trip
Team Realtree often uses George Winslow's Bullseye Outfitters & Adventures Service (http://www.bullseyeoutfitters.com or phone 724-941-6811) to book its hunting trips, including this Mirage Outfitters caribou hunt.. Bullseye Outfitters is a Hunting Consultant Organization that represents numerous Hunting & Fishing Outfitters throughout the U.S.,Canada and Abroad.