* Yet another edition in the thrilling saga of our hunting trip! If you’d like to start at the beginning, please click here. *
Despite our mattresses, blankets, sleeping bags, and propane heaters, Monday was a very cold night. I think it must have been close to freezing, maybe even a little below! When we emerged from the trailer, the sky was clear and the bushes were all frosted. It was quite pretty, but very cold! It was a relief when the sun started to rise high in the sky and warm the ground and the air; by that time, we were down the road a ways with warm oatmeal and hot coffee in our bellies.
We saw lots of beautiful fall colors, everywhere. I loved the contrast between the yellow of the grass and the red of the bushes, with the brown of the mountains behind it all.
The distant snow-covered mountains and glaciers were another gorgeous sight.
About 20 miles in (a little over an hour later), we stopped at the Maclaren River Lodge briefly. If you are ever in the area, stop in; they were nice people who let a dusty, pregnant hunter use their bathroom. Quite a big deal, as I’m sure that running the well and maintaining the septic system are expensive out there.
We drove all morning, stopping periodically to pull out the binoculars to investigate the hundreds of “rock-caribou” and “bush-moose” that we saw.
The children entertained themselves fairly well, actually. Occasionally I had to break up a disagreement or stop one from picking on another. This was one of the sweeter moments of the day.
This duet was shared by Calf #3 and Calf #2 (except you can’t see him on the video.)
Mid-morning, The Bull decided to hike up a short ridge to see what was on the other side. Sure enough, there were about a dozen caribou!
So the kids and I settled in. We ate lunch and the boys ran up and down the ridge while The Bull hiked over to check out the herd. I asked Calf #1 to keep an eye on his daddy with binoculars; he could see the bright orange of his backpack for a long time. The problem was, it didn’t appear that he was moving! After an hour, I finally thought to ask if he could see The Bull or just his backpack. I had started to wonder if he’d sprained an ankle or something . . . would I need to hike over the ridge into the valley to rescue him? Maybe I could drive back to the lodge to get help?
Turns out I didn’t need to do anything. When The Bull returned (about a half hour later) he said that he’d just left his pack there to hike a little bit lighter. And the herd? All were cows and calves. He couldn’t tell if the calves were male or female and didn’t feel like pursuing it with the hope of adult males farther down the road, so he called this hunt off. He grabbed a sandwich and we headed farther down the dusty road.
We kept a close eye out the windows for animals; when we thought we saw something, we stopped to look closer. Nothing looked promising, though. At one point a cow caribou crossed the road in front of us, wandering over towards a side road where several hunters were camped. The Bull stopped as soon as he safely could and grabbed the binoculars, but couldn’t see any other animals.
The rest of that day was a blur. The tundra gave way to a forested area. There could have been a caribou 20 feet off the road, but the trees were thick enough that we’d have never known. The Bull picked up the speed slightly as we drove through the dense trees.
Calf #3 took a nap. I love the cute sounds she makes when she is falling asleep.
In the afternoon, we crossed over the Susitna River. Judging by the boat trailers parked on the road before the bridge, this was a good day for fishing.
We finally stopped sometime mid-afternoon for a snack of noodles at the Brushkana Campground. By that time I had a headache from watching for animals out the window for so long. Calf #2 was complaining of a belly ache from the bumpy road. I was quite discouraged, as we’d seen nothing legal to hunt and the road was filled with other hunters who were presumably after the same animals that we were seeking. Calf #3 had slept parts of the day, but she was beginning to be cranky. In fact, the kids and I were all tired and cranky and hungry. It was a good time and place to take a break and figure out a plan.
After our brief rest, we were refreshed enough to continue on the road. We decided to slowly continue on to Cantwell and see what we could find. We saw lots of trees, plenty of mountains, and numerous birds, but no more large mammals.
In Cantwell, we stopped for fuel, bought more mantles for the propane light (to replace the one that had broken due to the bumpy road!), and grabbed a bite to eat at a little restaurant (“We’re out of cole slaw, we’re down to the last few cans of soda, and there’s no soap in the bathroom. . . sorry, it was a busy weekend!” the man who was running the place said.) We decided to head back to the the Brushkana campground for the night, planning to get a morning start headed east for more road-hunting.
While we were setting up camp, heating some soup, and shaking the dust out of our sleeping bags, a hunter who was camping nearby came over to chat with The Bull. The man said that the other hunters there at the campground were only looking for moose. (In this area, a special permit is required to hunt for caribou. The Bull had put his name into this drawing and had been selected. This is why we were looking for caribou or moose, while others were only hunting for moose.)
The man also said that a large bull caribou had wandered through the campground just two days before! Because he and the other hunters didn’t have the caribou permit, all they could do was watch him walk on by.
When we first planned our trip, we had hoped to find something legal to hunt either Monday or Tuesday. But with these bits of news, there was still a hope that tomorrow could be “the day”! So The Bull decided to get up early the next morning for a hike to see what he could see.
* And what did The Bull see? I’ll tell you about it tomorrow! *