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Two for Two with Tok Air Service, AK
Well,... it's been a very long road with numerous challenges to get to this point. Besides having limited "top quality" air services to the 40-Mile caribou herd (interior region) and the pandemic, my new buddy, Jimmy (Trial153) and I had one memorable adventure that we will share with you all.
The trip started as we landed in Fairbanks, AK and were met by a batch of kind folks eager to verify we weren't bring any gifts of the virus to Alaska. We were processed within a couple minutes and off to the local hotel to settle and get our heads screwed-on straight.
This U-haul van worked perfectly for our adventure.
A visit to the local Sportsman Warehouse and Fish & Game office to stock up on required supplies, licences, and tags.
Prior to heading out, we visited Nick Muche for some "local advice". This was supposed to be a short visit to say hi. Well, it didn't quite work out that way. Nick and his wonderful wife rolled-out the red carpet to us and we were graciously presented with many snacks ranging from smoked salmon (that was superb), to canned pike, and endless cans of beer (glad I wasn't driving). His awesome wife cooked a fantastic meal using Dall sheep meat.
Next morning, on the road for a 3 1/2 hr drive to Tok, AK. Defiantly some nice views along the way.
That's the Alaskan oil pipeline seen in the background.
That's the Alaskan oil pipeline seen in the background.
Tok Air Service headquarters, piloted by the one & only, Caption Zack!
Some travel pictures on the way to Tok
Second what Russell said about our visit with Nick. I had seen him since last years P&Y convention and it was great to visit. Stephanie's and Nick's hospitality was awsome and had some great conversation. The next day ride to Tok was full of laughs, conversation, good views and excitement about our up coming hunt. Here is another picture what we found at Tok air when we arrived.
Air taxi to the Coal Creek Dredge bush strip that would be used as staging area for the Super Cub flight into the mountain top.
Looks like a great trip already.
The masked bandit at 500'
The masked bandit at 500'
Flight from Tok to Coal Creek was a scouting mission along the way as Zack was searching for the very best spot to drop us off for our 10-day hunt.
Saw sheep and caribou along the way.
Following.....right there with ya. Hunts that start with a super cub flight are always spectacular!!
Nice pics, keep em com'n.
Wow! Even got to fly upside down there for a little bit!
Awesomeness so far! Keep it coming guys!
Love it when a couple of Bowsiters get going on a story!
CPT Zack is defiantly a skilled, experienced Alaskan bush pilot.
Here's the two-seater Piper Super Cub Zack flew us one at a time into the hunting area.
Google "Coal Creek Dredge" for an interesting video of this dredge. This was about a mile or so away from the Yukon River and near the end of the bush strip.
A very interesting area to explore, rich in history and gold.
looking forward to the adventure. Thanks for sharing
I’ve been looking forward to this story. Glad you guys had a good trip!!!
The day we flew into the hunting area. Immediately saw caribou on final approach.
Jimmy flew in first as he had the tent. Mission was to find a good area to establish camp. He found the best area for sure. Including one semi-level sleeping area. Note: He found one not two semi-level areas for sleeping bags. Thanks buddy! lol
Home for the next 10 days or until we fill our tags.
How long will it take?
Zack said the caribou would be traveling west to east and should increase in numbers as the days went by.
He also told me, "Don't shoot the first bull!"
Zack was right. We spent the evening studying dozens of caribou migrating through. We were attempting to learn the preferred routes of these animals. Easier said then done as we would learn in the coming days.
It seems that most if not all species of caribou like to maintain a 80 yard buffer between us and them.
The Coal Creek Dredge looks familiar. Flew over it on our moose hunt. Looking forward to the rest of the hunt!
Finding a level spot out of the wind was no small task. Like Russell said...my side was fairly flat. As to the wind, at times as it whipped a bit I questioned myself...that said as soon as you walked towards the ridgeline it became how apparent we really were sheltered. Pretty spot to spend time...and as you will we turned it into a full fledged "hunting camp" The shelter we used was a Kifaru Sawtooth and brought along a Seek outside U turn stove. Both worked well. At times I wished I opted for bigger shelter, however in all honestly a much bigger foot print would have made for a possibly less then desirable location....like anything it's a trade off. It worked well enough
Looking forward to this one. Thanks for taking the time.
This is great! Thanks guys. Will be following along!
Here's one of our favorite areas to sit and enjoy the scenery. Looking west, it was amazing to see antlers on the far sky-line. The grassy area to the right was a favorite route as we soon learned.
The dark green areas are trees. Looks nice to stalk a caribou in right? Well, let me tell you, looks are defiantly deceiving! I believe these are called Upland Alder Willow shrubs. That area totally sucked! My leg injuries are still healing.
Early morning view from camp. Sure made a cup of instant coffee taste better.
Another view from camp.
We saw probably 150+ caribou each day. Mostly cows and calves along with groups of bulls numbering 3-6.
Later in the hunt, we started seeing mature bulls hanging with herds of caribou.
Saw three very good ones that would have been too easy to kill with a rifle.
Good stuff so far. Keep it coming!
How difficult to get enough wood for the stove?
Most of the animals were still in full velvet with dark brown hair. Some were starting to shed velvet and developing their winter coats as the days went by.
It all depends on the location. For us, wood was prevalent nearby.
Our water source was about a 3/4 mile away as seen in the background coming off the mountain bowl. Better pictures later on that.
We found enough wood fairly easy. Though I could see places in that county were wood would have been very scarce. On a couple cold nights....we were glad to have the stove
...but the warm crackle of a fire didn't drown out the constant snoring sounds from someone in that tent! lol
This is awesome. Thanks for taking the time to share.
It wasn't only about caribou hunting. Had to take some time to admire the local fauna.
Lots of blue berries around too. But very hard to find those special, extra large ones that grew from bear poop! (inside joke)
That was our bear prevention device ....and I brought ample sets of ear plugs!!
A couple of my favorite fauna pictures.
I ate a little too many berries the first day....wet wipes were welcome
Nice view when you wake-up and exit the tent. Several mornings in a row, there were a group of caribou within 150 yards of camp.
Look at this guy, about 45 yards while I'm sitting, sipping on a cup of coffee in my saddles.
He soon saw me and moved away smartly.
Here's the water source. A nice 3/4 mile walk from camp. Awesomely tasting water, cold and fresh. Makes for a refreshing body scrub too...gota hit the seams.
No treatment needed.
Late in the afternoon on the first day, Jimmy and I were glassing the far areas watching for any "shooter" bulls that looked to be moving into a stalkable situation.
The idea it to anticipate the movement, get ahead of the animals, remain downwind, out of sight, and get within bow range. Much easier said than done.
He suddenly grabbed his bow and said something to the effect, "I going after that one."
I sat on the high ground several hundred yards away, tucked in a pocket of tundra and rocks while watching the show develop.
A bachelor group of bulls were moving from the low alder valley toward an area that we have seen caribou before during the afternoons.
Jimmy was in position as the bulls approached. Suddenly, one of them decided to take-a-break-in-place and bedded down. Well, most of the rest followed except 2-3 that kept moving around while staying close to the boss bull.
See yellow underlined area to the left. Those are the bedded bulls. Jimmy is standing behind a tree and underlined in red. The distance looked close to me, however I had know idea how far of a shot that would be.
I went up and circled back to the east toward a saddle. By the time I gotten in to the saddle the group of bulls were coming up out of the vertical tundra and to the ridge line at the saddle.
I think there was 7 or 8 bulls total. One was good framed and obviously mature bull, he was the last to crest the ridge line into the saddle. The second best bull was the lead bull. He was heading on a path that bring them past me at either 30 yards or so or about 60-65 yards. As he gotten closer the last and dominant bull decided to bed down. At that point all the rest or the bulls stopped and walked back to him. After few minutes they must have decided he was going to stay awhile because they stopped milling around and bedded with him.
He stayed bedded at 68 yards for awhile ( Russell says two hours), while i was standing behind a trio of small pines I was able to get a good look at this bull. He had big frame, good tops buy was a bit weak in the fronts. Everytime I would question myself I would go back to looking at his body size and attitude compare to the other bulls and it made up my mind that I would try to take him if I got a clean shot.
Some of the other bulls get up and walked around a bit then would bed down, but none would leave while the old bull was still In his beded. At some point I could see him getting restless and he stood up and shook himself off. At that point the number 2 bull took the lead again and started off with all the rest Of them in tow. I ranged the gap that they walked though at 61 yards and set my sight pin.
They went through in single file and as the big bull came through the gap Last I drew my bow. A couple more of steps and I had what I thought was broadside shot. I pulled through the shot and sight picture looked great, seemed that I hit right behind my pin. The arrow hit with what sounded like a loud crack and he showed an obviously broken leg and he almost went down on the spot. He went about 25 yards and went down quick. Turns out the crack was from breaking the off side humerus as he must have been quarting away every so slightly. I was thankful to have made a good shot.
Anyway here he is ....and we had some work ahead of us to get him broken down and packed back to camp. Truth is we made quick work of it, and two trips latter had him all out.....big thanks to Russell for the help.
Congrats and thanks for taking the time to post the pics and tell the story!!!
Great bull. Well earned and well done
Nice bull! Love the full velvet!
Beautiful Bull! Looks yummy!
Now go get another one!
The bulls bedded for 1 1/2 hours. That's why I brought my watch...to time Jimmy killing a trophy caribou!
Great bull Jimmy! Adventure of a lifetime. Thanks for sharing.
It was a nice walk back to camp.
I learned one thing today, don't put three bags of meat in your pack! I was sooo glad to arrive back to camp with that load. A couple hours of resting and dinner, back for the final load before dark.
The gourmet chef hard a work. Man that tasted good, I mean real good! Now only if we had a few cold ones. Sorry, limited to 50# of gear (not beer).
It just doesn't get much better than this.
It just doesn't get much better than this.
One of us sleep well that night and it wasn't me. In fact, I didnt get a good nights sleep while we were out there.
First night, I slid off my cot feet first all night long. Fixed that for the second night's try. Second night, kept sliding off side ways. More testing. Third night. Air mattress. Found many rocks that I missed. Forth night. Removed more rocks. Elevated the cot more using rocks. Middle of night, cot fell off rocks. Fifth night. Removed cot, dug all the rocks up. Made a thick bed of tundra moss. Ready to test this one out. Zack arrived to pick us up. He was impressed with the setup, but I never got a chance to test it. I'm sure I would have rolled right off. I have problems sleeping.
Well I slept fine. What are friends for!!
Back to the story...
Here's the favorite spot to glass for potential targets.
This was the second day of hunting. Glassing in the afternoon, we watched a group of bulls (4-5) with a nice one in the bunch working their way down the hill through the cover.
Watching them from 400-500 yards away and downwind, they appeared to be on course to follow a particular corridor. I quickly gathered my gear and frankly told Jimmy, "I'm going down there to kill that bull."
Much easier said than done as I would soon learn.
I had to cover about 1/3 mile in a few minutes. It looks easy walking, no so, but much easier going down than up hill. The ground was very wet tundra especially as you arrive at the lower elevations.
The yellow line represents the caribou's path.
The red circle is where I intercepted them.
The red X is the first shot.
Fine red path is estimated course my caribou took.
I trained for the past 2-3 month, shooting skills excellent out to 70 yards, mind was good, but no training could have prepared me for what was about to happen.
As I arrived in the area of the small trees, one of the smaller bulls spotted me stalking in. The others were busy feeding along. A few seconds of frozen time, the little one went back to feeding.
I moved it closer, ranged the largest bull, 50 yards. I drew, he stopped in an opening between some trees and looked my way. Arrow on it's way. I think I hit him low. Think? They jogged to my left and I moved into position for another shot. (Lots of cover for me to move. Drainage area)
Knock another arrow. He stops, ranged at 70 yds. I am good at 70, full draw, settle. Squeeze release. Clueless where that arrow went, somewhere swallowed up via the tundra.
Things happen so fast, in milliseconds it seems.
I just shot my second arrow from a four arrow quiver. I'm starting to understand why Chuck Adams carries so many arrows.
Love it! Thanks for sharing!
Now I'm watching the largest bull jog off and he's last in the line. I see him falter a step, like he stepped in a hole. Was it a hole or is he hit? I'm watching him as he disappears over the crest in some cover. No blood seen.
Trying to relive what just happened, I look for my two arrows. Looking for blood. Heck, there is so much red foliage, it's nearly impossible to find blood if it's actually there.
A few minutes go by, I look up the hill to Jimmy through my binos, he's waving his right arm. Down? What, caribou coming my way? Get down? OK, he might be signalling my caribou is down.
I can tell you now, my shooting confidence is gone! How the heck can I miss such a big animal at 50 yards?
I climb back up the hill thinking there's a glimmer of hope that I might have actually made a good shot on the bull.
As I arrive, Jimmy said he watched the whole thing and my bull is hurt badly, bedding many times. He said the shot looked back because the bull hunched up on the arrow's impact. Crap, I thought it low, just under the lungs.
We sit and watch the bull bed along some cover, getting up, taking a few steps and bedding back down.
I want to give him several hours. Jimmy says I need to put another arrow in him before other caribou come by and he gets up to join him. I follow Jimmy's guidance because he's more experienced in caribou hunting than I.
Jimmy leading the way as we attempt to sneak in close to the bull for another shot. We get within 100 or so yards, he knows we are there. Gets up takes a few steps and beds down.
We move in closer, maybe 70 yds, he stands up. I range him at 66 yds, Jimmy says 75 yds.
Bull walks off and never stops until he gets into the thick alders and disappears.
Jimmy and I watch for a while. Bull never exits the thick stuff.
I find very little blood in the bed, a low hit on the belly.
We go down and try and find him to push him out.
Walking around trying to follow trails, all of a sudden yells, "there he is!"
The bull runs by me in the thick stuff less than 10 feet away. I knock my third arrow and somehow get into a semi clear area and the bull stops and looks back toward Jimmy. I range him at 36, draw and shoot. Watch my arrow hit high angling upward, putting a very large gash in his upper side.
Bull runs off and soon disappears within a couple steps. Now where is he?!!
I'm down to one arrow and a knife. I know how to use the knife, but questioning my abilities to shoot the arrow.
great hunt!! looking forward to "The rest of the Story"!!
I'm feeling your pain right now.
No chance of following blood, I slowly walk the series of spider-webbed trails through the area.
Suddenly, I see my bull not 15 yards away, bedded facing away. I have a clear shot of his neck. I knock my last arrow, range, and draw. Muscle memory kicks in. I take my top pin center of mass and shoot. Arrow hits high and bull runs off. What the heck!!!
Then I remember, a couple weeks prior to this hunt, I changed my top pin from 20 to 25 yds. I hit high at 15 yards. Damn-it! No arrows remain in quiver.
Searching the crime scene, I find lots of cut hair and even find my arrow, with a bent blade.
Place the shot arrow in my quiver, I start climbing out of the thick stuff, totally discussed with my abilities as a bowhunter.
Trying to find the wounded bull, I hear something crashing around in the thick stuff. Knocking an arrow, waiting for something to exit the dense stuff. Is it Jimmy, my bull, a bear? Clueless. I stand guard ready to shoot again.
However, as I'm getting ready to shoot again, one vital item is missing...my last arrow. Lost it somewhere in the last 30 feet of stumbling, climbing thru this horribly thick alder grove.
You see, alders grow vertically, horizontally, and diagonally creating an nearly impenetrable dense thicket.
I search and find no arrow.
I then ease along near where I thought I heard the noise, then hear very clearly, a hard, deep breathing animal, struggling to breath. Sound my bull, but dont see him. He's close, very close.
I back out, marking a tall branch with survey ribbon and climb back up the him to find Jimmy.
As I'm climbing, I'm thinking, leave the bull till morning, then go back in. Bears, thick stuff, dead caribou...think this combination isn't good.
Find Jimmy and quickly explain the situation. He flat-out states "we ain't going back in there tomorrow morning!" Concur!!
I give the bull a little more while and sneak back to the ribbon and listen. Nothing heard.
I stalk in there quietly, looking for the bull. I see him, but no way to shoot. Lowering the bow to the ground, I draw my knife and approach from behind. It's going to be him or me. Someone is going to die soon!
Fortunately for me, the bull was dead!
I tried to whistle for Jimmy, but I could barely make a sound. I hollered, found him! Jimmy responded and he soon joined me in a short lived celebration.
Before Jimmy arrived, I offered several word asking the bull for forgiveness in being such a bad hunter and he deserved better. I was serious, I was very sorry for putting this animal through the ordeal the past few hours.
Then I thought, at least a bear or pack of wolves didn't get him later this winter.
A couple hours later we had the bull deboned and five meat bag ready to carry away from the thicket.
We carried three game bags back that evening.
He had an opening in early September I should have jumped on it man that looks like a blast
We placed two game bags and the rack in a clear area a hundred yards away from the gut pile, marked with ribbon for next morning's packout.
Next morning we glassed the area, all clear regarding the meat and rack.
Jimmy's bull on the left. What an awesome view.
Never saw a bear nor wolf. However, we did see a silver fox in the area and a lot of caribou!
Russell - congratulations on your bull. What do you think happened with the shooting? Have you had time to check out your equipment to see if something got knocked out of true? Years ago, I shot over two bucks in South Dakota at 25 yards - turned out that my nocking point had slipped down the string. Congratulations again.
Great work, guys! Hunt of a lifetime for sure!
Test shot our bows prior to flying out from Tok. All was good at 40 yds. Shot two arrows, bent one point outsert on a rock. Lots of rocks, very little target friendly backstops.
When I arrived back home, shot a few from 50 yards. All was good.
The problem I had was rushing the shot.
Need to do this hunt, looks like good fun. Congrats and Thanks for sharing the adventure!
The day Zack arrived to pick us up, we fly back to Coal Creek to spend one night. We did some fishing and sightseeing the old abandoned mining equipment.
No fish were caught, but wished I had a pan to try panning for gold.
We stayed a night in the public use cabin about one mile from the bush strip.
We even met a local gold miner panning for gold. Old One-Boot was a kind person, but a bit strange to chat with. You see, he was wearing one rubber boot and one sneaker, but had some gold flakes in the pan tho. Sure wish we would have taken a group picture.
Here's the public use cabin. Even had a log-book for tenants to jot down a few notes about their stay.
Excellent!! Congrats to both of you on 2 great bulls! Sounds and looks like a great adventure. How were the bugs for you guys?
I felt the way I looked..., tired, beat-up, sore, and the chance to live this dream. Along with making three new friends, Jimmy, Zack, and Nick.
Thank you all for the comments and kind words.
Bugs you ask...the only problems we had were the ones at the bush strip. No issues at all on the mountain.
Regarding bear protection: I believe it all depends on the location you're hunting. We could see for miles, so could the bears. Beside, Jimmy is a world class snorer. Seriously, it was a challenge even with ear plugs. :) But what are friends for!
Next time, think I'll have my own tent.
Congrats on the hunt thanks for sharing and looks like the weather cooperated.
Congrats on the hunt thanks for sharing and looks like the weather cooperated.
My dream hunt! Congrats guys and thanks for sharing the story here!
Congratulations on a fantastic hunt and terrific recap! Love the pics!
Well done!! When I did a Kodiak hunt it was mentioned to me a few times by the old timers to not get caught in the alders with your deer field dressing it. If you can, drag the deer out into the open so you have a good field of view around you as you break it down.
Thanks everyone. We had great hunt, seems like the all the chips fell in the right places. We were lucky to pull it off this year. Cant thank Russell enough for all the leg work he did as we were putting this together. I couldn't ask for a better hunting partner to share this with. We had blast together!
Thanks for putting this together and sharing. Dream hunt start to finish. Congratulations all around.
Congrats guys, quite an adventure.
Russell, just wondering which model of 6 arrow quiver you ordered? ;-)
From Trial’s above comment thanking Russell for his legwork, etc. ^^^ Have you guys hunted together before, or did you you put this hunt together after hooking up on Bowsite or another site?
I started organizing this hunt about 3 years ago as a Bowsite, four man hunt. Due to transporter availability and being super cub territory, I reduced this hunt to two.
This was supposed to be my drive to Alaska retirement adventure while spending the summer fishing and then culminating with this Caribou hunt.
I never personally met Jimmy before and only knew from Bowsite. In hindsight, I wouldn't change a thing about this adventure.
Excellent writeup fellas, great hunting! Congrats to both of you..
"In hindsight, I wouldn't change a thing about this adventure."
Maybe separate tents? ;-)
Good point, actually I'm giving some thought to what shelter I would buy if the situation presented itself that I needed one.
Can you guys breakdown your costs for this great adventure.....U-Haul rental, cub ride, etc. Thanks...
Nice bulls. Sounds like a great adventure. Thanks for posting the story and photos
Congrats on a great adventure
Congratulations fellows, excellent adventure.
Congrats on a great hunt! Thanks for the write up.
Other then talking on the phone, several times together and texting each other, a thousands of times we had not met each other yet. I think we had pretty good idea beforehand that we would get alone well together, however its never a given. We made a good team, I think we both brought slightly different skill sets and mindsets to the table and built on them.
To answer the cost the question or the cost break down. I would be hesitant to even quote what current transport costs where because I think there have changes substantially since we set this up. Suffice to say that getting into some beautiful country doesn't come without transportation costs. Other the major costs are, tags and license, rental vehicle, hotels before and after, airlines tickets and extra baggage and...a host of incidental costs that maybe different for everyone and each trip. It certainly helps to have flexible budget for things like this.
Congrats on a great adventure and thanks so much for sharing. This is what keeps me coming back to Bowsite!
Terrific adventure! Brings back memories from my super cub adventure back in the Mulchatna Herd days north of Iliamna......so glad you shared it. Congratulations!!
Congrats on a lifetime memory to you both.
What a trip! Congrats on your success.
Thanks for posting the story guys. Really enjoyed your adventure. Russell, did you have 2 old goats along?? :) These other bowsitwrs might not have a clue!
Thanks for taking the time to share!
very cool guys! Congrats!
Did you guys have any trouble staying within your weight limit for a 10 day hunt?
Very cool, thank you for sharing!!!!
Two Old Goats? Lol No, I didn't bring it, but sure could have used it on my bad shoulder, knees, and hip. Other than that, no physical issues.
No problems regarding weight. Jimmy wore most of his clothing on the flight in!
Great trip! Thanks for sharing with us,
Great hunt guys. Congrats!
Awesome hunt, thanks so much for sharing with us!!
Regarding weight. A light shelter helps a lot, I was able to make weight carting the sawtooth and stove for mine. That said it wasn't easy. I loaded a a bunch on stuff on me for the flight in. 10 days of food too is no small task adding that to keep it below 50. I thankfully tend to pay attention to weight on gear anyway ...so most of what I have is light weight to begin with. The thing that helps the most is your bow and arrow weight is separate.
...and the arrow tube is good for more than arrows! (if you know what I mean)