The (MDF) Caribou

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My first outfitted big-game hunt was an Alaska barren ground caribou hunt that took place about 20 years ago. Bought the hunt at the Mule Deer Foundation Convention in Sacramento that took place in 1998. The caribou tag says 1998, so that validates the year.

The donation to MDF was set up by Gary Williams, MDF Chairman of the Board. At the time Gary was working for Leupold-Stevens and Leupold paid some of the trip costs as a donation from them.

The hunt went to sale at auction and I was the high bidder for $1700. The hunt took place in September and the caribou we hunted were part of the Mulchatna herd.

Camp was on the Nushagak River and we hunted up and down the river by boat. We found this caribou along the King Salmon River, a Nushagak tributary.

Although the Mulchatna herd was supposedly at an all-time high, I believe it may have already been in decline. We didn’t see many caribou and the one on my wall was probably the largest that my guide, Robert Nelson, or I sighted. Today the Mulchatna herd has still not regained the stature it had during the early 1990’s.

Robert and I stalked to within 60 yards of a small band of caribou and the I shot was the largest bull in the group. We killed him about two miles from the boat and the boat was about 30 miles from camp. The next day we brought a meat packer back with us to make the pack out a little easier.

I had two caribou tags and could have shot another smaller bull, but decided to pass. It was a good decision because I ended up using my second caribou tag on a Sitka blacktail deer on Kodiak Island about a week later.

I killed the bull with a Browning Automatic Rifle in 7mm. It was the first hunting rifle I owned with which I bagged a big game animal. Prior to that time, I hunted big game with bow and arrow only. The rifle was a raffle prize a San Jose MDF banquet in 1995 and it has an inscription on it: CENTRAL COAST CHAPTER, 1995, Fifth Annual Banquet, The Mule Deer Foundation. It was the model and caliber used by John Leonti the original chapter chairman of the San Jose Chapter. He was a nice man who passed away some time during the year before the banquet.

I purchased only one raffle ticket that night because I didn’t want to stay for the end of the banquet. I handed my ticket to David and Rose Stevens before I left and asked them to watch over it. David called me the next day and told me I had won.

I tanned the original cape from my caribou, but never mounted it, probably because I couldn’t afford the price of taxidermy work in those days. Last year I decided to find capes for a few of the animals taken on some of my past hunts. This is the only caribou I’ve killed so it is definitely a trophy to me even though just another caribou to anybody else.

My taxidermist and MDF supporter, Taff Vidalles, searched for a proper cape. Early season capes were available, but they did not properly represent the bull I had killed. Eventually he found a cape with characteristics of the bull I killed and purchased it for $650 wet-tanned.

I ended up paying $1,250 for the mount. $900 was Taff’s normal price. He added $350 (of the $650 cost of the cape) to his regular price and estimated that the $300 credit was appropriate because he normally would have had a preparation and tanning cost of about that much. I agreed.

Here’s me and the bull the way we looked in 1998.

Rich and Caribou

 

Alberta Mule Deer 2017

 

Shut out this year on my deer hunt with Blue Bronna Outfitters in Alberta. It was a bit disappointing to go a week in prime deer country without finding a buck worthy of bringing home, but I’ve been on a good run lately and was due for some bad luck.

One of the positives about the hunt was learning to use my Phoneskope with my Swarovski spotting scope. The first day of the hunt produced a few photos and videos.

With the Swarovski scope on the car window-mount, a Canada moose walked across a field not far away, but too far for a photo with my IPhone, so I managed to catch him on the scope which produced an imperfect photo, but it’s still worth looking at.

IMG_3814 Canada moose through Swarovski scope and Iphone adapter cropped and adjusted

There is a bit of a learning curve, but it doesn’t take long to figure things out. I didn’t have the PhoneSkope on the lens correctly, which created the quarter moon affect in the upper right portion of the photo. I later corrected this error. The lighting was poor on the original digital copy, so I adjusted it a bit. It’s a work in progress.

The next day, we found our first group of mule deer and I managed to connect on a couple photos. Later on, a small whitetail buck walked up next to and then in front of the truck. At one point he looked into the front seat from about three feet away. Too bad I wasn’t ready with the camera. It would have been an awesome photo.

IMG_3830 mule deer buck cropped and adjusted

This mule deer buck is a four by four with a spread around 18 inches. By zooming in with the IPhone, the circle affect was eliminated. One can zoom in prior to taking the photo, after taking the photo, or both. Hard to see his antlers clearly with the tree limbs behind. He was hanging around with a half dozen does.

IMG_3839 whitetail buck cropped and adjusted

This little guy was the biggest whitetail I saw on the trip. Although I had both whitetail and mule deer tags, they both went unused. This guy had no fear. No scope needed in this case.

More on Alberta later.

 

Final Alberta Mule Deer Hunt Checklist

AB Mule Deer Cold weather (final) hunt checklist November 2017

After sleeping on the list (yes I am obsessing), I concluded that some changes were needed. So here they are.

Instead of taking my large rifle case, I’m taking a small case. Decided that extra items in the gun case could bang against my rifle and scope. Not good. Going with case that holds only the rifle. Eliminated rifle soft case. No place for it.

Along with that change, I had to find a way to carry my spotting scope, field glasses and range finder, so I will now have two carry on items, a small rolling suitcase and a day pack.

Also finalized my checklist which is attached above in PDF.

Hope this will be helpful if you are going through this exercise.

 

Equipment Check List for Cold Weather Alberta Mule Deer Hunt

AB Mule Deer Cold weather hunt checklist

(Double click on the link to see the list.)

This check list is tailored for a hunt where airline travel takes place. I’ve tried to include only items that are necessary. Minimizing clothing is the key to keeping baggage under control.

I once purchased an archery South Dakota combination mule deer and white-tailed deer hunt. The hunt took place during the first week of December. My luggage practically buried me. That was about 20 years ago and since then I’ve been through the ordeal several times.

On this trip it appears that the temperatures will be between 10 and 20 degrees fahrenheit most of the time. In order to minimize the luggage load, I’m not taking any large coat or heavy wool clothing, I am taking wool clothing, but it’s all to be layered.

Maybe I’ll regret it, but I’m taking only one pair of boots. That helps luggage wise. And, I’m taking only one pair of wool trousers, but the wool trousers can be worn underneath two types of Sitka gear that is efficient.

The “90%” jacket and trousers are insufficient on their own, but there may be a day or two when they will work fine in combination with the medium weight wool trousers I’ll bring along with other layer options up top.

If the weather gets truly brutal, I’ll go to long underpants, wool trousers and the Sitka “Stormfront” top and bottom. The heavy-duty Stormfront clothes allow no air or moisture to penetrate. I had very good results with these on my last Bob Marshall Wilderness pack trip when the weather was brutal.

One of the nice things about a guided “prairie” hunt is you don’t have to bring your pack saw, skinning knife, rope, meat carrier or deer bags.

So here’s my check list. I’ve got a full day left to review, so I’ll probably find that I need to add a couple more items. I’ll have two bags to check on the way to Calgary. That’s my rifle case and one very large rolling suitcase that tops the scales at exactly 50 pounds.

The rifle case is large enough to hold my spotting scope, range finder and field glasses as well. Because we will be in a pickup much of the time, I’m bringing a window mount for my scope as well as a tri-pod mount that doubles as a rest for my rifle.

My carry-on bag is on wheels. I finally got tired of lifting. But it will be expandable to double the volume- the rolling bag plus a small pack.

If I kill a deer, I’ll purchase a cooler and pack it with about 45 pounds of venison and give any extra deer meat away. If the rack is a big one, I’ll pay a taxidermist to skin and salt the cape, clean the skull plate, build a crate and obtain an export permit so it can be shipped home.

Antlers from a big buck are nearly impossible to bring home on an airplane, unless you commit the crime of splitting them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on Buck Run 2017

The first three days were for viewing, the fourth was for action. The idea was to look at the deer first and then decide which one to go after.

Unfortunately a couple of the biggest bucks were never properly vetted as they stayed in an alfalfa field far enough away that we never got a comprehensive view of them, but I think they were not quite as big as the one I finally decided on.

couple of big bucks in alfalfa DSC_0047[1 ]

The wildlife on the ranch was very calm. While David was talking out the window to a friend, this coyote passed by at about 50 yards. I snapped a photo out the window.

coyote DSC_0062[1]

The ranch has many food plots that provide winter wheat for green forage and standing wheat for thermal cover and a late-winter food supply.

DSC_0035[1] deer at dusk

David and Derek had fun with me seeing if I could figure out what critter left this pile of scat. I did not know.

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The key is to know that the critter was eating apples from the only orchard around. Proves how omnivorous coyotes are.

Buck Run has a two state refuges on the ranch. Here is a photo of one of them.

refuge DSC_0049[1].jpg

And yes on day four, my buck. He was one of the two finalists. The other was a tall-horned velvet buck that Derek thought might be bigger than the one I shot. He was lucky that we couldn’t find him on “shoot” day.

buck IMG_3797

He was a huge buck with great antlers and he’ll be prominent on my wall in a few months.

The ranch has a Washington State approved hunting program which offers an opportunity for ten unattached deer hunters to draw a tag to hunt on the ranch. Contact Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

 

 

Buck Run 2017

Just got home from Washington. The drive from California to Washington is a long one, especially when you’re solo.

My good friend David Stevens and his son Derek have a great ranch in Washington and I was the benefactor early this week.

On day four of the ranch hunt, I killed the best buck of my deer-hunting career. Here’s a photo.

IMG_3797 Buck Run 2017

More on this later. Almost time for bed.

Finding a Deer Hunt You Can Afford

Got an email from a reader of my blog. He expressed a sincere desire to find a way to hunt deer with his son. He was vague about his means and may have had more resources that he let on, but because he was vague, I decided to respond with a range of options and the letter back to him formed a basis for this post.

dsc_05051-buck-and-doe-day-two

You’ll have a better chance for big bucks if you can hunt during the rut.

After some editing, this is what I told him:

There is no easy solution to your problem. It isn’t hard to get a chance to hunt mule deer and it’s not too difficult to get a shot at a legal buck. But, even that is not a slam-dunk these days.

Budget has a big impact upon one’s chances. With a budget of $500-$1000 per person, you’re pretty much limited to a California hunt with a good chance of being drawn for a good chance at a mule deer buck within three or four years if you retain preference points. Or, if you’re lucky you might get drawn in Nevada which uses a weighted lottery system and you may get drawn on any given year. If you go the Nevada route,  the price will go up somewhat.

My buck where he fell

Here;s a buck I took on a do-it yourself California hunt in X12. Unless you’re lucky, it takes about four years to draw in this unit.

Idaho has a first-come first-served basis for many of its mule deer hunts and it also has enough deer to give you a reasonable chance of success. The cost of a do-it yourself hunt in Idaho would probably be $1000-2,000 per person, mainly because out-of-state tag prices are higher and travel is costly. If you camp out you reduce your cost, but for late season hunting it can get almost unbearably cold.

Oregon  and Utah may be places where you can obtain a tag and hunt for a price similar to Idaho. Travel will vary depending upon the cost of gasoline, and once again non-resident tags aren’t cheap – maybe talking $1,000-2000 for travel and tags.

If your budget is in the $4,000-$10,000 per hunter range, you may be able to find a landowner tag and camp out in Nevada, but you need to be resourceful to find a tag for sale. Landowner tags are in demand. Contact Nevada Department of F&G for a list of landowners who have tags.

IMG_0028 Rich with buck angle view cropped and resized

Killed this buck on top of a knob in the Cortez Mountains of Nevada. The landowner tag cost $4,000, but that was about ten years ago.

Guided hunts in Montana and Wyoming tend to be less costly, but tags and travel will get you into the $5000-$7000 range.

For a really good guided hunt, you will probably have to spend between $6,000-$10,000 per hunter plus the cost of travel and tags – maybe $1500 added on. Colorado and New Mexico are places to consider.

On any hunt there is a chance you’ll come home empty-handed. I’ve hunted with guides for mule deer three times in Montana, once each in Nevada (muzzleloader) and South Dakota (archery) and twice in Canada. (Once each in British Columbia and Alberta AB.) I killed a nice buck in Montana and had chances on the other two Montana hunts. (Passed on one buck and missed the other.)  Although I didn’t have a chance at a buck on the guided Nevada hunt, I did kill a buck each time I purchased landowner tags. Never got a shot at a mule deer in BC and missed a great buck on an Alberta archery hunt.

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I really like this Bob Marshall Wilderness buck killed three years ago. The total cost of the hunt including travel was about $7,000. It was a true wilderness hunt.

The greatest hunt of all was last year when I purchased a California Open Zone tag in an auction. The price was $10,500. I spent another $1500 on travel and scouting. In the end I killed a buck near Doyle on November 19th. It is clearly the biggest buck I’ve taken.

IMG_3106 Doyle buck 2017

This is clearly my best buck. Killed it last November in California during a muzzle loader rut hunt. It was also my most expensive hunt when you add in the cost of the Open Zone tag.

So there’s the picture from my view. Most of my life I’ve hunted cheap, but often. Now that I have more resources, I spend the amount of money I need to spend in order to make sure I hunt in good deer country, but money is no guarantee.

If you’re willing to part with the money, I’d suggest the option of a Nevada landowner tag program. It requires some leg work or you may want to call it sweat equity.

I bought a deer hunt in Alberta for next November (2017). The hunt is very popular. I had to put a deposit down three years in advance. The total cost of the hunt is $13,000 and that doesn’t include travel to Calgary (Call it another $1,000).  Last time I was there I saw some of the biggest mule deer bucks ever. Hope they survived the 2016/17 winter.

Note: I didn’t bear down hard while coming up with these numbers so they are meant to be just a ballpark estimate. Be resourceful and you may do better than my numbers. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have friends who own a ranch.