TJ Conrads (ASCA189) nous fait parvenir un superbe article relatant une expédition de chasse au Canada en Colombie Britanique. Un grand merci à lui.
In 2005, my business partner, Larry, and I booked a mountain goat horseback hunt with a good friend of mine, Pete McKeen, who guided us four years earlier on a very successful moose hunt. Unfortunately, by the time we made camp, Pete found out his sister-in-law had quite unexpectedly passed away that morning. Both Larry and I knew the importance of such an event and agreed to cancel the hunt and plan on coming back the next year. It took several days to get a bush plane to fly in and get us, but we spent the time fishing and planning the following year’s hunt.
Jump to September, 2006, and we now found ourselves in a motel in Dease Lake, British Columbia, waiting for the weather to clear. Our bush pilot, Bruce McNaughton—a crusty, unlikable man (he had been shot down five times while flying fighter planes in the Angolan War, and then the Guerilla War that was initiated in Rhodesia by anti-Colonialists). Like most who have witnessed the atrocities of war, he had no taste to talk about it, had no love for Americans due to our country refusing support either side, but he was a damn good bush pilot. As such, he refused to fly us the 90+ miles, each way, twice, in the foul weather to camp. I spent some time talking to him and finally broke through his shell, albeit not by much, but enough to know that when Search and Rescue in the area need a pilot, Bruce is on the top of their list; he was that good.
Our group was me and Larry, my guide Pete, and his business partner Rick, who was to be Larry’s guide for the hunt. We had all hunted together before, so it was a reunion of old friends.
Loading gear into the Beaver at Dease Lake on our way to Tuya River. Left to right are Bruce McNaughten, Rick Solmonson, Pete McKeen, and Larry Fischer.
The Beaver is the workhorse in the bush all over Canada and Alaska
After two days of rain we finally flew to camp, which was situated on the Tuya River between Tuya Lake (where we had to cancel the goat hunt the year before) and Little Tuya Lake. Our quest was for Mountain caribou and Canada moose. Since I already had a very respectable Canada moose taken in 2001, I was more interested in the Mountain caribou, a species I had yet to hunt.
Bruce eased the Grumman Beaver onto the river and motored to the shore. We unloaded the plane with all our gear, and then Bruce flew Pete and I back to the main base camp on Tuya Lake. There, we picked up extra food, gas, a boat motor, and as much firewood as the Beaver would hold; there was very little wood near our camp, and later in the hunt we would have to motor down to Little Tuya Lake to cut firewood. After all, with the walls of our cabin leaking rain water, it was almost impossible to keep our gear dry so the wood stove was kept stoked whenever we were in camp.
Larry in front of the camp shack on Tuya River.
Our camp was a 16’ by 16’ plywood shack with four-foot walls and 2” by 4” rafters. The roof, which we had to put up, was a large plastic tarp that we nailed taut to the rafters and the 4’ walls. It was damp, and the walls leaked when it rained, which was often, but the wood stove helped us keep dry and warm during the ten days we planned on hunting. However, it was built in the worst spot you could find. Directly behind it was a small lake that poured into a little stream that ran right under the shack, and right in front of the door. Pete and I cut several willow bushes and placed them at the entrance to help protect us from dragging mud into the shack.
Once we had camp put together, we headed up the hill behind camp to glass for game. With only a few hours of daylight left, the four of us stayed glued to our spotting scopes and binoculars searching for caribou and moose. By sundown, we only spotted a cow and calf moose swimming across the river a mile downstream. Off in the distance, a pack of wolves worked the lower foothills on the opposite of the valley.
The Tuya River basin is a magnificent piece of real estate that holds a wide variety of big game, as well as excellent fishing.
The Tuya River basin lies between a plateau to the north, and rugged mountains on the south that are home to grizzly bear and mountain goats. Between these two major land formations lies Tuya River, surrounded by a vast valley of tundra, willow, and brush, the latter of which reaches as high as man’s chest and can hide many animals…including grizzlies. That being said, taking a position on a small rise of land can give the hunter a vast amount of country to glass for game.
Because of the vast amount of area to glass for game, taking a high spot on a hill allows you to scan near and far in the vast reaches of the area.
Rick checks out a pack of wolves down the river.
Early the next morning we drifted down the river cow calling for moose. After an hour, we came upon a small hill to the north and hiked up to where we commanded a panoramic view of the entire valley. Pete and Rick set up their spotting scopes while Larry and I used our 10 x 40 Zeiss binoculars to scour the land. As the hours rolled by, only a few cow caribou and young moose were seen. The day was getting warm and Larry and Rick had fallen asleep, while Pete and I kept scouring the land for game. All of sudden I saw a set of antlers a mile away working up the other side of the river toward us. I couldn’t see much of its body; the antlers were proof it was a very large bull caribou.
“Pete, check out this bull,” I said.
Pete swung his spotting scope over and got real quiet as he appraised the bull. He turned to me and whispered, “That is one hell of a good bull! Want to try a stalk?”
Dumb question, for sure. “Hell, yes!” I replied.
Pete woke Rick and Larry, pointed out the bull, and set up a plan. Rick would take me across the river in the boat while Pete and Larry stayed on the knob to keep an eye on the bull. Before we could finalize the plans, the bull stopped, looked around, and bedded down in the thick willow brush about 100 yards from the river. All we could see were the tops of his antlers.
Marking the spot where the bull had bedded, Rick and I slowly rowed across the river to a place where there was a high bank that shielded us from the bull if he were to stand up. After climbing the bank and locating the bull, I had Rick stay back while I put a solo stalk on the bull.
Half way there, I removed my hunting pack, jacket, and binoculars and set them in a pile. I didn’t want anything to prevent me from making a shot if one should present itself. It took me an hour of slow, painstakingly tedious stalking in the brush to close the gap between me and bedded bull when I ran into an impenetrable thicket. The bull was bedded less than twenty yards away, lying broadside, the wind coming from him to me. Since I could get no closer, I nocked and arrow and waited to see what he would do next.
The sun was hot, bearing down on me as I stood for almost an hour sweating, waiting to see what the bull would do. Ever so slowly, I felt the wind shift…it skirted my face and then shifted to my rear; it was a matter of time before the bull would wind me…and it happened very fast.
I saw his antlers spin toward me, but his head and body were buried in the alder brush. He never stood; instead, he came up spinning around, and started trotting back from where he came. I swung my longbow, drawing the arrow back, and following across his body until I was just ahead of his chest, and then let loose. The arrow zipped right through him quartering away. Blood sprayed out in slow motion as I watched the orange-feathered shaft disappear through his side. It happened so fast. I had second thoughts about my shot, but I knew he was mortally wounded.
He ran about fifty yards up a small hill, turned to look back at me, then walked down toward the river. I went to where the bull had been when the arrow passed through him and found lots of blood and hair, but no arrow; it had disappeared into the thick willow brush. I ran back and grabbed my binoculars and glassed over to where Pete was. He gave me the signal that the bull was just over the rise.
The blood trail was so heavy I could follow it at a leisurely walk. I was fully expecting to see the bull dead when I got to where I last saw him, but then I looked up and he was lying down by a balsam tree, looking at me about ten yards away. I went to nock another arrow and he got up and walked toward the river, giving me a quartering away shot. The arrow was deflected by the brush and sailed away to parts unknown. I nocked another arrow and hurried down toward the bull. He has slowed down but was almost to the water when I was able to drop an arrow into his side, quartering away. He walked out into the river and fell over in the shallows.
I hiked back to where I had left Rick, picking up my hunting pack and coat, wondering why he didn’t follow me or the bull. When I arrived, he was snoring, dead asleep. Some guide, I thought, so I tapped him with my foot to wake him up and said, “Hey, let’s go get my caribou!”
He lazily asked, “You get him?”
“Look down the lake,” I said. “While you were sleeping, I made the stalk and killed him. We need to go across the river and pick up Pete and Larry, then go get the bull.”
We motored the boat back across the lake, picked up the boys, and headed toward the caribou. When we motored up to it, Pete grabbed the antlers, ripping the velvet off, as the bull was ready to shed his velvet. He looked at me and gasped, “This is a big bull, T.J!”
The author with his Mountain caribou after a successful stalk along the Tuya River.
We had to rope the bull’s antlers and use the oars and the motor to pull him from the shallows into deeper water before heading back to the other side of the river. With all the blood he left, we knew a grizzly would soon be on the trail. Reaching the other side, it took all four of us to pull the huge bull up onto the tundra where we could take pictures and quarter him up. Mountain caribou are the largest bodied of all caribou species in North America, and this bull was much bigger than I expected.
Pete and Rick working the boat through a shallow rapid. You can see how much the caribou meat in front is weighing down the boat.
The river was so shallow in some areas that we had to pull the boat past them.
Within no time we had the cape, quarters, the tenderloins, ribs and backstraps removed and loaded onto the boat. The weight of the caribou caused the boat to sit very low in the water. Only two people could ride in the boat at a time, so two of us walked the bank and helped pull the boat through a series of shallow rapids back to camp.
The following day it poured down rain, so the day was spent near camp. Pete and I took the boat upriver and found a stand of aspens and cut enough for a meat pole, as well as enough to hang a shower. Rick spent the day fleshing out my caribou cape in the cabin by the wood stove. In the afternoon, I took my fly rod out and landed several grayling and a lake trout to go with caribou tenderloins for dinner.
Grayling are part of the char family. They are very prolific, easy to catch on a fly, and make excellent table fare. This one was roasted over an open fire for lunch.
Although it rained most of the evening, by the following morning it had stopped so we headed back down to the same high vantage to glass for game and see if a grizzly was on the gut pile from my caribou. Both Pete and Rick had grizzly tags, and they were excited about getting an opportunity to stalk one.
About an hour into our glassing, I spotted something out of place about two miles downriver up on the side of a hill. I couldn’t verify what I was seeing, so I asked Pete to put his scope on it. It turned out to be a bull moose bedded almost to the top of the hill, but only the upper half of his antlers were visible due to him being in a depression with thick brush all around him. Pete looked at me and said, “Good eye! Let’s go get you up on him.”
We walked over to where Rick and Larry were glassing and said we were going to take the boat down and try and get a stalk on the moose. Rick wanted to come along, but Larry seemed upset about it. At any rate, we slowly motored down the river toward where the bull was bedded. Larry was huffing and sighing and kicking the side of the boat all the way down. Pete asked what was up with him, and I whispered that he was very competitive and most likely is upset that I may very well fill my second tag before he kills something.
By the time we found a place to hit shore, the mood in the boat was almost unbearable. We gathered our gear and started up a trail toward where the bull was the last time we looked. I had found the moose. Pete and I had planned on hunting the moose, as I was the one who found it, but Larry was in such a foul mood I finally said, “Larry, why don’t you go first and take the first shot.”
“Yeah! Sure, I’ll shoot him!” Larry’s attitude changed in a heartbeat. Although I was kicking myself for giving him the opportunity, I knew it was the right thing to do at the time.
s Rick an Larry started up the trail, Pete spun around and looked at me and said, “Hey, that’s your moose to hunt! You spotted it first.”
I whispered back to him, “You saw his attitude. If I were lucky enough to slip an arrow into that bull, we wouldn’t be able to stand being in camp for the next week.” So, off we went up the hill, slipping and falling on a muddy, rock-strewn trail heading up in the general vicinity of where the bull had last been seen.
We had finally snuck over a rise when the tips of the moose’s antlers appeared about forty yards away; he was still bedded down in the depression. I told Larry to move up behind a bush that had open shooting lanes on both sides, as Rick took one of the ash paddles from the boat and started raking it into some brush mimicking a bull moose. Pete gave out several cow moose moans, making it appear as if a bull and hot cow were in the area.
After about twenty minutes of this, the bull had not budged. It was time for more aggressive tactics. We moved up to a low draw, Rick rubbing the paddle through the brush and grunting, while Pete cow called. All of a sudden, off to the right, we saw the bull’s antlers coming toward us.
I dropped back about twenty yards and nocked an arrow, just in case. Rick and Pete oozed back away from the bull, all the while raking the brush and cow calling, but the bull was still not convinced. Pete moved down the hill twenty yards and cow called again. That did it. The bull finally felt convinced there was a cow there and came out broadside, ten yards, from Larry, who sent a shaft into both of its lungs. The bull ran about thirty yards, Pete moaned his best cow call, and the bull stopped, snorted, started to spin in a circle, and went down for good.
Larry with his bull taken high above the Tuya River. It took two trips to pack the moose down to the river below.
After photos, we caped and quartered the bull, packing out the antlers, cape, one front shoulder, backstraps, and tenderloins. We moved the three other quarters a hundred and fifty or so yards downhill from the kill site and hung sweaty T-shirts around them to help keep any scavengers off until we could come back for them. By the time we got to the boat, it was almost sunset, so we motored back to camp using our flashlights.
Early the next morning we eased our way back up to the meat, looking for sign of grizzlies, but found nothing had been there. We boned out the three quarters and each loaded up a sack of meat to haul back to the boat. Rick, having had his back fused just five months prior, only made it about 100 yards before he had to stop. Clearly, he could not handle the weight, so, I strapped his meat onto my pack and hauled out the meat of both quarters. I fell several times, and hurt my back, but we made it back to camp by noon.
The next day was a camp day. Showers were in order, then we went up stream and fished, and relaxed. I built a fire and grilled several of the fish for lunch on the river before heading back to camp to dry out our clothes.
The rest of the week went by fast. Larry stalked and missed a bull caribou at fifteen yards, and on the last day of the hunt Pete called in a huge bull moose for me. I was off a trail as the bull made its way toward us. It was less than twelve yards away with only it’s nose and one eye peeking around a balsam tree; it needed to take two steps out to give me a near point-blank shot. Pete gave a low cow moan call and the bull started to move out when all of a sudden Larry and Rick started laughing about something twenty yards behind Pete. That was that; the bull spun and ran back down the trail. I drew, trying to lead him, but he was screened so I let down. Pete and I ran down the trail only to see the bull clear the next ridge a quarter mile away, never to be seen again. Pete walked back up the hill and had a word with Larry and Rick, but the damage was done. The hunt had ended.
Early the next morning Bruce flew in to start ferrying us out and back to Dease Lake. On the flight back, I stared out the window of the Beaver and had to reflect back on the many times I have hunted this part of British Columbia…the many weeks I have spent chasing moose, caribou, and mountain goat with Pete in the Tuya River drainage. It is one of the most unique, and primitive, pieces of wilderness I have had the pleasure to visit.
Once again, I had a great hunt with friends, and was able to take a magnificent Mountain caribou. But in the end, it is not the destination—a dead game animal—that makes the hunt so special. It is the journey, the hunt, shared with friends that will always leave me with experiences I will cherish for the rest of my life. And once again, I found that up on the Tuya.