The Chance of a Lifetime
By Duncan Mills
My sons David and Brad and their friends (Dallas Louttit and Royden Spence) attended the Brandon wildlife Association’s Big Buck night on December 7, 2001. One of the draw prizes was a ticket on a caribou hunt and ice fishing package – at $10 a ticket and with only 500 tickets printed, there was a chance! The boys each purchased one and asked if I was going to buy one. My reply was, “Oh likely, after I look around to see what else is here.”
I returned to the booth a short time later and got my ticket. I had been longing to fulfill a life-long urge to hunt caribou, even going as far as to check out some of the packages but never following it further. At the end of the evening we heard my name announced. Naturally, I asked “what it was for”, to which my wife Linda replied “I don’t know, but it wasn’t the caribou hunt.” It became very quiet in the hall and I heard “Dunc Mills from Deloraine Manitoba, you are going on a caribou hunt.” Was I excited? You bet.
The trip was with Ted Jowett’s Outfitting Service – I contacted him shortly after winning the trip to have a myriad of questions answered about equipment needed, etc. During the spring, Dave and Brad and good friends Royden and Dallas decided they would go along if Mr. Jowett had room, and after a few phone calls we were all set.
The next adventures included driving to Winnipeg to get licenses when they became available, getting our equipment ready, and starting an exercise program to get in shape. We were all first-time tundra hunters and uncertain as to what to expect. Time dragged on that summer, and finally on September 9th 2002 we were off to Thompson, where we caught a plane to fly to Ted’s camp at Nicholson Lake. A most pleasant flight on a beautiful sunny day saw us arrive around noon.
As we were unloading, the hunters who were leaving had some nice racks but informed us that they hadn’t seen any animals in the last couple of days. After introductions and a short lunch we were off to do some scouting with Dave, Brad any myself and camp manager Dave Irwin going one way while Royden, Dallas and other hunters went another way. We scouted all afternoon and only saw a single, but Dave informed us that could change in a matter of hours. With no animals and the temp in high 70s, my thoughts were not positive.
The conditions changed the following morning. By noon, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of caribou coming from every direction. Brad, Fred and I went to the west end of the lake, while Dave and Dallas circled north and came towards us from the northeast. Soon there were two bulls in front of us and off to one side. We tried to stay behind a small ridge – they were 100 yards in front and coming hard toward us. With no time to remove my backpack, I lay down and took aim at the largest bull. The rain had resulted in a wet scope, which clouded my vision.
As I squeezed the trigger, my .300 Magnum responded, but the caribou did not react. After a second shot, both bulls ran into the trees surrounding the lake, but only one came out. Fred downed the second with a couple of well-placed shots. I finally had my first caribou – it sported a nice white mane, with double shovels and sticker points coming off the main beams. After pictures and handshakes, Dave, Brad and Dallas took off to investigate the south side of the lake, while Fred and I dressed, caped and deboned our animals. Ted came down in the boat to pick us up after we had backpacked our meat and antlers to the lake shore.
While eating lunch at camp and after hearing shooting on the south side of the lake, we started glassing the east end of the lake, where herds of caribou were visible on the hills east and north of our position. Suddenly, I spotted eight large bulls bedded on top of a hill about a mile and a half away. Although we were somewhat tired, Fred and I agreed to check it out. Upon reaching the base of the hill, we decided that Fred would go up the tree line to the south, while I would try a slow stalk up the side of the lake to the north. I had to proceed slowly, as I was visible to two of the bulls.
When I was about 400 yards from them, I stopped, took off my backpack and glassed the antlers visible on the sky line. One bull had heavy-looking velveted antlers with very palmated top. My heart was set on this one if I could get a chance. A shot rang out and all the bulls got to their feet and moved east and over the hill. My thoughts were that Fred had gotten an animal, but the chase was up for me.
I proceeded to walk toward the top of the hill only to see antlers coming over the hill toward me. I slipped the backpack off and held it in front as a rest. One bull came right to me at about 200 yards – he had double shovels and looked like the twin to the one I had taken earlier in the day. Images of the palmated bull filled my head and I decided to pass on this opportunity. Suddenly he saw me and turned, heading away from me and turning north.
Then three more came over the hill, and the third one was Mr. Right. I placed the crosshairs on him and thought to myself just a little bit closer. He kept coming, and I guessed the distance to be 350 yards. Since I had done a lot of practicing at 300 yards, I knew exactly where to hold. BOOM!! He turned his head and I knew he was hit. Another shot and he turned east, heading straight over the hill. Carefully aiming, I squeezed the last shot and down he went. Yes, I was a happy and satisfied hunter. Two caribou in the same day and I speculated that one (or maybe both) would make the Manitoba record book. As it turned out, the group harvested ten animals that afternoon. Although we were very tired and hungry by the time we got them all dressed and back to camp, it was a wonderful and memorable experience.
Thanks to Ted Jowett and his camp crew for the great stay. They looked after us as if we were friends and not clients. We spent the rest of our hunt relaxing, fishing and storytelling. For a Dad to go on a trip like this with his sons and good hunting buddies, it simply doesn’t get any better. Thanks again to the Brandon Wildlife Association for the great trip!