A Caribou Bow Hunt Dalton Highway Alaska
My wife and I moved to Alaska in August of 2020. After you have lived in Alaska for one full year, you receive resident status. The price of a hunting license drops significantly for residents of Alaska. On top of that, big game tags are free. A caribou tag that previously cost us $800 is now free to my wife and me. Another benefit is longer hunting seasons for certain animals. To celebrate our newfound residency, we woke up early in Fairbanks, grabbed our hunting licenses, and headed north to the Haul Road to bow hunt Alaska caribou. Our dream of an Alaska caribou bow hunting was underway.
Alaska Caribou Bow Hunt On The Road System
Haul Road is the local name of Alaska’s Dalton Highway. It’s called the haul road because the road’s primary purpose is for large trucks. The trucks are used to transport supplies to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. You may have seen the Dalton highway on Ice Road Truckers. The gravel road twists and turns northward and ends just short of the Arctic Ocean. Our destination was Prudhoe Bay, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
We originally intended only to go to Coldfoot and look for caribou in the foothills of the Brooks Mountains. The main reason we did not want to go all the way to the Arctic Ocean is because we were unsure if our Jeep’s tiny gas tank had the range to get to the next gas station. We were also unsure of the road condition, and knew that once we had committed, turning around was not an option.
It only took the regional biologist two minutes to convince us to make the trip up the treacherous road. She informed us that calf mortality was nearly 60% due to blood loss from mosquitos, and that the salty breeze from the Arctic Ocean was the only relief these animals would get from the bugs. Once frost hits, caribou will migrate south to the mountains, but until then, our only chance to see a caribou was to push toward the north coast.
Heading North To Bow Hunt Caribou
We headed north and found a camping spot near a small stream, planning to rest up before attempting to cross the most dangerous part of the Dalton Highway, Atigun Pass. As we tried to sleep, our minds couldn’t get off the thought of the polar bears that spend the summer on the banks of these creeks, resting until the sea ice returns. Luckily, this far north, the sun doesn’t set for most of the summer. Any time I thought I heard a noise I would get out of the tent and look around to set my mind at ease.
The next day was full of rain. We made it to the base of Atigun Pass and were greeted with signs warning us of 3 miles of 12% incline and blind corners. One sign instructed all vehicles to call out on a CB radio before going through the pass. We did not have a CB radio, and to make matters worse, the entire mountain was inside a thick cloud and visibility was about 10 feet. As we climbed the pass the Jeep started to overheat and we took advantage of a truck pullout at the top before making the steep descent down the other side. Once the Jeep got back down to temperature, we continued down the north side of the pass into what Alaskans refer to as “the slope”.
Brooks Range Caribou
The Slope is the shortened name for the north slope of the Brooks Mountain Range, the northernmost part of Alaska. The rolling hills are covered in low grass and blueberry plants. The tallest plants in sight were the stubby willows that line the creeks. We could see for miles in every direction. It seemed like only a matter of time until we saw the caribou of our dreams strolling through the tundra.
We stopped periodically to hike to hilltops and glass the valleys for any signs of life. We found an antler, but caribou were scarce, and we didn’t lay an eye on one all day. Continuing on our way, we drove nearly 100 miles north of Atigun Pass. This is where we spotted our first caribou. A lone bull grazing on the open tundra. He was about three quarters of a mile from the road. We stopped the car and contemplated what the best move was. Since the tallest plant was a knee-high willow, there wasn’t any other option than to crawl through the open and try to get as close as we could to the caribou.
Making The Shot On My First Alaska Caribou
With my bow in one hand, I crawled for 45 minutes toward the caribou. Every time he looked in my direction, I froze. Slowly but surely, I made my way into bow range. As I sat up, the caribou locked me in his eyesight and we sat frozen, staring at each other, for what felt like an eternity. Eventually, he turned his head to the other side. I drew back, steadied my sights, and made my shot. It sounded like a baseball bat hitting a hollow pumpkin. I instantly knew it was a lethal hit. The caribou circled and laid down. I dropped to my knees and watched for a few minutes. I wanted to sear this successful caribou bow hunt in Alaska into memory before making my way back to hug my wife. We grabbed the gear we needed to butcher and pack out the animal and hurried back to the caribou to begin the hard work ahead.
The bugs were horrendous during the butchering process. The steaming meat attracted every biting insect within a mile radius, and they all landed on the caribou and the only exposed skin I had. My left hand. By the time I finished my rushed butchering job, my hand became swollen. I could not make a fist and would not be able to for nearly three weeks. The pack out was short and easy. It felt great to get away from the gut pile that was drawing all the tiny vampires. My wife and I were able to pack out our bull in one trip.
Wrapping Up Our Bow Hunt For Caribou
We finished our adventure in the town of Deadhorse Alaska. It is the northernmost gas station in the United States. We had rolled in with less than half of a gallon of gasoline in our fuel tank. Thankfully we had a jerrycan on top of the car in case of emergency. We filled up and headed home without ever talking to another human on the Haul Road.
Overall, this bow hunting caribou trip on the Alaska road system was a huge success. We came home with plenty of amazing meat, and a lifetime of memories. If I were to repeat this trip, I would bring elbow high rubber gloves for the butchering process, or possibly wait until after frost, so that the bulk of the insects would die off. It is also important to have a meat transportation system dialed in when doing a trip like this. We unfortunately lost the liver and heart in the transportation process. We didn’t give them time to dry before packing them into the car.
The video below captures the highlights of our caribou bow hunt in Alaska.
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