Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity

Caribou hunting can be feast or famine, and the Bowhunter crew tasted a little of both.

I shot the wrong bull!

Using boulders for cover, Brian Fortenbaugh leads a stalk as his cameraman and guide follow. Brian decided to pass on this bull. As we field-dressed our first two caribou, countless migrating bulls walked by within easy bow range.

Denying it, under the unflinching gaze of the television camera, was futile.

The big bull caribou I thought I'd arrowed was migrating his way out of my life while a smaller bull teetered on shaky legs in a stand of black spruce near the lake edge.

Moments earlier, I'd been at full draw on a bull with really good top points when it dawned on me my young cameraman might be focused on the wrong bull.

Turning, still at full draw, I whispered, "Are you on the bigger bull?"

Rather than answer, he moved right up behind my shoulder so his line of sight mirrored mine.

When I turned back to take the shot, the small herd was moving to the left and behind the dwarfed spruce trees we were hiding in. When hunting buddy and Bowhunter Assistant Editor Brian Fortenbaugh whispered, "...32 yards," fffftttt -- my arrow was gone.

In the melee following the shot, caribou were running everywhere. Moving to the other side of the bush-like spruce, I could see the big bull running to my left, showing no signs of distress.

Our guide, Cory, who was on top of the nearest ridge, attempting to detour caribou our direction, was standing and glassing to my right. Confused, and having no clue what had happened, I walked up to Cory and asked him if I'd missed.

Using boulders for cover, Brian Fortenbaugh leads a stalk as his cameraman and guide follow. Brian decided to pass on this bull. As we field-dressed our first two caribou, countless migrating bulls walked by within easy bow range.

"No, your bull just tipped over down by the lake," Cory said.

I was incredulous and disbelieving.

"No," I claimed with weakening confidence. "The bull I shot just ran over the hill that direction!"

Not true. I had, indeed, shot the wrong bull! Evidently, after the camera distraction, I had turned back and focused on the smaller bull. The bigger one had already walked behind our bush and out of sight. I was not proud of my performance.

Hiking down to the lake edge, muttering insults to myself, I recovered my bull. He was nothing to be ashamed of, but I must admit to being thankful for having a second tag in my pocket.

Just a few minutes prior to my little fiasco, Brian had taken his first caribou bull ever. Even as we took photos and field-dressed our bulls, the migration went on around us as caribou streamed by, locked in that familiar mile-eating gait not easily interrupted. We were smack in the middle of a migration as ancient as time.

This was quite an unexpected scenario. When our plane had landed at Ungava Adventure's Charlie Camp at 1 p.m., the departing hunters had reported they hadn't seen a caribou in three days. Undaunted, we stashed our gear, wolfed down a scrumptious lunch, and quickly set up our bows and packs. The pessimistic caribou report hung heavy in the air among our group of 12 bowhunters, but those who'd hunted caribou before knew things could change quickly. And they already had.

Brian, cameraman Troy, and I met Cory and then jumped into the boat and headed across the lake to hunt the rest of the afternoon. I love it when there's no delay in getting the hunt started. It's a sign of a well-prepared outfitter.

After shooting this "mistaken identity" bull, I was glad to have a second tag in my pocket. (RIGHT) Brian didn't hold out long before taking his first-ever caribou. He and I took advantage of the first day's "feast."

As we rounded the first point, something looked a little strange on the distant horizon. I raised my binoculars -- caribou, as far as the eye could see!

Knowing caribou often skirt the edge of a lake rather than swimming, Cory took us ashore at the end of a long, narrow bay. That led to the killing spree described at the beginning. Our first bulls were down within hours of leaving Kuujjuaq!

Now, the dilemma -- we had five more days to hunt and a TV show to create. Brian and I raised our standards, an attitude aided by the fact we weren't seeing any bulls with decent top points. For the remainder of the day, we didn't see any bulls as big as the one I "thought" I'd shot. Arriving back at camp that evening, we learned that our fellow bowhunters had killed seven bulls in addition to ours.

On the second morning, the four of us set up behind the same stand of spruce as fair numbers of caribou passed by. We still couldn't spot any really big bulls, and the ones we did see were streaming by quickly, without hesitation.

When caribou are swarming, you can easily imagine that the next bull over the hill will be a monster. Then again, if you've played hide-and-seek with migrating caribou before, you know the feast can end as quickly as it starts.

And, about 2 p.m., that's what happened to us -- someone flipped the migration switch, and suddenly we were alone. The caribou were gone, as though the very last of their kind had come over the hill and trotted past. We stuck it out until 6 p.m. and then returned to camp. Our hunting buddies had taken five more bulls.

The third morning, we headed back to the same spot only to find a barren skyline. When we finally spotted a few animals on a long peninsula, we went ashore and spent the entire day searching for bulls, blowing stalks, getting picked off by cows, and generally having a blast.

At dawn of the fourth morning, the guides spotted several bulls bedded out behind camp. Those of us with unfilled tags spread out across the tundra right out of camp. Brian and I with our cameraman and guide, struck out in search of a good bull

, but our standards were gradually diminishing. And we were happy when we started to spot some decent bulls that seemed to be lying up, in no hurry to go anywhere. The caribou were definitely on break!

We made several stalks, but numerous cows and calves bedded around the bulls made it tough. At one point, Brian slipped up to 52 yards from a really good bull, but the bull turned away before Brian could get to full draw. The rest of the day was sprinkled with blown stalks.

From that point on, caribou numbers fell dramatically, and we had to work to find bulls of any kind, much less those with huge antlers. So Brian and I made a decision to optimize our chances by splitting up the next day. We had only one cameraman between us, so he and Brian would go with Cory.

Aussie Damain Zeinert, an avid Bowhunter Magazine reader, killed the largest bull for the week in our camp. After bagging his second bull, he took over as my cameraman for Bowhunter Magazine TV. (CENTER) When Brian and his guide spotted this bull swimming a lake, they circled ahead and ambushed the bull as he came ashore. We were excited to get bulls like this when the "famine" hit. (RIGHT) With time running out and caribou getting scarce, I was more than happy to fill my second tag with this bull. I claim no mistaken identity on this one.

I would hunt with my newest hunting buddy, Damain Zeinert, a skilled bowhunter from Australia. Damain had traveled all the way to Quebec to hunt caribou and had taken his second bull, the largest in our camp, on the second morning. Not only was this Aussie getting bored, but he'd brought along a professional-grade high-definition video camera and was more than willing to be my cameraman.

When Damain walked out of his cabin, he was wearing excellent camouflage and a quality pack. But to my amazement, he was wearing tennis shoes and waterproof socks!

"Are you going to be okay in those?" I asked with some skepticism.

"No problem, mate," Damain said. "This is all I wear when I'm bowhunting in Australia. The shoes get wet, but they dry fast."

"I bet you hunt barefoot back home too, right?"

"Sometimes," said the man of few words.

We struck off right out of camp, and it didn't take long to figure out those tennis shoes would not be a hindrance. As Damain followed me through bogs, over jagged rocks, and across miles of tundra, he stuck to me like glue. If he had been in the lead, I'm sure I would have struggled to keep up with the 30-something Aussie.

Caribou were few and far between. Putting some distance between ourselves and camp, Damain and I ended up on a rocky peak where we spent time glassing for bulls. Damain noticed a few stragglers running down a distant hill, jumping into the lake and swimming a narrows.

That's when a boat carrying Brian, Troy, and Cory appeared on the lake, motoring toward the shoreline where the caribou were headed. The caribou beat the boat to the shore and ran off, but Brian and Troy bailed out while Cory maneuvered the boat away. It wasn't long before another group of caribou came over the hill and swam the narrows, right into the trap, and Brian made a great shot on his second bull as Damain and I watched from two miles away.

As they loaded Brian's bull into the boat, we could see that the crossing where Brian had just killed his second bull was probably our best chance. So we hiked down to the lake edge and sat down for lunch.

I managed to wring a few Australian hunting stories out of Damain, whose home country doesn't have hunting seasons, limits, or licenses. I'd been hunting with him for just half a day but could tell this was no ordinary bowhunter.

A decent bull coming over the hill on the other side of the lake interrupted our conversation, but instead of jumping into the water, he plopped down on top of the hill to take a nap. For two hours we sat there and talked before several cows came over the hill and dived right into the drink.

The bull got up but lollygagged around as though he wasn't too anxious to swim. He walked to the shoreline once, backed off, and then changed his mind and cautiously slipped into the frigid water churned by three-foot waves.

Ungava Adventures' Charlie Camp was a well-run base of operations with comfortable cabins and excellent food.

Damain flicked on the camera, I grabbed my bow, and we stalked along the backside of some willow-like bushes growing the length of the rocky shoreline. To have any hope of intercepting the swimming bull, we had to run.

The lone bull climbed up on the rocks, threw a spray of water with a violent body shake, and picked his way through the brush. Patiently I waited until he emerged and started angling away. Estimating less than 20 yards between us, I drew and released. My arrow hit behind the last rib, exiting behind the opposite shoulder. After trotting 50 or 60 yards, the bull twirled around and tipped over -- dead in seconds.

Damain and I engaged in a little international backslapping, got the video footage we needed, and took some photos of my bull. This bull was not as big as several we had passed on during that busy first day-and-a-half, but that was fine with me. I'll trade five days of hunting for fewer antler tines any day.

With perfect timing, one of the guides, who had taken other hunters to a river to fish, was boating by. We waved him down, loaded my bull, and got a welcome ride back to camp.

Our flight wasn't scheduled to leave until the next afternoon, so after breakfast we took off to do some fishing. We managed to catch and release several dazzlingly beautiful brook trout in the 16-inch range, and I landed a 36-inch lake trout in a stream only a couple feet deep.

It was the perfect ending to a great hunt that included good times with friends, both old and new. Twelve bowhunters in camp killed 23 bulls with bows (No. 24 fell to a rifle on the last day). So the success rate could not have been much better. I certainly could not ask much more of any hunting experience.

Even if I did shoot the wrong bull.

Ouch! That still stings...

Author's Notes: I used a Mathews Drenalin at 70 lbs. draw weight, Carbon Express Maxima Hunter arrows, and Rage two-blade broadheads. My accessories included a Vapor Trail Limbdriver rest, LimbSaver Prism sight, LimbSaver Ste

alth stabilizer, Nikon Premier LX 10x42 binoculars, Nikon Fieldscope, and Monarch 800 Rangefinder. Brian toted a Mathews Drenalin at 70 lbs., Carbon Express Maxima Hunter 350 arrows tipped with Rocky Mt. Ironhead 100 broadheads, Montana Black Gold FlashPoint sight, and Nikon binos and rangefinder.

Bowhunting Safari Consultants arranged this hunt for us, and Ungava Adventures met us at every turn to carry out a well-planned hunt. No outfitter can influence caribou migrations, but Ungava did everything possible to get us into animals. To plan your own bowhunting adventure anywhere in North America, contact BSC at www.bowhuntingsafari.com,

1-800-833-9777. For information on this caribou hunt, contact Ungava Adventures at www.ungava-adventures.com, 1-866- 444-3445.

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