September 26, 2023
Many years ago, I was in Saskatchewan, enjoying an incredible trip hunting whitetails. One of my favorite things about hunting trips is spending time in camp getting to know my fellow hunters and guides.
It was during that Saskatchewan hunt that I met guide Josh Belyea. I loved listening to Josh’s tales of guiding adventures. We clicked immediately, and we have been good friends ever since.
It was in 2019, on yet another Saskatchewan hunt, that Josh told me he also guided hunters for woodland caribou in Newfoundland. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, because woodland caribou have always been my dream subspecies to hunt. And in that moment, the planning began for us to work together to make that dream a reality.
Josh contacted the Newfoundland outfitter he was working for and got the approval for me to come to “The Rock” — as they call Canada’s easternmost province — the following season for a caribou/moose combo hunt. As luck would have it, Josh was also given the nod to be my guide, so I would be able to do the hunt with my good friend.
Josh and I were in constant contact over the next year, making plans for what I knew would be an unforgettable adventure bowhunt.
Soon after landing in Nova Scotia, Josh and I boarded the ferry to Newfoundland. Once there, we met up with the outfitter and talked options for finding me the right stag caribou and bull moose. After picking up my tags, we started the next leg of the journey.
I wanted an adventure, and that’s exactly what I got…right out of the gate!
In our first camp, we used a boat to get across a lake. Once ashore, we then used an Argo UTV to get to some high points from which we would glass. After two days of this, we only had one bull run across the tundra about a mile out, never to be seen again.
On Day Three, Josh and I decided to go to an area that was too far for others to trek. Our decision paid off, as we eventually came across a fantastic moose, and I made a great shot at 40 yards. With only one caribou spotted the rest of the day, we decided to take the next morning off to rest before heading to a new location.
There are times when a hunt requires a bit of ingenuity…and this is where my Newfoundland adventure truly started.
The motor on the boat Josh and I planned on using to take us across the lake wouldn’t start. While Josh and others tried to get the motor running, I came up with an idea I hoped would get us back in the game: I fashioned a giant “paddle” out of a tote lid and a big branch.
My makeshift paddle — plus hands in the water and help from the wind — worked, and we soon found ourselves a mile away from where the trouble started. There, we loaded the truck and headed down the highway to an old house used mainly for storage.
The next couple of days were spent with boots on the ground, trying to figure out where the caribou were. After countless miles, we finally spotted some, but after looking them over we decided to change plans.
The next morning, Josh and I got in the Argo and headed for a new trailhead. Mile after mile we traveled, before eventually pulling into another camp where other hunters and guides were staying.
While I meant what I said at the beginning of this article about camp life and how much I enjoy it, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t glad we only had to spend one night in that cabin. The hospitality was great, but with three guides, four hunters, and a cook, who all snored like a train ripping through a small town at midnight, we didn’t sleep a wink.
If extreme Argoing wasn’t a sport before, we invented it the following morning! It brought me back to my senior year of high school when I would go “mudding” with my buddies in the rain-drenched grounds of Southeast Texas.
We had to battle to get to our camp, and I couldn’t get one of the other guide’s words from the night before out of my head: “I don’t know if you will make it there,” he said.
Determined to not quit, Josh and I eventually made it to our destination, where we immediately spotted a caribou bull on the other side of a small lake. Relief flooded over me. While my bow was dialed-in, neither of us felt good about the high winds. As a result, this bull wasn’t to be mine.
With several hours left before the end of legal shooting light, we decided our best bet was to find a good vantage point from which to continue glassing the huge valley below us. Despite our physical exhaustion, we were still confident in our chances.
To get a good look at what we had to work with, Josh put his binoculars on a tripod and pointed out a caribou herd in the distance. I located the herd, at which point I put my Swarovski spotting scope to use. Instantly, my eyes were met with a good bull in the herd.
As I continued to survey the herd, my eyes kept going back to that first bull that was in my sight, and I finally decided that this was the bull. We both knew it was time to move fast!
As we crept to within 50 yards of this great bull, the wind picked up. I started to draw my bow, but the wind betrayed my presence. The cows caught my scent and took off. I hastily put down my bow, picked up my rifle, and pulled the trigger…
Although I was thrilled with my bull, I knew my journey was not complete. So, I rebooked for the following year. Then, COVID happened…
For two long years, all I could do was patiently wait and dream about getting back to the rolling tundra of Newfoundland in search of a top-shelf woodland caribou bull — with my bow. I knew it would be worth the wait.
When the COVID ban finally lifted, it was right before the start of the 2021 archery season. I got the vaccine and hastily did everything necessary to ensure headache-free international travel during this time of new “reality.” Nothing was going to stop me from fulfilling this dream.
I arrived at Josh’s place before the season opener, and the familiarity of the landscape immediately washed over me. We did the same route, taking the ferry, and did all the work to get my woodland caribou tag. With tag in hand, my gut feeling was that this return trip was going to be special.
We once again made a plan to go back to that old storage house as our base camp. When we arrived at the house, it needed several hours of cleaning. It felt like the stillness and dust of the world had settled in every nook and cranny in the house after two years of COVID had left many things eerily untouched.
When we finished, we made a hearty meal in preparation for the opening morning of what we had been waiting over 698 days for — not that I was counting. That night I slept a dreamless sleep, already at peace with what I could feel coming the next morning.
Waking up the next morning, I could literally feel the electricity in the air.
At daybreak, Josh spotted an amazing bull no hunter in his or her right mind could pass up. Looking through my spotter, I could see the bull had great tops, huge shovels, long bez and beams, good width, and nice back points — a bull more than worthy of my extended wait. But, of course, we had to throw a little adventure in there first.
While Josh stayed back at the bank, a local guide, Franky, took me to where he saw a bull several days before with what he claimed had the biggest “fronts” he had ever seen. Franky and I set off in search of the bull with the fronts. We popped over a hill, knowing if that bull was still around, we would find him there. We looked hard for some time, but my hunter’s intuition told me we needed to get back to Josh to go after the bull he had spotted.
As Franky and I walked up to Josh, with slight trepidation in my voice, I asked him if the bull was still there. Josh replied, “Yes,” and my fears instantly dissipated.
I sat behind my spotting scope for a few minutes to look the bull over again. When I pulled my eyes away to look at Josh and Franky, we all had the same look on our faces that indicated we need not look for another caribou bull, because this one was truly magnificent!
We talked through a couple options to get to the bull, and first tried Franky’s route, since he was more familiar with the area. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough cover, so we hiked back to try Plan B, skirting all the way around the hill and then popping up from the bottom. Doing so would entail making an almost complete circle around the hill, but we all agreed that this bull was worth the trouble.
After working our way around the hill, we were finally on the cusp of something special. This final approach was perfect, because it would allow us to close the distance with the wind in our favor and a large rock to use for cover.
With Josh a few yards behind me, his camera in hand, I slowly walked over. The bull was up and had a little buddy following behind him. The big bull was only 34 yards from me, facing the opposite direction and quartering-away. This was it!
I made my move, drawing my bow and standing up from behind the rock to get a clear shot. I settled my pin and squeezed the trigger… and the shot was perfect! The bull ran over the hill and out of sight, so we cautiously followed right behind him.
Peeking over the hill, I spotted the bull 40 yards away but still on his feet, so I sent a second arrow into his vitals to kill him as quickly as possible — something all responsible bowhunters should do, no matter how good the first arrow looked. Upon my follow-up’s impact, the bull ran down to a lake, where he came to rest in the water. It was over.
We were pumped beyond belief, and while everyone present had a general idea of just how truly big this bull was, none of us dared speak on it just yet out of fear of jinxing things.
We walked down to the water’s edge to enjoy the moment. I stripped down to my underwear to wade out to retrieve the magnificent bull. As I put my hand on the velvet antler that was sticking out of the water and began to lift him out, we all knew we had accomplished our goal — to kill a giant woodland caribou bull that would later become the new Pope and Young World’s Record.
What had started as a dream years ago while relaxing and socializing at the bar in a Saskatchewan whitetail lodge, had become a reality in Newfoundland. The long journey was well worth the reward!
The author, known as “Yo” to family and friends, grew up in Sugar Land, Texas. He became passionate about the discipline, dedication, and hard work bowhunting requires, and is now working on a goal of taking all 29 species of North American big game.
My equipment included a PSE bow set at 80 pounds, Black Eagle arrows, Wasp broadheads, Option Archery sight, Conquest quiver, Rogue bowstrings, Rattler grip, Scott release aid, Marsupial bino harness, Swarovski optics, Stone Glacier pack, and Kryptek camo.
Upon panel-judging at the most recent P&Y Biennial Convention held in Reno, Nevada, my bull was officially deemed the new World’s Record Woodland Caribou Velvet, scoring 362 1/8.