The Alaska Range is home to some of the state’s most beautiful mountains and a diverse spread of big game species. A typical day can consist of sighting sheep, moose, grizzly bears, black bears, and a few scattered barren ground caribou. Hunting these caribou up in sheep country, rather than out on the tundra, is a unique opportunity. My recent trip to Alaska was full of adventure, trial and error and lots and lots of rain. I hope you enjoy my photo recap. – Pete Muennich
Flying in bush planes is one of the most exciting parts of any Alaskan hunt. My pilot summed it up best, “Anyone can fly high and fast. The best pilots can go low and slow”. Our final destination was an airstrip high in a mountain saddle. After landing, we organized our packs and headed out in search of the illusory mountain dwelling caribou bulls.
We made our way to a glassing knob and decided to make camp. Our dominant view of the valleys surrounding us quickly began to reveal critters in all direction. Dall sheep scaled the cliffs above us while moose and bear cruised the alder maze below. It didn’t take long before I focused the spotting scope on what would become the first caribou I had ever seen in the wild.
Two massive bull caribou fed across the steep mountainside almost a mile away. The light was fading, and a plan was made to close the gap on the impressive pair the next morning. My restless night was full of excitement and anticipation. Months of preparation and several days of travel had put us in the wheelhouse of two dandy bulls.
We started after the caribou early the next day. After a steep 1,500’ climb, we crested the ridge and relocated the bulls across a massive alpine bowl. We skirted the rim of the bowl and worked our way above the bulls. After a slow final sneak, we were positioned 380-yards from two bedded giants.
As we debated which was bigger and which was prettier, the bulls chewed their cud and relaxed in the sunshine. Thirty minutes passed before one stood. I took a deep breath, settled the crosshairs on the bull and fired. My bullet sailed over the bull’s back for a clean miss. The duo sank their hooves in and disappeared out of my life forever. Total heartbreak.
The day ended with rain as we navigated back to camp. Spirits were less than high. The next day began with more rain. We slept in as the fog rolled in and out of the mountains around us. Around lunchtime, I was able to leave the tent for some glassing. Critters began to appear as the weather retreated. Over 3-miles away, I spotted what appeared to be a bull caribou feeding alone on a steep grassy slope.
We decided to split up as Jeremy needed to get back to work and my pursuit would no doubt take several days if successful. Moving towards the bull through thick alder snags and deep creek crossings slowed my pace to roughly 1-mile-per-hour. As I got closer and closer, I would periodically stop and confirm that the bull was still where I had last seen him. The closer I got, the more apparent it became the bull was a dandy.
I made my way to 300-yards as the bedded bull relaxed and even at times fell asleep, completely laying his massive antlers on the ground. Once the bull stood, I once again collected my breathing before squeezing off my first shot, a solid hit. The massive animal stumbled downhill where I was able to put a second broadside shot on him before he collapsed into the draw below.
The redemption from missing the previous day paired with the realization I would now I have to pack this bull back to the airstrip solo was overwhelming. It was late in the day, and I opted to make camp just a short distance from the bull. Before dark, I was able to break down the bull and prepare the meat and antlers for what would soon be a grueling and unforgettable pack out back to the airstrip. Two full trips and three-days later, the chore was complete. I was back at the airstrip with my entire caribou and all my gear.
Pushing the limits of our gear and ourselves is what takes us to the mountains in the first place. This caribou hunt was tough in every way. From the crap weather to the solo pack out, my tent, pack and body were all tested. The pizza and beer at Anchorage’s famed Moose’s Tooth never tasted so good!
Pete's Gear List
- Pack - Stone Glacier Sky Talus 6900
- Tent - Stone Glacier Skyscraper 2P Tent
- Boots - Crispi Briksdal
- Pant - SITKA Gear Timberline
- Base Layer - SITKA Gear Heavyweight Hoody
- Jacket - Sitka Jet stream
- Rain Gear - Firstlite Seak Stormtight Jacket
- Gaiter - OR Crocodile
- Optics - Minox 10 x 42 / Swarovski ATX 85mm
- Sleeping Bag - Marmot Sawtooth
- Sleeping Pad - Exped Synmat UL Winter LW
- Stove - Jetboil Flash
- Satellite Device - Delorme inReach SE
- Food - Mountain House / Peak Refuel
About Pete - A Cincinnati native, Pete Muennich has called Montana home for over a decade. Starting with Stone Glacier in late 2012, Pete’s after-hours pack assembly in his small garage helped launch the brand during the company’s infancy. Pete is also the Founder and President of the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance, a non-profit committed to the expansion and enhancement of mountain goat conservation across North America. Pete’s passions include backpack hunting, hound dogs, panda bears and yoga pants.