Sitka Gear
By Pat Lefemine

Migration Axiety Distorder (MAD)- affects the central nervous system. Brought on by acute stress due to lack of activity primarily affecting the Rangifer tarandus and related orders. Symptoms include high blood pressue, elevated stress, irritability, loss of sleep and appetite.


It’s September 21st as I write this and the last of the groups are out in the field.  More than any other year that I remember, 2007 will go down in caribou hunting history as one of the more painful seasons.  Many hunters saved their pennies and dreamed of tundra swarming with migrating bulls. What they found was a barren landscape void of all but black flies.  Guys – let me tell you – Been there done that. It always sucks.

But reading through many of the posts on our forums brings one thing front and center to me and I can’t help but write about it…

Unrealistic expectations.

I think of caribou like I think of the stock market and gambling.  Many people assume that because the caribou moved through a particular camp at a particular time last year  they will do the same thing the following year. Kind of like missing out on that hot stock that ran up 140% last year or playing the slot machine that just hit it big. Nearly every expert will tell you that it’s a loser move to try and chase last years' results. Be it a tech stock, a one-armed bandit, or a 350” bull in velvet.

When I hunted Tuttulik Outfitters during the last week of September 2005 we did not hit the migration and found very few animals. I came home empty handed with no shot opportunity.  Some guys in camp booked earlier weeks since the hunters that year had great success in August. But rather than base my decision to rebook on 2005, I just rebooked for the same week in 2006.  The result? I shot one of the largest bulls ever killed by a bowhunter. 

Caribou hunts are always a game of chance. It does not matter which outfit you go with. The caribou will go wherever they want to go driven by something not even caribou have figured out.

This is what dreams are made of. It doesn't happy on every hunt but when it's hot it's unbelievable.

If you go up there with the expectations that you will be swimming in caribou you will be disappointed. If you go there with the expectation that you may be lucky enough to hit it right, and you do, then savor it because it may never happen again.  I've hunted caribou 9x and nothing about this year surprised me.  I've been on 3 trips where I've never seen a caribou and I've been on 2 trips where I never saw a shooter bull in range. Only 3 trips I can honestly say I hit it OK.  And for the record, I have never hit the "flood" where you see 20k caribou streaming by you.  That vision is largely a myth - despite what outfitter videos portray at sport shows.

The same thing holds true for elk. I just came off a very difficult elk hunt. I never had a shooter bull in range. But since I left, everyone has tagged out.  In fact, the guys hunting the week after me killed 3 bulls in 3 days - all monsters. Go figure.  For whatever reason people don't get as worked up when they have difficult elk hunts. Not the same for caribou. The only difference is (IMO) people have unrealistic expectations regarding caribou and more sensible expectations regarding elk or deer. 

I think media has a role in this. Not so much Internet hunts. What you see here is exactly what we experienced. But TV and Magazines do not portray an accurate picture of caribou hunting and lead many hunters down the path of higher expectations.

You will never see a hunt on TV where guys are pacing in camp mumbling inappropriate words while kicking the floor. You only see the backslapping excitement of getting to pick out a monster bull out of 1000 shooters. It's totally understandable since the TV shows are competing for an audience with virtually no attention span while holding the remote.

Outfitters share a responsibility in the manufacturing of these unrealistic expectations as well. I don’t know how many “show” caribou outfitters I walk past that have signs claiming 98% success on two bulls.  Some of them are still playing hunting videos shot in 1988. I walked by one guy at the Harrisburg show where the hunters on the flick were wearing Trebark camo and shooting PSE laserflight bows.  That camo, and that bow, was popular in 1987.  Of course, a simple call to all of their hunters reveals a more realistic picture that turns out to be more like 98% success on two small bulls during the last two days of the 3rd week of August. Otherwise the entire season looks more like 59% on two bulls with rifles and, “sorry, no stats kept for bowhunters.”

I think with Jack Hume Adventures, and some other reputable outfits you have a better chance of having a good hunt than bad.  I also have found these outfits to be very upfront and honest with their results.  It is one of the reasons I am proud to have them for sponsors.  But the onus is really on you.  You need to do your homework, talk to references, read the extensive comments here within our caribou section, check out our outfitter reports, and then sit down with your calculator and figure out what the *opportunity* is worth to you.  But above all, go into the hunt with both eyes’ open. If you absolutely must put an animal on the wall then go to Africa where you are all but guaranteed some sort of kill.  If you have realistic expectations of hunting a magical land, experiencing the adventure of a bush plane ride, and hunting and fishing in the arctic, then you won’t be disappointed - even if the caribou are hard to find.

I know that reading this article to some of you is like rubbing salt in the wound. My apologies if I am reiterating what many of you have just found out. If I could wave a magic wand I’d like to see every last one of my visitors come home with two PY bulls. But that’s not the way it is on any caribou hunt.

So long as you are understand the fact you are hunting a free-roaming animal that is on its' own timetable you will be fine. Of course you will be disappointed when they are nowhere to be found. I am, and it’s happened a lot to me too. But it's a part of a caribou hunting that every hunter needs to accept before they drop down their deposit. But don't let any of the truth I've shared discourage you. A better hunt you won't find and dollar for dollar - it's your best hunting buy in North America.

Hunt (year) Successful # Bou Seen Comments
Quebec 1987 Yes, 1 small bull 3000 Huge herd for 2 days then nothing
Alaska 1989 No 2000 Western Artic Tundra, no prayer of getting close with a bow
Alaska 1991 No 0 Totally Missed migration
Alaska 1995 No 0 Same as 1991
British Columbia 2002 No 0 Mountain Caribou, not migratory
Quebec 2004 No 50 No shooters, moved camp 2x
Northwest Territories 2005 Yes, 2 bulls 100 Hard hunt, no migration. Some resident bulls. Got lucky.
Quebec 2005 No 90 Helped my buddy kill his first, no shot opportunity for me
Quebec 2006 Yes, 2 bulls 300 Shot a monster. 3 days of heaven then it dried up.

This is my scorecard on caribou hunts taken over the last 15 years.

A year earlier I had no shots. But that didn't stop me from booking the same week again the following year and look what happened !


Tips to reduce caribou migration anxiety disorder

  • Book wisely – stick with experienced outfitters with good references
  • Consider Other Hunting Options – So you are unlucky and the caribou are not there.  That may not mean you have to sit and mope.  Quebec hunts can include black bear hunting, ptarmigan/grouse,  in Alaska – deer, black bear, moose.
  • Bring a fishing pole – some of the best fishing can be found on those virgin lakes in caribou country. The caribou may not be there, but the fish have nowhere to go. Talk to your outfitter and his returning clients about what lures to bring.
  • Plan for the worst – if you go there with the expectation you will see nothing, then you will be ecstatic when you hit it great and not decimated if you do not.
  • Don’t give up – I have gone on caribou hunts where the first five days were just awful and the last day I saw a thousand head.  Caribou can appear and disappear rapidly.  Just because it’s slow today doesn’t mean it will be slow two days from now.
  • Stay Polite and positive – I’ve been in too many caribou camps where guys took out their frustrations on the guides and the help. Mind you, some guides truly suck. But most do not, and when the hunting is slow it’s as miserable for them as it is for you. You accomplish nothing by getting pissy with the guide. He won’t be motivated to help you when and if the bou do show up.  Keep your chin up and don’t be a camp spoiler.  There’s nothing worse than the guys who believe the guides can magically make caribou appear and the fact that they are not seeing animals is somehow within their control. Make the best of it for them, yourself and your fellow hunters’ in camp to at least not be a miserable bastard. There will at least one of them in camp anyway so there’s no use adding to it.


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