By Bill Miller
On the distant skyline was a string of moving dots. I knew what they were, but to confirm, I planted the tripod legs into the meager tundra soil and brought the spotting scope to bear.
Zoom. Focus. There they are! Caribou … strung out for a mile. I quit counting at 80, but the high-powered optics revealed many more drifting along below the ridgeline. Best of all, they were trending our way. Time to move.
This might be the lead for a North American Hunter story from my first Quebec caribou hunt 20ish years ago. Or it could have come from any of a dozen caribou hunts I’ve enjoyed since.
I witnessed this spectacle on my beloved Quebec tundra last August. This herd stretched to the horizons. As in the other hunts, this thrill hadn’t come easily. In fact, it was the last day of a 5-day hunt shortened to three by weather. But here they were!
Repositioning quickly as I could with cameraman in tow, I remembered the doubt with which I’d come to this caribou adventure. I’d heard rumors Quebec hunting was bleak. Yet, here was proof positive the caribou are still here, and hunting with quality outfitters remains exceptional.
My experience last season supports the findings of the 2012 caribou population survey by Quebec’s Natural Resources Ministry. It was the most intensive ever and revealed a stable population of 400,000 animals in the Leaf River herd.
Though official hunting stats for 2012 are still being collected, outfitters are reporting high success rates across August and September. Many of the animals taken carried the heaviest fat reserves guides have seen in decades. Combined with high numbers of calves in the migrating herds, these appear to be signs the animals will fare winter well.
I can’t tell you nothing has changed. The George River herd of northeastern Quebec and Labrador is in serious, as-of-yet unexplained, population decline. Hunting there is closed completely. Outfitters in Schefferville who previously focused on this herd acquired or partnered with operations in the North and moved to hunt the vigorous Leaf River herd.
Enjoyment of Quebec caribou hunting relies on connecting with an experienced, trustworthy outfitter. Many top-shelf operations belong to the Quebec Outfitters Federation and achieve the high standards of the Caribou Country code. You can research these at www.quebecoutfitters.com.
Keep in mind:
- The more camps and territory an outfitter maintains, the greater chance they can move you to migrating herds.
- An outfitting operation with its own planes or longstanding air service contracts will have the best access to flights to move you as needed.
- You want an outfitter who is an excellent communicator. The more you hear from the outfitter, the better prepared you’ll be to enjoy the trip and success.
- An outfitter’s accessible, frequently updated website makes it easy for you to stay connected as your hunt approaches even when he is out on the tundra.