by Steve West
Steve’s Outdoor Adventures
This story really started several years ago, when Nunami Outfitters closed its doors and left my customers standing on the tarmac in Montréal without a hunt, forcing my company to refund thousands of dollars in hunting fees we had paid to our Canadian “partner” only to have them go out of business in the middle of hunting season. The following years, we heard about steep declines in caribou populations across the region, and while most reports were poor, we received some good news from time to time as well. As I deciphered the information, I learned that the George River herd was nearly gone: shrunken from a high of 700,000 animals to only about 12,000 animals at last count. With all hunting for the George River caribou herd closed, I had assumed the same fate for the infamous Leaf River herd, only to find out that I was likely incorrect.
I run a booking agency and host two TV series on the Outdoor Channel in the United States. I make my living hunting and booking hunters on quality big game hunts. That said, I don’t take chances with my reputation and book hunters only with outfitters that I have personally developed relationships and hunted with. This ensures my customers have the best possible hunting experiences. And because caribou hunts are in high demand, I needed to find out if there was a huntable population of caribou in the Leaf River herd. So I started contacting various outfitters that operate in the area, and after many phone calls, emails and hours of research, I decided to schedule my hunt with Richard Hume and Jack Hume Adventures. Since we would also be filming the hunts for our TV series, we worked with the Department of Tourism and the Québec Outfitters Federation to be sure we had obtained all of the correct permits and made the proper travel arrangements.
The hunt was scheduled for the week of August 21–28 at the start of their season. We first flew into Montréal and spent the night. Early the next morning, we checked our gear with the staff and caught a flight north to Pau Lake (Caniapiscau), where we had a short wait to catch a flight in a floatplane to our camp. I was joined on the hunt by my good friend, police officer Cody Bowen, as well as camera operators Dan Thorstad and Warren Robertson. Our camp was rounded out by two other hunters, John Hand and Bobby Clark.
After arriving in camp we checked the zero on our rifles and settled in for the evening. And while we spotted only three caribou on the horizon, we knew others would be here soon. We just didn’t know how soon.
The next day, we took a boat to the far end of the lake with our guide Jamie Nadeau and immediately started seeing dozens of caribou. By mid-morning, we had seen over 300 different animals and a few dozen bulls. Around 2 p.m., I spotted a huge bull cresting the skyline and coming right at us. I told Cody that he should take this bull. Because you get only one bull caribou tag, you want to “make it count,” and this bull was incredible, with big tops and even bigger shovels and bez. After a short stalk to intercept the lone bull, he spotted us and took off for the horizon. We got set up, and at 350 yards, the bull gave us one last look. Cody put the 300-yard crosshair in the Burris scope on his back and squeezed the trigger on his .30-06 Bergara B-14 rifle. The bull ran a short distance and piled up. As we got closer, the rack got larger, and I knew we were looking at a special beast.
With Cody tagged out, it was my turn to hunt. I have been fortunate enough to take several caribou in my hunting career, so I was looking for something very special. And after passing up literally dozens of bulls, I found what I was looking for three days later. The bull had incredible top points, and I was able to stalk to within 125 yards and take him with my CVA Accura V2 muzzleloader. The velvet bull was completely developed and hard-horned under the soft exterior. I was impressed with how skillfully the guides caped and cared for the trophies and meat.
For the next few days, we enjoyed amazing fishing for brook and lake trout and watched caribou walk past our camp almost daily as we waited for our floatplane ride back to Pau Lake and return to Montréal to catch a flight home. We had hit the caribou migration flush, and while I have no idea how many caribou we saw, it must have been in the hundreds; likely a few thousand. I interviewed the hunters who had been in all of the other camps, and most of them had had the same experience. We had been scattered across hundreds of miles of the vast tundra, and everyone got to fill their caribou tags with bulls of all sizes. After returning home, we found out that while my bull was not large enough to qualify for the B&C record books, Cody’s was. We are scheduling an official measurement date for entry into the all-time record books with a score well over the 400 B&C mark.
I came “seeking truth,” and I saw firsthand that the Leaf River herd, while not as plentiful as it once was, still has a more than viable hunting population. I was told by more than one reliable source that the Leaf River herd numbers between 300,000 and 350,000 animals, which is more than enough to support a 1% sport hunting harvest. We are now offering caribou hunts to our clients through Jack Hume Adventures and look forward to both working with Richard and his family and the TV show that will be featured in January 2017 on Outdoor Channel’s hit program, “The Adventure Series.”