Adak Island Caribou by Marty Killion
I have often dreamed of being able to someday go to Alaska to hunt Alaskan Barren ground caribou. Their majestic manes and long unusual antlers drew me to them. These animals are typically hunted during their fall journeys where waiting hunters would set up along their migratory paths with images of hundreds of caribou fleeting by and hoping a giant bull will walk out. You can guess how thrilled I was when I learned I would have an opportunity to hunt for one of these magnificent animals. But this would be no run of the mill hunt; it was to take place on Adak Island.
My good friend asked me if I was interested in coming up to the island and hunt caribou. My immediate answer was “yes”! During the months before the hunt, I began studying everything I could find about the Island and their caribou herd. To be truthful, there wasn’t a lot of information out there. But one thing I found consistently was that Adak held some of the largest caribou in the world. I was also aware that a hunter had taken a bull off of the island that scored over an astonishing 500 SCI inches.
Adak Island is located 1300 miles west of Anchorage Alaska. Adak is approximately 127 square miles, 5 square miles of this being fresh water lakes. It is part of the Andreanof Islands in the Aleution chain; it is actually closer to the coast of Russia then Anchorage. The island was also known for its unsympathetic and unforgiving weather. This hunt was really starting to sound like one heck of a venture. I knew that Alaskan Airlines was now flying into Adak twice a week, which made getting to Adak much more cost-effective than ever before.
Well the date finally arrived and we boarded our plane in Denver Colorado with the last stop to be Adak island Alaska. We had a short layover in Seattle Washington and an overnight stay in Anchorage, where we took in the sights of this striking city. Our next plane was to leave early the next morning, stopping in King Salmon and finally to Adak.
Upon arrival to Adak, we went into town to grab last minute supplies, fishing poles and caribou tags. After this was accomplished, we were taken to the charter boat waiting for us in the bay to take to our final leg of this terrific journey. The people of Adak were superb and helped us in any way possible.
Those that have traveled in the open Bering Sea may be able to a-test to this, but it is rough water. I did do pretty well for the first hour or so, then finally getting the nastiest case of seasickness I have ever gotten. The boat ride from that point on was pretty much a haze. I do however remember seeing the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket!
Our boat finally came to rest in the calm waters of Three Arm Bay. I was still pretty ill and spent that night and the majority of the next day off of my feet and in the cabin. It was later found out I was having an allergic reaction to a medication prescribed to me from a recent neck surgery. After a couple days I got to feeling better and hiked up on the point just above the cabin to see what I could see. It was just remarkable, Adak is very fertile with most of the grass going up to your knees, and the territory is also covered in clusters of blue and pink flowers. The island also has no predators, so there is one less thing to be concerned about. There were quite a few hefty rats on the coastline and along the cabins. We caught a few of these from traps left by hunters before us. Thru my Swarovski 10×42 binoculars, I could see that the ground was really open with substantial green grass covering the ground. The island itself was very mountainous and steep with plenty of places for caribou to stay out of sight. Adak was also known for its exceptional fishing and ptarmigan hunting.
Our hunt began with friends Paul, Troy and I departure from the cabin on foot and bearing toward a elevated mountain range several miles away. We knew this area had been holding caribou over the past few days, as we had been seeing them thru our spotting scopes. Unlike most of Alaska, the caribou on Adak traveled in lesser bands of 5 to 50. They are not on a migratory path and with no predators and very little hunting pressure they just go where ever they want to. Weather is really the only deciding issue and the lengthy months of bitter cold weather and profound snows were still well away. Throughout our trek we encountered numerous smaller groups of caribou, none carrying the antler size that we had been dreaming of.
After a couple of hours of hiking, we stopped at one of the numerous fresh water lakes on the island to fill up our water jugs and have lunch. We sat alongside a elevated ridge overlooking a vast valley and did some glassing. This country is just stunning! While glassing we located quite a few caribou milling around in the vicinity and there were a couple that needed a closer look at. I found a group of 13 bulls together about 2 miles from us; they appeared to be feeding with a couple of them bedded. One of the bulls in the group was a clear-cut shooter. Preparation was made and the hunt began.
We worked our way to a vantage point about 800 yards of the bachelor group and started to pick apart the bulls. They were situated on a diminutive downhill slope in close proximity to the crest of a hill, the largest bull was nowhere to be found and we figured he must have bedded just over the hill and out of our sight. Troy bigheartedly indicated to me to attempt to take the bull due to me finding them. It was decided that Paul and I would go on the stalk and Troy would stay behind for a bird’s eye view. Troy did say with a grin, if I missed my shot and the bull runs his way he was going to put a tag on him. We made a plan on a stalk and off we went.
We had to go well out of the way to keep the wind in out favor and stay out of view in the rising and falling terrain. As we were working our way to the bulls I could observe my immense bull bedded just on the backside of the knoll. There were 2 small problems for us at this point, the countryside was wide open to get to the next ridge and there were a number of bulls milling around him and they would without doubt spot us trying to cross. I contemplated taking my shot from here, but we were still 400 yards to the bull and informed Paul we wanted to get closer. As fate would have it, we found a deep creek running thru the valley that ought to put us on the next ridge, directly across from my bull. After a deliberate and soaking belly crawl we were in the creek. The walls of the creek were elevated enough that you could bend over and persist at a descent pace. I just kept saying to myself “I hope he is still there”.
It took us about 30 minutes to cover the distance and make it to the ridge straight across from the caribou. Crawling up thru the extended deep grass, I was able to acquire my first close gaze at my bull. He was resting no more than 125 yards from me. He had a snow white mane and a large Roman nose profile. He looked to be the boss of the group as lesser bulls would watchfully walk about him, keeping a wary eye on him to observe what he was going to do. He looked rather majestic bedded along with 12 of his friends. I took one final look at the rack resting upon his head and the deal was closed. My stainless Remington 700 in 7mm worked perfectly and after 1 shot the bull was down.
As we were walking up to the fallen monarch, his group stayed close by to see what we were and why their leader had not left with them. Gradually they just trickled into the distance. Handshakes and high fives were exchanged followed by pictures of my breathtaking trophy. I had accomplished a dream and had my Alaskan Barren Ground caribou. He had fantastic main beams stretching the tape to 55″, double shovels, good quality bez points and mass that reminded me more of elk antlers than the usual caribou antlers. We took a number of high-quality bulls on our venture and one thing I can say is they all carried exceptional mass and massive bodies.
I would like to mention, this was achieved thru the help and hard work of friends and I couldn’t have accomplished it without them, nor would I want to. My bull scored a very reputable 378 inches and change, once he was officially scored back home. I later found out that this was an average bull for the island. We had seen much larger bulls during our stay but were just unable to connect on them. We had also seen 1 giant in particular that just made your jaw drop when seeing him, but we never saw that bull again.
Troy also harvested a huge bull. His was a very only one of its kind bull with massive main beams and extended tines. We had harvested 2 admirable trophy caribou bulls in one day of hunting!
Hunting is not just about shooting an animal or filling a tag. It is about sharing an experience, learning from each other and having someone to help you pack out all that meat!