October 28, 2010
By Jay Strangis
Great hunts are about sticking to your goals, and being willing to face the consequences.
By Jay Strangis
I wanted a monstrous caribou bull. That's as simple as I can put it. I'd hunted with Ungava Adventures two years earlier, and had arrowed two decent caribou bulls in the first three days. I spent the remaining three days jerking huge lake trout and beautiful arctic char from the local waters. I wore my guide out, not hunting, but fishing. This time I wanted a trophy class animal, and I was determined to hunt as hard as anyone can to get one.
When I contacted proprietor Sammy Cantafio about a return trip to the Ungava region of northern Quebec, the plan included shooting my bulls and then turning to the oversized brook trout available at one of several of Sammy's camps. Sounds simple. But after 30 years of bowhunting, you'd think I'd have learned. Bowhunting is seldom simple, and seldom follows even the best-laid script.
The two caribou bulls I'd shot two years earlier were decent animals, but nothing like the giant bulls that began showing up around North Camp during our last two days of fishing. By the time I was boarding a bush plane, we were seeing herds of bruiser bulls traveling together along the ridges bordering the lake. As the incoming group of hunters deplaned, I ran into Randy Scheck of Easton Aluminum, arriving for his hunt. "Don't shoot anything average," I warned Randy. "There are big bulls to be had." Randy would go on to shoot two great trophy Quebec/Labrador bulls during his trip.
For myself, I would just have to wait for my record book animal. And wait I did, for two years. Now I was going back.
Before I continue, let me make a couple of things perfectly clear. The outfitter and guides did everything in their power to make this hunt a success. Had I wanted to shoot anything less than a scoring trophy, I would have had my two caribou bulls and been brook trout fishing in good order. But wind, caribou and the fickle twists of fate always have something to say about the outcome of a hunt.
I arrived at the hotel in Montreal on the first day of September, as planned, attended the planning meeting with a group of other hunters and the representatives of Ungava Adventures. We were handed our licenses and plane tickets for the trip north the following morning, along with other pertinent information. When you hunt with Ungava, nothing is left to chance. After consuming a large, grilled New York steak with mushrooms and a tasty rice side dish, I turned in.
Our baggage tags read Mento camp, but after arriving by jet in the Innuit town of Kuujjuaq to catch the smaller Twin Otter, our group learned we were being diverted to Camp Charlie, where there were more caribou. Unfortunately, 40 mile-per-hour cross winds at the camp airstrip delayed our departure. Two hours, turned into six, which turned into spending the night in the village. We were disappointed, but you have to respect any pilot's decision. Unfortunately, we were now almost 24 hours behind on our hunt.
Under clear skies, we left Kuujjuaq at 7:30 a.m. and arrived at Camp Charlie to low overcast and wind. By 10:30 a.m. we were hunting. Ten rifle hunters in camp had already filled out with two bulls each. After a long stalk, I got a 40-yard shot at a big bull in the company of other bulls, but clipped a small spruce. A subsequent 53-yard broadside shot caught the crosswind and I missed on the downwind side. I had no other chances that day.
Good numbers of caribou, but few good bulls. There was a south wind and horrendous black flies. No shots, and the caribou were in full flight from the flies.
Quebec-Labrador caribou migrations are famed, but the animals don't travel in particular directions. Instead, they travel as the food, weather and bugs dictate, moving randomly across the vast lands of Nunavik.
Rained all night with torrential winds. It was the same all day. Hunted hard all day and saw only 13 caribou, none were close.
Racks, freshly stripped of their velvet, dry in the arctic sun as they await the departure of hunters. Rifle hunters killed these bulls in little more than a day during the author's stay at Camp Charlie.
Ungava Adventures moved me and my guide, Chris Krukowski, to Sammy Lake camp by float plane late in the morning. "Should have been here yesterday," has gotten to be the most hated expression in the English language. We sorted our gear and headed out to a good crossing spot between two lakes, settling in a blind that consisted of a patch of stunted spruce. First animal we saw was a good bull, which took an hour and a half to finally quit feeding and cross the narrows. But instead of taking the main trail, the bull angled off along the lakeshore. It was too late to range him, so I took a long walking shot and lead the animal too much. Two hours later another bull came by. He was high and wide, but not a lot on top or in front. I decided to take him for his good white cape and meat. We had him quartered by mid-afternoon. He'll eat well. Saw three smallish bulls crossing, but we got there too late. They didn't meet our standards anyway. Only cows the rest of the late afternoon.
Arrived in blind at 9 a.m. to find four lesser bulls crossing before we could get down to our hide in the spruces. Watched them pass before heading into the blind we were determined to take a real trophy. Sat the remainder of the day watching a few cows and calves pass. One group included a bull with a high rack, huge, boxcar bez and a single large shovel. I wanted to shoot him, but it was still morning and the chance for a true trophy remained. Chris agreed with the idea. Never saw another good shooter-animal all day. Had cows, calves and a couple of small bulls pass. The bulls hugged the shoreline and kept moving out of range.
Rose early to get a couple of hours of hunting in before the plane arrived to take us back to civilization. Three small bulls came to a point across from us, but instead of using the trail to our crossing, they decided to swim the lake. Had no chance to cut them off. Holding out for a trophy cost me meat, and the opportunity to fish. That's the price of trophy hunting. By 11 a.m. we were on a flight back to Kuujjuaq and connecting to a jet to Montreal.
Quebec, northern Quebec in particular, is a land everyone should see at least once, if for no other reason than to restore faith in how wondrous our world really is. This vast land reminds me much of some of the high, treeless alpine plateaus of the Rocky Mountains, with stunted shrubs and dwarf trees, smooth rocks that cradle lake after lake and adjoining streams.
Lakes are full of fish, mostly lake trout in this area, but some brook trout are to be found. I was too busy chasing a trophy bull to fish on this trip, but the easy life of the rifle hunters allowed them to spend several days fishing. We enjoyed two fantastic meals of fried lake trout, served all-you-can-eat style. In some areas, spectacular arctic char can be found.
|Hunting The Ungava Region |
| The Ungava region is Quebec's last unspoiled wilderness, and home to the world's largest herd of caribou. Sammy Cantafio's Ungava Adventures is perhaps the premier outfitter to the region, maintaining more than 20 camps, but never hunting more than five or so at a time. These mobile camps insure hunters will have the best opportunities to take caribou. |
Sammy's hunts are booked for seven-day minimums and start any time between mid-August and the end of the first week of September. Hunt packages include round-trip jet transportation from Montreal to Kuujjuaq, with coordinated charter flights to camp and back. Camp lodging includes six nights in a cabin, three meals each day, a guide, boats, topo maps, fish and game storage, preparation of antlers for shipping and transportation to a different site if no caribou are available at the main site. Getting There
To book a hunt, contact: Sammy Cantafio or Denise Benoit, Dept. PB, 46, rue Sainte-Anne, Bureau 3A, Pointe-Claire (Quebec) H9S 4P8 Canada; (514) 694-4424; www.ungava-adventures.com.
A display of northern lights lit the sky shortly after dark on my last evening in camp, and it warmed me to see these old friends again. I'd made my choices, hunted hard, and came away with some meat and a rack. It was a tough hunt, no doubt about it, but it was a good hunt.