An Empty Quiver: Chapter 13. Be Still My Heart – Pt 2

Continued from Part 1.

By: Dave Samuel
By: Dave Samuel

After watching the herd for thirty minutes, Francis decided that we should attempt a stalk.  Using the spruce for cover, down the ridge we went.  Sneaking, crawling when necessary, but it was slow work, into the wind.   As we got within one hundred yards, something went wrong . . .no chest pain, but I suddenly got very weak, my legs sagged, I went to the ground, almost passing out.   Francis didn’t see it happen, he was ahead of me still crawling toward the herd.  I had no idea why I felt bad, but I knew something was very, very, wrong.  It must be a blood sugar problem, since we hadn’t eaten since 7 A. M., and our lunches were on the overlook at least a mile away.  Since it was now mid-afternoon, I must be suffering from lack of food.  I fumbled in my pack for a candy bar and wolfed it down while Francis stared back wondering why I was not moving faster.  The candy didn’t help and I attempted to keep pace, but my legs and arms just didn’t respond normally.  It was a struggle just to get my breath.  When we finally got to within fifty yards of the bull, I attempted to draw the bow.  Surprisingly I got it back, but was so unsteady that a shot was out of the question.   Francis looked at me a bit upset when I let down.  When the caribou left, I muttered something to him about not feeling good.  He muttered something I can’t repeat, but we kept after the caribou.

After a short one-half mile walk around the ridge, we again got ahead of the herd with the wind in our favor.  We set up in some pines along the edge of a muskeg meadow.  Some of the cows fed to within thirty yards, but the bull kept his distance.  Francis tried to decoy him in several times by holding his arms high over his head, imitating another bull.  He also grunted at the bull. When bulls are rutting, these tactics often work.  But this guy was too busy keeping track of straying cows and invading bulls.  After thirty minutes of this, the herd again moved away.  We circled around one more time and entered a narrow strip of thick pines.  The only way thru was on the many caribou trails that cris-crossed the area.  The caribou were 150 yards in front of us, and they started down the right side of the pines, then moved to the left.  By now we’d been following the herd for almost three hours, and I was still mysteriously sick and weak.

I’d later find out that it was my heart, beating very fast and erratically.   That’s what mine was doing now, beating really fast for a bit, then slowing and skipping beats.  If I’d have known at the time it was my heart, I’d might have stopped the hunt.  But thinking it was a lack of food, I kept at the stalk.

Francis motioned to me that the caribou were coming down his side of the strip of woods, so I hastily crawled over.  Just as I got there a small bull stepped out at twenty yards.  Some cows followed, and the big bull suddenly mated one of the cows right in front of us.  I looked for an opening through the alder and drew my bow just as the bull moved off.  I held the draw, and he again chased another cow at around thirty-five yards.  Suddenly he was broadside and I tried to hold steady for the shot.  I talked to myself, trying to hold it together and knowing I may never get another chance at a woodland caribou this big.

In hind sight, I realize that I probably shouldn’t have taken the shot, but I did and the hit was high and back.  Francis muttered something about my rotten shooting and by now he was really wondering about this bowhunter who was following him around.  What was wrong with this guy anyway?

As we moved to the other edge of the spruce I found that The Lord had intervened to help me.   The herd was milling around with the bull standing in the middle of the group.  He was obviously in trouble and there was good blood on his side from the kidney shot.  Over the next fifteen minutes we attempted to get close several times, and twice I took shots that were not good.  A third stalk and arrow finished the bull, but his death run put him in a shallow lake.  The late hour meant we’d have to return for him the next day, which we did.  Only after the eight-mile hike to the lodge then the return to get my bull the next day, did my heart settle down and I returned to a somewhat normal, healthy state.

I was very ill when I harvested this huge woodland caribou.
I was very ill when I harvested this huge woodland caribou.

Woodland caribou are an under-appreciated species.  A challenging hunt, in some tough conditions.  But if you are looking for a very special bowhunt, give woodland caribou a try.  They are an intriguing animal and a big woodland bull can make the heart of any bowhunter race wildly.

Postscript

 The hike back to camp was extremely difficult because of my racing heart.  Every step was a struggle and keeping up with my younger guide was difficult.  When we got within a mile of the cabin, my guide left me sitting on a stump.  I can’t blame him.  I’d shot poorly and couldn’t keep up.  No wonder he thought I was a dolt who wasn’t in good enough shape to be hunting.  It took me another hour and a half to cover that last mile, and I fell down several times.  When I got to the cabin, I was too tired to eat, so my buddy, Richard, hand fed me and got me to bed.  The next morning I felt a bit better and made the long hike back to retrieve the bull.  Richard did not want me to go but I needed pictures before the bull was skinned and quartered for the pack back.  On the way back, the atrial fibrillation hit me again.  But I made it back and home to a doctor who discovered the cause of my ‘buck fever’.

 This hunt took place in 1998, and relative to woodland caribou hunting on Newfoundland, things have changed.  Caribou numbers peaked in 1996, but in recent years they have plummeted, for the most part because of heavy predation by coyotes on fawns.  The government has cut back permits by a huge amount and closed all caribou hunting in some areas.  This places great pressure on the outfitters who rely on hunters to make a living.  Sure, there are a lot of moose on Newfoundland, and some black bear as well (though not what you find in the Midwestern Canadian Provinces).  But the guides there will suffer for awhile until some predator control is accomplished and the caribou returns to the glory years that existed when I hunted there.  (Note……….since writing this book things have improved a great deal and caribou are there again).

The Quebec-Labrador caribou has much bigger antlers than the woodland species.
The Quebec-Labrador caribou has much bigger antlers than the woodland species.

 One common question is whether you should buy both caribou and moose tags for your 6-day bow hunt.  My answer is a question.  Do you want Pope and Young quality trophies, or will an average-to-small bull and stag suffice?  If you will be satisfied with any stag caribou or any bull moose, then get both tags, because you will probably see both species during your hunt.  But if you want decent animals, then I would not spend the extra money for both species.  Your chances of taking big animals from both species on the normal 6-day bowhunt are small.  Now if you are gun hunting that might be a bit different.  But even then, getting two big animals on a one-week hunt will be difficult.  And, yes, there are black bear on Newfoundland, but again, I’d not invest in a separate tag while caribou hunting with the bow.  I’d recommend you go for caribou on one hunt, then return to Newfoundland for moose on a second bow hunt.  Newfoundland is a fantastic country.  Bowhunting there is an adventure and one that makes a return very attractive.

 There are several air routes you can take.  Airlines go into Halifax, Nova Scotia and then on to St. Johns, Newfoundland or Gander or Deer Lake.  You can also go from Toronto or Montreal to St. Johns.  On my trip to Pine Ridge Lodge, I flew from Halifax to Gander, overnighted there and picked up by the guide and flown to Deer Pond.  My second hunt was with Tuckamore Lodge, and I flew from Toronto to St. Johns, overnighted, then flew to St. Anthony.  Going through customs is not a problem, but wearing camouflage, or carrying a camo pack, probably isn’t the best thing to do.  Don’t forget.  You need a passport to get into Canada.  There are no exceptions made.

The bow season opens two weeks before the second Saturday in December and closes in mid December.  The rut runs approximately from October 10 thru the 25th.  During the rut the stags move a lot, making sightings good.  But they also are surrounded by a lot of cows, which makes stalking all the more difficult.  Hunting is good before the rut, but right after the rut the stags lay low and are a bit more difficult to find.  The first week of October just might be the best week of all.  The stags will be starting to chase cows, the meat will be good, and the weather shouldn’t be overly cold.

During the rut some stags are not good to eat.  The guides there tell you that if the stag really smells when you first get them, then the meat is not good.  On my first hunt, the stag did smell.  On my second hunt, also during the rut, the stag did not smell, and the meat was delicious.  Tuckamore Lodge had the meat boned and air-sealed, wrapped, then shipped to Pittsburgh for me.  There was a fee, but the meat was excellent.  You can drive to Newfoundland and bring your meat home in that manner.  There are very good roads all the way, and several different ferry routes from Maine and Nova Scotia. 

 You need to be in top shape for the long walks in the bog.  Comfortable, rubber, knee-high boots are a must.  A spotting scope can be a big help as well, and a range finder, especially for bowhunters is important.  And you MUST have good rain gear.  If bowhunting, and you shoot feathers, you must waterproof them.  My second hunt, covered in the Preface was with Tuckamore Lodge (P. O. Box 100, Main Brook, NF A0K 3N0, phone 709 865-6361, web site is www.tuckamore-lodge.nf.net) and my first hunt described above was with Pine Ridge Lodge (P. O. Box 999, Centennial Square, Mt. Pearl, NF, Canada A1N 3C9, phone 709 782-0979, web site is www.pineridge.nf.ca).  For information on other camps, contact Tourism, Culture & Recreation, P. O. Box 8700, St. Johns, NF Canada A1B 4J6.  Phone 800 563-6353.  Their web site is www.gov.nf.ca/tourism.   They can provide a list of all guides and outfitters. 

 After this hunt, my atrial fibrillation was diagnosed, but I continued to hunt.  In late October I went to Iowa for a whitetail hunt and shot a monster (see Chapter 10).  I sent a picture of that buck and a letter to Francis Ogden, the young man who guided me.  I wanted him to know why I hadn’t performed well that day and to show him that indeed I did have some bowhunting skills.  I never heard back from Francis, and as far as I know he still thinks that I am just one of those overblown outdoor writers from the states.  But he and Wayne Holloway were great guides and gave me a super hunt.  Hunts are adventures for many reasons.  In this case, it was the challenge of just getting back to camp.  That was one of the toughest hikes of my life, but it is part of the memories and part of that great adventure.  

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. David Samuel spent 30 years as a professor of wildlife management at West Virginia University. He is now in his 44th year with Bowhunter Magazine, where his Know Hunting column still appears. He currently writes the Know Whitetails column for the Whitetail Journal, The Future of Hunting column on www.bowhunting.net and writes a weekly outdoor column for WV newspapers. His activities on behalf of wildlife are diverse: from initiating the West Virginia Bowhunter Education Program to helping get bowhunting legalized in many European and African countries.

He has won honored lifetime achievement awards from the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, the Wildlife Society, the Quality Deer Management Association, and Whitetails Unlimited. He is in the SCI Bowhunter’s Hall of Fame, and his greatest honor was being inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 2007. He has written 9 books, with his three most recent books being Whitetail Advantage, Whitetail Racks, and the one being presented here, An Empty Quiver – A Lifetime of Bowhunting Adventures which is now SOLD OUT. You can find the table of contents for the two whitetail books, and get autographed copies of all three of these books on Dr. Dave’s website, www.knowhunting.com.

For: Chapter 13.  Be Still My Heart – Pt 1:

For more please go to: The Future of Hunting

For more also go to: Straight Talk Interview: Dr. Dave Samuel

Be sure and visit Dr. Dave’s website, Know Hunting