Hunter’s dream: Where are the caribou?


Caribou! Believe it or not, the word, and of course the rangy, heavy antlered northern animal it names, was on every avid hunter’s mind and in many campfire conversations just a couple decades back.

After all, the chase for a trophy caribou represented the “next step” for serious big game hunters who wanted to take it.

Indeed, Ohio’s plentiful deer herd was good enough to keep us coming back for more, but when it comes to a hunter’s dreams, there always seems to be an image of something more in it.


But that something has changed — nowadays you hardly hear the word caribou spoken. Here’s why. Like many wild species big and small, there seems to be a cycle.

I’ve always heard that our common cottontail rabbits cycle every seven years. From many to few and back again.

It’s debatable, maybe a farm wife’s tale, but who are we to argue.

World traveled and talented wordsmith Craig Boddington recently produced a very detailed and thoroughly researched piece recently about the ups and downs of the continent’s caribou.

I read it with gusto because it took me back to a couple memorable hunts that resulted in not only impressive bull caribou trophies but confrontations with a couple nasty and toothy critters in the form of a very unfriendly grizzly bear and an aggressive wolverine.

So what about the plentiful caribou that attracted so many of us in the 1980s and ’90s? At that time, the distant caribou herds of Alaska and their cousins ranged across the far north to Quebec and on to eastern-most Canadian sea board.

Advertisements by caribou guides, outfitters, and camps shined like colorful personal invitations on or in nearly every outdoor magazine and adventure catalog suggesting to us of the lower 48 to come on up and pick out a trophy and even two if we wished.

After all, the pickin’s were almost too easy as the massive migrations of these constantly moving creatures swarmed.

Too good to be true? Maybe not but obviously too good to last.


In 1991, good pal Paul Fedorchak put together a group of six and headed to Alaska to try for a big caribou. Our planning indicated that the Mulchatna caribou herd was on the grow so that became our destination.

We hunted on the Alaska peninsula, tent camping on the endless, treeless tundra. It wasn’t easy but not as physical as mountain hunting.

The Mulchatna herd exploded, growing by tens of thousands each year. And that kind of unchecked growth seemed common, not just on the Alaska tundra but across the continent.

Many of the herds imploded and so did the travel industry they provided.

It’s hard to find a place to hunt these incredible animals today but not impossible. Understand, however, that the days of countless caribou parading past like milk cows is over.

We hunted the tundra a second time a few years later. It was an enjoyable adventure but our conversations had more to do with the question of sustainability.

Even then, and even as massive as the tundra landscape was, we wondered when the caribou herd would outstrip the availability of the nutrients it required from ground-hugging growth.

Of course, the fact that food sources couldn’t keep up is one thing, but there are several other related unbalances.

Call it a cycle if you wish, but the truth is apparent. The natural world is a cruel place, especially when the balance beam leans too far one way.

We learned later that the Mulchatna herd had grown to at least 200,000 animals, and the herd was forced to wander further each year. But nature took its course, and in just a few years, the herd had dwindled to a fraction of its peak.

A dismal fraction at that. The western mountains are another example of how the balance — or more accurately the imbalance of nature works. And worse yet, when politics get involved.


In many areas, herds of elk and deer, as well as other desirable wildlife, have been devastated by an over-abundance of wolves, which for the most part, are protected by law and as such have changed the face of western wildlife perhaps forever.

But back to caribou. Hopefully, the dwindling herds of these magnificent animals will recover in time and once again be the main feature in a hunter’s dreams. Then, when the itch to take the next step needs scratched, a caribou hunt should do it.


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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.



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