Caribou are the perfect challenge for bowhunting.
And no big-game animal in North America can offer bowhunters more thrills than the Quebec/Labrador caribou subspecies. The most numerous caribou species on earth, some 750,000 caribou roam the wilderness of Northern Quebec and Labrador.
Among this herd, the adult stags grow what can only be described as breathtaking antlers. The male-to-female ratio in this caribou population is nearly one to one. Amazingly, trophy-class stags make up as much as one-third of the total population. The opportunity for bowhunters to harvest a trophy-class big game animal is unequalled.
The fact that caribou are abundant is a strong plus for the bowhunter looking to expand his hunting exploits beyond whitetail deer. Caribou by their very nature are also more approachable than other big-game animals. Unlike deer, antelope, elk, and other big-game animals that frequently encounter hunting pressure, a caribou may live its entire life and never cross paths with a hunter.
Wolves are a caribou’s primary natural enemy. Of the 750,000 Quebec/Labrador caribou, the government estimates that only 25,000 animals are taken by sport hunters, resident Indians, and government hunters.
Because caribou aren’t exposed to the hunting pressure other animals experience, they are somewhat easier to approach. Still the best way to hunt caribou with a bow is not necessarily to spot and stalk. Although I’ve had some exciting stalks on bedded animals, the two largest caribou I’ve taken with a bow were shot by finding well-used crossings and waiting for animals to funnel within bow range.
I’ve also enjoyed exciting hunts by glassing approaching animals from great distances, determining their direction of travel, then trying to get in front of them. Since caribou often travel along ridges and other easily determined routes, this task isn’t as difficult as it sounds. The whole key is to spot animals far enough away that you have time to get in position.
The normal pace of a caribou is approximately that of a man jogging. This style of hunting isn’t the answer unless you’re in good shape and willing to sweat for each shooting opportunity.
Just about any bow suitable for white-tailed deer can be used caribou hunting. But be aware that the average shot at caribou is between 30 and 40 yards. The 450- to 550-grain arrows often used for whitetail treestand hunting are out of place in the open country caribou call home. Look for a hunting arrow that ranges from 300 to 400 grains and a bow with at least 60 pounds of draw weight.
Carbon shafts are an excellent choice for caribou because they are considerably lighter than similarly spined aluminum arrows. Also, since carbon arrows are stiffer than aluminum, they provide increased penetration even though on paper the kinetic energy delivered may not be as high as that provided by a heavier aluminum arrows.
My most recent caribou was taken with a Game Tracker Carbon Express 200 arrow tipped with an 85-grain Rocky Mountain Assassin broadhead. The complete 29-1/2 inch arrow weighed in at 320 grains. Shot from a Darton Cyclone set at 62 pounds, this combination chronographs at 290 feet per second.
Sighted in for two inches high at 20 yards, my arrow is dead on at 30 and only six inches low at 40 yards. Using this arrow/broadhead combination, I’m prepared for shots out to 50 yards should they be necessary.
Other excellent carbon arrows suitable for caribou hunting include Easton’s A/C/C, Beman’s ICS, Arrow Dynamics Nitro Stinger, and the Gold Tip XT. Each of these shafts are lighter and stiffer than comparable aluminum arrows. Also these shafts accept in-line nocks and inserts.
A laser rangefinder is also a handy accessory for caribou hunting. Rangefinders take the guess work out of range estimation in open country.
A good pair of compact binoculars is another invaluable piece of equipment. Caribou can’t be accurately field judged without the help of quality optics.
Judging Trophy Heads
Even a modest caribou bull looks huge compared to a white-tailed deer. A record book class Quebec/Labrador caribou approaches 48 inches wide and 48 inches tall. Many adult stags grow much larger than this.
There are three parts of the antlers hunters should concentrate on including the tops, bezel, and shovels.
Of these three, the tops are the most important for scoring. A good caribou should have wide palmated tops with plenty of long tines. The bezel should also be broad and have lots of scoreable points. Shovels are an interesting part of the caribou antler, but they don’t add much to the total record book score. Only about one animal in five has a double shovel rack. Long sweeping back points are another area of interest that can significantly help the total score of a caribou rack. Overall mass, spread, and rack height complete the requirements for a record book head.
Throughout the Quebec/Labrador region hunters are allowed to take two caribou per license. Having two tags is a huge advantage for anyone hunting for a trophy-class animal. I recommend that hunters take at least one bull early in the hunt to get rid of the jitters, then concentrate on trophy hunting during the rest of the trip. In these modern times, there are few hunting opportunities that allow two big-game animals per license.
Booking A Hunt
Most caribou hunts take place in late August, September, and early October. A wealth of booking agents can recommend outfitters who operate in the Quebec/Labrador region.
Most caribou hunts are fly-in camps that leave from Schefferville, Quebec. Fly-in hunts are an exciting adventure, but because the camps are so remote, the facilities are rugged. Expect to stay and eat in tents heated with wood stoves. Showers, flush toilets, and running water are luxuries you aren’t likely to find.
Once you’re in camp, mobility is another limiting factor of fly-out camps. Transportation is limited to foot traffic or in some cases boats. Either way, you won’t be covering much country in search of caribou. If animals are scarce, bow hunting from fly-in camps can become tough sledding in a hurry.
Operating out of Northern Labrador, Alonzo Drover owns Labrador Outfitters, Limited and runs a series of camps in the Schefferville area. Accessible by train or air line, Drover’s camps are plywood cabins located along abandoned dirt roads that were built to service the iron mining industry. The mines are long since closed, but the roads provide hunters access into remote regions of Labrador. In the course of a day, some 20, 30, or 40 miles of prime hunting lands can be explored, greatly increasing the likelihood of locating game.
Not unlike a good old Montana pick-up hunt, guests have the option of riding from ridge to ridge while glassing for animals, or parking near prime crossings and hiking into the interior. While truck hunting is a turn off to some, this form of wilderness transportation allows guests of all skill and physical levels to participate in a caribou hunt. Drover can be contacted through Outdoor Connection Booking Services at 612-890-0407 or by calling direct at 709-944-6947.
Costs and Extras
Quebec/Labrador caribou hunts start at around $2, 200 in U.S. funds. Hunters can get to Schefferville via a passenger train from Sept Iles or Labrador City. The faster option is to fly from Montreal with scheduled stops at Quebec City, Sept Iles, Wabush, and Schefferville. Plane fare averages around $500 in Canadian funds. Round-trip tickets on the train run approximately $150.
Successful hunters will be hit with a few hidden costs. Each hunter is allowed two bags plus one small carry-on bag. Make sure your gear fits into one duffel bag and one lockable weapon case. Place personal items, cameras, and other valuable electronics, plus a change of clothes in your carry-on bag. Additional bags can be shipped for approximately $30 each.
On the return trip, two 75-pound boxes of meat are allowed per customer. Each box will cost approximately $30 to ship air freight. Racks must be split and boxed for shipment making sure no blood drips out of the package. Plan on wrapping several sets of antlers together and shipping them in one large box. Ship your cape(s) by double bagging them in heavy plastic garbage bags and slipping it into your duffel bag.
Those who take the train will also have to pay extra to ship meat, hides, and antlers home. The price for antlers is around $15 per rack and meat is shipped bulk rate by the pound.
Butchering service is available in Schefferville for approximately $85 Canadian per animal. This price includes cutting, vacuum packing, and packaging in a waxed box suitable for airline transportation.