Our Newfoundland Adventure began in Gander, Newfoundland. Gander is often referred to as the Crossroads of the World, as it is a final island way point to and from North America via Trans-Atlantic travel. Newfoundland is home to world class moose, woodland caribou, and bear hunting, as well as terrific fresh and salt water fishing. It is also home to "Newfees" or native Newfoundlanders and Screech Rum, the official beverage of Newfees.
Our travel companions were the Mike Rogers, Jr. Mike Rogers, Sr. and the Pooles.
Mike, Mike & Jeff enjoy a Cuban stogie from the Gander Jet Center.
The accommodations of main camp were quite comfortable. A fine log home was constructed with a chainsaw mill and native lumber on the side of a lake in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We were hundreds of miles from "civilization", yet the accommodations and food were quite civilized.
Mike, Carlee, Jeff & Mike enjoy Newfee lobster night
The topography of this portion of Newfoundland was often difficult to traverse on foot, There were absolutely no roads in the areas we hunted and therefore our travel began and ended in sea planes. The average hunt day entailed a canoe ride and miles of hiking terrain which included rocky hillsides, densely wooded areas filled with mossy pot holes and muddy stream beds. Newfoundland might be the only place of earth where you will actually find standing water on the side of a hill. On many hikes, it was often difficult to find yourself taking two steps on the same level. On one such hike, the ground literally consumed me as I fell through what appeared to be solid soil into a Beaver's den which had been excavated underneath the lake shore.
On the afternoon of the second day in Caribou camp, one of the local guides came into the lodge to announce a big Caribou had been spotted a couple miles outside of camp. Mike grabbed his video camera and I grabbed my rifle and we jumped into the canoe and took off in search of the Woodland Caribou. Now for those unfamiliar with the various species of Caribou, the Woodland Caribou is the smallest of all caribou species. They are also particularly difficult to field score, which means with a lot of different measurement points on their antlers it is often times difficult to assess the size of an animal in the field. Having never actually seen a Woodland Caribou, the task becomes even more convoluted.
As a professional videographer, Mike has traveled the world taking photos of hunters taking their shot at big game. He is very good at what he does and so are most of the hunters he accompanies. However, he has also accompanied a fair number of not so good hunters, who have committed their shooting inaccuracy to the library of footage that make up some of his feature films. As we approached the shore in the canoe, a lone Caribou stood at the far edge of a field about 200 yards away. Knowing that Mike would be shooting video of my shot, that Caribou looked 2,000 yards away. As I searched for an area to find a rest, the guide urged me to take the shot off hand. "It's looking right at us...It's a very large one...there's no time...take the shot...", he urged.
As Mike prepared his camera, my mind went blank as I dialed the scope to maximum magnification and shouldered the .338 magnum. I cleared all thoughts from my head. All the thoughts except: "Don't miss!" "For Godsake...don't miss!" "Please don't miss... or everyone you ever meet will see the video of you missing this shot...and probably two or three slow motion replays". As I shouldered the rifle, I found Caribou in the cross hairs, took a deep breath, and while the guide chanted, "its a big one...take the shot", I exhaled my breath, paused for a moment, and gently squeezed off the shot.
The bullet screamed across the field and hit the Caribou like a lead wrecking ball tearing into a brick building. "Thawhoop!" The Caribou tumbled. With a sigh of relief, I paused in the glory of a two hundred yard off hand shot, of a "very large" Woodland Caribou, all of which was captured on video. As we walked up to the fallen Caribou, I was truly amazed at the size.
"Wow Mike, these are dudes are small....", I said as I looked upon what appeared to be a rather immature set of antlers. Neither of us having seen a Woodland Caribou, "Its the biggest one I've seen" teased Mike. "No. That's a nice one", replied the guide as he began referring to its body mass and began to cut the head off the Caribou. That's when I knew we had a problem. My Newfee guide was a meat hunter and he was not looking for antler size and he wasn't going to bother to cape the animal. He was referring to the pot roasts this animal would provide.
The nice thing about Woodland Caribou is they are Canadian, so I am told there is some sort of 1.6 to 1 conversion factor when measuring its size....that makes it seem bigger or something like that. Anyway, from that point forth, we all paid better attention to the specific instructions we gave our guides. We were not looking for big ones...we were looking for large antlers.
Successful hunts typically ended with a long hike, with game in tow, back to the canoe.
The typical hunt began and ended with a canoe ride which mitigated hiking greater distances across land.
We discovered that Canada has a number of unique laws, one of which dictates a certain percentage of all broadcast radio entertainment must be the work of Canadian artists. With this in mind, our evenings included listening to the local radio signal which showcased Newfee entertainment. There was apparently no criteria for participation on radio, other than Canadian citizenship. A typical evening broadcast might include Swiss yodeling from the neighborhood postman, or the local truck mechanic banging out his rendition of O'Canada on his knee with a pair of spoons!
Another Canadian Law prohibits hunting on the day of arriving flights and on Sundays. Accordingly, there are five days to hunt in a typical seven day trip, unless you arrive on Sunday. We did not arrive on Sunday, with this in mind, we decided if we can't hunt on Sunday, we ought to fly somewhere. So, when Sunday came, we left Main Camp for "Moose Camp".
The only way in or out of Moose Camp was by sea plane. Our destination was a small island about 50 miles from the main camp. There was no communication with the outside world for the duration of the stay at moose camp. Moose camp was a "spike camp".
The parting words of the pilot was: "I will see you in three or four days, weather permitting... It may be a week." As the plane flew away, we hiked into the middle of the island to the spike camp. Upon our arrival, we made two very important discoveries: 1) the spike camp had been the recent home of poachers who had run all signs of life from the area; and 2) the term "spike camp" is Newfee code-talk for "by the time they see the shack...the plane will be gone....".
Without the ability to contact the pilot or the base camp to advise them the area was disturbed, we would spend the next three days in more or less futility, paddling from one area to the next, and hiking dozens of miles of woods in search of an unmolested hunting area.
Moose camp consisted of a 12' X 10' plywood shed with a wood burning stove and four plywood sheets the guides called "beds". There were no windows. The shed would be home to three hunters and two "guides" for the next several days. Referring to these accommodations as tight is an understatement, and referring to the two Newfees who accompanied us as guides turned out to be a bit of an overstatement. Our guides brought back memories of a pair of famous television celebrities, Darrell and his other brother Darrell. Between the guides, they shared about six teeth. Our moose camp evenings were filled with hours watching Darrell and Darrell try to sprinkle loose tobacco into previously glued cigarette paper tubes. Apparently, Newfees had yet to discover flat cigarette rolling papers. The tobacco sprinkling ritual was the Newfee way of circumventing the Canadian cigarette tax.
Darrell and Darrell were obviously accomplished Caribou hunters, the kind of guys you would swear were raised in caves by a pack of wolves. They had a keen sense for tracking game, I am not sure that they had ever hunted for trophy animals. So, before the moose hunt, we re-emphasized our objective was to find the largest possible antlers on a moose.
On the second day we did spot a rather large moose. In fact, it was huge. In the dense woods, we were able to stalk within 15 feet of the animal. It towered over us as we crouched behind a fallen tree, We could smell it, and we felt the steam as water evaporated off its warm hide. According to Darrell, it was a good one and he was adamant that I should shoot it. "You won't see one bigger than that one...", he whispered, as the moose grazed within feet of the fallen tree behind which we lay. "Take the shot...aye", he whispered. "It's a dandy...", he added. After several minutes of watching the animal, I chuckled and whispered back, "It's a cow..." Unfortunately, Darrell forgot that we had Bull tags while he was sizing up that big old cow. Darrell replied, "Oh, that's right...you want horns!"
Carlee and Jeff in "Moose Camp"
The low point of our moose camp experience came on the afternoon of the second day. The day began with a canoe paddle of about a half mile off the spike camp island to another body of land. The destination was a densely forested area. After several hours of hunting, we headed for the canoe. After I counted five right hand turns (four of which made a complete circle), I whispered to Mike that I thought we might be lost. Mike also had been counting turns and he figured there were more like seven. At that point, it became apparent that Darrell and his other brother Darrell had both become lost. As evening approached, the rain began and soon everyone was damp. As the temperatures routinely dropped to below freezing during the night, and absent shelter and dry clothing the situation soon became uneasy. During the last two hours of day light hiking, we double timed our circular patterns in hope of finding the beach on which we had left our canoe. There was a growing sense of urgency that we either find the canoe or risk enduring the night in wet clothing and likely freezing temperatures. It was an unpleasant proposition. As the last bit of twilight was lost, we sighted the beach upon which we landed and tracked down our canoe.
By dark there was a steady light rain and the waters had become stormy and rough. Due to the added weight of wet clothing and the already low free board on the canoe, we agreed that only three would be able to return in our five man canoe. The other two would have to wait for the return of the canoe for a second crossing. Carlee and I would initially cross with the guide who after losing his bearings in the woods would thereafter be known as Magellan. Although Magellan, was a poor navigator of land in the daylight, he did manage to paddle directly to the beach in front of spike camp without so much as a glint of moonlight. It was truly a bone shaking ordeal to paddle into rough water in complete darkness with a "guide" who spent the bulk of the daylight hours absolutely lost. Upon our arrival on shore, Carlee and I lit a fire and a signal light was brought to the shore to serve as a beacon for the second crossing. About an hour later, Mike would return to camp with Magellan and his brother Darrell. We were thankful to all be safe. Boy, that shack felt like the Ritz Carlton that second night.
After the third day of moose camp the weather lifted and soon thereafter the sea plane returned. It was great to get back to civilization. Upon arriving at the main camp, a hot shower, a cold Screech and a Newfee harpsichord rendition of "Take it to the Limit One More Time" on the radio was all that it took to put the escapades of Magellan and his brother Darrell behind us.
The last day of our hunt was a dreary and wet day. The sea plane was due to pick us up that afternoon, so Mike and Carlee and I set off for a morning bear hunt. As luck would have it, the day we were bear hunting the big Caribou were out and the rut was now in full swing. Carlee was the only hunter with an unfilled Caribou tag. She was also the only hunter that had never fired a single shot at any game. After a brief lesson on firing the .338, we set Carlee up on a shot. This was a text book situation, a Caribou who had unknowingly put himself out on a ridge, the wind was right, our cover was satisfactory, a small outcropping of rocks provided an ideal shooting position. The Caribou was a very nice one and he was pre-occupied with his new found girlfriends. As I watched the Caribou through my field glasses, Mike watched through his scope and began to count.
"I will count to three, so take a breath, relax and then squeeze the trigger...on Three"
"Ready?....One...Two...Three..." Nothing happened.
"Are you ready Carlee?" we asked.
"Yes" she replied.
"One...Two...Three..." Again, nothing happened.
After a momentary pause, I turned to see that Carlee was struggling to find the animal through the objective of her scope, a quick adjustment to her rest and "BOOM!!!"
Before either of us could turn back to look at the Caribou and resume the count, Carlee pulled the trigger and dropped it.
"That's not so hard" she said. The comment just about earned her the right to dress it and carry the animal out all by herself. Humbled but not defeated, "Never discount the value of your guides" we added.
Carlee's first shot from a rifle would drop this record book sized Woodland Caribou during the last hour of the last day of the hunt.
The trip to Newfoundland was a productive hunt. Bill took a black bear. Ingrid would pass on several opportunities in the search for the perfect trophy, Mike, Sr. took a Caribou which when measured green would have placed it in the top three or four in the SCI book, Mike, Jr. took a nice Caribou, Carlee's Caribou would measure green in the top twenty five, and my Caribou was a heck of a lot easier to carry than anyone else's!
Best of all, we had the opportunity to spend quality time together, admire nature, and becoming acquainted with new friends.
Bill and Ingrid admire a black bear in the skinning shed
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