My first caribou
Have you ever hunted caribou in the middle of the Brooks Range? We the people of Anaktuvuk Pass do it for a living. I don't think we will ever stop doing it. It is part of being Nunamiut -People of the Land. We are not Tagigimiut-Whale Hunters. We are Nunamiut , hunters of Tuttu - Caribou. Generation after generation of my people will have followed the caribou through the valleys of the Brooks Range Mountains. I hope to continue this tradition of my forefathers. Let me tell you the story of when I caught my first caribou.
It was a bright and breezy day in the valley of Anaktuvuk Pass, and my parents and I heard about a herd of caribou that were very close to the village. We planned to only catch one Tuttu since we were walking instead of using an Argo. We had borrowed my cousin Mark's Remington .270 rifle, rounded up some food for the trail and skinning knives, and set out in the hopes of success.
The caribou were near Big Contact Lake about a mile southwest of town. We started hiking. The trail was good, but wet and muddy, which wasn't really a problem after all we live in the wilderness. My Mom, Cora, set out a plan to stay behind the big hill near the Big Contact River while My dad Paul, with my Grandfather's gun waited for the small herd near the lake. The caribou were coming closer and closer by the minute!
We pursued them by staying as quiet as we could because of the low breeze in the air. All of a sudden, a big bull caribou popped out and looked at us about forty feet away. My mom raised the gun, and tried to shoot. She kept missing because of the wind and the powerful rifle wasn't sighted in very well. Frustrated, she handed me the rifle and told me to run after the group of caribou. They were getting away. I took off as fast as I could, running on the wet spongy tundra.
I had seven rounds to shoot as many caribou as I could. The caribou were getting farther and farther away. Finally, I noticed that they stopped on the side of the mountain near some bushes. It was only a 200-yard run but on the tundra it's like running through jello. I was pumped. I was shaking. Could I make the shot?
I stopped and tried to conceal myself lying down. The caribou hadn't yet seen or smelled me. I was exhausted from running, breathing hard, and sweating up an ocean because it was so hot and sunny that day. Again, Could I make the shot?
Four fat bull caribou stood in a bunch just eating while I was spotting them out. They were still about 200 yards away. Could I make the shot? I had no choice but try from where I lay. The rest of the terrain was flat and if I tried to get any closer they would see me and start running even further.
I aimed. Which bull was the fattest? The first one. He had darker fur, bigger antlers than the young bulls around him, and he looked to be layered with fat. I shot. Missed. Shot again and missed again. What was happening? I loaded the rest of my rounds in the clip and hoped. The moment was now or never. Carefully raising the rifle I aimed about half an inch above all of the caribou. Shot again. Bingo! I looked through the scope and saw the caribou collapse! Oh boy, I was happy! I tried to catch another caribou but missed and was out of ammunition.
My heart was still racing and excitement was still rushing through my body when I walked up to this monster caribou. He was colossal, the Goliath of caribou and I was his David.
Excited, I called to my parents very loud to come and see. They were still a few hundred yards away. I studied the caribou. It was still alive. I had shot it in the shoulder. It tried to get back up but it couldn't. My dad dispatched it with his knife.
As my dad started to skin it, I watched him carefully because if I was going to be hunting the rest of my life I would have to learn. He skinned it like it was nothing. He butchered the meat very well and put it in the packs. I wanted to take the antlers back but we didn't need extra weight so we left it near the mountain. We carried it back old-school like my elders did.
Oh boy, my first caribou was a thrill! I couldn't be anymore happier. We were going home to go and make some fresh good caribou soup. Since it was my first caribou, I wanted to give some meat to an elder. I brought some to Grandma Maggie. She was very happy to have fresh meat, and I was so proud giving it to her. My first caribou and I was giving it to an elder. Nothing can get any better than that. It was a blessing.
Zach Nay, 17, is a high school Junior at Nunamiut School in Anaktuvuk Pass. He wrote this essay in his high school English class taught by Colby Root.