Big Caribou in Northern Manitoba
By Bob "Boof" Lobert and Al Apostle
Going hunting every fall for deer, elk or moose has been a natural thing for me to do for most of my adult life. But going out for caribou is something every hunter should try. My brother-in-law from Gillam had asked me for years to get a caribou tag and come up in December for a hunt, so in the summer of 1999, that's what I did.
On the long drive to Gillam that December there was a lot of time to think, and I made up my mind to wait for a big bull. I arrived on the 5th with all my listed gear - snowmobile, sleeping bag, cot, rifle, and camping supplies. We were heading out the next morning, so we were busy that evening getting snowmobile sleighs, groceries, and gear ready.
The hunting party consisted of my brother-in-law Al Apostle, Ben Fraser, Brian Martin and myself. Al told me we'd be staying in a cabin situated on a lake about 35 miles from Gillam, just off the Shamattawa winter road. We headed out early in the morning, but stopped about eight miles from town when Al realized he had forgotten the bacon and eggs. He said we had to have our bacon and eggs in the morning, so he turned around and went back to get them. We waited for him to catch up and continued onto the cabin.
It was a beautiful day, overcast but warm (about -10ºC). The northern scenery appears unforgiving at first, but once you get used to it, you can feel its peaceful beauty. I had three disposable cameras and was snapping pictures continuously. There were hundreds of fresh tracks all along the trail, which only added to my excitement.
Up ahead, we spotted our first caribou on the trail. It stopped, looked at us, and then wandered into the bush. This put the adrenalin into overdrive. How much further? Where were they? They could have been 200 yards off the trail and we wouldn't have seen them!
We arrived at the lake around 2:00 pm, but had no time to unpack. There were a couple of caribou at the far end. Al decided to stay on the trail and we would walk along the edge of the lake towards them. Before we were close enough, we heard a shot from the direction Al had headed. A small herd, approximately twenty animals, including three young bulls charged across the lake into the bush on the other side. Al had shot a big cow!
No sooner had we dragged the animal back to the trail than Conservation Officer Todd Hughes and Trap line Inspector John Hatley (Peanut) showed up. They checked our tags, wished us luck and headed back toward town.
With everyone now in a mood to celebrate, we were ready to get to the cabin to set up camp. To my surprise, it wasn't a cabin at all. It was more like a shack – Stan Sikora's shack, to be exact, since it had been his idea to build it. It consisted of a floor, four walls with Styrofoam insulation, a door, two windows and an assortment of tarps stretched over logs for a roof. Inside was a sink, stove, drying rack, table and eight chairs. Out here it was like a four-star hotel… it was perfect. No outhouse, but we didn’t care – we were hunting caribou, not making a movie.
The next morning Al stayed back to make breakfast while Ben, Brian and myself went hunting. Ben shot his first caribou at the far end of the lake, but I still hadn't seen my bull!
Ben and Brian decided to head home, while Al and I stayed on for another night. The next morning was the end of our time at Stan's Shack. If we didn't have any luck, we'd travel another 40 miles to Wilson Lake. During the morning hunt, we saw about twenty cows and calves. We took lots of pictures, but still hadn't seen any big bulls! Oh well, I thought, maybe tomorrow. We loaded up the sleighs, cleaned out the shack and headed for home.
Al tells the last part of the story best, so I’ll let him describe in his words how he saw it:
We left the shack around noon with Boof (Bob Lobert) travelling behind me. About two miles from the shack, I spotted a couple of cows laying down on the edge of a swamp, 250 yards off the trail. I shut off my machine and pointed towards the animals so Boof could take some pictures. He got off his machine and looked through his scope. The sound of his voice was like a kid's on Christmas morning! "There's a bull in with them in the willows!!" I yelled back, "Give 'em." He fired and you could hear the hit. A huge "rack" came charging out of the willows and headed toward the thick bush, then stopped with his head down. I yelled back, "Give em again before he gets to the bush." Boof's gun jammed.
He yelled at me to shoot so we wouldn't lose him, but my lever action was frozen solid. He came running up to me yelling obscenities at his gun. I got my gun loaded and fired. The bull didn't move. Yelling at each other to shoot, Boof managed to load his gun again. He was shaking like a leaf. I laughed and said, "It's good to know that even hunters still get excited!" He laughed and said he couldn't stop shaking. He fired again and the bull dropped. It was 12:20 p.m. on December 8th.
We drove up to the animal and were amazed. Boof asked me if it was a good rack. I told him it was the biggest one I'd ever seen. We laughed and giggled like school kids. Some people never get a chance to see a big bull and Boof had just shot one on his first time caribou hunting!
It was a huge rush to see Boof so excited when we were taking pictures. We laughed and laughed. His first caribou and it was huge! We dressed it, loaded up and headed for home.
We arrived around 4:00 pm, had supper and then started to celebrate. We must have told the story with every detail a thousand times that night. It was a trip neither of us will ever forget. Great weather, no breakdowns and "Big Caribou".
I'm sure Boof still shakes and gets excited when he thinks of what he saw that day through his scope - Willows and Antlers!