See Jason's account of Day Three for photos.
We slept late this morning, in part because we were tired after two arduous days of backpacking, but also because it was cold and drizzling, and nobody was anxious to go back out in the foul weather. We were content to have a dry place out of the wind. I had hot coffee and granola with warm coconut milk to warm my innards after a cold night. A quick look around outside the tents revealed that new snow had fallen at higher elevations during the night, including Never Pass, which was now blanketed in white – the window to human foot travel officially closed.
While scanning the valley below, Jason located a cow/calf group of caribou on a large gravel bar in Clearwater Creek about a half mile away. A short time later, he spotted a lone wolf on a different gravel bar, where it was chasing three caribou. It managed to separate one of them from the group and pursue it several bends upstream. But the caribou disappeared up a gulch; and the wolf, lagging far behind, gave up on the scent. Any wolf that could run down and kill such a large, strong, capable animal all by itself would have my utmost respect.
The plan for the day was for me to rest, write, and further dry/organize our gear at base camp while Jason did some serious hunting in the vicinity. If I heard a shot and could positively identify the source, I was to bring my backpack so I could help field dress the animal and carry the meat back to camp. If I heard three shots spaced uniformly two seconds apart, I was to assume Jason might need help of another sort.
Jason left camp at 12:45 p.m., heading northwest over a small rise before descending into the lower end of the valley we had traversed to get here yesterday. I was relaxing in the tent, trying to recall and record yesterday’s activities in my journal. Within 5 minutes, Jason was back in camp, breathing rapidly and telling me, “There are caribou RIGHT HERE, just over the rise!” I scrambled from the tent and followed him 50 yards to some rocks overlooking the valley below. Sure enough, there was a large cow caribou feeding along a small creek about 150 yards away, accompanied by what appeared to be a yearling cow that may have been her calf last year. Decision time for Jason: Continue to search for a trophy bull in an area where none had yet been spotted? Or take a large animal for meat in an extremely convenient location that was not only close to camp, but also close to a clear mountain stream that would facilitate field dressing and meat processing? We had passed at least 50 animals like this on our hike into this area over the past two days. But with no reason to believe there were any large bulls in the area, and with only one day left to hunt before we needed to pack up and return to civilization, Jason made the call. He would take this animal.
Jason arranged shooting sticks in an attempt to steady his aim, but the cow moved around too much, making the sticks more of a liability than an aid. In the end, an unsteady rest and an increasingly nervous caribou resulted in a couple shots that were not immediately fatal; but after the third and fatal hit, the caribou went down within 20 feet of the small stream we would use to rinse the meat. All was recorded on Jason’s Go-Pro camera with me crouched behind him to observe the successful harvest.
We spent (Spent: The wing position of many aquatic insects when they fall on the water after mating. The wings of both sides lay flat on the water. The word may be used to describe insects with their wings in that position, as well as the position itself.)
the rest of the afternoon skinning, quartering, cutting, rinsing, and bagging caribou meat. The weather threatened to deteriorate on a couple of occasions, and our hands got pretty cold at times; but we were able to finish our work by early evening. My new portable bone saw did a good job cutting through thick skull to remove the cow’s attractively symmetrical antlers. We loaded all the meat into two backpacks and trudged up the hill to find a predator-free cache for the night. A pile of boulders about 75 yards downhill from camp served our purpose, as the wind would carry the scent of fresh meat high over the river valley below.
We enjoyed hot Mountain House meals and climbed into our sleeping bags at a reasonable hour for a change, bundled up better than last night in order to avoid waking with the shivers. Fortunately, the wind was calm compared with last night.