"Look through your binos and confirm he doesn’t have a black vulva patch."
"The one who’s walking?"
"Yeah, he’s facing uphill."
I’m lying on my stomach on the snowy tundra, listening to two women have a serious discussion about caribou genitalia. Is this what I thought hunting would be like? No. But am I enjoying myself? Very much so.
"He doesn’t, he’s white, right?", Sydney van Loon whispers to Cheryl Ritz, who has her gun loaded and ready. Van Loon wants Ritz to agree with her about the sex of the caribou before Ritz pulls the trigger. Cheryl Ritz is trying to pick out a bull caribou. The males have all white bums, whereas the females have a black patch. (Karen McColl, CBC) As I’ve recently learned, shooting cow caribou — the females — is illegal, so it’s good not to be too trigger-happy in this situation.
Never in my life did I think I would take an interest in hunting. I grew up in Calgary, with no exposure to either guns or shooting things other than the odd paintball game at birthday parties. But now that I live in the Yukon, I have lots of friends who are always talking about a hunting trip they just went on or one they are planning to go on.
I started to get curious. What’s it like to track and stalk an animal? And how do people experience the great outdoors without a trail to hike or a peak to bag? A group of caribou cross a lake in the distance. (Karen McColl, CBC) I called up van Loon a few weeks back, because I’d heard so much about her hunting prowess. I knew about the time she carried a sheep for five kilometres on a solo hunt and when she spent 12 hours butchering a bison at -30 C.
I asked if I could tag along on a hunting trip with her and, oddly enough, she agreed.
Some people were surprised when I told them I was going hunting. Aren’t you a vegetarian?
I am — mostly. I guess I fall more into the category of a "Yukon vegetarian," someone who only eats wild game. I don’t seek it out, but from time to time I do enjoy eating my friends’ homemade moose stew or bison chili. Van Loon uses a spotting scope to look for caribou. They blend in well with the brown foliage. The sign in the background tell us that Inuvik, N.W.T., is 633 kilometres up the road. (Karen McColl, CBC) I didn’t know Ritz or van Loon before this trip, but I’ve since learned that they both grew up on farms and became familiar with guns at an early age. Ritz grew up in Manitoba and started tagging along with her grandpa on duck hunts as a kid, getting into deer hunting as a teenager. Van Loon, who grew up in B.C., was a competitive cross-country skier and canoe racer, and didn’t get into hunting until about eight years ago, when she started coming north. Now she spends most of her weekends hunting or trapping. So much for dry feet. Ritz’ hiking boots are soaked, but at least her gun is dry. (Submitted by Sydney van Loon) Ritz is at the wheel of her pickup truck, inching us along the Dempster Highway , when van Loon spots the caribou. The Dempster is a gravel road that travels through wide valleys and mountain passes, and if you follow it long enough, crosses the Arctic Circle.
Caribou, van Loon tells me, have poor eyesight but a good sense of smell. Luckily, the wind is in our favour […]
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