As the host of Angler & Hunter Television (AHTV), I’ve been fortunate enough to harvest big game animals across this great province. But last fall, I experienced what many consider to be the hunt of a lifetime, stalking caribou in the subarctic tundra of northern Quebec.
Sharing the adventure were Lezlie Goodwin, Ontario OUT OF DOORS (OOD) Editor-in-Chief and long-time friend and hunting buddy Stephen Bates, national sales director for OOD.
Tourism Quebec promotes the province’s vast hunting and fishing opportunities through the Quebec Outfitters Federation, and the Federation connected us with Jack Hume Adventures (JHA). The family business, run by Richard and Amanda Hume, has been putting hunters on caribou for over 50 years. We headed up for the final week of JHA’s 2013 hunting season. All hunters, 26 men and 2 women, arrived in Montreal a day prior to our flight to weigh in, check our baggage, and receive last-minute trip instructions.
Northern weather extremes
We had been cautioned that weather could play havoc with our schedule, and sure enough, a low ceiling and snow squalls several hundred miles north grounded us for 24 hours. Next morning, the weather cooperated and we headed to JHA’s base camp, about 1,600 kilometres north in Canada’s subarctic tundra.
Amanda Hume greeted us on the gravel runway near the Caniapiscau Reservoir, the most northerly point reachable by road. After a hearty lunch, we were divided into a half dozen camps and were airborne again, this time on an Air Saguenay turbine Otter, heading 320 kilometres north to Lake Qamaniq (also known as Willie Lake to JHA hunters), part of the Qamaniq River.
JHA maintains 26 camps over a huge territory near the eastern border of the province. This gives JHA the flexibility to move hunters around to migrating caribou, which is how they achieve an over 90% success rate. Our group left with only one tag unfilled.
Daytime temperatures in the subarctic in late September typically range between -10 C and 0 C, so we packed for winter conditions. But after just a day of long-john weather, a warm front arrived and we hunted and fished in shirtsleeves under sunny skies.
We stayed in 2 camps, both of which offered fantastic natural surroundings on small, pristine lakes. The most popular among the hunting packages is one guide for 4 hunters, plus a cook. At Willy Lake, our cook, Betty, served breakfast and dinner, and packed us a tasty lunch. At Lake Uchistik (also called King Lake), we fended for ourselves, with Bates acting as chief cook, and guides making sure we had lots of supplies.
The sleeping cabins were outfitted with bunk beds, and surprisingly, we had hot running water, a flush toilet and shower at each camp.
The first day of the hunt, we spotted 4 caribou but lost sight of them despite hours of trekking through the rolling rocky terrain. The next morning, we were instructed to pack our gear and were flown 160 kilometres south, where a large herd of caribou had been located. Just an easy 1 kilometre hike through some tamaracks brought us to an extensive rock ridge where a hundred caribou passed through in the course of a couple of hours. It made for an exciting afternoon, working the ridge and trying to set up for a good ambush position.
All three of us made moderately long shots at over 225 yards and had clean hits on 3 solid bulls. It was one of the most memorable hunts any of us had ever been on.
In this region, the meat, not the animal is tagged, stored in cloth bags, and hung in a meat shed until it’s flown back to base camp. We all took a set of antlers out as well. Back in Montreal, we used the services of an onsite butcher and our meat was ready for pick up the following morning. Taxidermy services were also available.
Sampling the fishing
Once we each harvested our 2-caribou limit, we turned our attention to fishing. The arctic regions of this country offer the best lake trout fishing in the world, and, as expected, we caught countless trout casting from shore and trolling shallow rock shoals by boat.
I’d hoped to experience my first ptarmigan dinner and spent some time hunting them. Unfortunately the only time I spotted any was while I wasn’t carrying my rifle, but they were plentiful at other camps.
We didn’t manage to get black bear hunting, but we did have tags in case the opportunity arose. Black bear thrive in this area, but the only one we saw was on our last evening. Two Americans at our camp spotted a huge bear grazing on a ridge directly across the lake from us and set off in hot pursuit, with our guide in contact via walkie-talkie. It made for an hour of intense excitement and non-stop glassing, but dead batteries and the end of daylight thwarted their efforts. We were still talking about what might have been as we flew out the next morning.
The caribou hunt was everything we expected and more. The northern Quebec landscape was serene and beautiful; we drank the water straight from the lake and fished lake trout that had never seen a lure. My advice to hunters considering a caribou hunt is to put it at the very top of their bucket list.
A version of this was first published in the 2014 January-February issue of Ontario OUT OF DOORS. Subscribe.