"Isn't this first blood for the Scout?" my father asked on the phone when I told him I'd just scored on a caribou just off the Denali Highway around Mile 13.
Well shut my mouth. It is. I've certainly carried the Scout afield a few times, but never actually got a shot with it until now. Excellent!
I was very pleased with the "gunnie" part of it. It was a quick stalk; my hunting partner said he couldn't believe how fast I covered the half-mile distance from the road to the mound where I took the shot. I do remember moving around a bit on the mound to avoid shooting in the direction of a distant someone on an ATV, skylighted on a ridgeline; in the end I accepted an angle of convergence of about 135 degrees, which I still don't entirely like, but which was the best I was going to get. The shot was at a little over 150 yards, rested on my pack to get above the willow, and the cow was mostly broadside.
I remember being surprised at how not-loud the shot was; I am well aware that field shots for blood are never as loud as they seem at the range, but this was conspicuously soft; I suspect that much of it is the acoustic absorption of that fantastic quantity of biomass in the tundra. Anyway, she didn't move at all, so (having instantly run the bolt at the first shot) I hit her again, and saw her stagger, down into a shallow gully that got her out of sight. As it happens I didn't need to do that, but I am a whole lot more into followup shots than I used to be, especially up here where sometimes a very big animal can get itself into a place you don't want to go. I love the "one shot" philosophy, but I want a hit critter to go down even more. Alaska is not a place for bushwhacking.
She only made it a few steps; both shots landed within a couple inches of one another and completely scuttled her lungs. The Barnes "VOR-TX" 165 grain load did exactly what it was supposed to do, and I'll be happy to use that on much bigger critters as necessary. Excellent!
From there, things got nearly comically poetic. I ran back out to get my partner; we were at the very end of our available time and I figured we could both go back together and have this critter gutted and out in a single trip. But on the way to turn the truck around, he spied his own 'bou and had it down within half an hour himself. Great results, but the day just got...much longer.
A "quick extract" of his animal with the ATVs turned into a six-hour ordeal involving a broken frame, a real scare of a broken hunting partner, and some bona fide anxiety about attracting ursine attention at the kill site. We got his bull out, though--on the wheelers, no less--and by the time we got back to the truck, it was getting dark. Partner wasn't in the best shape by that point, and anyway he had lots of things to do to get the wheelers back on the trailer, etc.
And so I wound up walking back out to my kill site, alone, in the dark, to gut an animal laying in a small gully with no real visibility, entirely by headlamp--in an area famous for bears. (In an area that another hunter had just told me he'd spotted a brownie that he was going to see if he could chase.)
Does that make me brave, or stupid? I can see both arguments--and I now know just exactly how to avoid that problem going forward ('cos I got no problem not having to be brave). But nonetheless, there I was, because she needed to be gutted to cool properly, even if we couldn't do a full packout until morning.
It certainly seems foolhardy in hindsight. Yes, I had my Ruger Blackhawk with Buffalo Bore 325-grain loads as a last-ditch backup. Yes, I had a bear flare. Yes, I was listening carefully, and working quickly. But still--moving over more than a half-mile of damp tundra and willow is neither fast nor sure-footed, even in the daylight, and the consequences of attracting a thousand pounds of nocturnal, carnivorous company are potentially severe. Let's just say I was particularly on my guard. And honestly, I was pretty efficient at getting her dressed and cooling, even slightly away from the gut pile. It was most welcome to see the truck lights on my way back, and hear the sounds of partner's assembly of all our broken and unbroken gear.
It was only slightly less trepidatious the next morning, when we went to pack her out in the light. On one hand, I had a partner, with extra eyes and his own sidearm and flare; on the other hand, we were going into a kill site, invisible from view until you're right up on it, in which a gut pile in a bear area had been out overnight, with meat cooling nearby. Nerve-wracking is the right word. But to my intense relief, nothing had been in either the gut pile or the meat, and we got her packed up and out in one trip, moving slowly but surely.
Whew. Felt a lot better after that!
Lots learned on this trip, in general. The area is simply spectacular, and I'd be happy hunting it again with a little more time and no need to separate from partner.