Join country singers Craig Morgan and Leland Martin on a caribou hunt in Northern Quebec and you’ll quickly learn that country singers and Arctic caribou can strike an exciting chord with bow and rifle. The hunt was barely an hour old when things got really exciting, as four mature caribou bulls fed in plain view on the Arctic tundra. Like an old-fashioned deer drive, our guide made a wide circle and moved slowly from upwind, providing just enough presence to push them closer. The largest bull suddenly became alert, swung its huge, velvet-covered antlers into the breeze, and walked deliberately toward my hiding spot. Forty yards, thirty yards, twenty yards, ten yards … the animal obviously mistook my camouflaged form for a bush and was intent on lunch. I wanted a close shot, but holy cow!
As I drew the arrow, almost in self defense, the motion caused the bull to flare and turn broadside. As it trotted away, I swung with its course and released, the powerful arrow passing quickly through its chest. Wow! A great bull in the first hour.
Hunting Hudson Bay
Our group was hunting along the Shores of the Hudson Straights in far northern Quebec, just below the Arctic Circle. In mid August, caribou carried velvet-covered antlers and venison conditions were the best of the year. Each hunter is allowed two caribou, an option that provides extra venison and extended time afield, like two hunts in one.
My hunting partners this first day included country music star Craig Morgan and guide Jacque Cloutier. The group soon joined me for a few photos and the careful job of preparing the harvest. Jacque was an experienced professional guide and skillful with a knife. Within an hour we had 100 lbs. of fillets, all a man can carry on his back. A cool steady breeze would cool the meat quickly, and we stashed it in the shade and continued the hunt.
Catching the caribou by the shore of a lake moved other animals into the mountains, a trek which soon became an amazing experience. Grand vistas stretched before us, with tundra and rock as far as the eye could see. Rain clouds appeared to the south, creating unique patterns of bright and dark sky with spears of sunlight striking the earth. Higher up, we came to a large rock with a man-sized hole in the middle, an Arctic Arch de Triumph. Just beyond, we encountered a bull and three cows, yet they caught our wind and disappeared.
Around noon, we took a much-anticipated rest at an ancient Inuit site. Two “stone igloos” remained among the foundations of others that had crumbled over the centuries. “You are welcome to look, but please don’t touch,” Serge Tessier, owner of Kanguk Caribou Outfitters had warned. “Each structure has a lynch pin stone. Remove it and the whole igloo will collapse.” The structures are believed to be permanent shelters for ancient Indians or food caches built between 200 and 900 A.D. Perhaps those peoples used bows and arrows too.
We had hiked several miles into the mountains, and I exploited our rest period a bit getting to know Morgan better. His hit song, “Almost Home” (often called “The Cottonwood Song”), was an all-time personal favorite, and I asked him about his life, especially his hunting passion.
Meet Craig Morgan
“I was born in Nashville where my Daddy played bass, which made the music easy and the outdoor stuff even easier,” began Morgan. “As a kid I remember my dad going to deer camp on the weekends. He and his brother bought an old bus and converted it to a camper with a wood-burning stove. When not hunting we were camping, canoeing… anything to be outside.
“After high school, I attended one year of college and then joined the Army. Although I loved my military career, I missed home and returned to Tennessee after 11 years. I got married and began writing music for a living. Later, I started to write and record and “Almost Home” became my first big hit. To date, I’ve played the Grand Ole Opry 58 times and am up for three Country Music Awards this year.
“Like most musicians, I’m on the road a lot, but do my best to keep in hunting shape. My bus is 40 feet long and I practice shooting my bow inside. Once the bus swerved and I took out a mirror on the back wall, but no bad luck so far,” he said with a laugh.
Country Music in the Wilderness
Morgan was my roommate in camp and practiced a song called “I’m Country.” Those stone igloos had been around for more than 1,000 years, but had never heard a country singer. How about one verse for the ages, I asked? Needing no prompting, the effervescent young man sang the verse softly out of reverence.
I was born and raised in it
I get up every morning when the rooster crows and stay out some nights till the cows come home.
I’m dog running, deer hunting, fish catching, cow tipping, hay bailing, pea-picking country.”
Our spirits elevated by Morgan’s ditty and our muscles rested, we headed ever higher into the mountains, finding caribou tracks and droppings, but no game for the next three hours. Finally, Morgan spotted a lone bull feeding at the base of a cliff 300 yards ahead and 100 feet below.
Like a rocket he bounded up the mountain, intent on making a high circle to approach the caribou from above. The going was treacherous, yet Morgan, our guide, and our cameraman scrambled from rock to rock. Getting above the animal was easy; dropping down the cliff without spooking it was the challenge.
Inching, sliding, at one point jumping from ledge to ledge, Morgan moved toward his goal. He crept to 25 yards, but the bull was up and running. Circling ahead, Morgan ranged in a rock at 50 yards. As the wide-antlered caribou paused from the escape, Morgan released and caught the animal through the chest. In seconds, it lay still.
Taking two caribou in a single day was a tremendous thrill, and Morgan and I beamed with excitement as we approached his downed bull. This time I held the camera, catching Morgan’s exhilaration and the remoteness of the invigorating terrain.
An Army of One
Once again, Jacque applied his cutlery skills, retrieving the venison for camp where it would be vacuum packed and frozen. The caribou meat and antlers weighed about 150 pounds, yet Morgan hoisted the heavy pack onto his back, shouting, “Hooah!” The Army Ranger expression inspired Morgan to complete the pack-out alone. It means “Anything but no.”
A veteran of more than 1,000 jumps with the 82nd Airborne and special operations during Operation Desert Storm, Morgan was no doubt experiencing the same adrenalin that kept the paratrooper sharp and enabled the First Sergeant to wind his way down the treacherous slope. We offered to assist, yet this was a personal match between the man and the mountain. He was an “Army of One” and relished in the challenge of the arduous task. I felt a swell of pride as I followed in his footsteps, thinking, “This is the caliber of soldier who keeps us free.”
In late afternoon, we reached vehicle access and radioed to camp for a ride. As Morgan unburdened the pack, he reflected on the day’s adventure.
“This is a lot tougher than I thought it would be, but that’s a good thing,” he said, puffing and regaining his breath. “I’m not one to have a programmed hunt. We had to really work to get our game. The high country was the most enjoyable; it took the difficulty level up a notch or two. When I came here I didn’t know much about caribou. These animals are so unpredictable. I did some reading and am quickly building a knowledge base. This was a real hunt, nothing set up about it.”
Shortly, a pickup arrived and we hoisted the meat and rack into the bed and then enjoyed the modern conveyance back to camp. What a day! We had climbed five or six miles into the mountains, spotted two trophy animals and outwitted them with stealth and accurate shooting.
That evening, the entire camp celebrated with Morgan as he and fellow country singer and songwriter Leland Martin took turns entertaining the camp. From the French chef to the guides to the assembled hunters, the camp toe tapped, knee slapped, and head bobbed to Nashville tunes like never before. Martin and Morgan put on quite a show.
Our first day had been action packed and filled with adventure. With such abundant game and a two-animal license, we had four more days to hunt, fish, and explore. Every minute spent with Morgan was extra special, now that I had witnessed his perseverance in the field and his talent behind the six-string. He was dog running, deer hunting, fish catching, cow tipping, hay bailing, pea-picking, caribou chasing county… a Griffin’s Guide kind of guy.
Author’s Note: If you enjoyed this tale, you may want to meet other Celebrities in the Outdoors.
Quebec has more than one million caribou. For information, call 1-800-BONJOUR (266-5687) or visit bonjourquebec.com
For more caribou adventures, watch Backland Experiences on the Outdoor Channel. For a program schedule and details of their exciting new camo pattern, visit backlandTV.com