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The Blueberries that Saved Our Lives

Corinne’s post about blueberries reminded me of a Caribou hunt that I enjoyed with sons John (your host at Bear Paw Adventure) and Jeff. We flew across the Inlet with Beluga Air and landed on the shores of Tutna Lake. There we set up our tent on what turned out to be one of the windiest locations in the entire State of Alaska – but that is another story.

On this hunt, early one morning, Jeff set out to the southeast, looking for some caribou he spotted. John and I took off to the north and we soon spotted a small heard of Caribou, with one that looked like a good bull. We chased after them, traveling about a mile north and then a mile or so west. The animals were in thick cover and some how we spooked them. As they ran from our left to right about 100 yards in front, they crossed an opening that offered a clear shot, but only for a fraction of a second. John was identifying each animal as it reached the open ground. I remember he called out – “cow, cow, cow, cow.” Those of course we let pass. Next John said “bull” and with that I put the cross hairs on the front shoulder and pulled the trigger, as then John continued, “Not the one you want.”

Well it was an acceptable bull anyway. We field dressed the animal and found a pole so that we could carry the pieces of meat back to camp, which was somewhere off in the distance, two or more miles away. It was afternoon by then. We had figured to be back at camp for lunch, so we didn’t bring any food or water.

It took four trips on the meat pole to move the field-dressed animal, and we broke that up in segments of about 300 yards, slowly advancing our burden. There had been a light drizzle of rain the entire day so that we were soaking wet and the temperature was in the 40’s. We were warm while we were carrying the meat, but when we tried to rest it got cold. And, with no water to drink we were getting dehydrated. At one point when we were advancing the meat pole, I was resisting stopping our progress but was getting sick to my stomach. I finally told John I had to stop. He said good and that he was about the vomit.

When we stopped, it just so happened we were in a thick patch of blueberries. We must have stayed there for nearly an hour, picking and eating blueberries. With that, we were rehydrated and continued toward camp.

At dusk, we reached a rise in the tundra that overlooked Tutna Lake. Jeff had built a large fire at camp, thinking it would help us find our way back if we were lost. Through the binoculars I saw Jeff pacing back and forth, obviously wondering what happened to us. We put a flag on a stick as a marker and left the meat pile there on the rise. We walked on into camp, getting even wetter as we crossed a small creek. Dry clothes and the campfire felt especially good that night. And I will never forget how good those blueberries tasted.

John, A.K.A. The Wise Old Hunter