Brett Boudreaux tapped his son on the shoulder, and they quickly moved out, trying to keep up with the herd so Hank could get his shot. Minutes were racing by, and the summer sun, at near 11 p.m., was finally setting. They had to get a shot off quickly because they thought the herd could be gone by morning.
Brett had already bagged his caribou just minutes before, and now the trip revolved around young Hank getting the shot of a lifetime.
At their next spot, Hank still had no clear shot so the father-son team rolled down the hill and took off running again. Like the opening scene of Last of the Mohicans, the Boudreaux boys were doing the best impression of Hawkeye.
When they again collapsed on the ground to line up a shot, both realized they were breathing extremely hard. The adrenaline they felt when they first started the chase was now competing with fatigue. Brett lay down on the ground, and told Hank to lay the rifle across his behind. It was the only part of his body that wasn't heavily convulsing from the expended energy.
Hank put the crosshairs of the Zeiss scope on a number of animals before he spotted the one. He flipped the safety off on the Browning 7mm-.08, and like an old pro, fired one round that hit the caribou in the vitals right behind the front left shoulder. The bull staggered, turned around and collapsed right there.
Brett and Hank were a long way from Louisiana, a place they call home and where the two spend countless days hunting and fishing.
When an invitation came from David Fischer to take part in a guided trip with Alaska Bush Sports (www.alaskabushsports.com), Brett jumped at the chance.
They started their adventure by boarding a flight in Houston to Anchorage then a quick hop to the small town of King Salmon. In King Salmon, they met McCrary and drove to his house in Naknek called the Cliff House.
Right off the bat, they were grounded.
"The big thing over there," said Brett, "is that the weather rules absolutely everything. You fly everywhere you go, so if the weather's bad, you're stuck."
Once the weather did clear, they boarded McCrary's Cessna, and flew to Chignik Lagoon on the Alaskan Peninsula to fish for king salmon. They boarded with a local family of commercial fishermen, and were immediately taken in as if they were long lost friends.
"Mike took us on this boat to catch king salmon, and another boat took half our group out to go halibut fishing. We only boated one king salmon, but we all had fish on at some point. They just either broke off or got off," said Brett.
"The next day, we went on a long boat ride to see Castle Cape. It's a famous rock outcropping that looks like a castle. It was foggy, though, so we ran some of their crab traps instead, and we caught a bunch of king crabs. Then we went back and boiled all of those crabs."
When asked if they put a Cajun spin on their fresh Alaskan king crabs, Brett responded with a quick, "Oh yeah, we did!"
Their next destination was Ivanof Bay to fish for salmon. Again, a flight was in order, and the Boudreauxs got to view more of the Alaskan wild.
"Down that chain is just unbelievable wilderness," Brett said.
In Ivanof Bay, father and son took their turns fighting bugs and salmon in the river that emptied into the bay.
"We caught a bunch of salmon, let me tell you. We fished for three or four days out there, and we caught dog salmon, humpies and Dolly Varden," said Brett.
The gnats proved something quite intolerable. Thanks to mosquito netting, they were able to fish and relax even under the relentless flying bugs that surrounded them.
"When the wind quit blowing, the bugs were atrocious. When the wind blows, they're fine. You can run around with short pants on and no shirt. As soon as it stops, they are everywhere! They'll just annihilate you. It wasn't so much that they bit you, they just get in your way, in your eyes, your nose and ears."
Even the bugs though couldn't hinder the beauty of Alaska. The views around them made for a dreamlike backdrop.
"There we were, just catching fish. We caught a bunch of fish. And everywhere you looked, it was like a postcard. The scenery up there was phenomenal."
McCrary returned after four days and loaded everyone up. To King Salmon they returned, and after a good night's rest, they visited Brooks Falls to see wild grizzly bears in Katmai National Park. The Katmai grizzlies are famous for their own style of fishing that has made its way to post cards, pictures and television spots.
"You know on TV where they show the bear standing there catching fish in his mouth? That's the spot. The bear that you usually see wasn't there this time. That was the first time that that bear didn't go to that spot in like 26 years. I think this bear killed him," said Brett pointing to the picture of the new bear with major scarring on his body.
"He was big," said Hank.
After receiving enough rest, Brett and Hank and their friends prepared for their planned five-day caribou hunt. They bought tags and extra supplies, while McCrary started flying about the countryside looking for the herd.
McCrary is always looking for the herd. His clients pay top dollar for these dream trips, so off he flies in his Cessna, trying to locate the animals as they cross back and forth across the state.
"When they found the herd, they came and got us and flew us out in the front of the herd. Then he sets you down, unloads you and it's like, 'See ya. I'll check on you tomorrow.'
"He left us with a radio, and every day he'd fly over and check on us.
"When we flew over the herd, there were 10,000 animals. It was unbelievable. Then we flew over this hill, and he set us down. He said, 'OK, those caribou ought to come through here maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day. I think I have you in the right place. If not, and we miss them, I'll move you.'"
On their first day, they only saw one cow and as the day dragged on, their hopes started to diminish. For two Cajuns who had never experienced such a trip, it was easy to start doubting the outcome of their hunt.
"We started getting pretty discouraged," admitted Brett. "The next morning, David and I got up around sunrise, and we went on a little reconnaissance mission. We had to walk over this little hill that was about a mile away. We wanted to look into this valley where we were hoping the animals would come in.
"When we got over there, there were about 1,200 animals. So we got excited and went back to wake up the kids, get them dressed, eat breakfast, pack the backpacks up with food and all of this hoorah so we could go hunt.
"When we got back to the rise, there were about 5,000 animals. It was absolutely amazing. I've never seen anything like that. There were animals everywhere."
As the day wore on and the group moved in for the kill, the herd kept moving on and eventually they had all moved out of the valley. Then things got real sticky and spirits started to plummet again.
"At about 9:00 that evening, Hank and I went out to take another look. We saw a herd of about a hundred.
"So we took off running to try and get ahead of them. Now when they're walking, it's like a jog to us. They just move. They're nomads. They never quit moving. We just kept jogging, running and running, and in all, we went about two miles.
"It was 11 o'clock when I rolled mine. Then they took off again, and we ran away from them so we wouldn't spook them. We ran up another 50 yards, and I told Hank to shoot the first good bull that came across."
They had to keep moving about three times before the right shot presented itself.
"There was one moving real slowly," said Hank. "Then a cow moved across it, and I had to wait. I was pretty excited."
Hank nailed the big caribou with one shot, then his dad put one more on him for good measure. It was almost completely dark by then, and they didn't want to have to chase a big animal around all night in Alaska.
Brett and Hank returned to camp to share the tale of their successful caribou hunt. The next morning, they went out to retrieve their animals and field-dress them. Alaskan game and fish rules are very strict about sport hunting and the taking of game from the field. All big-game animals have to be completely field dressed, and all but the hide, rib cage, hooves and guts have to be taken out of the field.
"It's a do-it-yourself deal," said Brett. "You go out there, and you hunt on your own. You skin it, you quarter it and you pack it out."
This trip surely wasn't the plush kind of hunt some people have grown accustomed to.
McCrary offers a variety of drop-camp style hunting opportunities. His clients have the choice of taking caribou, moose and brown bears. As for fishing, clients can tangle with sockeye, king, Dolly Varden, humpies and silver and dog salmon. Guests can either stay in a lodge or camp out in the wilderness near the fishing stream.
"Some guys prepare by putting on 85-pound packs and then walk up and down hills," said McCrary. "Some guys sit at their office desk until it's time to go. They all do fine.
"I try to prepare everyone over the phone as best as I can. I tell them about the expectations of the weather and the trip. I don't tell them too much about what kind of gun to bring though. Everybody has their own idea of what they need or like. We work it out when they get up here.
"I fly every day, and I'm always scouting. There are about 165,000 caribou in Alaska, and they split into groups of about 50 to 2,000. They have traditional places to breed and have calves, but in between, they are continually moving and feeding.
"There is no real pattern to what they do that I've seen. You hope to catch them when they're moving in big groups. Not every hunt is as easy as what Brett and Hank had. Their trip was great. But I do have more people who have real good trips than ones who don't."