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Kissed by an Elk
Sitka in the Khalarhi
Black and White
"Bill" - This One's For You
Author: Chase Fulcher
Dec 16, 2010
My last hunt to finish my caribou slam in British Columbia, had to be cancelled due to no caribou migrating through this area. All the caribou outfitters left earlier due to the harsh weather and the bulls loosing their antlers by November 15th. Knowing what I had already endured for 8 weeks in the wilderness, going across Canada to harvest my other four caribou species, I was scrambling and willing to endure extreme conditions for three weeks for a chance to harvest #5, my Barren Ground Caribou. I talked with many of my archery friends and with their help I made preparations to hunt in Kodiak, Alaska.
With new plans I quickly packed for my last hunt and left October 22. In route to Alaska I received a phone call that my very best friend, Bill Bruce, who hired me 24 years ago for Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance Company and was my DSM, suddenly died on his farm. I was in total shock and could not believe the news. We had just planned a trip together the day before to spend time in February bird hunting. I wanted to return home and be with Bill’s family, to somehow comfort them and myself through this terrible loss. My dearest friend whom I had spent so much time traveling, hunting, and weekends doing many different things we both loved and enjoyed had passed away. I contemplated what I should do, stay and complete my five species or return home to Bill’s family. I decided I would cancel my hunt and return home. Shortly before scheduling a flight I received a call from Janet Bruce, Bill’s wife, and I told her I was coming home. She told me not to come because Bill Bruce would have been very upset if I didn’t finish what I had started. She said that quitting would be the last thing Bill Bruce would want me to do. He had been following all my hunts and he wanted me to be the first to harvest all five caribou species in one year. She told me to stay and get this fifth caribou for Bill and for no reason return home.
It was the turning point of my hunt. It now became the Bill Bruce Caribou. I was going to harvest my last caribou no matter what extreme conditions or late weather challenges I had to encounter. I told my wife and office I wasn’t coming home until I had Bill’s caribou.
I began my hunt on Kodiak Island in Alaska. It took several days to even get to my destination, which took us flying on several floatplanes, fighting high winds, rain, and snow. Approximately one hundred caribou were seen on the island, so we knew I would have a chance to harvest one. After several days of hunting and stalking them in swamplands and using inflatable rafts to cross deep creeks we reached the area where we saw the caribou feeding. I crawled within 130 yards of the herd. The vegetation was short, with 100 animals herded together; there were too many eyes. The wind shifted and spooked the herd causing them to run. They crossed two rivers and traveled four to five miles before stopping, leaving me with no other opportunity of harvesting any of these caribou. They were no longer in my outfitters territory and legally I could not hunt them. I was very upset and disheartened because I knew now that Kodiak Island was no longer an option for me to harvest a caribou with that being the only herd in my outfitter’s area. I immediately called my friends Jack Frost, Frank Noska, Tony Mudd, Mark Buehrer, Joella Bates, Jake Jacobson, Brent Sinclair, Jake Ensign, and Bob Hodson with Barney’s for their help. I’m thankful for all their advice and support over Bill.
My plans shifted to an entire new agenda for another hunt. I immediately asked Ivan, my guide; to call the floatplane because I was going to leave Kodiak Island and go to the Ice Haul Road, where my friends felt was the only other place I had a chance to harvest a caribou.
I asked Ivan my guide on Kodiak where he lived. He said he lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, which is where I had been told the Ice Haul Road started and ran for a total of 500 miles north of Fairbanks ending at Dead Horse in Prudhoe Bay. I begged him to join me (as a friend) since I had paid for my Kodiak hunt, which technically had seven days left. Ivan could tell how devastated I was over all that had happened. The two of us had become friends in such a short time and he knew I needed him to continue on with my journey. After seeing me so emotionally upset for the last three days over Bill, and hearing Bill Bruce stories, he couldn’t tell me no. I was so excited, I couldn’t believe Ivan would leave his outfitters area as a guide and travel several thousand miles with me as a friend. In 35 years of bow hunting, I never felt such warmth and truly knew that God and Bill were watching over me. This was no longer about me completing my goal, but about Bill.
If all this wasn’t so unbelievable, even stranger things happened sending me further vibes that this was Bill’s hunt. While getting our supplies and gear moved from our camp to the small lake, I spotted a plane coming in but it didn’t appear to be ours. I ran over and met the pilot to see if he was here to pick us up and take us back to Kodiak. The pilot immediately recognized my accent and asked my name. When I told him my name, he recalled the two of us talking ten days, prior to my hunt and asked if I was the guy from Kentucky trying to get all the caribou species across North America? We had discussed whether he had seen any caribou on Kodiak Island and whose area was the best. I hugged him and laughed. It made me so happy just seeing him. I couldn’t believe it! This was Rolan Ruoss with Sea Hawk Air. How ironic it was that the two of us would ever meet, let alone run in to one another in this remote wilderness. He was the real reason I initially decided to come to Kodiak Island.
He said he had brought in some Sitka deer hunters with rafts for a wilderness hunt and wasn’t aware that anyone else was here, so he didn’t know about our floatplane. With that being said, I ran off to get the rest of our gear. Several hundred yards away I heard someone yelling my name. I turned around looking back and saw someone running towards me! I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was Fred Eichler, my great friend, who is on the Easton and Hoyt Pro-Staff with me. He was here to hunt Sitka Deer. We immediately hugged and high fived!!! What are the odds for this ever happening? Now here two friends who had no idea the other one was even here on this one acre lake out in the Alaskan wilderness, ran into each other and shared a short time talking. This truly brought me a ray of sunshine on what had been a gloomy hunt with some disappointment at this stage. Seeing Fred was quite uplifting. It was so nice to see a familiar face and one of my favorite friends. I was more eager now than ever to continue my hunt in a new territory and was thankful he had brightened my day!!
We spent two days getting to Fairbanks where we rented a 4WD Toyota Highlander. Ivan and myself spent the next day getting our gear, arctic tents, and C- rations ready for our hunt. Ivan’s friend, Clay, was nice enough to loan us most of this gear. We left late that evening and picked up the Dalton Highway, out of Fairbanks, where the Ice Haul Road starts and traveled 250 miles north. We arrived in Coldfoot approximately midnight and stayed the night. The roads were ice and heavy snow was falling making driving conditions extremely tough. The next morning we were up three hours before daylight and talking to many of the truckers at Coldfoot truck stop, asking if they had seen any caribou herds on the Ice Haul Road. To our surprise most of the truckers knew something about us being here because they were asking if I was the guy from Kentucky in the Toyota Highlander. It was known by most of the truckers because I had stopped earlier yesterday and offered to help a driver put chains on his tires. He had radioed other drivers about me and how I was here to hunt. Drivers we asked for any help were more than willing to do whatever they could do to help us. We found out they had seen several small herds approximately 100 miles north of us here over the Atigun Pass in the Galbraith and Toolik lake area.
We decided our strategy would be to sacrifice one day scouting the entire road with spotting scopes 250 miles further north, which would put us in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where the Alaskan pipe line starts and the road ends. I never dreamed I would end up on an Arctic hunt, with temperatures reaching below zero, heavy winds and snow. I was more determined than ever. We left before daylight and wanted to be over Atigun Pass by sun-up to scout for caribou. The roads were terrible and driving conditions were quite difficult. As we met a large semi truck, we went off the edge of the road since there were no shoulders on the road. We slammed into the ditch forcing some small gravel between the tire and rim causing a tiny leak in our right front tire. We knew this was bad for us because there was no help along this road. We spent fifteen minutes digging and pushing which allowed us to get our SUV back on the road. We continued on, hoping the tire would hold enough air to get us to Prudhoe Bay. Two hours later as we came into Prudhoe Bay, we breathed a sigh of relief, as the tire only had approximately ten pounds of pressure left. Thank goodness we made it this far. Approaching the main intersection in Prudhoe Bay, which was solid ice, we slid off the road into the tundra. The vehicle broke through the ice and sank to its frame. Lucky for us, God blessed us with two new friends, Tim and Marti, who stopped by to help us. Marti pulled us out with a huge industrial Volvo Loader and we all had a good laugh. Tim was a North Slope Operations manager and Marti managed the camp. Tim was also an avid bow hunter and had seen me on Sitka’s site. He laughed and asked what a Kentucky redneck was doing here in Alaska this time of year on the Ice Haul Road in Prudhoe Bay? It was far too late, windy and too cold to be bow-hunting caribou. I laughed and told him this certainly wasn’t my first choice. I told him my story and he shook his head laughing and said I was a crazy hillbilly but he liked my style. He told me he was going to help me as much as he could to get my last caribou because anybody crazy enough to go through all this needed all the help he could get. After pulling our SUV out, Tim had our tire fixed and put us up for the night in one of the oil workers camps. Kimberly, Tim’s assistant made sure we had everything we needed, fed us supper, breakfast, and packed us lunches for the next days hunt. Tim also offered to get me a truck because he couldn’t believe anybody would be on the ice roads in a 4WD Toyota Highlander with slick street tires. I told him that was all the rental car company had for us to rent and I’m not so sure they knew we were hunting on the Ice Haul Road. I was so touched by their kindness and could never repay them for all their help in getting us back on the road before daylight. It was the most unusual thing, three people helping me as if they had known me all my life and I had never even met any of them before. It was as if Bill was here watching over me and making sure I got the help to get the job done. No matter where I was or problem I had someone always came forth. I had so many encounters with people who just came out of the blue to help me without even knowing who I was or my circumstances. Bill’s presence followed me the entire trip. I felt as if he were at my side hunting this caribou with me. This was probably the wildest trip we ever had together. One he would have enjoyed telling for years to come.
We had breakfast at Tim’s camp and left Prudhoe Bay as soon as we ate to scout and glass the entire day back 250 miles to our Coldfoot Camp. Trying to stay upbeat, seeing only a few caribou, it wasn’t until that evening on our way back I spotted a very large caribou. I watched him bed approximately two miles off the road in some vegetation under a pond bank on Galbraith Lake. We only had thirty minutes of daylight so I knew there wasn’t enough time in the day left to plan a stalk. We headed back over Atigun Pass and had several hours in the dark back to our Coldfoot Camp. I told Ivan it would be unlikely the big bull would be there the next day but I wanted to leave two hours earlier in the morning.
I woke each hour through the night and couldn’t sleep for thinking about the large bull. This would be my largest bull of the year and that’s what I wanted for Bill’s caribou. I finally woke Ivan at 4:30 am, two hours before we actually needed to get up and told him I wanted to get ready to leave. Leaving Coldfoot camp our new trucker friends waved as we began our 120-mile trip over Atigun Pass, where we saw the large bull caribou the night before. It was extremely difficult traveling due to the high winds and drifting snow, which made road conditions exceedingly hazardous. I knew it would take us up to four hours to get there with our weather conditions so tough. The roads were worse than expected. There were several semi trucks stalled trying to put chains on and heavy cat road graders working steady just trying to keep the Atigun pass open for truckers. We arrived to the Gailbrath Lake Area a little later than anticipated. We quickly started glassing where we had last seen the caribou bull bed. Forty-five minutes of intense glassing and no caribou! I couldn’t believe there were no signs of the bull. I was in hopes he had not traveled such a far distance, especially since it was dark when I last saw him. However, I knew they were very capable of covering lots of ground in a short time. Approximately an hour later and a mile and a half away from where I had last seen him, I saw the tips of an antler over a small ridge. We immediately hurried down the road further to get a better look. To my surprise there he was! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was so excited. There were two small bulls and the large bull was together feeding. I grabbed my things hurriedly and begin my three-mile stalk in the deep snow using the terrain, which took several hours and crawled within 52 yards of the big bull that had just bedded facing me. I couldn’t get into my backpack for my extra layers of clothing without him seeing or hearing me. I felt the bull would be back up feeding within thirty minutes allowing me the opportunity of a good shot. Over an hour passed and my knees began to freeze to the ground. With my heavy coat in my backpack, I started shaking all over from the extreme cold. I knew I had a short time before I would have to make a move or I wouldn’t be able to pull my bow.
I decided to take a chance, which was a huge risk, and make something happen because time was against me. I started drawing my bow hoping the bull would stand. The small bull nearby saw me draw first, got spooked and bolted. The big caribou jumped to his feet and looked back towards me. I immediately focused and settled the pin on his chest and released my shot. He ran and went down within my sight. I melted in my tracks and cried. Emotionally I was exhausted from the hunt and all the stress. I had spent many sleepless nights thinking about Bill, Janice, Johnny, and Cary constantly. My feelings of helplessness for them kept me stirring each night. I couldn’t help but feel such emptiness inside my heart. I had Bill’s caribou but it somehow wasn’t the same without him around to share my hunt. It was such a relief to finally have the hunt behind me and I could return home with Bill’s caribou. I was anxious to see Janice, Johnny, and Cary Bruce and be there for them.
Planning my five caribou hunts was quite a task and feat. My fifth hunt was supposed to be my easiest hunt. After harvesting four caribou, I thought I was home free. I never imagined my final hunt would be the expedition and arctic adventure it became. While being spontaneous with constant changes, it truly was a Bill Bruce trip. Every trip and adventure we ever shared together was always this way. We never knew when we would arrive at our destination, who we’d meet, where we would end up, the new friendships we would make, what would happen to us, how much sleep we would miss or when we would get home. Bill, I will cherish all our wonderful times together and will miss you more than words can say. You always made me feel the best and I knew I couldn’t disappoint you by not finishing our hunt, so this one’s for you, BILL!!
May you rest in peace and know you will never be forgotten. I will be there for Janice, Johnny, and Cary like you have always been for me.
Marjorie: I want to thank my wife, my dearest and best friend for putting up with me and allowing me to be gone for ten weeks. She understood I had to finish my goal and do this for Bill. She was my biggest cheerleader and fan. I love her so much for understanding me and her support.
Farm Bureau Office: I want to personally thank Roger, Terri, Tara, Julie, Donna, Mikki, DeAnn, and my special assistant Robin Branson, of 24 years, for all their extra time and sacrifices for me while I was away. I could not have done any of these hunts if not for their continued support and help.
Clay Baird: I want to thank you for being such a great friend to Ivan and for allowing a stranger to use your camping gear.
Ivan Henderson: I want to thank you for guiding me on two totally different hunts and sticking with me through all the trials and tribulations. I couldn’t have completed my hunt without your help. I appreciate our new friendship that is forged, tried, and true.
Bernie Babcock: I want to thank you for your exceptional help and great attitude as an assistant guide on Kodiak.
Jack Frost: I want to thank you for all our conversations and assistance on planning my hunt. I appreciate you picking me up at the airport and allowing me to stay at your home. I really enjoyed having supper with you and your daughter, Stacee Frost and was enlightened by her goal to obtain her super slam.
Paul Chevenek: with Kodiak Outdoor Adventures for allowing Ivan Henderson to leave your operation on Kodiak Island to go with me as a friend on my Ice Haul Road adventure.
Gary Keeton: I want to thank you for our friendship, all your support, phone calls and promise to take care of Janice, Johnny, and Cary Bruce until I got home with Bill’s caribou.
Tim Holder: I want to thank Tim and Marti for getting us unstuck, fixing our tire and giving us a place to sleep with plenty to eat and drink.
Coldfoot Camp: Thanks to all individuals at Coldfoot Camp, the Alaskan pipe line workers and truckers for all their encouragement, extra efforts and help.
I live in ca. but I have a few friends that live in Fairbanks and I have hunted the haul road a few times and shot two cariabou I also hunted outside fairbanks for my 64" moose The people that live up there will help you out like they help each other to make it up there
jack hightower Posted At 12/19/2010 12:28 PM
What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it with us.
Mark Posted At 12/17/2010 07:14 AM
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