Sarah Pucel, Wayzata, MN: Caribou Hunting

It was finally the day. My grandparents and I were boarding the Otter plane at the small airport in Kuujjuaq, Quebec, Canada, en route to our caribou-hunting destination. It was a cool, windy, 60 degrees, and we stood with 10 other hunters, all in camouflage clothes, holding tight to their gear. The plane lurched forward on the rocks and lichens that had been paved flat for a runway, and our adventure began.

As we flew, we watched the pine trees that had filled the area behind us start to diminish. As we headed north, the trees grew fewer and fewer until there was only an occasional bush.

After the quick hour’s flight, our plane touched down on the same rickety, not-really-a-runway kind of terrain. We climbed out of the plane and made our way to the tin shack that we would call home for the coming week.

The walls were adorned with the stories other people had written in Sharpie about their epic adventures. I was filled with excitement about the possibility of what our adventure might bring and what we could later add to those walls.

Just outside, we could see a beautiful, calm lake with Canada geese flying past and hear the echoing calls of willow ptarmigan. Caribou footprints the size of coconuts littered the sandy shoreline.

As we headed to our simple dinner of bread and stew, my thoughts were filled with excitement and nervous anticipation of what the next day would bring. After filling our bellies and reading more of the stories on the kitchen walls, we were assigned a local guide named Jason for the next five days of hunting.

On our first morning, I packed my usual jelly and turkey sandwich and we headed out in a speedboat toward our first hunting destination. We perched ourselves on a hill in the middle of the desolate tundra and glassed with our binoculars, hoping to see a caribou on the horizon.

We took breaks throughout the day to fish, and caught several large brook trout and lake trout. Each day consisted of different weather conditions and different adventures, including incredible adversities. We hunted in cold, rain, heat, flies, and wind.

At last, the moment came. Our guide spotted a far-away caribou bedded down on the tundra. The hunt was on. It was difficult to keep up with Jason as he sped off over the rocks and hills, but soon we made it to our vantage point. We snuck on our hands and knees until we closed the distance. We patiently sat for several minutes waiting for the caribou to stand up and present a clear shot as flies buzzed in our faces. Finally, I was able to take the long shot and cleanly harvest the caribou. It was an amazing feeling of success after working so hard for so long.

At that moment, I realized that hunting was so much more than I had previously thought. During this incredible week, I was able to experience the unique and diverse culture of the Inuit (the indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic). My caribou provided their village with food to eat for an entire year.

This experience also brought me closer to my grandparents because we were able to bond over something we both are passionate about. I was able to begin a lifelong passion for nature, conservation, the environment, and the outdoors.

People are often surprised when they hear that I am a hunter. They do not expect a quiet, young woman to be passionate about this sport. Nevertheless, this first hunt taught me many things about life that I had not realized before.

In the future, I hope to mentor and give other young people like me an opportunity to experience the outdoors like I have.

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