Local men hunt caribou in Alaska

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 10/7/97.

A trip to Alaska hunting caribou was a terrific experience for five men from Minnesota. p>The vastness of the country and scenery was beyond description, Ron Hanson, rural Hawick, said. Alaska is awesome, Doug Tollefson added.

Ron Hanson, Dave (Duke) Hassinger, Doug Tollefson, rural Hawick, George Pitts, Andover (formerly of Paynesville), and Larry Meutzell, Redwood Falls, flew to Anchorage, Alaska, on Aug. 8, for a weeks worth of hunting. Hassinger and his wife, Gloria, drove and camped the 3,200 miles to Alaska and met the others at the airport. This trip was a first for Hanson, Tollefson, and Pitts.

Hassinger approached the men with the idea about hunting in Alaska. He lived in Alaska for 20 years and his son and family still live there.

Hanson was doubtful at first, but his wife, Ruth, encouraged him to go for it. It was no little deal, as the trip cost about $3,000 per person for everything, Hanson said. The cost included their hunting license and tags for the caribou.

I sent each of the men, who were going on the trip, a brochure about the Osprey Lodge where we would be staying, Hassinger said. We had the option of a guided hunt or unguided, Tollefson added. We took the unguided because we had Duke who could be our guide.

The men flew into Anchorage and spent their first night in Alaska at Pete Hassingers home. From there Pete and his son Charles, 16, joined the hunting party when they left for the Osprey Lodge at 6:30 a.m. The hunting group hired somebody to fly them out to the Osprey Lodge, the only means of transportation in the area. Each man was told they could take 50 pounds of personal items. Once everybodys gear was weighed at the airport, they found their party was 50 pounds under. The group was impressed. One party that was to fly in after us was 300 pounds overweight, Tollefson said.

The lodge is located 175 miles west of Anchorage. The lodge personnel had breakfast ready for the men upon their arrival. We had to watch a film on safety, which is required for all nonresidents and were given a list of dos and donts, Tollefson said.

From the lodge, they had to fly another 15 minutes in a small Piper Cub airplane to the spike camp located in a dry glacier lake bed. Here the men would set up camp.

The lodge provided them with their tents, food, and water, but they had to make the area their home for a week. Lodge personnel would check on them daily to make sure everything was okay. The nearest village to the Spike Camp was 30 miles away.

The men were told they could not hunt the day they flew in because it would be a disadvantage to the herds. The herds were too easy to spot from the air upon their arrival.

The men joked about the water supply they received. It was used to make coffee instead of washing dishes. They never washed a dish all week. They used a lot of paper towels to wipe off their dishes so they could be reused. The only thing Doug washed all week was his coffee cup, Hanson teased.

At the spike camp, the men had to build their own benches to sit upon, and tables to eat from. They also built a stand for the cookstove and a place to hang the meat they planned on bagging.

The camp looked a lot different than when we arrived. We made some vast improvements, Tollefson said.

After setting up camp, the men went out exploring the area to see what was over the next ridge. While out exploring the area, they saw five caribou running toward them. It didnt take them long to also spot the grizzly bear that was chasing the caribou. We immediately turned around and ran for our rifles, the men said.

We saw hundreds of caribou during our stay there, they added. We spent a good deal of time watching them. Hanson said it was pretty hard to get close to the caribou as there was no ground cover to hide behind. Everything was wide open.

All the men who were in the hunting party were able to say, they got their caribou. The men said the animals were all taken within a 200-yard range, the closest they could get without spooking the herd. The caribou averaged 350 to 400 pounds. We were after the bulls...the caribou with the bigger racks, Hanson said. The guy (Pete) who didnt care about the size of the rack, shot the largest animals.

We saw herds totaling up in the thousands, Hassinger said. In my 20 years of hunting in Alaska, Ive never seen that many animals. In the last few years we were told the caribou population really shot up.

I never knew if we were watching the same herds each day, Hanson added. Each animal was unique.

At the end of their week, personnel from the lodge returned to pick them up and their game. All the meat was frozen at the Osprey Lodge and packaged into freezer boxes, 70 pounds each for the trip back to Minnesota.

Hassinger and his wife drove back home with their pop-up camper loaded with seven caribou heads and horns.

Tollefson urges anyone considering traveling to Alaska to hunt should take plenty of rain gear along. During their week in Alaska, there was a steady drizzle and fog most of the time. It was the wet season and the temperatures averaged between 50 and 60 each day.

Hanson said it was a trip he will never forget. The men said they saw bear, moose, fox, and sheep wandering the tundra during their stay.

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