Outhouse time should be solitary time. But that wasn't the case at a remote research station east of Churchill. As I sat staring out the large opening in the door at the sub-Arctic landscape, a set of big brown eyes was suddenly staring back at me. A caribou had poked her head inside, apparently curious about what I was doing. She didn't leave for a long time. In fact, I had to shoo her out of the way before I could leave.
That was my first encounter with a caribou, and for the past 15 years, I've wanted to learn more about these creatures. I'll get my chance next month when I head to Schmok Lake caribou camp with the folks from Webber's Lodges.
Manitoba is the winter home for the Beverly Qamanirjuag herd of central Canadian barren ground caribou. Estimated at between 400,000 and 500,000 animals strong, this herd moves from Manitoba to Nunavut and back again during migration. Toward the end of August, they start moving from the calving grounds in the northwest into Manitoba.
"Outside of Africa, it's one of the only places you can see vast numbers of free-ranging wildlife on the move," said Kent Michie, camp manager for Webber's Lodges. "It's really something that should be on everyone's bucket list."
There are about half a dozen lodges in Manitoba that offer guided caribou hunts in the extreme northern part of the province. Several outfitters also provide the service. These hunts generally happen through the month of September at the lodges.
The Schmok Lake camp -- about 160 kilometres northwest of Churchill at the Nunavut border -- can host up to 10 hunters at a time, five guides, a cook and the camp manager. The season runs throughout September with four scheduled hunts, each running four and a half days. While most of the clients are non-residents, the camp welcomes resident hunters. Webber's runs a second camp, called Commonwealth, about five miles west of Schmok.
This caribou herd has remained in excellent condition while many other herds throughout the north have dwindled. Management includes limiting the numbers of licences that are available for both resident and non-resident hunters. In Game Hunting Areas 1, 2 and 3 combined, there are a total of 350 licences available for resident hunters in the fall season and another 450 for resident hunters in the winter season. Hunters are allowed to purchase two tags.
Licences for resident hunters go on sale on the first Thursday in June. Typically, hunters start lining up around 6 a.m. at the Manitoba Conservation offices on Saulteaux Crescent that day, take a number and wait. Licences for the winter season tend to sell out quickly, often soliciting a group groan for those still waiting for their numbers to be called.
While lodges see mostly non-resident hunters, Michie said every year Webber's camps see a few Manitobans looking for that trophy caribou. Resident hunters can book a non-guided trip that includes the flight, accommodations and food for about half the price as a fully guided package.
The experience of being on the tundra provides a hunting experience vastly different from other parts of the province.
"Not very many people know about the tundra landscape; it's something so unique and beautiful," Michie said.
Shel Zolkewich writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she's not playing outside, traveling or eating. You can reach her with your comments at email@example.com