Spring musk ox hunters beat blizzards, achieve 100 percent success rate

Suzanne Short with her musk ox at Baker Lake.

Suzanne Short. Musk ox hunter.

We went into the ring with Mother Nature for our first spring musk ox hunt of 2016 in Baker Lake, Nunavut and won by a knockout.

Four hunters joined Webber’s Lodges’ General Manager Russ Mehling for our first hunt of the year, including Suzanne Short from Alaska, Weston Millward from Utah, Dale Peterson from Minnesota and Terry Fowler of North Dakota.

All four were successful in taking potential Boone and Crockett calibre bulls in the 105-114 range, but you just never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you in the far north, and she had a few haymakers for us in the first four days of our hunt, which was scheduled to run from April 18-24.

After a 4-legged flight from Winnipeg to Churchill to Chesterfield Inlet to Baker Lake, we all checked into the Nunamiut Lodge Hotel in Baker Lake. It was 13˚ F and we took the snowmobiles out for test drives and sighted our rifles. Ready for action!

Then came the wind, snow and zero visibility.

Weston Millward smiling with his musk ox.

Weston Millward. Musk ox hunter.

On Day 2 the temperature was normal at 13˚ F but gusting winds of up to 42 mph left us with less than 500 metres of visibility. We made a visit to the local museum, took a few short trips in town and hoped for better the next day. The wind continued to gust on Day 3 and temperatures dropped to -13˚ F. This time we spent most of the time in the hotel, hanging out in the lounge and watching TV.

“If I had to compare the snow at Baker Lake to rainy days somewhere else, I’d rather be up there,” said Peterson. “The accommodations were very comfortable, and of course the TV doesn’t hurt anything. I did bring three skinny paperback books with me, and I went through those rather quickly. It wasn’t bad at all. The people and the food up there were absolutely tremendous. I think everybody gained weight.”

“We were treated very well,” said Short. “I felt that Russ was very motivated and really paid attention to everyone. All four of us were kind of likeminded, it was just way too cold to go out, so we were grateful to be inside. If you wanted to get dressed, if you wanted to go through the rigmarole of getting dressed, you could walk up and down the main street there just to get exercise if you really wanted too.”

On Day 4 we were hopeful and decided to venture out on the snowmobiles despite the continuing high winds and low temperatures, but we were back at the hotel an hour later due to lack of visibility. Day 5 featured even higher winds and lower temperatures with a visibility of less than 300 metres.

“The lodge was very comfortable and the food was very good,” said Short. “And we had entertainment and books to read. But we did get a little antsy, especially on the third and fourth day when you’re sitting there, starting to think we’re running out of days, but the whole thing just kind of worked out.

Terry Fowler. Musk ox hunter.

Terry Fowler. Musk ox hunter.

“It was kind of a blessing, because we got to sit there with the native guides and they told us what their lifestyle was like. I knew a little bit about them, but to talk to the guys who really live it, about hunting the musk ox and where they find them… and then when we finally went out and found them… I feel like I got the whole experience. You feel like you’re one of them. Their whole life revolves around the snow machine and the animals that they hunt. It’s ordinary to them. They know we come from far and wide to shoot musk ox, but to them it’s just another day.

“They had interesting stories about hunting whales and the polar bears, things that we’re not allowed to participate in, but they hunt those pretty regularly. And there’s a lot of difference in their diet, it’s so different than what we eat. They eat the beluga whale blubber, caribou tongues…”

On Day 6 temperatures ranged from -10˚ F to -15˚ F but we were rewarded with almost a mile of visibility between wind gusts and the hunt was on!

We located two good bulls early but went by them in search of a larger group. We soon found a group of 8-10 that had been only half a mile away. We hadn’t seen earlier them due to the poor visibility but we had them in our sights now. There were several good bulls in the bunch and Weston Millward took the first one. Shortly afterwards, Suzanne Short took another great bull from the same group.

Terry Fowler and Dale Peterson traveled back with their guides to the first two bulls we had seen, and after a short stalk both took their shots to complete a perfect 4-for-4 day.

“It was a lot of work in one day,” said Peterson. “But with four hunters and four guides it worked pretty good. We all got our musk ox on the same day.”

“I know that’s the way Russ had it planned,” he laughed.

Dale Peterson. Musk ox hunter.

Dale Peterson. Musk ox hunter.

“I was pretty confident that even if we had one day that we’d still get our musk ox,” said Short “That’s what the guides were telling us. And from what I understood and from watching videos, you just need one good day. It’s kind of a guarantee that you’re going to get one.”

“Great hunter attitudes saved the hunt,” said Mehling. “Having a comfortable place to wait out the weather was a bonus. All animals were potential Boone and Crockett contenders. The area has a great population and incredible ‘big bull’ genetics, so even on a “one day” hunt, hunters didn’t have to ‘settle’ for just an average bull.

This was the first musk ox hunt for Suzanne Short, who is part of a growing population of female hunters, and she’s already planned her next hunt. She’ll be heading home to Texas to hunt Barbary Sheep, also known as Aoudad, around Christmas time.

“I didn’t get into hunting until I was an adult,” said Short. “I’m only 33 right now, and right after college I moved from Texas to Alaska. I knew some people that got me into it, and some family. I was working with the people that invited me, and I got more and more into it, so I got my own gun. From there, I just started doing different things. I really like it because of the opportunity to travel, the adventure part of it. You just never know what’s going to happen.

“I know some women who hunt that are very driven. Some of them do things differently than I like to do. Some of them just like to go for the meat. Some of them are into it for the physical activity like climbing mountains. And others do it just to see a new place, new animals. There are so many different objectives.

“I know some other female hunters. We go out from time to time. I’d like to see more women involved in it. I think it’s an untapped market really. I’ve never been included in the market, never been treated seriously as a hunter.”

You have now, Suzanne.

North Knife Lake Lodge holds special memories for Try-It Distributing CEO Paul Vukelic

Paul Vukelic on North Knife Lake.

Paul Vukelic on North Knife Lake.

North Knife Lake Lodge owns a treasured piece of Paul Vukelic’s heart, and not only because of the fishing.

“The fishing obviously lends itself to us wanting to come back every year,” said Vukelic, who has now been venturing to North Knife Lake for 20 years. “The remoteness of it means the water is rarely fished, so you’re guaranteed certainly to catch a lot. You get a lot of action. And we’ve seen a lot of wildlife, bear, eagles, moose, wolves…”

“We go fishing at our cottage in Parry Sound (Ontario, Canada) for bass, pike and muskie, but the fishing is not as prolific as it is at North Knife. I’m more of a leisure fisherman than I am serious, but my love of fishing really bore itself out of all these years fishing at North Knife.”

Life is not quite as hectic as it once was for the 53-year-old CEO of Try-It Distributing, the largest distributor of Labatt products in the world, but it still offers its challenges, and good people have made travel possible for both work and leisure. This summer will be the 20th anniversary of Vukelic family visits to North Knife Lake Lodge.

“This trip gives us an opportunity to get away from technology, to get away from work. It’s a very stress-free environment at North Knife Lake. You really get to let your hair down, so to speak. I think that’s why we like it so much there. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where we feel more relaxed than we do when we are there.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of good people working for us who look after the day to day tasks. That allows me the time to work on expanding our business and establishing relationships. You’ve got to gain people’s respect and one way of doing that is by getting to know people, caring about them and their businesses.

“We really try to teach that to our employees, who we like to call stakeholders. We’re distributors, but most of our business is centered on selling. So we spend a lot of time and energy on training people, and let them know that once you’ve gained a person’s trust and friendship you get their respect, and it’s a lot easier to work with them. They certainly buy a lot more from you if they respect you and know you and trust you. This is very, very important to our business.”

The North Knife Lake trip is considered an adventure by the Vukelic family. Fathers and sons, brothers, uncles, people who are close to them.

“It’s a time that we really cherish together,” said Vukelic. “Not only the days of fishing but getting together back at the Lodge later on, getting a nice fire going, especially on those cold days, just sitting around hanging out, having a good time with each other. It’s good clean fun. There are no TVs; no Internet, no other technological distractions. In my mind, the way life really should be.”

While there is a TV for playing movies on at North Knife Lake Lodge, and Internet service if required, these amenities are certainly not overused by guests, most of whom prefer to escape the noise of today’s busy world.

Paul and his wife of over 30 years, Amy, bought a cottage in Parry Sound a few years ago and it had three TVs in it. Not anymore. The couple took two of the TVs out and left one, as at North Knife Lake, without cable, just to watch occasional movies.

Vukelic still remembers the early days of going to North Knife Lake Lodge with his father Gene, recalling the hospitality his family received from Doug and Helen (Webber), their daughters Jeanne, Toni and Shari and sons-in-law Mike, Nelson and Dave.

“They’re a family business, we’re a family business,” said Vukelic. “We can really identify with that. And I think they appreciate that. They have an appreciation for what we do. There’s just a mutual respect and love for each other, given that we’re close knit families. Certainly the hospitality is second to none. And of course the food, you can’t speak enough about the food. You don’t expect to find gourmet food when you go on a fishing trip like this, but they really, really, do have great food.

“They get their family members involved, just as we do. They really take it to heart. It’s very, very, important to us that we take care of our people and we do treat them like family, and we feel like they are family. They’re important. I can see that in the Webber family too. They take great pride in their people. You treat them right and they’re going to treat you twice as well.”

Both family businesses also give back to the community.

“We found out that the more we give, the more successful we are,” said Gene Vukelic in an earlier interview. “The guy upstairs looks after you.”

“It certainly seems that way,” said Paul. “We put a lot of trust in God from our standpoint. That’s what it’s all about, no doubt about it, if you have the wherewithal and the means.”

The Vukelic’s did have the means to help someone in 2007, and it resulted in one of Paul’s most cherished memories. A personal memoir of the feeling someone gets when they’re able to experience a week of fishing at the North Knife Lake.

One of Paul’s childhood friends, Mike Gomel, ran into some problems in 2007 and moved back to Buffalo. Paul and his wife Amy took Mike into their home for eight or 10 months to try to help him get back on his feet again. They had four young children at the time, who also welcomed Mike with open arms.

Vukelic family at North Knife Lake Lodge. Paul Vukelic far right in green jacket. Friend Mike Gomel to his left in orange. .

Vukelic family at North Knife Lake. Paul Vukelic far right. Friend Mike Gomel to his left in orange.

“My Dad knew his father,” said Paul. “And I’d known Mike since we were kids. He was an only child and had become clinically depressed and an alcoholic. Mike was a very pleasant guy. And he loved fishing. He was a serious fisherman, all his life. His family, our family and four other families shared a cottage in Parry Sound growing up. He and I would go up there together with other friends, in our college and post-college years. We were very tight.

“So I took Mike on this trip to North Knife Lake. He didn’t have a dime to his name. We went out, bought him the gear… I just knew that it would be good for him. We took him up and he had a great time. I hadn’t seen him smile like that in a long, long time. He was just really in his element.”

A few months later, while out of town, Paul felt something just wasn’t right with Mike, who had by that time moved into his own apartment, but who hadn’t answered his phone for two days. Immediately after landing at the airport, Paul rushed to Mike’s apartment, where his worst fears were confirmed. His longtime friend had passed away.

“Mike hadn’t been happy for probably years and years,” said Paul. “But for those five days of his life at North Knife Lake Lodge, he was smiling every day and back to his old self. It was good to have my old buddy back, even if only for five days. It was worth it. That’s the kind of place North Knife Lake is.

“For me, it is very, very special.”

Double Whammy Cookies

Double Whammy Cookies. They won't last long!

Double Whammy Cookies. They won’t last long!

Are there many kids, (big or little) who don’t like chocolate and peanut butter? Better teach them how to make these for themselves. Why? Because they’ll be begging you for more!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white flour (250 mL)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (125 mL)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda (10 mL)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder (5 mL)
  • ¾ cup butter, softened (175 mL)
  • ½ cup peanut butter (125 mL)
  • 1 cup white sugar (250 mL)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (250 mL)
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips (250 mL)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Add sugar and eggs and beat well. Add the flour mixture and both kinds of chips. Stir until well combined.
  3. Drop by tablespoonful on an ungreased cookie sheet. Do not press down.
  4. Bake at 350° F (180° C) for 10-12 minutes for a soft cookie. Let cool before removing from pan to a rack.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies

(From our Cranberries & Canada Geese cookbook, page 93)

Fishing action, family values, bring Vukelics back to North Knife Lake Lodge for 20th year

Greg, Paul and Gene Vukelic. All smiles at North Knife Lake.

Greg, Paul and Gene Vukelic. All smiles at North Knife Lake.

They came for the fishing and stayed for the family.

Twenty years ago, Gene Vukelic, Chairman of Try-It Distributing Co. Inc. in Buffalo, New York, was part of a large group on a Labatt-sponsored trip deep into the heart of polar bear country to see the great white bears on Canada’s Hudson Bay coast. They stayed at a remote polar bear lodge near Seal River owned by the Webber and Reimer families of Manitoba.

Two years later the Vukelic family returned for another trip with the Webbers and Reimers, but this time it was for a fishing adventure at Webber’s Lodges’ North Knife Lake Lodge.

They’ve been coming back ever since.

“Good people, great guides and the best food,” said Gene. “And they treat us very well. We have a strong bond with the Webber and Reimer families. Doug and Helen, Mike, Jeanne, Toni, Nelson, Shari, and we know all their grandkids by first name.

“We’re coming up with five sons and seven grandsons this year. We’ve got good fishing around Buffalo and we have a place in Parry Sound on Georgian Bay where we fish for northern pike, but the big difference between fishing here and fishing at North Knife Lake is the natural environment, the outdoors. And we can catch between 150-200 fish per day. Sometimes they’ll strike as soon as the lure hits the water. Other times we’ll be reeling in a smaller fish and a big pike will grab it. We use barbless hooks and the guides are very careful with the fish. It’s all catch and release.”

Mike Reimer and Gene Vukelic with big northern pike at North Knife Lake.

Mike Reimer and Gene Vukelic with big northern pike at North Knife Lake.

Gene especially enjoys the shore lunches and the camaraderie that has developed between the two families over the years.

“The shore lunches are phenomenal,” he said. “Every day is different. My favourite is still the fried fish fresh from the lake, with home-fried potatoes and corn and beans out of the can. The big breakfasts, sitting around enjoying the cocktails… the kids might watch a movie after dinner and we’ll be out on the deck smoking cigars.

“One night we’ll have a pizza party. All the guides come in showered up, Master Angler awards are given out. We always enjoy talking to the guides, learning about their lives. We talk about hockey, football and we always try to bring up some Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres merchandise or something for them. The guides, our sons and grandsons have formed strong bonds over the years. We have a great time and we’re very respectful of the staff.”

Shore lunch at North Knife Lake.

Shore lunch at North Knife Lake.

That first fishing trip 20 years ago brought the two families together for a second time and the relationship flourished over a mutual love of fishing, similar family values and a strong work ethic. The successes and similarities between Try-It Distributing and Webber’s Lodges, now in their third and fourth generations as family businesses, are understandable based on the backgrounds of the family patriarchs.

Both Gene Vukelic and Doug Webber have built multi-generational businesses with “sweat equity” as the main ingredient and a supporting cast of virtues that includes trust, dignity and commitment.

And both men were born between 1930 and 1945 into the “Traditional” generation, which is defined by characteristics that include an unmatched work ethic, discipline, loyalty, love of country, a strong sense of right and wrong and traditional family values. “Traditionalists” survived The Great Depression and World War II, and their era includes some of North America’s greatest innovators.

Gene’s father Stephen arrived in North America from Croatia in 1904 at the age of four with his parents. Gene grew up near a steel plant in Lackawanna, New York, and spent his childhood living above his grandparent’s successful restaurant with his Mom and Dad.

“They were good cooks,” said Gene of his grandparents. “All Yugoslavians are good cooks. I worked in the restaurant, washed dishes, did running around… When the restaurant was sold I went to college and then joined the United States Marine Corps for two years. After that I worked for General Motors and that’s when my father asked me to take over the distributing business. We started out with virtually nothing, worked seven days a week and my wife Carole raised all the kids.”

Gene took over Try-It Distributing in 1960, 32 years after his father had started the business and guided it through part of the Prohibition Era (1928-1933). In 1933 the company became a beer distributor and in 1946 they acquired the rights to distribute Anheuser-Busch products. In 1949 they started distributing Labatt products. They had six trucks and 12 employees.

Try-It Distributing Truck in 1934. Photo courtesy of Try-It Distributing.

Try-It Distributing Truck in 1934. Photo courtesy of Try-It Distributing.

Fast forward 65 years later.

Try-It Distributing now has 520 employees including four of Gene’s sons, three nephews and three grandsons. They’ve grown through acquisitions and subsidiaries that now include Balkan Beverage, Try-It Wine & Spirits and Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service. And they are the largest distributor of Labatt products in the world.

“Labatt has been very good to us,” said Gene. “Canadians are great to do business with. Honest, forthright and trusting. Exceptional associates. The Canadian experience is wonderful. Canada is a very special place. It’s a great country.”

Balkan Beverage distributes name brands that include Red Bull energy drinks and Arizona teas. Try-It Wine & Spirits distributes high quality products that include Debauchery Wine, Copa Di Vino, Mu and Recipe 21. Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service has seen exponential growth since its acquisition by Try-It Distributing and now delivers over 5,000,000 cases of beer and wine per year.

It’s a family affair at Try-It Distributing, which also believes strongly in community service. Gene’s son Paul is President/CEO of Try-It Distributing; son Tim is VP of Inventory Management, Training and Safety; son Matt is VP of Business Operations & Development; son Jeff is the President/CEO of Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service; and son Peter works in the travel industry.

Try-It Distributing in 2016.

Try-It Distributing in 2016. Photo courtesy of Try-It Distributing.

Try-It Distributing advances education about responsible consumption of alcohol in awareness programs that include both schools and media, and is a major supporter of numerous organizations and charities. Try-It Distributing staff and management serve on a number of community boards and the company has received several national awards including a “Family Business of the Year” Award from Canisius College.

“We’re very active in supporting community organizations, schools and hospitals,” said Gene. “We found that the more we give the more successful we are. The guy upstairs takes care of you. We’re very proud of the fact that the Vukelic family is highly respected in the community.”

Both Try-It Distributing and Webber’s Lodges possess traits that are found in almost all successful businesses — a strong set of morals and values that have been passed down through generations of family members, and a hiring process that looks for the same when bringing on new employees.

“It’s like a three-legged stool,” said Gene. “Trust, dignity and commitment. Our job as a family is to keep the business secure and safe. When we hire we look for those three legs. We treat our employees with dignity and respect. We like to call them stakeholders and we have an obligation to all 520 of them to improve the quality of their lives. We offer good jobs, incentivize our stakeholders and make sure they are fulfilled in their jobs. We have the same commitment to our customers.

“We look for good people who work hard and who pay relentless attention to detail and preparation, who have the courage to go to work every day, to look after family obligations, and to face any issues that arise head on and deal with them. Our stakeholders make us valuable. We have to trust in family, ourselves and our stakeholders. This results in trusting relationships with our customers as well as with the community at large.”

Jeff and Tim Vukelic relaxing in the boat on North Knife lake.

Jeff and Tim Vukelic relaxing in the boat on North Knife Lake.

The similar family business philosophies of Try-It Distributing and Webber’s Lodges have been heavily influenced by their respective patriarchs and founders, and the resemblances don’t end there.

Both Gene and Doug served in the armed forces and both men have been married for over five decades. Gene, now 85, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Doug, now 73, served with the Royal Canadian Navy. Gene and his wife Carole have been married for 58 years and Doug and his wife Helen have been married for 51 years. Both now have children and grandchildren that will form an important part of their respective businesses for many years to come. Additionally, both have received awards for their businesses and they have made sustainability and the environment a priority.

Doug grew up in Stettler Alberta and worked on farms belonging to relatives during the summers before taking a job in an uncle’s Chrysler dealership. He then joined the Royal Canadian Navy and was stationed in Churchill, Manitoba, where he met and started dating wife Helen, a third generation Churchillian who also happens to be the co-author of the award-winning cookbook series Blueberries and Polar Bears with co-author Marie Woolsey. Helen and Marie have been preparing delicious meals for guests at Webber’s Lodges for almost 50 years, and they’ll be back at North Knife Lake Lodge doing it all over again in 2016.

Doug spent his leisure time hunting and fishing, often with friends of Helen, and his first real adventure came in 1967 when he took part on an expedition to York Factory to bury a time capsule. Shortly afterwards, he and a friend purchased a goose camp at Dymond Lake and he became an “official” hunting outfitter. Doug bought his friend out in 1972, started to build North Knife Lake Lodge in 1976, and began a family legacy that has been heavily involved in the community and in the development of hunting and fishing tourism in Manitoba.

A licensed pilot, Doug has now been responsible for, or involved in, the development of 10 separate lodges and outpost locations in Manitoba and has hired, trained, and mentored countless students, aspiring guides, bush pilots and First Nations people.

The Mayor of Churchill from 1990-1996, Doug received the Award of Distinction from Travel Manitoba at the annual Tourism Awards in 2012. The Award of Distinction recognizes an individual, business or organization reflecting exceptional leadership in Manitoba’s tourism industry.

Grandsons Christopher and Gregory Vukelic. The next generation.

Grandsons Christopher and Gregory Vukelic. The next generation.

“I could never have done any of this without the help of my family,” said Doug after winning the award. “They’ve been with me every step of the way from that very first summer. Everyone helped out every season. They’re the main reason for our success and for our repeat customers over the years. All of our lodges are family-run and many of our guests appreciate that. Success is a team effort. My family deserves this award as much as I do.”

Like the Vukelic family, the extended Webber family has been intimately involved in the expansion and success of their tourism business. Wife Helen, daughter Shari, daughter Toni and her husband Nelson, daughter Jeanne and her husband Mike have all been major contributors to the development and growth of Webber’s Lodges over the years, as have many of their children, who are now helping to instill the company culture of service and value in employees and future generations.

Mike and Jeanne Reimer also now own and operate three remote lodges on the Hudson Bay coast, where they have pioneered the world’s first and only on-the-ground polar bear safaris using the same unique culture. It all started with Webber’s Lodges.

Doug and Helen Webber

Doug and Helen Webber

“Doug and Helen and their families are special people,” said Gene. “They treated us so well that we started to bring our sons and grandsons.”

“All the kids and grandkids that can make it to North Knife Lake when the Vukelic family is there will be there,” said Doug. “It’s like they grew up together. They wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Doug’s feelings for the Vukelic family, for North Knife Lake Lodge, for his family and his customers, are mirrored as he stands on the edge of the dock and points proudly into some of the most pristine water in the world, at a thriving school of northern pike minnows… the next generation.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” he says.

Rest and recreation leads to big tuna in Panama

L to R, Doreen, Nolan, Big Tuna, Mike and Jeanne :)

L to R Doreen, Nolan, Big Tuna, Mike, Jeanne :)

With our own fishing season fast approaching at North Knife Lake Lodge, boss Mike decided some of the management should get out and do some fishing. So off to Panama we went looking for tuna!

Day one was all travel to get to a private island and join Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge owner Shane at his amazing location. We arrived around 1 p.m. and spent the rest of the day snorkeling at the beach and checking out our new home for the week.

Day 2 began early and we were soon on our way to the tuna grounds. It turns out it should be called tuna hunting and not tuna fishing. Looking for birds hunting from the air and dolphins hunting from below are the first two steps.

After that Shane positioned us in front of the herd and the live baits hit the water. Everywhere we looked tuna and dolphins were breaching and frigatebirds were leading the charge of sea birds diving out of the sky, hitting the water and enjoying a feast.

BANG! Fish on! After 20 minutes Nolan gave up exhausted and passed the rod to Mike so he could take over the fight. Twenty minutes later a 90-pound tuna was in the boat.

Mike and Nolan with tuna #1!

Mike and Nolan with Tuna #1!

We all figured that was the craziest thing we had ever seen, until it began all over again. This time Mike was casting poppers. We had talked earlier about how cool it would be to watch a tuna leap out of the water to attack a surface lure. And then it happened!

A gigantic tuna breached full body out of the water and came down hard on Mike’s 8-inch popper. Mike fought the beast from the deep for the first 30 minutes before handing the rod to Nolan to try and finish up. Nolan pulled on the second tuna for another half an hour or so and finally landed the monster. There was no official weight recorded but numbers thrown around by the Captain and First Mate estimated it to be over 210 pounds. It certainly looked the part in the photos!

Not to be outdone, Mike’s wife Jeanne showed the guys up when she pulled in an 80-pounder by herself. It was an epic battle but she held her form perfectly and somehow managed to get the giant into the boat. Shane and Juan were just as impressed as we were witnessing Jeanne’s fighting spirit! It was what fisherman would call a fabulous day on the water by any standards, and it just happened to be our first day on the grounds.

 Doreen on the left, Jeanne on the right, with her 80-pounder!

Doreen on the left, Jeanne on the right, with her 80-pounder!

Mike and Nolan were heading back to the tuna grounds bright and early the next day in an effort to top an incredible opener, while the ladies were set to enjoy some beach time and explore their island paradise. They would soon however, be back in tuna country.

And Doreen was already getting pumped up for battle.

Packing for an Arctic spring hunt

Hmmm... I don't see any clothes in here.

Hmmm… I don’t see any clothes in here.

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

Selecting a species, doing the research, speaking with the outfitter and references, dreaming of making the perfect shot… these are the exciting parts of booking and planning a once in a lifetime hunt. But just as important are the smaller, detail-oriented tasks related to hunting different game in a new area.

One of the more menial tasks is packing for your upcoming adventure. This becomes even more important when air travel is involved. Every one of our adventures is going to involve a portion of travel in the wild blue yonder, so we are asked regularly about packing for the trip. Since we are nearing that time of year, we’ll look at packing tips for our upcoming Arctic spring hunts.

We offer two adventures during the Arctic spring, a muskox and Arctic wolf hunt and a grizzly bear hunt. These hunts take place in and around the community of Baker Lake. This setup makes this remote hunt extremely easy to pack for.

Empty gun case. That looks better!

Empty gun case. That looks better!

We use a hotel as our base of operations in this case, so hunters are not required to pack for a typical, backcountry hunt. Leave your towels and sleeping bags at home. Even soap and shampoo are supplied for you. And since camp is a comfortable, temperature controlled hotel, very simple camp clothes are required.

Another advantage is air travel into this area. We are using Baker Lake as our base, so hunters fly in on a regional, commercial airline, allowing for more room and weight than the standard float planes used on some of our other hunts.

The airlines regulations are: two checked bags of up to 70 pounds combined weight and neither weighing more than 50 pounds; and two carry-on items of less than 20 pounds combined weight. Keeping these factors in mind, below is how we suggest you pack.

Clothes in. Gun cozy. That's more like it!

Clothes in. Gun cozy. That’s more like it!

In your carry-on baggage you should have any important medications, your camera/video camera, important travel documents, identification and money. Your carry-on bags are also where you may want to put some of your fragile items, such as your goggles, binoculars etc.  Remember, you have up to 20 pounds!

Packing your checked baggage will also take some planning. Even though the airline does its best to ensure all baggage reaches its destination with its owners, they may ask you to prioritize your two bags, ranking them by importance.

We suggest taking the foam or padding out of your rifle case and replacing it with a good portion of your hunting clothes. You will be surprised by how much clothing you will fit into a gun (or bow) case. The airlines require a hard case for your weapons, so you may as well use that to your advantage.

Clothes in. Check. Gun covered. Check. ready to go!

Ready to go! Oh, shoot. Where’s my tooth brush?

In your other bag, place items that you need for the trip, but that you could do without for a day or two — such as extra clothes, camp shoes etc.

Lastly, though you may look a little odd at the airport in Winnipeg, wear your winter boots and maybe throw a heavy coat over your arm for the flight. When you land in Baker Lake, you’ll be glad you did.

See you here!

The care and aging of freshly harvested moose, caribou and deer

Encrusted Caribou Tenderloin. The aging makes all the difference!

Crusted Caribou Tenderloin. Aging makes all the difference! Photo by Ian McCausland & Shel Zolkewich.

by Doug Webber

One year, when my girls were young, I was unable to “bring home the bacon.” Roughly translated, this means that the great white hunter took a trip to the mobile meat market and got skunked!

Upon hearing my tale of woe, my youngest daughter, Shari, then four years old, moaned, “Oh no, this means we have to eat beef all winter!” It was a hardship for all of us who had grown very fond of the lean but delicious wild meat that my wife Helen had learned to cook so well in such a variety of ways.

But Helen’s legendary cooking skills are only partly responsible for the high degree of acceptance of any wild fare that finds its way to our home. The other reason is the due care and attention I give to all my wild meat.

I am very particular about keeping the meat as clean as possible, right from the very first slit of my skinning knife to the last wrap of the butcher paper. The only other step in my butchering process is to hang the meat for three to 20 days — the length of time being determined by the cut of meat and the temperature of the cold room.

An average temperature would be 40-50°F (4.4-10°C). I hang the rib for only three days; the backbone with only an inch or so of rib I hang for a week; the front quarters for three days if they are being ground up and 10 days if they are being cut into steaks and roasts; the hind quarters hang for 20 days. During the hanging time, dry skin will form on the meat. Don’t worry about this, as it will be trimmed off.

A quick way to age a roast is to leave it uncovered on a plate in a cool room, 60°F (15.5°C) for up to a week. I leave my steak meat in roast-size chunks and cut it just prior to cooking after it has reached room temperature, as it is more tender this way. I caution you however, not to overcook a tender cut.

Wild meat is at its best if the middle is rare to medium, and the above aging tips will help you prepare dishes that even the most discriminating palates will find delicious!

New Barren Ground Grizzly Hunt! Rare! Only two tags available!

Barren Ground Grizzly Hunt! Only two tags available this spring!

Rare Barren Ground Grizzly Hunt! Only two tags available this spring!

Along with our partner, Henik Lake Adventures, Webber’s Lodges is excited to announce an exclusive new hunting opportunity! Our inaugural Barren Ground Grizzly Hunt will take place this spring in the area of Baker Lake, Nunavut.

A Barren Ground Grizzly hunt in northern Canada is something few ever experience! Nunavut’s population is thriving and we’re excited to offer you the opportunity to hunt these magnificent animals on the vast tundra they call home.

The growth of the grizzly population has enabled us to offer an incredibly unique opportunity to a select few hunters. The Barren Ground Grizzly, well-known for its aggressive behavior, fears nothing and no one. These bears surely are the kings of their tundra domain!

These Arctic giants are very nomadic, and a spring hunt allows us to use snow machines to cover the vast areas of the bears’ range. Hunters will have the choice of driving their own snow machines or riding in comfortable komatiks (large wooden sleds) towed by guides.

Barren Ground Grizzly Bears are similar in size to their mountain cousins found in the Yukon and interior Alaska. Average bears will be in the 6-6 ½ foot range, with exceptional bears reaching up to eight feet! The pelts of these great bears at this time of year will be incredible as well.

Ryan St. John, founder of Henik Lake Adventures, has been hunting these bears for the past 10 years and has a success rate of 90%.

Hunters will fly into Baker Lake, Nunanvut and stay in the beautiful Nunamiut Lodge during the hunt. Days will be spent covering large areas on snow machine looking for tracks or the bears themselves! Hunters should be prepared to spend an impromptu night on the tundra if a track is encountered late in the day. This will enable an early start the following morning.

For those looking to enhance their trip, there will be opportunities to add a Barren Ground Musk Ox as well as an Arctic Wolf to their hunt. Additional trophy fees will apply.

The Barren Ground Grizzly hunt is scheduled to last eight days. If hunters are successful in filling their tag(s) sooner, they will have the option to depart early.

Our 2016 hunt will take place from April 30 to May 9 and is available to only two hunters.

Join us for a top-notch big game hunt on the Canadian tundra!

For More Details: Please visit the Barren Ground Grizzly Hunt page at Henik Lake Adventures,  e-mail Webber’s Lodges General Manager Russ Mehling, or call 1.888.WEBBERS (932.2377)

Fall Caribou and Musk Ox Combo Hunt new for 2016!

Barren Ground Caribou Webber's Lodges

Eric Kuhlman with his Central Barren Ground Caribou last fall.

We’ve heard your requests and we’re thrilled that we can now deliver!

In another exciting new development, Webber’s Lodges will now offer a fall Caribou and Musk Ox Combo Hunt in partnership with Ryan St. John of Henik Lake Adventures.

While we use all parts of the animals we harvest, this hunt is also a trophy seeker’s dream. It takes place during the musk ox rut in an area that has not recently been hunted, which means mature bulls will be abundant! With musk ox being of the Barren Ground sub species, we are expecting excellent trophy quality. Similarly, the animals of the Central Barren Ground Caribou herd that are native to the area are known for scoring high in the Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young record books.

Musk ox bulls competing for territory and breeding rites, plus the available terrain and foliage, will also make this hunt conducive to fair chase bow hunting. The hunt area will be in and around the area north of Baker Lake, Nunavut. We will be using boat, truck and ATV to access the hunt areas. In rare cases, hunters will be spending a night out on the tundra in a remote tent camp, depending on where the game is. Temperatures will be ideal, ranging from 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our first Caribou and Musk Ox Combo Hunt will take place from August 29 to September 4, 2016. Hunts will include one musk ox as well as one caribou license and five full days of hunting, inclusive out of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Join us for the adventure of a lifetime in the remote, barren lands of northern Canada!

For More Details: Please visit the Caribou and Musk Ox Combo Hunt page at Henik Lake Adventures,  e-mail Webber’s Lodges General Manager Russ Mehling or call 1.888.WEBBERS (932.2377)

Musk Ox Hunting Canada - Wide Flaring Bull

Mike Rauschenberger and guide Don Akkmak last spring with Mike’s extra wide flaring musk ox bull.

Remembering royalty, hosting a Duke and Duchess for dinner in Churchill

Helen Webber today. Cranberries at Seal River!

Helen Webber today. Cranberries at Seal River!

by Helen Webber

It was during the early days of our foray into the tourism business. The girls, Jeanne, Toni and Shari, were still very young, between six and 11, and we had recently moved into my family home in Churchill, which had been torn apart for renovations.

We were just starting to develop Dymond Lake and we hadn’t started building the fishing lodge yet. This was also before polar bear tours in Churchill, so there were not many people in town geared up to look after tourists. Polar bears weren’t even being mentioned at that time.

One day Doug received a call from a fellow we knew at Travel Manitoba. A Duke and Duchess from Italy were on their way to Churchill for a few days with nothing really planned, and would like Doug to take care of them. They just wanted to see Churchill. Of course Doug said he would look after them.

Doug and Helen Webber

Doug and Helen Webber

Even in those days, Doug didn’t feel a visit to Churchill was complete unless he could bring you home for dinner. He assured me the bare walls, plywood floors and lack of curtains was NOT a good enough reason to pass up having the Duke and Duchess for dinner! I don’t remember any drywall being installed at the time. I think the pink insulation was still hanging out!

My sisters and I had learned to cook as members of the Churchill Ladies Club, preparing meals to raise money for the Lions Club. We made something different every time and that’s what really got me interested in cooking. And I was already cooking at the hunting lodge. This was about 20 years before Marie (Woolsey) and I wrote the cookbooks.

The real dilemma was what to serve a Duke and Duchess for dinner? They were from Italy, so there was no way I was serving them any type of pasta dish. I settled for a Moose Burgundy* with all the trimmings for the main course and Kirschenoberstorte** for dessert.

A very showy grand finale, I started to make the dessert and didn’t realize, until I needed the cherries, that they had pits in them! There was no way I could expect the Duke and Duchess to spit out the pits. I was sure they would just politely swallow them rather than spit them out. I didn’t own a cherry pitter. I don’t I even think I knew such a tool existed. So there I stood, carefully removing each pit with a sharp knife.

I remember the Duke and Duchess both spoke English and they were very, very gracious people. The Duke did Origami, and he made something special for each of the girls. And they didn’t have to spit out the pits when eating their dessert! But I hadn’t stopped to think about what the cherry-pitting had done to my hands.

I served dinner with royal purple stains all over me!

*Adapted from Beef Burgundy, page 143 Blueberries & Polar Bears

**Kirschenoberstorte, page 170, Black Currants & Caribou

Cookbook authors Marie Woolsey (left) and Helen Webber at Dymond Lake in the early days.