Liz Richter takes Boone and Crockett caribou, feeds family

Liz Richter with her father George Weber and Boone and Crockett caribou.

Liz Richter with her father George Weber and Boone and Crockett caribou.

Liz Richter has had a difficult time getting anyone to take her hunting. That’s probably going to change now.

The 39-year-old widowed mother of two from Zimmerman, Minnesota recently became a proud member of the Boone and Crockett Club after taking a Central Barren Ground Caribou with Webber’s Lodges at Baralzon Lake, Nunavut in 2015 that measured 368-2/8 points. Her caribou was officially accepted by Boone and Crockett for the 30th North American Big Game Awards 2016-2018 on August 12, 2016.

Liz’s hunt was never about the rack. She’s not a trophy hunter. She was just trying to fill the freezer with meat for the winter. But ‘Carl the Caribou’ is now mounted on the wall in her house as a reminder that she can get the job done when it comes to providing for her family.

“My kids nicknamed him Carl,” said Liz. “I let them do it. I was thinking that was weird, because we were still eating him, but it just stuck. People come over now and they’re like, ‘Oh, Hey Carl.'”

Liz’s caribou was only the second big game animal she had ever taken as a hunter, and not because she was a bad shot. She’s actually 2/2 in that department. She took a doe earlier in the year after finally finding someone to take her on a deer hunt. It was simply a lack of hunting opportunities.

Liz grew up in a hunting/fishing family and spent a lot of time with her parents and grandparents, but it was mostly fishing. She did come close to hunting once as a teenager with her father George Weber.

“Basically I walked the field with him on a pheasant hunt and he let me touch the gun,” said Liz. “That was it, so it wasn’t really hunting. Usually it was just me going out in the field so I could use my driving permit to practice. I’d drive down the country roads, put it reverse and backup. I was afraid to get lost. The boys did most of the hunting and the fishing. I would fish too, but not as much. I would be in the cabin doing girl stuff.”

Liz started to get more interested in hunting in her late teens and twenties but no one seemed to take her seriously.

“I was excited about it,” she said. “Just being out with nature and trying to get food for the family. I really wanted to try deer hunting. I liked the idea of getting a deer, taking care of it and filling the freezer. So I just kept trying to find people that would take me. My Dad didn’t deer hunt and I really didn’t know anybody. Everybody I asked said, ‘Oh, it’s just the guys, we do that, maybe some other time.'”

Liz finally got a break in her pursuit for a hunt from Jeanne Avendt, a friend she’d taken fishing at their family cabin in Eagle River, Ontario, Canada. Jeanne knew Liz had always wanted to go deer hunting, and she had a connection to a lady with some deer-laden farm land.

“We’re going to go hunting this weekend,” said Jeanne. “Go get a tag.”

“Really!” said Liz, who now needed to find a gun.

“I asked my Dad if he had a gun I could use to go deer hunting,” said Liz. “He just kind of laughed at me and said, ‘Who are YOU going to go deer hunting with?'”

She explained that Jeanne knew a lady who owned some farmland 10 miles up the road. The woman didn’t want a bunch of people hunting on her property, but she allowed one older gentleman to hunt the land as long as he brought female hunters with him. She said it was considered a man’s sport and she wanted girls to be able to learn to hunt.

“I borrowed my Dad’s moose rifle,” said Liz. “We went out to the field and half an hour later I shot this huge doe. I learned how to gut a deer and we processed it ourselves. Jeanne and her husband John knew how to do everything. They’re very self-sufficient. I want to be more like that. I filled my freezer.”

Liz relayed the details of her successful hunt to her Dad, and that led to an unexpected Christmas surprise.

“What would you think about going on a caribou hunt?” said George.

The next thing Liz knew it was early September and she and her father were in Nunavut standing 90 yards away from a “humongous caribou.” Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. First of all, she was the only woman among 12 men in caribou camp.

“It was great,” said Liz. “The food was wonderful and we had excellent accommodations. They had two tents with two groups in each tent. My Dad and I were really lucky. We bunked with Kevin Beasley and his cameraman Jake Thompson from the Canada in the Rough TV show. And everybody was really accommodating.

“It was kind of funny because the first night at dinner everybody just looked at me like ‘Ladies First’.  And I said, ‘Nope, I’m on my hunting trip. Can’t I just be a Dude?’  And they were like ‘No, No, No, you’re not going to win this one, Ladies First.’

“So I didn’t fight it, but I remember when we first pulled up to the airport, the other hunters kind of looked strangely at us. We’d all seen other at the hotel but we hadn’t talked to each other, so we had no clue who was going on the trip. I think they kind of thought, ‘Ugh, is that a woman?’ but none of them said anything like that to me. They were so nice. They answered any questions I had and they helped us make sure that our rifles were sighted in.”

Tent mates at caribou camp. L to R Kevin Beasley, Jake Thompson, George Weber, Liz Richter.

Tent mates at caribou camp. L to R Kevin Beasley, Jake Thompson, George Weber, Liz Richter.

Liz wasn’t quite sure what to expect on the actual hunt, but it wasn’t long before they were out on the tundra with their guide Thomas looking for caribou. The spotted a small herd on a ridge far in the distance, including one huge bull which Liz pointed to.

“That’s the one,” she said to Thomas.

“Nope,” he said. “Too far away, can’t get it.”

Thomas was right when he said that the caribou were too far away, and there was also a lake between the hunters and their quarry, but Liz was persistent. She knew this was the one. This was the caribou she wanted to be her first.

“So we just sat and waited,” said Liz. “And the animals got closer, and closer, and closer. Then they bedded down and Thomas asked me if I really wanted that one, and if I was up for a walk.”

Of course Liz answered with an emphatic “Yes!” and her Dad said “Let’s do it.” So off they went for a 2 1/2-mile jaunt across the tundra.

“It was an insane walk,” said Liz. “But the caribou I wanted just happened to be on the other side of the lake so we had to walk through all kinds of stuff. We were sinking up to our boot tops in some places and crunching branches in others, but the caribou didn’t move. They were still bedded down when we got over there and we just crept up on them. It was late on the first day and we got really close, within about 90 yards.”

“Are you ready to shoot your first caribou?” asked Thomas.

“Yes,” said Liz.

“Then get it done,” said Thomas.

“I lifted my rifle and shot and it was just insane,” said Liz. “It went down and my heart was racing. I was excited and I was scared and I was nervous and I was worried that I didn’t hit it. It dropped in an area where the grass was high and we couldn’t see it. So Dad and I walked up and saw that it was done.

“It was just so amazing to me that I was able to walk this terrain with these men who had been hunting their whole lives. And that this amazing animal was there and they let me shoot it. This was a trip my Dad bought and paid for, so he could have easily taken that shot.

“It was so cool. I went from begging people to take me hunting, to getting a doe and ‘Ok she can do this,’ to my Dad taking me on this amazing trip and getting a caribou on my first shot. I think I’ve only taken two shots at big game animals in my life and I got both of them.”

The trio dressed the caribou and began the long journey back to camp. Liz carried meat in her backpack, her Dad carried the rack and Thomas carried the hind quarters. They arrived back at camp almost two hours past curfew and everyone was out on the porch to greet them.

Then they saw the rack.

“Way to go George!”

Liz didn’t say a thing, but her father did.

“‘Don’t say anything to me. It was Annie Oakley over there. She got it. And she was freestanding.”

There were high fives all around as the group cleaned up for dinner, and Kevin Beasley of Canada in the Rough made a point of talking to Liz about the size of her caribou’s rack.

“You know this is a really big deal right?” said Kevin.

“Yeah, I know it is,” said Liz. “I’m super excited. I can’t believe I got my first caribou. It’s only the second large game I’ve ever fired a gun at.”

“No, no,” said Kevin. “It’s a really good rack.”

“It is?” said Liz

“You didn’t know that?” said Kevin. “This is like a Boone and Crockett big deal.”

“And the guys heard this and they’re like, ‘Oh My Gosh,'” said Liz. “Then they said this is what this is, and you need to get this measured. You need to submit that, and then I thought, this is kind of cool, and I was crying even harder. I was just so excited. You know they could have not said anything to me and I would have gone my whole life not knowing. I don’t think there’s anything that could ever top this. It was just that cool.

Caribou hunt boat selfie. Liz Richter with Dad George Weber. Guide Thomas Alikashawa in background.

Caribou hunt boat selfie. Liz Richter with Dad George Weber. Guide Thomas Alikashawa in background.

“It was a real privilege to be able to do that and to know that I could call my boys as soon as I got home and say ‘Mom has meat coming home to fill the freezer.'”

Liz has two sons, Chase (15) and Owen (10), that had been fishing since they were young. They’d done target practice with BB guns, practiced with a bow and arrows, and participated in some squirrel hunting. Her older son is autistic, so she said they hadn’t done a “whole lot of gun stuff” yet. When they can both take the hunter safety class she plans to get them more involved, but they’ve both walked the fields with her.

She was a proud Mom.

“If you look back in society different cultures have it differently,” said Liz. “A lot of the time the men were the hunter gatherers. The women stayed home and they cooked and they raised children. I always thought that was kind of silly. Girls can do anything. I don’t necessarily have a problem with it, but what bugs me is that if a girl really wants to go hunting, it shouldn’t be that hard to go out and do it. But it seems like if you don’t know people with land, it’s kind of hard to get into. If you’ve got a lot of money and you can go on a trip, like the one that my Dad took me on, that’s great, but to normal people…

“Or like in my situation with my husband passing and a lot of kids coming up to my sons and saying, ‘Well you’re the man of the house now and you’ve got to take care of your Mom.’ The situation was so heartbreaking, that people were putting this responsibility on my children, especially my oldest son, having special needs. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a child.

“I felt that I needed to prove to them that I could do anything a man could do, and that even though their Dad was gone, and that’s a horrible, horrible loss, that I’m still going to take care of them. And this caribou hanging in my house, it’s kind of reminder to them every day, that no matter what, their Mom is going to walk through miles and miles of terrain and do what she has to do to make sure they have food on the table. I mean, it’s not like we’re in dire straits, like we’re starving here, but it’s kind of a symbolic thing that lets them know I’m going to do whatever it takes to take care of them.

Liz thinks everybody should have the right to choose what they want to hunt for, and that if they want to hunt it’s their right to do so. Personally, she hunts for food. If a trophy comes along that’s a bonus. It’s not her main objective. On her aforementioned deer hunting trip she didn’t see any bucks, but she got a really large doe.

“Certain animals you want to protect,” said Liz. “Up there, you don’t want to shoot females or young ones. But with the deer here, we’ve got a population that if you take a doe it’s not going to bother the population. I think every situation is really different. Some people were asking me why I didn’t wait for a buck. I said, ‘Well, you can’t eat the rack dude. I’m filling my freezer up on this trip.'”

Liz Richter and father George Weber. Caribou hunters.

Liz Richter and father George Weber. Caribou hunters.

“I think it’s becoming more acceptable for women to go hunting. Guys are becoming more welcoming to taking women with them and teaching them, which is great. I say just ask people, be annoying, and keep asking until you get a yes. If you really want to go, eventually somebody’s going to let you. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many people I asked.

“You have to be persistent. People know you want to do this and you never know who you’re going to talk to that’s going to have the ability to take you under their wing and show you what to do. I live in a small town north of the city, but a lot of people there grew up with hunting so they know how to go about finding land to hunt on. And even though I came from a hunting family, it was pheasant hunting. They didn’t hunt deer, so I had no idea how to go about it.

“You’ve got to know how to get permission and find the lands to go on, and to know how to spot whether they are going to have a good food source. Game in different areas tastes different, depending on their food source. I’m lucky that where I went the deer mainly eat corn, so it’s really good venison.”

Liz says she still gets a high talking about her caribou hunting trip, and from all the new people she’s encountered because of it. There are also bragging rights. She lives in a small town and some of the guys around town know about her quest to become a hunter. When her name comes up in the conversations her girlfriends are quick to back Liz up with a few digs into the male set.

“You know, she’s got a Boone and Crockett caribou,” said one. “So she’s probably a better hunter than you.”

“I get embarrassed,” said Liz, “But I smile.  It’s like, okay, yeah, I’m kind of cool. I’m kind of a big deal. But you know. I’m not. I was just in the right place at the right time and everything just fell into place. It’s not like I’m one of those girls that goes out and makes everything happen. Half the time I don’t even know what I’m doing, but I’m trying. It was just something I had to do, for my kids.

“I know many of my friends are not hunters and some are very against it but I would just like to say that this Caribou fed my family for nearly a year,” said Liz via email. “And the additional meat that I was not able to bring home went to the Native community freezer to help feed the elders that are no longer able to hunt for themselves.

“I worked hard walking in difficult terrain and showed my boys that I can provide for them. I surprised some of the seasoned hunters who were on the trip with me and proved to myself that I am a strong woman. I learned so many new things about another culture and have priceless memories of quality time spent with my Dad.

“Thank you to Russ (Mehling) and Thomas at Webber’s Lodges, and everyone else who helped make this the trip of a lifetime. Thomas was an amazing guide. And it was pretty special to share the hunt with my Dad. I’m so lucky to have his encouragement and support. I hope that by sharing my experience some anti-hunters will maybe see that there is another side to hunting.”

It’s not just about the rack.

Webber’s Lodges’ 2016 Moose Hunting Highlights

Dave and his "Bow Madness" bull.

Dave and his “Bow Madness” bull.

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

Our 2016 moose hunting season was one for the books!

Over the past couple of seasons we did some serious homework and built up our inventory of moose hunting camps, and it paid off.

After scouring over aerial photos and selected areas that looked like they would hold good populations of moose, we did some additional aerial scouting while operating at North Knife Lake Lodge during the summer, to either confirm what the photos told us and/or decide if we should keep looking. Nothing beats scouting this way, as you get a bird’s eye view of the terrain, vegetation, and even the navigability of a chosen body of water.

Ken with archery bull taken on first day.

Ken with archery bull taken on first day.

After we confirmed specific sites were moose-worthy, we started the long process of permits and approvals. This often takes up to three or four months and if all is approved we get on the ground and set up camp. This fall, we had two new camps in operation.

We had six hunters with us for week one. Three hunted out of our cabin camps and three out of our new tent camps. The first day of the season, Ken took a great bull in one of the new camps with his bow! It was 54” wide and a great start!

In another new camp, one of our hunters booked on the condition of NOT shooting a trophy bull. His wife was not going to tolerate a big bull coming home, so meat was his first priority. Well, Steve got a little of both, as he got a good young bull with antlers of decent width (32”). In our two established camps, we went 3/3 with another archery bull being taken and breaking the 40” barrier at 42.5”.  This hunt will appear next year on Drury Outdoors’ Bow Madness series.

Rusty and Kelly with bull #1.

Rusty and Kelly with bull #1.

Week two brought us 10 new hunters and a shift in the weather. A couple of days during the hunt were just not conducive to moose hunting. High winds can really slow a moose hunt down, which unfortunately is what happened halfway through week two. Our cabin hunts were 3/6, which is well below normal for us. Our new tent camps went 2/2 and 0/2.

From the information gathered after the season, the 0/2 camp could have been a lot closer to 100% had fate dealt a better hand. The 2/2 camp did very well, considering the conditions, and took two awesome bulls. They also topped things off with everyone getting a wolf!

Steve's Happy Wife bull.

Steve’s Happy Wife bull.

Then, as often happens when dealing with remote fly-in camps and a northern climate, our luck turned on the last day of the hunt and bad weather rolled in. This unfortunate shift in the weather lasted for two full days, so everyone got to spend some extra time in camp listening to the rain fall and the wind blow. When the storm finally broke, we got extra planes in the air so that all of the hunters and guides could get out of camp and on their way home.

We’d like to send out a big Thank You to all of our hunters and guides for making this a safe and successful season. We went over 80% on opportunity and took some great bulls.

Rusty and Kelly with bull #2.

Rusty and Kelly with bull #2.

We’re working on adding a couple more moose camps for next season, and already looking forward to getting back out in the moose woods next fall. If you’d like to join us, please let us know early.

Until next year!

Manitoba’s New Master Hunter Program, Chronicling a Hunter’s Journey

A beautiful Gold Medal caribou in Manitoba!

A beautiful Manitoba caribou towards your Gold Medal!

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

The Hunt/Fish department of Travel Manitoba has recently instituted a new program following the template of the incredibly successful Master Angler Program.

For years anglers in Manitoba (residents and visitors) have had the opportunity to enter their special Manitoba angling accomplishments into a database of like-minded fishermen. This database continues to be a popular repository of fishing information for both new and old anglers, and Travel Manitoba has done an incredible job of maintaining the integrity of an angling awards program that has become one of the most recognized in the world.

With the overwhelming success of the Master Angler program, Travel Manitoba worked to take the next step and create a similar program for local and visiting hunters. The new Master Hunter Program is the culmination of that effort.

Starting in the fall of 2016, hunters — including big game, predator, waterfowl and game bird hunters — will have a place to record their successful Manitoba hunts. The program will also serve to show the diverse world-class hunting opportunities available in Manitoba.

Upland game birds are part of the Master Hunter Program!

Upland game birds are part of the Master Hunter Program!

There are two ways to participate in the Master Hunter Program. The first is to follow the Primary Awards stream, while second is to go the route of the Specialist. Any single animal meeting the minimum guidelines is eligible for entry and will receive confirmation from Travel Manitoba.

The Primary Awards Program is designed for those hunters looking for a wide spectrum of adventures. Hunters will collect awards based on successfully harvesting different species. As an example, to earn a Bronze Medal, a hunter must enter any White-Tailed Deer OR Boar Black Bear AND a Migratory Waterfowl OR two Upland Game Birds.  After Bronze, the hunters can add species toward their Silver, Gold, Platinum, Expert, and finally Grand Slam Medals.

The Specialist Awards Program is for the hunter who really enjoys the pursuit of specific species. These awards are broken down into categories such as: Waterfowl, Upland, Unique Bird, Big Game and Predator.

How can we help you on your mission to become a Master Hunter? Webber’s Lodges offers hunts covering a wide array of the species required within the awards categories. Species we can provide access to are:

  • Several types of Waterfowl (Geese and Ducks) and Upland Game birds
  • Predator – Wolf
  • Big Game, including Moose, Caribou and Black Bear
  • Unique Bird Category with Sandhill Cranes
A Manitoba moose for your Big Game Specialist award.

A Manitoba moose for your Big Game Specialist award.

If you hunt with us, we will ensure the proper paperwork is submitted so you can start, continue, or complete your journey to the awards program you are following. Manitoba has an incredible reputation when it comes to big game and bird hunting, and this program will be an excellent way to document it.

Happy hunting!

See all the Master Hunter Program details here.

Hunting Shows on TV. Is what you see, what you get?

Taylor Wright smiling after his successful moose hunt with Webber's Lodges.

Taylor Wright of The Canadian Tradition on a successful moose hunt with Webber’s Lodges.

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

As most hunters know, the outdoor television industry has grown immensely over the last couple of decades. Where there used to be a handful of shows scattered throughout local networks, and a few picked up by sports channels, there are now at least three networks currently showing outdoor programming 24/7/365!

Outfitters are using outdoor television more and more frequently, as it provides an opportunity to have your business featured on a show seen by audiences potentially numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Most hosts of these programs try to avoid the hard-sell approach, but in reality, sponsors and outfitters are providing funds and opportunities for the show to produce entertaining (hopefully) and informative programming.

As with any television program, you need to keep the viewer’s interest piqued. In the outdoor industry this means showing animals, opportunity, and whenever possible, a successful harvest of the animal being hunted. Most, but not all, viewers would become pretty disinterested in watching a couple of guys just sitting on a rock, looking through binoculars for hours searching for elk, sheep, caribou etc.

Speaking of time, a normal 30-minute hunting show, after commercials, bumps and intros, has about 18 minutes of air time to show off the best of a five-day, or even week-long hunting excursion. Obviously, they want to fill that time with the best of the best and show very little downtime.

Taylor Wright taking a break from filming a tough caribou hunt!

Taylor Wright taking a break from filming a tough caribou hunt!

For example, I was fortunate enough to film — and be filmed — on a 10-day elk hunt. We filmed portions of the 23-hour drive, crossing the borders of several state lines. Stalks, calling sequences, and camp life were also filmed. We were lucky enough to take a great bull on the first day of that hunt (not by me).

The bull responded to our calls, walked almost a mile in plain view, and my partner made a perfect 35-yard shot. It was then my turn and I still had nine days to fill my tag and close the show! I thought my partner’s hunt would be an indication of how mine would go. Not so.

What followed next were nine of the hardest hunting days of my life. We hiked, glassed and called, with days beginning at 4:30 am and ending after 9:00 pm. We had some great encounters and incredible memories, but at the end of it, we had an unfilled tag.

When we got home, I logged all the footage we had collected and realized that there were 26 hours of tape to go through. Not all of it was Emmy Award winning stuff, but there was a pile of great footage from that adventure.

Well, after the smoke cleared, most of it ended up on the cutting room floor. As great as it was, viewers would get bored very quickly watching some guy walking up and down mountains, listening to elk bugles. The show ended up consisting of our kill, a close encounter I had drawing on a great bull, some quick clips of travel and camp life, and beautiful scenery. Anyone watching that 18 minutes would have thought the hunt was relatively easy.

I’ve also been in camp when things went so well that the hosts were tagged out too soon (if that’s even possible).

When things come together it’s easy to build a great show. Adrian Skok with moose.

When things come together it’s easy to build a great show. Adrian Skok with moose.

We were in moose camp one season and two great bulls were literally dying to be on TV (sorry for the bad pun). After day two, we were all tagged out. The hosts spent the next couple of days re-enacting failed stalks and calling attempts in order to have enough b-roll footage to build the show. Not to try and fool the viewer, but in an attempt to show more normal expectations of what the outfitter offered. Is that false advertising? I don’t think so, not to anyone who knows hunting and can read between the lines. Hunting shows need to portray what viewers want to see if they expect them to keep watching.

Occasionally, a show will include difficult times, or slow hunts, but only if there is an interesting twist that engages the viewer. If a show were to consistently air lackluster hunts, it wouldn’t take long for people to stop watching. This would cause sponsors to lose interest and the show would fade away into the sunset.

Sometimes the hunts that take place in extreme conditions are the most rewarding. Freddy Lagos with musk ox.

Sometimes the hunts that take place in extreme conditions are the most rewarding. Freddy Lagos with musk ox.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of quality hunting shows up at Webber’s Lodges over the last several years, and we’ve always tried to work with them to accurately portray what could be expected on one of our adventures. This can be difficult with the 18 minute time limitation.

Hopefully, this insider look will help the next time you are on a trip similar to one you saw on television and things seem to be going differently than what you expected.

We, like other outfitters, use television shows to get our name out there, but we don’t expect viewers to understand every aspect of the hunt after watching 18-minutes of footage. These shows are meant to be a glimpse into what’s available.

We look forward to hearing from you, sharing more detailed information on the hunts we offer, and helping you plan your next adventure!

Fly fisherman discovers gold in sea run brook trout and polar bears on Canada’s Hudson Bay coast

Brian Irwin with epic brook trout at Nanuk.

Brian Irwin with epic brook trout at Nanuk.

Imagine casting your fly into a pool of water that has never seen a human and having it attacked by a voracious 20-inch brook trout of the same bent.

The winner is the trout that gets there first. And you

“It was incredible,” said Brian Irwin, the New England Field Editor for Fly Fisherman Magazine who was on a Travel Manitoba and Fly Fisherman Magazine-sponsored product development trip this September with Webber’s Lodges. Irwin was searching the wild untouched rivers of the southern Hudson Bay coast in Canada for brook trout.

What he found was nothing short of sensational.

“The fishing was superb,” said Irwin. “We would enter small pools and all three of us would have a fish on at the same time. The fish were so aggressive. And these were five to six pound trout. When you would bring one in, other 24-inch trout would attack it. They would attack your fish. They would attack each other. They were that hungry.”

Irwin was guided by some of the best in the outdoor business including fly-fisherman-guide Ryan Suffron, wilderness and fishing guide Stewart Webber, and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge manager Nolan Booth. The group experienced early success in the rivers close to the Lodge and ventured further into the wilderness each day exploring new territory and more rivers.

Nobody really knew what they would find.

The owners of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge had historical information on the area dating back 18 years, and a few of the native guides and their fathers before them had worked in the area for 30 plus years, but no one knew of anyone ever fishing the surrounding rivers and streams. The fishing was actually discovered by a few unassuming birders who decided to cast a spinner into a river within walking distance of the Lodge a few years prior.

“Ryan (Suffron) had been in there a few days earlier,” said Irwin. “He was an excellent guide and he found brook trout everywhere close to the Lodge. We wondered if it was a local phenomenon or whether all the rivers were totally stuffed with brook trout. And were they sea run brook trout? If so, they had the potential to get huge. The only way to ascertain that was to explore all the rivers.”

So the group ventured off on the quads, winching their way through willows and water and mud and sand and up over beaver dams, finding more fish as they went. They had to time their ventures just right, to get out before high tide. Being stranded in the heart of polar bear country at night was not an option.

“We spent our downtime walking within 60 feet of polar bears,” said Irwin. “Guide Andy Macpherson took us out to see them. They were all over the place. That’s stunning and amazing and that’s what a lot of people go up there to do. We didn’t see polar bears while we were fishing, but we could have.

“We saw moose, wolf and bear tracks while we were fishing. You could see the wolf tracks speed up and the moose tracks follow suit, so you knew what was happening. There’s nothing other than pure wilderness and the imprints in the mud tell the story of this wild place. It’s really pretty phenomenal. This is raw, unspoiled wilderness.”

The group didn’t really know if they could get to some of the rivers, and even if they got there, they weren’t sure if there would be any fish.

“Huge fish in great numbers,” said Irwin. “And indiscriminate feeders. They’ll eat anything. You can catch 30 a day. It’s unlike anywhere else in their native territory. The fishing was amazing. We were fishing in waters that no one had ever fished before.”

Brook trout have a native range from the Carolinas north to Manitoba and west as far as Nanuk, but their population has generally been destroyed everywhere. They’re being stalked back into southern rivers, but only six to eight-inch fish.

“These are 18 to 24-inch fish,” said Irwin. “They’re huge, native, trophy fish. They’ve never seen a fly. They’ve never seen a person. And when they see something that looks like food they eat it. The Manitoba Master Angler Program offers a Brook Trout Specialist Award for catching five brook trout over 20 inches in your lifetime. We probably caught five of those on the first day, not to mention smaller fish.”

The biggest fish of the trip came at high tide, but the native fish kept the group busy. There are very few places in the world where you can catch wild eastern brook trout, let alone trophy-sized fish that have never seen a fly, or a person, in uncharted, never-fished waters.

“We’d spend the low-tide time looking at wildlife and polar bears,” said Irwin. “At high tide it was world-class fishing. There were two strains of brook trout. The native freshwater eastern brook trout and the sea run brook trout. The sea run brook trout go out to sea for three to four months and come back really big to spawn. The best time to fish for them would be during the full moon, which has an effect on the tides, but there are so many native fish it doesn’t matter.

“We had incredible food and the accommodations were divine. The comfort was fantastic. It was almost surreal to go out on the quads, get all muddied up, fish a river that nobody had ever fished before, and return to caribou stuffed green peppers and a glass of wine. It was really something special.”

A new catch-and-release fishing trip limited to a maximum of eight fishermen is currently being developed by Webber’s Lodges for September 2017, and Irwin emphasized that this would be a trip of interest to fly fishermen looking for serious adventure. Watch for his full story in a spring/summer issue of Fly Fisherman Magazine. Trip details will be posted on this site before January 31, 2017. If you would like to be notified when the trip is posted, please send an email to info@webberslodges.com.

“You’re staying in an established Lodge with a proven track record of excellence,” said Irwin. “But this is a boots-on-the-ground walk-and-wade fishing trip. This is not riding in a Cadillac. You have to be prepared to ride quads and get dirty. The local guides are invaluable. They know the land, and that’s a must-have. But this is real fishing.”

 

Final cast at Nanuk.

Final cast at Nanuk

 

Unless one can enjoy himself fishing with the fly, even when his efforts are unrewarded, he loses much real pleasure. More than half the intense enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done.
— Charles F. Orvis, 1886

The Evolution of a Hunter

The Evolution of a Hunter.

The Evolution of a Hunter.

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

I’m fortunate enough to be immersed in the hunting lifestyle. Being in the outdoor industry as an outfitter and guide, surrounding myself with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts for friends, as well as being part of a family that loves hunting and fishing, means I get to live my dreams 24/7/365!

As my son and my friends’ children got older, I decided to become a Hunting Education instructor. As anyone who has taken the course will remember, there is a chapter referencing the Evolution of a Hunter.

With the broad scope of hunters I’m so lucky to spend time in camp with — whether it’s in a remote tent camp for caribou, or out on the “Back 40” for an afternoon deer hunt — I get to see all of these stages. Sometimes, I am even around to see a hunter progress from one stage to the next.

Most of my Hunter Education students talk wide-eyed about trips shared with their mentors. Their excitement is a fine example of that first level, sometimes called the “shooter stage.” You know these first-time hunters are going to be ready to sling the lead once given the okay by their hunting adviser. Getting a shot at something legal will be the highlight of their early hunting years.

The Evolution of a Hunter: Shooter Stage.

The Evolution of a Hunter: Shooter Stage.

Once they’ve moved passed the thrill of just pulling the trigger, they find themselves obsessed with filling tags. Taking the shot is no longer the pinnacle of the hunt. Success for these hunters is about notching their tags and filling their limits.

While working alongside these younger hunters I learned that you can accelerate the progress to the next stage in a hunters evolution by having them involved with all aspects of the hunt: the harvest, the ‘dirty work’ of cleaning and processing the animal, and the cleanup of the space and equipment required for this work.

Trophy hunting has taken a terrible beating in the media lately, mainly due to lack of knowledge on the part of the general public. This is the mature stage of a hunter’s evolution and they should be proud of it. This does not mean shooting strictly for sport, size or pleasure. It means a hunter has become more selective, targeting older, more mature specimens of the animal they are hunting. And like all good hunters, they too use all parts of the harvested animal.

A trophy hunter generally puts more into the hunt and realizes similar satisfaction, kill or no kill, because they don’t need to fill their quota. They enjoy matching wits with a specific animal and don’t mind going home empty.

Once a hunter has gone beyond trophy hunting they’ll start looking for new challenges. This could mean going into new areas to pursue different animals, changing equipment preferences (for example going from a rifle to a bow) or changing hunting styles, like trying spot-and-stalk hunting instead of ambush style hunting.

These hunters put in time learning habits and habitats of new creatures, teaching themselves a new method of take, or broadening techniques used to get their game. They pour over maps of new areas, and spend hours practicing their new styles and equipment. They know that they may not succeed at something new right away but they’re okay with it, because it’s more about the journey than the destination.

Finally, my favorite stage in the evolution of a hunter:  the “it’s all about the experience” stage. This is where hunters care more about what they saw, who they spent time with, and what new adventures they experienced, than the actual kill. They realize time spent in the outdoors is the reward.

It's all about the experience.

The Evolution of a Hunter: Experience Stage.

They cherish the friendships created or maintained through these adventures and success is not measured by inches of antler or pounds of meat in the cooler. Now, don’t get me wrong, these hunters can be as successful as they are at any other stage and take home their fair share of game. The difference is that they share memories of the whole experience, rather than just the size of the animal or the difficulty of the hunt.

It’s great that in my line of work I get to spend time with many hunters at different stages of their hunting evolution. Sometimes it’s good to have a youthful, energetic Shooter Stage hunter in camp with a group of fully evolved hunters.

You can see it in their eyes, when they’re looking back to their time at that first stage.

And they’re full of good memories.

Dangerous Game hunting, Tooth and claw have nothing on love!

Here he comes...

Here he comes…

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

When most hunters speak of “Dangerous Game”, they are referring to hunting predators such as bears and lions and large antelope with angry dispositions like “Black Death”: the cape buffalo of many African hunting tales.

As dangerous as these hunts may be, when you interfere with the breeding process of an animal that has a very small window each year in which to mate, you may find that even the most docile creatures morph into raging beasts set on your destruction. Moose are one such creature.

For 11 months of the year these docile swamp donkeys lazily hang out, with food as their number one priority. Following their stomachs, they’ll travel from ridges to swamps to shorelines looking to build up their fat stores in order to endure the long winters their habitat generally throws at them.

But when the sun’s angle dips to the point of triggering some ancient, physiological change in their body chemistry — look out! Their bodies start producing hormones to prepare them for the rut and the right to breed to spread their genes.

This change creates excellent opportunities for hunters. We set up our hunting season to take advantage of the peak of the rut, but be warned, these gentle giants turn into obstinate beasts if things don’t go their way at this time of the year. What follows is a tale of discovering just how ornery these northern monarchs can be.

I was guiding a bowhunter in the remote Canadian north several autumns ago. We would travel along the river to moosey spots and call. I was cow calling, trying to lure in one of the lovesick bulls we knew were in the area.

As we travelled from one calling location to the other, we spotted a sickly looking bull standing at the water’s edge. He wasn’t the size of bull we were looking for, but we watched him for a short while, wondering if a wolf attack had left him lame. He slowly moved off and we continued along.

We had hardly moved when suddenly the smell of rutting moose hit us square in the face. For those of you who’ve never encountered the scent of a rutting bull moose, it is a strong, barnyard-type odour produced when a bull makes rutting pits (depressions in the ground he urinates in) he can roll around in to get all “perfumey” for the ladies!  Checking the wind, we knew the smell was not from the lame bull we had just seen. It was coming from the shoreline to our left.

We beached the boat and started working into the wind, following our noses. By this time I had pieced the puzzle together. The bull we had seen in the water was the loser of a battle for supremacy with the stinky bull we were now working in on. Nothing beats the thrill of walking in the woods trying to locate a bull still worked up from his latest battle!

Within minutes, I saw a piece of antler move and upon closer inspection we knew we had found the bull. He was bedded down in the dark timber, resting from his most recent triumph.  I decided to approach him as another bull looking for a fight, hoping he was still in a feisty mood.

We walked toward him, my hunter immediately behind me. I grunted softly as I walked and raked the odd tree as we closed the distance. Almost immediately the bull stood and turned to face us. It was then that I noticed the cow moose bedded down a few yards away from him. He started coming in hot, prepared to defend his lady and his territory.

Broadside shot. Bull moose at Webber's Lodges.

Broadside shot

He was displaying as we walked towards each other — tipping his head slowly from side to side — and I was mimicking him as best I could, holding a paddle from the boat over my head. As we neared bow range I started moving to my left, telling my hunter the bull would do the same, offering a broadside shot at close distance. The bull read the script and began turning.

As soon as the bull was in a good position, my hunter shot. This should have been the point in the story where the bull goes crashing into the bush and we pick up the trail to recover our trophy, but he wasn’t ready to give up the fight. Instead of running off, he re-positioned himself for a head-on advance. My hunter asked if she should try and get off another shot. I told her, “If you can make another good shot, take it as soon as you can!”

The bull angled slightly right, and a second arrow was on its way.  Upon impact however, the bull became impatient with this game and decided on a full-on advance. With only yards to cover we needed a plan, fast.

Dangerous Game - Moose at Webber's Lodges

Dangerous Game

Realizing I couldn’t take a thousand pounds of angry ungulate, I grabbed the hunter and jumped behind the nearest tree for cover. The bull caught our movement and tried to cut us off on the other side of the tree.

Something must have convinced him to continue running rather than chase us around the tree, because he continued in a straight line, leaving us unscathed and cowering behind our safety tree. He actually did us a favour by running towards the shore.

A few seconds later we heard a crash and we knew it was over, but we still took a little extra time to make sure before taking up the trail. At the end of the trail was a great bull that left us with incredible moose hunting memories…

of our Dangerous Game.

 

Diary of a spring goose hunt in Arctic Canada

Goose hunters at Nanuk: L to R John Lillibridge, Linda Besse, Jim Olson, John Pfister, Robert Pardo, Vern Larsen

Goose hunters at Nanuk: L to R John Lillibridge, Linda Besse, Jim Olson, John Pfister, Robert Pardo, Vern Larsen

The Dymond Lake and Nanuk goose camps of the past were nothing like they are today. Roughing it, at least to a point, was a requirement even as late as 2009. Things have changed since then with refurbished lodges that are now considered luxurious by Arctic standards.

Our hunting lodges at Dymond Lake and Nanuk now have all the comforts of home, such as heat, running water and solar power, but it seems that’s not the reason the same hunters have been coming back to hunt with Webber’s for over 30 years.

We’d like to think it’s our experience and reliability, or the great food and guides, but what the hunters really love is the adventure. In a place on this earth that very few ever get to experience, with abundant wild game and unmatched camaraderie.

John Lillibridge has hunted geese for over 30 years from North Dakota to Texas and from Argentina to Canada. He’s probably been to Dymond Lake and/or Nanuk in northern Manitoba hunting geese with us at least 15 times. He goes where the hunting is good.

The former U.S. Army Colonel from Pennsylvania has documented many of his goose hunting trips with Webber’s Lodges in diary format via email, and one of our favourites is the one below from a 2009 spring goose hunt at Nanuk. We did some light editing for clarity, and added a few photos from our Nanuk goose hunting archives, but you’ll get the message, that once again…

it’s about the adventure!

Diary of a Spring Goose Hunt (2009)

Geese take flight at Nanuk.

Taking flight at Nanuk.

May 9 – With lots on my mind, I see Hank (hunting dog) with heavy hearted eyes, watching me depart in the Tacoma, sitting on his mat in the front window. Co-pilot Cody navigates to Gillam YGX, but has to be poked a few times to stop snoring while on payroll.

May 10 – Pick up guide, Nap. Tacoma heavy with co-pilot stuffed in behind seat to Gillam. Get there at 11 p.m. Overnight at Aurora Gardens.

May 11 – Depart for Nanuk with Butch, Gordon, Nap, Cody and Cookie at 11:30 a.m. We see geese as soon as we hit the Hudson Bay coast. Numbers are high. Runway is completely open. Air craft is in and gone in 20 minutes. I notice right away that it’s cold even though I dressed for it, and the sun is shining. Little did we know it would be one of the warmest days.

Snow drifts are only half the size of what they have normally been in the past, so I’m thinking it’s going to be easy-to dig in and open the doors. Guide seems to think we need a jack hammer, as the snow drifts are as solid as glacial ice. Regardless, shutters are off and doorways are opened up and we are calling it home in record time.

We immediately go shooting, because as we planned the weather crapped out and Gillam Air could not make the second flight in with groceries and more importantly, firewater. Ed’s Bush House and Bar is open and serving goose soup for supper with bannock provided by seasoned guide, Nap’s secret recipe.

Goose for supper! And for home!

Goose for supper! And for home!

May 12 – We prep with goose soup for breakfast and plan to bed shooters in the famed Snake Pit, close to big hungry woodstove. Firewood has to be put together and guides strike out to find source with shotguns. I hear them banging away in the distance. Guides return with large pile of nice wood and big bunch of birds to send to family back home.

Aircraft arrives with more grub and tracks for 500 Honda. Co-pilot/mechanic puts the tank-like machine together with nothing more said about it, other than it goes everywhere and is good investment!

Speaking of good investment, how about that Cookie? Excellent job! It takes big shoes and it’s a big kitchen when you walk into it. It might not be the fanciest but it holds a lot of history. And from May 11-24 it was almost certainly the coldest kitchen to work in this side of Saturn.

Rarely did the temp get above freezing. Water drum froze every night. I come in one morning to find Ed, who is bricklayer, on his hands and knees in the kitchen scraping the floors. With a trowel ??????? I’m thinking this guy really misses his job back home. He looks at me and says that he wanted clean floors and he went to mopping. The place smelt amazingly pine fresh, but the problem was the floor became a skating rink. So he’s scraping 2 mm thick ice off the floor.

I knew he would do a good job in the kitchen, and it removed the necessity of me doing it. Not too many people are lining up to be Head Chef at Spring Goose Camp. A lifelong friend, I must say thank you to Ed. I do not rely on him to get the goose down out of the sky, but rather into the pot. I believe he ended up getting his rhythm after lots of practice. Firewater passed around the Snake Pit while a howling north wind closed the evening early.

At times there are so many...

At times there are so many…

May 13 – No shooters arrive. Instead we get ugly weather, cold ugly weather! We freeze, and also note that snow geese behave like penguins and huddle in 5,000 to 15,000 flocks on the ocean front, in the raw 50 mph snow pelting winds.

Firewater gets an early start. I learn to listen to old Cree stories this evening. Butch and I go along, and together with guides hatch plan to trap from November to January on the coast of Hudson Bay. The rich fur source and adventure talk brought out boasting rights with many laughs. I recall someone shouting to their forefathers in Cree to change the wind! And someone falling into the woodpile. And then I was crawling home. And the wind was howling.

May 14 – More high winds and aircraft is delayed until late in the day. Shooters arrive. Report comes that they see lots of birds from airplane, from York Factory to Nanuk. It certainly it looks inviting as the aircraft departs and thousands of birds are disturbed by its departure. Shooters gear up and are out for a three hour shoot. They find the raw-carve frozen terrain they have to call home for the next three days, cold!! Few birds moving, they’re behaving like penguin colonies and huddling most of the day trying to thaw. T-bones for super, and if I remember right, apple pie and Cool Whip.

May 15 – Birds seem to fly tall and were tough to get to. We moved around, crossing the river deep into where we kicked them out of, behind the celery patch. Sure enough there was an open water hole, and tank- like tracks back into the willows produced rewards.

No missing here :)

No missing here :)

May 16, 17 – Tall tales of past shooting were shared. Only those who have seen it can appreciate watching your buddy stand up and take a double set of blues, or miss clean three rounds on a single white snow that has come at you like an arrow shot. Usually it’s me who misses that shot! Nightly gatherings around the comfort of the hot wood-fired stove at the Snake Pit and firewater flowing with tunes. I suffer the next day real bad. Goose soup was a first for most the next day and boy did it taste good. And filling! Mmmm. I also read a few comments about it on the wall in the new portable outhouse we had constructed.

Shooting was not bad, but nothing like I had come to know in the past. Weird kind of, and it seemed different from all other spring experiences.  Birds were in plentiful, but not flighty, almost like they knew they better not get too comfortable. As if Mother Nature was raising her hackles and they could sense the oncoming typhoon blizzard from hell she was creating for us.

Donna’s voice on the satellite phone was stressing. “It’s a huge front,” she said. With 25 cm of snow predicted for Sunday night and Monday and 70 km winds, the wind chill would be minus 25.

Having to say good bye to the guns a day early was the only option as they needed to meet other schedules and did not want to be snowed in for three days, or five, so Sunday afternoon six guns departed. We did a final check around the yard to grab all items and the shooters were not gone an hour when the sky became ominously dark with birds in flight, tons of them.

May 18 – Needless to say, the storm was everything they said it would be. It started with rain and then for the next 14 hours built to wind-shearing peak. At its height you could not walk outside without being completely blasted from all angles with snow. To walk in the open without shelter would mean death. The storm lasted 26 hours. The outhouse was full of snow.

May 19 – New shooters get in after a long wait in Gillam. With them comes report of a lot of birds in the immediate area. Aircraft has to be careful, as we are now hosting three-quarters of a million birds on 20 miles of coastline and facing possibly a peak movement of birds. The storm has sucked huge quantities of snows, some blues and ducks, and now concentrations are building. Snow in the area has remained block hard and we are able to get shooters under the birds. The rest is history!

Crossing the river of ice is tricky, and you want to have each foot placed solid and sure all the time. I was tested many times out there and have a few strained muscles. I know our most respected shooter deserves a lot of credit for enduring a tough Tour of Duty. One for the record books!! I sensed he was getting down on himself, but make no mistake, you should be proud and hope you will forever be able to call the shots. And if your bride will let you, can be sure we will be there! I am not sure what we had for breakfast, supper or lunch on this day, but it was good really good!

Goose migration at Nanuk.

Goose migration at Nanuk.

May 20-23 – Above average but still it seems the birds are not flying. The sheer noise of them is incredible, but still flights are high and shooter is frustrated and wearing down. Shooting could be gauged and monitored differently in the future. One or two of these days we get sunlight and warmer temps. Little weather systems move through and it was easy after a while to tell when the birds were going to move. As the weather changed they got all stirred up. Guide celebrates 55th birthday. Clouds of birds are moving around on the coast and inland. Made for good shooting opportunities and several banded geese and collars were harvested.

May 24 – Shooters are out early with instructions to be ready by 4:00 p.m. flight out. I hear them banging away all morning. We go into shutdown mode and as a group condense down to getting out of Nanuk today. Big blue sky is burning the snow up like crazy and it’s popping like popcorn. Birds fly all day. Shooters depart 4:25 p.m. for Gillam. Sky starts to get dark in the northwest. We are hoping to get out yet today. Was a good hunt and tour, but 16 days in the freezer is tough.

Robins were doing the mating thing those last few days, as were the flickers, who became elusive quarry with master guide. Spring seems to have a slight grip, pussy willows are budding. Seven feet of snow still covered all the willows, but the swamps had all opened up. On our flight out at 6:30 p.m. we saw geese all the way down the coast, in some areas very dense flocks. Most of the rivers had opened up on the coast and flooded areas back in the distance held uncountable masses of white and dark geese.

Hit the road at Gillam at 8:00 p.m. Across to drop Nap off at midnight, then drove until 4:00 a.m. before four-hour snooze. Co-pilot is still snoring but it’s worse now as he stinks like a really bad greasy goose fart! Finally did get home, with sore body parts. Hope to do this again some time, a big thanks to all involved

Hank was sitting in the window waiting for me. Wife said he was looking for me the whole time.

A fine day for a spring goose hunt. And a great spot!

A fine day for a spring goose hunt. And a great spot!

How to pack for an Arctic caribou hunt

by Russ Mehling, General Manager, Webber’s Lodges

The impossible packing job made possible

Without a doubt, the most common ‘non-hunting’ question we get asked is, “How can I possibly pack for a remote caribou hunt with the weight and size restrictions you have?”

The following is a photo tutorial showing it is possible to stay within our 50 pound luggage allowance, even with room/weight to spare. Hopefully you’ll find some useful tips in the images/descriptions below.

Here is what your packed items should resemble when complete. A day pack, soft weapon case, (we have shown both a bow and rifle just for display purposes), and a soft duffle bag.

caribouhuntpacking457

Here are four photos showing the weights of the items. As you can see, the total weight using a rifle is 42 pounds, while the total weight using the bow is 40 pounds. Well within the allowable 50 pound maximum.

caribouhuntpacking458

 

caribouhuntpacking459

 

caribouhuntpacking460

 

caribouhuntpacking461

The following images will show how we did it.

Here is everything on our recommended packing list for our caribou hunts, plus a few extras.  I always pack an ultra light set of rain gear, and an extra pair of ‘camp’ pants. I also allowed for an optional pair of hiking boots.

caribouhuntpacking441

In the photo below, we removed the clothing you will wear on your flight into camp: a set of camo, insulated rubber boots, and a jacket.

caribouhuntpacking442

This image below shows the gun/gun case (with ammo) and bow/bow case (with arrows) removed.

caribouhuntpacking443

Big changes in the next photo!  We took our clothing and medium weight sleeping bag (remember, all camps are heated) and placed them in a regulation sized duffle bag. We will have several of these very same bags available in Thompson when you arrive in case you need to re-pack your gear to meet our requirements.

caribouhuntpacking451

Remember, space is at a premium. Here we have packed our boots with smaller items such as range finder, binoculars, headlamp, and knife. The items in the photo below, plus my camp footwear will all fit into my day pack.

caribouhuntpacking452

So, there we have it! Our bags are packed and ready to safely fly into Caribou Camp. As noted earlier, we are well below our 50 pounds, and there is still the option of paired hunters sharing items such as range finders, binoculars, even rifles. That leaves lots of weight for extras such as video cameras or other special personal items.

Happy packing!

Former rocket scientist, philanthropist, continues father/son fishing tradition at North Knife Lake Lodge

Dick Gadomski with Lake Trout at North Knife Lake.

Dick Gadomski with Lake Trout at North Knife Lake.

A fisherman, a philanthropist, an engineer, a company builder and a rocket scientist went fishing together at North Knife Lake Lodge earlier this summer. Guess who caught the most fish?

Dick Gadomski.

Sorry, that was a trick question. The 76-year-old Gadomski is actually all of the above, and he was at North Knife Lake Lodge for the third time this summer to continue a father/son tradition that began 68 years ago with his own father.

“Dad liked to fish for northern pike and bass,” said Gadomski. “I was mostly the oarsman. I would row him around the lake and he would cast. We would catch fish for the cabin, clean and fry them ourselves. We spent a lot of time together on sports and fishing. As I got older I preferred the action of fishing for bluegills and crappie. Now, I’m continuing the family tradition.”

Gadomski first came to North Knife Lake in the late 1980s with his father Chester, son Greg and his son-in-law Jay. He returned in 1995, and rekindled the fire again this year with stepsons Chris, Mark and Rusty Gilbreath, and Rusty’s son Ty.

DickGadomskiandGilbreathsNK

The Fishermen: L to R – Mark Gilbreath, Dick Gadomski, Chris Gilbreath, Rusty Gilbreath and Ty Gilbreath.

The group engaged in a family-friendly poker game in the evenings after heavy days of fishing, and Ty won the game on every night but one. On the family’s final evening at North Knife Lake, grandfather Gadomski defeated grandson Ty in a classic showdown.

Ty can take solace in the fact that he lost to a former rocket scientist and current philanthropist who has lived an amazing life loaded with unique experiences, accomplishments and a connection to the first man on the moon.

Poker champ Ty lost only once.

Poker champ Ty lost only once.

Early in his career Gadomski was a research and project engineer on the teams at North American Aviation and Brown Engineering that analyzed and designed Propellant Management Systems for the Saturn rocket.

It seems only appropriate that we’re posting this on the 47th anniversary of Neil Armstrong becoming the first person to walk on the moon on July 21, 1969. Armstrong flew to the moon with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on Apollo 11, which, was powered by a Saturn V rocket.

A self-admitted “below average” student at St. Patrick High School in Chicago, Gadomski went on to complete a BS in Engineering Chemistry at Christian Brothers University in Memphis and an MS in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles before his graduate studies at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Then the real work began.

After his work on propulsion systems, Gadomski took a position as a project engineer/manager at Kraft Foods Humko Products Division in Memphis, implementing capital projects for various edible oil products including oils used in margarine, shortening, baking, frying and coating applications. Projects included new boiler facilities, plant automation, storage and loadout facilities, and process improvements to almost every area of vegetable oil processing.

Gadomski then worked as a project engineer/manager at BASF Corporation in Ludwigshafen, Germany and Parsippany, NJ on various major projects for the production of plastics, dyestuffs, pigments, and intermediate chemicals including additions to existing facilities and large grass roots plants.

In 1974, using every ounce of his practical experience, Gadomski founded and became CEO of the PSI Group of Companies in Memphis, Tennessee.

Deeply involved in engineering, fabricating, construction management, and general contracting from 1974 to 2001, the PSI Group established a worldwide reputation in the processing of grains, oilseeds and sugars, into higher value added products such as corn starches, corn sweeteners, edible oils, cane and beet sugars, ethanol and biodiesel.

The PSI Group of companies executed a large variety of projects for the brewing, food, chemical and package handling industries and new product introductions included high fructose corn syrup, fuel ethanol, Michelob Classic, Splenda, White Mountain Cooler, and Zima,

In 1998 Gadomski sold his highly-awarded company, which was the largest engineering and construction company in Memphis, to Lurgi, the second largest General Contractor in Europe. He retired in 2001 after doing leadership transition and having company annual sales in excess of $100 Million.

“I’m just an inner city kid from Chicago,” said Gadomski. “I was brought up in a loving and caring environment by blue collar parents, Chester and Adeline, who were first generation children of Polish and Italian immigrants who were devoutly Catholic. Every day they showed me and my brother that they valued hard work, integrity, unconditional love, family, and a good education for their children. My brother and I have followed in the tradition they set for us.”

Gadomski has never forgotten his early influences, and has always given back to the communities and the people who have helped him achieve success. Among his numerous charitable endeavors, he spent more than 20 years as board member and former chairman of Christian Brothers University and five years as their Alumni Fund Chairman while also supporting the Memphis and Shelby County United Way and coaching youth soccer.

Currently co-chairing Faith in Progress: The Campaign for Advancing Education, a $70 Million Capital and Endowment Campaign for Christian Brothers University and the Memphis community, Gadomski also has variety of philanthropic involvements supported by the Gadomski Family Foundation donor advised fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and he is a Society of Entrepreneurs Mentor for their Insights Program, helping local entrepreneurs develop their businesses.

Gadomski’s incredible business accomplishments and philanthropic endeavors were sadly balanced by personal tragedy. Only six weeks after selling his company he found out that Dolores, his wife of 37 years, had breast cancer. Dolores passed away in 2000. Gadomski also lost his son Greg to cancer in 2003.

“Christian Brothers University and my first wife changed my life forever,” said Gadomski. “They educated me and she made me get serious about life. I was blessed with a loving wife and two great kids.”

“I had been married for 37 years, and Dolores was the leader of our family,” said Gadomski in the spring 2009 edition of the Christian Brothers Magazine belltower, in an article entitle entitled It’s Not Rocket Science (pages 31-39). “I took care of PSI, and she took care of everything else. I was lost.”

Devastated, Gadomski kept himself busy with his philanthropic work, until a chance meeting and a blind date that almost didn’t happen brought him together with Florence “Flo” Smith, the favourite aunt of his longtime executive assistant Vickie Hall.

Flo planned to cancel the date, but Vickie wouldn’t let her, and even had her mother follow her aunt into town to make sure she kept her brunch date with Gadomski.

“When I looked down the long corridor, I saw this lady dressed in a black dress and a string of pearls, as she said she’d be dressed,” said Gadomski in the aforementioned article. “She had this beautiful smile, and I said to myself, ‘Boy, I sure hope that’s her.’ And it was Flo.”

They were married two years later.

“God provides,” said Gadomski. “I met my current wife Flo after she had been single for almost 20 years, and inherited her three boys, whom you have met, and they have become my sons. We have blended our families together and it consists of 19 when everyone shows up.”

Flo’s three sons, Chris (54), Mark (53) and Rusty (50) Gilbreath, shared Gadomski’s love of fishing, and the group was soon on the water together in Florida, Alaska and Canada.

“We grew up with Mom,” said Rusty. “Dad wasn’t around much. Dick’s secretary knew our Mom, suggested a date, and it was on from there. You could not ask for a better person. He helped Mark and Chris and I go into business. And he has this ability to talk to people and make everything alright, especially with children. He’ll sit down and discuss problems with them and the next thing you know they’ll get up and everything’s all fixed. He’s a remarkable man.”

Shore lunch!

Shore lunch!

Gadomski had already been fly fishing in Alaska, Florida and Costa Rica, and had fished at Wollaston Lake in Saskatchewan, as well God’s Lake, Big Sand Lake and North Knife Lake in Manitoba with his father and son, before meeting his new stepsons. He’d also been involved in a partnership that owned Snowbird Lake Lodge in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

“Ten of us owned it for about five years,” said Gadomski. “Cisco was the natural feed in the lake and there would be feeding frenzies after the ice broke up. The seagulls and Arctic terns would be flying above and the trout would come to the surface. We were catching them on surface lures.

“My responsibility was to interface with the guides and help them focus on the customer experience, to help the guides learn more about the lake so they could create the best fishing trip possible for the guests. We could only have up to 25 people at a time at the lodge, as we were limited by the facilities we had.”

Chris Gilbreath with Lake Trout.

Chris Gilbreath with Lake Trout.

The fact that Gadomski decided to return to North Knife Lake for a third time spoke volumes for the North Knife Lake fishery and the Lodge, considering that he had once owned a fishing lodge and that he had fished in some of the world’s most spectacular places.

“The last time I was at North Knife with my son he caught six Master Angler Lake Trout on a nine-inch Canadian Wiggler,” said Gadomski. “And this time the boys thoroughly enjoyed the trip, the camaraderie, and the food. No matter what the chef prepared it was delicious. It was great experience. Everything was terrific.”

Gadomski and sons have now fished at a few of Manitoba’s finest fishing lodges as well as in the Florida Keys for tarpon and shark and in Alaska for salmon, among other places.

Mark with Northern Pike.

Mark Gilbreath with Northern Pike.

“We caught six different species of salmon in Alaska,” said Gadomski. “And the grizzly bears were fishing in the river next to us.”

“Alaska was beautiful and we caught a lot of fish,” added Rusty. “But the bugs were really bad and it got to the point we’re I’d be hoping for rain just to keep the bugs down.”

And it was never just about the fishing. The family also shares a common love for the beauty of nature according to Rusty, the comedian of the family who also took the brunt of the jokes while showing off his Master Angler hat at the dinner table at North Knife. Rusty loved the fishing action at North Knife Lake, but also said he once spent a few amazing but fishless days fly-fishing an area in Colorado that reminded him of the movie A River Runs Through It.

“I never caught a fish,” said Rusty. “But it was beautiful. And I do kind of look like Brad Pitt. That’s what you were thinking right?”

Rusty "Brad Pitt" Gilbreath with Lake Trout.

Rusty “Brad Pitt” Gilbreath with Lake Trout.

All kidding aside, the boys from Memphis were already researching their next family fishing trip. There was talk of fishing in the Amazon and of going after the world’s hardest hitting fish, the Golden Dorado in Patagonia in South America. Going back to Florida to fish for Tarpon was also mentioned, but action-filled northern pike fishing in Canada would always be on the list.

“You can only catch so many Tarpon,” said Rusty. “They’re great fighters, but it takes you forever to get them close to the boat. And then they take off again and run out another 100 yards. After catching a couple you’re done. Northern pike are just fun. Ty loved it and I loved it, especially the shore lunches.”

“The boys and I have decided to take our next trip to Alaska,” said Gadomski, who appeared chipper and ready for action while at North Knife Lake, but who has also had his share of sports injuries over the years. “I’m pretty healthy right now. I exercise daily. The Lord has blessed me. We had a fabulous experience with everyone at the Lodge and out on North Knife Lake.

“Absolutely great memories!”