The peculiar terrain of Round Mountain made it impossible to see much more than 50 yards in any direction. We had passed a lot of fresh bear sign on the stalk up, and the scent of a freshly killed animal combined with the abundance of blueberries made the area particularly attractive to undesirable visitors. I decided if I sang and made a lot of noise I would scare off anything that might wander by. The problem was that I can't sing, and anyway I couldn't remember anything but the first line of On Top of Old Smoky. For the full time Dennis was gone I paced a sentry's circle, shouting that at the top of my lungs. By the time Dennis returned I could greet him with only a hoarse croak.
We were back in camp by dark and spent the rest of the evening toasting the trophy and Mimi's good-luck charm.
Two days later, however, I saw a caribou which made mine look like a baby. He ambled out of a cul-de-sac and down to a stream not more than 1,000 yards from where Dennis and I were sitting at the edge of Ptarmigan Valley. His head was immense, with double palms and a spread and thickness of astonishing proportions. The wind was blowing from him to us, there was ample cover for an easy stalk, and the caribou had evidently decided to spend the rest of the day at the stream. Everything was perfect, except for one fact. I had already taken a caribou. Technically, the Alaska license permitted three, but morally I couldn't justify shooting a second one. There was only one legitimate reason to do so—if this animal was the world's record.
For hours Dennis and I studied his head, mentally measuring it by Boone and Crockett Club standards. This is more difficult than it sounds, because the world record caribou is not necessarily one with the biggest head. It is determined by a complex point system in which more than 40 different measurements are evaluated for the final score. A head which nets 350 points qualifies for placement in the record class; the world record itself is 474 6/8 points. Ours would have to beat that score to win the prize.
In the pouring rain, eaten by bugs, we peered through our glasses and added, subtracted, divided and then started all over again. "That left beam should go to 60 inches," I said to Dennis.
"Umm. Right one too, probably," he whispered back.
"Let's call them both 60 even. What about the width of the top palms? Think they might make seven inches?"
CONSCIENCE AND CARIBOU
All the while, the caribou continued to browse, never once looking in our direction. Finally I wiped the mist from my binoculars, squinted at the antlers again, and with one last, wistful look at the caribou's beautiful head decided not to shoot. It was a hard choice to make.
It turned out, however, to be the right one—for my conscience and, unexpectedly, for Bill Vogel. That night we described the caribou to him. From its description and location, Bill felt certain it was the same animal he had stalked twice before. Next morning he located it, still waiting exactly where we had left it. The head he brought back was not the world record, but it was nevertheless the finest caribou taken out of Rainy Pass in several seasons.