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Family bonds during caribou hunts in Kenai Mountains

Friends in high places

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2003

Jose Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, hunter and author of the book "Meditations on Hunting," wrote: "One does not hunt in order to kill, on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted."

This belief is true for many hunters, and is definitely the mindset of Steve Milliron, a hunting enthusiast from Kenai. For him, hunting is much more of a family affair.

"It's an important thing to do as a family," said Milliron. "I try to spend as much time as I can with my family. We all enjoy hunting and we do as much as we can outside. That's why we live in Alaska."

Like Gasset, Milliron got it right. It's not about the kill it's about the quest that goes along with it.

For some it's about the solitude that comes from hiking miles into rolling hills and along rushing rivers of the backcountry. For others it's the challenge of pitting their senses against a creature with senses far superior.

Yet, for others it's also about camaraderie, whether it be with old school chums, work buddies, or entire families including father, mother, children and extended family.

Unfortunately, in Milliron's case the burdens and realities of everyday life, often get in the way of outdoor recreating with his family.

"Between work and school, our schedules make it difficult to do things together," he said. But recently things began to work in Milliron's favor. He and his 14-year old son Max, both drew permits to hunt caribou in the Kenai Mountains.

Although this wouldn't be the young Milliron's first time big game hunting with his father, it did present him the opportunity to take his first caribou bull. In the past he had only bagged a cow.

And, being active backpackers, this trip would give Max a chance to hunt an area he's hiked on scouting trips several times earlier in the season.

The father and son team hunted for four days in the high country south of Hope, but after only seeing cows and a few small bulls too far out of range, they returned home empty handed, but not disheartened.

Max learned from his father at an early age that it's always nice to go home with a harvest, but that's not what it's all about.

"He's good about dealing with the disappointment of hunting," said the more senior Milliron, adding that the weather was so poor as well. They thought the tent would blow away a few times, but the boy never complained a bit.

"Along with the physical and mental challenges of hunting, being unsuccessful helps shape him as a man," said Milliron. "Setbacks are part of real life."

Max went back to school and Steve back to work, but a few days later they were back at it. Only this time it was Steve and his wife Randy.

"My wife will help butcher, clean and haul meat, but she won't shoot,"said Milliron. "But that's fine with me. It's still a good opportunity for us to be together."

They hunted and camped for two days without so much as seeing a caribou, so on the third day they moved camp to where Milliron had successfully hunted a caribou five years earlier on his last permit.

"Just before dark on the last day before we had to return to work I got a cow," said Milliron.

They dressed it out until after dark and packed out some of the meat, but having responsibilities to attend to the next day, they bagged up the meat to be left behind and cached it in a snowdrift high on the backside of a mountain.

Milliron returned a few days later to collect the meat, and brought Max along again for another try at a bull. The bagged-up caribou was right where he had left it and as cold as if it had been refrigerated, so they decided to drop into another valley a few miles away.

They were in luck as there were caribou grazing at the location just like they had hoped to find. Max stalked the group and leveled the scope crosshairs of his 30.06 onto a young, healthy looking bull and squeezed the trigger.

"We field-dressed until after dark, then moved the meat 100 yards away from the carcass, and camped another 100 yards from that, just in case the smell lured in any bears," said Milliron.

They bivyed high on a mountain and then woke up early to pack out all the meat. Carrying some heavy loads, they packed the meat out in three trips, despite a seven miles distance from the senior Milliron's kill to the car, and five miles for Max's kill.

Milliron said his son is happy with his harvest.

"We put in a lot of effort early in the season hiking those mountains to make sure caribou were there, so I think he really enjoyed seeing that pay off," he said. "It was also good he got one after being unsuccessful the first trip."

Milliron said he himself got a lot more out of the experience than just a freezer full of meat.

"Well, we worked hard, but we did it together. As bonding goes, it doesn't get any better. Even though you may not be talking about earth-shattering things, you're still out there together," he said.

Milliron also said it meant a lot to see things from a father's perspective.

"As a kid I hunted for deer with my dad and grandpa back in Pennsylvania. I didn't understand why they were always more concerned with me getting game, but now I do. It's more satisfying to see my son get one than for me to," he said.

"It was also rewarding to see him use all the things I taught him to be successful, that were taught to me. It was important to me to pass on the hunting tradition. I wanted him to learn it and experience it while we both still can do it together, because you never know what the future could change."



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