The Caribou Motel - Part 1

          In Soda Springs, Idaho there is a motel which for me always brings back fond memories of hunting with my dad and my brothers. It’s called the Caribou Motel. It’s been around as long as I can remember, and it’s still there, still looks the same, still has the same neon sign, it’s sort of one of those landmarks in your life that’s a constant, a never changing piece of the past that reminds you of the “good old days”.

            Periodically we would stay overnight at the Caribou after hunting that day, if we didn’t fill our tags, then hunt one more day before going home to Idaho Falls. We would always eat at a certain café in town, just down the road from the motel. It had a wagon wheel on the neon sign, and it too was a landmark, and is still there after all these years. I drive through Soda every now and again on my way to Utah, and I always find myself reminiscing a little when I pass the Caribou on my right near the west side of town. It’s a nicely built red brick motel of several units or rooms. In the late fall or early winter, it was a welcome place to come to after being out in the cold weather all day, trudging through the snow in the big hills and mountains that surround Soda Springs.


One particular fall stands out in my mind. Dad, myself, Steve my younger brother, and our friend Kent spent the day hunting west and a little south in the mountains west of Grace.  We finally located a herd of deer across a canyon from where we were, but it was too late in the day to try to get on to them, as it was getting toward sun down, and would have taken us another hour to hike over to them. By then it would have been dark, so we returned to the Jeep where Dad was waiting for us, and we drove to Soda, got dinner at the Wagon Wheel restaurant, then over to the Caribou for the night. In the warmth of our motel room, we made plans on how we would conduct the hunt early the next morning. We were excited because the chances were good that the herd we had seen would likely be in the same general area, seeing as how we had not disturbed them, only watched them from a great distance with our binoculars. 

            Long before daylight, we were back at the Wagon Wheel for a good breakfast. It was open early for the truckers and hunters, a busy café with a good reputation for good food, good service and a friendly atmosphere. We enjoyed ourselves talking and eating. Seemed like wherever my dad went, there were always people who knew him, and had a warm friendly smile and a, “Hello, Rex,” and a little friendly chit chat about hunting or the potato business, the highway patrol, etc.  I was always proud to be introduced as his son to people I didn’t know, but I knew they thought a lot of my dad, and somehow that always made the world a little brighter and friendlier and warmer for me. The sounds of a busy café has always been pleasurable to me. Along with the nice smells and friendly talk, it’s a nice place to start the day especially if it’s still dark and cold when you walk outside still tasting the pancakes and syrup as you lick your lips one last time, and remember the pleasant smile of the waitress that took your order.

            By first light we were back at the foot of the mountain ready for a long steep hike. We had some sandwiches we made in the motel and can of pop or two in our coat pockets, along with a few candy bars. We were set for a successful hunt. We left Dad and the Jeep and started up the mountain. Dad would prowl around the edge of the fields and foothills in the Jeep while we climbed. It’s always exciting to start a hunt early in the morning, when you’re fresh and so is the air.

            We worked our way up through the heavy timber until we topped out on a long bare ridge opposite the far slopes where we had seen the deer the evening previous. We were disappointed when we could not spot any deer anywhere. We continued northward along the crest of the ridge until it came to a heavy thick stand of spruce trees. By then the wind was blowing hard and it was a very cold wind. We had been walking almost steadily for about 3 ½ to 4 hours. We were not only cold, but tired. It was good to get in those trees, they cut the wind down a great deal, and we were able to get a little warmer. We were tempted to build a fire, but wanted to get on with our hunt.

      At this place, the ridge we were on intersected with another ridge that ran east and west. It was decided that I would go on alone and follow the east-west ridge to where it intersected again with the big ridge where all the deer had been yesterday, farther to the west.  Kent and Steve would give me about a half hour to get over to the big ridge then I would wait there, until they worked their way in the same direction but at a lower elevation. That way, if they pushed anything out from below in the timber, most likely the deer would move up slope toward where I was and maybe I’d get a shot. In the meantime if I push them either down or out onto the big ridge where Kent and Steve would be they might get a shot.  It seemed like a pretty good plan to us. We were hungry already and stayed in the spruce trees till we ate a sandwich and drank a can of ice cold pop to help our insides get even colder. We were shivering all ready.

            I told Kent and Steve that if I got a deer with only one shot I would shoot two more bullets in quick succession, that way they would know to come and help me, that would be the signal. Three shots for help. I took off, continuing north up slope toward the east-west intersecting ridge above me. They stayed hunkered in the spruce trees to give me a little time to work my way over to the big ridge.

To be continued...

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