Leaving camp and headed due south along the lake shore, we kept an eye towards the higher reaches of the mountain to see if any deer were out early and already feeding. At one point roughly half-hour into our hike, I looked back where we had come from, beyond and north of camp, and picked out a couple deer with the sunlight hitting them just right to be visible from that range. Once we placed the spotting scope on them, we identified them both as bucks. Before we could get a decent judge of size, the 2 bucks locked antlers in a moderately-spirited sparring match that last 3 or 4 minutes solid.
When the bucks separated and stood still for a few moments, we determined the larger buck was a big forky similar to the one I had filled my first tag on. Dad put his eye on the spotter and deliberated our scenario. A decent buck relatively close to camp with 4 hours of daylight left or wander further south into unknown country. Easy decision.
It took me 10 minutes to scope out what I thought might be a best route of approach and took some pictures to help me remember some landmarks. In the planning process, the bucks starting feeding higher and higher on the mountain, covering 200-300 yards in that amount of time. I had expected that they would feed further down the mountain, so I was surprised to see them gaining elevation at a steady clip. Eventually they disappeared into a fold of terrain in between 2 large alder patches where I assumed they would feed throughout the evening.
The game plan was simple but that did not mean it was easy. Hike a mile north and steadily gain elevation the whole way. I figured we had roughly 1,100 feet of vertical gain to conquer in order to meet the bucks on their level and prevent the thermals from betraying us. For those of you who spend a lot of time staring at maps, 1,100 feet of vertical gain in a mile (5,280 feet) is STEEP! Once we got to a dead alder shrub on the lip of the fold where they had disappeared, we would slow down and start glassing every square inch of country to hopefully relocate the bucks. I am not a fan of stalks where you lose sight of your quarry the entire way, but this was one such stalk.
We were treated to some spectacular views of Kodiak’s green mountains on the hike over. With clouds scuttling across the sky, the shades of greens changed almost by the minute. Finding further excuses to rest weary legs and gassed lungs, I took a bit of time to photograph some of the local flora along the way as well.
Thankfully, the couple groups of does we encountered along the way, spooked in directions not leading them towards the bucks’ location, and we eventually closed in on our destination – that dead alder shrub on the edge of the crease where we hoped to find the 2 bucks.
Just getting from Point A to Point B had been an exhausting endeavor that took us nearly 2 hours. Again, Dad’s attitude was phenomenal through it all even if he was wondering what the heck he had gotten himself into on this stalk. There were some points at which both knees and both hands were connected to the hill, pulling oneself upwards by grabbing whatever vegetation was within hand’s reach. If we were going to get this buck, we would earn it!
Once we had gained the thermal advantage by conquering the necessary elevation, the next 30 minutes played out exactly how we had drawn it up. Sneaking cross slope, we began to explore every nook and cranny of that mountainside in an effort to relocate the bucks. The frustrating thing was knowing that if the bucks had taken shelter in either of the alder thickets in the prior 2 hours, finding them would be impossible.
About the fourth rock outcrop that we crawled out on to for a better vantage, we immediately spotted 4 bucks sprawled out bedded from just 75 yards to roughly 200 yards distant. Even better than the doubled quantity of bucks, a bigger buck had supplanted the decent forky that brought us over here in the first place. As Dad slipped out of his pack and made a solid rest, one of the larger bucks stood up and engaged the other mature animal in a half-hearted sparring match. Even as the other was still bedded! Me using the spotter to help Dad sort out which buck was larger in both body and antler, Dad chose his target, went through his mental checklist, and placed a round exactly where he had intended. The buck lurched forward, his antlers momentarily still tangled with those of the other buck, and crashed downhill for a short distance before expiring.
What a roller coast of a day! Our emotions spilled out once the events of the day began to sink in, and we sat down to take in the moment. Upon reaching the buck’s side, we had yet another case of the buck being slightly larger than we had judged before taking him. The facial markings and cape color on this buck were absolutely stunning and we re-positioned the buck for the camera.
Unfortunately, we also had a sinking feeling that darkness was going to catch us well before we completed the task of breaking down this buck and packing him back to camp. Even though we could see camp from where the buck fell, we hiked for 30 minutes in the fading daylight and for another solid hour in the dark before stumbling back into camp in a similarly exhausted manner as the night before.
2 awesome Sitka bucks in 2 adventure filled days on Kodiak Island. We lay in our sleeping bags recounting the last 48 hours and caving in to the realization that the best moments of the trip were now likely in the rear view mirror. Surely Kodiak Island could not get any better, right?