With the late night grueling pack-out from our first buck, we decided against setting an early alarm for our second full day in Kodiak’s interior. Even so, we were rolling out of bed by 7 AM with a fresh cup of hot coffee in hand by 7:30. Unzipping the fly on the tipi, we were greeted to much clearer skies as compared to the previous morning, and we decided to spend some time behind the spotter in camp before heading off in the day’s chosen direction.
We glassed 360 degrees but it was predictable where our focus was primarily directed towards – the same bench where the big buck we passed fed through mid-morning a day ago. Sure enough, within a half hour, we located the buck only 300 yards from where we saw him before. Alone, he was feeding in and out of some alder thickets, slowing gaining elevation in a manner that we thought meant he would feed high, up, and over the mountain to bed for the day. In a semi-scramble, we were throwing gear in packs, hoisting rifles over our shoulders, and plowing across the open tundra valley as we hatched a plan of attack on the fly.
Later, we figured our original “spot” was likely in the 1,100-1,300 yard range, so we were able to clip off quite a bit of distance in short order on the valley floor. However, it was soon obvious what the eventual problem was likely to become. First, the buck was feeding more horizontally cross-slope now and in a direction where he would be absorbed into a massive alder thicket—in all likelihood, his bedding area for the day. Second, the closer we got to the base of the mountain, the worse our angle and view of the buck’s location was getting. At some point, we would be “under” the curve of the slope and lose sight of the buck, perhaps for good depending on how long the thermals took to reverse uphill for the day.
Rangefinder in hand, we walked the ballistic distance down from 700 yards to 600 yards to 500 yards and finally to about 475 yards. Our visible angle on the buck was running out, there was a nice high spot that we could set up a solid shooting rest, and Dad was confident with his Remington .270. Time to make this happen. As Dad got prone and started arranging packs into the proper position, I got the spotter swung on to the buck and would call yardage and spot Dad’s hits (hopefully!).
We had a time dealing with condensation on Dad’s optics, but we finally got the scope clear, Dad locked on the buck, with the buck standing still and broadside all at the same time. I called a last yardage to Dad, 478 as I remember, he checked his turrets one last time, exhaled and sent a bullet downrange.
The smile says it all. Dad had lost sight of the buck at the crack of the rifle, but through the spotting scope I had seen the bullet fold the buck in place, and he disappeared on the uphill side of a dense alder thicket. The buck was standing right at the point of the arrow drawn into the one picture above. With the high vegetation, I instantly lost sight of the buck but I had no reason to believe the buck was anything but dead. I was virtually certain that I saw the ripple of the shot’s impact originate from high spine mid-section, say high liver to rear lungs area for windage. To say we were pumped would be an understatement. This was a great buck, definitely north of 90”, likely closer to 95” and this pack-out would be a far cry from the misery of the night before. Less than a mile from camp, an alder thicket-free route to camp, an entire day’s worth of daylight to work with, and all downhill. Because we had left camp in such a hurry that morning, we decided to eat some breakfast and then climb the mountain up where I had marked the buck’s position.
30 minutes later, it was up, up, up the mountain to put our hands on Dad’s first Sitka black-tailed deer. These pictures just do not come close to depicting how far and how steep this slope was, and it took us an easy 45 minutes to complete the climb to where Dad had connected with his buck. Sure enough, right where we had marked the buck’s location, there was a big slide where his feet had gone out from under him, and he had slid down into the alder thicket. It looked sort of like someone had rolled a big drum of oil down the mountain, smashing down all the vegetation in its path. Down into the alder thicket we went.
And we never found Dad’s buck. Barely any blood, more tallow than anything smeared in a couple places. And nothing, I mean zero sign, on any of the major trails after the first 30 or 40 yards from impact. We arrived at the buck’s presumable location at 9:45 AM and spent the next 5+ hours combing every square inch of the alder thicket and surrounding hillside until we gave up and slouched back to camp by 3:30.
Just like you were expecting to see pictures of Dad’s first Sitka black-tailed buck, well, we were fully anticipating taking pictures to show everyone. We really have no great explanation for what transpired that morning, and I only have one decent theory. I saw the approximate impact location of Dad’s shot, and I saw the buck drop out of sight. For me, the only explanation is that the bullet gave the buck’s back/nervous system a glancing blow – firm and severe enough to knock the buck down initially but a blow which failed to do catastrophic damage and disrupt the buck’s spinal cord. Literally concussed, the buck must have collected his wits after his 25 or 30 yard slide, and he likely laid down afterwards to finish re-orienting himself after what must have been an extraordinary couple of moments. I have to assume, based on how hard we searched the alder thicket, that he bumped out and rounded the contour of the mountain when we went in after him.
To say I was dejected would be a massive understatement. Hunting can be as brutal and gut-wrenching as it can be exhilarating and uplifting. Dad surprisingly, and I think this is only a testament to his many more years afield than mine, kept a much more positive attitude throughout. Not dismissive of our failure to recover the buck at all, but his being confident in our effort to recover the buck, and seeing no other end result beyond that of a buck scared to within a centimeter of his life, but surviving to tell about it. I could wax eloquent for quite a while on the ethics of hunting at this point, but I won’t. It’s a personal thing. I’ve read thousands of pages on the subject, and I’ve had those heart-to-heart’s with myself many times through the years. It even seems in recent years, more often than ever before. Put simply, I do not take joy in the act of killing an animal, and when that act of a single moment is not flawlessly executed, the outcome is very discouraging and very troubling to say the least.
Back at camp, we spread some laundry around to dry and cooked up a couple meals for an early dinner. A small nap later and it was 6 PM and the clock was winding. The plan was to head south into an area we had not been yet. A more exploratory mission than anything, we hoped to put eyes on some drainages we could not see from camp. Hopefully we could spy a good buck in one of those drainages, and if we could not make a quick play that evening, leave him to chase in the morning.
Check back Friday morning for the conclusion of Day 4 on Kodiak Island.