DIY Kodiak Island Gear Review, Part 1 :: “Ol’ Reliables”
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This is the first of two posts reviewing some of the more important pieces of gear and equipment that Dad and I tested during our Kodiak Island Sitka black-tailed deer hunt in early September. This first post will focus on gear and equipment that I have owned and used for multiple years and on different hunts, but for which Alaska provided a new testing and proving ground. The second will cover new items in my gear repertoire.

Trekking poles are an absolute must for an early season Kodiak Island hunt. One of the only common themes that I assimilated from all the different people I talked to leading up to our adventure was that the bigger deer would be high on the mountains. Correct. On Kodiak Island, where everything is farther, steeper, and wetter than you first think, trekking poles are an absolute must. From helping to secure your footing on steep terrain to testing the ground ahead of you while traversing the drenched pothole dotted tundra valleys, don’t leave your trekking poles at home. Here is a link to our DIY-modified Walmart specials. More than a half decade later and after a whole pile of nasty pack outs, they are still going strong.

I hunted with my Kifaru Mountain Rambler and Dad carried my old batwing-style Badlands 2800. Both packs did everything we asked them to do. That said, the more pack outs that I use my Kifaru, the more my appreciation grows for being able to place the heaviest portion of the load tight against my pack frame and back. While the Kifaru is not the lightest pack on the market, I am more and more convinced that it is as bomb-proof as they advertise, and I doubt I will be parting ways with my Rambler anytime soon. As for the old Badlands 2800, it has gotten a lot of mileage this year between Kodiak Island, and I also adapted it for my mobile Midwestern run-and-gun whitetail hunting style with loc-on stand and sticks. It has a lot of hunts left in it and the versatility of having a pack with the batwing-style is impressive (it makes a GREAT shooting rest!). Speaking of shooting rests, I would not hunt Kodiak Island without a reliable rangefinder. The steepness of the terrain and the deceiving body size of some of the deer made judging distance quite difficult.

For water filters, no other option compares to the Sawyer Mini spliced into a water bladder line. Compact, lightweight, no off-taste, and 100% reliable with a near infinite lifespan, it’s simply the best water purification product on the market.

2 cutlery blades – 1 tiny, 1 huge. The “plain Jane” Havalon is my all-time favorite knife, bar none. I used 4 blades, 1 blade for every deer, and another couple blades back in camp to cape heads and trim up quarters. Even more useful than my Havalon though was my Tramontina machete. In lieu of a second trekking pole, I actually carried my Tramontina non-stop for the entire time we were hunting in Kodiak’s interior. I used it to hold back drenching wet ferns on stalks, I hacked my way through more alder thickets than I could count, and I shaved kindling off of larger chunks of firewood to start fires. I even used it to blaze paths through the navel-high ferns at times, if for no other reason than to be able to spot what limited sure footing existed on some of the steeper slopes. Last but not least, 3 or 4 swift swipes of the machete were all it took to separate each rack of ribs from every deer carcass. Clean and quick. One of the cheapest items on the trip, but definitely one of the most used and effective.

I still have a love affair with my puffy. Now Dad does too. I got him a screaming deal on an Icebreaker puffy last Christmas. Anytime we were at camp (which was a lot!), we each had our puffy to keep us warm and cozy. I think I slept in my puffy all but one or two nights as well. Kodiak’s humid air made for some cold nights even though the thermometer never fell below the mid-30s.

Lastly, I used the same general attire that I have used on all my September archery elk hunts. Lightweight Champion C9 golf pants (Dad now owns several pairs and is also a C9 convert!), light merino wool base layers when the temperature dipped a little bit, a mid-weight merino wool top, and a lightweight shell to shear wind. That sort of a set-up was completely sufficient for all Kodiak Island could throw at us in the early season. I had a set of heavier layers with me, but they were never necessary. I’ll dangle one new item as a transition into my next post. Without it, I am not sure Kodiak Island would be bearable – Helly Hansen Impertech rain jackets! As the old Mastercard commercials used to say…”priceless!”

2017 Deer Hunting in Ohio :: Hunt #4 “Corn Maze”
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4 days later, the forecast provided a 1-2 punch of a perfect wind and unseasonably warm temperatures, a combination I hoped would allow me to capitalize on my corn field waterhole game plan. I sneaked in undetected and got positioned about 25 yards away from the waterhole. With 3 hours until dark, my hopes were really high that the deer would be headed for water as soon as they got out of their afternoon beds in the heavily timbered cover to my south.

Unfortunately, as dusk approached, the steady wind that had blown all afternoon died and everything became dead calm. I knew that sitting on the ground and having a calm wind was probably a bad combination, and my worries were confirmed right at dusk when a single deer blew out from the corn field just steps from being at the waterhole.

Stubbornly, I stayed in place until dark, but nothing else showed in daylight. Right as shooting light passed, a small herd of deer came up one of the trails, and I could make out dark shadows slipping in one by one to get a quick drink before sliding out past me in to the standing corn field to feed for the night.

2017 Deer Hunting in Ohio :: Hunt #3 “Hunt + Scout”
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During the third week of October, I headed in to a low-lying soybean field that butted up against a wetland. I have a great tree in a hedgerow that offers a great shot out in to the crop field, an excellent view of the surrounding CRP/wetland cover, and has some loaded crabapple trees nearby. The sun had barely made its appearance for the morning when a yearling 8 point buck popped out in to the standing beans 400 yards distant. Over the next 10 minutes, the buck fed across the field and disappeared into a thicket just 40 or so yards distant. I sat another hour or so before climbing down to speed scout a couple other locations on the wildlife area. On my walk back to the truck, I bumped into a doe and a fawn on their feet, and also saw a couple other antlerless deer in a couple other locations that I poked around in.

I believe the date was October 18th and the buck sign was really popping up fresh for the first time in the season – lots of fresh rubs along hedgerows and scrapes under overhanging branches along crop fields. 2 areas in particular got me excited.

First, I located some ultra fresh rubs where a couple hedgerows intersected along some heavy CRP cover. A little bit more poking revealed several large beds tucked up in the cover. This would be an area to come back to when the wind was right and the pre-rut was a little more kicked in.

Second, I found some heavy trails funneling deer out of some thickets and into a standing corn field where a low-lying area had become an actively used waterhole during our abnormally dry early fall weather. These were some of the heaviest-used deer trails I have found since moving to Ohio. The only trick would be getting the right wind to sit beside the waterhole before the local farmers came through with their combines to harvest crops.

Outfoxing Fox Squirrels
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I grew up an avid squirrel hunter. Before firearms deer season came around, and before I was introduced to bowhunting, I spent many an after-school afternoon patrolling the local hardwood ridges with my .22 slung over my shoulder. For years though, squirrel hunting took a forgotten back seat to other fall pursuits. Now, with my oldest daughter Raelyn showing an increasing interest in the outdoors, it is a natural shift back to my .22 toting ways. In fact, just a few short days ago, Raelyn plinked her first aluminum can with my .22 up at Grandma’s house over Thanksgiving. She is not a big fan of loud noises and is pretty intimidated by firearms, so we are taking it extremely slow and got her started with a handful of shots using suppressed “CB” .22 ammo. She did great and is looking forward to shooting again soon.

Back to the squirrel hunting though, I picked Raelyn up from school on a Wednesday, and we made a short trek to some local public land. With a backpack full of snacks and water bottles, we walked out some long oak and hickory ridges looking for some active squirrels. The weather seemed to be perfect, but the squirrels were fairly uncooperative until late. We found one big buck squirrel bouncing through the leaves in a hickory stand, then another right at dark on our hike back out to the truck. The noise of that squirrel’s incisors on a big walnut betrayed its location to Raelyn’s attentive ears, and she stalked us in close for me to take the shot.

Those big fox squirrels are quite the hefty little critter. Two skinned, gutted, and submerged in a mixture of broth and vegetables in the slow cooker is a fine meal!

2017 Deer Hunting in Ohio :: Hunt #2 “Urban Finale”
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The toughest part of hunting a tiny urban archery zone is the limited number (sometimes just one, as I experienced last year) of quality spots. With only one or two decent places to set-up in a zone, one’s ability to hunt that spot effectively is tightly tied to whether or not the wind direction and forecast are favorable. Unfortunately for me, the wind was categorically horrible for the next 7 days after earning my buck tag. With time running out in my allotted 2 weeks, the wind swung back around to the right direction, and I had a Thursday afternoon opening (October 12th) to climb back in the same tree.

The action started before I even got to my tree when a couple deer sprinted off from under the red oaks when I sneaked in at 3:30 PM. At 5:45, the sun began tilting closer to the horizon and the effect of the shadows falling over the old field that bordered the oak flat was near instantaneous. Within minutes, I had 2 does and a fawn feeding towards me from the north and another doe fawn pair easing in from the west. Thirty minutes later, a lonely spike fed through followed by another 2 small antlerless deer that filtered through the old field and into some neighborhood backyards a couple hundred yards distant.

While I was focused on them with my binoculars, I thought I might have heard some antlers lightly tickling together further up in the woods in the primary bedding area where most of the deer had come from. Sure enough, 2 bucks slowly filtered out of the bedding area right at dusk. They took their sweet time and did not make it in range before I lost shooting light, but I was treated to a great early season display of bachelor group behavior. The bucks – both probably two years old with a 15 or so inch spread – engaged in light sparring, facial grooming, working a licking branch and pawing out a small scrape under a low beech branch. Neither of them were the urban giant I had pictured in my mind, but it was one of the most active early season hunts I have had in years. In terms of overall action, probably the best since one of my very first hunts ever in Ohio back in 2013 (link to post).

2017 Deer Hunting in Ohio :: Hunt #1 “The Daily Double”
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This year I tried to be extra-intentional about only hunting when I had a prime wind in prime conditions to where I could access a prime spot. If any of those factors were missing, I simply stayed home. But when those factors all clicked in harmony, I have done my best to be in the woods. Now, as of when I am writing this specific post, I am still the proud owner of my buck tag, but this year has been my best overall and favorite to date in Ohio.

When Ohio’s archery season opened, I was leading undergraduates on the field trip to Winous Point Marsh Conservancy. Because I had drawn into the first 2 weeks of the season in an urban archery deer management program, and only had those 2 weeks to hunt the zone I had drawn, I was a little bummed to miss the opener. Upon returning to Columbus, I made a quick scouting trip to my zone after work and found a couple trees in spots that looked promising. In order to “earn my buck” tag, the urban program required me to shoot 2 antlerless deer. Normally, having to take 2 antlerless deer in a couple weeks’ time, would have seemed like a tall order on the public land I have been used to hunting in Ohio, but I was confident I could make it happen. Given the amount of sign I noticed on my short scouting hike and given the fact that I saw several deer up and on their feet while walking around, I thought it was reasonably possible.

On Wednesday, October 4th, 5 days into the season and nearly halfway into my allotted 2 weeks, I finally got a favorable wind to slip into the best spot for a morning hunt. Unfortunately, I was halfway from my truck to the stand, when I bumped a group of deer out of the zone that had been feeding on some red oaks upslope from the tree I was planning to hunt. 2 steps from the bottom of the tree, another deer started blowing and snorting in the opposite direction. It was definitely not an ideal start to the morning.

It was nearly an hour and a half into my hunt, when I spotted a deer feeding through the old overgrown field and into the corner of the zone where I was perched over the oaks which were actively dropping acorns. A quick check of the binoculars revealed a lone doe headed in my direction. Once inside 30 yards, she spent a good chunk of time feeding slowly towards my tree but always quartering strongly towards me. After several minutes, she offered me a perfect broadside shot at top pin range. With a well-placed arrow, she barely made it back to the overgrown field before tipping over. One down.

I quickly climbed down, grabbed my arrow, threw a temporary tag on my doe, and climbed back up to continue hunting. Just 15 minutes later, a group of deer spilled off the ridge behind me and angled down towards the bench where I was sitting under the majority of the red oaks. This time, the biggest doe gave me a slightly quartering towards shot within just 30 seconds of easing into range. I was ready and my second perfect arrow of the morning was stuck in the ground. The deer scattered in all directions and within seconds I had punched my second tag of the day. Just like that, I was in the buck hunting business.

As easy as the hunt was, hauling both does back up the hill to the top of the ridge where my truck was parked in the suburban subdivision was quite the chore. In fact, it was probably the hardest I have worked for a whitetail. In the urban/suburban hunt zone, making quick and easy work of the deer via the quick-quarter and backpack method was out of the question. Ugh. Two and a half hours later, I had successfully moved both deer the measly 300 yards from where they fell and into the back of my truck. I could not imagined having my buck tag in hand after a single hunt, and I was excited to see if I could get an opportunity at an urban giant.

Muddy Creek Bay, Ohio Field Trip for OSU “Wildlifers”
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On the last weekend of September, also invariably the Ohio opener for whitetail archery season, I get the annual opportunity to help lead a field trip of 40 undergraduate students to one of the most unique conservation landscapes in all of the upper Midwest. We are hosted by the country’s oldest active shooting club and we are given near free-reign to explore their thousands of acres of managed marshlands. The conservancy has not taken the approach of farming row crops and then flooding impoundments to create quality forage for migrating waterfowl, but rather, has faithfully manipulated water levels and utilized other management tools to create native wetland conditions that most closely mimic the pre-agricultural (e.g., draining wetlands to farm) era.

Sitka Deer Venison Grilled Ribs
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Part of Alaska’s semi-unique meat salvage requirement is that of taking all the meat from the ribcage. Now, while I have prided pride myself in making use of some of the less popular cuts of venison over the past decade or so, the rib cage itself had still generally stayed in the woods. And if I did trim it up, it would inevitably wind up ground in with other trimmings to make burger or sausage.

With several racks of Sitka black-tailed deer venison ribs to consume from our recently successful trip to Kodiak Island, I decided to try a brine recipe on some ribs before grilling them.

Breaking the ribs down was one of the hardest parts. I considered grabbing my meat saw but did not really want to mangle each cut more than necessary. What I found was that by striking each rib in the center with the corner of my cleaver, I could easily break the bones and then split each rack in half length-wise. I found that this was ultimately important to do. Having the whole rib in the classic uncompromised “C” shape would have proven very difficult to evenly grill properly in the last step of the recipe.

Once the ribs were broken down, I made a brine with some bay leaves, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, a little 5-spice, black and pink peppercorns, dried parsley, dried basil, and a couple other herbs. The base had around 3/4 cup of salt dissolved into the 3 quarts solution.

I immersed the ribs for 24 hours, stirring every 4-6 hours, before pulling them out to parboil for 45 minutes. Once they were sufficiently tenderized, I coated them with a dry rub comprised of kosher salt, cracked black pepper, paprika, cumin, chipotle pepper powder, and garlic powder. With the meat rested back to room temperature, I then moved the rubbed ribs on to a hot bed of charcoal and basted them with a honey, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, dijon mustard sauce that I whipped up. When they had the right amount of char to them, it was time to dig in!

I’d say the look on Raelyn’s face tells you all you need to know about whether or not the ribs were a hit or not.

Wild Edibles & Some Garden Catch-up
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Obviously, my blog has been heavily Kodiak-themed for the past 6 months+, but now it’s to catch up a number of other exciting things that have been going. We will start with some wild edible foraging, skitter over to recapping a class field trip, sprinkle in some recipes and gear reviews from my Alaskan adventure, and finally get in to what has been a thoroughly enjoyable fall of chasing critters here in Ohio.

The pay-off for doing some rigorous garden soil testing and heavy soil amendments this early spring was huge. It was by far the most extended production that I have gotten out of my Ohio garden, and my previously lackluster tomatoes and a few other garden items finally produced in the way that I thought they should.

I’ll highlight just one new favorite heirloom tomato variety that I tried for the first time this summer. Large Barred Boar.

The flesh on the inside was just as mottled and colorful as the exterior, and the taste reminded me of a salty-sweet Cherokee Purple. Very fleshy with small seed pockets, this was a dynamite slicer for making BLTs. I’ve already started sorting a few seeds for 2018’s garden, and the Large Barred Boar will be featured a bit more prominently moving forward.

An even bigger discovery this fall was that of a wild edible. For the first time ever, I confidently identified, gathered and consumed a large harvest of wild chanterelles. In fairly hilly country in eastern Ohio, they were scattered along a north-facing bench in some mixed maple-beech dominated hardwoods. I caught them just perfectly 2-3 days after a heavy warm-weather rain in late September. My only regret was not having more bags to carry more home with me. Regardless, they were spectacular sauteed and eaten plain or in other dishes for several days to follow. Mushroom GOLD!!!

Kodiak Island 2017 :: Cost Summary
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This is by far the most common question I have been getting from readers about our 2017 Kodiak Island adventure – how much did it cost? The true answer is that “it depends”. Depends on how diligent you are in chasing down each and every last discount. Depends on how much Kodiak-appropriate gear you own already and how much you are going to have to rent. Depends a lot on the location you choose to hunt while on Kodiak. Depends on how many tags you choose to buy and for which species. Depends on if you want to combine a fishing trip on to the back end of your hunt. It really does depen. That said, this is how our trip broke down in terms of expenses. Keep in mind we benefited from sliding in under the 2016 Alaskan hunting license and permit prices, all of which doubled if purchased January 1, 2017, or later.

Commercial airfare from Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, to Kodiak Island, Alaska $762.81 total/$381.41 split. If you don’t utilize the Alaskan Airline credit card to do this sort of trip…you are stupid. Plain and simple. This was inclusive of flex-insurance for each ticket to accommodate the potential unruly nature of Alaskan weather ($70.50 total). Total savings $1291.74 total/$645.87 split.

Commercial check baggage fees RDU to Kodiak $50.00 total/$25 split. Again, flying Alaskan Air with their credit card saved us $50 apiece on this leg of the journey. Total savings $100.00/$50.00 split.

Commercial check baggage fees returning from Kodiak to RDU $500.00 total/$250.00 split. A huge price tag just to move luggage and meat, but considering we checked 10 bags (!!!!), $50/bag actually seems like a great deal. Total savings $250.00/$125.00 split.

Floatplane charter $2,664.00 total/$1,332.00 split. This item can be quite a bit cheaper depending on where on the island you choose to hunt and also if you more strategically weasel in a 3rd guy to share costs.

Alaskan non-resident hunting license and 2 deer tags. $385/person. Total savings $385/person.

Alaskan non-resident 7-day fishing license and king salmon stamp. $55+$20=$75 total/person.

Electric bear fence rental from Kodiak Kamps $150 total/$75 split. Priceless.

Delorme Inreach 1 month subscription and “rental” from a Rokslide forum member who was kind enough to share equipment. $67.00 total/$33.50 total. Another place where we saved significantly by not renting from an outfitter on Kodiak Island. Most places rates were $15/day which would have pushed this item up in the $150 range for the duration of our interior hunt.

Map printing costs using CalTopo and a local Kinkos here in Ohio. $34 total/$17 split.

Total incidental expenses including a couple dry boxes of firewood, last minute groceries before jumping on a floatplane, salmon fishing lures, terminal tackle, and a spincasting combo, tupperware containers for shipping antlers back to the Lower 48, wax-sealed boxes for shipping meat, and butchering supplies for the hotel. $268.44 total/$134.22 split.

2 nights at the Best Western in Kodiak $531.98 total/$265.99 split. Awfully expensive at first glance but you consider we converted our room on the first night into a venerable butcher shop, the hotel had a walk-in freezer that we used extensively, a restaurant in-house that served awesome free breakfasts, and supplied a complimentary shuttle service around town and to the airport, it seemed like money well-spent in hindsight.

All-day fishing charter + tip for the first mate = $770 total/$385 split.

Next-day processed salmon, halibut, rock bass, and cod $157 total/$78.50 split. Dropped off at 6 PM on Thursday night and picked up frozen in wax-sealed boxes including a special request that I made for 3 salmon carcasses, head-on.

Other tips $60 total/$30 split.

I don’t buy a ton of Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry-type meals for my hunts, so our backpacking menu was easily as cheap as what we would normally eat in our normal, everyday lives, so that’s a cost that would have been incurred regardless and I don’t like to include that in total trip cost calculations. So with all that said, our total trip costs summed to $3,467.62/person or just under $7,000 total all-expenses round-trip door-to-door. A couple considerations where we could have substantially trimmed costs…saying no to fishing and a fishing charter would have saved $638.50 per person (1 fewer checked bag per person, no fishing license, no charter, no processing fee, no fishing equipment purchases). You could drop that much again if you wanted to fly into a much closer hunting destination to Kodiak City, however, in a year right after a major winter die-off, you have to fly to where the deer are. After hearing many, many other hunters reporting back on their 2017 fall hunts, I am SO thankful we stayed flexible in where we chose to go hunting. The pay-off in terms of quality of hunt was enormous!!

Of course, the $385 per person savings by going with 2016 license and permit fees is a cost-cutting opportunity of the past, but I would argue pretty adamantly that this is the highest adventure you access with the lowest cost required – at least from a hunting perspective – anywhere on earth. Bold statement I know, but I really do believe that.

Infolinks 2013