Kodiak Island 2017 :: Revisiting Expectations
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I went back and retrieved the text from my traditional pre-adventure “expectations” post for our Kodiak Island trip. It is always so insightful and gratifying to look back on those and reflect on how the adventure actually did transpired as opposed to how I dreamed the adventure would maybe transpire.

I’ve been thinking about adventuring to Kodiak Island for quite some time, nearly a decade in fact. Kodiak Island has always intrigued me, fascinated me, drawn me. This trip is definitely a “trip of a lifetime” and here are my expectations and goals.

There is not one iota of a doubt, this trip ended up being a legitimate trip of a lifetime!!

The #1 goal is safety and I want to come home to central Ohio in one piece. I’m sure dad wants to return to North Carolina in much the same condition.

Mission accomplished. Safe flights, no angry or overly curious bears, and we survived a 15-hour long F1 tornado in a sil-nylon tipi.

The #2 goal is to adventure (using “adventure” here as a verb) at a level that does this “trip of a lifetime” justice. For dad and I, this will peg out the adventure meter for any shared hunt that we’ve done in the past and any that we are likely to do in the future. Admittedly though, the 1st and 2nd goal necessarily exist in a state of a precarious balance. I won’t detail one potential activity until the trip is over (it may involve a coho salmon run, a death slog of several miles, and staying overnight in an old & abandoned salmon cannery) but we definitely plan to carpe diem!

We definitely adventured. Sometimes we put ourselves out there in an adventuresome situation, other times the island put us through circumstances that we probably would not have chosen for ourselves. Either option, we endured just about as much adventure as we could have while still achieving Goal #1 above! The potential activity referenced above did not happen mainly because of 3 reasons, listed in no particular order. 1) We got weathered in 3 straight days. 2) We saw how many bears the salmon rivers attracted on the flight in. 3) We aren’t stupid (thankfully!).

Our #3 goal is to maintain a positive attitude. I know this and dad knows this, but it’s important to remember that just because it is an adventure, that doesn’t mean it won’t suck a lot. Pushki (cow parsnip), rain, Devil’s walking stick, swarming insects, rain, potential weather delays, more rain, soaking wet and impossibly dense vegetation, blisters, general misery due to over-exertion in a brutal place like Kodiak – expecting hardship (“embracing the suck” as I’ve heard some guys say) goes a long ways in preserving that mental edge necessary to adapt, overcome, and thrive on Kodiak Island. Having the right equipment and having quality equipment that is reliable goes a long ways in coping with unfavorable conditions too, and I’m confident that those bases are covered. It will undoubtedly be a major challenge to overcome the mental obstacles of the trip.

Only those of you who have been to Kodiak Island know what that island is capable of serving up. We knew it going in and we had realistic expectations. I know I talk about that all the time. But seriously, setting realistic expectations and being in the right frame of mind to deal with the inevitable adversities that come along with spending nearly 2 weeks on one of the harshest places on Planet Earth – that mental readiness does wonders for morale. Achieving this goal was a smashing success!

For brevity’s sake, I’ll identify our #4 and final goal to each shoot a quality Sitka blacktail deer. We will be carrying 4 tags, but we don’t HAVE to fill all 4 to be completely successful. (Though we gladly will!!) For me personally, I’d define an ideal Sitka buck as one having dark-colored antlers with hefty mass and at least one of his fighting tines with that classic blacktail split. Past that, width, tine length, number of tines don’t really matter too much. I’m not sure how dad will define his idea of a trophy Sitka, but we’ve got patience, time, and optics to hopefully sort through a bunch of deer and find some quality bucks.

Yep. You read the daily reports. Success X 4.

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Days 12 & 13
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Nearly 2 weeks from the time we were loading our gear on to the luggage carousel at Raleigh-Durham airport to start our adventure to Kodiak Island, it was time to reverse directions and head back home. We had had an unbelievable adventure, start to finish, far surpassing any and all expectations, but now it was time to return to reality.

Waking up Friday morning, we grabbed a big breakfast from the Best Western’s restaurant and headed to the dockside store fronts to purchase a few mementos and gifts. We also made it a point to connect to some WiFi to check on chronic wasting disease import regulations between Alaska and North Carolina. Thankfully, Alaska is CWD-negative so far and as long as the tupperware tub were explicitly marked with all sorts of license and harvest ticket information, that part of things was seamless. With that information, it was back to the room to pack all our gear, double check our freezing meat in the hotel walk-in freezer, swing by Kodiak Smoking to grab our fish fillets from the day prior, and ride to the airport to catch our 5 PM departure flight back to Anchorage where we would leap frog to Seattle. Because of flying back into the time zones, we would have an overnight layover in Seattle before grabbing our final flight back to RDU. Simple right.

Well, simple stopped just as soon as heaped all our luggage, gun case, and frozen meat boxes into a pile. Holy cow! We had 6 frozen boxes of meat which we weighed individually and scuttled packages of steak and fillets back and forth to make sure each stayed at or under the 50 pound minimum. Add in a big tupperware container holding our 4 Sitka bucks, 2 more pieces of check luggage, a gun case and our 2 carry-on’s (my Kifaru and Dad’s Badlands pack loaded down), and it was an absurd amount of gear. Thankfully, our payload was nothing novel in the Kodiak airport, and the desk attendants were patient as labeled each item and paid the luggage fees…ouch!

With 2 hours to spare, we were sitting in place waiting for the departing flight to board and we would start our journey home.

False.

Once we boarded the flight, we sat on the runway for over 2 hours before we were told to exit the aircraft because there was a mechanical issue that could not be fixed. We were staring at a likely overnight delay until they mentioned the slight possibility that an aircraft mechanic and needed part had just boarded a plane in Anchorage and was inbound to see what he could do about things. That said, the earliest flight out they could feasibly imagine was 11 PM, meaning even if we did get out of Kodiak, we would miss our connection in Anchorage which would also put us behind schedule to make our final flight into Raleigh-Durham.

Thankfully, the Kodiak Airport is an interesting place to spend 10 extra hours of downtime. Everyone has a story to tell and folks were friendly, so we enjoyed the casual banter back-and-forth. An elderly couple who had just sold their commercial salmon fishing boat after 50 consecutive seasons. They were flying down to San Francisco to retire. A couple on their 40th anniversary trip who traveled to Kodiak Island to see sights that their oldest son had experienced as a 20-something year old working in the commercial fishing fleet. A young lady waiting to tell her husband that she was pregnant and overflowing with many stories to tell about her last 4 months spent as an intern working in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Time went quickly and I even bummed a couple cups of boiling water from the desk attendants to re-constitute a couple freeze-dried meals for dinner right there in the terminal.

Finally, the plane was fixed and the signal was given to board again. Alaskan Air had re-booked our connection in Anchorage, which we BARELY made and then we landed in Seattle. With only a slightly longer layover there, we were soon on a flight pointed to RDU and slated to arrive Saturday evening, over 30 hours since we had first started our journey home. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Raleigh-Durham, only 2 of our bags had transferred in the hasty connection in Anchorage, so we drove the hour back to Dad’s house to start organizing a little gear, get a nap and a square meal, and travel back to the RDU airport 8 hours later at 2 AM to pick up the (hopefully still!!!) frozen meat boxes on a later flight that they had to re-route through Dallas.

It is a darn good thing that our travel did not get delayed anymore, because our meat was well into the thawing process when we picked it up after midnight. We swung by a grocery store to purchase 20 pounds of dry ice on the way back to Dad’s house, and hastily sorted and re-packed over 300 pounds of fresh protein into Dad’s deep freeze and into my coolers. Finally, at 4 AM, I had my truck loaded with gear, venison, salmon, and halibut, and began my drive back to Columbus, OH. By noon on Sunday, I was home, nearly 60 hours from the last decent wink of sleep that I had caught.

What a way to end what had been truly a trip-of-a-lifetime!

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Day 10 & 11
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As we had suspected, our last night’s sleep within Kodiak’s interior was a bit restless and sleepless. Around 11 PM, we both awoke to the sound of 2 bears squalling, balling, roaring and carrying on just around the head of the lake. They made quite the racket for a minute or two before the eerie silence settled back in around us. Whether they were fighting over the last of the sockeye salmon that had beached themselves at the head of the spawning run or if they had stumbled on to the carcass of our second buck from days earlier, it was unclear.

Then around 3 AM, Mr. Fox returned to camp. He chewed all the way through a blue tarp and had started working on dragging off a game bag full of venison when one of us startled awake. Of course, the first thought that crosses one’s mind while on Kodiak is not…fox…it’s BEAR! Pandemonium promptly ensued, but unzipping the tipi’s fly and shining our lights out, shotgun and pepper spray at the ready, revealed a less terrifying visitor. I ended up chasing him around for a few minutes before slicing off a few more scraps to lure him down to the lake’s edge. He did not return again that night and I apologize to whomever hunts that lake next for the pet fox that we tolerated, even encouraged.

Finally, the dawn broke and it wasn’t long until we could hear the drone of a float plane swinging to the southwest in order to fly up the valley and touch down on our lake. We hustled to stuff our sleeping bags in dry bags, deflate our sleeping pads, and tossed together the other remnants of our gear. The plane touched down and I started lugging gear to the lake shore while dad broke down the bear fence. The tipi came down in 3 or 4 minutes tops and a final sweep of the area was made. The pontoons were loaded down with venison, our wet stinking gear piled high behind the cockpit, and all the evidence that remained of our adventure was a matted down circle of grass about 40 feet in diameter.

We took a few obligatory pictures posing with our bucks atop the plane’s pontoons, piled into the plane, and taxied down the lake for takeoff. I could not help but notice how worn down the pedals were on the De Havilland. This plane had seen some serious hours in the air!

Whew, what an adventure!! The plane ride back was just as spectacular as our first flight out 9 days earlier. We saw numerous bears crowded around the salmon streams (probably north of 30 again), bald eagles, a large herd of over 40 mountain goats, and even a fellow pilot perched several hundred feet above us with the sunlight glinting off his propeller as he passed overhead.

Back in Kodiak 2 hours later, we made a few phone calls to loved ones, touched base with the local hotel, and confirmed an early morning fishing trip for the next day. Showers and restaurant-served meals were followed by a lengthy nap, and then we transformed our room into a butcher shop. From 7 PM until 3 AM, we cut and trimmed meat. Shuttling meat bags from the hotel’s freezer space upstairs and returning sealed freezer bags of steaks, roasts, burger trimmings, and other cuts back down to be frozen. Somewhere along the way we ran several loads of laundry, and made the rest of the phone calls that needed to be made.

At 3:30 AM, I fell asleep exhausted in the hotel room bed, dad having fallen asleep just 15 or 20 minutes before. At 6:00 AM the morning though, our alarms waited to ring us back awake and we had a 7:30 dockside appointment to make with Kodiak Island Charters. The lack of sleep was well worth it and within 10 minutes of leaving port, we had dropped 2 lines in the water as our boat captain trolled around some ocean buoys hoping to intersect some hungry salmon. It did not take long and we were hooked up. And hooked up again. And again. And again. The bite eventually slowed but not before one of the rods bent double as a halibut nailed a trolled spoon. It took a bit of work to bring him alongside the stern and a well-placed harpoon and timely gaff brought about a ~70 pound doormat of a halibut.

From there, we ran about 40 minutes to a strait that separates Kodiak from a nearby neighboring island. Once there, we dropped anchor in about 160 feet of water and dropped 8 ounce sinkers armed with 10/0 circle hooks to the bottom. It was long before we were pumping halibut, cod, and a host of other bottom-dwelling fish up from the ocean’s bottom. We stayed there for about 3 hours and almost filled our limits of halibut, adding nearly 10 cod and several black sea bass to the ice box as well.

By mid-afternoon, we were back trolling to round our limits of salmon. We caught nearly an even split of king salmon versus silver salmon and headed back to the docks after 5 with ice boxes crammed to capacity. 23 salmon, 9 halibut and about a dozen other fish to boot. What a day! Even if we had gone fishless, the scenery and wildlife that we encountered out on the ocean was surreal. Puffins, sea otters, seabirds galore, perched bald eagles, stunning landscapes, breaching humpbacks, and exceptional company. Dad and I were both essentially at a loss of words by this point in the trip. Everything we had dreamed the trip could be, it was that much and so much more. Our fishing experience was just the cherry on top of what had already been a world class adventure.

We made contact with the local fish processors and made arrangements to pick up our filleted catch in the morning at 11:30 AM. Our plane was scheduled to depart Kodiak’s airport at 3:00 PM.

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Day 9
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Sorry about keeping you waiting. Been busy at work and there has been some beautiful October-early November weather to take advantage of as well. I suppose you could say I have been out creating more content, or at least attempting to!

Back to our Kodiak adventure.

We were up extra early the next morning. No doubt we were well rested after having spent 3 consecutive days tipi-bound. Because of the number of bucks we had seen from camp roughly 36 hours prior, we hoped a more lengthy break in the weather would bring out the bucks again. With coffee in hand, we set up the spotter and started searching the surrounding mountains. From just behind camp to approximately a mile and a half distant, the rising sun was making it easy to pick out the deer from the dense green vegetation. Over the past couple days, we decided not to be too picky with finding a second buck for Dad. The venison was just too tasty to let a tag go unfilled, so another 50-60 pounds of meat was the real priority.

After about an hour of glassing and looking over 15 or 20 different deer, we found a buck over and around the head of the lake that was pretty accessible and would be a short pack back to camp if successful. We got ready to start hiking and barely had the gate to the bear fence unclipped when Dad said “Bears!”. Right in line with our path of planned travel to the buck, 3 bears popped out of one alder thicket and disappeared into the next. For roughly 10 minutes, we kept an intent eye out, occasionally catching glimpses of the chocolate-coated bears as they meandered through the thick brush. We were hoping that we would see them continue south to clear the way for safe hiking, but that did not happen. We were pretty sure they holed up in an alder thicket just across the lake, only a quarter-mile distant. That buck and the plan to go get him got tossed out REAL quick.

Back into the bear fence we went to turn our attention back to the mountains. We needed to find another buck, but this time in a safer direction!

Thankfully, another half-hour revealed 2 bucks on the slope behind camp. One buck was decent-sized and positioned about halfway up the 2,000′ slope. The other buck was a size class or two larger, but he was also near the top of the slope. A serious pull from camp that looked rather intimidating. Still, the larger buck was a sort of back-up plan, and we struck off to see if we could close the distance on the buck at lower elevation and fill our last Sitka black-tailed deer tag on Kodiak Island.

Within 30 minutes, we were peeking up over a break in terrain hoping the buck was still up and feeding and not buried in the thick cover of the impenetrable alders. No such luck. We stayed there for 20 minutes picking apart the waist vegetation, hoping to maybe get lucky and see a set of antlers sticking up. No dice. It was obvious the buck had finished his morning meal and had holed up tucked away and safe in one of the many alder patches.

To the back-up plan. It took us a few minutes to re-locate the buck high on the mountain, but we did without too much trouble and found him still up and feeding. Knowing he would not stay on his feet forever, we made haste to cut the elevation that separated us from him. My biggest concern at that point was that Dad and I’s pace would not be adequate to get within shooting position before the morning’s thermals switched and pulled our scent directly uphill to the buck’s location. Every break to re-coop oxygen was another opportunity to update the yardage between us and our buck. Gradually, we worked to within 400 yards and decided that was about as close as we could get. The terrain features would hide the buck from our view and the shooting angle was already getting extremely steep. Time to set up and try to make the shot.

We got Dad into position, took a good range and then several more just to confirm, wound the turrets on his .270, and squeezed a few practice triggers. Show time. After 2 minutes, the buck gave Dad a great broadside look.

And bedded down. Before Dad could squeeze off a shot. I am not sure I have mentioned a key fact to this point. Our floatplane was scheduled to pick us up at 3 PM that very day and the time was 10:45. The buck’s bedding down threw a major wrench in our plans. We did not think it would take us long to get the buck back to camp if we were successful – it was all downhill. But, we did not have the luxury of waiting 3 or 4 hours for him to get back up and grab a midday snack. We decided to get creative. Dad placed his crosshairs right through the wickets of the buck’s antlers and waited for him to stand up as I made some loud noises to get him back standing. The next 30-45 minutes were comically frustrating to say the least. I whooped, hollered, yodeled, screamed, shouted, laughed, banged metal trekking poles together, hooted like an owl, and made every other loud noise I could think of. Either the buck could not hear us, he knew the game we were trying to play, or he just did not care – he would NOT stand up.

Finally, after about an hour, the buck stood up and stretched.

Boom!

Boom!

I was tracking each shot through the spotting scope and called out a “hit” each time. Dad was settling in for a 3rd round when the buck just disappeared back into the tall vegetation! We were tagged out. Dad had just made his longest shots to date. We agreed that I should stay in place and keep the spotting scope trained on where the buck had gone down. Dad would pick his way up the steep, slippery slope and locate him. Then I would climb up the mountain, we would take some quick photos, speed through the quartering process and hump back to camp as quickly as possible. We had a plane to catch!

It took Dad quite a while to put all that elevation behind him but the buck was lying exactly where we thought he would be. I scooted up quickly thereafter and we conducted our last Sitka black-tailed deer photo shoot of our adventure. It was a great buck with an enormous body. We could not have been more thrilled having set out to find a meat buck, we had taken yet another older age class Sitka buck.

We made record time to get back to camp and started consolidating our gear and equipment into different bags and packs. We decided to leave the tipi standing and the bear fence up until the floatplane arrived, but our haste to leave the mountain gave us about 30 minutes of free time to sample the fishing in our lake.

The small sockeye run had mostly played out but I managed to land a small colorful male and Dad had a few swipes at his lure without hooking up.

When our 30 minutes of free time turned into an hour of fishing, we decided we had better check our InReach unit just to make sure everything was still on schedule. Darn, delayed. Weather had socked our pilot in at the seaplane base in Kodiak and we made arrangements to stay at least one more night in the Seek Outside Redcliff. This had me worried for a couple reasons. First, I sort of figured Mr. Red Fox would be back again that night. Second, we had added 50 or 60 more pounds of fresh meat to already large meat cache and we had definitely not forgotten that our day started by seeing 3 bears coming close to camp and disappearing into a nearby alder thicket. Third, I was stretching my ability to keep meat from our first couple bucks at this point, and the thought of “one more day” turning into a “few more days” was weighing on my mind. Not like we had a choice in the matter though.

We spent the rest of the day digging out the bare minimum in terms of gear and equipment to sleep one last night and fried up one more batch of tenderloin for dinner. After a couple games of Cribbage, we turned in early and hoped the floatplane could fly in the morning.

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Days 6-8
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The last post ended with us receiving an InReach message from our pilot – “Bad weather headed your way.” Within an hour of receiving that message, we received a slightly more detailed message from my wife saying something about 50 mph winds forecast. Taking a third factor into account, the rather vague forecasts offered by InReach’s satellite service, we pieced together what we thought was a best guess at the next 48-72 hours’ conditions.

Saturday would be gross and rainy, wet and foggy. Sunday might be scary. Monday would be back to gross and rainy, wet and foggy.

That’s just about exactly how it played out. It rained on Saturday from before sunup right on through to when the clock ticked over into Sunday. Even though it was a washout, there were plenty of neglected camp chores to attend to and our bodies needed a break from the 3 buck marathon we were coming off of. The day was spent tending to meat, cutting alder and splitting wood, drying out clothes and footwear, caping a couple skulls, updating our journals, flipping some pages in a book, and having a cribbage tournament. We were both surprised at how quickly the day went and right before dark, we donned our rain gear and hauled a few boulders up from the lakeshore to pin down the tent stakes on the meat tent. The meat tent’s stakes were quite a bit shorter than the stakes for the tipi. Keeping our diligently cared for meat dry throughout the night was a priority.

A couple other notables from that first day tipi-bound. Dad had a pushki blister pop up on his hand, likely from contact the day prior in the sunny weather. Pushki, or cow parsnip, has a chemical in the leaf hairs that can lead to nasty blisters when exposed to human skin. It is not just the secreted chemical that is the problem though. In and of itself, the actual plant compound is relatively harmless. The trouble is that the chemical is photo-toxic, meaning that heat and UV exposure are what transform the chemical into a seriously nasty caustic agent that can result in really bad sores and blisters. This pushki blister was a tiny outbreak, but it nearly got infected and Dad spent 3 weeks getting over it.

Dinner that night was our first exposure to Sitka venison. Once the titanium wood stove was fired up, we just cut medallions off a couple of tenderloins and seared them off with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. We would repeat that exact same meal the next 2 evenings.

The last notable from Saturday was learning how difficult keeping a fire sustained can be when wet wood is the only fuel source available. Thankfully, we had carted in a box of firewood acquired from the local store back in Kodiak. That enabled us to get an initial fire going hot that we then used to dry out the stacked and split alder wood. Using that cycle, we were able to keep a hot fire going whenever we desired. It was a lot of work though.

On to the part of the trip that was the actual peak of the adventure factor. At 11 PM Saturday night, the wind started picking up. Within 30 minutes, the weather had gone from a drizzly breeze to full-on gale force blasts of air. The next 8 hours were in the complete dark, but we spent them totally awake with headlamps armed and ready. Obviously without a wind meter or local weather station to verify how strong some of the winds were, I’m throwing out numbers, BUT Kodiak’s airport (roughly 75 miles north and a bit east) was recording gusts in the lower 70s with sustained winds of 40-45 mph. I have really struggled how to put that night into words, and quite frankly, I just cannot. It simply had to be experienced. From 11 PM until 2 PM the next day – 15 hours straight, non-stop, the wind blew as hard as it could blow. Four or five times throughout the night, one of us would go scrambling down to the lake to haul up another boulder for a sprung tent stake while the other held on for dear life. A couple other times, the fabric on the side of the tipi actually made contact with the center pole, that’s how hard the wind was bearing down on the shelter. I do not regret spending a single one of my hard-earned dollars on the Redcliff tipi and I have no doubt the carbon fiber center pole upgrade had a lot to do with the fact that our shelter stayed in one piece.

Again, no real way to describe the night to anyone who wasn’t there to experience it, but suffice it to say – we survived, barely. And, it remembers fun.

Unfortunately, the meat tent suffered some minor injuries and the once dry meat cache was soaked through and through by storm’s end. On Sunday afternoon, I had a roll of paper towels and a couple micro fiber towels that I employed drying the meat back out and attempting to re-form the good crust that I had already established. The titanium pipe on my wood stove also suffered a minor injury at roughly 4 in the morning, when a particularly strong gust of wind turned it into a pretzel. We rolled it out and worked on it for a while to reform its normal shape as best as possible.

The rest of the day Sunday was spent rekindling the wood stove, working on the meat cache, and then right before dusk – a 45 minute window of clear weather blew through. Dad and I both were growing tired of the tipi, so we popped up the spotting scope outside and perused the surrounding mountains. Apparently we were not the only ones with cabin fever. There were deer EVERYWHERE! In just under an hour’s time, we spotted 19 different bucks from the confines of the bear fence. This pot-bellied buck was probably the best and was located only a half-mile away from camp. We took some mental notes, jotted a few things down on our maps, and went to bed wondering if we would get a break in the weather on Monday to go after this or another buck.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen and Monday replicated Saturday’s misery almost to a T. More of the same in-camp festivities – fine vittles, hot fires, and cribbage.

By the end of the day Monday, we had made contact with my wife to get an updated forecast heading into Tuesday. Thankfully, a switch in winds was supposed to blow the nasty weather back out to sea and usher in some clearer skies. We had a time crunch brewing though, at the same time we were contacting Kara about the forecast, we were exchanging texts with the pilot’s wife. Based on their schedule that had been backed up from the weekend’s storms, we needed to be picked up at 3:30 PM the following day. What did that mean? We had a half-day hunting to get on a 4th and final buck before we had to break down camp and be ready for a fly-out tomorrow afternoon. We made a game plan that evening and decided to pursue a buck close to camp. As simple as that. The venison was simply too tasty to leave a tag unfilled and Dad was content chasing whatever buck made himself available the following morning. With that goal established, filling our 4th tag seemed quite possible as we went to sleep that night.

Ah, but this post is not over. Sometime around 3 AM we had our first uninvited visitor to camp. I woke up to strange noises in the middle of the night and tapped Dad on the shoulder alerting him to the situation. I have never seen him come awake that quickly in my life, and within seconds, I was armed with the pepper spray and he with the buckshot-loaded 12 gauge. Bring it bear! As we unzipped the tipi’s fly, we could hear an animal making a hasty retreat and we got ready for the worst.

Fox. Mr. Wiley Fox. That dumb fox had been gnawing on our blue tarp that was sheltering our gun case and was in the process of dragging off dad’s deer skull. We spent the next 30 minutes chasing the fox around in circles. The last thing I wanted to do was shoot the fox in the middle of the night, but he just wasn’t a rationale creature to reason with. Finally, I enticed him down the lake shore about 50 yards distant with a handful of scraps that we had trimmed from the hindquarters the previous day. On the way back up the shore, I found that the tarp and skull weren’t the only victims of his curiosity. That dumb fox had chewed the paracord through that held a contractor bag full of meat sunk in the middle of the lake. It was too dark to do anything about it at 3 AM, but we did not have any more issues with Mr. Fox that night. We would try to rescue the sunk meat bag in the morning.

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Day 5
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With gorgeous weather in the forecast, our plan for this day was to hike as far as we dared and attempt to explore a saddle roughly 3 miles north of camp. If we could navigate the terrain to the saddle, that would open up a plethora of other easily accessible options that all looked to be great looking deer habitat. We got a good early start but the going was much slower than we had anticipated. Navigating the spongy tundra was a time suck and going any higher on the hill put us into a never-ending alder tangle. With no real great alternatives, we alternated between the two whenever a good clear bear trail appeared on the tundra or when we could spot a gap in the alder thicket that looked like easier going.

Staying in the valley, the terrain was flat for several miles and we were continually glassing up new groups of deer once we got a mile and a half from camp. Nearly all the deer were high on the surrounding mountains, but the spotting scope was again paying huge dividends by being able to field judge animals at a mile or more distant and save countless potentially wasted steps.

Mid-morning and we were still making progress up valley. Eventually we had the choice of continuing in the valley floor and swinging towards the west to explore more country but from a lower vantage. On the other hand, our original plan was to scale the mountain facing us and explore up through the saddle and into the adjacent high country. One look west made that decision instantaneously. Bears!

They were a loonnngg ways away and that was a good thing. Enjoying our first Kodiak brown bear encounter from a healthy distance, we set up the spotting scope and spent the next hour taking turns watching the bears’ antics. There were 3 cubs and a big blonde sow spending on the steep creek bank in the bottom of the valley. For the most part, the sow spent her time lounged in the grass, but the cubs were anything but inactive. Climbing on mom, tackling siblings from behind, lying on their backs eating vegetation, tucking into a ball and rolling down the steep bank, they were simply having a big good time.

I decided to include a brief passage from the book I read during our adventure “Monarch of Deadman’s Bay” at this point of the story.

“The ten-ounce cub that had been born seven years earlier was a Kodiak brown bear from the moment of his birth, specifically a member of the species Ursus middendorffi. In fact, though, he had been more the promise of a future bear, for a bear is a living, thriving collection of unique behavioral patterns, not just a structure or a collection of dimensions. Those behavioral patterns grow out of two sources, behavior learned, and behavior instinctive. The instinctive elements, those parts of an individual bear’s way of life that come to him locked as firmly in his genes as the structure of his skull or the pattern of his teeth, represent one of the natural world’s greatest mysteries, for no man can say what an instinct really is. Nor can any man truly separate a pure instinct, if there is such a thing, from a pattern of behavior that has been learned. In fact, it is probably true that since the bear is a higher animal, most of his instincts are open-ended, little more than a potential pattern of behavior or set of responses waiting to be influenced by what is learned. Since no two bears live the same life anymore than two people do, no two bears are exactly the same. Each bear is the totally unique result of common instincts uncommonly influenced by the accidents of existence. That is why no one can predict what a bear is going to do next, or explain satisfactorily why a bear has acted as he has in the past.”

Though I could easily have stayed to watch the bears for another couple hours, we had great-looking country ahead of us. Starting up in slope, we started to find a few more decent bucks lurking in the high country. Still nothing worth pursuing even though a couple were similar-sized to the bucks we had tagged the two days prior.

Sometime into the afternoon, we made a low swing underneath a large patch of alders that were relatively high on the mountainside. As the thermals pulled our scent upwards into the tangle, the thicket erupted deer out in all directions. A doe and a couple fawns bounding out and heading towards lower country, 3 small bucks climbing straight up like mountain goats, a couple more does and a medium sized buck lining out towards the saddle we were hiking towards. There were a lot of deer to sort out quickly, but none appeared to meet our standards.

Only 15 minutes later, we looked way high up on the mountain to our right and spotted another group of deer. Thinking it was one of the groups that had just spilled out of the alder thicket, we almost kept walking without giving them another close look. Thank goodness we did not keep walking!

I knew instantly this was the sort of buck that we wanted to chase. Huge, mature body and he gave me a quick side profile that allowed me to spot at least one of his forked G2s. He was standing approximately where the arrow is pointing below and had a smaller buck and 2 does by his side.

They were feeding slowly and not really covering any ground at all. Roughly 1,200 vertical feet in elevation above us, it was time to make a game plan. We decided that Dad would park it right where we were standing and keep the spotting scope trained on the buck while I made the stalk. We rehearsed hand signals for directing stalks through long-distance binocular communication and watched the deer for a few more minutes until we were satisfied they would continue feeding in the same general location.

The next 90 minutes were an excruciating climb up through the saddle and around the backside of the mountain to where I had last lost sight of the deer. Thankfully, I was able to maintain line of sight with Dad for the majority of the time, and he kept giving me the signal that the deer were in the same general location. At one point, I had closed to within 425 yards and set-up my rifle on a solid rest as soon as I was able to relocate them with my binoculars. As I thought about taking the shot, I took one last account of the wind and thought better of it. The wind was in my face blowing north, cutting straight uphill in a strong thermal pull at the deer’s location, and doing who knows what in between. I shrugged my pack and kept a low profile trying to close the distance more. The buck was bedded now and not going anywhere anytime soon.

The star marks the buck’s bedded location and the position from where I took this panoramic shot is the exact place where I finally took my shot. Distance. 60 yards.

After I decided not to take the long range shot, I had my work cut out to close the distance to where I would be able to see the buck again. At just beyond 100 yards, my sight line to the buck opened up again but I had no way to get any sort of rest. As winded as I was and with my nerves being frazzled, I decided that taking an unsupported shot would be a bad idea. Thankfully, he was bedded facing away and I could not see anything of the 3 other deer except for one pair of ears. Staying horizontal, I was able to slide across the slope until I came to a small hump that let me get a solid rest over my pack and deliver the shot. He never knew what him and he took such a serious tumble off the mountain that I was skeptical if he would still have 2 antlers when I reached his side several hundred feet below where he finally stopped rolling.

Dad and I exchanged whoops of celebration even as over 1,000 yards separated us. I took 15 minutes or so to soak up the moment and it began to sink in what had just transpired. We had spotted a world class Sitka black-tail buck in one of the wildest places on earth on one of the finest weather days you could possibly ask for on Kodiak Island, executed a difficult stalk flawlessly with the assistance of my father, my best friend and hunting buddy, and took the buck in a swift and ethical manner that did both the buck and the adventure justice. It was a dream come true on so many fronts, and boy was it sweet!

The buck was every bit as good as we judged through the spotting scope and more with heavy mass throughout, long G3 tines, both G2s forked, and his antlers only suffering minor chips due to the long fall.

I love revisiting my stated expectations for a hunt after everything has transpired. Here is what I wrote back on August 27th, 2 days before leaving Raleigh-Durham to travel to Kodiak Island on this hunt of a lifetime.

“For brevity’s sake, I’ll identify our #4 and final goal to each shoot a quality Sitka blacktail deer. We will be carrying 4 tags, but we don’t HAVE to fill all 4 to be completely successful. (Though we gladly will!!) For me personally, I’d define an ideal Sitka buck as one having dark-colored antlers with hefty mass and at least one of his fighting tines with that classic blacktail split. Past that, width, tine length, number of tines don’t really matter too much. I’m not sure how dad will define his idea of a trophy Sitka, but we’ve got patience, time, and optics to hopefully sort through a bunch of deer and find some quality bucks.”

That describes my buck to a T.

Because the whole stalk had been a mid-afternoon affair, we had tons of daylight to enjoy the moment without feeling the pressure of what would end up being our longest (not, thankfully, the most difficult) packout. That said, the thought of the sow and cubs lurking in the valley below did add an element of urgency to getting back to camp before dark.

It was all smiles as we started the descent down to the valley below, and ultimately, the long pack back to camp was bear-incident free and we beat darkness by a wide and comfortable margin. We pit-stopped several times along the way to re-tank our water bladders from a beaver pond, to dry out our soaking wet feet, to explore a huge natural mineral deposit that the local was using heavily, and to revel in the successful adventure that we had enjoyed to this point in the trip. We even managed to pick-up a super heavy Sitka shed antler lying on one of the bear trails we used to navigate the alder thickets.

When we hit camp that evening, we scrambled together some hearty meals and did our routine evening check on the Inreach communication device. The forecast made us extra appreciative for the unreal success we had enjoyed on the previous 3 days. 3 days. 3 bucks. That said, it was no time to get complacent, the actual forecast was accompanied with a text message from our pilot – “Bad weather headed your way.” When a Kodiak native says that, you should listen.

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Day 4 PM
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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?

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Day 4 AM
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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.

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Day 3
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No unsettling moments occurred throughout the night and we both woke up rested just before daylight. Unfortunately, a quick peek through the tent fly and it was obvious that the Kodiak weather was going to be a factor. The cloud ceiling appeared impenetrable and started a whopping 200 or 300 feet up from the valley floor. Based on where all the deer were from the night before, this would be a problem. Content to wait out the low clouds, we fixed a couple kettles of coffee, made some oatmeal (3 packets of strawberry and cream oatmeal supplemented with extra freeze-dried strawberries…yum!), and putted around camp until around 9 AM when the dense clouds finally started to break up.

Exiting through the “gate” in our bear fence, we headed out across the head of the lake and pointed ourselves towards the far slope. The plan was to bushwhack up through the brush and exit into a network of great looking alpine bowls and ridge lines. From there, we would have the remainder of the day at our disposal and hopes were high, as long as the weather behaved that is.

Within an hour’s hike of camp and just before the hike started to become more vertical, we located a great buck. Unfortunately, our naivety and inexperience of judging Sitka black-tailed deer probably got the better of us and we made a rather hasty decision to pass. In hindsight, it was a great buck and one we should have seriously contemplated making a play on. Not only was he a great buck, he was close to camp!! Oh well, lessons learned and, as it turned out, we would encounter this buck again on another day.

As we passed from the valley on to the slope of the mountain, we got our first sustained taste of what everyone had warned me about regarding hunting Kodiak Island in the early season. “Words can’t describe how thick the vegetation is.” “Avoid a 1 acre alder thicket even if you have to go a half-mile around.” “Get ready to suffer.” All I can say is that they were right and alder thickets suck. You ain’t lived until you have used a machete to hack your way through alder thickets chocked with salmonberry with only devil’s club to hang on to for 3 straight hours on a 30 degree slope that is extra slippery because everything is wet all the while getting pelted by rain from the sky above and wondering if a brown bear is going to jump out and eat you from behind the next dip in topography. Brutal. Quite possibly my own personal version of hell on earth.

Despite the struggle of the climb through the alder/salmonberry/devil’s club combination, dad wore a smile of accomplishment as he lay eyes on the beautiful country that I promised him really did exist somewhere past the “next” alder thicket. I had multiple conversations with dad leading up to the hunt where I painted brutally honest pictures of how miserable Kodiak Island can be at times — all in an attempt to calibrate his and my expectations with regards to the trying circumstances that we would likely deal with on a regular basis. From first day to last, and his smile after this first bear of a hike (pun intended) attested to it, dad exuded a tremendously positive attitude through everything that Kodiak Island threw at us.

Once on top, we started seeing deer in just about every pocket we looked. A doe and 2 fawns there, 2 small bucks up there, 2 more does down below near the creek, a small bachelor herd way up on top of the mountain, so on and so forth. The 4 or 5 hours were filled with short hikes, intermittent glassing sessions interrupted by rain, fog, or both at the same time, and a steady procession of bucks through the spotting scope. Whenever the clouds dropped, we would wait it out and pass the time by replenishing some calories, reading our maps to plan the next move, or picking salmonberries from the shrubbery around us.

In a couple heavier downpours, we broke out the DIY Tyvek rain shelter that I built leading up to the hunt. It uses 2 trekking poles, some paracord, and a couple tent stakes to pitch. It worked great and is something I’ll be including in my pack for future hunts. It just as easily becomes a meat processing station.

Eventually, the small network of basins played out and we had not found a buck to pique our interests, so we transitioned to hiking out along a ridge which had pockets of open ground among the alder thickets down slope, but which also gave an excellent overlook to the valley beyond which was filled with deer. Literally, anywhere you looked, there was deer. Who knows how many deer were in that valley, but we counted 35 or 40 easily in the next 2 hours – all does, fawns, and small bucks though. We pressed on, holding our elevation on the ridge above, while keeping our eyes turned to the terrain and valley floor below.

Finally, we slid out and around one alder thicket and stumbled right into 2 bucks bedded just slightly below us in elevation and totally clueless to the fact that we were anywhere in the vicinity. The width of the closer buck immediately grabbed our attention, but it was a long debate whether or not he was a buck we were interested in taking this early in the hunt. After all we were a long ways from camp and the buck we had passed first thing earlier that morning was looming larger as a buck we should have pursued when the opportunity presented itself. Because we had snuck in so quietly under cover of the wet ground and yucky weather, we had the luxury of setting up the spotter and really studying this buck hard. His antlers were that beautiful color I had always envisioned Kodiak bucks to have, and the shot would be by all accounts a relatively easy one. But we still had not seen a Sitka black-tailed deer on the ground and we really did not know what “just beyond his ears” meant…13″ inside spread or 15″ inside spread. The issue of assessing scale was really throwing us for a loop.

Much longer debate summarized in short, after 45 minutes of studying the buck and taking cover a couple different times as rain showers blew in and out. I decided that I would attempt to fill our very first tag of the trip. I won’t over-dramatize the actual moment of taking the shot, because quite frankly the initial excitement of “there’s a buck!” had long since dissipated. After we agreed I would take the shot, I set the spotter up in a solid position, checked the chamber to make sure a cartridge was in position, took a bead, gave dad the warning, and took the shot. He folded at the rifle’s report and I told dad to hold his position until I climbed down the hill to locate him in the high ferns and grass.

Seldom the phenomenon of “ground expansion” occur, but it definitely did in this instance, and the whole experience of being up close to a Sitka black-tailed deer put a lot of things into perspective – not the least of which was the actual size of the buck we had passed earlier that morning! Of course we did not have a scale along on the trip, but I would estimate the average weight of an early season Sitka buck on Kodiak’s south end to be in the 175-200 pound range with ease. They are in ridiculously good condition and have fat layers in excess.

The antlers, as with the body size, were disproportionately larger than we had expected. The inside spread was one-eighth inch shy of 16 inches even and the mass was considerably heavier than we were estimating. All this added up to my very first ever Sitka buck measuring 85″ – 10 whole inches above the Pope & Young minimum (not that I’m saying this was a bowkill because obviously it was not, but stated only for perspective’s sake). Dad and I took some time to admire the buck, take a whole bunch of photographs, and be intentional about soaking up this major moment in our Kodiak Island adventure. The old adage that “once the trigger is pulled, the work begins” is true though, and we found that out in true Kodiak fashion on this night.

Dad kept an eye to the sky for the next pulse of nasty weather and was on full alert for any cruising Kodiak brown bears, bear spray and loaded firearm in hand. From slightly upslope to command a slightly better vantage, he watched as I put my Havalon to work butchering, even using my machete to detach both rib cages per Alaskan wanton waste requirements. Before long, all quarters were out of the rain lying under the doubled up sheet of Tyvek and into game bags they went. Partitioning all the gear and equipment into dad’s pack, I shuffled both full meat bags and the skull of the buck on to my Kifaru and we started back up the hill to re-locate the game trail we had been using to cruise the ridge line hours earlier. This was a chore and it probably did not help that our worst pack-out of the whole trip would prove to be our first of the trip.

The push back to camp lasted nearly 4 hours and definitely qualified as a character builder. In the words of my elk hunting buddy, I guess “it remembers fun.” Type 2 fun for sure. The worst part was that we took a new route back to camp that I was a little uncertain of as afternoon turned to dusk and then into night. That said, I am certain that it was still a better option than retracing our bushwhacking nightmare from 8 or 9 hours earlier in the day. All in all, our route off the mountain was a much longer path and added upwards of a mile to the journey but my plan worked out in the end, and our final descent was free and clear of the alders and salmonberry that had plagued us so badly before on the initial ascent. See the last picture on this post for the yellow route we approximated in our descent.

Just after 11 PM, we shrugged our packs off our aching shoulders and hips, unloaded meat from the Kifaru and into the meat shelter, shared a water bladder to parch our thirst, scarfed down an apple, and crashed in our sleeping bags within seconds of our heads hitting the pillows.

Only because it is interesting to look at in retrospect, here is a rough plot of our day’s course up the mountain and back down. The total measured distance was only 4 and a quarter miles but does not include all the ducking and weaving, zigging and zagging that probably puts that number more in the 5 and a half or 6 mile range. Regardless, this and the elevation profile graphic helps to put Kodiak Island’s south end in perspective for those curious. Oh, and the downward turned red arrow on the 3D landscape is where we took my buck at the back end our day’s loop.

DIY Hunting Adventure on Kodiak Island :: Day 2 Cont…
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The primary and most urgent of tasks after drop-off was to select the flattest, driest site possible – a challenging task in a hummock-infested valley of soggy tundra and infinite small dips and rises. Thankfully, the flattest spot we located (still not very flat!) was right beside where Rolan had dropped us and our gear on the lake shore. First up was the Seek Outside Redcliff tipi, second up was the Shangri-La 2 Go-Lite meat tent, and last was the bear fence. All told, we spent at least an hour tightening up straps, cutting pull-out stakes from a nearby alder patch, and organizing our gear. The most time consuming task was using my machete to lop off all the vegetation from underneath the bear fence strands and make sure we had a perfect circuit to deter any curious Kodiak brown bears.

Thankfully we had a couple hours back at the floatplane base to get semi-organized, so parsing our hunting gear from camp supplies was relatively quick. Within 2 hours, we had the guidelines stretched taut on the shelters, a few energy bars and jerky stashed in our pockets, a rifle slung over one shoulder and a spotting scope over the other. Based on the map work I had done before the trip and confirmed by the fly-around prior to landing, we decided to head up the mountain behind camp and explore a hanging basin that looked quality. That said, it only looked quality. We had never hunted Sitka black-tailed deer before and all the talk of Kodiak’s brutal winter of 2016-17 left us wondering if we had chosen a poor spot that was great last year or if we had landed in the middle of Sitka black-tailed deer heaven. It didn’t take long to reveal the answer.

Forty-five minutes of hiking got us halfway up to the alpine bowl (photographed from fly-in above) and we had not spotted any deer when the first doe walked off a dense alder thicket and crossed the slopes above us. Then more deer, and more deer, deer over there, deer down the hill, deer up in the saddle. Answer, we were in THE spot. This was the Kodiak Island I had read about and dreamed about. We slipped further upslope and eventually landed in the alpine bowl where we spotted what appeared to be a solid buck coming out of some country that looked more like mountain goat habitat than deer habitat. I asked dad for the spotting scope tripod to get our long-range optics set up for a closer look and that’s when our ideal start took a bad turn. The tripod was gone. I had strapped the tripod between the Badlands 2800 bat wing design but had not taken the time to unzip the gun scabbard and anchor it well enough. In the insanely thick vegetation that we had been pushing our way through, our only hope was that our trail was fairly well defined as a mashed down trail where we had absorbed much of the moisture and crushed some of the vegetation under our boots.

Back to the buck…I did the best I could balancing the scope on top of my backpack frame and was able to tell a little about him at a range of 500 yards but not enough to make an informed decision on night 1. He appeared to be a big boxy fork with at least an eyeguard and still in velvet. He was alone and definitely fulfilling the prophecy of most everyone I had talked with preparing for the trip – the bigger bucks will be highest on the mountain. True. That theme would not change.

Rather than run back and try to find the spotter right away, we placed dad’s white handkerchief high up on a large pushki (cow parsnip, more on this little devil later) plant and pushed up to the saddle that defined the upper lip of the alpine bowl. We glassed more deer along the way and figured we had seen 30-35 deer including 6 or 8 bucks by the time we reached the end of our hike. Right in the saddle, there was a huge pile of bear scat and was a fast reminder that we were not the apex predators on the island and our guard needed to be sharp at all times. Back down to the white handkerchief.

Fortunately, we were able to pick our way along slowly and successfully back-trail. Two or three hundred yards down the slope and at one of the many creek crossings, I looked down and there was the spotting scope tripod. We had a huge sense of relief and resolved to be much more careful in how we lashed gear to the packs as well as double- and triple-checking each time we set stuff down to glass that we had gathered everything back up before continuing. For field judging and long distance glassing, I shudder to think how difficult the next 8 days would have been without a quality spotting rig. As dusk was approaching and we did not want our first night on the island to be a headlamp expedition, we hurried back down the mountain and were unclasping the gate portion of the bear fence right as dusk transitioned more to darkness. Perfect timing, a good acclimation hike to break things in, and a 4 hour hunt that affirmed our selected location would be a wonderful place to spend the next week and a half in Kodiak’s interior.

Infolinks 2013