February 14, 2022
The afternoon was half gone when I spotted the deer. He was all alone — an uncommon thing for summertime Sitka blacktail bucks. Most often, they hang in bachelor bunches of two to six.
Perfect, I thought, as I sized up the big, velvet-racked 3x3 through my backpacker’s scope. Aside from a split brow tine on the left, his antlers seemed symmetrical and unusually large.
I had already glassed and passed up 17 other bucks that morning, including a handful of 3x3s with brow tines. This customer was quite a bit bigger, and he was upwind with no other deer nearby. A perfect stalking opportunity.
I hustled off the mountainside, waded a small creek, and tiptoed up the opposite slope. At 200 yards, I dropped my frame pack and eased ahead over damp grass and soil. As usual, it had rained on Kodiak Island earlier that day. Wet walking created almost no noise to spook the buck.
The deer was bedded in a hollow rimmed by low brush. I eased to the lip, spotted fat antler tips dead ahead, and lifted my rangefinding binoculars for a quick calculation — 32 yards. I shuffled about two yards closer and planted my feet to wait. The deer had to stand up sooner or later.
Fortunately for me, the buck started swiveling his head within five minutes — a sign he was restless to get up and feed. As his rear end rose, I drew my bow. His front end appeared above the brush, and I dumped the bowstring. The Easton shaft and G5 broadhead zipped through the buck’s chest with a liquid plop. The big deer was mine!
Critters like my 106-inch 2021 Sitka buck can often be bowhunted without a guide, but only after you’ve researched the local rules and regulations. For example, several species like deer, elk, caribou, black bears, and moose can be pursued in Alaska by nonresident do-it-yourselfers. The upside is limited cost and complete freedom to hunt the way you want to on your own timetable. The downside is planning food, camping logistics, transportation, and meat salvage on your own.
Some of my best friends are hunting outfitters and guides. When required by law, I never hesitate to book with such professionals. But when legal and feasible, I find a special magic in DIY bowhunting. The freedom, solitude, open timeframe, and reduced costs can all be appealing — if you are an experienced and confident archer. Even if you don’t feel adept, there is no better way to learn than tackling a hunt on your own.
As I deboned my big Sitka for a five-mile pack back to camp, I experienced the reality check every DIY bowhunter comes to grips with. There was no one but me to process and carry 65 pounds of meat and antlers. Once back at my tent, there was no one but me to bag and submerge my buck in the lake, so brown bears would not show up to ruin my day. There was no one but me to cook a late supper before crawling in the sack. Such effort and logistics are handled by someone else on a guided bowhunt, so if you prefer being catered to, DIY bowhunting is not for you.
It was after 11 p.m. when I finally dropped the heavy pack beside my tent. The summertime Alaskan twilight was fading fast, but I felt good. Another hour of meat and camp chores, and I could get horizontal to play the day’s pleasant tapes in my head. There would have been nobody to blame but me if I had blown the stalk. And there was nobody to congratulate me but me for making it happen. Just the way I like it.
Bowhunting on your own is possible in many parts of our continent. In general, hunting guides are required for nonresidents in Canada. Likewise, some places, like my home state of Wyoming, have quirky guide rules like the stipulation that nonresidents cannot hunt on certain areas their own on U.S. Forest Service land. And unless you can obtain free or access-fee permission to bowhunt, plenty of private property is off limits due to landowner preference or leasing arrangements with outfitters. But despite such restrictions, there are plenty of places where you CAN hunt on your own.
Some bowhunters I know openly sneer at the idea of paying money for DIY access to private land, but everyone must make their own decision. Unless the cost is too steep, I am fine with accessing privately owned places with elk, deer, or antelope for a fee. There are often fewer hunters to compete with, and more mature critters than found on nearby, heavily hunted public land. More elbow room can be well worth an access fee.
Camping needs can vary wildly, depending on your DIY destination. I commonly drive to public and accessible private hunting land in the West, camping in my vintage 17-foot Airstream trailer when roads permit, or setting up a tent where a trailer cannot be pulled.
For fly-in hunts in Alaska, standard backpacking gear works best. All-weather dome tents, simple cooking equipment, poly tarps, quality sleeping bag and backpack pad, and similar gear are all required. To save on excess baggage fees with the airlines, I normally purchase food, a camp stove, propane bottles, and other heavy gear after I reach a town like Kodiak. With U.S. inflation and airfares on the rise, it pays to closely figure out all expenses, and then go the most feasible route.
Meat salvage can be a major obstacle on DIY adventures. For a bowhunt like my 2021 Kodiak trip, you must be in good physical condition in order to quickly butcher and carry out the meat. Wanton waste is a serious hunting violation everywhere, and would be a shame anyway. Although you can hunt moose on your own in Alaska, to do so is largely foolish. A mature bull moose produces about 600 pounds of edible meat — a monumental chore to debone, and a backbreaking nightmare to transport even a short distance. If you don’t act fast with several buddies to help, a dangerous bear will surely show up to ruin your day.
Once meat is carried out, arrangements must be made to transport it back to cold storage. On Kodiak, I immediately call my air-taxi service to schedule a pickup and storage in a freezer back in town. Be sure to plan meat care in advance, so you avoid legal and ethical troubles later on.
I bowhunted Alaskan deer alone in 2021 because none of my archery pals could break free to go. But I normally take such trips with one or two good friends. The comradeship is special, it’s safer in remote country, there is someone to help pack out the meat, and large expenses like air-taxi service can be shared.
Do-it-yourself bowhunting is not for everyone, but it definitely has its advantages!
You can follow Chuck on Instagram and Facebook at Chuck Adams Archery. Visit Chuck’s website at chuckadamsarchery.com.
Chuck Adams Big Game Hunting Tip — Sponsored by Hoyt Archery
Finding Land For A DIY Hunt: Research is key to locating areas where you can bowhunt on your own. It has never been as easy as it is in our digital age. Online maps, Garmin’s state-specific HuntView SD cards, onX and HuntStand smartphone apps, and other modern tools will show you exactly where property lines are and who controls the land. Such aids are available online, or through outlets like Cabela’s.
You can also contact hunt-booking agents, taxidermists, and game-department officials for info about private “block management” tracts open to the public, private properties with hunt-access fees, and other DIY opportunities.
If you want to bowhunt on your own, opportunities are plentiful — once you dig for information.