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Axis Deer in Paradise

Bowhunting axis deer in Hawaii? Just make sure to pack the unscented sunscreen!

Axis Deer in Paradise

I was just going to film the herd of axis deer I was watching, but I changed my mind and switched to my bow when this beautiful buck came trotting to water.

I placed Andy 20 yards to my right and said, “If that bull comes in, let him come as close as possible before drawing and shooting, because you can arrow him a lot easier from five yards than 50.” After bugling and cow-calling, I got the bull riled up and spotted his massive six-point antlers through the trees as he was headed straight for Andy. Seconds later, the bull came charging toward me. As he ran past, I drew and instinctively released, sending my arrow behind his front leg and into his chest. That’s when I saw Andy’s arrow angling forward and buried to the fletching.

Moments later, Andy quietly approached. His whole body was trembling and with a quivering voice he stuttered, “I let him come in until he was three feet from me. I thought that was close enough, so I drew and shot him. And if you don’t think I was scared, you’re wrong!”

That happened in 1979, and since then Andy Day and I have hunted together numerous times. Two years ago, we traveled to Molokai, Hawaii, for a five-day DIY hunt for axis deer. We hunted on Molokai Ranch and learned a lot about hunting these beautifully spotted, skittish, high-strung deer. It was there that I discovered trying to stalk through thorny, waist-high Lantana brush and groves of Kiawe trees, which have low-hanging limbs, is nearly impossible.

We borrowed a blind from Garrick Kanemitsu and set it up near a water tank. There weren’t any trees nearby, so we cut some brush and tried to hide the blind as best we could. Andy hunted from that blind and was able to shoot two does, but the shots were nearly 50 yards, which was too far for me, so I climbed a tree and saw deer, but without a proper treestand, getting a shot wasn’t going to happen.

On a clear day, you can see Lanai from this high vantage point on Molokai.

Due to COVID-19, we ditched our plans to return in 2020 and set our sights for 2021.

But travel last year was rough, too. Andy and I planned to fly into Seattle on May 17, where we were booked on the same flight to Honolulu. Andy’s COVID tests weren’t acceptable for Hawaii, therefore he had to get a test at the Seattle airport, which forced him to rebook and take a later flight.

Feradyne VP of Sales Chris James’ eight-hour flight arrived on time. By 6 p.m., we were all together, so we did some grocery shopping before heading to our condo.

Our priority the next morning was organizing our equipment and meeting with Molokai Ranch Manager Coco Augustiro. Once we checked out our hunt areas, maps, and road systems, and signed liability forms, Coco told us, “You’re allowed to shoot one buck and as many does as you want.” Then he handed us keys to the gates.

We loaded our gear into our rental pickup and drove to the water tank where I had seen deer from the tree two years earlier. There I hung my treestand 10-feet high in a big Banyan tree, just 20 yards from a leaky water trough. It was perfect for the typical northeast winds in that area, which would blow from the water to me. We drove to the water trough, which was on a ridge where it was open and flat. This was where Andy and I had placed the pop-up blind on our previous hunt. We walked trails, checking wind direction, and decided to place the blind 60 yards from a water tank. We gathered bushy limbs from nearby trees and brushed-in the blind. Any branches or limbs that might prevent a shot opportunity were clipped.

Then we drove rutty, red-dirt roads looking for deer, tracks, and other sign. About 2 p.m., after walking a dirt road and finding a vantage point, we glassed and spotted deer. They were scattered across the lower area between us and the ocean. It was hard to get a good headcount, because the axis deer were feeding and weaving through brush, but there had to be close to 200 deer. We decided to go after them and tried to circle and sneak close, but there was always one unseen axis deer that would blow the stalk by making a high-pitched alarm bark, which caused other deer to bark and scatter.

We were up by 3:30 a.m. the next morning, and on the road by 4:20 a.m. Andy decided to glass for deer and still-hunt, while Chris hunted from the upper blind near water. I hunted from the Banyan treestand. My choice was excellent: The wind was perfect, and the deer never looked up. I had roughly 30 deer come in and drink, but the only bucks were short-horned, velvet bucks, so I passed.

Chris James sat patiently in a pop-up blind until this nice doe walked into range.

Chris took a 60-yard shot and hit a doe. He texted Andy, who soon joined Chris to help with a tough recovery. Chris had made a good shot, but the doe had enough time to move before the arrow connected, so the impact was a little back. They began tracking, and quickly discovered swarming black flies on blood and gut matter that were a key to finding the deer. After a lot of diligent searching, Chris spotted the axis doe in some thorny brush and finished her with a well-placed arrow.


At midday, we returned to the condo for lunch and meat care. We saw deer during our evening hunt, but we didn’t have any shot opportunities.

The next morning, I climbed back into my Banyan treestand just before first light. I had several deer come to the water, and one was a young buck. Around 9 a.m., a herd of about 40 axis deer approached from the south, crossed over to the hillside to my east, and then circled right toward me and the water. They were slowly walking side by side, six to eight abreast. Their spotted hides created a sea of movement as they weaved through the thorny brush. I saw two good bucks in the herd, and I was trying to get my camera recording when one mature buck ran to the water, dropped his head, and began drinking. He came in fast and was quartering away at 20 yards, so I gave up on the camera and grabbed my bow instead. I came to full draw, placed my 20-yard pin behind his front leg, and squeezed my release. My arrow struck right where I had been aiming, and the buck leapt skyward and then bounded into the brush and out of sight.

Once my shaking subsided, I texted Andy and told him I‘d made a good shot on a buck. Forty-five minutes later, I climbed down, walked to where I’d last seen my buck, and found blood splattered on a rock. It was easy tracking, and I found my buck just as Andy arrived. After taking photos, we loaded my buck and my gear into the rental truck, and then drove to a spot near where Chris was hunting, where we hung my buck and started butchering it. Chris joined us after his hunt was over to help with the meat care, and I was happy for the extra hands and skilled knives, which made quick work of some of the tastiest wild game meat on the planet.

I felt my treestand was the best place to kill a deer, but my safety harness was too small for Chris. So that afternoon, Chris and I put up a blind behind the big Banyan I’d been hunting out of and brushed it in. His shots from that blind would be 30 to 40 yards.

The next morning, Chris and I walked to the Banyan-tree blind under the cover of darkness. Chris crawled into the blind, while I climbed the tree to my stand, from which I would film his hunt.

Shortly after daylight, a doe walked in and Chris took a shot, but he missed the doe clean. An hour later, more than two-dozen axis deer approached our position from below. They were drinking and scattered along the water, and eventually moved to within 20 yards of me. Chris took a 50-yard shot, but missed low. After nervously jumping around for a few moments, the deer eventually settled down. They hung around, but soon a flock of turkeys showed up and started harassing the deer, eventually causing the entire herd to leave. We went back to the condo and had lunch, and then Chris went bowfishing and I tagged along to launch a few shots at fish. Chris and I returned to the Banyan-tree setup later that day, but we didn’t have any luck. Unfortunately, that was also Chris’s last opportunity to hunt before he had to head home.

My friend Andy Day is left-handed, so he had a challenge hunting from my Banyan treestand because it was set up for me — a righty. As you can see here, Andy found a way to make the setup work.

The next morning, it was Andy’s turn to sit in the Banyan treestand while I filmed him from the blind.

About 9 a.m., a small herd of deer came in — and there was a decent buck in the group. I had a great view as they walked in and drank. I kept the camera rolling, expecting Andy to shoot. But what I didn’t realize was tree limbs were obscuring his view. The buck turned and was quartering away, and Andy eventually found a big enough opening to shoot through. Andy released his arrow, which hit the quartering-away axis buck in front of its ham, angling forward into the chest cavity. The buck sprinted back into the brush.

Not wanting to make any noise, Andy texted me that he wasn’t too sure about his shot placement. I texted him back, letting him know that from my position, I thought his shot looked pretty good.

After quietly waiting 10 minutes, I slipped out of my blind and walked to the tree to film some cutaways for TV purposes. Then we cautiously went to the impact site, where we found enough sign to indicate the buck probably wouldn’t travel far.

After waiting 30 minutes, we slowly moved in the direction of where we thought we’d heard the buck crash to the ground, using our binoculars to scan the brush ahead of us. Finally, Andy spotted what appeared to be his dead axis buck. He then slowly moved toward the deer, just in case his intuitions were wrong… They weren’t! The buck was dead.

Chris had to be at the airport at 11 a.m., so we made quick work of photographing, skinning, and de-boning Andy’s buck before driving Chris to the airport. After dropping Chris off at the airport, we returned to the condo to finish taking care of Andy’s meat.

Axis Deer are skittish and will notice any change in the landscape, so if you use a pop-up blind, make sure you brush it in and place it where you want to hunt days before hunting.

Southeast winds over the next three days forced Andy and I to abandon the Banyan tree, so we went and checked out an area closer to the ocean. There we found well-used trails; the dirt was literally reduced to a fine powder by the hooves of who knows how many axis deer that were using them.

After hiking around a bit, I eventually found a spot where several good trails crossed. A suitable tree was within 16 yards, so I climbed into the tree and trimmed a few limbs. Before I left, I gathered a few leafy limbs and used them to further help hide my ambush.

Later, eight deer began walking the trail I was sitting near, so I decided to take a few pictures. I had taken a couple photos when I noticed the deer were closer and walking faster than I‘d thought, so I quickly turned and put my camera in my pack. That was a rookie mistake.

A doe, 80 yards away, spotted my movement as the three fawns leading the way were walking by me. The doe then proceeded to bark at me while stomping her front hoof. Then she bounded off, taking the rest of the axis deer in the group with her.

While all this was going on, Andy had been sitting in a natural blind he’d made in an area based on his scouting. An hour into his sit, a doe and her little fawn grazed within five yards of his position. Andy told me later that the approaching doe and fawn got him thinking about my advice on our elk hunt way back in 1979, when I told him to let an animal come as close as possible. And he did. But he couldn’t bear the thought of the tiny fawn being without its mom, so he let them walk and just enjoyed the moment in the Hawaiian sunshine. Can’t say that I blame him, because I’m pretty sure I would have done the exact same thing!

Author’s Notes

My equipment on this hunt included a Hoyt Helix bow, Easton FMJ arrows, 125-grain Wac’Em broadheads, and a Spot-Hogg sight. My Mossy Oak Break-Up Country camo helped me disappear amongst the foliage of the Banyan tree. I carried my skinning and butchering equipment, water and food, and survival gear in my Kifaru pack.

We used Alaska Airlines to get to Honolulu, and then used Mokulele Airlines to fly to Molokai. Since these airlines are not connected, you will have to pick up your luggage and take it to Mokulele Airlines, plus pay a luggage fee. There is a city bus you can take for free, but when scheduling flights, allow at least two hours between connections. Pay close attention to your arrival and departure times, or you may end up having to rent a hotel room.

If you would like to hunt axis deer on Molokai Ranch, contact Coco Augustiro at (808) 336-1181.

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