Bowhunting Sitka Blacktails on Kodiak Island
Sitting on the side of the mountain having a snack for lunch, I could not have been happier at how the past few days of my annual Sitka blacktail deer hunt on Kodiak Island had gone. The blue sky, bright sunshine, and comfortable temperature had set the tone for a pleasant lunchbreak. My friends, Mike Zupancic and Darryl Amason, and I had all had a successful hunt. We were just about tagged-out with three bucks each again this year.
Lying there in the sun, looking out over the vast Kodiak landscape in front of me, some kind of sixth-sense feeling told me to look behind me. Slowly turning my head to the right to look, I saw a nice Sitka buck standing 15 yards behind me and looking away! Somehow, I managed to get my bow up, get to full draw, and put an arrow through the buck. He only made it about 50 yards before piling up.
That was the third buck I’d killed in November 2018. While field-dressing the deer and taking care of the meat, I looked up and saw another big buck headed in my direction. My deer decoy was still up, and he had obviously seen it. He’d also noticed the movement of my taking pictures and field-dressing the deer I’d just killed. I guess the buck thought he was missing out on something, and his curiosity caused him to walk to within 20 yards of me and stand there broadside.
When the deer are rutting on Kodiak, the hunting can be super. Personally, this is one of my favorite bowhunts in Alaska, and it’s one of the easiest and least expensive Alaskan bowhunts for nonresidents to do on their own. With some research and planning, it is not too difficult to get one of these hunts figured out and scheduled.
Getting to Kodiak Island is simple. Alaska Airlines and Ravn Airlines both fly to Kodiak from Anchorage several times a day. Once in the town of Kodiak, there are a few different floatplane operators that can fly you out and drop you off for a deer hunt. Seahawk Air, Island Air, Deckload Aviation, and Andrew’s Airways are a few companies that you can contact and make arrangements for the flight out of town to the many good deer-hunting destinations on the island.
Personally, I prefer to hunt in the latter part of October and in early November. This is the peak of the rut, and it makes for some action-packed and exciting hunting. The deer are very active, and really responsive to decoys. Early August is another time that some people prefer to hunt. Friends Jack Frost and Bill Barrickman prefer to hunt deer on Kodiak at this time of year, because the deer are generally higher up on the mountains and are more visible. This makes for more of a spot-and-stalk hunt for these early August velvet bucks.
Besides the basic bowhunting gear that you would take on any Midwestern whitetail hunt or Western elk hunt, good clothing and camping gear is essential. Clothing, rain gear, tents, etc. must be of good quality in order to avoid a miserable experience on Kodiak. The weather can be perfect one day and absolutely terrible the next. The temperature can be 70 degrees one day, and 25 degrees the next day. So, packing accordingly for this hunt is very important. Instead of bringing all of your gear with you as checked baggage on your flight from your home to Kodiak, I suggest shipping up some of your gear through the mail system or via UPS to Kodiak. Do this a couple of weeks or more before your actual hunt dates. Knowing that your equipment has arrived and is waiting for you in the town of Kodiak, before you ever leave your house on an adventure like this, is comforting. A couple of important notes: There is a great sporting good’s store in downtown Kodiak — Mack’s — that has just about anything a hunter might have forgotten or needs for a hunt. There is also a grocery store where you can buy a few last-minute perishable food treats, propane, lighters, etc. Another option in Kodiak to explore is Kodiak Kamps, a camp rental company that offers tents, cots, stoves, lanterns, etc. Kodiak Kamps also rents satellite phones. By renting some of the larger gear, a person would not have to purchase and/or fly it up from their home.
Besides your basic hunting gear and camp list, here are a few other items from my personal Kodiak deer-hunt checklist, and a few notes and recommendations about what and what not to bring.
- I hunt in rubber boots, or more recently, Simms G3 Guide wading pants, with their good supportive boot. I do not take leather boots at all into the field. I also sometimes hunt in 18-inch LaCrosse or similar-style boots. It is a wet climate.
- A one-burner Coleman propane stove that uses those common green Coleman one-pound bottles. Freeze-dried Mountain House meals are what we eat mainly for dinner on this hunt. Remember, weight is an issue on this fly-in hunt, so keep that in mind when formulating your gear list.
- A good, strong tent. The wind can be horrendous at times.
- A good kettle for heating water
- Water-purification tablets and/or a water purifier
- Quality clothing and rain gear. I prefer and use clothing and gear from KUIU, but whatever brand you like, get the highest quality.
- Trekking poles
- Satellite phone and/or Garmin InReach
- Electric bear fence
- Pistol for peace of mind and protection on your hunt. You will see brown bears, but we have had very little problems with them over the years. Note: We keep our food and our deer meat right next to our tent. We boil water and drink coffee, eat breakfast, and eat Mountain House dinners at night in our tent. I know this goes against the “Boy Scout rule” of putting all food and meat away from your tent. However, if you put it a couple hundred yards away from your tent, the bears WILL probably eventually get it. This is what has worked for us over numerous years of bowhunting deer on Kodiak.
- Pack everything in tough, quality dry bags and/or Rubbermaid totes. The totes are also great for checking your gear on the airlineflight from home, and for flying out into the field on your hunt. They protect and keep your gear dry. I take extra ones, and this is what we put our deboned deer meat in after we pack it back to camp.
- A large, high-quality backpack for hauling your deboned deer meat back to camp. A small daypack is not very useful on Kodiak.
- Game bags
- Various deer decoys
- We never have a campfire. There’s no time, no benefit, and wood is always wet.
Alaska hunting licenses and deer tags can be purchased online ahead of time. This makes one less thing on the list to accomplish once you get to Kodiak. However, it is also easy to buy your license and tags in town once you get here, if you have time. As a bonus, caribou can be encountered on some parts of the island. If you think there might be a chance of running into caribou where you’re hunting, make sure to purchase a tag. Two foxes can be taken as well, just with your hunting license.
As indicated at the beginning of this article, the deer hunting can be fantastic. When the population is good, as it is at the current time, this is a must-do hunt. The limit is three deer or three bucks, depending on the time of year. During this rut time-period hunt, the limit is three deer, either sex. This lets a person get a lot of hunting done on the trip.
Over the years, we have experimented with all kinds of hunting methods. What works best for us is decoying these aggressive, rutting bucks. I use all kinds of decoys, from decoy hats to bow-mounted decoys to full-size decoys set out in front of me. I have made several decoy caps over the years, but my mother, who lives in Texas, has made some of the best ones I’ve ever used. My friend and legendary Sitka blacktail deer hunter, Bob Ameen, took me on my first deer hunt on Kodiak years ago. He is the one who I think started this hat decoying on Kodiak, and he is the guy who introduced me to this tactic. His wife, Lisa, is also known to make some great deer decoy hats. Now there are a few companies that make decoy hats commercially and sell them. Revolution Taxidermy Supply makes a whitetail hat that I’ve found to work well on Kodiak. Last year, I also used a bow-mounted mule deer decoy from Ultimate Predator, and found it to be extremely effective. We’ve also experienced good success with Tink’s Miss November inflatable decoys the past few years. We also like to use the Primos Original Can call in conjunction with the decoys to get a buck’s attention.
If I see a big buck I want, I will try to stalk in as close as I can undetected before carefully setting up my Miss November decoy. If the buck’s in the right frame of mind, eventually he will work his way into bow range of me and the decoy. It’s amazing just how close some of these bucks will get!
I always have a deer hat on, whichever one I’m using at the time, from the moment I leave the tent in the morning until I return at dark. Sometimes I will unknowingly walk up on a buck and spook him in thicker brush. If I quickly crouch down and remain still, the buck will see the deer hat and often come in close and give me a good shot. If I’m in an area with good deer sign and am just taking a break to eat a snack, I’ll set the decoy out in from of me. I’ve killed numerous deer that I didn’t know were there this way, like the one I mentioned earlier.
This is a super-fun bowhunt with a good friend or two. I have killed my limit of three bucks each year for the past three years on Kodiak. With a little planning and effort, this hunt is not too difficult to put together. I strongly encourage you to get serious about planning a blacktail deer hunt on Kodiak Island. I guarantee you’ll be glad that you did!