The Other Alaska
November 04, 2010
When you can enjoy the wilds of Alaska -- with all the comforts of home -- you just have to do it!
Last October, my wife, Cindy, and I traveled to Kodiak Island to hunt Sitka blacktail deer. This was our fourth Alaskan hunt, and I can say without reservation it was the most fun.
Why go all the way to Alaska just to hunt deer? To my eye, Sitka blacktails are the prettiest of all deer, Kodiak Island is one of the most spectacular places you're ever likely to hunt, and you can buy up to three tags. If Alaska is in your hunting plans, you'll want to include Kodiak Island for deer.
After some research and recommendations from friends, I chose Homer Ocean Charters as my transporter. This company pioneered the "boat" hunt for Sitka deer almost two decades ago. Essentially, you live on one of Homer's large boats anchored in a bay, and you take a skiff to land each morning to spend the day hunting on your own. This approach offers an ideal introduction to hunting in Alaska.
Transporters cannot help you hunt. They can't accompany you in the field, nor can they help you pack or process game and trophies. In that way, a hunt with a transporter truly is a do-it-yourself hunt. What the transporter does provide is transportation to the hunting area, plus room and board. With Homer Ocean Charters, that means a comfortable cabin on a boat, complete with toilets, shower, and great meals prepared for you. This all allows you to concentrate on hunting instead of camping. Prices for this type of hunt are similar to other drop-camp hunts and are much less than for fully guided hunts.
I chartered the entire boat far enough in advance to lock up the last week of October.
While the season is quite long, this week put our hunt at the beginning of the rut. The boat accommodates six hunters, and I had no trouble filling the other four spots with bowhunters Rod Davis, Mike Mann, Brandon Powell, and Dan Lee -- all first-timers to Alaska.
Like most Alaskan hunts, this one began with a Beaver floatplane flight, in this case from the town of Kodiak to Olga Bay, on the south end of the island where our boat, the Outer Limits, was anchored. Roark Brown, the boat captain, welcomed us aboard. We had already met Nat, the first mate, in Kodiak.
Every day of our hunt followed the same pattern: Nat or Roark would fire up the boat's generator at about 7 a.m. Nat would drop us off on shore, in pairs, starting at first light.
Nat would return to pick us up at 5:30 p.m., so we would have plenty of light left to pack out an afternoon kill.
On our first day, the weather was perfect, and it would remain so the entire week. The sky was clear to overcast with no significant precipitation or wind, and temperatures ranged from a low of 23 degrees to a high of about 50. In my experience, this is not typical Alaskan weather. You must always come prepared for wind and rain -- even the possibility of losing a day or two of hunting to inclement weather.
Hunting the east end of the bay that first day, we all saw deer, but no one connected. The second day we hunted on the south shore where, by late morning, Cindy and I had reached an alpine bowl at about 800 feet elevation. After carefully glassing the bowl and seeing no deer, we started to cross and promptly spooked a buck and two does up the steep slope opposite us.
To let things settle down, we stopped for lunch and then followed the deer. I doubted we would catch up to them but figured the views would be spectacular. I was right on both counts! From the 1,710-foot elevation of the ridge, we could see the entire bay and much of the southern end of Kodiak Island. Again, everyone saw game this day but failed to fill a tag.
On day three, Cindy and I were climbing another ridge when a doe, fawn, and small buck crested the skyline about 200 yards away. They had us pinned down. As we crouched in the bushes, they curiously approached to within 62 yards.
Eventually they wandered about 200 yards away into a small swale, where they alternately bedded and fed. They were directly upwind, and we were able to keep track of them for a couple of hours while we ate lunch and tried to devise a plan.
At 1:15, they went out of sight, and as I eased higher to relocate them, I spotted the very top of the doe's head, 25 yards away. She was staring at me. However, I was wearing my deer decoy hat -- a ball cap with ears and a nose like a deer's head -- and that seemed to fool her.
Then the buck's antlers appeared behind her. Cindy was not in position for a shot, so I slowly crouched and picked up my bow. As I rose again, the doe stared for a few more moments and then walked off. The buck then moved to where she had been and also stared.
The brush was too high for any shot, so I turned my head left and right to give life to the "pretty doe" on my head. The buck took a couple of steps forward and put his front feet up on a hummock, exposing his entire chest. He kept staring as I drew my bow and sent an arrow through his chest. After a short search, we found him just 50 yards away.
Because this had taken place close to the bay, we had a fairly easy packing job. Back on the boat, we learned that Dan had killed a doe.
For Cindy and me, day four was pretty slow. Late in the afternoon I tried pushing some does past Cindy, but they passed her just out of range. However, every time we glassed in the direction the rest of our group was hunting, we saw deer everywhere. This turned out to be Rod's day when he stalked and made a 42-yard shot on a bedded buck. The antlers later measured 915â„8 Pope and Young inches, a great Sitka buck. A brown bear nearby gave them a bit of a thrill while they were field-dressing the deer. On Kodiak, you don't always see bears, but they're always on your mind.
Shortly after hiking away from the beach on day five, we glassed a bear across a large basin, and we saw a number of deer in the distance.
Suddenly a large buck appeared on a grassy flat about a mile away, and just as quickly he disappeared. We headed in that direction but hadn't gone far when we came to a stream that was too wide and deep to cross without getting soaked. Since it seemed to meander in the general direction of the buck, we followed it.
After about a half-mile, we still couldn't cross the stream, and we hadn't seen the buck again. I climbed th
e stream bank to get a better look and saw Rod and Mike walking away from the area. We found out later they had also seen the buck but, like us, couldn't cross the river. We continued on to a point just past where the deer had been and sat down for lunch. Whether the buck was still there, we didn't know.
We had been sitting and glassing for about an hour, when the buck suddenly reappeared, 200 yards out on the grassy flat where we'd first seen him. He was just over 200 yards away, directly upwind! After a couple of minutes, he bedded, facing directly away from us. Now I could see his antlers and keep track of him.
While Cindy enjoys hunting, she has her limits. And, like Mike and Rod earlier, wading a waist-deep, ice-cold river, and then crawling through a semi-frozen swamp was beyond them. I, on the other hand, was determined to get that buck!
Heading straight toward the buck, I hit the stream at a place where I could cross without getting too wet. Quickly I halved the distance to the buck, but from there it was much slower going. The flat was covered with short grass growing in one to four inches of water, covered with skim ice. The deer was bedded on slightly higher ground in tall grass.
He never turned his head more than a few degrees left or right, and at times his antlers completely disappeared as he evidently went to sleep.
Two hours later I was soaked and freezing -- and crouched just 35 yards from the buck.
Trying to keep warm, I did isometrics and stretching exercises. When he finally stood, I was ready and drew immediately. He saw the motion and looked my way -- just as the arrow hit tight behind his shoulder and passed completely through him. He went only about 40 yards.
This deer was bigger than the first one we'd packed out, and we had much farther to go.
While I offered to take more of the weight, Cindy insisted on taking as much as she could. With all the meat and the normal gear we carry, we guessed her pack weighed at least 50 pounds, mine about 80. Cindy stands only five feet tall and weighs all of 100 pounds. Everyone on the boat was impressed with the weight she hauled out that night.
During this same time, Brandon was having some good luck and bad luck of his own. On the good side, he had hit a buck. On the bad side, while tracking he saw a bear closing in on the deer ahead of him. He had only one choice -- to wish the bear a nice dinner.
On our last day, Cindy and I had some close encounters but couldn't close the deal.
Brandon killed a doe, and Rod and Mike had some close calls but no shots.
The week was over much too soon. The hunting had been great, the food superb, the accommodations comfortable, the scenery spectacular, and the companionship pleasant!
Every serious bowhunter should do this hunt. It's an excellent introduction to hunting in Alaska -- and a whole lot more.
The author and his wife make their home in Lyons, Colorado.
Author's Notes: I used a Mathews Switchback XT set at 70 lbs. draw weight, Easton Full Metal Jacket 300 arrows, 125-grain NAP HellRazor broadheads, QAD Ultra-Rest HD Pro arrow rest, Black Gold FlashPoint sight, Carter Target 4 release, Bushnell Legend rangefinder, Swarovski EL 10x42 binoculars, Eberlestock Blue Widow pack, and a Ruger Redhawk .44 for protection against bears.
For more information on this hunt, contact: Homer Ocean Charters, PO Box 2543, Homer, AK 99603; 1-800-426-6212; www.homerocean.com.