Alaska… “The Last Frontier”, “The Great Land”, or “The Land of the Midnight Sun”… take your pick… I just pushed the “book your flight” button on my computer for a trip to Kodiak Island in mid-November. Within a matter of months, I would be stepping foot onto Kodiak Island for the trip of a lifetime! Months earlier, I met guide Jeff Maier at an outdoor show in Bath, New York. I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the diminutive blacktail mounts hanging at his show booth. The blacktails were absolutely gorgeous… dark brown forehead, chocolate antlers, double throat-patch; they had it all… the only thing I needed to do was say “Yes”!
I was extremely intrigued about the prospects of hunting Sitka Blacktails unguided. Jeff operates Uganik Bay Adventures. He offers unguided Blacktail hunts along with guided sea duck hunts and sometimes throws in a little “long line “ fishing for Halibut and Cod to keep things interesting.
Since I was a young boy, the prospects of hunting Alaska for ANYTHING was exciting enough, so I was able to convince my good friend Steve Doudt to tag along and “double up” chasing Sitka Blacktails for a week. Steve has hunted Alaska multiple times over the years, so his knowledge and sage advice regarding the 49th state was key to the success of our wilderness adventure. The months leading up to our hunt flew by and soon we were exiting our DeHavilland Beaver and preparing ourselves to hunt the legendary Island of Kodiak.
Preparing for a hunt like this was easy, keep gear to a minimum, but make sure I packed the “right” things to ensure a safe, comfortable, and successful adventure.
Number one on my list of essentials was optics. This hunt was strictly a “do-it-yourself”, spot and stalk hunt. We would receive no help from the outfitter on this hunt. We would get dropped off by boat every morning and picked up every night and that was it! We were on our own for the entire day. Hiking, glassing, navigating, and field preparation for anything we harvested was strictly our responsibility.
The main objective each day was to hike up to a “high spot”, sit and glass the surrounding countryside for hours on end. Unless we stumbled upon a deer along the coastline, this was our “modus operandi” for the entire trip. Kodiak Island is choked with alders and impenetrable grass that makes it absolutely imperative that you employ superior optics. Binoculars and spotting scopes are critical for a successful do-it-yourself hunt… period.
It was just getting light. Jeff and his guide Jayson readied the aluminum boat; we hopped in, and set off for our first full day of hunting. After a brief boat ride, Jeff and Jayson quietly floated the small watercraft toward shore; we hurriedly unloaded our packs, and the two bid Steve and myself farewell. The small boat whirred away and soon the silence of the waves crashing onto the beach was the only thing we could hear. Now we were really on our own!
Within minutes we began our climb. I breathed in the cold salty Alaskan air, not knowing what lay ahead. Steve began to climb and I followed close behind. We “Billy goated” up and down several hogbacks toward our predestined glassing point, but our heavy breathing was quickly interrupted by Steve whispering …deer, deer, deer!
I could see the Blacktail buck staring directly at us, nestled at the bottom of a small saddle. For a moment, the buck looked like a statue, not moving a muscle. I told Steve to “wait” as I frantically pulled my pack frame off, quickly and quietly removed my Sony NX30U camera from within the cinched-up opening, flipped open the viewfinder, focused, and gave Steve the much anticipated words… I’m on him! A split-second separated my words from the report of his rifle. The buck crumpled in a heap, and we realized our first Kodiak Island Blacktail was on the ground! After a brief photo-op and post hunt interview, the buck was skinned, quartered, and field-dressed in no time. We radioed base camp and soon we were plowing through the salt air of Uganik Bay, satisfied with our quarry and eager to hunt the following day.
The second day began much like the first. We disembarked at the exact point as the previous day, but this time there was one big difference…. It was MY turn to hunt! Our goal was to reach a small spruce knob clearly visible from shore, but totally hidden from view at our drop-off point. It would take two hours to reach our destination. The hike was a good, solid, grass-grabbing trek. Our heads were on a swivel as we passed the gut-pile from the previous day. Kodiak Island is famous for it’s Brown Bear, and that’s the LAST thing we wanted to encounter on our second full day of hunting.
We reached the glassing point at mid-morning. After a sweat-filled hike, we cherished the opportunity to sit, eat our lunch, and find a soft-grassy spot to nestle into and use our optics to the fullest extent. We quickly picked up movement on the distant mountainside. The sun glistened off the backs of the blacktail, their chocolate-colored hides stood out prominently against the rock-strewn topography. Some of the deer were well over 500 yards away, but the Endeavor ED 10.5 x 45 binoculars uncovered the deer instantly. It was as if the deer were right in front of us!
We glassed the entire afternoon. As the sun began to drop toward the horizon, we realized the need to begin our descent off the mountain, or we’d be walking out in the dark. I led the way, and Steve brought up the rear. My total attention was on traversing the hillside, making sure I kept my balance and footing. As I sidestepped the hill, I heard Steve say, “buck”. It took a few seconds before I realized what was going on. I looked up and saw two deer trotting along a well-worn trail in front of me. There was so much Alder along the trail, that I had a difficult time trying to acquire my target. The doe led the way, and the buck was clearly “dogging” her with much anticipation. I peered down the Vanguard riflescope and quickly “zoomed-in” on the buck. I hit the buck with my first and second shots and the buck disappeared into the Alders.
After retrieving my quarry, I couldn’t help but think how different my hunt would be without the right equipment. A hunt on Kodiak Island requires the best optics money can buy. As they say… “The proof is in the pudding”!
- Gerry Rightmyer, Forever Wild Outdoor