Kodiak Special–Sitka Deer Hunt

We pulled one out of the archives, but this hunt is as good today as it was in 1998. Please keep in mind that prices or rules in Alaska may have changed, so check those things out for yourself. The contact information at the end of the article is correct. Enjoy!

Gazing through the binoculars, I was mesmerized by the brown, waving grass passing before my eyes. A flash caught my attention and I turned the glasses back to see what seemed so out of place in the brown sea of waist-high foliage. As I started to pick apart the grass, an antler tine moved up and down…then it was two, finally becoming a nicely formed rack of a mature buck walking up the valley, only the antlers being visible above the four foot high grass.

“One of you want to take the stalk? I can guide you in from here,” I said to my hunting companions Roy Marlow and Andy Carpenter. We were sitting a thousand feet above the bay where our 50′ boat was anchored, glassing a large, north sweeping valley.

“I don’t think you can stalk a deer in that thick stuff,” Roy quipped.

“Go ahead, man. You spotted him,” was Andy’s reply.

Roy Marlow and Andy Carpenter glassing a southern Kodiak Island valley for blacktails.

That’s pretty nice of them, I thought to myself. I offered either one of them the first stalk of the day and they turned it down. It looked like I would get the stalk. You can only be so congenial with bowhunters.

The buck was feeding through the thick grass and alder thickets in the very bottom of the valley, barely visible from high above. But the terrain looked stalkable, and the wind was cooperating like it should.

“O.K., I’m out of here,” I replied and fell off the mountain toward the unsuspecting buck. Working through the draw to the bottom, the grass and alders became an unmanageable force to reckon with. But the plan was working to perfection; I was well ahead of the buck and the wind was keeping my noise and scent to a minimum. Another 100 yards and I would be within range. A quick glance down at my feet made me wince in my clothes. There, not two feet in front of me, was the biggest pile of brown bear scat I had ever seen. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end and I found myself slowly turning in all directions looking for the beast that left its calling card. It looked like I wasn’t the only hunter in the area, and I sure didn’t like sharing the valley with this one.

I continued my stalk, wondering if the shiny, round object I saw in the scat was a button from some poor hunter’s shirt. Nah…couldn’t be, I thought to myself more as a confidence builder rather than an afterthought. Besides, I had come too far to turn back now. I felt my hand move over the bear spray strapped to my belt, doing little more than verifying its presence as opposed to giving me any sense of security.

The grass in the bottom of the valley was dry and thick, making stalking almost impossible. I had reached a point where I couldn’t go any further without the buck seeing me so I nocked an arrow and waited to see what events would unfold. Within a minute the buck came out in front of me walking broadside. As I drew down on him he turned and saw my movement just as I released. At the sound of the string he dropped down to gather his legs and I watched as the arrow sailed over his back a mere inch or two. With two bounding leaps he was gone.

I quickly took up his trail and soon saw his rump going through the tall grass. Keeping him in sight, I followed down the path he was on, stopping every time he looked back, until he broke from the trail at a creek and disappeared into the alders. Crossing the creek to get the wind back in my favor, I skirted along the edge of the water peering into the opening of the alders hoping to see where he had gone.

I had just about come to the end of the creek where it flowed into a larger stream when I saw the familiar white throat patch of a blacktail buck. He was standing on the other side of the creek looking at me. It seemed like several minutes before he turned sideways to look back up the hill, and that’s when I came to full draw and let the arrow fly, taking him through the liver as he turned to leave. With a bound he disappeared through the thicket and I waited a few minutes to let the broadhead do its work.

A great stalk, and a caution for brown bears, resulted in this fine Kodiak Island Sitka blacktail deer for the author.

A short blood trail and I found him sixty yards away, stone cold dead, lying in the middle of the stream. I jumped into the water and pulled him back onto the bank, admiring the wonderful set of antlers he sported and the delicate hair of his winter coat. It was just about then I remembered the bear scat and my mind began racing as to how to get the buck back to the boat as soon as possible. With the smell of fresh blood in the wind, I knew I could expect a visit from a bear if it should come across the scent. I didn’t want to fight a bear for the deer, and I sure didn’t want to give it to one either.

I glanced up where I had left Roy and Andy and found them already on their way down the hill. They had watched the whole episode through binoculars and were soon there helping me cape and bone out the meat.

It was a great first day of bow hunting.

Alaska may be the last true bowhunting frontier in North America. With so much land and so many species to hunt, Alaska beckons bowhunters from all over the world. And I’ve been one of them, hunting and fishing from above the Arctic Circle to Prince of Wales Island, the interior to the Alaskan Peninsula. I’ve spent enough time in the back country of this state that I don’t feel like a cheechako anymore, although I hold no illusions to the dangers of Alaska with its unpredictable weather, bears and rough terrain.

Most bowhunters come to Alaska searching for wide racked moose or nomadic caribou, both exceptional quarry in their own rights. But our small group had come to match wits with the Sitka blacktail, a not so distant cousin of the mule deer.

The idea of hunting Sitka blacktails had been in the back of my mind for years, but the thought of packing a ton of gear, hiring a bush pilot to drop me off on some barren coast, to return—hopefully—on a specified date to pick me up, didn’t sit well in my mind. I’ve been there, done that…got the t-shirt. But when I met Roark Brown and Rick Swenson, owners of Homer Ocean Charters, earlier in the spring, they promised me the hunt of a lifetime—fly down to the chartered boat which was anchored in a southern bay, hunt from the boat for a week while we sailed back up the east side of Kodiak Island, and all the crab I could eat. The offer was too good to pass up, so I gathered a group of six friends and we made our way north from the lower forty-eight.

The second day I spent on the boat caping out the deer head and watching Rocky Holpainen fish for Grey cod. He had dislocated his shoulder the first day we arrived, ruining his chances for hunting, but his spirit was admirable considering the predicament he had found himself in. So fishing was in order, and he was bringing in some impressive cod as I sat on the fantail of the boat working on the deer.

Grey cod, such us this specimen Rocky Holpainen is holding, are excellent eating, with the added benefit of providing scraps for the crab pots.

The following morning we pulled up the crab pots and made our way out of the bay toward the cannery at Akhiok. The pots produced a large king and several tanner, or snow crab, for dinner. And the ride out through the inlet at high tide took us through more flocks of ducks than I’ve seen since the Pacific Flyway was at its peak in the early ’80s. Literally thousands of sea birds crossed our bow: bizarre colored harlequins; greater scaup; common scoter; oldsquaw, as well as other more recognizable species. For a half hour the birds darkened the sky as we made our way out through the narrows heading for the open sea.

We anchored once we passed the narrows and went ashore to hunt. The low grassy shoreline held numerous deer. Closer to the hills the bigger bucks could be found, but in spite of several close encounters the only deer to fall to an arrow was a lone doe that Nathan Andersohn shot. That evening we spent the night at the cannery in Akhiok and feasted on steak, crab and adult beverages. The next morning we would head north, up the eastern shore of Kodiak to hunt in another bay.

The trip up the coast was fantastic. The peaks of the hills had a dusting of snow on them and the water was an unbelievable blue as the sun broadcast its warmth across the sky. We sailed for four hours and pulled into a long, narrow bay where we would hunt for a couple of days. Andy, Roy and I went off in one direction and Nathan and Greg Jouflas another. Rocky remained on the boat since he was not comfortable with the idea of climbing the slippery hills with a bad shoulder.

Andy and I split up from Roy and hunted up a small hill. I dropped off one side and he took the other, where he came across a large doe feeding in an alder thicket and sent an arrow through her. The grass and alders were thick and it took us over twenty minutes to find the deer, although it only went fifty yards through the brush. I have to add here that this was Andy’s first big game kill with his longbow. He had decided to switch from a compound that spring and had made the decision to only hunt with the longbow on this trip. You could feel his excitement as we pulled the deer to the top of a rise to field dress it before dragging it back to shore. We boned out the meat on the beach by a driftwood fire. A feast would await us back on board the Sourdough. After all, it was Thanksgiving and we had every reason to be thankful today.

With one well placed arrow from his Bighorn longbow, Andy Carpenter tagged his first blacktail deer.

The next morning there were over a dozen mountain goats feeding on the rocky cliff above the boat, some of them exceptional billies. However, because of a strong and greedy outfitter and guide association, and poor politics, Alaska passed a law a decade ago which denies taxpaying nonresidents the opportunity to hunt these beautiful creatures without hiring an Alaska guide. So we watched them during breakfast, and then went out to hunt deer.

It was a great day, in fact the best one we had had so far. In this bay, tucked away from almost every other hunter , we saw hundreds of deer, dozens of them big bucks with four and five points per side. Everyone had opportunities that day, but only Nathan would connect. Late in the afternoon he had shot a fine buck only to have nightfall approach too soon. He and Greg spent hours in the dark boning and then packing the buck back down to the shore where they could be picked up. It was harrowing at times, and they had to cross a swollen river in the dark, soaking them to the skin in the frigid water, bringing on the chance of hypothermia. Back on the Sourdough, the wind was picking up as we all watched the black shoreline waiting for a light to signal us where they were. When it finally came there was a great sigh of relief, and soon the two cold but happy hunters were back on board, and then the story was told.

Next to the bush plane, the Zodiac is one of the most used modes of transportation for deer hunters.

The weather report that evening was not good. High winds were predicted the next morning and were expected to last for some time. With only one day left to hunt, we decided it would be best to try and get back into Kodiak the next day rather than being stuck in the bay. Although nobody was eager to leave this wonderful place, common sense prevailed. However, hind sight being what it always is, we should have stayed and hunted a few more days.

Roark had the Sourdough’s twin diesels fired up at 5:00 a.m., pointed the bow east, and set a course for the Pacific. As we cleared the bay and turned north, the weather looked fine. But we had over seven hours of hard sailing to make the buoy which marks the channel of Chiniak Bay, and a clear run to Kodiak. The ride was pleasant as we used all the inside passages working our way north.

As we approached Chiniak Point the weather turned foul. Twelve foot seas beat and battered us as Roark tried to slip the Sourdough through the troughs. Less than a mile from the buoy, he made a command decision; we could not make the harbor in these seas. So, within sight of Kodiak, we had to turn the boat around and head eighteen miles south to find refuge in a safe bay for the next two days. This in itself would not have been too much of a problem, except that we were now anchored in a unit which was closed for deer hunting.

“You know, this is a true-life Fred Bear adventure, just like he wrote about in his books,” Rocky opined as we sat around the dining table that evening. And it was. We had flown a Grumman Goose down the full length of Kodiak Island, taking in some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen, hunted out of a 50′ fishing vessel, ate all the crab we wanted, fished, and now, within reach of port, we were to feel Mother Nature one more time as she taught us a little bit more respect for her power. These are things which make life so much more rewarding, and we had had our fair share on this trip.

There were no complaints coming from this quarter.

MAKING A RUN FOR KODIAK-Greg Jouflas, left and Nathan Andersohn with Nathan’s buck on the fantail of the good ship Sourdough. Even though the weather started out good, it would deteriorate by late afternoon and would prevent us from making Kodiak for two more days.

The winds finally died down and we made safe harbor in Kodiak only one day late, but still in time to catch a plane back to Anchorage that evening. In the hustle and bustle of packing gear, meat and antlers, I took time to rehash the weeks events. There was frozen sea water on the entire boat, and snow covered the dock as we disembarked. I looked at Roark, who was smiling the whole time, and asked him, “Well, what do have planned for me next season?”

“Why don’t you come back next year, but we’ll just stay in the bay? I’ll give you my Kodiak Special!”

I thought long and hard about the offer. The decision was easy.

“I’ll take it.”





Author’s Notes:

Although the limit of king crab is down considerably these days, it still allows a few to be taken. Here Captain Roark is holding one destined for the table.

I once read that there is one brown bear for every square mile of Kodiak Island, and by my math this adds up to approximately 3,000 of these large carnivores. Their sign was everywhere, but in the week we hunted the entire east side of the island we never saw a single bear. That is not all too bad in my book—the week after we made port a local hunter was nearly killed in a brown bear mauling in the exact area we had been hunting.

There are several theories as to why bears charge and what you can do to try and prevent a mauling from happening. Some hunters carry firearms, such as .45 caliber handguns or pump riot shotguns, alternately loaded with buckshot and slugs. I prefer to use my head, hunt smart and stay away from areas which may hide a bear. I also carry a can of Counter Assault bear spray in big bear country as my last defense should it come to that.

In all the years I have hunted in bear country, I have never found myself in a life-threatening situation with a bear. This is not to say it will never happen, just that I have come to terms with bears and how to avoid them if at all possible. Common sense and smart hunting will keep you out of most trouble. Just use your head, and hunt in pairs for safety’s sake.

Homer Ocean Charters books six day Sitka blacktail hunts in southern Kodiak Island, hunting off their 50′ Delta Marine fishing boat. The maximum number of hunters per group is six. The quarters are very comfortable and the food is excellent. All tags and licenses are on board the boat so you do not have to purchase them in advance, a major advantage in addition to the fact hunting out of a boat allows you to move your base of operations.

These high quality deer hunts book fast and far into the future. Rates are very reasonable when compared to doing a hunt like this on your own. For more information, contact:

Homer Ocean Charters
907-235-6212 and 907-235-8251 (fax)
Toll free 1-800-426-6212
Winter hours start Sept 15: 10-4 p.m.
P.O. Box 2543 Homer, AK 99603
(Alaska time – 4 hours earlier than east coast)
Email: homeroceancharters@gmail.com


About the Author:

T. J. Conrads is the Editor, Publisher and Founder of Traditional Bowhunter Magazine. He has written many articles over the years, and has also written two excellent books: The Traditional Bowhunter's Handbook and Campfire Reflections.

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