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Thread: Need advice on a December deer hunt in PWS

  1. #1
    Member Rod in Wasilla's Avatar
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    Default Need advice on a December deer hunt in PWS

    OK- I didnít get anything on my Thanksgiving deer hunt in PWS, but it was my first time hunting from a boat and looking back on it I know I could have done a few things differently. I ended up going solo and I only really got out for a day, so although I was a little disappointed in my first attempt, Iím not discouraged. And the boat is still all geared up, so Iím gonna give it one more try. My final attempt this year will be the last weekend in December, and Iím hoping to get out with a partner for a few days.

    Iíve got a solid 50-mile range from Whittier, maybe more if I fill a couple more gas cans, but I doubt I can get as far south as Montague. So Iím planning to cruise the beaches, probably in the north Knight Island area, and I have some questions for all the PWS deer proís, semi-pro's and amateurs out there.
    • Hunt from the boat or hike in a ways? (assuming boat this time of year)
    • How far offshore should I be traveling to effectively spot deer?
    • How close is too close?
    • Will the sound of an idling 2-stroke outboard scare them away?
    • Shoot from the boat or spot and stalk?
    • What kind of terrain should I be focusing on?
    • How much does tide make a difference, if any?
    • Is it better to hunt at sun-up, sundown, or mid-day?
    • Is there anything I should know about a late December deer hunt in PWS thatís different than a November hunt?

    I know itís a lot of questions, but hopefully my partner and I will be able to fill some of the empty space in our freezers this year.
    Quote Originally Posted by northwestalska
    ... you canít tell stories about the adventures you wished you had done!

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    Member ak_powder_monkey's Avatar
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    Bring me and a buddy of mine we'll split gas... Seriously!
    I choose to fly fish, not because its easy, but because its hard.

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    Default winter boat hunts

    Quote Originally Posted by Rod in Wasilla View Post
    OK- I didnít get anything on my Thanksgiving deer hunt in PWS, but it was my first time hunting from a boat and looking back on it I know I could have done a few things differently. I ended up going solo and I only really got out for a day, so although I was a little disappointed in my first attempt, Iím not discouraged. And the boat is still all geared up, so Iím gonna give it one more try. My final attempt this year will be the last weekend in December, and Iím hoping to get out with a partner for a few days.

    Iíve got a solid 50-mile range from Whittier, maybe more if I fill a couple more gas cans, but I doubt I can get as far south as Montague. So Iím planning to cruise the beaches, probably in the north Knight Island area, and I have some questions for all the PWS deer proís, semi-pro's and amateurs out there.
    • Hunt from the boat or hike in a ways? (assuming boat this time of year)
    • How far offshore should I be traveling to effectively spot deer?
    • How close is too close?
    • Will the sound of an idling 2-stroke outboard scare them away?
    • Shoot from the boat or spot and stalk?
    • What kind of terrain should I be focusing on?
    • How much does tide make a difference, if any?
    • Is it better to hunt at sun-up, sundown, or mid-day?
    • Is there anything I should know about a late December deer hunt in PWS thatís different than a November hunt?

    I know itís a lot of questions, but hopefully my partner and I will be able to fill some of the empty space in our freezers this year.

    Don't know what the snow conditions are on the west side of the Sound, but on this side (Cordova) it's been raining a lot so the deer have moved back up away from the beaches. If that hasn't changed by the time you go out, you're probably gonna have to hunt in a ways. Ideally get in far enough there are snow patches in the meadows but it's clear under the trees. If the snow comes back, it's gonna be the boat or the timber strips closest to the beach.

    If you're using the boat for spotting deer, I like being within 250 to 500 yards from the beach, sometimes closer. BUT the big thing is watch for rocks just under the surface, it's real easy to punch a hole in your boat, or knock a blade or two off yout prop, or even knock your whole lower unit off the boat if you're cruising looking for deer and not watching for obsticals. You may also spot deer that you'd have no problem shooting, but there is no safe way to the beach to get them. Enjoy the view then move on. If you don't know how you're gonna pick them up, there is no reason to shoot them.

    As far as the deer are concerned, there is no too close, the noise from the boats doesn't seem to bother them unless there has been a lot of traffic shooting at them. Then it's still the sight of a boat that seems to scare them off, not the sound. Many times if they leave the beach, they'll just go into the first timber then wait. They don't want to go wading through chest deep snow.

    If you shoot from the boat, there are a few things to remember, First you have to be stopped, out of gear, and you cant still be moving from your momentum if you want to be legal. Second, it's easy to misjudge distance over water. Things usually look closer than they are. Third, it takes some getting used to, compensating for the swell that may be rocking your boat. If you're not confident, don't shoot. You owe it to the deer to make a good clean shot.

    Again, picking them up off the beach can be treacherous. I've seen busted off units, holes in boats and all kinds of stuff because guys misjudged the conditions. It's best if you have a small skiff or inflatable to do your pick-ups so as not to risk your main boat. But remember, what seems like a gentle swell offshore can be small breakers when you hit the beach. It's easy to swamp a small boat when you get to the beach. I watched two guys once go in to pick up a deer in marginal conditions and a disaster unfolded. The guy running the skiff came in between waves and the second guy jumped out to deal with the deer. The guy in the skiff backed off the beach to wait as there were small two to three foot breakers hitting the shore. When the second guy got to the shore with the deer, the skiff came back to pick him up, but he had a hard time getting the deer into the skiff and took too long. A wave broke over the back of the skiff and swamped it, washing oars and gas cans and other stuff out. the two guys scrambled to gather everything up in the water and bail the skiff out, but a couple more waves filled it up. They drug it out of the water and emptied it, got the deer and gear in and pushed it back out into the water and attempted to get out far enough with the oars the waves wouldn't get them. They almost made it and tried getting the motor to start. but it wouldn't start and the boat turned sideways to the waves and took a hit and capsized. By this time the cold (It was the end of Dec) and wet and strain was getting to them and they both sat chest deep in the water unable to stand up. We had no other small boat to get to the beach off the seiner we were on and their situation looked desparate. I got out a survival suit and was going to swim to shore with a line to try to save them, when around the point came another seiner who quickly sent his skiff to the beach to rescue them and the skiff. It all turned out OK with just some minor hypothermia, but a few minutes more in the water could have been fatal.

    As far as terrain, I like a good gravel beach surrounded by cliffs. This funnels the deer into smaller areas so they'll be more consentrated. They like to come down small streams too. Also having timber close by to escape in is important to the deer. The best time to look is the two hours on both sides of low tide as there is more beach exposed for the deer to find food. Mornings and evenings are also the best, so if there is a low tide right at daylight or right before dark, that's the ticket. But, even if it's high tide, they don't go far into the woods, usually less than 200 yards. Sometimes you'll see them bedded right at the timber edge. And in extreme conditions, they'll be right at the water's edge as soon as the tide starts dropping. One trip to Montague we got three feet of snow and the deer were litteraly wading into the water as the tide started dropping so they could eat the grass exposed when the salt water melted the snow. We saw several deer knee deep in water with their noses into the edge of the snow.

    The main thing to remember in either Nov or Dec is the weather can change instantly. Make sure at least one guy doesnt get too far from your boat if you leave it anchored so he can get back in a hurry if the wind comes up. And bring supplies for an extra two weeks just in case you get blown in to a snug anchorage. Cell phone coverage in that area can be spotty at best. Let someone know your general area before you leave, and check the marine weather report when ever you can.

  4. #4

    Default Thanks Twodux

    Posts like yours are the reason so many of us are regular "lurkers" on this forum. With your knowledge, you should write books. Thank you a zillion times for sharing your knowledge with us lurkers. You are very generous with your time and experience.

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    Member ak_powder_monkey's Avatar
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    P.S. check out Perry Island and the pass between main bay and nellie jaun
    I choose to fly fish, not because its easy, but because its hard.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OneRound View Post
    Posts like yours are the reason so many of us are regular "lurkers" on this forum. With your knowledge, you should write books. Thank you a zillion times for sharing your knowledge with us lurkers. You are very generous with your time and experience.
    Thanks OneRound, It's no problem. I don't want to read about any of you guys getting in trouble.

    One last thing I forgot to mention is anchoring up for the night. You want to be in a very secure place while you're sleeping. There is nothing like waking up in the middle of the night banging on the beach and getting up to find whiteout conditions and trying to relocate to a safe place when you can't see a darn thing. I know this from experience, just ask my hunting partner. Even with all the experience I have it happenned to us three years ago. We went to a place we weren't familiar with, but the weather was perfect and the forecast was good. We set the anchor good or so we thought and at low tide that night in the dark we were high and dry on a mud bottom in calm weather. We went to sleep only to awaken at two AM to the boat banging on a rock when we hadn't anchored anywhere near a rock. It turned out the wind came up along with a bad snow squall and had blown us about a quarter mile farther up in the bay and over to the shore. I was out of my bunk in an instant and had the boat started and was running up on the anchor line before any damage was done. (I have a Hamilton jet) I got my partner out to pull the anchor and turned on the gps and fathometer to try to find a safe place to anchor up for the night as we were going no place in that storm. I couldn't use my lights to see as the snow was coming down so hard the light reflected back and blinded me. And the gps was all but useless to determine which direction we were traveling as we were forced to go so slow that by the time it registered on the screen, we'd already be going a different direction. Fortunately I had my wits about me enough to realize that I had to run into the wind, (as we'd blown down wind), to find deeper water first, then we could stumble around in the dark finding a safe place.

    Another lucky thing was I'd paid close attention when we'd come into the bay in the daylight and had picked out a couple spots if I needed them in an emergency and boy did we need one right then. Making several loops in our blindness we tried the first place, only to be unsatisfied with it because of the wind direction, so we looped the loop our way into the second little byght which was way more in the lee of the wind. The bad thing was there was a rock we knew about at the mouth of it, but we couldn't see it. By luck we made it in where we found three more things in our favor; the water was fairly deep right up to the shore, the bottom was very soft which made for good anchoring, and the small hills and trees surrounding the cove broke the wind so we weren't getting hammered too hard. We were still so worried after we set the hook, that we took turns on anchor watch the rest of the night. That little byght is now our favorite anchorage when we go to that bay, but if the wind blew from the right direction, it wouldn't be safe either.

    Lessons learned (or relearned); Make sure your anchor is really set good. We thought ours was, but it turned out the bottom was so hard it hadn't dug in all that deep. Second, don't assume conditions will stay the same even if you have a good forecast. Third, pick the best anchorage first even if it's nice. Fourth, have a back-up plan or two in the back of your mind if the worst case scenario happens. Fifth, stay calm and think, even if things are falling apart around you. Panic is your worst enemy.

    Be careful out there!

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    Member DMan's Avatar
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    twodux,

    Thanks for all the info. I really wanted to go out to Knight before the end of the year but as schedules work out I am not going to be able to make it. However I have been nervous of the idea just becuase I have never been in PWS in the winter before but really want to go. There has to be a first time and people like you that are willing to help prepare people will save lives. I am usually very careful and prepared but nothing can replace experiance. Guess I will have to wait until spring. Thinking of making a trip out of Valdez down your direction for Brown bears!
    ... aboard the 'Memory Maker' Making Memories one Wave at a Time!

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    Member Rod in Wasilla's Avatar
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    Default Thanks!

    Thanks twodux!

    Thatís exactly the kind of info I was looking for! Although it looks like my upcoming trip may get scuttled due to time constraints, Iím going to print this off and drop it in my hunting file. If I canít use your sage advice this year, at least Iíll have it for next. Maybe someday Iíll get to be the guy offering advice to the uninitiatedÖ

    BTW- Remember what I posted above about things I learned to do things differently? On my Thanksgiving hunt I awoke to the sound of my hull settling onto the bottom of what I thought was a nice protected little cove about 3 seconds before the boat heeled hard over, sending me sliding head first into the starboard side of the hull. Ever have the experience of trying to get out of a sleeping bag while standing on your head? Not fun! I couldnít find the zipper fast enough. As it turns out, thatís a pretty effective way to learn to check the tides against your anchor depth, but I wish I would have talked to you before I learned it the hard way. Well, as they say, no harm-no foul. But it sure was nerve wracking while it was happeningÖ

    Thanks again-
    -Rod
    Quote Originally Posted by northwestalska
    ... you canít tell stories about the adventures you wished you had done!

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    Default Anchoring

    Rod, I had an experience sort of like that while seining in Kukak Bay on the Alaskan Penninsula across from Kodiak. I was the skiff man and our skipper was a long time fisherman with many many years of experience in the area. We anchored one night in a nice protected cove and had plenty of water under us. I woke up when I evidently tried to roll over in my sleeping bag and fell out of my bunk and landed on the other side of the cabin. The boat was laid over on it's side. While we had plenty of water under us when we anchored, the bottom dropped off sharply from the shore in that lagoon and in the night we'd swung on our anchor and ended up over the drop off, and as the tide dropped the boat gently touched bottom and laid over without waking us until I fell out of my bunk. There was nothing we could do until the tide came back in and luckily it was calm until we floated. Some boats that find themselves in that situation aren't so lucky. There was a seiner in Nellie Juan back in the 70's that laid over in a similar situation, but with no one on board as the crew had flown to town for the closure. When the tide came back in water made it's way into the hull through an old fashioned hand pump flusher in the head. It had been left open without a second thought. Anyway, that boat didn't float when the tide came back in.

    Swinging on your anchor as the tide or wind changes is also something to be careful of. If you can, check the immediate area around where you plan to andchor and make sure it's clear of rocks or other surprises in places that may cause a problem if your boat shifts position on anchor and the tide drops.

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