Long Story of a Blacktail Stalk on Kodiak Island, Best Pics at the End, Promise
Ok, so “I’m trying to go to work, Out West, Way out west, to Sanak Island for the Sablefish,” but it’s Early August, still Summer right, weather delays could happen, probably not tho?
I throw off the lines in Kodiak, all geared up, for a 44 hour run to Sand Point, I’ve got Flat Calm traveling to start. Also have a good enough forecast for the first twelve hours to make it down one of the most notoriously rough bodies of water in the North Pacific, the Shelikof Strait, and I figure, “No problem if I can’t go further, I’d love to get a chance to scout some more down on the western end of the island for those near mythical Reindeer. Would love to find those guys. Not a bad place to get weathered in, if I have to anyway.
So sure enough, the weather is going SW25 by the time I am ready to cross over the Shelikof to run down the Mainland side. That’s wind right in the face for me, probably 6-8ft seas for the next 20hrs, doable but not fun, so I pull in to a nice protected bay to wait for morning forecast. After a good nights rest, the 4am weathermen are calling for 30kt winds. Yeah, I’m goin’ huntin’
Splash the Mad River Canoe, and load my pack for day hunting. Amazing how much stuff gets stuck in there when you are on the very end of the wildlife refuge, not a soul in sight, the Salmon Seine fleet, long gone this late in summer, in fact I didn’t see a soul for the four days I ended up down there. One Major Large Tugboat slowed down at the mouth of the bay to work on his tow rigging for an hour, then continued on. Not a float plane overhead, nothing.
So handheld VHF, space blanket, firestarter, the list goes on for Solo hunting with only the Coast Guard monitoring the airwaves to keep you company. Fair bit of Security in that, those folks are awesome, but it’s my responsibility to not need them, I go prepared.
It could be considered lonely out here, but I’m in my element, classic Western Kodiak, Spooky Wild and Windy Quiet, and looks like Reindeer country to me
So, with the big boat securely anchored, some twenty pounds of survival gear in my hunting pack sitting in the bow of the canoe, Excellent lifejacket on, I launch toward shore in protected waters, the wind whipping pretty good overhead.
I bring the spotting scope along but it is raining so off and on, so much water in the air I can hardly put it to use at all. On the beach, I notice a pretty nice looking Blacktail Buck with my binoculars, way up high at the top of a draw, obviously thinking “Security is Altitude.” As I have three Deer tags to fill this year, this is interesting enough to take another look at, I’m headed up that way to get a longer range look at Reindeer country anyway. Trying to discipline myself, “Don’t shoot just any Buck, that’ll be too much meat if you find the Reindeer later.” But the more I look He is nice enough to begin a stalk on.
Feeling really exposed to his eyes as I cross the bottom of the valley, I do it quickly hoping he will forget about me in his false security up there. There’s no other way, and I am going to have to stalk up the west side of the draw into the wind potentially leaving myself in an upwind position. The winds are swirling to some degree and I know they could gust up that draw and blow the stalk at any time but also that a strong 30 knot wind may keep my scent blowing right over this guy if he stays hunkering down in the lee of the ridge I’m hoping to sneak up.
About halfway across the valley below I take a break to glass again and see a buck in a different location, no others visible, it doesn’t look like the same one, maybe a forkhorn? I thought through the mist covered glass that I had seen a fuller rack on the first Deer I spotted. They’re about 800 feet above me maybe less, but the wind and rain are pounding down now so everything is a bit foggy.
As I continue on, my movement is spotted, a wise old Doe stands up a long ways away, up wind, across the valley and watches me, not moving, but certainly keeping me in her sight all the way.
As I get behind the ridge as cover from the draw, I take off hard and fast. Not confident the wind will stay predictable, and concerned that the Buck I saw originally was feeding toward the west and might top out on the ridge I am using as cover as he feeds over into the next drainage. It might be only minutes til he moves that far, “I’ve got to get up above him or very near where he’ll cross over as fast as I can.
It’s classic Kodiak, looked pretty tame from the anchorage, but is now rolling ground, soaking wet, interspersed chest high grass with serious tanglefoot Alders and whatever else that stuff is. Works you over hard though, takes my “get up there quick” plan and stuffs it back down my heaving lungs. So I get a little wiser, “remember he needs time to forget you,” if he did in fact spot me crossing the lower valley. If he crosses over the ridge and spots me, “I’m Reindeer scouting anyway, right, Slow down and arrive with wind in your lungs and able to take a good shot if you get to.”
Of course I’ve got the spirit of the stalk going pretty good by now, but it does work to some extent slowing down I mean, and I take a few breaks to catch my breath again. About two thirds of the way up I have a planned spot to approach the draw behind a rock outcropping, take a look. Half expecting the buck to be gone, I creep up and peek over the rocks into the draw, “There he is, 150 yds away, but it’s a younger Deer, barely forked. “this can’t be the Buck I saw from below, I’m not taking him, have plenty of time to take my Deer this year. Not hunting for just any Deer right now, be picky, that is hard to do though.
I pull back behind after watching him for a while, he’s not winding me at all, he’s positioned a little above me in the draw but as I ascend the wind is barely taking my scent away anymore but really close to sweeping it down into the draw. I do notice one thing, so far I’ve only seen one Deer at a time but this one had to be a different one than my first spotting, and he seemed to be looking up the draw, out of my view, almost like he was watching another deer feeding, keeping an eye on him/her for security. This younger Buck was not looking around for himself like he should have been. Maybe there is another Bigger Buck up there, he’s trusting to show him how it’s done?
I head up scouting another rocky area that I can approach the top of the draw from and head there, almost fever pitch “On the Hunt” now. Having a really tough time keeping an eye on both, the undergrowth still trying to whip me on the serious steeps now, as well as watching for this larger Buck to cross over the ridge above me at any moment. If he does I’ll have to see him first, could be in position for a shot now, I’m almost there, but he probably won’t cross that ridge top foolishly.
If I’m moving when he does I’ll never see any of them again. Never even know what happened, the draw will be empty.
After fighting my way up further, I’m in the area I want to look back into the draw, very near the top with great cover for my approach, I am half expecting this Deer has either winded me or seen me, they’ll be gone for sure, still I’ve got a good stalk going here, gotta finish it out with care.
I take a breather behind the rocks I’m going to use as cover. Having totally jammed up here it takes a few minutes to slow my heart rate, I decide to shed my pack, just me and my rifle, Binos, and Rangefinder, safety on, scope covers still on, it’s too wet out here for that. The only piece of Camo gear I have is my tan hat, the rest is Full Offshore Working Raingear taking on Kodiak doing it’s best, but the hat is all I need. I slowly ease on my belly the remaining 10ft to just top out over the rock, only my rock colored, weathered hat appearing before my eyes, and look down into the draw,
"He’s right there," along with three other Bucks, a quick scan determines there is a much older one, He’s the one with his head up, the other three are either bedded or grazing on grass, trusting the older guy, yet his head is up and he’s facing me directly. Looking uphill, a little to my right, strangely enough, danger from above? He’s clearly considering it, I don’t think he’s winded me but looks like he knows he’s being watched. You know that feeling, we once had developed like his maybe? He’s on some level of alert, the others don’t notice, Stage one, “somethings up” maybe.
I pull back down and quickly grab the range finder, back up slowly, 122yards, that’s a kill range for sure, even with this wind, his rack looks nice three points, fully velveted, looks wide, Heck his body looks like a small cow. That’s a harvest animal, there. I slide back down, slip the scope cover off, using my hat as a rest on the rock I slowly slide my Island Rifle, a Stainless Synthetic Sako 85 .270wsm up over the rock and slide up to peer through the Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8x scope. Beautiful view, he fills the scope, as once he is centered, I crank the power to max. It’s stopped raining now, still blowing pretty good, I’m sure he is almost down wind of me now and am waiting for the fateful swirl of wind taking my sweaty fragrance across his fine tune senses.
Doesn’t happen, as he is facing me head on, I don’t feel I can wait for him to turn broadside, I center at the base of his throat, it looks big from here, That is one beautiful animal, standing sniffing the wind, still looking uphill of my position by twenty yards or so, “he ain’t no Fool, but he’s been fooled this once.” I never notice the squeeze, this is a deliberate move not a surprise. “Take Him, in front, right where you want it, dead center on his chest, right now.”
The rifle releases it’s power and through the recoil I see his head go down as the crack/boom fills the draw. We all look up, peripherally I notice all the other Bucks heads go up, my targets head is down a little, but there’s no jump, no flinch, I absolutely know that bullet flew right where I wanted it but can’t tell by his reaction, except for that head drop.
I’m caught hesitating a bit to reload, overconfident(?) or maybe not, maybe just knowing it’s over. I begin to think, I’m going to need to hit him again as he begins to turn to the right slowly taking two steps as I hurriedly work the bolt and begin to bring him back into the crosshairs, then he just goes over into the brush, completely.
"Blacktail Buck on the Grass", courtesy of Sako, and Nosler, 150gr Ballistic Silvertip, flying on 60grains of H4831sc powder, and I guess I’ll take a little………well,
better just “Thank God” for all those other factors without which, I’d be running down there with a club.
The other Bucks are so surprised by the lack of alarm, they just stand there, “What just happened, Hey where’s Joe!?!” Seriously, he went down that cleanly. I could clearly have taken a nice forkhorn as well. I stand up after finding my brass in the alpine tundra, memorizing the spot he went down, as he is totally out of view in the low Alder now.
And begin walking down into the draw in full view, stalk mode is over, soaring on the efficiency of that kill, and already thinking, “Get To Work Now,” this country has some of the highest density of Coastal Brown Bears on all of Kodiak Island. The sound of that shot traveled a long ways, the race may be on, no time for messing around.
Approaching the Deer, the others bounding up over into the next valley, wishing them a “Learn Boys Learn, and grow old, make lots of babies!” on their way. I quickly find this guy and he immediately looks Huge. I think they always look that way at that point right?
Pull out my camera, “Here I am messing around,” for twenty some years I never even brought a camera hunting, never even thought about it. Now I always feel like an idiot taking time to photograph an animal when that meat needs to get cooling right now, and Bear country to boot. But I also realize how much I’ve missed without photos to tell stories of past hunts, “It’s worth it, but get it done, quick now.”
I take two photos of this fine Buck laying on the hillside by himself, then setup the little tripod and look down to see, “Replace battery pack” on the screen. “Awwww Man, I can’t believe that… Well, It’s raining again anyway, get to work.”
Just before heading out on the Drag mode, I figure it’s all downhill and don’t feel especially confident on the Bear Factor to start boning out meat right now. I check the camera again after being turned off for a while as I dressed him out, Hey, it fires right up!! The old battery rest trick. I quickly fire off as many as I can before I start to feel foolish again.
The harvest is over but as you all know the fun is beginning, hang with me, lots more pics coming...