After 18 months of impatiently waiting, the trip we had booked during the Pope and Young show in April of 2017 had finally come. We were heading to Kodiak Island to stay on a transport boat and hunt unguided for Sitka Blacktail. I wasn’t quite sure what to think, I had heard the stories; weather, bears, more weather, bigger bears. It was pretty intimidating to think about. Todd, Mike, and I had been to Alaska before for a Caribou hunt, but Kodiak has a reputation. I was ready to begin the adventure we had thought about for so long.
Todd and I had just wrapped up a successful California Mule Deer hunt with our friend Austin a few weeks before flying out. It was nice to start the season with success which gave us a bout of confidence before heading into what was poised to be one of the biggest hunts of our lives. That confidence was quickly stripped away by Alaskan Airlines when our first plane of the trip was grounded for repair. The subsequent flights followed the same theme. Before even departing Sacramento we had three different flight changes. After that we missed all connecting flights, got split up onto two different planes, and had to book an airline from Anchorage => Kodiak, all while knowing that a storm was blowing into Kodiak. If we didn’t make it that night, we would not be able to fly to the boat for potentially two days. There was not enough Prozac in the Seattle Airport to subside the anxiety I had when they booked Todd onto a flight with one seat left and told me “There is nothing we can do”.
Everything worked out in the end and we made it to Kodiak at 10:45 PM that night after 18 hours of travel. We were just happy to have made it.
The next morning we woke up, got all our gear ready, and waited for the call from Andrew Airways letting us know it was our turn to fly. On the way out to the boat we were racing an incoming storm which made for a relatively bumpy ride. Although… it was hard to pay attention to the turbulence when flying over jaw dropping scenery and herds of Mountain Goat. We landed at the boat with enough time to take a short hike and get some eyes on the country.
We headed back to the boat ready to start hunting the next day as the six of us had two Sitka Blacktail Deer tags each in our pockets.
We woke up around 5:00 am the next morning to the boat moving for the second time that night trying to avoid the 70 mph wind and rain Kodiak is known for. We headed to the south end of the bay to ride out the storm. The weather lifted around midday which gave us the green light to head out for the afternoon.
We split into three groups of two, picked our spots, and headed out to fight through the alders. Bruce and I were dropped off third after Todd and Stu and then Mike and Ken. We were working with little time, but our legs were fresh and the race was on to get the first buck back to the boat.
After a long climb up through alders and salmon berry we made it to the top. We could see the boat from where we were, but shooting my buck at 4:45 pm was way too late in the day. The hill we were on was so steep that cutting up the deer was a serious challenge. We ended up tying him off to an alder branch to keep him from sliding further down the hill. By the time we had our packs loaded, the sun was setting and we were entering into the alders. Bruce, who is 70 by the way, was having a hilariously hard time keeping his footing while packing out. My guess would be that he fell upward of 1,000 times. When we got back to the boat, Zack, one of the crewmen, said that Bruce looked like a strobe light coming off the hill.
The boat crew was a little uneasy as Mike and Ken were running a couple hours behind schedule as well, but all worry was gone after all three groups came back with bucks.
The night was full of cocktails, good food, and stories. We were beat up and worn out, but ready to see what the next day had in store.
It didn’t start getting light until around 8:45 am. So, most mornings were pretty mellow. After multiple cups of coffee and a hot breakfast, we were dropped off on shore by 9:00 am. The slippery pack out the night before left some of the group moving a little slow, which wasn’t a problem. We were told before the trip that the animals were active all day, and that was lining up to be exactly what we had seen so far. The deer density on the island was unlike anything we had seen before. When all was said and done on this day, Bruce and I were able to glass almost 60 deer.
After such a late night that first day, we had strict instructions to be at shore before dark. The day seemed to slip away, and to shoot a deer and be back to shore in time you had to have a buck down by 2:00 pm to have time for the pack out.
Bruce knocked down his first buck, which ended up being the biggest buck of the trip, with just enough time to quickly quarter it up, throw it in the packs and start walking. Again, Bruce was having trouble with his footing on the wet steep slopes. I was starting to think his boots didn’t have tread.
We hit the beach just after curfew to hear the good news that the other two groups shot nice bucks as well. With two days of hunting done and everyone having killed their first deer for a total of six, we were ecstatic and full of confidence.
Just like the night before, we swapped stories of the day over cocktails and five star cuisine.
Waking up after two steep, wet, and clumsy pack outs, Bruce decided to rest his legs and stay on the boat. We all had fishing licenses, and with Bruce on the boat it was a good time to soak some crab pots.
We split into two groups, Mike and Ken would pair up again to try and get one of their second tags filled, while Stu, Todd and I would take the opportunity to use our young legs and see how far back we could get.
Hiking on Kodiak can really suck. Pick the wrong route and before you know it you are trapped in the alders without a clue the best way to get out. After a couple hours thrashing, cussing, sweating, and cussing some more, we finally got to the other side of the alder jungle. Like every other day, we immediately spotted deer with one nice buck bedded down in the middle of a giant meadow. We decided to take a closer look by skirting around the meadow in the brush to stay out of site. Luckily, before we got too far, we spotted what I thought in my unprofessional opinion was the biggest bear on Kodiak Island 140 yards to our left. We made the easy decision to not go that way.
With the bear changing our plans, the best course of action was to go straight at the buck and see how close we could get. To this point we had yet to discuss which out of the three of us were going to pull the trigger. Todd turned around and said “Well, you two decide who’s shooting.” I immediately turned to Stu, stuck my hands out, made eye contact, and challenged him to a friendly game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. After three stalemates, of course I lost.
With Stu’s buck down earlier in the day, we were able to enjoy a long flat pack out. We had the time to enjoy the amazing scenery while keeping an eye out for the local Kodiak Brown Bear who who was feeding on the last of the salmon run.
We made it back to the boat early that day and waited to hear from the other group if our streak was still intact. About a half hour after we boarded we heard over the radio that they had a buck down and were just getting to the beach. Mike had filled his second tag with a beautiful 4×4.
We all made it back to the boat earlier than days past, and had enough time to enjoy an amazing sunset while swapping stories from the day. At this point our success was addicting, we had been hunting for three days and were starting to run out of room along the side of the boat for all the meat. Just like the nights prior we finished the day off with an amazing view and delicious food.
On the fifth day we decided that we were having enough success to take the morning off and go check the crab pots that Bruce had “helped” set the day before. Due to state law, we couldn’t keep any of the King Crab, but we were also catching Tanner Crab. These were fair game. We were all pretty enamored with the food so far, but nothing compares to a fresh crab feed.
After catching a few crab and throwing the pots back in with fresh bait to soak for the day, Todd and I were dropped off to see if one of us could fill one of our last tags. Stu, being the first person to fill his two tags, decided to take a rest day and spend some time with his new friend Captain Billy.
It didn’t take more than 10 minutes and we were into deer. After losing track of a couple bucks in the flat, we decided to climb up the mountain to get a better vantage point for glassing. We spotted a couple bucks that were bedded down right where we had walked through earlier. We could tell one had a nice frame so we worked our way closer. Yet again, we had not discussed who was going to be shooting. Before Todd could bring it up, both my hands were out and ready for another match of Rock-Paper-Scissors. This time in one round, I lost.
We had a pretty short pack out to shore, which we weren’t complaining about since we had each personally packed out four deer in four days. We got back to the boat with enough time to sit on the top of the boat and watch the older crew work their way down the mountain through our bino’s. Bruce had shot his second buck. Unfortunately it took a heavy face plant while rolling down the hill and knocked off his right horn. Luckily they saw it come off and were able to recover it.
Everyone got back to the boat that evening with pure excitement, the moment we had all been waiting for was upon us, the crab feed. While cleaning up our gear from the day we were surprised when they yelled from the cabin that Billy and Zack had a surprise for us. A special appetizer of Cod sashimi and fresh crab sushi.
With 10 of our 12 tags filled, it was all up to Ken and I. We split into two groups of three and set out for the day. Todd, Stu and I climbed straight up out of the bay in hopes to find some deer that had not been pressured yet. We were almost to the top when we spotted two shooters, one on either side of the bowl we were hiking into. We set up on the one I thought was the best, but after a long pause behind a clump of grass preventing a good shot he took off chasing his does over the ridge. We quickly swung and set up on the second buck and after a couple shots he was down. After losing both high stakes Rock-Paper-Scissors matches, it was a relief to finally have my second tag filled.
Ken, Mike and Bruce came back to the boat empty handed which was the only trip out the entire time that didn’t end with success. He was the only person left with a tag, and was up against a half day of hunting the next day. We had been told that all the meat needed the be cut up and in fish boxes ready for the trek home. Ken wasn’t worried at all. He was 100% confident he was going to fill his tag.
We ended the night once again with some amazing food. Crab Cakes made from the leftovers that we couldn’t stuff into our stomachs the night before.
DAY 7 – The Final Day
Ken, Mike, and Todd took off right at daylight to find Ken his buck. The rest of us stayed on board to start the long, laborious task of boning out and butchering up all the meat.
Just after being dropped off, the hunting group spotted a shooter up in some steep country that went straight up out of the bay. Ken was determined and was going to follow Todd wherever he needed to, and in the end it paid off. Ken filled the final tag of the trip. It took a while to find the deer. After Ken shot, the deer slid over 1,000 ft down the hill side ending just above the shore.
We finished all the meat, cleaned all the game bags, and packed our stuff for the flight out in the morning. It was bitter sweet. We were all happy to fill our tags, but we were not ready for this amazing experience to end. We had one last dinner on the boat and started the discussion about when we could come back.
It was an amazing trip. Kodiak has everything you could ask for in Alaska. The animals didn’t disappoint, they made us work for it from start to finish. The scenery was incredible. You catch yourself staring off into the horizon at every turn because the place is just unreal. We could not have been there with a better group of people. The crew, Billy and Zack were outstanding. Their hospitality was above and beyond, and their cooking was one of the main highlights of the trip.
With all our gear ready to go, it was time for our trip to end and another groups to begin. If you haven’t thought about going to Kodiak Island for Sitka Blacktail, I highly recommend it. I promise, you won’t regret it.