Monday, December 22, 2014

PART 1 - Introduction to Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt Series

12 Part Series

After proposing to Emily in Feb of 2013 we soon began planning our backyard wedding.  With that came discussions about what we wanted to do for our honeymoon.  It didn't take us long to decided we wanted to celebrate our marriage with a non-typical honeymoon. Because we share a love for the out-of-doors and for hunting, we decided we would celebrate with a hunting-moon instead!  So while Emily took charge of the wedding plans, I was in charge of researching options for our hunting-moon adventure. The following 12-post series outlines the research process I went through while planning our hunting-moon for a Sitka Blacktail hunt in Alaska!

Next: Choosing Your Hunt Dates »

PART 2 - Choosing Your Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt Dates

The majority of Sitka Blacktail hunters plan their trips around the rut in November, however, there are some excellent options for hunting earlier in the season, which begins on August 1st

Hunting the Early Season

This time of year Alaska is lush and green bringing the deer out in the open to feed to get the nutrition required to grow their antlers and build up fat stores for the harsh winters that Alaska is known for.  Early season hunts (August-September) can offer a wide variety of hunting opportunities while rut hunts are more concentrated around the shore lines, with the primary access being by ocean, because of limited accessibility due to snow.  I chose an early season hunt (Aug 24-31) for us because we really enjoy hiking and a spot and stock hunt method, so from here on I will focus on early season hunting information.

Kodiak Mountains in the Early Season.

PART 3 - Where to Hunt Alaska Sitka Blacktail Deer

There are two primary locations to hunt Sitka Blacktail deer in AK: Prince of Whales (POW) and Kodiak Island. Both offer excellent opportunities for hunting.

Prince of Whales (POW)

POW offers early season hunting during August and September in the high elevations. This can be highly productive but count on spending most of your time hiking through dense forest and sometimes incredibly steep terrain to reach an area you can hunt. On POW there are numerous options to rent trucks and/or cabins that are very affordable, providing you with some of the creature comforts of home and keeping you out of a tent in bear country. There are also vast networks of roads that can suit folks who don’t want to or can’t hike every day. Road hunting is a type of hunting that many frown upon but it can be a successful way to hunt and get around.

PART 4 - Choosing Air Transportation on Kodiak for Sitka Blacktail Hunt

Once I decided that the fly-in option was for us I began researching all of the float plane companies on Kodiak. There are a number of reputable companies all with great reviews. I contacted all of the companies and had lengthy conversations with each of them getting to know them personally as well as getting a feel for their business.  

My questions included things like: 

  • How long have you been in business? 
  • Do you have references I could contact?  
  • Where are some of the locations you drop hunters off regularly?  
  • What are your fees and weight limits?

PART 5 - Selecting a Drop Camp Location for Your Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

So the almighty question is, “Where do I go?” 

Kodiak has an endless number of drop-off locations, each providing a unique experience. The northern part of the island is very heavily forested in the lower elevations leading up to alpine in the higher elevations. The further south you go on the island, the more open it gets. I did countless hours of research both online and talking with wildlife biologists (references I was put in contact with through the float plane companies). 

PART 6 - Gearing Up for Your Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

I can’t tell you how many lists I had but I know it was in the double digits. Depending on what kind of hunt you choose will determine the type and amount of gear you bring. We ended up bringing more than we needed but, that is par for the course, especially if it’s your first time on any new hunt.

Planning for Wet Weather

The main gear/equipment that I cannot stress the importance of enough, regardless of hunt you decide to do, is rain gear. Not just jackets and pants but also tarps, scope covers, backpack covers, and waterproof storage (like plastic bins) for your gear. It doesn't matter what time of year you choose to hunt you will encounter some crazy weather that can get you soaked in a matter of minutes.

PART 7 - Travel for Your Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

Getting to Kodiak

Alaska Airlines and ERA fly from Anchorage to Kodiak a few times a day however can be delayed frequently due to weather. We planned a day on either end of our trip just in case we got delayed.

By joining the Alaska Airlines mileage plan you can earn free flights by using their credit card.  Right now they have a promotion where you get a $119 buddy pass when you sign up and you get that same buddy pass every year. There are a few fees associated with the card but when you are looking at a typical round trip ticket from the lower 48 that can cost over $1000, it is well worth it.

PART 8 - Camp Setup During Your Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

Camp Setup

Camp set-ups vary by location and individual. If you get a public use cabin then you are pretty set. If you decide to rough it like most early season hunters then you will most likely be setting up camp from scratch.  

Buying some cheap folding chairs made dinners very comfortable.

PART 9 - The Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

About the Sitka Blacktail Deer

Sitka Blacktails are a lot like their cousins, the Columbian Blacktails. Typically they are very “range” oriented spending their summers in higher elevations and moving down to lowlands for the winter months. However we hunted during the end of August and observed just as many deer in the lower elevations as the higher elevations. 

PART 10 - Meat Care on Your Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

Meat care I would say was the biggest stressor I had going into this trip. Since the temps were about 50 degrees and we had no cooler, we had to cool our meat down a more natural way. While researching the trip I spoke with a gentleman about sinking his meat to the bottom of a creek or lake to keep it cool and to reduce the scent to reduce the attraction to scavengers.  This was the method of meat preservation we planned and I was sure glad I had done that research. 

Using Nature's Cooler

We boned our deer out in the field then packed the meat back to camp where we hung the meat, sprayed it with Alaska Game saver (you can get at the sporting goods store in town) and let it dry for a few hour before processing it and placing it into gallon Ziploc bags. We placed the Ziploc bags into heavy duty 3-mil garbage bags and zip tied them shut making sure to get as much air out as we could. 

PART 11 - Antler Care on Your Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

Velvet Season

During the early season you will likely get a buck in velvet. Meaning if you want to keep the velvet intact you will need to preserve it ASAP if you can’t freeze it within 24 hours. You will have to inject and spray the antlers with formaldehyde or some of the new solutions on the market. I personally stripped our antlers but would have loved to kept Emily’s buck’s velvet.

PART 12 - Cost of Your Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

Well obviously, this all depends on your trip but here is what our trip cost for the two of us:

Alaska Sitka Blacktail Hunt

  • Two Commercial Airline from Reno to Kodiak - $1,400
  • Float Plan - $2160
  • Baggage Fees - $300
  • Sat phone and Bear fence rental - $250
  • Food and misc gear - $150
  • 4 tags @ $150 - $600
  • 2 hunting licenses @ $75 - $150
  • 2 nights in a hotel - $165
  • Tips and misc. tourist stuff - $100

Monday, October 20, 2014

Final Deer Tag of the Year!

So Emily and I just got back from a successful California B-zone hunt on Wilderness Unlimited Leased Land. The trip was a great one, not only because it was successful but we got to see new parts of a ranch and spend quality time with new hunting partners.

We hunted Sunday through a Tuesday and were able to take two nice respectable bucks. Emily harvested hers on the first evening we were there. It was a beautiful double neck patched 2x2 with a 16” Spread. She thought about holding out for something bigger but decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up. She made a great 80 yard shot with her Savage 243 with 100 grain hand loads.  The buck expired near a road which made the drag-out about as good as it gets on this particular ranch. This was the 3rd year in a row she has been able to tag out on the first day of the hunt. Lucky Lady!

On Tuesday we made some great hunts and I passed on a few smaller bucks that were just too small for that early in the hunt. That afternoon took us down at the bottom of the ranch to help fellow hunter, Tanner Rosette pack out a nice cinnamon bear. Tanner was beyond words with this being his first bear and his goal for the trip.

The next morning took Emily and I to a new portion of the ranch that I had always wanted to venture to. We saw numerous deer however none that would make the cut. We also had a nice encounter with a group of pigs which we decided to pass on as well. This section of the property was very steep but the deer loved it. That afternoon while everyone was taking a nap, I decided to get the spotting scope out and check some likely spots I had seen some bucks in the past. After a ½ hour of glassing I spotted a gray body bedded on the edge of a cliff. After cranking up the Nikon Field scope I was pleasantly surprised to see a nice rack on top of the giant bodied blacktail. I formulated my game plan and headed out. About a ½ hour later I was scaling a steep cliff-side to get a shot. I finally spotted him, still bedded at 271 yards. I got a great rest and figured that he would drop in his tracks and I would be able to come down from above to retrieve him. I waited for the buck to stand and squeezed the trigger. Boom! The shot echoed through the canyon and the buck dropped right in his bed. I was stoked! But wait….he started to slide and then kick…….and then…..he fell nearly 200 ft off the cliff he was bedded on. My heart sunk, now the great buck I had just taken fell into the deepest hole on this ranch and who knows what the meat was going to look like let alone the antlers. As I made my way over to the buck I was happy to see that the buck’s body had made it pretty unscathed. His antler tips were broken off but the meat was still in superb condition. He was a great old buck with a giant body and a gorgeous cape. I searched and searched and searched for my small camera in my pack to realize that I left it in my truck back in camp. After sitting next to the old monarch, admiring his beauty I took a few mental pictures and began the “work”.  I radioed camp for them to take my truck down to the bottom of the ranch where I would meet them in a few hours.  I spent the next hour processing the brute and loading him into my Easton Full-bore Backpack. With it already weighed down I made the decision to leave the cape since it as well as the head would have pushed myself and my backpack to the max. I was able to hike down to the truck and two anxious hunting partners and celebrate the ride back to camp. My old gray faced buck had a funky 2x2 rack that was 20” wide by almost 16” tall. I couldn’t be happier with our trip and the animals we took.

The freezer is now full for the winter and we had another epic 2014 deer season. Who knows what this winter and next year has to offer.

Friday, September 19, 2014

We're back!

Our trip was epic and well worth all the planning it took for the 4 weeks spent in the last frontier!  We started our trip with the hunt on Kodiak Island. There are many lodges available however we decided to contract a float plan transport to fly us into a remote part of the island. We saw numerous deer, Mt. Goats and Bears on our float plane ride the green island. The vegetation on the island varied dramatically. The North end of the island was covered with dense spruce and fir forest coated with an understory of thick brush. While the southern end had practically no trees and mostly low growing grass and tundra. All of these terrain types lead to the high alpine regions of the island which consisted of turquoise lakes, rocky peaks and sparse low lying vegetation.

We landed safely and off-loaded fast and just like that our plane took off to leave us to ourselves on such a large vast section of the island. We were on the south-west end of the island that was covered in sharp jagged mountains and open green valley’s coated in lily ponds and streams. We set up camp on the beach of the lagoon near a creek inlet. We set it up in an existing structure that past hunters had built out of drift wood. This made for a great base camp and a break for the “bad weather” days to come.

After all was ready we set out on our first walk in the tundra. We were surprise to find out that it was not easy walking. The spongy matted material and deep bogs made for very calculated footings and seemed to double hiking time and distance. The deer on the other hand had a network of trails built through this stuff that allowed them to travel at light speed constantly feeding on the abundant forage all over the island. 

That first evening the hills were filled with deer scattered throughout the terrain. We found numerous bucks and countless does and fawns. None of the bucks were the size we were looking for however we spotted one area about 2 miles away that held a good 25 deer and some decent bucks.  The next morning as we headed to that area Emily stopped me and said she just saw a buck that bedded down about 300 yards from us. After close examination we found the buck that had points going everywhere! We snuck in and set up at 250 yards and waited….and waited and waited. Over an hour and a half we waited and watched him sleep in the drizzly rain. After the first hour the sun peaked from the clouds and the hills lit up with life. The hillsides were freckled with reddish brown dots, the bodies of all the deer out feeding. It was an incredible site. While glassing other deer we also spotted a small group of Caribou as well as a half dozen Mt. Goats.

He stood up! Emily got set and I fumbled with the camera and tri-pod. He fed up hill and stopped to eat some brows and Emily let the rifle sing. A perfect heart shot and Emily had her first Sitka Blacktail. As we arrived at the buck we were surprise at his size. He sported a giant rack that had 9 points on one side and 4 on the other. His body, a healthy 200lbs was coated in fat. The work began and after about 3 hours of hiking and processing we were back having a celebratory stream chilled beer.  

The next day found us about 5 miles back in that same area we had seen the big group of deer a few days prior. We had seen nearly 50 deer and numerous bucks with one being a tall wide 3x3. We made the long sneak until we were within 90 yards. We sat and watched the buck as the hellatious storm hit us. We lost site of the buck for a good 30 minutes and decided to move up when the storm let up.  As we crested a rise we found ourselves face to face with a doe on full alert. We also spotted a few more deer in the background. I noticed that the buck was making his way over a hill we quickly perused.

We got to about 100 yards I was able to get a good look at the buck and knew he was the one we wanted. Seeing the size of the buck and the fleeting opportunity I grabbed the rifle, took and knee and sent a bullet. Another perfect heart shot brought my dream and goal of taking a Sitka Blacktail to a reality. He was a perfect 3x3 with eye guards and sported an 18” spread. He also was super heather at almost 200lbs live weight. After processing and the long hike back we had another great celebration on fulfilling our goals together side by side.

The rest of the trip was stellar. We even had one day where it rained with hurricane forces till around 7:00 in the evening. Even though the both of us went a little stir crazy it was a moment that we will treasure since we did it together. The rest of the trip we were able to find numerous nice bucks but were content with the bucks we took. Our last morning on the lagoon we were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day and a walk along the shoreline enjoying the beautiful place that had provided us with so many sights, experiences and memories for our lifetime.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Geared up and ready to go! The huntingmoon is here!

In just a few more days we will be boarding an airline bound for Kodiak Island to start our first Alaska adventure together. Our schedule is packed but we cannot wait.... August 22nd we fly out of Reno and arrive in Kodiak around 8am on the 23rd. We then will go shopping for some last minute supplies and hop on a Bush Hawk floatplan with Kingfisher Air for our drop off destination, Grants Lagoon on the 24th. Then its time to set up camp and spend the next 8 days hunting and fishing in paradise. Sitka Blacktail deer is our target and is the second to the last species (4 of 5) to check off the list to complete the deer slam together.

From there we will pick up a RV in Anchorage and do the "sightseeing" potion of our "huntingmoon" through September 16th. We are all packed and ready to go. Stay tuned for updates...

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