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

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