A DIY float hunt in remote Alaska for two beautiful bull moose.
This is Jordan’s first Alaskan big game harvest, she lucked out with the moose of a lifetime. Join along with the crew on an unforgettable float hunt in remote Alaska.
It’s been too long fellow hunters…. The team has been working on new projects and focused on launching them through different social networks. For the latest and greatest up to date content check out mission_alaska on Instagram where we have exclusive photos, videos, and stories of the Alaska Sportsman lifestyle. If your interested in short films check out our new videos through http://www.huntervids.com, they have a library full of hunting videos from across the country that will entertain any day dreaming outdoorsmen. Here is a link to one of our goat hunts on Hunter-Vids.
Raspberry Island: Race Against the Clock in Bear Haven
10/1/14 – 10/4/14
By Eric Hershey
As my jet began its descent, I gazed out over the gradual terrain of Kodiak Island, Alaska. I knew this view was misleading as Kodiak yields some of the toughest hunting landscape in the world. I was on my first fly-out big game hunt, scheduled to spend up to 10 days in remote Kodiak to hunt the highly-prized Roosevelt elk on Raspberry Island. I was born and raised in Alaska, but hadn’t taken my first big game animal until I was 24 when I shot a cow moose on an archery hunt with my dad in Fairbanks, Alaska. I was instantly hooked on Alaska big game hunting and when my work as an engineer brought my family to Kodiak for a year, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore the island, hunting deer and mountain goat.
I had never seen an elk in person but heard that the Roosevelt, largest of the elk family, could be as large as moose. Like much of Kodiak, there is a high density of colossal brown bears on Raspberry Island to contend with. Foul weather can blow in without notice and make hunters miserable and sometimes trapped for over a week. I was very excited for this opportunity but also nervous.
I was greeted at the Kodiak airport that evening by two local friends, Doug Dorner and Ryan Burt. Doug had helped me bag my first Sitka black-tailed deer when I lived in Kodiak the year before so I knew he would be an essential asset on this hunt. Ryan also had a lot of experience in the Kodiak outdoors. I loaded my gear into Doug’s truck and we set off to the float plane docks to meet our pilot, Keller. Between the three of us we had amassed enough gear to last for weeks, but somehow managed to cram everything into the Cessna 206 barely within the load limit.
It was a clear evening as we set out towards Raspberry Island, eager to spot the elk herd from the air before landing at camp. The local biologist had said there were 155 elk on Raspberry according to his last aerial survey. We had a general idea of where the elk could be on the island, but it was still a vast area to explore from the air with a heavy load and limited fuel. After scouting the north half of the island, we were beginning to get discouraged without a single elk sighting. Then, during one of the final passes, numerous light-brown spots started to pop out at us on one of the mountain-sides. The elk were congregated into a large herd, tucked away in a mountain bowl on the opposite side of the island from where we planned to set up camp at Onion Bay.
View of the elk herd from the air.
There are very few access points on Raspberry, even during decent weather, so we decided to stick with our original drop location and just hump it over to the other side of the island in the morning. After a smooth landing in Onion Bay, we picked out a spot at the north end of the bay to unload our gear. Keller handed the gear off one piece at a time and then bid us farewell as he lifted the plane up off the water with ease. As the plane disappeared over the horizon, there was an overwhelming silence and the realization sunk in we were now all on our own. We hauled our gear up the hill to a flat, sheltered spot to set up my Cabela’s Alaska Guide 6-man tent. An electric bear fence was set up around our tent as an added measure of comfort, but I was skeptical that it would actually work. We finished setting up camp at dark and then Doug cooked us up a hearty shrimp dinner. Our game plan was to wake up early that morning and set off up the mountain in the dark to reach the elk herd before they moved.
Ryan celebrates as our plane departs.
To reach the elk, we needed to climb up one mountain and down the other side, cross the valley, and climb up the next mountain to the bowl on the backside. We set out that morning an hour before sunrise in a windy drizzle. What had appeared to be a relatively easy 3 to 4 mile hike from the air, turned out to be nearly impenetrable alders and terrain. There was no clear path up the first mountain as we fought our way through alders and salmonberry thickets. When we reached the top of the first mountain at dawn, we were relieved to find a mossy game trail through towering spruce trees. The relief was short-lived when we began descending the backside of this mountain and were again pushing through thickets until we reached the valley. The valley at the center of the island was a break from the alders but also had its own obstacles. We took a detour around the lake and network of creeks through the dense, dark forest and across beaver dams and marsh. Along the way we saw massive fresh bear tracks and a few deer.
Ryan ascending the second mountain.
After meandering across the valley, we ascended the second mountain as the wind-driven rain picked up. I spotted a large brown bear about 1000 yards away which didn’t pay much attention to us. We hoped the nasty weather would keep the elk hunkered down near where we had spotted them the night before. From what I learned about elk, they are always on the move and will cover a large distance in a short amount of time even without any hunting pressure.
Large brown bear on hillside.
I started to reach the top of the saddle and immediately froze and dropped to ground as I began to spot elk at a distance. I motioned for Doug and Ryan to get down and pointed to where I had seen the elk.
“I see the herd!” I whispered, “Right over the saddle on the hillside.”
Eric hunkered down after spotting elk.
We slipped further up the mountain to a decent vantage point. The entire herd was on the backside of the mountain on the side of the bowl about 1000 yards away. I decided there would be too many eyes on me to stalk right at the herd, so we climbed higher up along the backside of the ridge line so I could descend on the elk with cover. I left my pack with Doug and Ryan at the top of the ridge and then began my descent towards the elk.
As I left Doug, he said, “You could shoot one of the spike bulls on the edge of the herd.”
“Yeah maybe,” I said, trying to convince myself I could settle for just a spike bull.
The ridgeline above the bowl provided essential cover and the wind was in my favor. I skirted along the ridge, pausing periodically at covered vantage points to examine the herd and plan my stalk. The large herd appeared to consist of two large alphas bulls, each surrounded by tight smaller herds. The rest of the elk were widely scattered around these herds. I could continue along the ridgeline within range of the upper herd, but it would be a longer stalk and there was too much uncertainty in the wind direction. I decided to pursue the lower herd since there was excellent cover through a spruce thicket which could allow me to stalk right within range.
Partial view of elk herd from vantage point.
As I crept through the spruce trees, my legs began cramping and the wind started changing direction. The strenuous hike from camp was finally catching up to me. The spruce trees were thicker than I anticipated, and I had to crawl under and around branches and wedge myself through trees for a few hundred yards. During my stalk I caught glances of the upper herd higher up in the bowl, which were starting to stand up and appeared spooked as they looked in my direction. As I moved further into the thicket, I appeared to hit a dead end at an impassible wall of thick brush. I debated turning around and trying a different stalk, but I knew I didn’t have much time before the entire herd fled. I just continued pushing through the dense thicket hoping the wind would mask the noise. At this point, I told myself I would just shoot the first bull I saw within range. Just when I began to give up hope of getting through unnoticed, I started seeing light through the trees and realized I was at the edge of the thicket.
I peered through one of the small openings and gasped as I saw a cow elk standing and looking right at me only 40 yards away. I immediately froze and waited for her to look away. As I edged closer, crawling under a branch to get a better view, I spotted a bull lying behind her. It was the huge alpha bull lying down only 45 yards away! I perched my Remington .300 Winchester Magnum onto a branch and located the elk in my scope through a small break in the trees. The cow was directly blocking a shot at the bull. For nearly 10 minutes, which felt like hours, I watched the cow through my scope staring at me while I tried to fight off leg cramps and excitement to remain still. Finally the cow elk lay back down and allowed a perfect shot at the bull’s massive neck. Without hesitation I immediately fired a round and lost site of the bull as numerous elk fled past me as the shot rang. When the chaos cleared, I could see the alpha still laying on the ground where I shot it, but trying with all his strength to get up to his feet and join his herd. I waited calmly with the bull in my sights to make sure he didn’t get up. I followed up with another shot in the neck and then crawled out of the thicket toward the bull. The bull lifted its head as I approached, so I fired once more behind the ears to finish him off.
The elk herd flees after hearing the shot.
I was shocked to see just how massive the animal was. He was the size of a large horse and appeared prehistoric in nature as I approached. The wide, thick antlers had magnificent white points. It had at least two broken points and there were distinct battle scars on its neck. The elk were still in the middle of rut and this bull was quite the fighter.
Eric proudly poses with his first elk kill.
Doug and Ryan moved down the mountain toward me with the gear. Doug reached me first and said sarcastically, “What’d you do that for!?” as he saw the huge elk lying beside me.
We stood around in awe of the elk and took pictures, but our joy was dampened at the realization of the dreaded pack back to camp. This one-way trip to the elk herd was 3.5 miles from camp and had taken over 4 hours! Since it was already noon, we would surely be heading back in the dark.
Doug and Ryan pose with the elk.
From stories I’ve heard, the brown bears can move in on an elk kill in less than an hour and will likely reach the gut pile by the first evening. Our primary goal was to get the meat away from the gut pile as quickly as possible. Ryan and I butchered the massive animal, constantly looking over our shoulder, while Doug hauled the quarters to a large spruce tree 400 yards away. After carrying the final load over to the spruce tree, Doug climbed the tree with a rope and we hoisted the meat bags up into the tree and tied them off about 15 feet up in the air.
Eric hauling final load to meat tree
We finally set out around 6 pm with loaded packs while darkness was setting in. On our descent toward the valley we spotted a large sow with cubs near where the boar was earlier that afternoon. We staggered back toward camp under the glow of our headlamps. I felt like there were eyes on us at all times as we moved through the pitch darkness. Ryan had lost his headlamp that morning so he tried to follow close behind me. There was no apparent path back to camp and we inevitably wound up fighting through alder patches whichever way we went. In an attempt to cut through the alders, I led us along a small creek up the backside of the mountain but the plan quickly backfired as alders around the creek became denser and towered above us. We crawled on through as I seemed to catch my rifle and frame pack on every branch. I was past the point of exhaustion as we made the endless descent towards Onion Bay. After finally collapsing into camp at around eleven, we prepared a spot for the meat by clearing an area of tall grass then placed the meat on alder branches, and set up a bear fence around the meat. Unfortunately, there weren’t any trees near camp sturdy enough to hang the meat from.
View of valley at sunset.
That night I awoke to a bear snorting right outside our tent. I instinctively grabbed the .44 Magnum pistol and yelled, “Bear!” Doug cautiously went outside and I followed with a flashlight and gun in hand. The bear had disappeared and the meat appeared undisturbed so we went back to sleep.
We slept in that morning and took our time getting ready as my body ached and I was dreading the hike back. It was a beautiful sunny day and we took advantage by drying out our gear from the day before. When someone finally looked at the time, we were alarmed to realize it was already past noon. With 4 hours each way to the meat tree, we were doomed to hike back in the dark again!
Doug sets off with loaded pack.
We were starting to learn better routes through the dense landscape but still seemed to always wind up in impenetrable alder patches. Doug led the way while Ryan and I lagged behind. When we finally ascended the second mountain we stopped and glassed the gut pile from a distance. The eagles were on the gut pile but there didn’t appear to be any bear activity. We lowered some meat from the tree and carried out the heaviest load that day.
Eric traversing the valley.
Our bodies were thoroughly exhausted and I was praying that someone wouldn’t get hurt. Doug almost fell into a pond as he was leading the way across an unstable beaver dam. With every step, my legs were on the verge of giving out under the heavy load, and I tried to stop nearly every few hundred yards to rest. I was impressed with Doug’s ability to continue pushing on and also motivate Ryan and me to keep moving. On our final descent down to Onion Bay in the dark, I incredibly stumbled across Ryan’s lost headlamp and then his thermos later on in a devil’s club patch. We let down our guard that night to drink a few beers and celebrate a successful hunt and one final load of meat.
We awoke that morning to rain, snow and wind. We set out on our last trip to retrieve the final load including a hind quarter, cape, and antlers. Our route was starting to get easier as we learned which ways not to go, but our aching bodies were wearing on us. Once we reached the mountain on the other side of the valley, we glassed the gut pile. Again there wasn’t much sign of bear activity. When we approached the tree this time we noticed something was different. The hind quarter was completely missing from the tree! Only the cape and the antlers remained in the tree untouched. We frantically searched around the tree and then it dawned on us what had happened. There were large claw marks going up the side of the tree. A brown bear had climbed the tree and grabbed the quarter, rope and all. It is uncommon for brown bears to climb trees, but this wise bear seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Bitter and disappointed, we set off to camp with our light loads. We were anxious to get back as quickly as possible to ensure our remaining meat was safe. We got back around 5 pm and found our meat pile undisturbed at camp. Now that the bears have tasted the meat, we decided it would be best to get off the island that evening if at all possible.
I called our pilot on the satellite phone and told him what had happened. “Are you ready right now?” he said. Keller had been scheduled to pick up another hunting party that evening but they still weren’t ready. “We can be!” I said.
We had to hustle to pack up camp before the pilot arrived. Keller helped us carry our gear down to the beach and loaded up the plane. Two trips later in the Cessna 206, we had everything back to the float plane dock in Kodiak.
We conquered a 10 day elk hunt in only 3 days and it was by far my most strenuous accomplishment. There is no time to rest on a hunt like this since after an elk is down, the clock starts ticking, and there is an urgency and obligation to secure the meat from the bears as quickly as possible. I found out later the most massive elk by weight are known to come from Raspberry Island. Even after losing an entire hind quarter to the bear we still ended up with 300 plus pounds of dressed, bone-out meat! After returning home, our pilot informed me that other hunting parties had lost nearly whole elk to bears that week so we were lucky we got out as much as we did. As I admire the huge elk mount on my wall, I reminisce the grueling 3 days in alder hell and bear haven, and I’d do it all over again given the opportunity. My advice to someone planning an elk hunt on Raspberry: Be prepared for bears and get in shape!
Taxidermy credit to J. Lewis Hershey.
Public land is great choice for any DIY hunter, its widely available you just have to know where to look. Surveying Google Maps on my computer I saw an interesting national forest near Oregon’s coast and wanted to check it out. Choosing a few hunting locations in the Suislaw National Forest is a daunting task, it stretches for 991miles across the Pacific coast line of Oregon and provides ample hunting opportunity. “If you have never hunted this particular area how do you chose a location?” Firstly I read some information on blacktails provided by Oregon Department of Fish and Game, and checked out their Interactive hunting map. Secondly, I concentrated my efforts on one particular area on a system of clear cuts, using one specific road.
I also studied the game regulations provided by ODFG and found the particular GMU’s which I was allowed to hunt. I decided to hunt National Forest because it is the easiest way to find yourself in a legal hunting area if you are a DIY public land hunter and have a tag in your pocket. Reading everything I possibly could online about blacktail hunting, I learned that hunters have mixed success from tree stand hunting, still hunting, and spot and stalk techniques. Hunting the edge of clear cuts whenever possible also provides hunters with success. These tactics aren’t to much different from the way whitetails are pursued, although the terrain, diet, and behaviors of the blacktails are slightly different. I find that trees and forage are the key to any deer species, and having an understanding of the trees helps hone my hunting approach. I found myself studying trees more during the hunting season than studying deer, mainly because I couldn’t find any blacktails.
Using my iPhone maps app I drive to the selected national forest road a few miles outside a small surf town on the coast of Oregon. One man can only cover so much terrain on one hunt, and from what I have read/heard it’s not to easy to walk up on the said “ghost of the coast”. Drawing on previous experience from my 2013 blacktail hunt where I harvested a beautiful blacktail doe, I knew one particular tactic that would give me a great place to start. I got to the road where I was legal to hunt and started looking, slowly driving to find animal “highways” that cross the road. I took the first day to scout/hunt keeping my eyes open for any deer sign possible. I had one tree stand in my tool kit to hang, thus adding to my strategy for these blacktails. Kind of mind numbing to think that your hunting 991 square miles sitting in a tree waiting for one deer to show up though. I like my odds….. Finding a concealed blocked off logging road, I march a mile or so deep finding rubs and deer sign the whole way. I hung my stand and took off to search for more sign in the area not limiting myself to only one option.
Finding another meadow bound by a clear cut and a stream, there was an animal highway dividing the lands features. I knew I had found my secondary hunting location. There was a large stump over turned with a ball of dirt and tree roots in which I could sit approximately 8-10 feet off the ground perched perfectly for a 5-10 yard shot. If I sat at either location long enough I may just have a shot at a buck. Not seeing an animal in my new “spot” for the first few days, I was starting to get a little discouraged.
Sitting on the up-turned stump for the morning with no action, I decided to visit the tree stand. Again to no avail, I pound out the hours in the stand answering emails, Face-booking, Instagraming, and tweeting(guilty)…. The second day hunting was once again a total bust, there were deer tracks under both of my stand locations but no deer. It appeared as if they were coming through both of my trails at dark. Based upon the winds direction I decided on the third day that I would sit on-top the stump for the morning hunt and hit my tree stand for the afternoon hunt. At 10:30 am the wind changed for the worse and rendered both of my hunting locations null. Thinking fast I walk back to the car and drove to a small clear cut I had previously book marked for a two hour hiking appointment. Having just enough time for a short stalk and spot hunt, I followed my instinct and decided to hunt the closest possible public land bordering private land. The game plan was to rattle and grunt with the wind in my face working my way to a forked forest road, then walk my way back to the car. Luckily my 3G was working and gave me a pinpoint location of where I was relative to my vehicle, the private land, and the public land. Without having to fuss with any other GPS the iPhone was a great tool for the hunt, this allowed me to distinguish exactly where the private and public land boundaries were; a beneficial tool to the 21st century hunter.
There was as small road closed to all motor and atv vehicles, a great place to go with minimal if any foot traffic. The terrain consisted of rolling hills lined with douglas fir, the western hemlock, and small stands of big leaf maples. I headed up the steepest hill to find a few small rolling benches protected from the wind, the perfect location to rattle in a bedded buck. Calling to me is like painting a picture, the first step is to set up and begin the rattling sequence after a 5-10 minute silent pause. Light tickling of the antlers works to coax a closer buck, after 10-15 minutes the rattling will increase intensity crescendoing into a couple of bucks locked for the title of alpha buck and breeding rights. Rubbing the antlers on trees, scraping the ground, raking tree bark, simultaneously grunting, and doe bleating these all work. In this instance, nothing came to my beautifully painted buck fight in forest surrounded by red cedar trees amongst the tangles of a recently thinned clear cut. I continued to paint the entire clear cut as if there was a battle royal of the biggest bucks in the area all throwing down for the hootenanny. Nothing. Nothing came to the rattle, maybe I’m like a finger paint artist or something….
Working my way towards the opposing forest road, I let down my guard and begin to march toward the “pin dropped” location on my google maps app on the smart phone. Looking at my phone I have a pretty good barring of which direction to walk, I crammed the phone in my pocket and zipped it. Realizing the “pin dropped” location was further than anticipated, I knew I had a extra mile or so to the car and needed to get back to town for lunch plans. Better pick up the pace, I think to myself. I moved as swift and safe as possible through the douglas fir stand which I was currently hunting, the area was loaded with heavy blown downs mixed with a luscious green fern undergrowth.
Continued from PART 1:
Trotting through the woods, I notice a buck springing from his bed and take two bounds pausing at 20 yards. I immediately freeze, the buck does the same and keeps a tree between us peering with on eye around the tree focused on the direction I came from. I was caught off guard for two reasons, I was moving quickly to get back to my vehicle and wasn’t prepared to draw my long bow as movement would surely make the buck flee.
As the first buck stopped, my eyes caught movement and gravitated toward a second blacktail buck trailing his buddy at 15 yards. As luck would have it, I was perfectly downwind with a steady sea breeze coming from the Pacific Ocean. We all stood for about 1-2 minutes silently, it was very fascinating to watch these animals undisturbed in their natural environment. At 20 yards I watched how much they check the wind with a simple nose lift, or how they’re ears spin almost 360 degrees detecting the slightest branch breaking or noise in the forest. They could not smell me and could not detect the ensuing danger, they went back to feeding unaware of (me) the predators existence. Calmly the second buck started to walk away after he lost curiosity in the movement he had detected earlier. Just as he started to move and turn his back toward me I grab my grunt and softly grunted to him, he turns and immediately starts to walk directly at me. He paused at 12 yards facing me, positioned to walk behind thick brush and offer no shot opportunity I had to think quickly to turn him broad side. Thinking to myself, “this dudes neck is all swolled up he must be in the rut” and “I thought blacktails were smaller than whitetails?” and “This buck is a brute forky!”. Having a set of rattling antlers around my neck I simply lean forward and barley roll my shoulders resulting in a soft antler tickle. The buck couldn’t help himself and walked 4 yards closer to find the source of the antler rattle. Turning broad side at 8 yards he started to walk around a fallen tree, he caught my elbows movement as I anchored at full draw and then paused for a fatal moment. The arrow disappeared from sight in the blink of an eye and the buck took off running towards the other deer. They vanished in a fraction of a second, I crept quickly to the location of where the deer was standing when I shot him. Looking for signs of blood, hair, and or the arrow I found something quite peculiar.
When I first saw this buck I saw that his antler was deformed, his antler hung downward on his face but still fully intact and attached to his pedicle. With the stick bow, you shouldn’t be a choosy hunter and the old saying stays true “don’t pass on the first day what you wouldn’t pass on the last day”. Knowing that any antlered buck in the GMU I was hunting is legal, I decided either of the bucks were in trouble if they showed me their vitals. When this buck turned broad side at 8 yards I had no doubt in my mind wether to come to full draw or not. After releasing the arrow and arriving at the location of the where the deer stood, I surveyed the area to find something odd on the ground. Upon closer examination I found that this wasn’t simply a drop of blood on the ground but that this was the actual antler of my deer. He somehow managed to break off the remaining portion of bone connecting his antler by catching it on a tree while he was on his death run. Shortly after I found the antler, the arrow appeared buried and covered in blood in a small brush pile.
Waiting for an hour or so before tracking the animal, I decided it was best not to move a muscle and continue to look for a blood trail in the immediate area until I had given the animal some time to expire. Experienced archery hunters and hunters in general will tell you the most gut wrenching exhilarating portion of the hunt doesn’t come before the shot, it comes after. The anxiety that comes with tracking a wounded animal is intense to say the least, and that anxiety was building in my mind as I had no real blood to track. Staying close to the area where I found my arrow and the antler, I began marking the direction the bucks had run off to with florescent flagging tape. Taking a very slow approach in their direction, as to not spook the deer from his first bedding after the shot, I spotted one of the bucks working his way directly towards me. The buck was following the same path he left upon an hour or so earlier. This is a valuable and interesting part of the story as it allowed for ample learning opportunities on how to hunt blacktail deer. This buck and other bucks I have hunted in my experience will return to an area using the same trail if they are not alerted to human presence or danger. This deer had no clue what had happened in the forest and was curious enough to come back through an hour or so later to investigate the source of commotion in his bedroom. He meandered off after a few minutes and headed toward the direction we all came from, although he didn’t have the droopy antlered buck with him, a good sign. Noting that one deer track was much heavier I knew the direction that the deer ran, after about 60 yards I found a pool of blood on the forest floor filled with pink bubbles and a mix of crimson clots. Not moving another inch I survey the area for more sign in any direction, the body of the deer, or simply an upturned hoof signaling the end of the hunt.
With no blood sign detected in any other direction, I started to let my eyes do the walking and survey further out for a possible lead. It was then that I noticed the deers body laying 40 yards away. I knock an arrow and take off my boots and pack to sneak within 20 yards for another shot if necessary. I dropped to a knee slowly and paused at stick bow range, there was no need for cou-de-gra. I walked up, gently pet his hide and thanked him for the bounty he would provide. Growing up Alaskan, going to undergrad school in Pennslyvania, and filming professional for living I’ve had my fair share of rifle harvested sitka blacktails, eastern whitetails, and central mule deer. However, this is my first Columbian blacktail buck with traditional archery equipment and any animal harvested with true stick and string in my book is a trophy. Completely throttled from the magical experience, a large wave of adrenalin coursed throughout my veins. I had to sit down for a moment, calm my excitement, and fully embrace the situation before the work really began. Its these moments that are seared into my mind after a successful hunt, savoring the nostalgia of the effort placed in the adventure. “I feel special that I’m allowed to sit in national forest sandwiched by the Pacific Ocean and woods filled with douglas-fir, western hemlocks, western red cedar, sitka spruce, big-leafed maples, and red alders with a deer tag and my longbow.” After a few moments of savoring the successful hunt a long drag back to the National Forest Road awaited me, it wasn’t long before the processing of the animal begun.
The final process for this hunt took me firstly to a buddies house to slice, dice, grind, and vacuum seal my delectable winter table fair; honor this animal by salvaging as much edible meat possible. Once the buck was completely processed and in the freezer, including a self european taxidermy job, I was off to the Oregon Department of Fish and Game office to submit a tooth sample and report my hunt online to validate my harvest. The ODFG here in Oregon does a great job on the fascination deer population found through out the states many GMU’s. Hunters do their part in conservation by purchasing game tags and hunting licenses, which in part, provides funding for biologists and conservation officers to regulate and control game diversities throughout the state. By hunters submitting tooth samples to this agency, the biologist can gather data on age, sex, distribution ranges, etc and then compile these facts to better understand the game species overall abundance and carrying capacity for certain areas. Without hunters and their ability to communicate game numbers and data with Departments such as ODFG, these agencies would not have the best information to pull from to set correct game limits and regulations involving certain species. These relationships are crucial to the continued success of wild game populations in North America. I am proud to say I’m a hunter and conservationist.
For more information on a DIY public land Blacktail hunting hunt check out http://www.dfw.state.or.us
For more information on how to become a hunter or if you have interest in the hunting movement we highly encourage you to check out your local Department of Fish and Game and ask about The Hunters Saftey Education Course offered year round.
Here is a link to Oregon’s Hunter Education Programs
Non-resident hunting license: $140
Trotting through the woods, I notice a buck springing from his bed and take two bounds pausing at 20 yards. I immediately freeze, the buck does the same and keeps a tree between us peering with on eye around the tree focused on the direction I came from. I was caught off guard for two reasons, I was moving quickly to get back to my vehicle and wasn’t prepared to draw my long bow as movement would surely make the buck flee….. Ghosts of the coasts they have been called by many hunters who have been fortunate enough to roam the lands with these creatures. They have this nick name for a reason, they live in the thickest forests of North America and are rarely seen. The plan for the Oregon archery tag was to meet up with a hunting buddy and head to a few key areas in Mount Hood National Forest. Hopefully one of us would score a buck for the late season effort. My buddy takes me to a few of his hunting spots and we attempt to rattle in the infamous bench buck. Apparently bench deer are a result of blacktail and mule deer crossing and creating a hybridized specimen. Mule deer are said to have evolved from whitetails and blacktails breeding thousands of years ago, genetics aside deer species in Oregon are diverse. Wether or not these animals are mule or blacktail deer or a cross of both, they are interesting and fun all the same to hunt with traditional archery equipment. These animals live in a diverse ecosystem, the forest covers steep hills with rolling benches the perfect hiding place for a buck. We spend many mornings chasing these elusive critters, rising at 3am and driving 3 hours to hunt first light. Only seeing two deer crossing a highway providing no shot opportunity, the late season archery tag was going to be a tough one to notch. Sometimes switching up tactics is your only shot at success. I knew I needed to go to another area but choosing one hunting spot is tough especially if you don’t have land owner relationships with private land access conveniently located near town. Fortunately Oregon has plenty of public land to cover within a 2-3 hour drive, refer to the ODFG maps for more information. Continued…..
One of the many reasons I love deer hunting is encountering and observing the various deer species that inhabit North America. Each has specifically adapted to live in it’s respective environment and offers different hunting challenges. As I have traveled and moved across the country, I have had the chance to hunt whitetail and mule deer, but never the elusive blacktail. Ever since I moved to western Washington State, I wanted to hunt the blacktail deer, also known as, the “Ghost of the Coast”. These smaller deer species live secluded lives surrounded in the thick pacific northwest rainforest. They move like shadows through tangles of moss covered forrest amidst torrential rains. Hunting these “ghosts” will challenge any deer hunter unlike any whitetail or mule deer.
During my 3 year quest to hunt blacktails, I have bushwhacked through thick rainforest and climbed cliffs on National Forrest to no avail. As any modern hunter, I am always on the lookout for private land to be allowed to hunt on. After reaching out to friends and family, Kristy’s mom knew someone who said we could hunt on her property on Whidbey Island, Washington. We connected with her and instantly became friends. She had no problem with us taking a deer and sees them all the time.
Whidbey Island is 2 hours outside of Seattle, in the Puget Sound. The island is mostly rural and agricultural consisting of small farms, orchards, and large gardens. It is prime deer habitat with tons of blacktail deer. Almost every other day there is a car accident on the island and the state allows any deer to be taken during the season. The hardest part about hunting Whidbey is gaining access to land to hunt. There are a lot of people who live on the island that see the deer as pets, and don’t understand or want hunting. Due to the closer population density, there is a firearm restriction on Whidbey as well. It is bow and/or shotgun only. I have never hunted deer with a shotgun, but this was going to be my first hunt with buck shot.
We went out one week before the season opened to scout the property and set up a game camera. We saw a lot of deer sign and set the camera up at the intersection of 2 well used deer trails. All that week the anticipation was building.
I was anxious about using buck shot and wondering if I was going to wound the deer or ruin a lot of good meat. None the less, it was my only option and the hunt was on. I went out to sight in my shotgun and practice with the buckshot. The gun worked great, but I knew I was going to have to be within 40 yards for the buck shot to be effective. I just had to get close. While I was out practicing, I also harvested 2 pounds of Chanterelle mushrooms! I took it as a good omen for the blacktail harvest to come.
With the gun sighted and the tags purchased, we loaded up the car and took the ferry to Whidbey Island.
When we checked the trail camera, we saw pictures of some does and one nice buck that had been moving through the area. We noticed that they were moving mostly in the evening and walking very close to the camera. While it is any deer on Whidbey Island, we wanted to go after the buck that we had seen pictures of.
We set up our chairs tucked away in the brush, right where the camera was. We sat that opening morning and didn’t see anything. We walked the woods that afternoon and saw tons more sign, but no deer. That evening we went out anticipating to have an encounter based off the time of our trail cam shots.
All evening we sat, waiting and waiting, quickly loosing light and seeing nothing. Kristy asked if I could still see and I assured her I could, knowing we only had about 10 more minutes. Right after she asked that question the buck silently appeared out of the thick moss covered rainforest, no more than 5 yards away from us. I stealthily tried to get the safety off but he instantly saw me. With the blacktail buck staring down on us, we were locked in a stare down for 2 minutes. He eventually decided he didn’t like the situation and walked back into the jungle. My heart immediately sank as I thought it was over. Then, I saw him moving through the brush behind us and could tell he wasn’t spooked. He wanted to come back. I readied my gun and sure enough a minute later he came back. This time ready, he saw nothing as he inspected us over. He kept moving out but not presenting a good broad side shot. Then, at 15 yards, he turned and I immediately saw my opportunity. One shot and he was down. No running or kicking, he just quietly and quickly died right there. The buck shot performed.
Kristy and I were shaking. Both of us had never had a deer encounter that close in the open, much less a buck, and an elusive blacktail! On top of that, it was a roller coaster of emotion as he saw us and left, but then came back again. It was an amazing experience that neither of us will ever forget.
We field dressed him, loaded it up, and caught the late ferry home. The next day we processed the meat into steaks, burger and sausage. We vacuum sealed it and put it in the freezer for winter…after cooking up fresh venison inside tenderloin of course.
Need to make a good game plan with solid logistics and stick to it. Maps are critical to success, understanding game regulations and the area you are hunting are first priorities. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=hunting.main) home website provides great information on where to start and how to finish a successful moose hunt. This can help answer many of the initial questions someone has concerning a DIY Alaskan moose hunt, this should be the first place to start when coming up with a moose hunting game plan. You can find things like harvest statistics for your selected hunting area and animal information, hunting license and tags, pictures on how to field judge a moose, and most importantly all the regulations controlling your hunt.
- Pre/ in-season scouting: internet research – fly over – ground visit
The digital age is upon us and information is more available now than ever. Internet databases such as outdoor forum directories and www.rokslide.com make scouting a little easier. Some individuals like to fly into a hunting area and scout on the way, although there is rules that prevent hunters to chase animals the same day they are airborne. With no pre-season scouting for the majority of hunters out there, they must rely on putting boots on the ground and looking for the freshest moose sign possible. Printed maps of your area is instrumental for moose hunting. Know your area and how to move from point A to B (or at least have a game plan for it).
- Vantage point glassing
If you don’t have the option of scouting the area you will be hunting and have not targeted any particular bulls then gaining a vantage point to glass your hunting area is key. One technique used by saged Alaskan moose hunters is to hike the closest hill then climb a tree, allowing them to survey their hunting area. Climb a spruce tree or cottonwood or use techniques such as climbing a telescoping ladder to get above brushy swamps. Hiking above tree-line in the mountains and letting your optics do the walking for you increases your chances to see animals as well. In general visibility diminishes at lower elevations and gaining a vantage point could be your saving grace.
Always plan morning and evening hunts around wind direction. Moose (even rutting bulls) will usually circle 100-900 hundreds yards down wind before closing the distance. This early season archery bull circled 100-200 yards down wind before bedding permanently this 2014.
- Calling – antler raking
Antler raking or scraping is great for moose hunting because not a high level of skill or knowledge of the moose language is needed. Simply breaking and scraping spruce tree branches can be enough. Listening for a response to your call is crucial. Sometimes bulls approach silent, other times they will rake their antlers and/or grunt. An old moose shoulder blade, plastic oil container, milk jug, protein jug, commercialized fiberglass calls, birch tree bark scrapers, they all work to some degree. The last moose hunt I went on we made a moose scraper out of a jug of Muscle Milk protein and called in a dandy bull fit for the freezer.
- Be prepared to sleep out: survival kit essentials
You can add more items to this list, but I wouldn’t subtract any of these items or be caught dead in the field without them. Moose are just like any of the other member of the deer family, they move most at first light and last light depending on the photo period and rut phase. Knocking down a moose at last light can lead to a long evening away from the shelter of base camp, if you leave your survival kit you’ll be wishing you had one. If your not prepared to siwash* then your not prepared to harvest a bull moose.
Survival kit – bare minimum
- flagging tape
- sleeping bag (emergency blanket, and/or bivy sack,etc)
- two sources of ignition(bic lighter, magnesium fire starter, etc…)
- small fold out saw
- a knife
- 8×12 tarp (or bigger)
- emergency rations of food (cliffs bars, beef Jerky, etc)
- compass and GPS
- Correct gear: a few guidelines
Gear selection can make or break a hunt, rough weather and terrain are inevitable on an Alaskan adventure. Your gear will experience some wear and tear, no doubt. GEAR: Hunting methods differ and depend on the individual hunter but here are a few guidelines for equipment. A heavier rifle caliber capable to shoot 200+ grained bullets out to 300 yards should do the trick. Quality binoculars 8x32s work great, these help hunters field judge moose on those late evening sits in low light conditions. Tent camp with the option to spike camp(1x bigger and 1x smaller tent ), sleeping bag and pads for everyone(0 degree rating mummy bags), and one action packer(tote or cooler) filled with a camp kitchen. An 8×12 (or larger) tarp works great to keep rain off your meat and doubles as a clean surface to help in field processing. A small fold out saw is nice to have along for splitting the sternum, removing antlers, limbs, and gathering firewood. A minimum of eight game bags should be brought, I like to bring 16 in case we drop another moose and/or need to change the game bags in the field if they get wet or dirty. Bring a big enough back pack or packing frame to fit 80-150 pound hind quarters/shoulders in it, day packs simply will not suffice. Cordage, you need much more rope than you think. Extra rope of all sizes along with a giant role of B-50 cord will really help you out in the long run, especially if your buddies aren’t their to lift those heavy moose quarters. An old guide trick I learned a while back was to tie a moose leg with B-50 cord to the closest tree limb you can find, this relieves pressure on the hunter to hold the leg, the knife, and then make the cut. Much more could be said about the correct gear needed for a moose hunt, this all circles back your game plan and methods for transportation to get you in and out of the field.
- Mental and physical toughness:
Moose hunting is tough, one must be mentally and physically ready to handle the task at hand. Once you knock down a moose the “fun is over”, after getting some beautiful trophy shots the slicing and dicing begins. It will take an average hunter about 3-8 hrs to field dress/quarter a moose in preparation for the pack out. Rule of thumb in Alaska is to not shoot a moose more than one mile away from your transportation; this is where physical toughness and mental toughness play a huge role. There are many bulls that go noticed yet untouched because hunters don’t want to deal with all the work, the big boys are out there you may just have to work harder than you bargained for. That being said, there are even bigger bulls that go unnoticed and untouched you just have to be semi-insane to go after them. This bull (pictured lower left) was a few miles past a public hiking trail. It took five days of meat packing up and over 2,500ft mountains to get this moose in the freezer, hands down one of the most grueling pack outs I have personally been apart of.
Take these tips with a grain of salt. There are many seasoned moose hunters out there that have come home and filled their freezers using different tactics. Point is, you can’t kill them from the couch… Do your research and get out there!
*Siwash: verb – camp without a tent.
The camera gear is getting a little soggy. http://ow.ly/i/5Rzn9