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.
This is a great video of Fred Bear’s traditional archery elephant hunt, a piece of history for sure!
The camera gear is getting a little soggy. http://ow.ly/i/5Rzn9
These sheep move in and out of the fog. Gotta keep watching. http://ow.ly/i/5Rzk9
Nothing like setting up camp in the midnight sun. http://ow.ly/i/5RzeU
Sheep hunting is not easy, let alone filming it, but gotta keep the cameras rolling no matter what the conditions! http://ow.ly/i/5Rz1y
The arctic tundra sure is an amazing place. http://ow.ly/i/5RyUB
Got the Frontier Gear Pinacle Pack loaded up and heading for a 5 mile hike…. http://ow.ly/i/5