Follow along with team members and brothers Austin & Auggie as they go after Dall Sheep in Alaska’s rugged backcountry.
Follow along with team members and brothers Austin & Auggie as they go after Dall Sheep in Alaska’s rugged backcountry.
Here is part 1/2 from a 2016 late season sitka blacktail hunt on Kodiak Island, AK
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Mission: Alaska Slam – To harvest moose, sheep, grizzly bear, caribou, and black bear, un-guided, in one Alaskan hunting season.
I have attempted the Alaska Slam Mission before in 30 days(video link);however, was not successful. This took me back to the drawing board for more planning.
I have since made my own custom Alaskan hunting vehicle complete with bunks, game processing, deep freezer, and even a handicap lift to pick up heavy loads of game meat. This will allow me to take my Alaska hunting to a new level.
Is the Alaska Slam New? Has it ever been done before? There is a term called “columbusing“, which is the art of discovering something that is not new. Just as Columbus “found” America when in reality the Native Americans roamed the lands long before, people today are “finding” new ways of doing things in the modern era. Outdoorsmen and sportsmen’s are groups of these modern day explorers, who dream of discovering beautiful places still wild and free. Residents of Alaska have an amazing opportunity to explore these last remaining wilderness year round through hunting, fishing, and trapping. Vast open land to pursue big game. Local Alaskan hunting legends chase sheep on uncharted glaciers and explore areas never believed possible. Its the opportunity to find “new” hunting territory, discover “unknown” valleys, climb “unnamed” mountains, and navigate wild raging rivers that draws modern day sportsman to the last frontier. As opposed to traditional pioneers using dugout canoes, moose hide rafts, and long foot travel, modern day sportsmen can travel the vast landscape by air plane, ATV, horse back, power boat, raft, packraft, bicycle, vehicle, motor cycle, on foot, and etc. To say the least there are a few ways to travel around and columbus your own little chunk of Alaska putting your feet into your own “no-mans land”.
Hunting in Alaska is a culture, a culture that I share and am deeply connected to. There are many different sub cultures within the hunting community such as subsistence hunters, meat hunters, trophy hunters, observers, etc but for now we will generalize the Alaskan hunting culture. In todays modern society, Alaskan’s afforded the opportunity to live in a semi-urban environment and purchase groceries from the local Fred Meyer(or Cubbies) grocery store. I’m no different, I buy groceries, I just try to keep my purchases coming from the plant based whole foods sections. I like to supplement these purchases with my own organic red meat harvested from the land. There are also Alaskans who rely solely on hunting their own red meat, growing their own produce, and or harvesting/gathering goods to provide sustenance through the winter. Locals from all around the state share something in common, they fill their own freezers with the abundant bounty of wild game harvested from the land. Resident hunters in Alaska, while filling their stomaches and freezers with raw groceries may have unknowingly completed the Alaska Slam. The Native American populations of Alaska have depended upon thriving big game populations and fish species as a way of survival and life. They have traveled this land and rafted the same rivers we raft today with modern rafting equipment, only difference is the Athabascan rafts were made of the hide of a freshly harvested moose. We have the advancement of plastics and man made materials to help us find new ways to re-explore and pioneer new methods in Alaska. But are those methods all that new or are we just modern day Columbus imitators, or in our particular case “modern hunters”?
My goal is to escape the grocery store(as much as possible) and source my meat on my own terms. mainly using stick and string, and bullet when necessary, on the adventures of a lifetime. Provide food that promotes a healthy active lifestyle while still connecting to the roots of humanity as a hunter, gatherer, and provider. How am I columbusing? The Alaska Slam is nothing new, non-residents and residents of the Alaska have the opportunity to obtain the Alaska Slam every year. There is no banners, or parties for those who are successful or those who have accomplished this in the past. What you get out of harvesting any of the Big-Five species is a plethora of beautiful game meat to fill your freezer and more potlatches than you can possibly plan for your clan in one year. In my opinion the meat value is the trophy value. After all, you can’t eat antlers or horns very easily…. Its a goal to strive for, a challenge for the thrill seeker. This is not for the faint of heart and if your a non-resident certain species require a guide. Attainable yes, according to the Alaska rules and regulations you can harvest all of these animals the caviot being there are specific rules and regulations in place for each animal. My reasons for the going after the Alaska slam is that I want to fill my freezer on my own terms, harvesting any big game animal in one season is a blessing let alone five different species. You have many opportunities to hunt big game and explore different parts of the state you just have to know all of the rules, regulations, and have a solid game plan for departure and return.
Am I doing anything new in the hunting culture? The indians were doing it long before the advent of gunpowder and western settlers. Like I said, many have completed the Alaska Slam and didn’t want anything from the accomplishment other than having food for the table for their families. The real reason I head a field is for the adventure, the best part of the hunt is simply immersing yourself in the outdoor experience. But we as explorers and modern day adventurers will always dream of columbusing our own destinies. If your a hunter from the “lower 48”, find yourself reading this article Alaskan adventures are not out of your budget….You can book a 30 day trip to Alaska and start meticulously planning like a mad man for the adventure of a lifetime, and keep the hunt costs down. Non-residents can harvest moose, black bear, caribou, black tailed deer, and wolves all without a guide so get out their and get after it! If you have planned and executed a DIY back country elk hunt, you can come to Alaska and hunt moose nearly the same way. Bottom line, there still exist massive opportunities to hunt the wild AK for your dream animal.
I am chasing the Alaska Slam again hopefully filling my freezer, this year I am doing it out of the fully customized Mission Alaska “Bus-Tank”…..Take that “Colum-bus”….
Adventure is out there, are you?
Make sure to check the regulations before heading afield: its a good idea to keep a copy of the Game Regulations with you at all time on the hunt. Know the law and enjoy the wonderful opportunity we have as hunters. The links below will take you to the Alaska department of fish and game website where you can buy your hunting licenses, tags, apply for permits, etc.
Check guide requirements
This one is for all of the out-of-staters……Self-guided hunting IS possible, it’s much more difficult but you with the correct planning an Alaska DIY hunt is possible.
Plane flight roundtrip: $600
Truck rental: $400 per week
Non-resident tags and license: $85+ $400 moose tag
Adventure of a lifetime on a DIY Alaskan Moose Hunt: Priceless
Tag soup is not my favorite meal, but as a hunter I will tell you I have had my fair share of it. Striking out as a hunter and coming home with no animal to show after a long arduous hunt can be very discouraging and hard on a sportsmen’s morale. I always dream of harvesting big game animals in different locations across the country, hunting in new locations is always fun and there is plenty of DIY opportunities through out most of the United States. I have had many aspirations to perfecting my traditional archery game on the beautiful animals that roam North America and beyond.
This year I decided to take an old commercial fishing buddy up on his offer to chase elk in Oregon with bows in hand. Kalen told me about Oregon’s over the counter tags for elk and deer, I said “I’ll bring my take down long bow and a quiver full of zwickeys headed arrows.”
We discuss plans over a fishermens dinner in port of Naknek Alaska, dreaming of big bull elk and possibly a mule deer in the mountains of Oregon.
Fast forward to August, the early archery elk season has begun and Kalen and I take to the woods. We meet up in Portland and begin the long road trip east, before long we had made it to a small sporting goods shop and picked up our elk and deer archery tags. Kalen had the drop on a few good locations from past experiences while hunting with family and friends, so we had a few places to start. (Thanks Mike and Jacob!)
Hitting up a new piece of national forest is always a little daunting at first, new territory keeps you on your feet and you must be aware of your surroundings or risk getting lost/in an emergency situation. I like hunting new areas because I have to be acutely aware of all of my new surroundings as I am at a severe disadvantage with my shooting distance, the animal sense of smell can detect me over 200 yards as they have evolved to survive. All of my shots must be under 25 yards or I risk missing or wounding a game animal. I am stepping completely out of my element of hunting the back country of Alaska, applying my skills to a new hunting area…….SOOOO EXCITING. This hunt is going to be awesome, about a week to get it done before I head off back to Alaska in search of bull moose and grizzly bears.
Hunting Alaska is no doubt one of the most physically, mentally, I repeat physically difficult hunt in the entire world especially if you are a DIY hunter who packs his own meat out. Exlporing, hunting, and harvesting all over the counter game animals across much of Alaska, I thought this Oregon elk and deer hunt would relatively be a piece of cake. Thinking nothing can be more difficult than a DIY moose or a grizzly bear hunt, I figured, “I’ll just slip in this (over the counter tag area) new territory in Oregon, put on the old slipideeedoooooo daaaa on an unsuspecting elk and harvest a beautiful bull”. “Then while I’m packing my elk out to my vehicle, I will see a mule deer buck right next to the car and tag out.” aha lol. All joking aside, I figured Kalen had a compound bow and an equal or better chance at harvesting an elk or a deer, so at least we would be successful. Even harvesting one animal out of all four of our tags, I would have counted the hunt as a complete overwhelming success.
We begin to hike the rugged mountains of eastern Oregon, we break through tree line and I feel at home again. Wind in our face dirt under our feet we marched to a prominent ridge with the plan to bivy out on our perch high in the mountains and in the morning we would catch the elk sneaking back into their beds in the thick timber below. Potentially we could run into an unsuspecting deer as we hunt for elk. Well our technique worked, better during the evening hunts than the morning, but we had encounters by staying high and hunting the elk herd above treeline.
We also saw many deer, one day as I began to do the old slipideedooo da and creeping whisper quite towards the creek ravine where we saw elk I was startled by an explosion from four yards away. Sneaking to stealthily for my own good, I managed to sneak unknowingly within 4 yards of a giant bedded mule deer buck. Kalen said “all I heard was thuda thuda thud thuda, booooomb” He could hear the deers hooves beat the earth before he could see his majestic framed bone white antlers take off towards Montana. We both watched the buck from different locations on the mountain, galloping across the wicked terrain with mind blowing ease and grace. Even though a shot opportunity never presented itself, seeing that deer bound across the mountain was a cool encounter one I will never forget.
We decided they were not coming to our calling set ups as the breeding season or “rut” had not kicked off yet and the bulls were seemingly un-interested. Thats not to say that we couldn’t call in an unsuspecting bull before the rest of the hunting community started throwing hoochey mama calls at them. We tried every trick in the book, we even went all “Cam Hanes” on those elk commencing “beast mode” on a least several occasions while hammering after elk. We ended up scaring the wapiti(elk) off in the next county with our aggressive tactics. We decided to completely switch up our game, we would set up mini natural ground blinds and wait for the elk to cross a pinch point. Pin pointing the elk herds movement to cross a saddle every evening on their way to a wallow, we knew exactly where to sit and await the ambush. Several days later after we had patterned the elk movements, Kalen and I split up, he would stay high upon the mountain top and I would go slide into the timber line and wait on the saddle. Like clock work the elk came over the saddle, and I was ready. I had also chosen the wrong game trail as the elk ended up crossing the saddle 80 yards away from me closer towards Kalen’s position. Kalen had the majority of the herd walking directly towards the rock outcropping where he was hiding. The spike and the branch bull we had spotted from our binoculars several days before was no where to be seen. There were two groups of elk feeding directly towards Kalen and away from me, a spike crested the the rocky outcropping just outside Kalen’s effective range. They ended being slightly curious of Kalens cow call, however they fed directly past his location with the spike elk not presenting anything but an extremely far shot. Walking out of danger an into greener pastures, that spike would live to see another day. Our tag team ambush tactic worked as we had a close encounter, although we were not able to seal the deal on an elk, I felt as if I had earned my moneys worth of the 500+ dollar over the counter tag. The exhilarating expeience of having several close encounters in a new DIY hunting destination was priceless and in retrospect the cost of the license was worth the hunt alone.
Elk combo deer season was a blast in eastern Oregon, we closed the distance on a few elk and one branch bull however we couldn’t get closer than 80 yards of legal bull. We had encounters nearly every day and saw great numbers of cow elk and doe mule deer failing to find the antlered monarchs until we switched up our game. Finding what formula worked best for us on our early season archery hunt was difficult to say the least, but challenging in a very rewarding way. Not only did we find several new locations to chase elk and deer next year, but we will carry our new found confidence and early season tactics into the next elk season. Driving back to Portland was a very sobering moment, we hunted elk and deer as hard as possible for a week straight leaving with a better understanding of the public land bulls that make remote Oregon mountains their home. I didn’t have much time to dwell as I was heading north back home to Alaska in search of rutting bull moose and one of the largest land predators in the world (grizzly bear). Knowing very well that elk season and deer season were not completely over, and that eastern and western Oregon had open hunting GMU’s (game management units); there was a good chance that heading back to Oregon for one or two more shots at the venison or wapiti would be in in my near future.
Coming back to Oregon for one last shot at an elk combo deer hunt before the archery season closed, I searched out new areas to look for potential honey holes almost using these last few days to scout for elk and deer more than hunt. Late season public land hunting entails pursuing animals that have already seen a lot of pressure, I turned to the game regulations in an attempt to find areas with minimal hunting activity or something close to it. I found a few interesting areas in the Oregon game regulations that are traditional archery hunting only my co-driver, hunting partner, best friend, and fiancé Jordan P (who by the way is a dead eye with traditional archery equipment) Said “lets go there”. A traditional area makes sense as the majority of the hunters would probably be unsuccessful leaving scores of antlered beasts to chase. We did not find any elk so to speak, but we were treated to some of the finest deer hunting in the world. I saw 25-50 deer per day for the last couple days of the season, even having a few encounters with some Pope and Young giants, but no shot opportunities under 60 yards. The highlights of the trip was spending time with Jordan and our two dogs, they all were such awesome hunting buddies. Jordan would drop me off at the top of a National forest road and I would meet her at 1/2 mile increments every hour at the road, doing my best to still-hunt as much area as possible. Once again, we left the hunting grounds empty handed as no shot opportunities under 60 yards presented themselves. Again though, the cost of the archery tag for deer season had been well worth it, the over the counter tag provided me with a few animal encounters and an awesome date/mini vacation for my gal and I.
After contacting ODFG and confirming that my archery tag was indeed good for the western deer hunting season, I decided to give deer hunting one more shot. Only hunting in western Oregon is a completely different ball game. The area of western and eastern Oregon are completely different in regards to terrain and vegetation, and a hunter has the unique opporuntity to harvest a Columbia blacktailed deer what is said to be one of the most difficult species to hunt in North America.
The vertical line that divides the mountain ranges that separate eastern and western Oregon provides a unique habitat where blacktail, whitetail, and mule deer can coexist and potentially hybridize. That thought of all three species living in the same vicinity of each other blew my mind and is another awesome reason to purchase this hunting tag. For the particular GMU I targeted to hunt, the western season opened up November 16th and on the opening day I was gonna head out with stick bow in hand. I chose some national forest hunting land a couple hours outside of Portland, with a game plan to hunt an open area with access to “all” hunters. Being the very late archery season, post gun season, I knew that this hunt would probably be the most difficult hunt out of all of my Oregon archery tags. But I was not discouraged as I knew this GMU was an any deer unit, and hopefully with a little luck I could fill my freezer with a little blacktail venison back strap. Weather in the late season was a factor that came into play for my advantage, finally things are going perfectly right.
Hunting the opening morning of the western deer season provided provided me with several advantages, one was the fact that other hunters would be in the woods moving deer. Two the season opener had perfect blacktail deer hunting conditions misty, snowy, cold, and nasty. Oh baby, I started to feel really confident as the fresh snow gave me the chance to track deer in the Cascades Mountains. I drove a two wheel drive car deep into the national forest as far as the car could go, I almost got stuck going up a steep hill. The best decision was to turn around to avoid getting stuck and missing the season opener. I hung my head out the window until I found fresh deer tracks and decided to pull over. I parked the car, strung up my take town stick bow, and charged after the deer tracks. After about an hour of doing the old “slipperybob, slippideee kiiii yeaaaaa, not to be confused with the slippaaaruski, aka cat walking, #stealthy, #stillhunt, #spotandstalk, etc” Basically I was tracking what appeared to be a buck as silently as I possibly could, using the fresh snow and wind direction to my advantage. I noticed the animal tracks we extremely fresh, finding warm scat and recent wet (not frozen) scrapes. Excitement and anticipation began to build enormously, I slowed my already cat like approach to snail speed. After 20 more minutes of feathering my way through thick brush, tracking this buck through rabbit like undergrowth the tracks began to bound more than 10 ft apart. This only meant one thing, the buck had saw me before I saw him and he made a great vanishing act these houdini deer have been known for.
Switching direction towards other fresh tracks in the area, I put my nose to the ground and knew this tactic was going to work. “I could feel it in my bones” that a deer was very close to me and if I didn’t spook them that I could possibly get a shot. I followed the new tracks for a few hours, sitting down during mid day around 11am to take in some beef jerky and water upon a downed tamarack tree. Staying in the field on the hot new deer trail proved to be the final ingredient in having a shot opportunity under 25 yards.
The tracks surprisingly had circled back towards the national forest logging road I was parked on, and headed directly towards the first set of tracks I had followed. Commencing to snail speed I knocked an arrow and eased more slowly than ever towards a group of coniferous trees where the tracks had led. Using these trees to my advantage I slowly crept around the snowy branches being careful not to brush the limbs revealing the location of the heavy footed predator trailing the prey. Rounding the edge of the tree and stepping into another thick snow covered fern patch I noticed the arc of a deer back just 30 yards away. Not moving a muscle I stood frozen, the deer stood up keeping a tree stump halfway between me and it and began walking towards my location.
The stump keeping the animals vitals hidden I could only see a glimpse of what appeared to be a large, healthy, and unaccompanied blacktail doe with no head gear. Slightly curious the deer began doing the head bob back and forth, the “did I just see a shadow” “some kind of movement” ” what was that” “maybe I see another deer?” curiosity head bob. The creatures patience began to wear thin, she turned to walk away and took three steps up hill quartering away at 30 yards I could not take a shot as she was just out of my effective range. As the doe moved up hill, I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out a “Primos Doe esterous can call” and hit the call once as I simultaneously crept 2.5 steps closer to the stump separating me from the back straps.
The doe stopped in her tracks, turned and was curious as to what made the deer noise. She took three steps toward the stump once again and stopped at about 24-25 yards facing me directly. This was the closest I had been to any deer yet this season, as a traditional archer and longbow huntsmen I decided I was going to shoot if the deer was under 25 yards. The gig was up and she had had enough, turning her head to walk away was all of the distraction I needed. Instinctually guestimating the yardage to 25ish yards, coming to full draw, I picked a tuft of hair directly behind her shoulder releasing the arrow with impeccable form just as practiced thousands of times before.
This is where the witchery of archery comes into play with the traditional archer… “As I watched the arrow in what felt like super slow motion, I could see the archers paradox flexing the Zwickey shafted arrow bending and correcting itself to fly true.” The arrow’s trajectory sent the arcing projectile high above the animals back, silhouetting itself perfectly against the white blanketed back drop. The arrows flight was simply beautiful, in my mind I saw the arrow flying over the animal’s back, but in the last mili-nano second of slow motion the arrow lost forward momentum and began to fall as if guided by a higher power. The white and red fletched arrow flies silently as the wind and does not interrupt natures perfect harmony. Slicing through snow, fog, and mist connecting with flesh, blood and bone..
The arrow finds its mark, the doe trots off slowly and lays down for one final nap. Watching the animal lay down, I knew the deer had been delivered a fatal blow and it was only a matter of seconds before she passed. I slowly tracked the blood trail towards the location I saw her lay down. Still practicing the art of the hunt, I tracked the beautifully painted blood trail across the vibrant white snow.
Finding both halves of my arrow, I was ecstatic. The blood trail started to be on both sides of the animal, which means the arrow went completely through the animal or part of the arrow (hence the broken shaft). After about 80 yards of tracking this blood trail to the location where I saw the animal lay down, I could see the deer belly up another 15-20 yards down the mountain. She died on her feet completely unaware of what happened and slid about 20 yards down hill to the base of hemlock tree. There lay one of the hardest earn trophies of my hunting career, a beautiful public land blacktail doe taken with true stick and string.
Thanks to everyone who was part of the hunt this year, shout out to Jake and Mike M, Kalen K, and Jordan P I had a blast hunting with you guys this year and thanks for all your assistance.
Year of the moose… It seems like this year bull moose were abundant in many parts of the state. Sorry it has taken so long to make a new post, however team Mission Alaska has been out making new content for our readers to enjoy. The Mission Alaska adventure was, again, one for the ages. Here are a few pictures to tide you over until the stories accompanying these pictures are tapped out and made whole.
Cheers to the beautiful bull moose who roam these lands year round. We as hunters thank you.
Hunting season isn’t to far away and if you are thinking about stepping into the woods make sure to purchase your hunting license and accompanying tags. Many states require hunters to fill out hunting reports online, these reports help biologists and Department of Wildlife officials maintain healthy population numbers, set game bag limits, and promote conservation through hunting. With the internet this day and age, its never been easier to report your hunting adventures online at your states home webpage.
In order to not be penalized for future hunting tags and permits, residents of the state of Alaska must report their prior years harvests before a set date.
Remember to always have the correct tag for the game species with your accompanying hunting license, simple Hunter Safety Education 101. Hunting licenses and game tags directly benefit wildlife conservation and do many things for our cultural heritage and the tradition of hunting. Don’t forget to fill out your hunting reports online, happy safe hunting everyone.
Guess where this shot was taken….Ill give you a hint, it was during the filming of Ultimate Survival Alaska.
The picture is of Robert Seamen a shooter/producer and I. Rob is one of the hardest working individuals I have ever met in my life. This guy was very talented with his camera to say the least, he managed to keep rolling footage in the wet and inhospitable Alaskan weather.
Here are some pictures from the latest USA episode. Enjoy!