Gravitas – Solo Mountain Goat Hunting Alaska

alaska, DIY hunting, Hunting Alaska, Mountain Goat
Solo Mountain Goat Hunting Alaska

Solo Brolo Yolo

Last year I found a primo goat hunting spot. This spot however, was incredibly difficult to access. I typically hunt with a partner and especially love introducing them to species they’ve never personally harvested. Last year resulted in the hard earned harvest of two big Billy’s and two happy hunters therefore I knew that I wanted to return to this special spot this season in pursuit of my own mountain goat. Only this year, I elected to go solo. Letting go of a good hunting spot is hard to do. Being a selfless hunter is also difficult. I neglected both these things for this year’s hunt.

Gaining Perspective on Mental Toughness

Every hunt becomes a story and adds perspective on life. Hunting solo provides nourishment for my soul and time to really self reflect. On this adventure I had thoughts of turning back and going home to my wife and newborn son. I contemplated what’s really important to me in life; another dead mountain goat? Time spent with my family? Producing content? I asked myself, why am I doing this? Why did I wake up at dark and pursue this wild animal in arduous terrain? Why am I clinging to the cliffs and climbing up with no support from a hunting partner? I’m still trying to answer some of these questions but I did come away with a few answers.
I’m feeding my family.
I’m feeding my soul.
I’m renewing my identity amongst God’s country.
I’m finding out what I’m really made of.

Saving weight and sleeping in a bivy sack

Solo hunting isn’t for everyone and after this hunt, I understand why. In my mind I had many questions I was trying to answer and decisions I was trying to make. Both in regards to the hunt and in life. The only person I had to bounce those questions off of was myself. The thought of turning back was prevalent. I kept thinking that I would have to come back down “all this stuff” with a very heavy pack. I knew there would only be one trip in and one trip out. With that in mind, I kept thinking of the possibility of failure. Failure could be an unsuccessful hunt with no harvest of goat. Failure could also be choosing the wrong route up or down, resulting in serious injury, or even fatality. Once I spotted goat, all questions and thoughts of turning back ended abruptly. I knew I could close the distance.

Making it above tree line in goat country is tough. Maneuvering through the mess of alders makes every step of the climb difficult. Mountain goats like wind swept faces where they are high above the bugs and secure in perfect escape terrain. From my past experience in this area, I had an idea of where these goats would be but I knew that getting there would not be easy. I planned out the stalk in my mind and executed that game plan when I got above tree line. Everything was going exactly as planned, no goats in sight but I knew where they would be hiding. Attempting to gain a vantage point is difficult in this country due to prominent boulder fields that can easily hide a goat. I decided to put on my “Winchester Whites” and close the distance to a flat bench below a china walled basin. The bleach white trade-show dress shirt was a little too white, I stood out on the side of the mountain like a road flare at night. I rounded a boulder field and then spotted a goat laying down on the ledge below the basin.

Busted – Now or Never Moment

Goats have incredible eye sight and a great sense of smell. This goat was facing away with his back to the wind and face up toward the valley. I dropped in from above and angled toward the wind. The billy was quickly coming into shooting range. I donned the whites as a fail safe in case he spotted me. I slid down a grass chute on my rear and went from 500 yards away to 400 yards away in a hurry. Ten minutes later a bleach white nanny squirted out of nowhere, about 200 yards below me. She carefully and deliberately walked toward the gnarliest rocks she could find to serve has her escape route. Did she see me? Did she smell me? It didn’t matter at that point. The billy then stood up at 400 yards, spun around and looked directly at me. He took several steps toward the nanny, who had joined up with another goat that appeared suddenly, almost like a magic trick. They all looked directly at me like they knew I was there the whole time. I wondered how many hunters those eyes have seen. I dropped my pack and slowly unbuckled my 300WSM XPR.

Show Time

I crawled to boulder as the goat took several steps and stopped to stare right at me. I rested the rifle on a rock and negotiated a prone position facing almost straight down the mountain. Curiosity of the billy got the best of him and I was able to take a shot. The 190 grain bullet hit right behind his elbow before he took several steps on the flat bench and collapsed. He was in the perfect place for recovery; a flat bench at the bottom of a large gulch. I’ve heard from many goat hunters that shooting a goat isn’t the tough part, it’s waiting for the goat to be in a recoverable location that won’t damage the animal from the fall. This billy was in the perfect place and I’m thankful for his life. What a truly magnificent animal – the “Mountain Goat.”

Big Ole Billy
Big Ole Billy
Slice and Dice Champ
Solo Dice
Standing up is difficult when you have – Film Gear, Camp Gear, Full Hide, Full Boned out Goat meat on your back.

Breaking him down took what seemed like forever. I had to nearly flesh the cape to keep him light as possible to hike back over the mountain where I came from. One rule in goat country I find crucial – no blind descents, meaning always go down the same place you came up. That being said I had to hike up over the mountain to get back to where I started from. Deboning the billy and trimming as much fat as possible took time but more time trimming meant less weight to pack out. I arranged my pack with clothes at the bottom, meat in the middle, and the hide at the top. I strapped my rifle, sleeping bag and bivy sack on the exterior of the pack. Shouldering the nearly 200 pound pack took the breath right out of me. I hiked well into dark before I set up camp at the top of the mountain. The following morning I hiked down to my Alpacka pack raft and floated back to my ATV. I was happy to be in the home stretch.

Alpacka Rafts = Whole New Ball Game
Made the push to the wheeler…

Going on an adventure like this is a bit selfish, I must admit. I realized this upon returning and fleshing out the experience in my mind. Mountain hunting is my addiction. The adrenalin flooding through my system is the high. Summiting that mountain on my own two feet and harvesting my target animal was an immense moment for me. I am grateful for the time spent solo in the mountains. The hike was painful and pushed me to my limits which is what I was looking for. I felt my heart pounding in my chest and felt the sweat drip from my brow. I was surrounded in gorgeous scenery. I felt truly alive. As I sat on a moss covered log at the base of the mountain, I experienced that mountain epiphany, that…”yeaaah” this is why I do this. I couldn’t wait to return home to my wife and newborn son to share the story with them. I also look forward to the day where I get to share this primo spot with my son. #MAK #missionalaska

Made it back to Keeper – Pickle – Crixus & Jordan “My Wife took the photo lol”

The Alaskan Way – “Lonely Boat on a Dark River” A story of endless care for others in Nowhere, AK – Nathaniel Grimes

alaska, Hunting Alaska, Hunting Culture, moose, public land

This is what I love about Alaska, you can see when someone needs help by a simple glance. Remote travel and risky endeavors are a part of the Alaskan life. The further away you get from “society” the more people are willing to give you the shirt off their back, the beer out their cooler, and the strong back to get you home safely. Reading stories like these warms the heart, you never know when your the one who needs a hand in the backcountry.

Story by Nathaniel Grimes.

Fire = Warm
Fire = Warm

“Lonely Boat on a Dark River” 

It goes without saying that every season and every hunting trip yields some pretty interesting experiences (both good and bad) to talk about around the campfire with a cold beer and good friends. 

This one is no different. For me, the moose season has always frustrated me. Every year I spend hours upon hours at the range with countless rounds of my choice ammunition, practicing shots from different positions and various distances. I put a lot of work into making sure I am ready to make a clean shot on the fly IF the opportunity presented itself. 

But as always, the dreaded thought of coming up empty handed once again lingers in the back of my mind. You tell yourself it’ll be different this year and the hope of success, and the thought of finally getting to take that first picture with your first moose comes back up and seems to push all that doubt out of your noggin. 

The day for the river trip finally arrived. I had the gear and boat all packed up and my two friends were ready to get on the river. We had no specific place along the Tanana river we wanted to set up camp, or where we would even start for that matter. We just wanted to get out there and make it happen. 
After a few hours on the river we find a pretty nice little flat spot just before the mouth of the Wood River. We had heard quite a few success stories coming out of that river so we decided to give it a shot. Filled with optimism and false hope we pitched out tents and settled in. Tomorrow was finally opening day. 

It’s 5am and we are all up, sipping coffee and waiting for first light. After breakfast we hit the river. We spend most of the day going up and down the Tanana to see what areas look the best for our first sit. We eventually find a spot we figured was as good as any and set up. Hours go by and that hope quickly starts to fade. 
Faced with sheer boredom and a tiny bit of depression due to the lack of instant gratification, we head back to camp and start making food. A few hours go by and now it’s dark as crap. While having a beer with “the boys” we hear an owl across the river hooting quite loudly. “You should shine a light over there and try to see the eyes reflect”, my buddy says. Also curious, my other friend pulls his light out and turns it on….Not what we thought to find. 
As soon as he turns the light on we see, in the river not 20 yards from us a boat, silently floating past us. “What the @#&*?!” was the chosen response from all three of us. While holding all of our flashlights on the boat, we yell out to the boat incase there was anyone simply just broke down and floating back to Nenana. No response. 
 
This is where it gets interesting. “Someone fell out of the boat!” One friend yells. “Not likely” I replied, “If someone fell out, the boat would more than likely still be running and spinning clockwise. I bet you it floated away from someone’s camp.”
We jump in my boat and head out after the lonely boat. We catch up to it and I hop in the driver’s seat. Inside was a beautiful 300WinMag, 2-30 gallon tanks of gas and 4 or 5 lifejackets. I turned the key and it started right up. 
“Let’s take this back to camp and call the Troopers.” I suggested.  Well see now we’re in a bad spot. We are in the middle of the Tanana River, in the middle of the night and it’s pitch black. If a sweeper or sandbar hand been in front of us we wouldn’t have been able to do anything. I tell one friend to drive my boat behind me and the other friend to sit on the bow of the boat and shine a light on the river for me. 
While driving the found boat I notice I have to fight the steering wheel to keep it from making a hard right turn. As we get closer to the camp I see more of the river and don’t see any sweepers in front of us so I give the throttle a little push. Bad idea. The boat violently kicks hard right and we shoot out into the middle of the river. After a few expletives are shouted, we look up and see a small light in the distance. Couldn’t have been any bigger than a shop light, waiving back and forth about 2 miles up the river. 
We slow down to let Jimmy, my friend that is driving my boat catch up. While idling our boats next to each other we decide that these could be the people that this boat belongs to.  “Screw it man let’s go there and see if they know anything.” Jimmy said.  So here we go, 3 young guys, in 2 boats, in the middle of the river with practically no light to navigate with. About 45 minutes nervous driving and 1 or two close calls with some sandbars we were around 15 yards from these guys who are waiving their headlamps and shop light while yelling hooting and hollering. 

“You guys lose a boat?” I said with a comedic and slightly smug tone. Immediately we see the look of sheer amazement and disbelief rush over everyone of their faces.  “Holy $%^& you found our $%@(>,% boat!! Oh my God!!!” They’re all yelling. As we step up on their mini dock they begin opening their wallets and shoving rather large wads of cash along with a few beers in our faces. 
 
We politely decline to accept the money and tell them we didn’t do it for money, we did this because “Alaskans take care of each other”. The boat owner stepped up and said, “Well let me pay you guys back by showing you my best moose hunting spot in the morning. I’ve hunted this area my entire life and I own almost 200 acres here. You boys are welcome to stay here anytime and hunt on my land as you please!” 
The next morning we wake up and get our gear in the boat. The boats owner drives up to our camp and says, “let me ride in your boat and I’ll show you my best spots today as well as give you an extra 30 gallons of fuel.” We agree and off we went. 
Unfortunately, after all the spots he lead us to, we still did not see any sign of a bull moose. 3 days later, we pack up our camp and head home. Even though unsuccessful, we were extremely happy. We saved a group of people on the river and made friends with them. We had a super fun 3 days getting to know them all and getting more experience with the surrounding sloughs and creeks. 
All in all, this was an experience of a lifetime and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. This is what it is all about. Alaskans coming together, helping each other, sharing knowledge, lending a helping hand with no strings attached…It’s just what we as Alaskans do.  I hope you all enjoyed this story and hope it inspires you to continue to be there for one another in any way you can.  Good luck to you all this year!!!

Well guys, we can all learn something from this story… you never know when you’re going to need a hand. It pays dividends to treat people in the field like your life depends on it, because it really could. I’ve rescued, self rescued, and been rescued…. and to all those reading this. Thank you. Nate, good luck shooting the biggest bull of your life this year. “May the karma come back, and the bulls be big.” – Austin

Goat Hunting Alaska’s Nasties

alaska, big game hunting, Mountain Goat, pack rafting, Winchester

“Nowhere to climb, but he climbs.” I sit and watch in amazement as this nearly bleach white animal climbs up and over a knife ridge that seems nearly impossible for humans. Climbing harness, loads of rope, and skills I do not have would be the only way to bring him home.”

Goat hunting isn't for everyone.
Goats live in arduous terrain.

This seems like a common story amongst hunters who chase after that once in a lifetime Rocky Mountain Goat. These gifted climbers are found sparsely across the western Americas with strong holds in Coastal Canada and Southern Alaska. I’m an Alaska resident and have the opportunity to chase them unguided in my home state, although I have been fortunate enough to join other hunters in British Columbia for a different but equally dangerous goat hunt. These hunts are dangerous, no other way to describe them. On that British Columbia goat hunt, shortly after I left camp, I received a Facebook Message that one of the guides in camp had fatally fallen. A serious wake up call in my life.

This year, I took a new approach to goat hunting, a safer more mature angle. My take on hunting in general is that the whole adventure has to feel safe, be ethical, and make everyone on the hunt feels good at the end wether you harvest or not. This approach has served me well and when applied to my goat hunts this year, I found great success both personally and as a group. My Kestrel knife blade touched 5 goats this year, totaling 25 days in the field. A year of firsts for sure! Firstly my wife connected on a beautiful billy on a river hunt in South Central Alaska on a 7 year old 9.5inch Billy.

Ole One Horn-Ancient Warrior Nanny

An old high school friend and football teammate took his first goat, a 12 Year old Ancient nanny in Prince William Sound from a boat hunt. Two of my friends missed goats on weekend trips there after, cleanly and unscaved the only thing hurt on those brief hunts were egos. One friend even notched his tag as he grazed the long hair off a mature Billy’s back and didn’t feel right after leaving, he did the ethical thing to do. After those adventures I took and filmed my hunting partner Brian on a 6 year old B&C 10.25 Inch Billy goat (his first) from a grueling backpack winter hunt in my sacred secret honey hole. Lastly I took a mature Billy Goat in a different portion of Prince William Sound via permit from Fish and Game for a coveted tag for a mature 6 year old 9.25 inch Billy.

Battle Dogs
Jordan’s First Billy
Thrilled to have both horns!
Tumbles are part of the game. Glad he had both horns!

After this season, I think I’m actually becoming a bit of a mountain goat. Seems I was infatuated with them this year. The meat, regardless of what anyone tells you…..In my opinion is some of the most delectable and delicious wild game meat in the state. Burger, steaks, crock pots, oven cooked, smoked on the Traeger, braised, etc. Just tasty. With a dismal moose season in the books and the majority of seasons closing locally for freezer filling animals like moose and caribou, it was time to shift into goat mode. Weekend warrior status from the end of September until the middle of November provided all sorts of mountain opportunity for these albino whookies.

Billy Walking Towards NO-Man’s Land

Alaska’s goat populations are managed by drawing permits and registration permits, there is no over-the-counter harvest tags. Although you can register for goats online and in person at the ADFG offices. Once you finish the hunt you have to submit your hunt report regardless of successes or failures. This is how the State of Alaska and the conservation of these majestic animals works. Non-residents need a guide for these animals while residents of the state who live here year round can hunt them DIY. Easy enough to get the opportunity to hunt them, the difficult part is to take a mature billy in retrievable non-destructive terrain for both you and the goat. The first step in the battle of the billies is to firstly locate the animals in the permit area, easy enough. I go by the 90%-10% rule of terrain, I look for the gnarliest terrain 90% looks the same. The 10% percent of the gnarly terrain in wind swept country is what I look for.

Gotta Go UP for Goats

Crampons, climbing axes, mountaineering boots, rope, and great glass will help you in goat country. The single most important aspect is confidence in that gear, and little to no fear of heights. You don’t want to misstep in goat terrain. Now once we located these goats the logistcally sound option is to understand if you can go up and come back down in one day, if not more gear and heavier packs are necessary…. Or you can just cowboy up and sleep in all your layers over night. Both options are tough, unless you can get up and down in one day. Well actually all options are tough.

Position is Everything

Possibly the most difficult part of the hunt is determining the sex of the goat. ADF&G provide all sorts of information to help determine the sex of the animal, one of there tips helped me the most. “Patience is key. The longer you watch a goat the better your chances for gathering enough clues to determine its sex. Mountain goats use cliffs as escape cover much like a deer running into thick brush when they are spooked. A hasty decision to shoot may result in wounding or losing an animal because you cannot retrieve it from the bottom of a crevasse.”
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=goatidentification.patience

Where's the Billy?

There are many aspects helping you determine the sex between billies and nannies, targeting males versus females is detrimental to the sustainability to goat poplutions. ADFG encourages the take of males because female goats have long gestation period and takes them around 5 years to reach breeding maturity. Taking one nanny ripples across the entire population. That being said, shooting dry nannies is encouraged in places such as Kodiak. Generally speaking nannies live is less difficult terrain, while the billies live in the nasty cliffs that are difficult to hunt. With enough patience goats will move and find them selves generally in retrievable “safer” country. You certainly don’t want to be in a position of not being able to retrieve your hard earned trophy.

Glad he fell where he did...
Glad He Fell Where He Did….

My wifes goat did the standard death jump, when she shot him in favorable terrain he decided to do one final leap for all of goat-kind. He rolled almost 1,000 feet and came to a stop, remarkable he had both horns still on his head. She wanted a should mount, the taxidermist said that would be difficult because of the “shave” marks on his muzzle. Well that only meant one thing to me, be the husband I am……I decided to go and get her a new cape for her half-shoulder mount while reducing freezer space in our home. I would tan her hide and make a rug for our new childs bedrooms, go and harvest my personal goat (since all my buddies wanted to mount theirs), and put my cape on her horns. Seemed like a win win, other than all the weekends I was spending away from home. With my “excuses” in hand, I was off for the final goat hunt of 2018.

Early Winter Nights… Lower Elevation Goats. Nuggets of Knowledge.

My hunting partner and super cub pilot Brian said he would help me with my last goat hunt of the season since I had helped everyone else get theirs including his B&C giant. We made a plan after a few hour conversation with the Palmer Fish and Game Office Biologist and took off. We knew the routine and it wasn’t long before we were sweating, huffing and puffing, and marching up a mountain. Finding the flattest spot we could out of the wind, we settled in for a cold night. Waking up the next morning we glassed the knife ridge and made a game plan for the stock. The 50mph gust nearly blew us off the mountain literally, with the gusts in our favor the goats couldn’t hear us coming. Cresting the ridge we spotted a lone billy marching hard up mountain toward the 90% of unforgivable terrain. 10 minutes later we spotted another billy hunkered down with his group of Nannies.

Where's the Billy?
Whiteout Whookies

He was mature, beautiful, and everything I wanted and more. Self filming this adventure added one more layer of complexity to the journey, I set the camera up on the tripod and readied for the shot. Getting into position with the windy conditions I knew a 400 yard shot was out of the question. We waited for the group of goats to meander towards us on the knife ridge. After a cold seemingly endless wait the target billy crested on the favorable side of the bowl with gentle retrievable country, the first shot had to anchor him or him could have done a perilous death jump to un-safe terrain. The first quartering to broke his shoulder and from the angle went through his spine dropping him instantly. He fell sliding down in the perfect position for pictures and a safe recovery. Patience was the key and I was rewarded, a happy hunter with a picture perfect end to an unforgettable goat season.

My Billy
Freezer Full, Wall Space Smaller, Back Still Sore
Loading the “Hawg”
Kodiak Goat
Ryan’s First Goat

Winchester’s Expedition Big Game & EXBGLR

alaska, alaska hunting expedition, Blacktail Deer, caribou, Deer Hunting, grizzly brown bear, Hunting Alaska, moose, Mountain Goat, pack rafting, Winchester

“One Round. One Rifle. One Alaska Hunting Season.” I set out with Winchester’s 300WSM XPR and Expedition Big Game Long Range across Alaska over the 2017-2018 hunting season. Moose, Sheep, Mountain Goat, Blacktail Deer, Black Bear, and Caribou all fall to this lethal combination. Alaska tested, Alaska tough. Here’s a link to my review on Winchester’s Expedition Big Game and EXBGLR ammunition. ->READ MORE

Expedition Big Game Long Range Put to the Test in Alaska

https://winchester.com/Blog/2019/05/Expedition-Big-Game-Long-Range-Put-to-the-Test-in-Alaska

“Addicted to the Ascent” Presented by Winchester

alaska, DIY hunting, Hunting Alaska, Mountain Goat, Winchester


Late season mountain goat hunting is a dangerous endeavor. Wind blown knife ridges attract the hardest of critters, high risk…high reward. Why are we drawn towards risky behaviors? In some circumstances they can be healthy, well sort of. On this adventure, Austin and Brian climb towards the goal of notching a late season goat tag.

Importance – Alaska Mountain Goat Hunt – Presented by Winchester

alaska, Mountain Goat, Winchester

Before and after any hunt you should aways ask yourself a significant question. What’s really important? What’s the purpose of this hunt? As you become more enthralled with the legacy of hunting and the heritage that follows, you should always be cognicent of the reality of your decisions. Jordan’s first mountain goat hunt attempts to answers these personal questions and signify’s what is Important to our family.

2016 Alaska Dall Sheep Hunt “Mountain Memories”

alaska, alaska hunting expedition, big game hunting, DIY hunting, extreme hunting, Field Producer, game processing, hunting, Hunting Culture, Hunting with Camera, meat, nature, public land, unguided hunting, wild game, wildlife

Follow along with team members and brothers Austin & Auggie as they go after Dall Sheep in Alaska’s rugged backcountry.

 

Late Season Kodiak Sitka Blacktail Hunt “Thanksgiving Day Magic” Part 1/2

alaska, alaska hunting expedition, Blacktail Deer, Deer Hunting, DIY hunting, extreme hunting, grizzly brown bear, hunting, Hunting Culture, Hunting with Camera, meat, nature, public land, Videographer, wildlife

Here is part 1/2 from a 2016 late season sitka blacktail hunt on Kodiak Island, AK

 

First Moose: Jordan’s Bull

alaska, camping, DIY hunting, hunting, 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.

Raspberry Island Elk: Race Against the Clock in Bear Haven

alaska, alaska hunting expedition, antler, Hunting Culture, public land

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.

Elk from Air

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

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

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.

Brown bear on hills side

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

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.

Elk on hill side

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 uElk fleeingp 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.

Erics Bull

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.

 

Doug and Ryan with ElkWe 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 Packing Meat

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.

Sunset

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.

Meat packWe 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 across Valley

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.

Elk mountWe 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.