“Story and pictures by Drew Kress about his adventure into hunting Alaska. Many view Alaska as a hunters paradise with abundant game and fish in the mountains and rivers. There’s some critters running around, but not around every drainage. Hunting the last frontier is tougher than buying a tag, booking a ticket, and jumping in a bush plane. Just like with any endeavour, there is a learning curve and Alaska’s is near vertical.” – Austin
No question that in some shape or form, the things we love to do were spawned from some type of inspiration. Some may argue that is engraved into our DNA, but I will argue the opposite. No matter what it may be, someone or something has given us a vision in our heads of what we want to set out to accomplish. Education, career, relationships or whatever it may be. I am here to talk about hunting. For most of us our fathers pointed us in the right direction to experience hunting and spark our ever-growing love for the outdoors. For others it could have come from friends, books or something we just can’t explain. Whatever it may be there was some type of learning curved involved. Some may climb the mountain of growth quick, but for some it may take years to figure out how to create personal growth and how to go about gaining the knowledge. Over the years, I have come to learn that the growth you accumulate all depends on how willing you are to put yourself out there and how you perceive the activity as a whole. This is my story of the learning curve.
The way I see it there are two types of “hunting” in north America. There’s “Western hunting” which involves a lot of walking, glassing and hiking to find your game. Practically east of the continental divide you have your whitetail and turkey hunting that involves a lot of sitting and waiting. Rather than covering lots of miles, terrain and spending time behind binoculars, you scout small and hidden chunks of land looking for game trials, deer sign, choke points, food and possibly water. The way you define “success” in this style of hunting comes in many ways. When I was growing up, harvesting any deer was an accomplishment to me. I went about it with either a gun or a bow and thoroughly enjoyed both. At a young age I immediately found it fascinating to go out into the woods, kill a deer and eat it. With that satisfaction erupting in me, I even took it upon myself to learn how to trap and hunt small game as well. To be able to do it at a young age sort of sparked a path that I continue to walk on to this day. That is to be able to go out, be self-sustaining and not have to buy meat at a grocery store. I ended up doing this from the time I was about twelve years old to when I left for the Army. What I enjoyed most was that every year I was getting better at it. I learned from my mistakes and applied it to the next time I hunted, or the next season. In my head I was set out to be a whitetail killer. When I turned eighteen, I had made the decision to join the Army to be an Airborne Infantrymen. Little did I know that this would pave a totally new path for me as a hunter and an outdoorsman. My first six months of the Army involved a lot of carrying around heavy packs, retraining your brain to ignore body pain and sleeping on ground in the woods. There was certainly a lot more involved, but I mention only those because it has trained me to become a better hunter. After I completed Airborne school, I was given papers that informed me I was being sent to Fort Richardson, Alaska to be a part of the Airborne Infantry brigade located in Anchorage. “I am the luckiest dude in the world” I said to myself, but little did I know the frustration and challenges I was about to undergo. My first year in Alaska was 2015. It was more than safe to say I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t even know where to start. Coming from my whitetail and tree stand hunting background, I was totally lacking the knowledge on what to do. The next two years I went on an embarrassing tangent of trying to hunt Alaska’s big game in the way I would hunt whitetail deer in Wisconsin. Apart of that reason was time off issues and also not having a clue of what to do. Looking back now I find my efforts hysterical. As you can guess no success came of those two years, and I honestly didn’t know any better. Insanity is in a way defined as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. It was safe to say I was going insane. It wasn’t until two years later when I had gone on a moose hunt South-east of Fairbanks that I had realized that it’s time to start going about things differently. “How do I go about things differently?” I asked myself over and over. The amount of failure I was experiencing was exhausting. I had tried to find mentors to show me the path to success in the field, but I was never able to find the help that I needed.
In 2017 my Brigade had received orders to deploy to Afghanistan to participate in the fight for Operation Freedom Sentential. We were set to leave in early September and return the end of May the following year. “Another year without meat and another year I wouldn’t nourish my souls in the wild lands” I thought to myself. Though I was excited to do great things, I was let down that another year of my passion is going to be put on hold. Throughout my time in Afghanistan I took it upon myself to reeducate my ways of hunting in Alaska. I wanted more than anything to close the gap and be able to become a knowledgeable hunter who understands the game he’s hunting, knows where to go and has the traits to make the experience in the back country enjoyable. So, I decided to order books, watch videos and listen to a lot of podcasts on DIY hunting in the west. By the time my deployment was over I had read over two dozen books, watched a crazy number of hours of Alaska hunting videos and likewise with hunting podcasts. I overall tried to retrain the way I thought about hunting. My old mindset was more focused on killing and getting meat rather than actually enjoying the activity of hunting and apricating its attributes that establish gratitude in you. I was fully invested and ready to tighten my bootstraps, hunt hard and enjoy Alaska’s back country. The months overseas went by and I finally got off the plane from the trip back across the world. I was hit in the face with fresh air and the smell of what seemed like freshly browsed willows. I wanted to cry I was so happy. It was mid-May and my plans were to make a spring bear trip happen. I had saved up a bunch of money and had time off to make it happen this time. A family friend in Glenn Allen had invited me out to put out some bear baits in the area. I spent the next two weeks with him learning how to go about bear baiting. I learned as much as I could from him by asking questions and taking a detailed note of everything he did. After a week and some change, we had bears coming into the bait consistently. After one sit in the stand we had a black bear come in. After all these years of trying, I had harvested my first big game animal in Alaska. I was excited for many reasons. My first black bear, getting meat in the freezer and finally over coming my years of nothing. After recovering the bear, my friend who was a lifelong Alaskan showed me his way of skinning the bear and how to break down an animal to haul it out on your back. This knowledge I gained from my buddy gave me more excitement than the pull of the trigger.
After finally accomplishing a successful big game harvest in Alaska, I wanted so much more. I had felt like I got the smallest crumb of the best and tastiest pie in the world. As the summer went by, I continued to train for my planned hunts this fall. I would go hike, shoot my rifle consistently, practice glassing, research my hunt areas and just about anything productive that came to mind. I know I wanted to be successful, but I also wanted to continue to change my definition and perspective on success. With everything moving along properly, I was growing more and more excited that fall was coming.
The August of 2018 had finally arrived. The pictures I painted in my head the last few years were finally presenting themselves and they were beautiful. As I usually do, I got lucky in Alaska’s lottery drawing and got a tag for a Caribou hunt and an any Bull Moose tag. With these two trips and another planned on Kodiak, I was ready to embrace everything that these adventures had been holding for me. Overall, my outlook was to peak and plateau on my learning curve of Alaska hunting that I had been walking on for a few years. If I could go out with a good attitude, be persistent and be ready to learn at every turn of the corner I knew I would be satisfied with myself.
The planned trips came quickly, and next thing I knew a buddy and I were hiking into the Alaska back country for my first Caribou hunt. This was my first backpack style hunt and thankfully I had somewhat quality gear to sustain myself. Due to a bad winter die off, the hunt was restricted to bull caribou only. The first day we walked along a creek till dark and set up our camp. The next few days we hiked, got soaking wet, covered lots of country but we were unable to turn up a bull. We floated down the river in our pack rafts back to the truck and reflected on our trip. I found myself complaining quite a bit and moaning about the lack of time we had for the hunt, the bull only rule and my gear that had failed me and my expectations. My hunting partner discussed the fun he had and positives he experienced on the trip. I ended up feeling very guilty later for adding negativity to our hunting trip. This ended up being the first time I really took a deep look at myself in the mirror and my attitude towards hunting adventures. It was the slap in the face that I needed.
When I got back from that trip, I truly realized that I needed to change my wilderness attitude. A few months went by, and in October my four and a half years in the Army had come to an end. My biggest intention was to leave the military and find a job that would allow me to spend an ample amount of time hunting throughout the year. To celebrate my life change, I invited my father and two brothers up for a hunting and fishing extravaganza on the Kodiak Archipelago. We were going to target mountain goat and Sitka black tail deer. Being the only one with experience hunting in Alaska I was the “leader” of our group. Setting the example and making the decisions on an adventure reminded me of how to lead troops in the Army. It’s important to have a good attitude, to look after each other and help out in any way possible. I ended up helping out a lot by carrying some of my father’s gear and also being the brush busting man and blazing a trail up the mountain to the goats. Through the hike up we hit plenty of physical and mental obstacles. Physical fatigue, your mind telling you to turn around and go back down, not finding goats where you expected and all the other small hiccups that add doubt to your mind. There were some moments I was the only reason they stayed on the mountain to continue the trip.
A few hours before dark we set up spike camp on the alpine and racked out. It was a very cold night in early November and the shivering cold added a lot of fatigue to all of us. Right before day light, I crawled out of my frozen sleeping bag, put on my frozen boots and hiked around with my little brother to find the Goats. It didn’t take long and I found the group hanging out on the mountain side a quarter mile from camp. I woke up my dad and brother, then we hiked up toward the goats, snuck into rifle range and each harvested a goat. After a long and very heavy pack down I had felt that I had made a significant improvement to my self motivation and persistence on a hunting trip. Maybe it was because I required myself to be the example, or maybe some things just finally clicked. Even though I got my first Billy Goat, I was more excited about how the trip had went as a whole and how I had bettered myself as a hunter and a person.
Since my trip on Kodiak, I have developed a new perspective on how I measure success as an Outdoorsman. I used to spend so much time trying to skip the middle pieces of hunting in Alaska, but when I walked the whole path required, I found the feelings I had been missing. I sometimes blame my old perspective on the culture of hunting where I grew up, rather than measuring the hunt based on your enjoyment and the knowledge you gained, it was measured on the size of antler and how quickly you could be done hunting. Before the self-realization on hunting perspective, I never felt or found fulfillment out in nature. Rather than going out just to kill, I have now learned to focus more on going out into nature to truly enjoy myself, relax, gain knowledge and hone my idea on the activity of hunting. Since I’ve been going about it this way, I have learned more about hunting in the last year than I’ve learned my whole life. My process of figuring out how to hunt in Alaska was really just based off of my own perspective of success. I no longer go out there with only the intention to kill. I’m out there for the pure challenge, the connection to the land, finding peace in its roots, feeling the greatness of success and even the crippling despair. They’re the highest level of emotions I feel in life and it drives me to do well in everything I can. My friendships, relationships, school, work and everything else I do feel totally different to me and in a great way. It’s safe to say that a change in your perspective can make your life better in a lot of ways. It’s a learning curve that you just can’t quit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
This is Jordan’s first Alaskan big game harvest, she lucked out with the moose of a lifetime. Join along with the crew on an unforgettable float hunt in remote Alaska.
It’s been too long fellow hunters…. The team has been working on new projects and focused on launching them through different social networks. For the latest and greatest up to date content check out mission_alaska on Instagram where we have exclusive photos, videos, and stories of the Alaska Sportsman lifestyle. If your interested in short films check out our new videos through http://www.huntervids.com, they have a library full of hunting videos from across the country that will entertain any day dreaming outdoorsmen. Here is a link to one of our goat hunts on Hunter-Vids.
Public land is great choice for any DIY hunter, its widely available you just have to know where to look. Surveying Google Maps on my computer I saw an interesting national forest near Oregon’s coast and wanted to check it out. Choosing a few hunting locations in the Suislaw National Forest is a daunting task, it stretches for 991miles across the Pacific coast line of Oregon and provides ample hunting opportunity. “If you have never hunted this particular area how do you chose a location?” Firstly I read some information on blacktails provided by Oregon Department of Fish and Game, and checked out their Interactive hunting map. Secondly, I concentrated my efforts on one particular area on a system of clear cuts, using one specific road.
I also studied the game regulations provided by ODFG and found the particular GMU’s which I was allowed to hunt. I decided to hunt National Forest because it is the easiest way to find yourself in a legal hunting area if you are a DIY public land hunter and have a tag in your pocket. Reading everything I possibly could online about blacktail hunting, I learned that hunters have mixed success from tree stand hunting, still hunting, and spot and stalk techniques. Hunting the edge of clear cuts whenever possible also provides hunters with success. These tactics aren’t to much different from the way whitetails are pursued, although the terrain, diet, and behaviors of the blacktails are slightly different. I find that trees and forage are the key to any deer species, and having an understanding of the trees helps hone my hunting approach. I found myself studying trees more during the hunting season than studying deer, mainly because I couldn’t find any blacktails.
Using my iPhone maps app I drive to the selected national forest road a few miles outside a small surf town on the coast of Oregon. One man can only cover so much terrain on one hunt, and from what I have read/heard it’s not to easy to walk up on the said “ghost of the coast”. Drawing on previous experience from my 2013 blacktail hunt where I harvested a beautiful blacktail doe, I knew one particular tactic that would give me a great place to start. I got to the road where I was legal to hunt and started looking, slowly driving to find animal “highways” that cross the road. I took the first day to scout/hunt keeping my eyes open for any deer sign possible. I had one tree stand in my tool kit to hang, thus adding to my strategy for these blacktails. Kind of mind numbing to think that your hunting 991 square miles sitting in a tree waiting for one deer to show up though. I like my odds….. Finding a concealed blocked off logging road, I march a mile or so deep finding rubs and deer sign the whole way. I hung my stand and took off to search for more sign in the area not limiting myself to only one option.
Finding another meadow bound by a clear cut and a stream, there was an animal highway dividing the lands features. I knew I had found my secondary hunting location. There was a large stump over turned with a ball of dirt and tree roots in which I could sit approximately 8-10 feet off the ground perched perfectly for a 5-10 yard shot. If I sat at either location long enough I may just have a shot at a buck. Not seeing an animal in my new “spot” for the first few days, I was starting to get a little discouraged.
Sitting on the up-turned stump for the morning with no action, I decided to visit the tree stand. Again to no avail, I pound out the hours in the stand answering emails, Face-booking, Instagraming, and tweeting(guilty)…. The second day hunting was once again a total bust, there were deer tracks under both of my stand locations but no deer. It appeared as if they were coming through both of my trails at dark. Based upon the winds direction I decided on the third day that I would sit on-top the stump for the morning hunt and hit my tree stand for the afternoon hunt. At 10:30 am the wind changed for the worse and rendered both of my hunting locations null. Thinking fast I walk back to the car and drove to a small clear cut I had previously book marked for a two hour hiking appointment. Having just enough time for a short stalk and spot hunt, I followed my instinct and decided to hunt the closest possible public land bordering private land. The game plan was to rattle and grunt with the wind in my face working my way to a forked forest road, then walk my way back to the car. Luckily my 3G was working and gave me a pinpoint location of where I was relative to my vehicle, the private land, and the public land. Without having to fuss with any other GPS the iPhone was a great tool for the hunt, this allowed me to distinguish exactly where the private and public land boundaries were; a beneficial tool to the 21st century hunter.
There was as small road closed to all motor and atv vehicles, a great place to go with minimal if any foot traffic. The terrain consisted of rolling hills lined with douglas fir, the western hemlock, and small stands of big leaf maples. I headed up the steepest hill to find a few small rolling benches protected from the wind, the perfect location to rattle in a bedded buck. Calling to me is like painting a picture, the first step is to set up and begin the rattling sequence after a 5-10 minute silent pause. Light tickling of the antlers works to coax a closer buck, after 10-15 minutes the rattling will increase intensity crescendoing into a couple of bucks locked for the title of alpha buck and breeding rights. Rubbing the antlers on trees, scraping the ground, raking tree bark, simultaneously grunting, and doe bleating these all work. In this instance, nothing came to my beautifully painted buck fight in forest surrounded by red cedar trees amongst the tangles of a recently thinned clear cut. I continued to paint the entire clear cut as if there was a battle royal of the biggest bucks in the area all throwing down for the hootenanny. Nothing. Nothing came to the rattle, maybe I’m like a finger paint artist or something….
Working my way towards the opposing forest road, I let down my guard and begin to march toward the “pin dropped” location on my google maps app on the smart phone. Looking at my phone I have a pretty good barring of which direction to walk, I crammed the phone in my pocket and zipped it. Realizing the “pin dropped” location was further than anticipated, I knew I had a extra mile or so to the car and needed to get back to town for lunch plans. Better pick up the pace, I think to myself. I moved as swift and safe as possible through the douglas fir stand which I was currently hunting, the area was loaded with heavy blown downs mixed with a luscious green fern undergrowth.
Continued from PART 1:
Trotting through the woods, I notice a buck springing from his bed and take two bounds pausing at 20 yards. I immediately freeze, the buck does the same and keeps a tree between us peering with on eye around the tree focused on the direction I came from. I was caught off guard for two reasons, I was moving quickly to get back to my vehicle and wasn’t prepared to draw my long bow as movement would surely make the buck flee.
As the first buck stopped, my eyes caught movement and gravitated toward a second blacktail buck trailing his buddy at 15 yards. As luck would have it, I was perfectly downwind with a steady sea breeze coming from the Pacific Ocean. We all stood for about 1-2 minutes silently, it was very fascinating to watch these animals undisturbed in their natural environment. At 20 yards I watched how much they check the wind with a simple nose lift, or how they’re ears spin almost 360 degrees detecting the slightest branch breaking or noise in the forest. They could not smell me and could not detect the ensuing danger, they went back to feeding unaware of (me) the predators existence. Calmly the second buck started to walk away after he lost curiosity in the movement he had detected earlier. Just as he started to move and turn his back toward me I grab my grunt and softly grunted to him, he turns and immediately starts to walk directly at me. He paused at 12 yards facing me, positioned to walk behind thick brush and offer no shot opportunity I had to think quickly to turn him broad side. Thinking to myself, “this dudes neck is all swolled up he must be in the rut” and “I thought blacktails were smaller than whitetails?” and “This buck is a brute forky!”. Having a set of rattling antlers around my neck I simply lean forward and barley roll my shoulders resulting in a soft antler tickle. The buck couldn’t help himself and walked 4 yards closer to find the source of the antler rattle. Turning broad side at 8 yards he started to walk around a fallen tree, he caught my elbows movement as I anchored at full draw and then paused for a fatal moment. The arrow disappeared from sight in the blink of an eye and the buck took off running towards the other deer. They vanished in a fraction of a second, I crept quickly to the location of where the deer was standing when I shot him. Looking for signs of blood, hair, and or the arrow I found something quite peculiar.
When I first saw this buck I saw that his antler was deformed, his antler hung downward on his face but still fully intact and attached to his pedicle. With the stick bow, you shouldn’t be a choosy hunter and the old saying stays true “don’t pass on the first day what you wouldn’t pass on the last day”. Knowing that any antlered buck in the GMU I was hunting is legal, I decided either of the bucks were in trouble if they showed me their vitals. When this buck turned broad side at 8 yards I had no doubt in my mind wether to come to full draw or not. After releasing the arrow and arriving at the location of the where the deer stood, I surveyed the area to find something odd on the ground. Upon closer examination I found that this wasn’t simply a drop of blood on the ground but that this was the actual antler of my deer. He somehow managed to break off the remaining portion of bone connecting his antler by catching it on a tree while he was on his death run. Shortly after I found the antler, the arrow appeared buried and covered in blood in a small brush pile.
Waiting for an hour or so before tracking the animal, I decided it was best not to move a muscle and continue to look for a blood trail in the immediate area until I had given the animal some time to expire. Experienced archery hunters and hunters in general will tell you the most gut wrenching exhilarating portion of the hunt doesn’t come before the shot, it comes after. The anxiety that comes with tracking a wounded animal is intense to say the least, and that anxiety was building in my mind as I had no real blood to track. Staying close to the area where I found my arrow and the antler, I began marking the direction the bucks had run off to with florescent flagging tape. Taking a very slow approach in their direction, as to not spook the deer from his first bedding after the shot, I spotted one of the bucks working his way directly towards me. The buck was following the same path he left upon an hour or so earlier. This is a valuable and interesting part of the story as it allowed for ample learning opportunities on how to hunt blacktail deer. This buck and other bucks I have hunted in my experience will return to an area using the same trail if they are not alerted to human presence or danger. This deer had no clue what had happened in the forest and was curious enough to come back through an hour or so later to investigate the source of commotion in his bedroom. He meandered off after a few minutes and headed toward the direction we all came from, although he didn’t have the droopy antlered buck with him, a good sign. Noting that one deer track was much heavier I knew the direction that the deer ran, after about 60 yards I found a pool of blood on the forest floor filled with pink bubbles and a mix of crimson clots. Not moving another inch I survey the area for more sign in any direction, the body of the deer, or simply an upturned hoof signaling the end of the hunt.
With no blood sign detected in any other direction, I started to let my eyes do the walking and survey further out for a possible lead. It was then that I noticed the deers body laying 40 yards away. I knock an arrow and take off my boots and pack to sneak within 20 yards for another shot if necessary. I dropped to a knee slowly and paused at stick bow range, there was no need for cou-de-gra. I walked up, gently pet his hide and thanked him for the bounty he would provide. Growing up Alaskan, going to undergrad school in Pennslyvania, and filming professional for living I’ve had my fair share of rifle harvested sitka blacktails, eastern whitetails, and central mule deer. However, this is my first Columbian blacktail buck with traditional archery equipment and any animal harvested with true stick and string in my book is a trophy. Completely throttled from the magical experience, a large wave of adrenalin coursed throughout my veins. I had to sit down for a moment, calm my excitement, and fully embrace the situation before the work really began. Its these moments that are seared into my mind after a successful hunt, savoring the nostalgia of the effort placed in the adventure. “I feel special that I’m allowed to sit in national forest sandwiched by the Pacific Ocean and woods filled with douglas-fir, western hemlocks, western red cedar, sitka spruce, big-leafed maples, and red alders with a deer tag and my longbow.” After a few moments of savoring the successful hunt a long drag back to the National Forest Road awaited me, it wasn’t long before the processing of the animal begun.
The final process for this hunt took me firstly to a buddies house to slice, dice, grind, and vacuum seal my delectable winter table fair; honor this animal by salvaging as much edible meat possible. Once the buck was completely processed and in the freezer, including a self european taxidermy job, I was off to the Oregon Department of Fish and Game office to submit a tooth sample and report my hunt online to validate my harvest. The ODFG here in Oregon does a great job on the fascination deer population found through out the states many GMU’s. Hunters do their part in conservation by purchasing game tags and hunting licenses, which in part, provides funding for biologists and conservation officers to regulate and control game diversities throughout the state. By hunters submitting tooth samples to this agency, the biologist can gather data on age, sex, distribution ranges, etc and then compile these facts to better understand the game species overall abundance and carrying capacity for certain areas. Without hunters and their ability to communicate game numbers and data with Departments such as ODFG, these agencies would not have the best information to pull from to set correct game limits and regulations involving certain species. These relationships are crucial to the continued success of wild game populations in North America. I am proud to say I’m a hunter and conservationist.
For more information on a DIY public land Blacktail hunting hunt check out http://www.dfw.state.or.us
For more information on how to become a hunter or if you have interest in the hunting movement we highly encourage you to check out your local Department of Fish and Game and ask about The Hunters Saftey Education Course offered year round.
Here is a link to Oregon’s Hunter Education Programs
Non-resident hunting license: $140
Trotting through the woods, I notice a buck springing from his bed and take two bounds pausing at 20 yards. I immediately freeze, the buck does the same and keeps a tree between us peering with on eye around the tree focused on the direction I came from. I was caught off guard for two reasons, I was moving quickly to get back to my vehicle and wasn’t prepared to draw my long bow as movement would surely make the buck flee….. Ghosts of the coasts they have been called by many hunters who have been fortunate enough to roam the lands with these creatures. They have this nick name for a reason, they live in the thickest forests of North America and are rarely seen. The plan for the Oregon archery tag was to meet up with a hunting buddy and head to a few key areas in Mount Hood National Forest. Hopefully one of us would score a buck for the late season effort. My buddy takes me to a few of his hunting spots and we attempt to rattle in the infamous bench buck. Apparently bench deer are a result of blacktail and mule deer crossing and creating a hybridized specimen. Mule deer are said to have evolved from whitetails and blacktails breeding thousands of years ago, genetics aside deer species in Oregon are diverse. Wether or not these animals are mule or blacktail deer or a cross of both, they are interesting and fun all the same to hunt with traditional archery equipment. These animals live in a diverse ecosystem, the forest covers steep hills with rolling benches the perfect hiding place for a buck. We spend many mornings chasing these elusive critters, rising at 3am and driving 3 hours to hunt first light. Only seeing two deer crossing a highway providing no shot opportunity, the late season archery tag was going to be a tough one to notch. Sometimes switching up tactics is your only shot at success. I knew I needed to go to another area but choosing one hunting spot is tough especially if you don’t have land owner relationships with private land access conveniently located near town. Fortunately Oregon has plenty of public land to cover within a 2-3 hour drive, refer to the ODFG maps for more information. Continued…..