By Gary Lewis
Plan a Hunt for Sitka Blacktail
One of the world's great deer hunts, look to Kodiak Island or Prince of Wales for a DIY adventure.
By Gary Lewis
We were headed out to hunt along the rocky shore for ducks, but Steve Hendryx was watching the beach for deer. I had already taken a buck; Jason Elam had two more tags.
I glanced back and Hendryx and saw him signal a timeout.
There were deer down close to the water.
I called the play. If the defense was on the left, we’d go ashore to the right of the river inlet. When the bow of our skiff hit the beach, a doe broke right and up into the brush. Onto the spit we climbed. Jason Elam, who wears two Super Bowl rings and shares the NFL record for longest field goal ever, saw the uprights – 14 inches wide with three points on one side and four on the other. The buck stood at 85 yards, on the edge of the trees.
Elam put the Nosler 200-grain AccuBond down the field, a little right of center and scored the buck of a lifetime, a Sitka blacktail with double throat patches, as big in the body as any mule deer, wearing a coat of summer fat.
After days spent scouring the high country, Elam tied his tag on a trophy blacktail at the beach. He earned that easy shot.
At first glimpse, Sitka blacktail are markedly different from mule deer, whitetails and even the Columbian blacktail. Biologists speculate Sitka blacktails are descended from whitetail ancestors. Isolated in southeast Alaska, they are a distinct, and some say primitive subspecies.
Sitka blacktails are distributed in coastal ranges along Alaska's southeastern panhandle, on Prince of Wales Island, in Prince William Sound (good numbers on Montague and Knight Islands) and on Kodiak Island.
A scan of the record books shows that Kodiak has become one of the best places to take a trophy Sitka blacktail.
On Kodiak, in good weather conditions, a hunter can expect to see 10 to 30 deer a day, even in the heavy underbrush. With so many deer, there is a limit of three a year. Shot opportunities can vary from 20 yards in the willows to 350 yards across a canyon. Often, the hunter has time to evaluate a trophy before taking a shot.
In the afternoons, and when the sun comes out after a cold spell, the deer begin to move. It helps to gain height advantage and look down into feeding cover and bedding areas. Some Kodiak hunters use the ‘30-30 rule,’ where they walk for 30 seconds then stop and watch for 30 seconds.
Trophy quality improves later in the season as deer move out of the high country ahead of the gathering snow.
The ears of a Sitka blacktail average fifteen to fifteen and one-half inches apart from tip to tip. If you are looking for a mature buck, hold out for one with antlers as wide as his ears and at least half again as tall. A mature 4x4 buck is likely to meet the Boone and Crockett Club minimum of 108 inches.
Kodiak Island Boat-Based Deer Hunt
For our Kodiak hunt, we had arranged transport with Ninilchik Charters aboard the 53-foot Sundy.
Ninilchik Charters offer lodging and base camp aboard the boat. They promise, and provide, a knowledgeable and experienced captain and deck hand to provide transport, lodging and meals servaccording to the definition of a big game transporter in Alaska. On a transport hunt, Ninilchik Charters does not provide guide services. The hunter sets the pace and the difficulty on this do-it-yourself hunt. Three deer limit.
DIY on POW
For a different kind of island hunt, try Prince of Wales Island. POW has a great road system and a long deer season that starts August 1. In addition, there are salmon in the rivers and black bears. A hunter can rent a truck (Wesley Rentals, Rainforest Auto Rentals, Hollis Adventure Rentals) and book a cabin or a motel room (Fireweed Lodge, Thorne Bay Lodge, Log Cabin Resort and others) or set up a tent in a campground. Bring a rain fly for the tent, the average rainfall is 92 inches per year.
Another option is to rent a boat and hunt the shorelines. Pay attention to that little tide book they give you - the tidal exchanges are huge.
Deer are plentiful on POW and can be found in high country early in the season or closer to the beach as the snowline marches down the mountains. Four deer limit.
License and Tags
A nonresident hunting and 7-day fishing combo license costs $230. A hunter may buy up to three deer tags at $300 each that must be purchased prior to climbing on the boat. To hunt ducks, a Federal waterfowl stamp is required. A state waterfowl stamp costs $10.00