Alaska: Kodiak Island’s Deer Hunt
By Gary Lewis
They call it the Emerald Isle, but there is nothing green about Kodiak Island in October and November. Winter is on the way and the vegetation is yellowed and brown with decay.
Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States. Mountainous and forested in the north, the island is more open in the south. Often in the fall, the peaks are enveloped in clouds. And the snowline marches down toward the sea. Every hunt starts at the beach.
For our Sitka blacktail deer hunt, we arranged transport with Ninilchik Charters aboard the 53-foot Sundy. To explore Uyak Bay and Spiridon and their environs, we would go ashore in an inflatable skiff motivated by a small outboard.
The hunt starts in Larsen Bay, after a half-hour morning flight from Kodiak City. Low over the mountaintops, the hunter gets a chance to see the hunting grounds from a bird's eye view.
Sitka blacktail deer were released on Kodiak Island in 1924. In 1930, two deer from Prince of Wales Island were set free. Their offspring have spread across the 6,560 square miles of the Kodiak archipelago.
With so many deer, hunters are allowed three a year.
At first glance, the Sitka blacktail is smaller than the deer in the lower 48. But it isn't the deer that is smaller, it is the grass that is taller, so tall the deer has to stand up for the hunter to see its ears. Spot and stalk tactics work best. Some Kodiak hunters use the 30-30 rule, where they walk for 30 seconds then stop and watch for 30 seconds.
In the afternoons, and when the sun comes out after a cold spell, the deer begin to move. It helps to gain some height advantage and look down into feeding cover and bedding areas.
For the first few days, we stayed in Uyak Bay to hunt a series of canyons a half-hour's hike from the beach. When weather permitted, on day four, we crossed over to Spiridon Bay. Our group of five hunters tagged five deer. The biggest buck, a mature 4x3 with eyeguards, was taken from the beach, about six feet above sea level.
The end of October marks the beginning of the breeding season and the scent of females in heat coincides with the gathering snow. Bucks move down out of the high country as the season goes on.
It is not uncommon to see brown bears on the October and early-November hunts (we saw one in seven days). Hunters are encouraged to clean their deer quickly, leave the gut pile and drag the deer to the beach for a pickup.
Back aboard the boat, there is ample room for skinning and butchering.
The Sundy can hold up to six hunters. Each hunter has a personal bunk and storage compartment in the common bunk area. The only fresh water is carried on the boat and most hunters do not shower, but use warm-water wash-downs instead. There is no washing machine on board.
On this do-it-yourself trip, hunters bring their own backpacks and knives for caping, skinning and butchering. Guns are subject to saltwater corrosion, so a rifle cleaning kit is essential.
Each night, the captain points the boat toward an anchorage in a protected bay. Dinners are served after dark. The menu includes seafood chowder, pork ribs, spaghetti, steaks, halibut and crab.
Breakfasts are ample, with eggs, bacon, pancakes or biscuits and gravy, toast and Tang. Hunters put together their own sack lunches.
In addition to deer, hunters are allowed to take up to two foxes. Hunters that bring shotguns can hunt ducks: harlequin, oldsquaw, goldeneye, eiders, mallards and more. Halibut and tanner crab are abundant and it is common for hunters to pack a box of fish and crustaceans home with their deer meat.
Ninilchik Charters start their transport hunts in the last week of October and continue through November. The deer season continues, but bucks begin to lose their antlers after the first week of December. A seven-day rifle transported hunt costs $2650 per person.
A nonresident hunting and 7-day fishing combo license costs $140. A hunter may buy up to three deer tags at $150 each that must be purchased prior to climbing on the boat. If a hunter wants to hunt ducks, a Federal waterfowl stamp is required. A state waterfowl stamp costs $5.00