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I don’t know where to begin with this one, but will try my best. I heard a statement recently that Alaska is like a drug. I don’t agree with that statement. It’s worse. Since the time Trevor invited me to visit Alaska last year, I could only dream of making it back and hoped to make it my home as my schooling for PT came to a close. Less than a year later, I found myself setting up shop in the Last Frontier after taking a job in Palmer and leaving my home in Nebraska to pursue my dream. I knew my options for hunts would be limited my first fall due to being a non-resident, and after hearing from multiple sources that Sitka Blacktail on Kodiak Island is arguably the most adventure one can find for bowhunting in North America, this hunt was high on my list. After figuring out my work schedule, my vacation was set for Late October into the first part of November. A few phone calls to some Nebraska buddies, and the hunt started to take shape.
Time seems to fly when you are having fun and weekends chasing black bear in the high country not only helped to pass the time but got this flat lander’s legs somewhat accustomed to the change in terrain. It would come in handy on this hunt. No lack of scenery up here, it never gets old. Ever. We aren’t in the Sandhills anymore.
Before I knew it, I found myself boarding the plane for Kodiak Island. Upon arriving at the hotel we opted for dinner at Henry’s after hearing it’s a tradition. Little did we know we were about to be stuck in Kodiak for over 3 days with weather delays preventing any flights from Island Air from getting into the field. After 2 days of watching football in the hotel we get bored and rent a car. We take a drive around the Island Monday afternoon and see a few deer from the road system, but no bucks. I can tell you that I’ve done worse things than sit in a hotel watching football and catching up with buddies but we are all itching to get into the field.
Monday evening we get the green light and word that tomorrow is the day. We received multiple messages the previous days that a flight out was a possibility, but this one just had a feeling to it that gave us the impression it was the real deal. A blue bird day on The Rock is a rare occasion, but Tuesday was one of them. As the plane lifted off the water and Kodiak City was in the rear view, it really started to set in. We were about to be chasing blacktails within a matter of hours.
We made quick work of setting up camp. The sow and cub brown bear patrolling the beach within sight was a reminder to us that we were no longer the apex predator on this island. It was a wakeup call for a couple of Nebraska boys who were intimidated at first, but by the end the pair were regular visitors around camp. We have just enough time to get in some glassing for the evening and make one small loop behind camp. We spot one deer and I make a play on it but it moves off into the brush before I can confirm what it is. We head back to camp and prepare for the next day. The wind really picks up and is blasting the tent. Davis is a quiet guy like me: “Nervous?” he says. The wind is pounding the tent and I’m hesitant with my answer. “These things usually do pretty good in the wind…” he says. What is Kodiak if you don’t have gale force winds at least once?
Later that night CJ slips out of the tent to take a leak and I ask him if he wants my gun. He refuses and pokes his head back in a few seconds later with huge eyes “I’m going to need that” he says. Bear within 30 yards of camp. We have a fence, no worries. Welcome to Alaska fellas. ?
The weather the next day was brutal. We climb high and spend a good portion of the day glassing with little to show for it. One buck cruising the creek bottom a long ways away. We see a few does and fawns and before long the sun is already setting. Snow on the steep terrain in the high country has Davis thinking crampons aren’t a bad idea. We get back to camp around dark and regroup. 9 tags to fill and we only have 3 full days left (or so we think at the time). At this point I’m thinking we will be doing well if we even get one. A lot can change in a day…
This isn't going to be easy. But not impossible. End of day 1.
The next day the weather is much better. We glass up the mountain and see a nice buck cruising with a doe. I glass further along the mountain and see another deer that looks like a nice buck. “We are burning daylight” Davis says. I agree. We decide to split up to maximize our chances. Davis takes off for the other buck and CJ and I climb up the mountain after the pair we first spotted that have now moved into a cluster of alders and seemed to be holding. Before long my legs are burning and I find myself sucking air as I slip off my pack and ease up below the alders. I peek over a small ledge and see it’s thick. Way thick. At this point I’m thinking no way I am getting through there without blowing out every deer. I look over to see a double throat patch starting at me through the grass at about 8 yards. It’s a spike. 3 tags in my pocket, pickup already Sunday, and a chance to shoot a new species. A dink buck in the hand is worth 2 in the alders. Dang right I’m shooting. I come to full draw and settle my pin on him face on. He explodes out of the alders and runs right past me pouring blood and I know he isn’t going far.
I walk a short distance down the mountain to get in view of CJ and try telling him the story with my hands from a distance. He asks if we should give him a bit? I go to check for blood in the snow and can’t hold back from following it to the end as CJ waits behind. I find the buck piled up in the most beautiful spot I’ve ever had a critter die. I go back for CJ and we get some pics and make quick work of breaking down the buck. I load him in my pack and we wrap around the mountain and glass some more. We begin our descent and work slowly toward camp.
We hit the bottom and glass up a nice buck way up high. I tell CJ I am not hauling my deer clear up the mountain, and also am not going to leave it behind, so I opt to keep eyes on the buck and watch CJ stalk him while I sit at the base of the mountain on the trail that leads back to camp. I look behind me periodically knowing we had seen deer walking on the trail. Long story short, there were too many eyes and ears and CJ gets close to the buck, but not close enough. I stand up to look behind me and see Davis coming down the trail. I whistle at him and he turns and looks at me. I see antlers in his pack! I stumble over to him and give him a hug and he tells me he was climbing the mountain going after a buck and turned to look behind him and another buck had slipped in unnoticed to about 30 yards.
He is loaded to the max and hurting and says he is going to keep moving toward camp. I wait for CJ and we begin our hike back and get back just as Davis is sitting down to rest by the tent. We get the meat hung and share stories from the day and prepare for the next day. This is what we needed.
The next day was another brutal day of weather. The morning was fair, and CJ gets a crack at a forkie as we slowly picked our way through the creek bottom. The plethora of snow up high seemed to be pushing a lot of deer into the bottoms and there was sign everywhere. Tracks everywhere and alders ripped up. Long story short on this buck is CJ hits him and we are unable to recover him. I can tell CJ is down, what hunter in his right mind isn’t in those moments? It only takes one CJ. Just one. The weather turns south shortly after. Real south. Davis heads for camp as the winds begin to howl and the snow starts pounding us. CJ and I stay a bit longer, but not much longer. Soon we can hardly see to glass the mountainside in front of us. We get back just in time as the worst wind of the trip hits. For the next 6 hours or so we take turns holding up the side of the tent that was threatening to collapse without the added support. It is a late night, but I set the alarm for early the next morning. When the weather breaks the deer are bound to go nuts.
We begin the morning by slowly picking through the bottom on our way to glass the back side of the mountain where we had killed our 2 bucks. I see a handful of does and fawns in an opening next to the creek and ask CJ if he wants to shoot one. We are set to fly out the next day and he still has not notched a tag. Let me rewind before I get bashed for wanting to shoot a doe. We had discussed this earlier in the trip. With the short amount of time we thought we had. CJ asked if I would shoot a doe before I had even filled a tag. I assured him I would rather pull one doe from the island with my bow than 3 bucks with a rifle. To each their own, but that was the boat I was in and CJ also said he may shoot a doe. I like to eat wild game far too much to pass up the chance at a doe if we have 1 day left and multiple tags to fill.
CJ opts not to shoot a doe, but I tell him we are going to sit for a while and watch what they do. Soon a spike comes up out of the creek bottom and works his way into the open. I motion to CJ I see a spike and tell him to get up behind me. I give him ranges as the buck walks uphill and he makes a great shot. The buck runs uphill into the alders to our left and crashes in site. After a fist bump and a few seconds of time passed, CJ points to the creek bottom below us as some of the does and fawns stuck around after the shot. I had already pre-ranged one ?, the arrow was on its way before we even had time to think and the deer crashes into the creek below. 2 deer down and we have some work to do. Little did we know Davis caught the entire thing on camera behind us!
We pack the deer back to camp and get the meat hung and get back out with the little time remaining. Davis brings the rifle and spots a fox near where we had killed the deer earlier. He fills him with multiple rounds and we laugh as we examine the hide following the firing frenzy. We go back to camp and are living high. We are set to fly out at 2:30 PM tomorrow. Thanks to CJ for bringing the bourbon for story time in the tent. I co-host the podcast for the Nebraska Bowhunters Association so we record a recap on my phone. Davis steals the show. It’s a beautiful night on Kodiak and we soak in every moment.
The next morning we get up early and CJ says he is staying to fish before we fly out to attempt his goal of catching a grayling. Dave and I decide we are going to make one last go through the bottom before we fly out. We part ways and I lead going through the bottom. It’s a blue bird day, one of those you can only hope for, let alone on Kodiak Island. Had the trip come to an end before this point I was already content, more than content. I felt almost guilty for saying a prayer that morning asking for one last buck.
As I worked along the base of the mountain I see a doe moving along the alders with a mature buck hot on her tail. I motion to Davis behind me that I see a buck. I see them working to my left towards more alders and there is one small rise I have cover for. I get low and move quickly to get behind it. As I get there I hear snow crunching and deer vocals just behind the small rise and poke my head up over it and see the deer through the grass. Had I have been 2 seconds later, the deer would’ve been back in the thick of the alders. The does scatter a bit as I crest the rise. The buck wheels around and looks at me and comes to a halt. I come to full draw and know he is top pin distance, what I estimate to be 11-12 yards. The arrow hits him and he runs back down the trail and comes to a stop. I range him and see blood pouring from behind his shoulder. Hind site is 20/20, had I have waited I think he would have crashed right there. If I have an animal on his feet however I am always trying to get another arrow in him regardless. I shoot as he steps away and shoot below him. He takes off and I am left shaking in my boots. “Davis!!!” “I think I smoked him,” I say as I walk back to him. We give him some time before taking up the trail. He finds my arrow covered in good blood and bubbles. Is this the storybook ending?
I follow the blood as he weaves through the alders. Soon he cuts toward the creek. Keep in mind this creek is surrounded on both sides by vertical cliff faces on both sides in many spots. The blood spots soon turn to blood slides as it comes to an end at the edge of the cliff face. You have to be kidding me….
I peer over the edge and look for the buck below and don’t see him for several moments. Then I see him, ledged between some boulders in the rapids below and he isn’t going anywhere. I go into autopilot and make some less than ideal decisions influenced by adrenaline in the moment. I begin to climb down the cliff face, sticking my hands between rocks to hold me while I scale at times to work toward the buck. I get to the bottom and look up the cliff to see Davis staring down at me. He isn’t young and dumb like me and I’m glad he is with me in the moment. I see a chute leading up to him that is still very very steep and slick, but much more doable than what I had just done, and much smarter nonetheless. I climb up and we make a game plan.
We grab the packs and pick our way down the chute and get to the creek. I strip down to my undies and step into the ice cold water. My legs were numb within minutes. I finally get close to the buck and loose my footing. I slip in up to my belly and soak my tops. I get the rope tied to the buck and walk it back over to Davis, then walk back over to the buck and get him unlodged from the rocks. We finally get him pulled to the bank after several minutes and Davis starts to look concerned as I begin to shiver. Thankfully I have dry clothes in my pack and dry off with my base layers and switch my tops. We make very quick work of pics and breaking the buck down and get him loaded in the packs. We still aren’t out of the weeds yet. We climb back up the shoot with our packs loaded down. “Every step counts” Davis says as we climb. Slow down… we have no rush and one slip could turn this into a hairy situation. We finally get to the top and now it’s an easy hike out. My core temp starts to increase and I am still overflowing with adrenaline. Some Inreach messages to friends and my old man and we are on our way. An answered prayer in the most incredible way.
I see CJ glassing us up as we get close to camp. He sticks his hands in the air and the story telling is on when we get back. We get the deer hung in the tree hearing that the possibility of flying out now as low with Island Air running behind due to weather. That holds true as dark now sets in and we realize we are going to be stuck for at least another day. We opt for some fresh tenderloin over the fire and soak in a beautiful evening.
Tenderloins over the fire that night.
The weather is brutal the next day and we are tent bound. We listen to some podcasts and stare at each other. Before long Davis gets restless and goes out in the storm. I tell him that if I he needed help packing out to Inreach me as I owe him huge from the day before. I start a podcast and rest my eyes. He couldn’t have been gone more than 45 minutes or so and I hear “Boys I’m back!” behind the tent. He must have got wet and cold I thought. Then I see the message on my Inreach… Davis had a buck down and was headed back to get us!
We wake up the next morning to some fog but hardly any wind. Island air says they are fogged in but were going to try to get a plane in the air after noon. We finally get word that the plane is on the way and we begin breaking camp. Soon the plane comes into sight and circles us before coasting in to the beach. We load the plane and the pilot tells us it will be a bumpy ride and visibility will drop once we get close to Kodiak. I was ready to enjoy the flight out however. I couldn’t wait to send pictures and tell stories to friends and family back home.
A little ways into the flight our engine begins to sputter and then quits. The conversation that was rolling soon become quiet and our pilot began to show some concern as he flipped some switches. We get going again and it’s still quiet and CJ bumps me on the leg looking at me with huge eyes. The pilot explains that it may be an issue with the fuel tanks and that the plane is new. The next 40 minutes was an uneasy ride following that. For a while we thought that might be it. I think my legs were sore the following day due to clenching so hard on the flight and not so much the past week of hiking the terrain of Kodiak. We finally land and the pilot explains that he’s never had that happen in 7000 hours of flying. Of course this would happen to us LOL! I highly recommend Island Air and I can’t say enough good about their pilots. Not completely sure what happened as he isn’t either after talking to him one last time in the Anchorage airport. Why not a little more madness before it was time to depart?
We fly back to Anchorage the next morning and make the short drive to my place. I drive into Palmer to check in quick with work and they were glad to see I was out alive after being delayed. That night we grill up back strap, cook some heart, eat some bear roast and tell stories late into the night and set the alarm for 1:45 AM. I drop them off at the airport and they are on their way. It’s crazy how fast 2 weeks fly with good buddies.
I am sure I am missing so many details and wish words could do this trip justice. I tried to keep this short and sweet but that’s hard to do on a trip like this. It far exceeded my expectations. I know both Dave and CJ are lurkers so will let them chime in and add anything they want! I hope you guys enjoyed reading and I couldn’t have asked for a better adventure my first fall up here. Thanks to a couple Nebraska boys for making the trip!
Great recap Zack. You guys sure made the most of a short hunt. And put a lot of meat in your packs. Congrats.
Good write up, makes me want to plan a hunt…
Well done! Congrats on a great hunt.
One I need to do! Congrats and Thanks for write up!
Another great story Congratulations
Another great thread. Good job you guys!
Epic hunt!! Kodiak is a special place! Glad you took advantage of all the adventure it has to offer! And congrats on some great deer!
What a beautiful place and fantastic experience!
Great adventure- thanks for sharing.
Congrats Zach! Great write up and quite the adventure!
Thanks for sharing
Great story and adventure. Congratulations
Congratulations, buddy! Well done! You are definitely living the dream! Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures up there!
What a great hunt! Congratulations and thanks for sharing!!!
Thanks for sharing Zach. Great hunt, great times, and great write up. Keep doing all of them!
I’ve been waiting impatiently for the details on how your hunt went. It certainly didn’t disappoint!! Excellent recap and pics, Zach!! Couldn’t ask for much more of a better adventure to get to share with a couple of buddies. Congratulations on some nice animals and an epic adventure, my friend!!
Great stuff! Congratulations!
Congrats on a great write up and some nice deer! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for sharing, can't wait to hear the long version in person sometime! Congrats!
Thanks for sharing and congrats on a great trip! I can’t wait to get back to that island.
This makes me smile in more ways than one . So proud of you!! Keep chasing your dreams. !! Hammertime !
The only part I’m disappointed in is the continuing to hear this trip of a lifetime nonsense. You built the lifestyle of a lifetime so that every year you can have these “trips of a lifetime”. Congrats again buddy!
Congrats on a successful hunt. That one is definitely on my bucket list
Appreciated the writeup and congrats on a great hunt. Thanks for taking us along
Awesome hunt and recap Zach!! One year ago today we were heading back from Kodiak. I've wanted to go back every day since. Amazing and beautiful place!
Hell of an adventure guys, I’m sure it’s just the start of what’s to come!!!
Loved the recap Zach! Great work and great memories!
Good stuff, man! Thanks for sharing
Congratulations. A great adventure with friends.
Great adventure Zach! Thanks for the story and congrats!
Fun hunt and great story! Thanks for sharing.
Great recap. Thanks for taking the time to post your adventure.
Definitely proud of my boy!! There was nothing more exciting in my days than getting his daily reports. He had a lot of help and recommendations from some great friends and that is much appreciated. I sure miss having him here in Nebraska but so happy he is living his dream as well as mine!
Awesome trip and awesome recap. congrats on a great trip guys. What does a typical sitka buck weigh?
Oh to be young again! Good stuff Zach, keep the adventures coming!
Thanks for the report and congrats on your success.
Fantastic!!!!! Thanks for sharing that Zach! Can't beat it.
Great recap! Sounds like many adventures will be heading your way. Congratulations!
Good story and well told ! Nothing could be better than a successful hunt in a beautiful place with good friends. When you get as old as I am, your memories will become more important. You made them on this trip !
Awesome Zach...thanks for sharing your adventure. Looking forward to many more stories from you in the near future!
...and I'm with Brotsky! I sure liked getting on a nice warm boat after the day's hunt, tho. lol
Great story, I can see where that would be an awsome hunting trip
So the plane engine just shuts off while in the air. What was the pucker factor at that point?
Njbuck- I could be wrong but I’d guess a big, mature buck could push 180. Nick- the pucker factor was through the roof. I was saying the next day that I think my legs were stiff not from hiking around Kodiak the days prior but due to clenching the entire plane ride back lol
Well done my friend! None of us who know you are surprised. Success follows you wherever you go both in life and bow in hand. Enjoy the ride!
Awesome hunt man. Im sure your family family will miss you in Nebraska but the critters sure won’t! Now the Alaskan critters are on high alert with you around lol
Great stuff Zach!! Congrats!
Just got back to Kodiak and cell service. Great hunt recap Zach! Congrats on a nice buck and super adventure!!!
A great read. Nicely done by all. Enjoyed your adventure. my best, Paul
Congratulations Zach to you and your buddies on a great hunt…..well done.
Congrats Zach! It's an adventure I'd love to take, if I could find reliable people to go with.
Nicely done Zach! Thanks for bringing us along. Brings back lots of memories for me. Thanks. Kevin
Congratulations thanks for taking us along.