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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
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    Almost North Dakota, not quite Canada
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    707

    Default Alaska deer and duck adventure (pic heavy)

    Finally home and unpacked, and starting to organize pictures and thoughts from our trip to Raspberry and Afognak Islands over Thanksgiving. It was an adventure to be sure - lots of firsts and new experiences, which were the whole point.

    We flew out of Billings on the 17th, and arrived in Kodiak more or less on time. It would be the last on time flight of the trip. Kodiak weather lived up to its reputation, which I suppose just adds to the adventure! We had given ourselves an extra couple of days before flying out to our lodge, so we wandered around Kodiak for a couple of days. The area is beautiful, the ocean much clearer than the murky Pacific waters I'm used to! There was lots of wildlife to be seen - eagles, ducks, otters galore. The weather was much warmer than we were expecting. Coming from single digits while we hunted ducks in a stubble field the week before, mid-40's felt balmy.

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    We were supposed to fly out to the lodge on Sunday, but awoke to wind and sleet. Sat at the float plane basin all day, but never could get enough of a break to fly out. Monday was the same, so there went one of five planned hunt days. Tuesday dawned with a higher ceiling and calm winds, so we were able to get out fairly early. It was a beautiful day for a flight.

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    Upon landing at the lodge, we hurried to get our gear organized and salvage the afternoon for a hunt. We gathered deer gear and headed out for a hike. Turns out the deer numbers are down quite a bit in the area we were hunting - the locals thought down by a third from last year. We saw quite a few tracks in the fresh snow and I think earlier that morning after the storm would have been the optimal time to be out. We still hunted through the timber and climbed about 1000 ft until we got out of the deer sign, then turned around and worked back to the lodge. Nothing sighted, but seemed like we had figured out that after the snow, most of the activity was at lower elevations.

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    Headed back to the lodge for libations and socializing with the two other groups staying the week. We were the only non-Alaskans at the place, and it was interesting to talk to the locals. There was a father/son duo, and a first-time hunter with an elk tag, accompanied by her husband, 9 month old baby and the in-laws. Everyone had deer tags, though we were the only ones hunting ducks. It was a good group of folks who added to the enjoyment of the trip.

    Wednesday's weather was again calm and clear. We decided to take advantage of the smooth sailing and head across the strait to Afognak. There were some nice looking south facing slopes that we thought might have some activity when the sun hit the hillsides. Hunting Husband wanted me to get the first crack at a deer (he was more interested in the ducks himself). The transporter dropped us off just after first light, and we slowly climbed elevation through the timber, hunting our way to a place where we could sit and glass one of the aforementioned hillsides. The terrain is so much different than what I'm used to. There is no understory in the timber- in a lot of places you could see 80-100 yards. The grass, on the other hand, was taller than me in places, thick and full of things with thorns. Glad we brought the leather gloves!

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    Over the next few hours we would glass up the slope for a while, then move to another vantage point and glass again. Hunting Husband found the first deer - a doe and a fawn, feeding across the slope above us several hundred yards. We had been told the rut was in full swing, so figured chances were good there might be a buck nearby. We sat and watched the two feed around the alders, and disappear into a cut near some spruce trees. Figuring we would at least put ourselves closer to the action, we circled through the timber and began climbing towards the elevation we knew the deer were.

    We had heard that this hunt would be like sheep hunting for deer, and it wasn't really an exaggeration. Hunting Husband would later remark that it was very reminiscent to his dad's mountain goat hunt. Between the steepness, the thick vegetation, and the poor footing in the snow, it was some challenging climbing throughout our time there. Eventually we got to what we thought was a more satisfactory elevation, and it didn't take long to locate a couple of deer in the general area we had seen the pair before. One was clearly a doe, the other was feeding in the tall grass some ways apart in a place that made us think it was a third deer. Only its back was visible. We watched it for quite some time, and occasionally it gave me the impression it was a buck though I couldn't get a clear view. They were a couple hundred yards away, and not presenting any kind of shot anyway so I decided I wanted to get closer. We cut another 50 yards off until we ran out of cover, and looked again. The doe headed into the alders, and the mystery deer just kind of disappeared into the grass. We couldn't tell if it was still there or if it had walked into the alders as well. It was impossible to walk quietly in all that thick grass and vegetation, but I wasn't sure if they would slink off through the alders never to be seen again, so decided to just get up there and see if we could get a better look at the mystery deer. I headed towards the bottom of the alders where it was last seen, and Hunting Husband headed for the upper end, in hopes he could keep them from slipping out that way. I was within about 100 yards of last location of the deer when I saw a head peering at me over the grass. Got the glasses up, but it took forever to make out antlers against all the vegetation that was exactly the same color. Finally realized it was a buck and didn't want to pass up an opportunity given the dearth of deer sightings. Plus everyone raved how good these blacktails are, so I wanted to be able to taste one myself. There was a strip of alders between us and despite the elevation he had on me, I couldn't find a shooting lane. I found a hump of dirt to climb up on, and if I stood as tall as I could, I could just get a shot over the top, but it was off-hand. So glad my dad taught us to shoot that way! Controlled the breathing, squeeze the trigger and visualize the anatomy behind the grass. The shot sounded good, and the jump confirmed it. He ran down the hill towards me and I was ready for another shot, but he never made it to the opening in the alders I was watching.
    Hunting Husband walked to where the deer had been when I shot, and it was a short blood trail to find him. Such a wee little deer! Not a trophy by any means, but my first Alaskan animal, first blacktail, and an exciting experience to be sure! They are a pretty deer - very dark, and unique coloration.

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    The scenery wasn't bad, either...

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    Got the deer parted out and in the packs in short order for the hike/slide back to the beach. By then, it was getting late to try for a second so we called for a ride back to the lodge and some well deserved beverages. These ended up being the only three deer we saw during our trip. All told, each group harvested one deer that day and they all could have been identical twins! There was a lot of merriment at the lodge that night, but that proved to be the only day deer hunters had any success.

    Thursday was supposed to be a little windy, so we thought it might be a good duck day. This was kind of a trophy hunt for us, so it was less about quantity than picking nice drakes of a few species. We started out trying for some Harlequins and Barrow's Goldeneye. Neither of us had ever seen a Harlequin, much less hunted one so there was a little learning curve as we learned field marks to pick out drakes. For a small little duck, they are tough and rather hard to kill. There weren't a ton of them around, but there were enough and Hunting Husband managed to bring down two drakes. The Goldeneye's were another thing entirely. They would bomb into the decoys so fast that they'd be on the water before you could even sit up and shoot. One literally crashed into a decoy and tumbled on the water. I've never seen birds come in like those guys - it was a blast. I wish I had taken some video. We managed three goldeneye and figured that was plenty for our purposes and we would switch to target some long-tailed ducks in the afternoon.

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    There were a couple hundred long-tails around but apparently they don't really come in big numbers until December in that area. We tried the layout boats, which was a first for both of us and a total blast. The shooting was challenging - the ducks had a penchant for coming from behind you, and there was just enough chop on the water to make swinging interesting, but we started to dial it in. Hunting Husband knocked down two drakes that were scooped up by eagles before they were retrieved. It was amazing how many otters and eagles showed up when shooting was going on. I only knocked down one, but it turned out to be the only long-tail that would come home with us. Again, an incredibly beautiful bird.

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    We were going to try long-tails again on our last day, but it was not to be - it was blowing 65 and too dangerous. When it was all said and done, we ended up with two and a half days of hunting for the week. There were three deer harvested all together at the lodge that week, with around 10 total sightings so we did ok given that numbers weren't spectacular. I was happy that we were able to bring home one deer and all of our target duck species, given that we lost half of our hunting days. We enjoyed more spectacular scenery that afternoon, and the next morning while waiting for the float plane.

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    Another gorgeous float plane flight back to Kodiak, then crappy snowy weather ensued. We spent an extra day in Kodiak, before finally making it back to Montana in the wee hours of the morning. Meat, ducks, guns and gear made the trip without incident, which seemed like a minor miracle. All in all, one of the best experiences I've ever had and I really can't wait to go back!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
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    Almost North Dakota, not quite Canada
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    Default

    I can't get over how pretty these birds are.

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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Location
    Somewhere in the basalt rocks
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    4,142

    Default

    Outstanding photos!
    Fear the beard....

  4. #4

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    Looks like a great trip!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    New Mexico
    Posts
    1,329

    Default

    The photos of duck hunting in Alaska are so artistic. Bird was made to be photographed.
    Congratulation on a great hunt.
    Last edited by bobbydean; 12-03-2017 at 06:48 PM. Reason: spelling

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Lubbock, Texas
    Posts
    2,512

    Default

    Too bad about getting weathered out a few days. I've heard a few other folks mentioning the deer population being down on some of the islands. I wonder if they had a really bad winter or what has the population hurting so bad.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Location
    Almost North Dakota, not quite Canada
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    707

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by npaden View Post
    Too bad about getting weathered out a few days. I've heard a few other folks mentioning the deer population being down on some of the islands. I wonder if they had a really bad winter or what has the population hurting so bad.

    Thanks for sharing.
    In our area they said snow and fluctuating temps locked veg up in ice, then it got covered with more snow that lasted late. Talking to guys who hunted the south part of Kodiak, deer were much more plentiful.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Location
    southwest Idaho
    Posts
    438

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    Great photos and story, thanks for sharing.

  9. #9

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    Exacting schedules don't work too well in Alaska as you well found out. Quite the adventure had by all.
    No one can go back and make a brand new start, however anyone can start from now and make a new ending.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Not Virginia anymore!
    Posts
    3,242

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    Sounds like a great trip. Bummer about the deer, but sounds like you managed to make the most of it. Harlequin are on my bucket list.

  11. #11

    Default

    Thanks for the story! He might not be a trophy but I am really envious as I have yet to even see a Sitka Blacktail. Sounds like a fantastic adventure and I bet he eats really good...

  12. #12

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    Great trip. Those harlies are pretty cool.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
    Location
    Lake of the ozarks Missouri
    Posts
    1,265

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    Sounds and looks like a grand adventure, thanks for sharing.
    I work so I can hunt

  14. Default

    That looks like an incredible trip. Thanks for sharing your pics.

  15. #15

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    Great trip and pics! Thanks for sharing. If my one experience bears out, you will not be disappointed in the taste of your deer.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
    Location
    Danbury, Wisconsin
    Posts
    261

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    Looks like an incredible trip. Thanks for sharing the photos

  17. #17

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    loved the pics and the write up on your adventure, congrats on your blacktail
    Soli Deo Gloria - To GOD alone the GLORY

  18. #18

    Default

    Great pics. That wind on the bay looks nasty
    Elitist Hunter

    "Never let schooling [work] get in the way of your education" - Mark Twain

  19. Default

    Congratulations on your trip - great pics.
    It's always a good idea (when hunting in AK) to allow 2 full weeks on a trip from the lower 48, due to possible (probable?) weather days. Plan for 10 days of hunting and you can usually get in a week's worth. But you know that, now.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Newhartford Iowa
    Posts
    2,274

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    Congrats on a great hunt.

  21. #21

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    Awesome hunt and story. Those are some beautiful ducks!

  22. #22

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    Great story love those awesome ducks up there. Ever since my POW bear hunt I've always wanted to do a duck hunt also.

  23. #23
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    Helena, MT
    Posts
    352

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    Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for sharing. We hunt goldeneyes late season here and have gotten a few Barrows over the years. Eyes are a blast to hunt. In and out quick and tough birds. Lots of non stop action.

  24. Default

    looks like awesome time

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