2014 was another banner year for deer hunting the elusive Sitka black-tailed deer on Prince of Wales. With generous seasons and bag limits there are lots of opportunities. For me the season traditionally starts with an opening day hunt
with my buddy Isaac and this year was no different. These early season hunts are for velvet antlered bucks in red summer coats. Usually the freezer is looking pretty bare by this time of year so putting up the first venison of the season is priority one. This year Isaac and I picked a mountain we had never hunted before. Since big antlers aren’t a priority on this hunt it is a good opportunity to look at new country. With high deer populations the chances of getting a buck are still excellent, so there is little risk in heading to unknown mountains. We hiked into alpine the night before the opener and camped on an alpine ridge. We spotted a couple good bucks to occupy our dreams for that night. As is often the case, fog and low clouds hampered our ability to spot the next day, but we finally got enough clearing for me to spot a decent 4x3 in the big bowl below. I mentally marked a couple landmarks and then worked my way to him, eventually coming upon him bedded about 100 yards away. This buck was first blood for my new Kimber Montana 7mm-08.
Toward the end of August it was time to do a last sheep hunting tune up trip. Nothing tests your body and gear like a backcountry alpine hunt for trophy bucks. The bucks would be out of velvet and I wanted to check one of my known big buck hot spots. I invited a new co-worker to tag along as he had never taken a Sitka before. As he was cursing me under his breath that first night in camp I knew I was probably in adequate sheep shape. The next morning we glassed up a pile of bucks including a great 4x4. We snuck within range but passed on the shot as he was feeding on a steep slope above a cliff and I knew recovery would be sketchy at best. We watched him feed up and over the ridge and followed. But he was nowhere to be found on the other side. We spent a relaxing day glassing bedded bucks and putting a sneak on a great 4x2 with some cool kicker points. That buck put a Houdini on us. Craig decided on a young 4x4 later that evening and anchored his first Sitka buck with a 50 yard neck shot.
Back at camp that night I figured I was going home empty handed. This spot was too far back to shoot a small buck. The plan was to hunt the next morning and then head home. At daylight the first big 4x4 we had spotted above the cliffs was right back in the same spot as if he had never left. I watched him feed for an hour but it was still the same situation. If I killed him he’d fall into oblivion. I kept glassing and the buck made a fatal error. He moved onto a shale slide off the cliffs. Still steep, but doable. Craig and I made a quick stalk to get within range. At 300 yards I decided I didn’t have enough time left in the hunt to take the time to work in closer, plus it was a good opportunity to stretch the Kimber’s legs. The heavy pack out was just the ticket to being sheep ready.
On POW, local residents are allowed to take one doe after October 15th for subsistence. With high deer numbers, some limited doe harvest is very sustainable. It isn’t too challenging to hunt does, but I see it as a great opportunity to introduce my kids to hunting and to pass on some meat to friends who don’t hunt. I took my youngest daughter one day in mid-October and she did great. In fact she spotted the deer before I did that day. Not bad for three years old.
Last week of October and the pressure was on. Craig’s brother and sister-in law were in town and after a fruitless day of combing a likely area were down to one last chance. They asked for some help. So I left my rifle behind, donned my rain gear and led them into the forest to one of my favorite spots with the hopes of securing a nice buck for one of them. Well four hunters can’t move too quietly through the brush but I was still baffled that we couldn’t even call in a doe. But we persevered and well into the day I finally spotted a buck out ahead of us moving away. Even though the buck was in easy range, Becky couldn’t find a shot through the brush and the buck melted off. It appeared our opportunity had slipped away. I blew on the deer call and a doe popped out of the scrub. Moments later a buck followed. “Buck coming,” I whispered. Boom! Corey’s rifle barked and they had their Sitka buck. Corey was quite pleased with this nice mature buck and I was glad to have helped some friends accomplish their goal.
November on Prince of Wales means the deer rut is on. Short daylight hours limit most opportunities to day hunts. Generally I kill bigger bucks on the early season alpine hunts when bucks are gathered in bachelor bands and you can size up the buck you want to stalk. During the rut the hunts are generally lower elevation and consist of moving slow through thick cover and calling. During the rut you just get what you get. For this day hunt I chose some mid-elevation (1200-1500’) muskegs below an alpine bowl that is usually good for a nice early season buck. I figured there must be some bucks lower down now that it was later in the season. I spent a fruitless morning combing the muskegs. The lack of sign and zero response to the call had me baffled. Where were the deer? It had been a mild winter with no snow yet and the day was crisp but clear. As I worked the area I found myself heading higher. At 1800’ I finally called in a doe and fawn. Huh, maybe the deer were higher. It was a beautiful day and I was just a stone throw from the alpine so I kept climbing out of curiosity. Being able to hit the alpine in mid-November is a rarity. I cleared the last of the timber at 2300’ and looked out onto a rolling mountain top with patches of stunted hemlock. Apparently devoid of deer, at least until I blew on the call. Several does materialized and a moment later I caught a large rack following one. The doe he was on passed by me at about 60 yards. I was ready when he came along the same path moments later. All I knew was he was a mature buck when I pulled the trigger. Imagine my delight when I walked up on this giant 4x4.
I would have been happy to end the season on that buck, but then Craig popped into the office one morning with this buck. Serious antler envy! And proof that the rut was still going strong. Check out the neck on that bruiser! So I headed back out to scratch the hunting itch again.
With still no snow I didn’t waste any time. I headed straight to the top of a mountain I had taken a nice buck on the year before. This day’s weather was a heavy mist/rain and fog. I called in a doe right off the bat on top. She hung out for a long time, but no buck seemed to be with her. Eventually she moved off so I continued to skulk along top. A little spike was sure curious and came in to about 10 yards but I didn’t want him. So I moved along. The fog was heavy when I spotted a doe just 25 yards ahead. Right beside her a mature buck ghosted out of the fog. It was pure muscle memory to throw the rifle to my shoulder and squeeze off a quick off hand shot as he began to sneak away. Thankfully my reaction time was just a skosh better than his that day.
With that buck it was time to clean and oil up the rifles, put away the gear and start planning for next year. Scott’s planning to join me for 2015 and we’ve got high hopes of hitting some remote mountains for some truly big SE Alaska bucks.
Sheep Hunting Gear List
All the gear and food used in the Lace'em Up video listed in a free download.
The Keys to Success
What it takes to be successful as a dedicated backpack sheep hunter.
7 Rams, 7 Mountains
Steve completed the first ever walk-in Alaska sheep slam this past August 2012. Read about his journey here.