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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This trip started nearly two years ago when I met the owner of Ninilchik charters on a fishing trip out of Seward. I was looking for a good hunt to do as a group with lots of action and easy tags. We discussed a "poor man's goat hunt" for Sikta blacktail on Kodiak island. The hunt is boat based, with a raft drop off on the beach of choice in the morning. The boat is a transporter, not a guide, so location selection and general hunting strategy would be up to us. We decided to also throw in an audible of a drop camp for caribou [feral reindeer] on the interior of the island. "Us" in this case would be me, my brother in law Steve and father in law Rich. Planning took almost two years, but finally we were off. I will tell this in parts and with some breaks and lots of pictures, so thanks in advance for your patience with me.

Saturday: travel.

Quick flight to Kodiak, one night in the hotel, then onto the charter air fly out in the morning. We load into the little plane and off we head. Sea plane base for this hunt will be Larsen Bay on the Western edge of Kodiak.

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Flying over the island-- not much of a view

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We get to the boat and get loaded without issue. As we arrive, the captain informs us that there are very favorable flying conditions to do the caribou fly out that afternoon. So we will get on another plane from the boat, but first, why not drop some lines?

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Steve is maybe a little excited about his first halibut:

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Not a bad way to start, having been on the boat for all of ~2 hours. A short while later, oh look, our ride is here:

So we change gear, re-load everything, and off we go:

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Off we go on the fly out to the interior of the island. The bush pilot is a quirky guy-- these guys are all a bit quirky-- but eventually we locate a good area with caribou nearby. It was a white-knuckle grip kind of flight, so I don't have any pictures. Kodiak caribou have a "No Same Day Fly-Hunt" rule, so we set up camp and get ready for the next day.

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Sunday: The Creek

Our first actual day of hunting would start and end with a creek. The night prior Steve and I climbed the ridge above camp and could see the caribou spilled out across the valley next to camp, up and down marching like white ants. We were in the right place. My only photo of what we had to cross came out blurry, but we were camped behind his ridge, and the herds were at the base of the far mountains, maybe 1.5-2 miles away

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Sleepless night, quick breakfast, and off we go.

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The problem was the creek. There was no way to get to the herds of caribou without crossing this creek that drained the lake we were camped on.

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I threw my pack over and hopped across. Then we tried to get my father in law Rich over. At 65 his hopping days are past, so we found as narrow a spot as we could and he took a Biiiig stretch step...and lost his footing. His boot slid down into the black water, and as I am grabbing at him and pulling his hands slip through mine and he slides back, then rolls back into the creek. He submerges completely, covered in 40 degree black water in this creek that is only a few feet wide but easily over 6 feet deep. It's 08:00 on our first day. His son Steve is able to grab him and drag him out. We have enough dry clothes with us to change out almost everything except boots and pants but it is going to be a long wet squishy cold day for Rich. On the second attempt we push/throw Rich and get him across. Undeterred, he says he can continue. I don't have it in me to ask him to pose to take a picture, but here they are piecing things back together after the Baptism.

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We head towards where we saw the herd the night before, and are surprised to find they have moved even closer. They are in wide open country, and (foolishly, as it turns out) we try to belly crawl as close as we can, but are still 400+ yards out with no cover and nothing to use to sneak. We try one LONG shot but with the cross wind and the distance we probably should not have tried at all. The herd bunches up and moves out, further away across the next ridge. Did we just blow our only chance? I'm dejected, but we did shoot and need to go into the creek and make 100% sure we missed.

We head down into the draw and start scanning. there is nothing interesting here, we have missed. Looking across the creek--movement -- a caribou-- No, deer! TWO Deer-- bucks! A fighter and a bomber. I am on the bi-pod and Steve is getting set and I shoot ---SMACK!

Steve, GO!


Our morning has turned around very, very quickly.

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WE are only a mile and a half from camp, and continue to search the creek but are confident we have missed the caribou. But now a decision-- head back as we are, or just poke over the next ridge and check for the herd? Of course it seems silly to not even check. We get the deer rough dressed and stashed as best we can and then go to peak over the ridge we last saw the caribou head past.

"They will likely be long gone, all the way down the valley" I don't want the guys to get their hopes up too much.

We belly crawl again to the edge, only maybe 400 yards past where we have the deer stashed. I am in front, I hear Steve grunt -- that sound you make when something has surprised you. I turn to look at Steve

"They are right there"


"Just past us on the ridge, maybe 150 yards"

--How many?

"All of them"

Sure enough, I sneak up and there the entire group of 100+ animals is right in front of us. They only ran right over the ridge and then stopped. We peak up again, the lead cow is staring at us, stomping the ground like a deer will do

"They are onto us"

Since Rich did not get a shot at the deer we get him set up to shoot first.

"Which one?"

--Pick one and go.

"I'll pick on with antlers" [they all have antlers]

Boom! The lead white caribou spins and goes down, now it's Go time. Steve and I are both up on our bipods and wait for an animal to clear the herd. I shoot, then see that 'bou fall. Two down.

--Steve, Go!

Steve, of course, is already on it. Boom again, and now three down and tagged out for caribou. The entire episode from spotting them to the third shot lasts maybe 30 seconds.

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Now, after all this shooting and hooting and yelling and celebration-- after all the sneaking and crawling in the mud and watching the wind and everything we did this morning, the entire heard moves maybe 500 yards away and stands in plain view of us. So we proceed to butcher the caribou withing an easy stalking distance of the entire herd-- which has now moved much closer to our camp. Here you can see them in the background:

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It's noon. At this point we have had an epic, incredible day, but now have 5 animals down to address. We begin packing and quartering in earnest, always with one guy watching our wind trail to make sure we don't get surprised. We are 2 miles from camp over uneven, soggy terrain. It will be a brutal pack. In the morning we will get a fly out and then continue with the deer hunt. It will be a long night.

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Monday: Packing.

I do not have many pictures from Monday. We packed all the meat out we could that day but unfortunately had to leave the deer overnight. One gets this feeling of trolling for brown bears when traveling with large packs full of caribou meat. Doing this in the dark was a risk I was not willing to take.

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Here the next day the caribou herd again moved even closer to our camp. I took this picture in plain view, walking towards the herd with ~60 pounds of deer quarters on my back for over a mile. At this point they are maybe a half mile from camp.

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Luckily for us all the meat from the deer is completely undisturbed. We had them stashed near this creek, and the entire banks of the creek are lined with dead salmon, so the whole thing reeks to high heaven. All the stench probably helped (or at least didn't hurt) since no bears have found our stash. We pack up spike camp, then catch our plane to fly back to the boat, and prepare for another climb the next day.

Tuesday: The Mountain.

We have a huge breakfast. I should have taken a picture. Then it's into the raft and off to the beach

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All reports are that the deer are high. Very high. 1500 feet minimum, and higher is better. So the goal will be to hike up these ridges near the boat anchorage and then hunt the "bowls" as the sun hits them. My in-laws are headed to the dark bowl to the left and I will visit the one towards the right of the picture

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The grass on Kodiak is huge. Head high, at least. And the bottom, before the start of the mountain, is this swampy bog choked with alders. You earn every single step. I start climbing. The boat is a four man boat, plus two crew. We are a party of three, so the fourth hunter, Bruce, is hunting Solo and will split the ridge between me and my in laws. So all 4 of us will push up this mountain, then split and hunt down (or, hopefully, drag something down). Climbing is slow going. At one point the brush gets so tangled around my rifle butt that it pulls the bolt open, and I lose that shell, and all 5 shells that were in the stock ammo sleeve are stripped out as well. All I have is the 4 in the gun. That will have to be enough. As I climb I see Bruce kick up three does, then a few more, all go pouring over the edge of the draw to my West. I scoot to the edge and glass -- there has to be a buck in there, right? The does are long gone-- then I see him. I range him at 300-- he's not getting any closer. I get a rest and fire. I'm sure i hit him but he gets back up and starts for the ridge. I can't see anything over that ridge, and judge that would be an awfully tough recovery. I send another one, and then lose him entirely in the scope. I check the binos. Nothing. I'm sure he's there, but it takes nearly 2 hours of "mowing the yard" back and forth, then 6 feet lower, back and forth and back and forth across the "bowl" to find him. Did I mention the brush was thick?

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Then there is about two hours of this-- more of a slide than a drag. If you look closely you can see the boat in the cove below to the right of the point in the water-- that's where i need to make it to. Bruce is carrying out his deer in front of me.

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and another two hours of this

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And finally I am back on the beach with the deer and no bear issues, no problems at all besides the brutal long drag. In fact I thought it almost strange after all that we heard about bear issues, I had just dragged a deer for nearly 4 hours solo down the mountain and never seen a bear at all, even in the far distance after a full day of glassing. It's things like this, I learned, that can make you complacent.

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This is a dream trip of mine! Hungry for more :food:

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
Wednesday: Bears

After dinner the night before we discussed a familiar lesson: Never leave deer to find deer. So as a group we decided to stay and hunt one more day. At dawn Wednesday I headed back up with just Steve. Rich wanted a "boat day", so up Steve and I went. In the same draw I killed the buck in the day before, we spot a deer all the way at the top. Up, up, up, even higher than I was the day prior. We close the distance to 433 yards, but there is no chance for getting any closer without risking blowing the doe out of the draw. Steve sticks the shot. On our way up to recover his doe, we find another visitor.

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It's looking like another productive morning. I also take two shots at a silvertip fox, but can't connect. I started the day with 8 shells, spent 4 on foxes, and now have 4 remaining. But the day is already a success once we find the doe, so we relax for a minute:

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*All of the following has been reported to Alaska State troopers, as well as a separate written report to ADFG*

At this point we decide to split up. Steve will drag his doe down, and I will hunt my way down, and we will meet in the swamp at the bottom and get the deer to the boat. Steve takes all the meat. I give him a good head start.

Once Steve drops down I start climbing, intending to hunt into the draw to my West. As I climb I see a bear.

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The bear is East of me, heading to the West, into the wind. I see it go straight across the bowl to my East, then head directly upwind to the gut pile. I am shaking my head-- we spent WAY too long at the gut pile, but the bear pays me no mind at all, and I reverse course and head back East to get out of its way, behind it, and give it a wide berth. I did pause for one picture of it as it passed below me.

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I reach the bowl at the top of the draw to my East, the one I ascended. As I get to the lip, I see a second bear on the opposite lip of the bowl. It is directly down wind of the gut pile. Again, I wait, wanting it to pass under me and head to the gut pile, just like the first bear did. It's maybe 300 yards out. This bear looks up at me, sees me, turns towards me and starts coming.

My heart sinks. I start to yell "WHOA BEAR" "NO BEAR". The bear is coming towards me across the meadow at a loping walk. There is nothing else around me, nothing near me, just me alone in the alpine meadow, and the bear approaching. I raise my rifle up over my head with both hands and am screaming "NO BEAR!". It's now made it to 200 yards out. When I raise the rifle over my head, the bear's approach changes from a loping walk to a dead run, coming fast-- at me.

It passes 150 yards, then 100 yards in a moment. Still running hard out. Galloping. At 50 yards out I realize I just have 4 cartridges in the rifle. Those stupid foxes! The bear closes the distance, I have maybe seconds? At 40 yards I shoot one round into the ground in front of the bear. Three rounds left. There is no reaction, no hesitation, just the bear, charging. I cycle the bolt. In another moment, the bear will be inside my effective range. 15 yards. I shoulder the rifle and fire at the bear. I hit it-- it spins to its right and downhill, biting at its right arm or shoulder. I cycle the bolt. Two rounds left. I can anchor the bear, but then think of the "gut pile" bear that is still between me and the boat. To shoot the rifle dry now would effectively disarm me. The bear pauses, looks up at me, and retreats back over the edge the way it came, headed down into the alders.

I'm off in a moment. Barreling downhill. Now it's me on a dead run. I reach the bottom. I look back up the hill. Again, my heart sinks. There is a bear -- the gut pile bear-- following the path Steve took down the mountain. He was dragging the deer. I grab my radio. I have the radio. Steve does not. I loose the bear in the brush-- there is no way I can out run it and reach Steve first. I can't see it but know where it's going. Not five minutes later, I hear Steve shoot twice. It's clearly the report from a handgun.

Now, at last, our luck changes. He fires two warning shots and ran the bear off without further incident. I find him-- he was only 75 yards from me. By now the guys have come up from the boat-- hearing all the shooting as well as me yelling into the radio about all the bears. We make it back to the boat. Shaken, scared, but safe.

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I will add one note on this quickly, before someone asks if I understand the DLP law. Alaska state law requires that "Every Effort" be made to recover the hide and head of bears shot In Defense of Life and Property [DLP]. At this point, we had made no effort to recover the bear I shot. So Steve and I waited a day, then headed back up towards the spot of the DLP shooting. As it turned out, we would not make it far.

Approaching the ridge, we crossed a large grassy meadow, full of head high grass with a creek and alders on the far side. We had crossed it many times. It was the same meadow at the base of the ridge where Steve had hastily quartered his doe and had his bear encounter. As we passed through the grass, I heard something popping branches in the alders. I stopped.

Steve asked "See something?"

--Stop now

"Where? What?"

We could see the tall grass start to part, maybe 30 yards in front of us. I started yelling again "NO BEAR, WHOA BEAR", and on queue, a huge bear lifted up out of the grass on its hind legs to have a look at us. We stared up at it for a moment: a brown leviathan above a yellow ocean of grass. I drew my revolver -- I had it this time-- and fired one shot off to the side. The bear spooked, dropped back down in the grass. I was unsettled at seeing a bear so close again, but now knowing it was in the grass with us where we couldn't see it was much, much worse. There was no way to approach the ridge but to cross another 50 yards of grass, then 30 yards of alders beyond that.

We retreated back to the boat. The risk of injury to us -- or the risk of creating a second DLP shooting trying to recover the first -- was simply too high. There were too many bears in the area for us to remain-- we returned to the boat, reported the entire incident again, and then prepared to relocate for our last day of hunting.

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
Friday -- Final day!-- The wind

We moved areas given the bear density and decided to hunt our last full day in a new cove. The wind was just screaming, so the game plan would be to get up and then find some draws out of the wind, as the deer would almost certainly be trying to avoid it just like we would

Up we went, new area but same tough climb, grass over your head, alders tangling you up every step. We made it up to a bluff and had a good view of the boat and which way we came.

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Just after this photo was taken, I turned to view the next ridge and plot our way across <BOOM!> right next time me.

You could warn me guys!

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Father in law tags this doe that was sneaking away from us in the grass. We get this deer packed and quartered and try to get one more before we head down.

Next ridge up, Steve shoot just as I am cresting the top, and it's two down.

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We decide this is enough for us to pack out, and again don't want to hang around multiple gut piles too long. Back to the boat with the meat haul, it's all high fives. We might could have carried out a doe to fill my last tag, but I'm happy with what we got.

Back on the beach

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Then some fishing while we butcher. It's a nice way to cap off the end of the day -- my birthday-- with some surf for all our turf

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Saturday-- The End

We pack all the meat, then have a marathon vacuum sealing session. The boat provides chest freezers and wax fish boxes, so we get everything packaged and frozen -- 12 boxes worth. When we step on the dock we are already packed up and ready for the flight back to Kodiak

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We spent some time drinking beer, wandering around Kodiak, packaging all the heads, and getting ready. What a trip it's been

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I will add one last note on bullet performance. It has been years since I recovered bullets from an animal. This trip I recovered two! Both of these are .308 180 grain barnes fired from a 30-06 at ~2650 FPS. The one on the right Weighed 177 grains and was recovered from my caribou. The other one weighed 172 grains (note missing petal) and was recovered from my second buck. I was initially unsure if I was getting these going fast enough to justify using the Barnes, but seeing this made me feel better about my loading choice.

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Dang... Wish you could hunt another month to keep the daily updates coming.

Your load: Is that book performance or what you actually clocked out of your rifle? 2650 is extremely slow for the bullet weight/type and cartridge. I have two loads in front of me clocking over 2800. IMR4955, 61 gr., 2828 fps. Superformance 59.7 gr., 2840 fps. Stats.... 24 inch barrel, Winchester brass, cartridge LOA, 3.3", lead core bullets. If you can seat the bullets out farther in your rifle, you can gain additional performance by filling the space with powder while keeping pressure relatively the same.

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Looks like an amazing trip! Thanks for the post!

I've always wanted to do Sitka Blacktails. The years are flying by, I'd better start planning.
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