October Sunshine

I picked Bob B up about 6 am. The forecast was for sunshine and light northerly winds. We got to the ramp, and it was foggy, but not pea soup fog. There was some visibility, so we headed out and kept wiping the windows inside and out, and our heads on a swivel for any opposing traffic as I navigated by GPS. Cruiseship season is over so that made us a little more at ease. As we got out into Stephens Passage we could see the lower 20ft of Admiralty Island and knew we’d be fine now.

We were the first boat in to the bay we wanted to hunt – and why we left before sunrise. Even in the wilderness there can be competition for a hunting spot near Juneau. For most hunters, if you see a boat anchored near shore during deer season, you find another spot to hunt. I bought a little Zodiac raft at a garage sale to use to float to shore after anchoring the boat. It only weighs about 50lbs and it worked great. The only issue with rafts is beaching on the barnacles so I noted I need to take waders so I can get out of it before it touches shore. Bob caught the nose of the raft at the beach where I’d offloaded him and our gear. He took the spool of line tied at the other end to the anchor. He payed out the line up the beach and I put the raft on my head and we carried our cargo up above tideline. We took a compass bearing for returning to the boat, shouldered our packs and guns, and headed up the hill.

Fog was still settled up above the trees but we could see fine in the woods. We hiked uphill and called at some great looking muskegs and no deer. We crested the hills and headed down the backside that drains into Chatham Strait. The sun finally broke through the high fog about 11 am. We got to a muskeg with thick cover on both sides, and dropped our bags to call and have lunch. I had just put the granola bar into my mouth when Bob said “hey”. And pointed to the cover on the opposite side about 75 yards away. I looked to where he was pointing and there was a deer looking straight at us. The granola bar dropped out of my mouth so I could put the call back in, and we got our guns ready. Hearts were pounding. I almost called again when here the deer came, right towards us. Too many times I’ve been impatient. The deer was clearly on it’s way to us and all we had to do was sit and wait. I could intermittently see it working through the trees and grass. The deer kept moving towards us and at about 60 yards, we had a clear shot, and dropped it. I stood up and could see some slight movement in the grass on the ground and after we saw no movement otherwise, figured we had a deer down.

We walked over and saw a nice blacktail deer. I think the first deer of the season is always the best one. Especially when our freezer is bare of venison, having eaten and given away all of last year’s deer. Turns out a lot of non-hunters like deer and they don’t forget the favor. Bob and I are a good team and he’d seen me butcher a deer last year and knew what to do. I cut off the scent glands on the hind hocks, cut around the butt hole to free up the large intestine, and cut slits through the back hocks which we’d slide a stick through. Then I slit the abdomen and removed the innards, removing the heart from it’s protective sac for burger and the liver for my mechanic friend Izzie. I found a suitable cross stick, and Bob climbed a scraggly bull pine and threw the line over a branch. I lifted up on the stick that had the other end of the line attached in the middle between the deer’s legs, and Bob pulled his end around a nearby tree and when the deer’s head cleared the ground, he tied it off. After cutting off the hocks and slitting the hide up the front forearms to the chest, we set to skinning each back leg until we got down past the tail. Then the hid simply pulled off the rest of the way with minimal cutting. The deer had so much fat the hide just stripped right off. It was the easiest hide removal I’ve seen.

We cut the deer in half at the “waist” just forward of the pelvis. I took the ribs, front quarters and neck in one piece, and Bob took the rest in one piece. A group of ravens were now in the surrounding trees, squawking up a storm, and there was a magpie too. We looked up often, as we both guessed any bear in the area knows what the raven racket means. We shot the deer about noon and were on our way about 1 pm. We had to climb back up over the hill to the boat, and we took our time, which was easy on such a sunny day. We called at a few spots on the way back, but didn’t take the time we’d taken at each spot the way we did on the way in – duffing our packs, getting a comfortable spot, and taking our time. We just sort of came up to a tree, leaned against it, I’d call a time or two, and we’d move on. Of course, this cost us a deer.

Not too far from the beach, as we were moving after I’d called, Bob raised his rifle to a deer I could not see. He said to call again, which I did. He did not fire. Bob said the deer was coming to the call, but we’d already started walking again and when the deer saw us it turned around and walked back where it had come from, and when I called again, it took off. I never saw it. Instead of using my gps, I simply used my compass as I did before I had a gps, and this took us directly back to the beach within a couple hundred yards of the boat. The boat was floating and right side up. Not the way my previous boat was found last Nov. I told Bob there might be a few barley pops hidden somewhere, and after loading up and idling out, I found the secret stash, which never tastes better than after a full workout. We got back to town and I dropped Bob off. We decided I would cut off one of the backstraps on my piece, and call it good for dividing the meat, so when I got home, I took off a strap to take back to Bob as he planned to have it for dinner. Sara went with me back to Bob’s and when his wife got home, we decided we might as well all have dinner since Sara had just baked a pie with Haines cherries from Roy and Brenda’s.   That was a great meal. I never really thought about how good fresh meat is – like fresh fish. I think that’s how I’ll try to celebrate future successful hunts.