My brother in law Brian, his brother Kevin, and I went elk hunting on Afognak Island, which is right next to Kodiak Island. Brian and Kevin had drawing permits, so I was there to pack meat and maybe shoot a deer if the opportunity arose.
We met in Anchorage. First stop was the Sportsman’s Warehouse. Everything and anything you need for hunting. Brian and Kevin bought fancy shmansy weatherproof camo pants and coat. I stayed with my trusty $12 Costco fleece pants and garage sale fleece pullovers. I did pick up a leatherman tool when we noticed no one had one. Only have about 25 of them at home, but what’s one more….
We headed down to Kodiak, where I’d lived in the middle 90’s. Felt good to be back. Friends of Brian and Kevin’s just moved to Kodiak from Prince of Wales Island, and we were staying with them. A good friend who was out of town had left me his vehicle. I got that from his house, and then we started the in-town chores of getting food, picking up the rental camping equipment, and other things we’d forgot, like groundline for pulling up elk meat into the trees and out of bruno’s reach.
We got weathered in the next day. Too windy and rainy to fly to Afognak on the DeHaviland Beaver float plane we’d chartered. So, more shopping and seeing old friends. The following day, the weather cleared about mid-day, and we loaded the plane and headed to Afognak. We landed in a shallow lake relatively high on the island. We set up camp – a 10 x 12 wall tent and various satellite tarps hung for cooking and gear storage – that evening under sunny skies.
The next day was the day before opening day. We packed our sleeping bags and pads, a small tent, and some beef jerky and candy bars. We planned to hike up the mountain, try to locate elk we’d seen on the flight in, and then spike camp near them. We hiked up the mountain about 2.0 miles or so. Brian and Kevin were in front of me when we came to the second small beaver ponds. They had set down their packs, and were out in the open at one end of the small oval pond. As I approached to put down my pack, an elk bugled, and then a bull appeared at the other end of the pond – well within shooting distance tomorrow. The problem was that now Kevin and Brian were out in the open, and they were worried about spooking the elk. The elk then proceeded to swash his head back and forth in the tall grass – like he was cutting it – and laid down, with his head pointed in the direction of the bugling elk, and quartering away from us. Eventually, we pulled out of there after watching the elk from a long time through the trees. We returned about 3/4 of a mile to the first of the two ponds, and spike camped there.
The next morning – opening day – we headed back for the bull. He was not still bedded down when we got there. Several beavers were working the pond, and continually slapped their tails on the water, perhaps not appreciative of our presence. So, we skirted the pond through the timber high above the bank to the other end where the elk was the day before.
When we got to the other end, there was a grass flat at the end of the pond, with a clump of trees on a little hill. As Brian skirted the left of the little hill, he frantically waved Kevin and I forward. I double-timed it right into a hole and up to my waist with both legs. Kevin managed to catch up to Brian, who sent him into the woods of the little hill. The elk was coming down the far hillside, but had gone on the right side of the little hill, while we were on the left. I caught up to Brian, who told me about the elk. A few seconds later we hear the blamo, and when we got all the way around the little hill, there was Kevin with our first elk. He’d come out of the woods and there was the elk, standing in the open and apparenlty looking for the rest of the heard. It was a quick, one shot affair to the neck. We spent the rest of that day butchering the elk and packing the meat back to the spike camp. We’d heard it was important to get the meat away from the kill site the first day, as a bear was usually on site within a day, or at the longest, 2 days. From what we’d heard, the bear would be happy with the gutpile and the carcass, so you just had to move the meat a small distance away for the short term, as the bear would be content with his fare for a day or two. Brian and I made 3 trips each back to spike camp, while Kevin stayed and continued butchering until all was cut up. Brian went up on the hillside and bugled but no reply.
We slept at the spike camp tent, then started packing to the lake the next day – about 1.5 miles or so. We each made 2 trips, and slept well that night at the base camp with one elk in the trees. The pressure was off, and a second one seemed almost too much to ask for.
The next day we decided to make a march around the mountain to the saltwater side, where other elk had been spotted. We didn’t pack a spike camp, as we thought if we got an elk, we’d pack it to the beach and then hightail it back to camp. We started out at sunup- about 830 am. It was about a 5 mile hike, much if it through the spruce forrest on the elk trails. It was again another sunny day in the 50’s. Brian would bugle at open grassy bowls. We finally got a reply about mid-day. Brian continued bugling and cow calling where he and Kevin were in the trees. I was behing a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, out in the open, near Brian and Kevin. We were facing north, where we thought the bugling was coming from, when I caught a movement out of my eye due west. After another call, I saw it again and then saw the back of an elk. He’d snuck up on us without a sound. It was a satellite elk coming down to say how-do to the cow call. We dumped that elk, which trotted up in the woods. We quickly followed but found there was no hurry. He was down. Brian continued calling and the elk continued bugling. Kevin took the video camera and moved about 30 yards uphill from the kill site to see if he could sight the herd bull. I went up and joined him. When I crested the little rise, there was the whole freakin’ herd – some 30 cows, calves, bulls, and the big Kahuna – the herd bull. They’d get antsy and start moving away, and then Brian would call and they’d come back again. Kevin got many minutes of it on film – a real treat for family and friends when we returned.
We butchered that bull and moved the meat to the trees about 100 yards from the kill site. Time was not on our side, though, and we had to head back to base camp before getting the meat to saltwater. That meant, of course, another 10 mile or more round trip the next day to move the meat a relatively small distance. But, we had both our tags filled, and time was not an issue. I was feeling pretty good, having built up my endurance with increasing treks each day.
The next day, after 5 days or so of sunny daytime weather in the 50’s, some snotty wet weather finally moved in. We treked to the kill site, but the rain couldn’t get to us much when we were in the woods. When we got to the kill site, we saw perhaps the coolest thing on the trip. We noticed some bear tracks over our tracks from the day before, so we knew bruno was in the house. When we got to the carcass, the bear had neatly buried the backbone and head in a carpet of moss raked from a circle around the carcass. You could not have done a neater job with a rake by hand. And, I saw none of the gutpile. That bear looked like he’d eaten the entire thing – which I wouldn’t have thought possible just based on the size of the gut pile versus the size of a bear’s stomach – but he/she did. We were nervous being on the freshly covered kill, but figured the bear would have to sleep off the gutpile for awhile, at least.
We made the trip down to the beach with the meat in two trips each – looking left and right often for any sign of bruno. We never saw him. The weather had really picked up, and it was blowing a steady 30-40 kts on the beach and raining sideways. We finally headed home and once we got up off the beach into the woods, we’d seen the worst of it. It was a slow walk back, with several stops for water. I bought a new gadget – called a Steripen – which purifies water with a 4AA battery UV light. It seems to have worked great- all those beaver and I have no signs of giardia. You simply fill up a water bottle, put the light in the bottle, and it tells you when it’s “done”. Much quicker and simpler than the filters that seem to take forever to get a glass of water.
The pilot had stopped in the day before, and said he might try to get us late on this day. When we got back to camp, it was really blowing and raining, and I hoped he wouldn’t show – I needed at least 30 minutes to get horizontal and recover from the hike and the rain and cold. He didn’t show, and we slept even better that night knowing we had our “free meat” for the year.
The next morning, the pilot dropped in early, and said he was running behind and that another plane might come in at 11 am. So, we had time to leisurely break camp, as the weather again turned sunny. We had camp down by 10 30 am. No one showed until about 3 pm however, so we spit sunflower seed shells into the lake, and watched the salmon fry taste them. When the Beaver arrived, it was accompanied by a Bush Hawk – a smaller plane comparable to a Cessna 206. The Beaver took Brian and Kevin and some gear and left to get the meat on the beach at tidewater. I then put the rest of our gear into the Bush Hawk and we headed back to Kodiak.
We each airfreighted home about 200 lbs of boned-out meat each (600 lbs total). Not exactly free meat, but not too bad either. Most of our friends travel south “on vacation”. Rarely do I take a vacation out of state – there’s so much more fun to be had right here at home – in an admittedly huge herkin’ house.
Mark Stopha and Sara Hannan
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
Wild Salmon and Salmon Pet Treats
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801