Deer in the new snow and Hamas vs. Israel

Ron and I set out to our cabin on Friday. We awoke Saturday to new snow and sunny weather, and headed over to Admiralty to deer hunt. We went to one of our usual landings where the skiff would be safe from the wind. The tide times were perfect, as a “tided” boat at this time of year can be very uncomfortable – our skiff is not moved by only 2 people due to it’s weight, so if the boat goes dry, you have to wait till the tide comes in, and when the weather is 20ish, that means building a fire and getting lots of wood to keep it going.

Anyway, I was not far from the beach when I hit what I knew were fresh tracks from a sizeable deer. A series of beaver ponds cross from north to south along the point we were hunting, which juts out with sides from east to west. The tracks went to the first pond, and I decided to walk the water side of the ponds south, then cross the ponds at the other end and return on the hill side of the ponds.

The weather was sunny, and fresh powder. There were deer tracks everywhere. I worked along the relatively open alleyway (about 30 yards or so wide) between the ponds and the dense brush dowhill from the ponds. I can’t remember a better day in the woods. The walking was easy on the fresh snow, which was atop a hard crust of snow about 6 inches deep. I otter slides in several areas. The otters slide along the top of the snow, and it looks like someone dragged a bowling ball behind them. Every few feet in the trail, there are a pair of paw prints where the otter pushed itself to continuing gliding through the snow.

I worked my way down the side of the ponds, seeing fresh tracks which all seemed to lead down into the brush at some point. I didn’t follow those tracks, as I didn’t think I’d have much chance of seeing deer in the brush. I kept to the open area, where I could see out to the ponds, out to the brush, and ahead in the open area. I’m always surprised to see lots of tracks in the snow but no deer, but it keeps you interested to keep seeing tracks. I remember going out a few years ago in similar conditions, but with a longer sustained period of snow cover, and seeing no tracks because of the high deer mortality caused by the deep snow.

When I got to the far side of the point, I crossed the ponds to head back towards the boat on the uphill side of the ponds. I saw my first deer about half way across the ponds. It was a large deer that was either a big doe or buck that had shed its antlers. I tried calling it back with my homemade deer call, but the deer wouldn’t come. I couldn’t see exactly where it ran to, since there were multiple fresh tracks, so I went on to the other side and thought maybe I’d see it along the side of the ponds I was heading to.

I worked my way across the ponds, then up the hillside a ways. On the uphill side of the ponds, the ground gradually rises until it meets an abrupt incline of about 50 yards, which goes up to another brushy plateau that again gradually runs uphill. I worked my way along the base of this incline, where I could look downhill toward the ponds, and see any deer that tried going up the incline. Less than 30 minutes after the first deer, I saw a second deer sneaking up the incline. I didn’t see it’s head, and it looked like a small deer. I walked up it’s tracks on the incline to see if I could see it. It had continued up into the thick brush, and so I returned to the base of the incline and continued toward the boat.

Perhaps and 30 minutes later, as I was working along the incline, I looked down onto the flat area, and did a double take. Many times in a day I will see what looks like a deer head, a deer torso, or deer legs in the brush, only to look closer and see it’s just a snag or deadfall. This time it wasn’t. Sure enough, there was a medium-sized doe looking uphill at me. I could tell the deer wasn’t nervous, as I had been walking parallel to the deer, and so it assumed I’d just walk on by as I never walked towards it. I found a rest, and cranked the scope from 3 power up to 9 power. I then had to look away from the scope a couple time, find the deer, and then find it in the higher powered scope.

The deer was looking directly at me, and was slightly quartered away, behind a deadfall. I only had the upper shoulders, neck and head to shoot at, which was fine as neck shots are always best since they are drop-kill shots and ruin the least meat. I put the crosshairs on the neck a few inches under the chin, and fired. Then I looked up, the deer was not in sight and I assumed I’d hit it as I could not see it running anywhere.

I lined up where I was with where I shot, and walked down to the area. Of course there were tracks all around. I got to where I thought the deer was standing, and could not find it. I got to thinking maybe I missed cleanly and the deer ran off, and was just about ready to return to where I had shot to take another look, when I went just a little further, and there the deer lay in the fresh snow.

It’s always kind of weird to walk up and find a deer laying on the ground. After rarely seeing them, they almost look out of place, when of course, they aren’t. I field dressed the deer, put my dragging rope around it’s neck, and decided to try dragging the deer back to the boat in the new snow, rather than butchering it there and putting the meat in my pack. The deer dragged easily, like pulling a small kid on a sled through new snow. I was back to the boat in about half an hour, just as Ron was coming up from the boat to see if I needed a hand.

We returned to the cabin, and the wind was picking up. We’d planned on maybe hunting part of the next day, and then returning home. The next day, the wind was howling from the north, and it was so cold and windy that both of us decided we wouldn’t hunt that day. We returned to the cabin and read old Alaska Journal and Alaska Sportsman magazines. The next day the weather was worse, and even though the night before we had pledged to at least hunt the next day if we couldn’t get home, the boat was bobbing so heavily at it’s anchorage we knew it would be a chore to get the boat to shore, a chore to get it back off shore and started, a chore to get the boat anchored off again wherever we went, and a chore to get back on the boat after hunting. The wind was smoking, and I didn’t think the deer would be easy to find and likely not moving. So, it was an easy decision not to hunt again. We cut up some firewood, kept the cabin wood stove full, and did some
more reading.

We listened to the radio all day for these 2 days, and I was concerned to hear that Hamas and Israel were at war. My wife is in Cairo, and that concerned me with the battle going on over there. She was with our friends, though, and couldn’t have been in better hands as far as being with people who know what to do if things go wrong, as one of our friends is a seasoned Middle East radio reporter.

This morning, the winds were again smoking, but the forecast had caused for a slight shift from northerly towards the east. The northern most point of Admiralty Island is Pt. Retreat. On one side of Pt. Retreat is Chatham Strait, and the other is Stephens Passage. There is a weather guage there. The local weather reported the winds were 30 kts, with gusts to 50 there, so we thought for sure we were in for another day at the cabin. However, when we went out to check, we saw that the winds had shifted slightly. Whereas the past 2 days the winds were blowing down Stephens Passage, which we had to cross to get back to Douglas Island, they were now running down Chatham Strait.

We quickstepped it down to the boat, and took on the first task of removing all the kelp that had built up on the line that the boat was tied to off shore. We loaded up the boat, and were pleased when it started. Ron checked the gas can, and topped it up so we had a full tank for the crossing. As we headed out into the chop to cross Stephens Passage, I called our friend Terri to let her know we were starting to cross. The earlier day, I called her husband and asked him to check the house. I thought I had left the water running so the pipes wouldn’t freeze, but wanted him to check as the cold spell was on.

As we crossed SP, we were in the trough of the waves, which were moving from north to south. The spray immediately froze to the windshield on the canvas cover. Luckily, the steering station on the boat is on the downwind side, and left me just enough of a window to continue to see where we were going.

We crossed without incident, and called Terri when we got to the otherside. After going over my boot trying to get the boat on the trailer, we were on our way. When we arrived home, I noticed the snow cleared from the tiny door that accesses our crawl space, and realized perhaps our pipes had frozen – which they had. I had called Jeff and another friend and left messages for each to look at the house. When they found the pipes frozen, as luck would have it, Jeff’s son had done some work under our house when he was much younger, since it’s a very tight space. He knew where the water line was, and Jeff did exactly as what needed to be done, and put a little space heater inside that door next to where the water line emerges from the ground, and the pipe thawed in short order.

I took Ron and the frozen deer to Ron’s house, as it would thaw in his heated garage so we could skin and butcher it. I returned home, and was relieved to find that Sara had sent an email and was, so far, just fine, although our reporter friend had to cancel a trip with Sara and his wife down the Nile to cover the war. I also was happy to see I had a start date for work on the north slope, as I’ve been anxious to get back to work – especially since deer season ends tomorrow.

Mark Stopha
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801

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