Ghost Bucks and Downfall of a Monarch

Went deer hunting the past 3 days by boat. Been tied to home here since Oct. as Sara had her hip replaced. She’s having a quite miraculous recovery, and already back to work part time and swimming. Then our friend Paul Bowen came to town to have his knee replaced, and he had some complications not related to surgery. So, I’ve been nursing family and only day hunted behind the house.

A friend who recently started hunting wanted to go, and that was all I needed to plan a trip. I hunted on Friday, and conditions are pretty nice. Although there’s no snow, the ground is frozen and so footing is as good as it gets. It’s a little noisy sometime, but otherwise the cold, dry days have been wonderful to hunt. You can hike all day in 28 degree weather.

My first day I knew would be a little short, as I was skiffing from Douglas Island over to our cabin. Plus our days are short already. So, I stuck mostly to the lowlands. I saw alot of buck rubs, but no deer the first day. Still, I thought to myself it was one of the best days I’d spent hunting as the conditions were so nice. I did see a sawhet(?) or pygmy owl, which is a rare sight.

Next day I went back to Douglas Island to pick up my friend, who was going to hunt Sat and Sun with me. We got back to our hunting spot about 930 am, and started up the hill. It was another dry, crisp day, and perfect for hiking. We got to the big muskeg at the base of the ridge, and decided to rest and call for while. On my 3rd or 4th series of bleat calls, “BANG”. I looked over and saw he’d shot at a deer, and soon signaled the deer was down. I never saw the deer nor maybe would have if I were alone, and I am more and more seeing that 4 eyes are better than 2. His was a button buck, and he was thrilled to get his second deer ever.

We dressed the deer and hung it from a tree to cool and keep away from the eagles and ravens. We went a short ways up the ridge, then side-hilled a ways, then back down to the base. We came into a small valley there with lots of brush, and a place that seems to be a deery place. We separated somewhat, and soon it was clear he had headed off course and not back to his hanging deer.

I got back to his deer, and then was blasting on my call as loud as I could. I was getting nervous the boat would be left dry on the out-going tide, and then we’d be stuck there till the evening as our skiff is too heavy to push down the beach, or get up on log rollers. When he finally came back from down hill, he said he’d not heard me calling. This was interesting in that he wasn’t that far away, and so maybe deer don’t hear the call when they aren’t too far away.

He also said he’d seen a big buck, but the deer was locked onto him and had him handcuffed. He didn’t have time to chamber a shell before the buck took off, and it didn’t come back when he tried calling. So, 1 buck in the tree and another big one seen – a great day by our standards.

The next morning I thought we’d better check the weather forecast just in case. I needed to be back on Tuesday to get Paul discharged and on the plane so couldn’t miss it. The forecast was for 20 kt north winds, increasing later in the day. We decided then we’d better do the dishes and plan to return to town today instead of staying another night.

When we got to the beach to hunt, the only place safe to put the boat was already being hunted by another cabin-owner. So, we decided to look for another place or go home. We decided to try finding safe anchorage along Douglas Island and hunting there. I’d hunted little on that side of the island, and knew it would be good for me to hunt other places since we hunt the hill across from our cabin mainly for convenience.

We found what we hoped was a good anchorage, anchored out the boat, then headed into the woods. The first 100 yards or so was a train wreck of blow downs and past logging. When we got past that, we found some nice areas of open areas and forest stands and nice buck rubs.

After calling in several spots, we were about half way up to the ridge, and decided to try again. I sent Matt uphill from me, and I called to the downhill. After the third series, I saw a deer slinking in the brush over to me, and stopped calling. When it came out across from me on the edge of the brush, I could see it was a nice buck. It stopped with it’s vitals directly behind a tree, and locked on to me. I had a good rest, and the crosshairs right between his eyes. It would need to be a precise shot, or I’d miss altogether. I looked at what body was visible, and it would have been only a crippling shot. So, I hoped the deer would just inch forward and give me a clear shot at his neck.

After a minute or 2 of not twitching even an ear, and me continuing to hold on his nose, the buck faced forward. My eye had started to blur, and the buck was in the darkness of the brush edge in an already darkened spruces stand. I couldn’t make a shot, and the deer walked off. Calling would not bring it back. That deer came all the way in and left without making a sound on the crunchy, dry forest floor.

I walked down to where he’d stood to see if I could see him again, but no luck. I walked back to Matt and told him of the big buck, which he’d not seen, and we were both excited to see something.

We worked our way up to the base of the ridge, calling in a few spots as we went up. When we got to the base of the ridge, there was a big expanse of open canopy with blowdowns everywhere. I had Matt posted at one end and me at the other, and started calling. After the third series, I thought I saw something flicker about 30 yards to my right, but could not see anything behind the blowdown.

I made a fourth soft call, and up comes a monster buck like you see on Genesee Beer signs. It was 20 yards away, and stopped when it saw me. I aimed and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. After a split second assessment, I realized the safety was still on. I flicked it off, and dropped the big buck. He looked like the king of the hill, with a hugely swollen neck and even had porcupine quills in his snout. Never, ever heard of that.

After the shot, I called to Matt, and simply said “Monster”. He came over, and his jaw dropped as I sat next to the Chief. Now how to get it back to the beach. I had several options – drag it, carry it, or butcher it on the spot. I wanted to take the whole animal out, so first tried to rig it for dragging. About 10 feet of that told me it wasn’t going to happen. We were 6/10 of a mile uphill in the Tongass and had to go over blowdowns and through the puckerbrush.

Next, I tried making a pack out of the deer. I couldn’t quite get it right as my brother in law had shown me. The front hocks wouldn’t lock into the back leg tendon for some reason.

Next we tried to tie the deer to my Bull Pac frame. After securing it, I had Matt help me up, and found I could walk with the deer on my back. So down the hill we headed.

I had to stop numerous times to rest and drink water. If I fell, it was a comical scene because I couldn’t get up. Matt would have to help again. When we finally reached sight of the beach, I had Matt go on and see that the boat was still floating so we wouldn’t be tided. I finally made it out to the beach, dropped the pack and deer, and staggered down the beach to the boat. Luckily, it was still floating. We brought the boat over to where I’d dropped the pack, retrieved the deer, and headed for town The PBR’s Matt brought never tasted so good.

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

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