Fine end to the season

My new hunting partner this year, Matt, was good luck again this trip. Low tide was mid-day here in late Dec. With several inches of snow on the ground, it was a good bet deer would be on the beach looking for some easy food in the form of kelp. So Matt and I started down the back of our home island, but it’s very rocky and not much good for walking by man or deer. By the time we got to the good beaches, the wind was snorting across a point out of the Taku River, so we headed across Stephens Passage to Admiralty.

The crossing was not that fun. We didn’t get the full force of the wind and seas till we were out in the middle, but managed to make it safely across. These are some of the few times an open boat, with no canvas “cabin” as I have, would be better because every time a wave washes over the windshield, we’re temporarily blinded and sometimes don’t see the next wave coming.

We finally go past the Horse Island reef, and then proceeded to round Horse Is, where our cabin is located. I knew there were reefs there, and the tide was such that they weren’t quite exposed. The bad visibility made for some seat-of-the-pants navigation. Matt saw one reef just in time, barely under the waves. We did bump the lower unit once, but luckily incurred no damage.

Another Matt, the son of a good friend, had spent the previous few days at the cabin with 2 of his buds, and I had already heard from his dad they’d taken a big buck on the side of the ridge up from the beaver ponds. They had already left by the time we cruised the beach there.

We proceeded north, in the lee of Horse and Colt Island – the only decent water anywhere. We were not going to be able to anchor much of anywhere, though, because the tide was going out and the wind was blowing into the beach most everywhere.

I’d just seen 30 deer in a day cruising the beaches with my brother in law over Christmas south of here, so thought we’d better try it. We saw no bucks in the bucks-only area there, but some may been bucks that had lost their antlers and we just couldn’t tell.

We went by one tiny anchorage that had a boat in it, and I made a mental note to remember that place as I’d not hunted their before. I did get one of my 2 marten there last year, but not with the wind in the same southerly direction.

We went around a point and Matt said “there’s two deer!”. I immediately did a U-turn to get the boat back on the south side of the point, out of sight of the deer. It’s been my experience that deer will bolt from the beach if a boat motor changes sound as it does when it slows down. Or, of course, if you beach in sight of them.

I told Matt to go after them, and he headed down the beach to the point, where hopefully the deer were still standing on the opposite side. I threw the anchor out, knowing the beach was mostly sand and pebble, and we were about at low tide, so if the boat beached, it wouldn’t be long before we could float again.

I grabbed my rifle and headed into the woods above the boat and cut across the point in the woods. I was hurrying to fast, and didn’t quite get my foot over a log, tripped, and went right on my face and shoulder. Luckily, the gun did not get snow in the barrel as I forget to put electric tape over the muzzle, something I rarely forget. I moved about 10 yards, and thought I saw a flash to my left – just like the big buck a month ago. I moved up to where I thought I saw it, and then saw a medium deer moving away from me. I tried calling softly, but the deer would not stop. I didn’t see other deer or tracks close behind this one’s, so hoped it was not of the group we’d seen on the beach.

I moved down another 30 or 40 yards when Matt started shooting. At his third shot, I saw a deer stagger and fall just inside the trees from the beach. Another deer kept coming right up past me. I’d stepped up on a log for a better view when the shooting started, and now tried calling softly to stop the deer. It ran past me, but I didn’t see it continue, so I carefully stepped down from the log and then saw the deer between two trees. I had a clean shot, the deer hunched up, ran 20 yards and tipped over.

Matt soon came up in the woods full of adrenaline. He whistled, and I called back and said I’d gotten the one deer. He said he got one, too. I realized he meant a deer down on the beach, and said I saw another one fall just in the woods, and could still see it from where I stood. That’s when he realized he’d shot 2 deer. So the adrenaline rose again.

We dragged the deer all down to the snow line of the beach, then I went and brought the boat around so we could get our knives out of our packs. We dressed the deer, and I carried, instead of dragged, them to the boat to avoid loading them with sand and gravel. I made a marten set just inside the woods, as there appeared to be marten tracks going from the woods to the beach (I can’t yet tell mink from marten tracks). With all the gut piles, I hope it attracted some attention.

I made 2 more sets on the way back, and we reached the cabin just about dark. Lucky for us the cabin was still pretty warm from the boys stay there. I could also see I needed to start getting more firewood bucked-up and split.

The next day the plan was to hunt till about 2 and get Matt back so he could work today. We anchored where we’d seen the boat the day before, and split up. I checked my set, but no luck. I then moved uphill and ended up finding a large muskeg and brand new country I’d never hunted. There were still tracks going in and around the muskeg as the snow was not so deep as to cover all the plants. I tried calling in a few places, but nothing showed. I was sort of turned around and tried to get my bearings, but my GPS batteries had died. I pulled out the compass, got my bearings, and headed south. Right off the edge of the muskeg I was surprised to see water already, and I got down the forest edge at the beach, which was up a 30 foot cliff. I walked the game trail along the cliff, and noted what I thought were lots of marten tracks, so plan to go back there and make a few more sets.

I got out to the beach about 140 pm, and saw Matt coming down the beach. I also noticed the wind had increased, and it looked pretty lumpy in Stephens Passage, but not so bad that we couldn’t cross. When Matt reached me at the boat, I asked if he’d seen anything, and he said “just the one hanging in the tree!”. I’d never heard him shoot. He said he went up a trail that lead to a small clearing, and moved a doe in the brush alongside it. He waited to see if the doe would bolt or not, and it didn’t. Then he got ready to shoot, and softly called a few times. The doe started walking parallel to him, and gave him the shot.

He went up and got the deer, and carried it to the boat as he’d seen me do with the deer yesterday. We loaded up and headed to town.

We just cleared the reef north of the islands and felt the full brunt of the wind. As we got further into Stephens Passage, the waves got bigger and bigger and I didn’t like the looks of it. Again, the waves would temporarily blind us as the earlier crossing, only these waves were bigger. I turned into the waves to head back to the lee of the islands. Matt would have to miss work.

We bounced so hard, and maybe even went airborne once or twice, as we slugged our way back to the lee of the islands. It was a welcome relief to get back to the anchorage and the warm cabin. My head hurt as if I might have incurred a slight concussion from the brief of filling-ejecting pounding getting back.

We crossed today in calmer seas. I think much of the rough water yesterday was a result of the tide running against the wind. We left at high tide today, and it was much calmer. We made it across Stephens Passage, then I had Matt drive as I pulled the plug to drain the copius water in the bottom of the boat from taking on waves and probably some from the snow. Water can also freeze from sitting on the trailer, and then will melt when the boat goes back into salt water.

When we got to the boat ramp, the snow storm forecast arrived at the same time. By the time we beached and were pulling deer out for Matt to take to the garage, the wind was honking, and I couldn’t see Admiralty. So, I decided to play it safe and come home for now and get back to my trapping when the weather abated.

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