Thanksgiving Karma

We went to southern southeast Alaska to Sara’s family’s home for Thanksgiving. We left a day early, and after arriving in Ketchikan, learned and saw that further flying over to her sister’s home was iffy. Snow squalls were moving through. Our flight over was scheduled for 9:15 am, but we were delayed hour after hour waiting for weather. The desk person said it looked like we’d go over on the 115 pm flight with several others on that flight. Then the Alaska Air flight that many of those people were on was delayed, and so we waited for them as well. Finally, at 2 pm we took off. About 2/3 of the way over, we went through some thunder clouds – pretty rare up here. We hit one pocket of wind, and would all have been airborne from our seats without belts. We broke through the other side, and it was patches of blue sky and pockets of low clouds. I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to see the airport or not. We flew around the outside and finally made the
approach. We were coming in really hot in the single engine airplane, but the pilot greased the landing, and I barely felt the wheels touch. The snow was really coming down. It was the last flight in, and they put the airplane in the hangar while we waited for our ride. One lady in the airport learned her flight was canceled, and since there were no flights going out till the day after Thanksgiving, she was staying put for the duration. She took it in stride, and made calls to family and connecting flights to make cancellations and apologies.

The next day was a pretty nice day. Little wind, and little precipitation. We started cruising the beaches. With so much snow on the ground, the deer would be coming to the beach to find kelp or uncovered browse to eat. We soon started seeing deer, but the first 10 or so were all does and yearlings. It’s bucks only here, so we kept searching. We saw our first buck late in the morning. A fork horn. It looked like it was browsing on kelp, with a big piece hanging from it’s mouth as it ate. When we looked closer, we realized it was not kelp, the poor deer’s jaw. The lower jaw had been shot off, and was hanging from its mouth. It was an easy decision to make this a mercy killing. The deer ended up looking just fine when we butchered it, so the injury must have been recent since there was no way the deer could eat.

My brother in law’s friend and I were dropped off at an island where they kept some four wheelers, and he and I went up some logging roads while my brother in law pulled logs off the beach for firewood. He gave me directions on where to go, and he went in another direction. I saw some fresh tracks on the road, and as I rounded a bend, I looked down and saw a deer. I stopped the rig, walked back, and saw it was a doe. Or was it. I looked closer, and saw it barely had little knubs coming up – sort of a button buck. I drew down, clicked off the safety, but decided to let it go. It looked like we’d see other bigger deer. The higher I got up the island, the less the tracks. Nice muskegs up there which must be great early in the season, but the deer were in the timber, now.

I met back up with my hunting partner, who had a nice fork horn on his machine. He said he called from the road, and the buck came right down out of the timber and he shot it right near the road. We had another hour, so he sent me up another side road. I came to a place where there was all timber above, and a line of timber along a creek with a clear cut on either side of the line of timber. I found a spot near the road in on the side of the big timber, and called. Soon, a doe came down hill to me. I saw the flash of another deer that I thought might be a buck, but it was a small yearling, kicking its heels up playing in the snow behind its mother. I moved up the road a hundred yards and called in the line of timber on the creek. Another big doe came in, but no buck.

I returned to the landing, we put the weather covers back on the 4 wheelers, and my brother in law soon arrived in the boat. We continued scanning the beaches. High tide had passed, and the sun came out. As the tide ebbed, deer started hitting the beaches in earnest. We saw a nice buck on a beach, and as we approached, another bigger buck came out, and then we saw the doe they looked to be following. The first buck was limping, and we later found no wound, but theorized he and the larger buck had been sparring over the doe. We took both bucks, and as we dressed them, the doe did not want to leave. It just stayed there wondering where her suitors had gone. The bigger racked deer was a 4×4 with eye guards, and a very large bodied-deer.

We came to another beach, and first saw a spike with large single antlers. I then saw another deer coming down the beach with the naked eye, the sun shining on it’s hide and easy to see against the black sand on the beach. It was a little larger than the spike, so we took that deer, and the spike went into the woods. It’s hard to stop hunting on days like this, when the deer are easy to come by, but we did and headed home, as being late for Thanksgiving dinner would not go over well.

We came to house in the boat. I jumped off, and the other two backed off. One by one, they tied a line around a deer’s head, threw me the line, and I pulled the boat to the beach. This really worked well to sluice the deer and clean out the body cavity. I then threw the line back, and we continued until all the deer were to shore. Then, Sara’s sister brought down the skid steer to the beach, and I loaded the deer into the bucket. She took the deer up to the hanging shed, and I hung the 5 deer among the 3 already hanging.

The next day was butcher day. My BIL and I tried skinning the deer with the skid steer by tying the head to the back of his dump truck by the head, and pulling the hide off with the skid steer. It didn’t work to well. Only one deer hide came off easily. I think the problem is we hit all the deer in the neck – it’s how we do it here to limit meat damage – and this made this system of skinning not work too well. I saw on an internet description of it that this could be the case.

We skinned deer and started butchering. Our hunting partner came by and took one deer and skinned another for us. Sara and her sister wrapped, while my BIL and I butchered. It took us some 14 hours to do all the deer, and it was nearly 11 pm before we finished with 7 or more deer. We butchered the 4 from yesterday, plus the 3 in the shed, plus some that were hanging in bags. THAT was a long day, but we’re set for meat for awhile. We gave away quite a bit this fall to our friends and family, and I also hunt for an 80 year old friend in Petersburg. Even though the freezer was looking a bit bare, I wasn’t worried. Seems we can give away most of whatever we have and when things get low, I get lucky and score a pile of fish or deer or grouse or whatever. I think it’s called Karma.

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

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