August Alpine Deer Hunt

It’s coming up on a week now and I’m still sore. Arthritic knees and overweight, somehow I thought climbing above treeline for a deer would be fun. Roy came down from Haines with his son and grandsons. We loaded up the boat and headed for “magic mountain”. I had the old Thermos Canastoga tent I bought for $25 from my fish biologist buddies in Kodiak who said that’s what they paid for it. We all fit in it nicely.

Took about an hour and a half to run to the location. Roy and his son hadn’t been there in years, but we soon found the place. Another boat was anchored in an adjoining cove, and so we’d both be hunting the same alpine area. So much for the wilderness to ourselves.

We got the tent set up, then got a fire going and cooked dinner. Stories of past hunt here usually went something like “and when we reached the alpine, there’s a deer. And there’s a deer. And there’s a deer”. Already we were talking about how many deer we needed to limit ourselves to, unless we wanted to make two trips up the mountain.

The grandson with the watch set it for 4 am. I heard it go off, but nobody got up, and so neither did I. We eventually did rise, eat some breakfast on a campfire, then shouldered our packs and started up the mountain. I had a liter filter water bottle, and that was soon gone. I figured this would be like every other place I’d hunted in Southeast Alaska, and there’s be a little creek to refill water bottles at regular intervals. I was wrong. Many days of dry and 70 and 80 degree days made for little water. The water in the first creek we came to was not moving and I didn’t dare drink it, even though my water was gone and I was one big sweatball. It was going to be a long day.

We climbed on from that creek for another hour or so, and came to another creek. The water wasn’t exactly moving, but was pretty clear, so I filled my bottle, and sucked the water past the filter. I drank it all, and refilled.

Onward we climbed. Water became more plentiful and worry about a lack of water was past us. In about hour four, we came to some sort of weather or communication station. A small building with a solar panel and wind mill generator that powered what I don’t know. We were now on the final push to the alpine, and we could see the summit. We lolligagged quite awhile at the building before continuing to above treeline.

Like any mountain ascent I’ve done hunting, the top is always further than it looks. It took at least another hour to get up to the open country of the alpine. This is where we were supposed to see deer after deer and decide how many to take because if we take too many, we have to make another trip to retrieve them. Roy pointed out a meadow where they shot 2 deer and then had a grizzly sow with cubs come out of the woods nearby and how they had to speed up their butchering and leave the carcass to the bears. Roy sends me around to one side of the slope to the summit, and he and the rest of the crew go the other way. Again, I think it’s a short walk from here to the top, but it’s longer than it looks. Lots of nice country where a deer could be, and as I come over every little rise to look at new country, I expect to see a deer or hope to hear a shot from Roy. I find one or two pieces of deer scat that are dry, but I think maybe it’s so hot they dry quickly up here. Still, it doesn’t look too fresh. I only find one tiny patch of deer heart, one of the deer’s favorite foods at this elevation, that has been grazed. As I work my way around, the slope up gets more sheer, and going around is not an option because it looks pretty sheer going to Seymour Canal. So I start to head around the base of the summit towards where I last saw someone heading to the top. Then I just sat my butt down and thought- we never discussed what to do if we got split up, etc. Bad planning. I decided to just sit there and wait and hope I would see the crew moving below me if they came off the top.

As I looked down on Stephens Passage, I’d tend to think of this area as more wild than others because it was distant from Juneau and Petersburg. That’s not exactly true. There were cruise ships coming and going. Tour boats taking people to Tracy Arm. Fishing boats tendering salmon to Petersburg. Lots of activity, even this far from any town.

About 30 minutes later, I heard the sound of gravel moving. I looked for the sound and it’s Roy coming down the mountain behind me. Boy, am I glad to see  you, I said. He said the boys had gone around the other direction coming down where they thought I should have come up. Soon, they come into view and join us. The hunters with the boat in the other cove at the bottom apparently were the ones who pitched the tent at the summit, but the hunters were not there. No one in our crew had seen a deer, nor had we heard any shots. I think it was the first time I’ve ever been deer hunting that I was happy not to see a deer. My pack already seemed heavy and I knew the trip back was not gonna be fun. I remember people older than me telling me going downhill at their age was harder than going uphill. I was now at their age and knew just what they meant. The trip down was not going to be pretty as it was, and a deer in the pack would have been more of a challenge, but I’m sure I would have done it. Just would have added to the misery.

We three adults took naps on the sunny hillside while the grandsons ran around the field. Lots of pretty flowers up here I’d never seen and Roy knew all their names. It must have been near 80 degrees. The rest was all I needed, and wish we’d done this when we first got there. Or better yet, wish we’d hiked up and stayed over up here instead of up and down in one day. Of course this was a clear, dry, hot day that is not the norm. We could have slept on the open ground or under a tarp in a space blanket in our extra clothes and been fine. I blew the deer call many times hoping a deer might be somewhere out of sight and come to us. Nothing moved.

At some point we called it a day and started the trek back. We now knew where to fill up on water. Several steep spots were pretty rough on my feet, and I still have black and blue under several toe nails as if I dropped a brick on my foot. Never had that before. My buddy Bob taught me a long time ago, you always keep beer at the boat. Or in this instance, in camp. That gives you something to look forward to all the way down. That’s what I did.

The going down was steady. On the way up, we stopped frequently for rests. Or maybe just waiting for me to catch up. The way down was easier to keep going, letting gravity do the work. Body parts still hurt, but it didn’t take your breath away. I saw one or two fresh scat in the woods on the way down, but that was it. Just not many deer in this particular area right now. I would find out there were deer taken in other nearby peaks, and wish I’d left a note on the boat in the nearby cove to ask if they did any good.

I stumbled into camp behind everyone. Ryan and Roy already had beers and passed me one. I sat down on a log on the beach in the sunshine, glad to be home.  A cruise ship went by with Earth Wind and Fire blaring out from what we assumed was the top deck, from shore to shore. Maybe a 70’s cruise.

More beers and some dry clothes. What a day. I was glad to be back and glad I was there.