First deer

Took Major S from our Salvation Army Corps deer hunting on Friday.  I’d told him to meet me at Douglas Harbor.  He went to North Douglas Harbor. I made the same mistake with the earlier Lieutenant L I took hunting.  You’d think I’d remember to be sure they knew which harbor I was referring to.  No big deal since he was driving himself and didn’t get dropped off.  He arrived in about 20 minutes and we were first boat out of the harbor.  Another hunter launching his boat asked me where we were going and I told him and he said great, I don’t want to cork you.  He soon caught up and passed us in his bigger boat, and true to his word, he went to a cove south of where we went.

After a short cold spell and a little snow, it had warmed up to the 40’s and was now shower after shower.  When we got to our anchorage, we were the only boat there, and the rain had let up to a drizzle.  It was low tide, so no need for a punt to anchor the boat.  Just throw out the anchor and tie one end of a rope to the anchor and the other end to a log above high tide.  We uncased our guns, offloaded my dry bag of emergency gear for the beach, and I carried my corks up the beach and changed out boots.

Off we went up the hill.  It was pucker brush for awhile as we climbed uphill.  We got to the first muskeg in about 20 minutes.   I positioned S at one end and myself in sight of him about 30 yards away at the other end.  I blew the call for several series.  After about 10 minutes, out of the corner of my eye about 20 yards away, I see the flash of a tail.  Then through a tree root, I can see a deer quartering away, looking at me.  I  get it in my scope, click the safety off, but didn’t shoot.  Looked like a bambi.  It didn’t wait long, and walked out of sight.  I continued calling hoping it had a buck with it.  About 15 minutes later, I saw another deer cross after a call, but it looked like the same yearling.  Finally, I motioned to S we were moving, and we gathered our packs and started up the hill.  We immediately saw a nice doe and the yearling bound away.  I’d have taken the doe if she’d have come in.  I was happy we were seeing deer already.

We worked our way up to the next muskeg and again set up.  As I was settling in to call, I see a deer looking at me across the muskeg about 30 yards away.  I got it in my scope and clicked off the safety off.  But no shot.  Another bambi.  Not sure if it was one from the earlier muskeg or just another one.  I watched it for awhile, and it started feeding.  I blew the call, and it looked at me but didn’t come or go.  Then it kept feeding.  It looked behind it a few times and I thought maybe a doe or buck was back there but I couldn’t see anything.  At some point, the yearling bounded into the far side of the muskeg.  Maybe winded me or its mama called.  Just one minute it was feeding, and the next instant away it went.

We worked our way up hill and called in the muskegs, but no deer.  Seemed like the deer might be down lower where the snow was less and where we saw the earlier deer.   It was after noon, and the sun was on it’s way down.  Sun set is 430 now, with the time change last week.  As we moved downhill to hunt the lower area on our way back to the boat, I thought, remember what Uncle Gerald from Ketchikan once told me – always hunt all the way back to the truck / boat.  A moment later, we jump a deer.  I see it trot uphill and I immediately toot on the deer call.  I see the tail when it stops.  I quickly chamber a round and get the scope covers off.  I can’t remember if I duffed my pack or not.  I look through the scope and it’s all misted.  I try to clear it, but here comes the spike back to us to the call.  When it was 10 yards away I got it’s neck outline in the misted cross hairs and fired and down it went.  Funny how bucks always seem to come back like this at this time of year and does may not.

I dressed the deer, and threw the heart in the snow for burger and the liver in the snow for my Persian mechanic friend who likes to eat it. I cut out the tenderloins, too.   I had S help me hang the deer up to start to butcher, then had him go to the nearby muskeg to see if he could call another deer in.  All the spruce trees nearby had really young, limber branches.  I thought I’d picked a good one, but it soon drooped down. I was able to skin about half the deer and then was stuck as the head was touching the ground.  With snow on the ground, I remembered the moose hunt and that it wouldn’t get dirty on the ground so brought it to the ground, and skinned the rest of it.  I got more hair than I like on the meat skinning it on the ground so will be more careful with that next time.  Otherwise, it worked great and the snow helped cool the deer.

I got out my two pillow cases and started loading the quarters into one.  I left the meat on the torso.  I cut the pelvic bone off at the rib cage, and put the bone into the ribcage, which had the neck attached.  I loaded this into the second pillow case.  I loaded it all into my pack, and S and I discussed that he needed to replace his little day pack with a frame pack if he was going deer hunting in Southeast Alaska.   Maybe he’d only hunted not far from a vehicle in his other hunts and could drag the deer to the vehicle.  Dragging is a lot of work and can be a long, long haul here.

We weren’t all that far from the beach as it turned out, and in about 15 minutes we were back at the boat.  The tide was going out, and when I got the boat to the beach, I headed up to get my pack and change my boots and untile the shore line, I told S to be sure to keep the boat floating as we couldn’t move it if it got tided and we’d be there till night when the tide came back in.  He didn’t quite get my meaning, and when I looked down, he was struggling to get the boat off the rocks as the tide went out.  I stopped putting my second boot on, trotted down the beach, and with both of us straining, we got the boat off the rocks and floating again.  I went up to put my second boot on, and it happened again.  This time I had to push until I was way over my boots to get the boat floating.  Next time I’ll have to remember to get the second person on board and paddle off shore til I’m ready to get on.  This boat is bigger than the other skiffs I’ve had hunting so I’m still learning.  I should make sure we both have hip boots with us at the beach, too, so we can keep the boat off without getting wet.

It’s getting to be dusk by now, and we head for the cabin, which is about 30 minutes away.  We get to the anchorage and look for my crab pots.  We find one easily, and have half a dozen keepers.  The next pot takes longer to find, but we finally do right at dark and another 6 crab.  We have the same problem getting the boat on the haul out line, trying to keep it afloat without going over our boots.  We both had gone over our boots by now, though, and so just grin and bear it, knowing a warm cabin was only minutes away.   I get the game bags out of my pack and hang them from one of the stuts to the windshield so hopefully they’ll stay dry and away from marauding otters and continue to cool.  We take the buckets of crab into the cabin.

With headlamps we find our trail to make the 10 minute walk to the cabin.  I remembered then to text Sara and Jeff, our float plan holders, to let them know we were back safe.  Near the cabin, there was sign that the brown bear that’s been living on the island has been here again since I was last at the cabin, as there was several skunk cabbage root diggings along the trail to the cabin.

At the cabin, I get the gas lamp lit for some light, start a fire, then get my wet boots off and light the coleman lantern.  I go back outside and clean all the crab, put some water in the crab pot, and put the crab on to steam.  Then I get off my hunting clothes and into some dry cabin duds and start dinner.   Usual fare for first night in the cabin is costco cheese pizza with toppings we add.  I put moose sausage and fiddlehead pesto on all the pizza and onions on my half.  After lighting the stove, in goes the pizza.  I crack a beer, tune to the local NPR news, and settle into a rocking chair.  I get cramps in the front of my legs where I’ve never had them before.  I’m getting old.

We go to bed early.  We didn’t have a real plan for hunting the next day.  We both slept hard and when S wasn’t up early ready to go, I let him sleep.  I figured we could hunt the beach as low tide was first thing in the morning.  We first headed north for a ways, and there were boats in every cove and then some.  When I saw a boat heading south doing the same thing we were, I turned south and headed back along the beaches to where we’d hunted the day before.  I didn’t figure we’d be able to hunt there again as someone would already be there, but I did know a spot further south of there where Matt and I had gone a few years back that had a series of muskegs near the beach.  As we cruised the beaches, just about every cove that could hold a boat did.  It looked like every hunter in Juneau was out on this Saturday.  When we got to yesterday’s anchorage, there was a boat as expected.  Further south, there was a boat in the spot I thought we might still be able to go.  After cruising the beaches for an hour or two, we’d come as far as I cared to go as the tide was about half way in.  We hadn’t seen a deer so we headed for town.  I checked in with Jeff and Sara that we were safe.

After getting the boat on the trailer, we offloaded our gear.  I give S the bag of quarters and half the crab, and I took the other bag with the torso and half the crab.  He and his wife have 3 boys (I think).  And it’s good karma.

At home, I butchered my part of the deer. I keep a few back straps out for Sara, and put the rest in the freezer.  I text S and tell him to save me the leg bones to make stock if he’s not going to use them.  Then I pick the 6 crab, which yield about 8 cups of meat that I freeze in 2 cup portions.   A busy, satisfying 2 days.