Winter Tales

Went skiing today.  Saw a whale in Fritz Cove on the way there.  On the trail, I saw deer tracks, marten tracks that wandered around on one side of the trail disappeared through a culvert under the trail, and reappeared again on the other end of the culvert.  I also saw mouse tracks  near the trail, at the end of which was the mouse, apparently dead in the snow.  Could not see other tracks of anything that would have killed it.   While skiing back to the road, a friend from my former work place skied up towing a small sled, with some extra clothes and a cased rifle strapped in.  He said he was going to the end  of the trail, then drop down for a 10 minute walk to the beach to see if he might see any deer.   He said he’d gone to the same spot recently and camped over night in the snow, and had a pair of wolves walk 20 yards away from him during the night.   Tomorrow is our last day of deer season.

Night Run

Larry called at 11 am. Do I want to run with him to the mine with a piece of equipment. With isolation over, of course I did. I love being retired.

I put on my red union suit underwear and carharts, cased my rifle for hunting the beaches on the way, filled my coffee thermos, packed a bag with extra gloves and fur hat,  and met Larry at the dock a half hour later.

We loaded a big diesel pump on a trailer. It weighed 4000 lbs. We untied from the downtown dock and I idled us down the channel as Larry tied down the equipment. It was sunny and calm. We’d throw a tarp over the unit if we ran into any chop.

We rounded Douglas  doing about 12 kts. It was a beautiful day. If only Larry would get the damn heater installed. I was extra glad I’d dressed warm.

We motored up the backside of Douglas Island. The sun beat down on the snow covered beaches. I could see deer tracks and otter slides here and there in the snow. But no deer.

As we passed Fritz Cove, we could see the lingering blow of the humpback whale that’s been there for a month now.

We continued on up past Auke Bay and into lower Lynn Canal. We reached the mine dock about 430, and it was just about pitch black. A few lights from the mining activity shown, and as we approached the beach landing we assumed was our designated pick up site, there came a zoom boom down to the beach. Right on time.

Larry took the helm from me to keep the boat in position against the beach as I worked with the beach crew to off load the pump. I took the lifting strap loop and shackle and attached it to the pick point on the trailer. The zoom boom tried, but could not lift the heavy pump with the boom fully extended. So, we dropped the bow and pulled the trailer forward. Then, a huge loader with forks appeared and took over.

The zoom boom driver and I got the lifting straps in place with the loader. Alot of my practical lifting safety principles from working on the north slope came back. I thought ahead as to how I could get hurt, and then made sure I was not in a position for it to happen. The big loader lifted the trailer off Larry’s boat and down to the beach. I pitched off the pump hose and wheel chocks to the zoom boom driver, and we idled off the beach.

Now it was dark. Really dark.

Larry and I switched places. I idled out into Berners Bay as he winched up the bow and secured it. My hands were cold from offloading the pump, and the cabin’s slight warmth felt good. Soon, Larry was back inside, and I handed over the helm to him. It took awhile to adjust our eyes for night vision, but soon we could see the mountainsides and the stars. There’d be no moon for us, but otherwise it was clear and fair seas.

We beat it back towards home. As we left Berners Bay, we thought we’d go all the way around Douglas and back to downtown to take advantage of the weather. But after less than an hour into the run towards Auke Bay, we agreed it was dark. Really dark. And that’s with lots of town light to see by. We pulled in to Auke Bay, and Larry called his wife to come get us.

As we entered the harbor, there was mist over the water. It was cold. As we idled to tie up, I stepped out to a foot of snow on the bull rail. We loosened up the frozen lines to tie up, and walked up to wait in the warm harbor bathroom for our ride to arrive.

A great day out after 10 days of Covid isolation.

Christmas Wildfire

I went on a short trip to my uncle Ted’s funeral in Tampa. I left on a Saturday the 11th afternoon, and returned on a Tuesday the 14th afternoon, with just one plane transfer in Seattle.  My sister, a Navy grad, arrived on a similar schedule, after attending the Army Navy game with her son on Saturday.

I roomed with my sister in a hotel. We used my nephew’s car – he’s a sophomore at the University of Tampa.

The wake and funeral were relatively small affairs, mostly in open rooms with high ceilings. Few were masked, as nearly all, from what I know, were vaccinated and boosted like my sister and I.

I returned home on Dec 14th. That night, I helped the local church pastors package money donations for deposit, as I do each Christmas season. We sat across from each other at a folding church table, so not real close. None of us were masked, as we’re all vaccinated. We were in a church with high ceilings and lots of open air.

The next day, I had a checkup with my doctor and his nurse. All of it was done in masks.

That evening, I helped again with the church donations, and then attended the scout meeting. At scouts, we’ve continued to mask. I was not within 6 feet – and more like 10 ft – from anyone at the meeting.  All of us – including the kids – are vaccinated.

On the 16th, two sisters who we consider nieces brought over food in the mid-afternoon that their mom had just cooked, as they know we love their ethnic dishes. The 22 year old and 10 year old sat about 6 to 8 feet away for about 20 minutes. All of us were unmasked and vaccinated.

In the early evening, I again helped the pastors with donations. After that, our good friends here brought over a rhubarb pie for my birthday, which was the day before, and we shared that. I was at 6 to 8 feet from them at the house. All of us were unmasked and vaccinated.

I remember I did feel exhausted just before they arrived. I just thought it was jet lag.

When I went to bed that evening, I started having chills, then fever and sweats, and a cough. It progressed to a crescendo overnight, and I slept little. By the morning, it had broken.

Sara said I better test for Covid.  She ran to city hall and got take home tests. She was negative. I was positive.  Sara moved to a hotel in hopes she might stay negative so she could still go to see friends for Christmas as planned, and I might join after my 10 day isolation.

I contacted my sister. She said she’d had a bad sore throat ever since she got back home, but had tested negative twice so didn’t think it was Covid and didn’t contact me. After I told her I tested positive, she tested a third time. Positive. And two of sons were positive, with no symptoms. And her husband.

I then contacted all of the contacts listed above to let them know.

On my Isolation Day 4, Sara left in the morning from the hotel for our cabin near her friend. She was still testing negative and had no symptoms. A good friend took her to the airport, and both were masked. She spent the day with her friend after the short 1 hour flight.

Late on Isolation Day 4, the husband of the pie gifters texted me. He was positive. Mild overnight symptoms just like I’d had. His wife was still negative.

Sara thought she should test again, even though she had no symptoms. She was now positive. So Christmas for her would now be in isolation at our cabin, and her friend on watch. On Isolation Day 5, one of the church pastors notified me. He, his wife and another pastor, and one of his children were positive, along with a cousin of a pastor who had returned to her nearby town. The cousin’s sons and father now also tested positive.

The pastors and their family had planned to take a family cruise this Christmas after 2 previous tries were cancelled due to covid. Looks like this one might not happen as well.

On Day 7, the wife of the rhubarb pie bearers tested again. Now she was positive. The annual solstice bonfire they put on each year was now cancelled.

So just like that, over a dozen people infected, with no warning. Thankfully, this was all post-vaccine development and thankful those we associate with were vaccinated.

As the isolation days progressed, I had time to put a new front bumper hitch and plow set up together on my truck. And reflect on the start of year three of this pandemic.

First, I thought how lucky I am to live in Juneau, Alaska. The city council and mayor, from day 1 of the pandemic, took the measures necessary to protect our citizenry.  Some – myself included – thought at the very beginning that pandemic measures were overboard. That this was “just like the flu” and the “regular flu kills alot more people than this Covid does”. What nonsense that all sounds like now, 2 years in.

After seeing how fast this thing spread just from me, and to vaccinated people, I look back and think what would have happened without the hunker down measures implemented when there was no vaccine.  WIthout the measures, we’d have lost hundreds of people in our little city – at minimum. Thousands would have been infected before the first people even had symptoms, just as happened with me, but at so fast a rate that contact tracing would have been near impossible. By then, it would have been too late. Our leaders led when we needed leadership.

deer with gun - hunting

Deer Hunting Fall 2021

Oct 28.  Day 1.  Arrived in Craig on a pleasant flight on Ak Seaplanes.  Ellen met me at the airport, and when we arrived at the container, all was good.  Water on.  Electric on. Heat on.  No mice.  I checked the oils in the truck, engaged the battery switch, and the truck started right up.  Halibut burgers for dinner and Ellen and Brian’s.

Day 2.  Hunt day 1.  I awoke early and got my hunting gear together.  I was out of .243 ammo, so hunting  would have to wait til Log Cabin store opened at 9.  I hooked up the boat to the truck, then checked the outboard oil.  At the store,  I bought a box of 20 shells – the limit per customer – and headed to the ramp.

The outboard started right up, as did the heater.  Hopefully I hadn’t forgot anything.  I headed to the 2 deer spot.  It was great to be back on the boat again.  When I arrived at the anchorage, the winds were almost calm, but there was a slight surge onto the beach.  Although I had a punt on the cabin roof, I didn’t think I would need to use it.  I’d just toss my gear on the beach, push the boat back out with two hours left till low tide, yank off the anchor with the shore line, and head out hunting.  Well, that didn’t happen.  By the time I had my gear off the boat and had hopped out to push the boat back off shore, the slight surge had grounded the boat.  I was not moving it now.  So, I threw the anchor out at the water line, and knew I’d have at least 4 hours before the tide had gone out and come back in to the boat.

I swapped out my rubber boots for rubber boots with golf spikes – also called corks.  Then I took my rifle out of the gun case, filled the magazine with shells, and checked the scope for clarity.    I dug out a piece of paper towel from my pack to have in my pocket to clear the scope during the day.  I shouldered my pack and headed up the hill.

It didn’t take long to get to my spot.  I’ve taken several deer from this spot, including two deer about 5 minutes apart last season.  I looked around for awhile and found a tree that I could call next to that would provide a good rest.  I duffed my pack, and calmed my nerves and breathing.  Then I wailed on the deer call and waited.  I counted to 300 while listening.  At 300, I blew the call again, and counted to 200. Blew the call again and counted to 100, then started over counting to 300.  No deer came.

I moved up the hill about 100 yards, and there stood a nice muskeg.  So, this was maybe why the first spot had produced so many deer.  The deer had come down the hill from around the muskeg.    The muskeg was within ear shot of the first spot, but I couldn’t help but blow the call again, just to be sure.  Again, no deer showed.  The first of hundreds of geese passed over me low, and I could hear some of their wing beats amid their squawking.

I saw another muskeg on my map not too far away, and headed that way.  It was a neat muskeg that started with a little low marshy section that led slightly uphill to the muskeg proper, which was sprinkled with jack pine and had big timbered hillsides on either side.  This looked good.  Really good.  But again, no deer came to the call.  By now, it was getting time to work my way back to the beach so I could be at the boat when the tide came back in.

I climbed up the timbered hillside towards the beach, and thought I’d hunt the other side of it back to the beach.  Near the top, I flushed a grouse.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a grouse down here.  It looked like a hooter to me, but Mike said later it was a spruce grouse.  I watched the fat hen in the branch she flushed to, and slowly walked away from her.  On the way down the hill to the beach I finally saw a deer when I spooked a doe.  She would not come back to the call, nor did I see a buck with her.

When I dumped down onto the beach, the tide was just getting to the boat.  I changed boots, sheathed my gun, and put my gear on the boat.  As the tide worked its way up under the boat, I tried to work the stern of the boat out to float it.  The slight swell kept wanting to push the boat sideways, though, and I struggled to get anywhere.  A mink came loping down the beach.  When I whistled, it stopped and looked at me, then turned towards the woods, jumped up on a piece of driftwood, and took in the show.  As the tide came in, I kept trying to move the stern perpendicular to the beach and into deeper water as the mink looked on, but I was getting nowhere.  I tried using the oars to pry the boat free, and broke both oars I had.  For nearly an hour I struggled with the boat, and saw it inching further up the beach.  I tried anchoring the stern so the bow would swing around, but the anchor would drag in the sandy bottom.  I started to worry that the boat would work so high up the beach it would be tided, but when I looked at the time, it was only mid-tide, so I hoped I could figure it out.

I finally realized I’d been working against the tide and the swell, instead of with it.  I went to the bow, and as the tide surged under the boat, I pushed the bow out towards the deep.  Eventually I was able to get the bow facing out into the water, and of course, the tide now worked itself under the boat, and on a good surge, the stern floated off, and I waded out with the boat now floating.  I realized, though, I would not be able to climb up the stern of the boat, but would have to enter over the bow, so I swapped ends of the boat and with the bow now inshore and the stern floating offshore, I backed up and when the bow touched the beach, I climbed aboard, lowered the outboard so the prop was just in the water, started the motor, put it in reverse, and tried to power off the beach.

It would not move, however, so I went forward and used the pike pole to push off the beach, but I could not free the boat.  So, I jumped out again and waded out into a few feet of water to jump on.  But, with my boots full of water and my 58 year old arms and legs, I couldn’t get myself aboard.  And now, with the engine still idling, the engine alarm was screaming as the motor was still in reverse, and starting to overheat because it wasn’t in the water far enough for the water intake to pick up the seawater to cool the engine.  By now, I could tell I was tiring and was not going to be able to do what I once could with ease in my younger years.  I backed up to the beach, and when I was in about 6 inches of water, I swung my leg up again, and this time, I barely got it above the gunnel.  I pulled my fat self up and over the side, and scrambled with the pole to push myself offshore.  Once the boat was floating, the prop bit and backed us off, and we were free.  Whew.  I put down the outboard to calm the alarm, and relaxed for a bit.  I pulled in the anchor that was still over the side off the stern, and carried anchor and chain into the bow.   By now, the choppy seas were calm as the winds had laid down during the day, and it was an enjoyable ride home, boots full of water and all.   Dinner was pulled bison burgers at Ellen and Brian’s.

Day 3.  I was sore this morning and thankful for the rain to give me an excuse not to go hunting today.  I popped some ibuprofen and drank cup after cup of coffee.  Later I put two loaves of banana bread in the toaster oven and went to the thrift store, and found just what I was looking for – (hopefully) airtight containers for leaving flour.  The flour in the flour bag had molded, while that in the capped containers was good.  The neuroma in my foot was acting up after working my feet hard yesterday, and I picked up some toe separators at the pharmacy to use during the day to help.  I returned the hydraulic oil I borrowed from Mike for my new vac packer, and met a guy who responded to my facebook post for my old vac packer, which I was happy to give away and he was happy to have because, like me, he has this old model that’s no longer made and could use the parts.

I hand washed some clothes that were moldy.  I cranked up the dehumidifier and made a plan to put it on a timer when we’re not in town.  By evening time, I was feeling much better.  I cleaned and oiled my gun and got excited to go hunting again tomorrow.  Elk burgers at Ellen and Brian’s for dinner.

Day 4. Hunt Day 2.   Went to a different spot today.  One that is a neat spot that is a little ridge surrounded by muskegs.   When I got off the boat, I pushed it back out and pulled off the anchor.  But, while putting on my cork boots, I observed the boat might not be out far enough.  So, I pulled it back in, paddled back out, set the anchor, pulled the punt off the roof, and paddled back to shore.  Now, less to worry about the rest of the day.

I hunted all the way around the ridge and back to the beach in a big circle. I started hunting about 10 am and was back to the boat about 3 pm.  I called in a doe and yearling at the second spot I called.  Later, I called in what I think was a doe that came flying through the salal, then went to and fro, then mewed a few times, and then took off.  I saw a glimpse of the body but not the head.

In the last big muskeg I called in a doe, which almost sneaked in and out without me seeing her.  The muskeg had ground cedar cover, and I only saw her neck and head.  When she put her head down, she disappeared.  On the way home, I saw a doe with twins on the beach near where I was anchored.  No rain all day.  A little breezy in some spots but nice and dry.  My pack smells rank for some reason, so I’m gonna swap out packs and try to wash this one.  Deer shanks and deer stew for dinner at Ellen and Brian’s with Hannah and Katrina, who got her first deer with Brian today and really excited about it.

Day 5.  Hunt Day 3.    Brian and I went hunting.  I dropped him to hunt a series of muskegs alone, and I hunted muskegs north of his location.  Had to anchor the boat about 100 yards off the beach as it was a shallow bay, but flat calm so easy to kayak the punt to shore.  Lots of blowdowns to get around on the way up the hill, but then not so bad.  This spot has muskegs up and around a knob, just like the other spot described, and so I hunted in a big circle.  The muskegs at the top had a small hill on one side and I could hear a big creek on the other, so not a lot of holding area for deer, and I didn’t see any deer there.  I did see 5 does in the lower muskegs.  At one point, just as I was thinking I rarely just see deer without calling – there was a deer through the brush about 30 yards away.  And another deer with it.  I thought for sure one of them should be a buck.  But nope- two does.  Another beautiful day, too.  When I got back to the beach, I looked at my route and it said I hiked over 5 miles today.  Couldn’t believe it, as I didn’t feel very tired, but after a 30 minute ride back to town, I was stiff getting out of the captain’s chair.   Brian came out at the spot I dropped him off, and it was too shallow for me to get in to him, and he didn’t have rubber boots on.  After several attempts to push the punt in to him, I finally tied the shore line to a gaff and heaved it to shore.  I tied off one end of the line tied to the punt at the boat, and Brian got in the punt, and then I moved the boat to a little deeper water.  In doing so, I managed to put the shore line in the prop.  I pulled Brian to the boat, then he worked his way around to the stern and unwound the line from the prop.  Then we loaded him, his gear, and the punt into the boat, and started for home.  Brian saw a spike and a doe.  It was not a favorite spot for either of us to return to.

Day 6. Another beautiful day.  Had to take the day off.  My left pectoral muscle, I think, is tweaked and it’s sore to move in about any direction.  So, I went to town to the free wifi at the library and filled out a marine insurance form.  Stopped at the hardware store to get a timer and hose for the dehumidifier, and was surprised the store is closed now on Mondays due to a labor shortage.  Went to Ellen and Brian’s to dinner, as did Katriina.  We had the heart and some meat from her deer for dinner, with salad and potatoes.  Then we all went out to the shop and cut up Katrina’s deer to show her how.

Day 7.  Blowing and rain today. Tore into the kitchenaid mixer, and sure enough, I stripped the worm gear.  The breakdown wasn’t as bad or messy as I thought.  I ordered a worm gear, and an extra, and hopefully the unit and parts can stay where they are in the shed without getting misplaced or tipped over till the parts get here.  Went with Brian to see if he could get some steel off a trailer for the school shop kids to practice on.  That took us to the dump, where I think I found a serviceable hose for the humidifier.  Came home and made nachos, with canned smoked king salmon and kelp salsa I made last spring, cheese and sour creme, for lunch, and installed the hose to try it out.  I plan to put dehumidifier on a daily timer over the kitchen sink when I’m gone to keep moisture down in the place.

Chet said he can do the 100 hour on my outboard day after tomorrow.  Couldn’t believe I could get in that fast.  Looks like a break in the weather to hunt tomorrow, then more wind and rain on Thurs, so it should work out great.  So nice to have him do it, rather than me.  Spent some time looking over maps for a few hunting location alternatives so if the wind is bad for getting to one spot, I’ll have an option for another.  Pizza and salad for dinner at Ellen’s

Day 8.  Hunt Day 4.   Was raining right up to about sunrise, so I wasn’t real enthused to go hunting. But then it quit and the winds were light.   I texted Brian to ask what he had planned.  I told him where I thought about going – muskegs that start near the beach.  He said he was thinking about hiking up to some higher elevation muskegs from the road.  We chose Brian’s thought.  Big mistake.

The muskegs are nearly three and a half miles up hill from the road.  Thank goodness I didn’t know that beforehand.  Ellen just said it was a hump to get up there when she sent us off, after giving Brian directions on how to get into the muskegs once we got up there.

We started up the hill about 930 am.  The first three quarters of a mile or so is pretty steep climbing, and then the climb is less steep.  It was all on a logging road till we got to the muskeg, so easy walking as far as that goes.  After the steep section, we had walked maybe a quarter mile, and I see an animal coming down the road towards us.   It took a second to register, then I called up to Brian.  Bear.  The bear was kind of skinny and scrawny.  We kept walking towards it, and it finally turned and loped up the road in the direction it came from.  Then we caught up to it, and it ran up ahead of us again.  It did this one more time.  Then we sort of lost sight of it as we came up to the landside creek.  Then here comes the bear back up towards us, and he was not happy.  He didn’t want to go down the steep bank to the creek.  He had his mouth open and kind of looked agitated.  I wasn’t sure if he was gonna charge us or turn back or what.  It finally turned back, and we could hear the rocks flying as it skidded down towards the washed out creek bottom.

This creek valley – the creek itself is just a few feet wide – had let loose a year ago during heavy rains, and the landslide went all the way down to and over the road – mud, trees, rocks, and all – closing the road until people could get their excavators and backhoes and other heavy equipment mobilized to clear it out.  This washout was the reason we decided to try the muskegs, as prior to this, people could get up there on 4 wheelers, but could not now due to the washout.

We climbed up another 2 miles or so, and got to the muskegs about 1130 am.  We’d seen buck rubs along the road near the top, but I had not seen any scat.  Any.  And that was weird.

We inched our way down into the first muskeg, and blew the call there for half an hour or so.  Nothing.  We moved on to the second muskeg, and the same story.  Nothing.  Very little scat, and nothing fresh.   I had some canned smoked king salmon I caught and jarred this spring with a piece of bread for lunch.

We headed back down the mountain at about 2 pm, putting one foot in front of the other.  We passed one hiker on his way in, and he caught up to us and passed us on his way out.  We took about 90 minutes to get back to the truck.  Both of us agreed we’d likely never go there again.

I dropped Brian off and headed home to hook up the boat to take it to Chet’s for 100 hour maintenance before my knees and back stiffened up.  I must have been in a hurry, because while I hooked up the safety chains and the lights, I forgot to clamp the hitch down on the ball, and at the highway turn to town, the boat jumped off the hitch.  Luckily it tracked behind me from the safety chains, and didn’t take long to hook it back up.  School kids were walking home, and took in the show.   King salmon for dinner at Brian and Ellen’s.

Day 9. Repaired the sliding door on the shed, grabbed a piece of scrap plastic culvert to make a compost pile, greased the boat trailer bearings, picked up the boat at Chet’s and the sat phone from Ak Seaplanes that Bob sent down, and bought some Walker Game ears ear muffs from Log Cabin store for hunting.  After spending time with people a little older than me, I thought it was a good investment to try to protect my hearing.  I’ve not been much for technology as far as hunting goes, but have adopted the GPS and now the game ear muffs as must haves.  Chicken soup for dinner at Brian and Ellen’s.

People are starting to get some bucks so hopefully my time is coming.  Called Pat back in Bolivar and he said he’s getting lots of stands and blinds in on his property for friends to hunt, as he’s not in great shape to hunt himself right now.  He also said he didn’t get any fisher this year during the one week trapping season for them, but two others did.

I attended the Alaska Mariculture Association’s first meeting by zoom, where officer elections and other association formation formalities occurred.  New kelp farms are starting up to add to the shelffish farms already operating, and there’s a sense of excitement in the industry.

Day 10, Nov 6.  Hunt Day 5.  Went hunting alone to the 2 deer spot for my 5th day deer hunting.  I was a beautiful day after lots of rain. I hunted my way up the hill to a little lake.  Lots of recent deer scat and really nice places to call, but did not see a single deer.  Rumor mill has it that many deer have been taken illegally from this island at night by spot light.  It’s been such a good spot for me, though, I had to try again.

I worked my way down from the lake in a big circle and planned to end the day in a muskeg I’d first hunted about a week ago.  I got to the muskeg about 2 pm, and figured I could call here for half an hour and then head to the boat.  I called 2 or 3 series of calls and then there he was.  A medium-sized fork horned buck.  I think he may have circled the muskeg and come across it behind me to get downwind, but not sure.

I had some new walker game ear muffs on my chest to put on when I shoot, but I forgot about them once the time came.  At first the buck passed behind me at about 20 yards and I thought it might be leaving out the back door, but then I saw him turn.  He was coming.  I blew a few more soft bleats on the call, and then he was in a spot I could shoot.  I flinched on the first shot and missed him clean.  The buck never moved.  For the next shot I calmed myself, held steady, and it was over.

With the buck down, I kept calling for 5 or 10 minutes to see if any more bucks might be around.  No more came.   After I punched my tag, I got out the new little pulley system I put together to hoist the deer for butchering.  It took some trial and error, but I finally got it threaded right.  And it worked great.  I could pull the nice buck up by the head with ease.

I got the hide and head off the deer, and put a big home made deer bag made from a sheet around the deer and tried to put it in my pack in one piece.  Too big.  So, I cut off the quarters, and then was able to put the torso in the pack first, and then pile the quarters in on top of it.  Crap, the pack was heavy.  I would have liked to butcher the deer further so I could leave the backbone and rib bones, but I didn’t think there was not time this late in the day.

I shouldered the pack, and took a look at my map.  I saw I should be able to bee line it to the trail where I come in from the boat.  I fell often.  Then my gps would not “see” me, and I started to get uncertain that I was taking the right direction to get to the beach, as I had made the mistake of not taking a compass reading when I went into the wood.  I thought I was going in the right direction, as I knew I should head west in the direction of the setting sun, but without the GPS reassurance, I ended up stopping often to try to get a reading.    Finally, I got a reading.  I was on my way to the beach like I thought I was, but I’d burned alot of time trying to get technology to tell me so.

I dumped out onto the beach, and thought I needed to go left to the boat. After a long walk, I realized I’d gone the wrong direction.  I was losing light fast now, so I stashed the deer pack in the beach fringe, put a piece of surveyors tape to mark the location, and started humping it towards the boat. I had my headlamp on now, and was glad I wore the Oakley army boots rather than the spiked rubber boots today.

As I approached a point on the beach I had to round, there stood a deer.  The deer had it’s front hooves on a log, and was locked onto me as I approached.  I swerved to put a tree root on the beach between me and the deer as I approached, and when I looked over, I could not make out any antlers above the ears.  I was not getting a bonus deer on the long walk back today.  As I swung back out onto the beach from behind the roots, the doe bounded into the woods.

I knew my inlaws would be scrambling to come look for me in the darkness, so I was anxious to get back to the boat to contact them one way or the other.  My phone battery was now dead.  And I’d left the spare battery in the pack in the woods!  Hopefully, the phone would work off the 12 volt charger on the boat.  When I got back to the boat, it was floating fine.  The high tide was extra high, and so my rubber boots that I left there were had water in them.  I poured it out, and put them on.  It was now too dark to go back for the pack. I’d get it tomorrow.

I got the boat off the beach with ease, and started to get up on step and immediately hit a floating log.  It felt like I was on a rock, but I had put a track down on the boat GPS coming to this spot today, and saw I was in plenty of water.  So, it would be an idle home, as I didn’t want to lose a lower unit or prop.  My phone had no service to call my inlaws, and at an idle, it might be awhile before I got in range, so I thought I’d try the VHF and see if someone would respond who knew them and could call them and tell them I was on my way.  When I called, the Canadian Coast Guard responded.  I asked them to call Ellen, and they said they’d do it.  They called the US Coast Guard in Juneau, and then the Juneau office called Ellen.  Brian and his friend Mike were just leaving the harbor to come look for me, so I was glad I caught them and they turned back.

It took about 2 hours to idle home.  After awhile, I was in cell range, so could give my inlaws location updates.  I ran over several logs, and luckily there was no damage.  When I got to the ramp, the tide was so low I couldn’t put the boat on the trailer, so I left the boat tied up to the dock there and would get it in the morning when I run back to get the deer pack.  I contacted the Coast Guard in Juneau to let them know I was safely home.

Ellen kept dinner on for me, and I retold the story to the both of them.  Worst of all, the sat phone was right where I left it.  In our cabin, on the table.  When I got home from dinner, I put it in the truck so it will go in the boat tomorrow.  Had I had that, all would have been alot easier.

So, good to get the first deer in for the season, and hope it’s all well when we get back there tomorrow.  It’s supposed to dip below freezing tonight, so the meat will stay good and cool.

Day 11.  Hunt Day 6.  Ellen went with me to get my deer pack.  We found it unmolested.  We cruised the beaches and saw 2 doe/yearling sets.  The wind picked up, and we got back to town by noon.

Day 12.  Nov 8.  Hunt Day 7.   With daylight savings time, I got up early to get going an hour earlier than last week.  It was blowing at the house a bit, but not bad at the boat launch.  I headed to a spot I missed a buck last year, and where there would be safe anchorage should the wind come up as forecast.

After negotiating about a half hour of lumpy seas, the rest of the run was in the lee and easy.  I arrived at the anchorage, put the anchor with shore line attached on the bow, and shoved the boat off the beach.  I yanked the anchor off, and noted that the boat was blowing back towards the beach and that I should probably get back by 2 pm high tide in case the anchor drug.

I’d hunted this same spot twice last year, but anchored on the other side of the peninsula.  This spot was actually safer and still an easy walk to the muskeg.  I got to the muskeg and the conditions were nice.  Wind in my face and sunny.  So sunny, in fact, I moved a bit so I could get some shade and not have to look into the sun if a deer came that way.  I blew the call for about half an hour, and nothing came.

So, I moved up hill to the other end of the muskeg.  The muskeg tees at the top, and there’s a little mound in the middle of the tee that is a perfect perch.  I got up on the perch, put my new ear muffs next to me, and blew the call.  I can’t recall how many series I blew, but maybe 2 or 3.  And then here comes a deer walking quickly along the far side of the muskeg about 40 yards away – just like the first buck did a few days ago.  And, it’s a nice medium fork horn buck.  Again, just like the other day.

Interesting that does will come right to you when you call, but when bucks come in by themselves and not trailing a doe, they seem to be like – nothing to see here.  Buck coming through.  Go back to what you were doing.  I’m guessing they are trying to wind what is making the call.

I slid on the ear muffs and whistled.  The buck stopped.  I sighted through the scope, pulled the trigger, and “click”. Uh oh. I jacked another shell in.  The buck had not moved.  I calmed down, sighted on the neck, and pulled the trigger.  The gun kicked.  The deer went down.  But I didn’t hear a thing.   I  could get use to this.

I continued calling, keeping an eye on the deer as it expired.  No other deer showed up in the next 5 minutes.  I found the first shell and saw the firing pin dimpled the primer, but it didn’t fire. I compared it to the casing from the one that did.  Looks like the firing pin didn’t hit all the way.  I gathered up my pack, put the ear muffs in my pocket, and walked down to the deer.

The buck was in a small puddle, and I pulled it up to the muskeg.  I looked around for a place to hang it, and thought a nearby tree would do.  I took a quick picture of the deer, punched my tag, and got to work.  I got out the regular knife and skinning knife.  I used the buttout tool to dislodge the anus, then removed the innards, and sorted out the heart for burger and the liver for Izzy, a Persian mechanic I’ve known for 25 years and somehow found out he likes deer liver.  Even more than friendship, I’m happy to do something for an immigrant who works hard and is a nice guy.

I then hooked up my new double pulley contraption.  It all worked well now after I already set it up once.  One twist this time is I used my water bottle for the weight to throw the top line up and over a limb.  Got it on the first try.  Always something to learn.

I hung the buck by his antlers, pulled him up till we were about eye level with each other, and started skinning.  It was about 10 minutes after 11 am, so I had plenty of time.  Today I’d leave a lot more here than I did for the first buck, and not have to carry it back.  After cutting off the hocks, I got the hide off.  Then I cut off each quarter and put it in a pillow case.  Next I cut out the tenderloins, the brisket, the back straps, and the neck meat.  Finally, I cut out the meat between the ribs.  About an hour and a half had passed.   I blew the call intermittently, hoping another buck might be around, but nothing showed.  I loaded the meat sack in my pack, then coiled the hoist and put it in the pack, along with the knives and everything else.  I was able to shoulder the pack without propping it up on a hump or laying down, and so the time spent leaving more in the field was well worth it.

I started back for the boat about 10 minutes before 1 pm.  It took me about 10 minutes to get back to where I first called for 30 minutes this morning.  And there stood in a doe in my tracks.  Right where I had been calling.  I wonder if she had been there all morning after I left.  She bounded down the trail, and I immediately called to see if she had a buck with her.  As I walked along the same trail she took, I saw her again and called again, and she’d stop out a ways.  Then I started walking again and saw her bound to the left the last time.  No buck with her, but very interesting she was right where I had stood calling.

I picked my way down to the beach, and was there in another 10 minutes.  I came out right near the boat.  The wind had picked up and the stern of the boat was only about 10 or 20 feet off the beach.  I was lucky I didn’t get tided, with another hour left before high tide.

I pulled the anchor in with the shore line, and then pulled the bow of the boat into the brush I was standing in, as there was no beach now with the high tide.  I loaded my gear and pack into the boat, and was soon on my way.

I knew it might be lumpy on the way home, and it was for a stretch, but there’s not many drives as satisfying as boating home after harvesting a deer.  I saw several whales on the way back, and one humpback surfaced close by.  I hollered to it to have a good time in Hawaii, as that’s where I assume it was headed.

I made it home in good time.  As I approached the boat launch, I saw a trooper truck there.  I ran through my mind what I would need – tag punched – check.  Evidence of deer gender naturally attached to the meat- check.  Then I saw a good friend, Doug, at the boat dock, so I went over and chatted with him for awhile.  Then motored to the boat launch.

I tied up and headed up to get the truck.  The trooper looked like he was on the phone.   I backed down the trailer, pulled the boat out, then put on the safety hold down straps and pulled the drain plug.  Must be the trooper is waiting for someone specific, I guess, as he was looking at his computer as I drove by.  Whew.  Even though I know I’d done everything right and legal, I was still nervous.  Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.

This day would not be perfect, however.  I managed to back the boat into our shed, knocking it off it’s blocks.  I didn’t even know I did it till I backed past it with the boat, after several forward and back adjustments.  Brian brought over his skid steer an hour or so later and helped put it back where it was supposed to be.  I now have 4 bags of deer meat hanging in the shed, with perfect hanging temps each day from about 30 to 45 degrees.

Day 13.  Nov 9.  Got up to rain, so started butchering the deer for freezing.  I have a small swing out table in the container cabin, and after a few cups of coffee, I brought in the first deer piece by piece, cut it to size, and vacuum packed the pieces.  At mid day, I went to the post office to pick up the needed worm gear to the kitchenaid mixer.  I also picked up my new trailer tire, and an aluminum box outside the metal dump gate.  I put the new tire on the spare rack on the trailer when I got back, and used the gear locker in the back of my truck and the aluminum box to make stairs for the shed, as the step I had been using got trashed when the shed slid over it yesterday.  I put the gear in the kitchenaid and got it back together without much trouble, but then it would not power on, so have to figure that out.

I went to the library parking lot to use the wifi to look up the power issue with the kitchenaid, and also to watch my nephew in Pittsburgh play his playoff soccer game.  I watched the game for less than a minute before it locked up.  The internet is not strong enough for the live stream, I guess.  His team won that game and the next 2 games to win the Pennsylvania state championship for his 2a school.

Charlie left a message he’s coming day after tomorrow, so I thought I better get the second deer butchered today, too, and started on that.  I finished about 8 pm.  Sort of a life lesson that the entirety of a deer’s meat, once trimmed and vac packed, just about all fits in a 5 gallon bucket.

Day 14.  Nov 10.  I put the deer scraps out on the driveway at first light and watched pecking order in action.  The gulls are the boldest birds, coming in with me in sight through the window.  Next are the crows.  The ravens and eagles will not come in, but stay in the nearby trees.  They are practically drooling.  If one of the smaller birds comes in, and is startled by my moving inside the container, they fly off, and then all the larger birds chase them and try to steal their take.  The gulls are amazing at how much they can eat and swallow in one bite, and how they can continue doing this till you’d think they would be too heavy to fly.

After the shed incident, I thought I’d see if I could just drive head first down my driveway and make the corner up and back to the highway again on my neighbor’s side.  I did it late in the morning with plenty of daylight to see in case 1I had to back up the way I came or got stuck and had to have Brian come pull me out.  Again.  Others speculated it was too tight a turn, but turns out it’s not.  Easy in and easy out now.

Put a sling on my rifle.  I was using John’s youth rifle, and lost the clip to the gun.  I didn’t notice there was no sling on my gun until I got out hunting but it wasn’t a big deal without one that day.  No big hills to climb and didn’t need to drag my deer back.

Organized the shed to get ready for deer hanging and processing.  Resewed the zipper to the boat canvas, zip tied the canvas to anchor it in place, and mended some cracks in the canvas windows with flex tape.   Satisfying chores.  Need to replace the canvas with aluminum, but keeping the canvas going till I do.

Day 15.  Nov 11.  Charlie in today.  Figured out I didn’t have the brushes in properly on the kitchenaid as I got it turning.  But then during a readjustment, I had one in wrong and ruined the brush so have to order more.  Gale winds and rain.

Day 16.  Nov. 12.  Pouring rain and wind again. Brian took Erik and friends out, but too crappy for us to want to go.  Erick and Co only have 3 days.  They got one deer, I think.

Day 17.  Nov 13.  Hunt Day 8.   Winds laid down to about 15. We got going a little after sunrise, heading to a place we got a deer 2 years ago, and where we saw several more.  It rained on and off, and a little windy, but it was not unbearable nor chilling.  After calling in the first muskeg with no takers, we headed to the next place to call.  This was my second trip to this spot this year, and the spot we were headed to I’d seen a doe.

Charlie and I separated, with me calling on the edge of the muskeg, and Charlie positioned to intercept deer coming to me from his direction.  I had a hill to my other side.  I blew the call, and heard some sort of racket in the bushes.  Charlie would say later he heard it, too.  A few moments later I saw a deer and knew it was a buck right away.

I stepped up from the log I was sitting on to a nearby tree for cover and a rest. I could now see the buck was good sized, with a high rack.   It was coming in mostly in the open, and I was hoping Charlie was gonna see it.  I slipped on the ear muffs, and the buck stopped and looked my way.  Then put his nose down and kept coming.  And coming.  I got a rest on a staub sticking out of the 6 inch diameter spindly muskeg spruce I was behind, and started to track the buck in my scope.  I just let him keep coming.  As he got closer, he was now in line somewhat with where Charlie was, so I would not be able to shoot.  He’d either have to keep walking past, or turn back towards me.  He turned back.  And kept coming.  At about 20 yards he gave me a head on shot, and down he went.   Then silence.  I planned to wait a few minutes and try calling again to see if another buck was around.  Then I saw Charlie working his way to me to see what had happened.  I signaled for him to stop and that I was gonna call some more.  No more deer came.

Charlie came over to see the deer.  It was a big bodied deer.  I told Charlie to continue hunting, going over with him where to go and how, and off he went.

I punched the tag, and then set up the pully hoist.  I cut off the rear scent glands on the buck, removed the innards, and pulled out the liver and heart to cool.  I then dragged the deer to the hoist set up, yarded the buck up by the antlers, and started to skin.  It took me a couple hours to skin and portion up the deer.  Rain squalls came and went, and I put my raincoat on over my rain pants.  As I was finishing up, I blew the call again, and a few minutes later, I heard Charlie shoot.

It took me about 30 minutes to make my way back to the beach.  At least 3 boats cruised by, hunting the beaches.   I changed from my hunting boots back to my Xtratuffs, then moved all the gear down to the waters edge, pulled the anchor and shore line, and loaded the gear into the boat.  I figured Charlie would be another hour getting his deer to the beach, so I moved back off the beach, threw the anchor back over, put on the boat heater, and had a big cup of coffee from the thermos.   I started puttering around the cab, trying to fix the sliding window on the passenger side, and keeping an eye out for Charlie.   I finally saw him, after he said he’d yelled a few times, and I motored over.  He hefted his pack of deer into the boat, then his gun, pulled himself in,  and we were on our way back to town at about 2 pm.   He got a smaller fork horn deer, and had seen several other deer – does, a yearling, and a spike buck.

What a day.  The seas had laid down from the morning and we had a more comfortable ride back to the dock, as Charlie sipped a canned beverage, and I drank more coffee.   We loaded the boat with all our gear onto the trailer, put on the safety straps, and headed for the house.

At the container, I climbed aboard the boat and lowered all our gear down to Charlie.  I pulled out my pillow cases of deer meat and hung them in the shop, then got out of my wet clothes.  I changed the prop awhile later to see how another performs tomorrow, as I think I might have dinged the prop on there now with the logs I ran over the evening of the first deer.

Day 18.  Nov 14.  Hunt day 9.  Went to the spot we got the two deer yesterday.  Charlie had seen several does and I thought if there’s does in there, there should be bucks, and anticipated getting in further than we did yesterday to find them.  The wind had laid down, but it rained all day.   We only saw one lonely yearling that came into the call almost at the end of where we were climbing.   We saw a few does and yearlings on the beaches on the way home.  Brian said he didn’t see anything, but Erik got a 3 point.   When we got to the landing, a lone hunter had a big bodied fork horn with one of the thickest racks I remember seeing on a fork horn deer.   Time to go somewhere else tomorrow.

Day 19.  Nov 15.  Hunt day 10.  Hunted north of town.  Charlie and I split up to cover more ground.  I saw one doe, and Charlie saw two.  We saw one doe on the beach on the way home.  Beautiful dry day with a north wind and dusting of snow last night.

Day 20.  Nov 16.  Took off today due to forecast and glad we did.  By 11:30 am, it was pouring rain and blowing hard from the southeast and rained the rest of the day.  We butchered our deer and were now all caught up.  I tried to fix the sliding window out of the track on the boat, but could not.

Day 21.  Nov 17.  Hunt day 11.  Dropped Charlie at a favorite spot, then I was going to go to another island, but it was too rough of seas with what fuel I had left, so I turned back and ran the beaches.  Saw 2 does.  When I got back to wait for Charlie, I anchored and went to work on fixing the sliding window on the passenger side, which I did.  I also put the punt back on the roof as we shouldn’t need to use it again as the high tide is later in the day.   Charlie returned and hadn’t seen much.

Day 22.  Nov 18.  Hunt day 12.  Ran beaches we hadn’t run before at low tide.  Nice beaches with sand.  And not a single deer.  Charlie and I hunted the spot I tried to get to the day before, and saw nothing.  Got a text from Brian that someone had seen 2 bucks on beaches at a spot we could pass on the way home,  so we went over and sure enough, the first deer we saw on the beach was a buck.  Wind was blowing right on the beach, though, and so had to drop Charlie down a ways, and even then, I almost beached the boat on the rocks. While he walked back up to the deer in the woods, I ran the beaches further, and a couple hundred yards further on, there was a bigger buck.  If Charlie had been with me, it would have been easier to drop him within shooting range.  I couldn’t see how I could get off and shoot myself with the onshore wind, and by the time I got ready to try, the deer had wandered up into the woods.  Charlie’s deer had wandered back into the woods, too, by the time he got to the beach.  Then, it was difficult getting a spot Charlie could get on the boat without me beaching it.  I tried to send in the punt and pull him out, but never could get the punt to the beach.  Finally found a rock he could hop in from, and we were ok.  Both of us were soaked to the skin from hunting in the hard rain and sleet.

This was my last day of hunting.  Crappy weather prevented Charlie leaving the next day by small plane, and the following day he tried to fly out via Ketchikan on the jet.  He got to Ketchikan alright, but then the jet to Juneau got cancelled so he had to overnight there and get out the next day.

I drove to Coffman the following day, with all my venison and gear.  I met the charter boat that was bringing folks over from Wrangell, and he took me and all my gear on the hour and a half or so ride to Banana Point, where Paul and Steve were waiting with the truck to drive us to Petersburg.  The charter captain continued with the other two kids he’d picked up in Coffman and their dad back to Wrangell.  Paul had arranged with good friend Dick to hold my venison in his freezer till I went on to Juneau after Thanksgiving, so we dropped my venison there, and then went on to Paul’s and loaded his deer in his freezer.

deer with gun - hunting
deer with gun - hunting
deer with gun - hunting

Elk Hunting 2021

Roy and I drew party elk tags for Eastern Afognak Island. The trip started out auspiciously when son Zeke overslept and missed his flight from Haines to Juneau. Normally, that wouldn’t be too big a deal, except that Roy and I had already left for Kodiak, and Zeke was to bring the tents.

Mark and friends in Alaska

In true rural Alaska fashion, a friend of the family just happened to be a pilot with a plane. He flew Zeke down in time for Zeke to make his jet to Anchorage, and so the hunting trip was back on track.

Roy had freeze dried all our evening meals, so we needed to shop for only a few items like fruit and coffee in Kodiak. I also went to the Salvation Army thrift store for a coffee cup and a writing notebook. Since I help at the Salvation Army thrift store here in Juneau, I was interested in what their store looked like. It was very well organized and clean and bright. The clerk who took my payment had a daughter in Juneau who worked for ADFG.

We stayed with my friend Kevin, who had been like a big brother and mentor to me 30 years ago when I worked with him at the Kodiak ADFG office.  It was great catching up with him, and he was more than happy to have some people to talk to after spending the last several years down south rehabbing his leg from a bad car accident, and then returning home to the isolation of Covid.  We’d put the word out for some items we’d need, and another long time friend, Bob, loaned us a cooler, axe and water jug. Kevin’s extended family had a coleman stove, little fire pit, and a cot. A friend of my brother in law dropped off another cot and set of camp chairs.

I built some extra days into the trip to account for weather delays. As we all made it to Kodiak on time, I asked the air service at Seahawk if they wanted to take us out a day early, and they eagerly said yes, as this would lighten their schedule the following day. So the next day, away we went.

We weren’t exactly sure where we were going. This was my first time hunting this area of Afognak Island. My friend Sam had hunted with success out of Gretchen Lake, and so we headed in that direction. We saw a small group of elk a few miles from the lake, so decided to go to Gretchen Lake, as Rolan had not put anyone else there as of yet. We may have sort of had first pick of a camping spot since we were now going in a day earlier than other hunters with the same permit, and charter operators don’t generally put a second party in a lake they’ve already put someone else in.

Rolan idled up to the side of the lake nearest where we’d seen the elk from the air, and we departed the plane to look around to see if we could find a good campsite. Roy and I looked in one direction, but didn’t see anything with very level open ground. Zeke called from the other direction that he had found a suitable site, and when Roy went up to look at it, he agreed.  Rolan started offloading the gear to us on the beach, and after we offloaded several bags, Zeke started packing them up to the campsite.

When all the bags were offloaded, Rolan took off and Roy and I started humping bags up the short trip to the campsite. When I took my first look at it I thought: these boys have a lot different idea of what constitutes a good campsite than I do. The site was very uneven with lots of brush and devils club. But, here we were. We moved a bit further down the beach from their initial choice, and we made do with an area big enough to pitch the wall tent and enough trees to tie over the 20′ x 30′ tarp rainfly.

Once we got the tarp and tents up, we started to move in, setting up our cots and sleeping bags. That’s when Zeke discovered his gear that had been put in the floats on the opposite side of the airplane from the side of the plane we offloaded had not been offloaded. He was without a sleeping bag.  Luckily, the weather was unseasonably nice, with no rain and partly sunny.
I called the Seahawk office on the satellite phone, and the staff said Rolan had trips out our way again in the morning, and he’d drop the gear in then. Luckily, Zeke had enough clothes with him to keep warm overnight. The next day I tried to call into the office again, and found that the sat phone battery was dead. I knew I’d charged it before we left, but it did not hold the charge for more than the brief call to the office. Now we were in a quandary because we had planned to communicate with Seahawk Air for our pick up, etc.

Mark's tent setup

The wall charger for the unit was in it’s case. The charger read that it had an input of 110 volts ac, and an output of 6 volts dc. I had a battery power pack that had an output of 5 volt dc from a USB cord. So, after consultation with the youngster, we decided to try to cut the wall charger cord and splice the fitting that went into the sat phone to the USB cord and hope for the best. I gladly let him use his 20 something eyes to strip the 20 gauge wires, tape them up with the electrical tape we use to cover our gun muzzles, and then we tried it. It worked, to the amazement of all, but most of all, Roy. I turned the sat phone back on and we were back in business.

Roy initially thought we had too much gear when we were packing for the trip, wary of some perhaps luxuries we didn’t need, like cots. We all soon changed our minds on the cots, as they indeed provided us all with good night’s sleep and we could each store out bags underneath them. I took my 10 x 12 wall tent, which I’d never set up, along with my 11 ft long Thermos Prairie Schooner tent, which I bought from my elder coworkers  when I worked in Kodiak. They used it for elk hunting back then, and said I could buy the tent for $25, as that’s what they paid for it. I’ve had the tent now for 30 years, and still use it.  However, it turns out the three of us fit perfectly into the wall tent, with two cots along the side walls, and a cot along the back wall, so we didn’t use the smaller tent.

My niece in Anchorage regularly houses friends and family coming through town to hunt, and on one occasion, some boys had bought an electric bear fence for a hunt, and left it with her. We borrowed it for this trip, and it worked great.  There was 108 feet of wire, which was more than enough to surround our little compound. The fence takes just 2 D batteries, and Roy tested it with his finger and confirmed that it indeed did shock when touched. I was also glad I picked up an MSR 10 liter water bag filter in Juneau with the gift certificate the scout troop gave me last Christmas, as every lake or pond seemed to have an active beaver family working.

Weather was dry and mostly clear, with a little breeze, day 1 and 2. In October. On Afognak. Wow. We scouted the area on the eve of opening day for our permit. We had drawn the second period, so the area had been open to the first period permit holders the two weeks prior. Rolan told us he had only one successful hunting group during the first period, so he was a fountain of encouragement. Roy and Zeke went in the direction of the elk we’d seen from the air, and I went in the opposite direction. The area was mostly clear cut, with some small stands of old growth forest here and there.  Logging roads made travel pretty easy, but walking through the logged off areas, or seeing into areas through second growth from the road, was a challenge.   This area of Afognak is alot different than the old growth regions on the western side of the island I had hunted previously with my in laws.

That day, we all sort of fell into our chores around the camp. Zeke liked to do the cooking, so he made breakfast in the morning and heated the water for the freeze dried meals in the evening. Roy made salami and cheese sandwiches with lots of mayo and mustard for everyone for lunch. I made the morning coffee.

We made a plan for opening day. Roy and Zeke would hike around a small lake and go to a big clear cut in the area they’d seen the elk on the flight in. I would skirt the other side of the lake, which was mostly small spruce trees, grass and brush. There was fresh elk sign in my area, but I didn’t see any elk. At one spot, I squeezed a few chirps from the cow call Sam lent me, and a mostly white raptor of some kind I’d seen atop a snag responded by dive bombing me at my sitting position atop a stump. Zeke and Roy saw a deer they passed on, and Zeke thought he saw an elk leaving the road into the grass and brush as they neared the edge of the clear cut. No elk on Day 1, but beautiful skies and dry weather and temperature near 50- just perfect for hiking.  As I returned to the near end of the lake to get back up on the road, I saw swirls at the mouth of a tiny feeder creek to the lake – little Dolly Varden, with white-edged fins and orange sided spawning colors. I watched them for several minutes before climbing up to the road. Roy and Zeke were waiting for me, and it was an exciting discussion when I learned they’d seen an elk and a deer.

We had our first of many excellent meals that evening that Roy and his wife Brenda had cooked and freeze dried – spaghetti. It was a joy every day to go hunting and know we’d be eating great meals in the evening. Zeke would heat a litre of water in the jet boil each evening, and then add a little to each of our mylar bags of freeze dried dinner, and in 10 minutes, it would be re-hydrated gourmet dinner. Other night’s meals I remember were venison strogonof,  venison chili, salmon chowder, and macaroni and cheese with venison.

Another “must have”, along with the cots, turned out to be a buddy heater that screws directly into a 20lb propane bottle my brother in law bought me for Christmas years and years ago. We lit the heater each night for 30 min to an hour before we went to sleep, and then in the morning, I lit the heater at first light and put the coffee on, as the heater can also be used as a stove.

On Day 2, I went with Zeke to the clear cut, and Roy took a turn going along the lake. While Zeke and I were each atop a stump and looking for elk in the clear cut, an official looking brown truck with antennas pulled up 15 yards to my left on the road, and the two occupants glassed the same clear cut. They never saw us. They continued down to the end of the road about 50 yards below to turn around, and Zeke and I hopped off our perches and the truck exited non the wiser.  Roy walked all the way over to the clear cut and joined us later in the day. Like me, he’d seen the elk sign along the lake, but no elk. He’d also sampled the blueberries along the lake like I had, and we agreed they are much sweeter than those here in Southeast. Zeke left ahead of us on the way home and took a walk down a muskegy valley from the road to call for deer. He saw one, but the deer took off before he could shoot. Another sunny and dry day. I was wearing hiking boots for a change, as I didn’t need to wear my rubber boots with the dry weather and mostly dry ground we were hiking.

On Day 3, we decided to try around Gretchen Lake. Roy and I were sure we heard a cow elk the first night we were camped, so hoped they might be near our lake. Roy went to the timber on the higher elevation around the north side of the lake, and I walked somewhat parallel to him nearer to the lake.  Zeke went around the other side of the lake from us.  We were out of camp less than an hour when I heard Zeke shoot. I hunted most of the way to the lake outlet, then returned right along the lake to camp. Roy crossed the inlet and kept going around the lake and back to camp. Zeke had shot a small buck black tailed deer, and returned to camp with the meat in his pack. As I was heading back to camp, a trooper landed on the lake in a super cub. He checked Zeke’s deer tags and his meat sack to be sure he’d salvaged all he was supposed to. Zeke cooked a backstrap from the deer over our campfire and we had that along with our evening freeze dried meal.   Another dry day and beautiful weather.

Day 4 saw a change in weather. It started raining and blowing at dawn, and continued til dark, when it let up. No one was up for hunting in the wet blow, and we huddled in the tent. The wind was blowing right into the wall tent door and under the sides, and we scrambled to stake down the tent sides with stakes and baggage, as well as plug up the areas of the tent at either end of the roof peak where the ridgepole went through. The rain fly threatened to blow away all day, but only one corner tore free, and I retied it right away.  We were especially appreciative of having brought the heater. Zeke made a great scramble of eggs and cheese and other leftovers for breakfast, and later some no bake cookies that went great with all the coffee and tea we had time to drink. The storm blew itself out at dark, and by evening it was calm and the stars were out again.

On Day 5, Roy and I headed in yet another direction to the country behind the far side of the lake.  The road there lead to a massive clear cut that made the country look like what I imagine it would if a nuclear bomb was set off. The forest had been clear cut for miles and miles, with no trees left at all. It makes me sad to see that for some reason. I saw not a single sign of elk there. Only bear scat.  As we returned to camp in the evening of another bluebird day, the temperatures were falling noticeably colder in the evening. Some of the puddles in the muskeg had a thin film of ice, and we were ever more appreciative of the propane heater at night and again in the morning.  We had more back strap over the campfire and freeze dried mac, cheese and venison for dinner.

The last day of hunting started with light rain. Neither Roy nor myself were much interested in hunting in the rain after seeing no elk in the area after looking in most all directions from camp. Zeke put his rain gear on and went looking for more deer. Roy and I started packing up our gear in preparation for pick up first thing in the morning at 9 am, just after sunrise.  I decided to tackle sewing a patch on a hole in the front wall of the tent. I had tried using flex seal tape to patch it, but the tape was not wanting to stick to the canvas, so I sewed the tape as a patch with the sewing needle and dental floss I had in my camp kit. It took quite awhile to complete, but in sunny weather with nothing else to do, it was quite enjoyable. In the end, the patch looked okay and was solid.  Zeke returned in the afternoon having not seen a deer or elk. Roy said it was time to eat lots of food “for fun” to lighten our load the next day. I cut the rest of a chub of dry salami into rounds and fried both sides in the pan over the camp fire. Then I cut strips of cheese for each round, and put on the pan cover until the cheese began to melt. We then ate the salami and cheese on Ritz crackers, and  we all agreed life at that moment was pretty damn good,.

The next morning was sunny and calm. Again. What a week.  When I called in our weather at first light to Seahawk, however, they said it was really blowing in Kodiak and to call back at 10 am. We weren’t sure if we’d get out now, so we packed most of the gear to the beach pick up spot, but left up the tent just in case. The call back at 10 showed it had calmed down, and now the pick up time was going to be around 1230, so we relaxed for awhile in the sun, and then took down the big rain fly tarp and tent. We folded up the tent, and bulldogged it into the duffel bag it came in. The wall tent and bag weigh 47 lbs, so just right to meet the 50 lb max for airline travel.

Rolan showed up right on time. He said due to the wind direction, he’d have to ferry us to Izhut Bay in two loads so he could safely take off from Gretchen Lake. We loaded half our gear and me in with Rolan, and made the short hop to the bay, where we offloaded the gear and me on a gravel bar. Rolan soon returned with Roy, Zeke and the rest of the gear, and on to Kodiak we went. On the way back we had a big surprise – fin whales. I’ve never seen them before and initially thought they were humpbacks because of the white coloration on the underside.  Fin whales are the second longest whale after the blue whale, and are more sleek than the humpback. We could clearly see several of them swimming and blowing for quite awhile as we flew from Afognak to Kodiak.

The fun wasn’t over when we got to town. Roy’s wife found out there was a cutting edge farmer in Kodiak growing greens in a 40′ container. Roy made an appointment to see them the next day. We all got showers and told Kevin about our trip.

We visited Gideon Saunders and wife Siene Allen’s Brightbox Farm the next day. It was like looking at the future of farming and perhaps how we can feed the billions of new people who will need to eat in the coming decades. When we met Gideon, I saw he had a BP hoodie on, and asked him if he’d worked on the North Slope. He said he had, for 25 years and finished as a plant operator. A perfect background for this new venture. Three vertical panels hang in the container, with lettuce, chard, kale, and other greens growing out either side of each panel. LED lights alongside the panels provide light for the plants, and nutrient rich water drips from top to bottom to provide fuel for the plant growth. Gideon said he can harvest 1000 heads of lettuce a week, and demand is so high he could operate two more containers just to meet it. He sells weekly to 30+ customers who pick up orders at his garage, and he delivers to local grocery stores and restaurants. The various lettuce, chard, herbs, etc grow from seed to harvest in about 7 weeks.

Kevin took us all to the local brewery later that afternoon, where we met his son and son in law and heard stories about Kodiak life. We picked up some Salvadorian food from a nearby food truck after the brewery visit, and headed back to Kevin’s for dinner to watch the playoff baseball game.

It was another trip of a lifetime. It was weird to have people send their “condolences” that we did not harvest an elk, as if a family member had died. Could be I’d have been disappointed in my younger years, but surely not now.  We had beautiful weather, great food, good company and solitude on our week at Afognak, and none of the 3 of us thought it was anything but great. And we’re already planning the next trip. Plus, when we all jumped on the scale for our return weight for the plane charter, we’d collectively lost 10lbs!

End of a great summer

Saturday started out with a lot of frustration from a simple random car issue.

I was cleaning out the garage and had some fishing gear to give to Jeff.  When I set it on the passengers seat, some halibut rigs engaged the electric parking brake on the Leaf.  I never use the brake.  And that might be why it’s now seized.  I looked up how to mechanically release the electric brake, and that didn’t work.  Of course, the car was in the wettest part of the driveway where the water trickles down to the road, right under the middle of the car.  I could sort of run it in reverse, with the back wheels that are locked up dragging, and the front wheel drive able to push the car backwards down the hill.  I figured I’d get it down to the level pavement by the road, and then I could work on it.  That was all working well as I inched it back wards down the driveway, until the car would go no further when it got to some soft mud under the shot rock from all the rain.

It looked like there was enough room to squeeze the truck between the house and the car so I could drive the truck below the car, and then try to drag the car the rest of the way down to the road.  Well, there was not enough room.  There was maybe an inch clearance between the house and the truck bed on one side, and an inch between the other side of the truck bed and the car on the other side.  And my eyes can’t do an inch anymore.  I crunched the side of my car a little bit, and was worried I wouldn’t be able to back out back up the driveway, but managed to do that without more damage.

Now I needed to pull the car back up the driveway somehow and get it out of the way so Sara could get her car past it from the garage to the road.  There was no place to hook up a tow chain underneath the car.   I went online and found there’s a tow eye in the emergency tool kit in the car, even though the owners manual doesn’t talk about this as far as I could find.  I threaded the tow eye to the front of the car, and dragged the car up the driveway carefully with the truck.  The car was now in a drier spot, but still on an incline that was enough that I don’t feel real safe trying to jack up the rear of the car to work on the brake mechanism, which I think I could tackle after watching a good you tube on this repair.  I think I’ll see if I can get a mechanic to do this in town, and get the car towed there.

Then a bright spot.  The outboard mechanics called.  My boat was ready.  And the engine still works!  The engine would not idle properly, and I thought it was the reed valves.  Turns out the answer was much simpler.  Not cheap.  But simple.  The stud holding on the alternator had snapped after I’d replaced the alternator when I got the engine (a common issue with Optimax engines, I found out from online discussions), and when I tried to drill out the part of the bolt threaded in the mount, I buggered that up (of course), and ended up putting  a smaller bolt sideways next to it.  The alternator was now on a little cockeyed, but it worked.  Until it didn’t.  I think it stretched the belt or something, and so the belt wasn’t turning the air compressor properly.  The air compressor on this outboard is akin to the computer on my diesel truck I came to find out, controlling alot of functions, including the idle.

The mechanics have a crafty welder next door.  All of us consulted on how the welder could try to fix the mount for the bolt.  We decided he’d grind off the part of the mount that I’d buggered up, then carefully reform the mount (which is located on the engine block) by building up welds.  He’d have to go slow and be as careful as he could to not heat up ruin the engine cylinder on the other side of the engine block wall from the mount.  He said he couldn’t guarantee he could do it, and I agreed to take the chance.

The mechanics called just as I got the car moved to it’s current spot, and they said my boat was ready. They sounded a little giddy, so I hoped for the best.  I asked if the engine still started, and they said it was running as they spoke!  The welder succeeded in reforming the mount, then the mechanics drilled and tapped a new hole for the bolt.  I was happy.  They were happy.  They said it was a challenge for the welder but he fixed it in the end.  It took about 50% or more longer than the welder expected, but I was fine with that.  It is what it is, as they say.  I love the outboard, and the engine wasn’t gonna really work if the repair couldn’t be made.  Plus, now I have working relationships with both the mechanics and the good welder – all of which I’m satisfied with – for future work.  And another good thing was when I went to pick up my boat, there was a boat with a home built hard top that was just completed, and so I’m hoping to get info on the welder who built that so I can see about getting one for our boat.  Things were looking better from the morning.

I checked the forecast, and after days of wind and rain, the forecast was for calm and drier tomorrow!  I picked up ice from Chris on the way home from getting the boat.  After emptying the boat when I left it at the mechanics, I started to re-outfit the boat so I could go trolling tomorrow.  First I had to remount the kicker I’d removed so the mechanics could have easy access to the big motor, and re-attach the new rectifier I put on the kicker to charge the battery when I’m trolling.  Next was to put on the downriggers I use for hand troll gurdies, and put the fishing gear back aboard.  I remembered at the last minute to put back the new cleaning tray set up.  I was ready to go in the morning.
I didn’t sleep well the night before, so got a late start.    I launched the boat and headed out in almost calm seas to the fishing area. On the way, I realized I forgot my spoon leaders, so I tied up what I needed for the day on the way there.   As I turned into Chatham Strait, the southerly wind was making a 1 to 2 foot chop, so I headed south as far as I’d caught fish in this area, then turned north to go with the wind, and put the gear out.  There was only one other boat sport fishing.

The lone occupant of the sport boat came out on deck gesturing to me with his hands out and turned up that he’d caught nothing, and I gestured the same.  As I got to the north end of the fishing area after a couple hours without a strike, I picked up my gear to try another spot north of this spot.  The sport boat pulled his gear, too.

It took me about a half hour to run north to the area open for me up near Berners Bay.  I caught 5 fish here late in the season last year, so thought I’d try it again.  I saw lots and lots of sea lions hauled out on Benjamin Island on the way.    I dropped the gear, and fished north with the wind.  I got one fish – still bright – but that was it – for a couple hours of fishing.  But a nice end to the season.  It was a nice dry day so warm in the wheel house of my little cruiser.  And knowing I’d fished to the end of the time when I could catch fish, so I wouldn’t be thinking I’d missed catching more fish for the season if I didn’t go again.

It was a pleasant hour+ run back to the boat landing in calm seas.  I saw cow and calf humpback whales on the way home.  At the launch, a duck hunter was pulling his boat, and he said hunting was good with early migrant ducks and it was good to get out with “the little one”.  I wasn’t sure if he meant his hunting dog or child, neither of which I could see.  As I was backing my boat down, I saw that he’d meant his son, who was wrapped up in his phone like a an addict getting his fix.  Just like some of the scouts and parents might be at the campout I was missing this weekend.  I felt a twinge of pain.  Technology has so many benefits, but there is a downside.

When I got home, I filleted the lone fish I caught, and put the frame and head and fins, along with the eggs I left on the boat, into the crab bait jars for checking the pots the next day.  I started cutting up the fish, and saw it was the rare fish filled with parasitic cysts.  I looked them up and found they aren’t dangerous to humans, but there was more of them than I wanted to eat, so we passed on fish for dinner.

We had a mailed package waiting for us, and after I cleaned up from messing with the fish, I opened it.  It was a beautiful rectangular glass tray with a salmon on it.  From Andrea and the twins.  When I emailed to thank them for it, Andrea said Odessa had made it!  Even better.
That capped an August of memories with friends and family here, and an enjoyable September of fishing.   Fishing and selling to a buyer, without having to worry about packaging, storing and selling them myself as I did in the past, sure has made fishing enjoyable and satisfying.
I’ve been walking daily getting ready for elk hunting with Roy and Zeke, and so now looking forward to fall hunting and maybe some high bush cranberry picking if I can find some.