A Great Kokiak Adventure
By Nicholas Di Joseph
AK, Sitka Blacktail
There are times when we as hunters plan an excursion and can never anticipate how great it might turn out. The unguided Sitka blacktail deer hunt I did on the Kodiak will go down as one of these trips. The hunt started as any other successful trip, with a lot of careful planning.
I had contacted Jeff Warren of Huntin’ Fool early in 2016 and explained to him that I was working towards completing my goal of a North American Super Slam. I provided him with a list of the big game animals I needed to achieve my goal. He responded with a list of the animals with the name of one recommended outfitter for each. I decided to hunt Sitka blacktail deer and mountain lion in the fall.
I contacted Ninilchik Charters and spoke to Deziree Valdez who handles the bookings and logistics for the service. As I talked to Deziree and the owner, Mike Flores, I learned that Ninilchik Charters would provide a boat with a captain and first mate along with transportation and assistance with achieving my goal. There would also be waterfowl and fox hunting and halibut fishing opportunities available on this trip. This really piqued my interest since I also had every species of duck in North America mounted except eight. There would be Barrows Goldeneye and Harlequin duck in this area, and I needed both. I made it clear that in addition to Sitka blacktail I wanted to concentrate on hunting both of these duck species.
I had been to Kodiak before. Having climbed some of the steepest and highest mountains they have to offer, I made sure I was in good shape by walking a minimum of three to five miles every day.
I arrived in Kodiak on a Friday evening and spent the night. I arrived at the Airlift terminal the next morning, and it was raining with high winds. This weather was not conducive to flying in a small aircraft. While at the terminal, I met the other two hunters I would share the boat with for the next week. Redhawk Pallesen and Jeremy Henderson both hail from California, with Redhawk being a retired forest firefighter and Jeremy being a paramedic. We had a chance to talk about hunting and get to know each other while we waited for a break in the weather. At about 3 p.m., the weather improved enough for us to make the short flight to Larsen Bay.
Once we were on the ground, we met our Captain, Jamey Penca, and First Mate, Brandon Kosht. Both men proved to be good hands and would be responsible for transporting us to and from our hunting area and preparing meals for us daily. We had our gear loaded on the boat and set sail for the hunting area. The three of us decided to combine forces and hunt deer together. I also planned to take a day or two to hunt ducks once I had a deer. It rained all day, and we readied our gear, anticipating a rainy hunt for the next few days.
Day one started in the dark with it raining. Once we were underway, we saw some deer in the hills above us and disembarked. Jeremy and I climbed a steep, low hill and stalked the deer through the thick brush and trees. I saw a nice buck and shot quickly offhand, standing at about 100 yards or less. The buck reared up on his hind legs and fell backwards in a heap. I knew it was a good shot and that he was dead. Jeremy continued stalking uphill, and I saw him line up to shoot several times, but the deer kept moving. After the rest of the deer departed, we took pictures and celebrated one buck down. He was a nice six-point. We drug the buck down to the skiff on a very steep, slippery hillside and dropped Jeremy and Redhawk off further from that area.
I returned to the boat with my deer and hung him up and dried out my gear. Later that day while I duck hunted, Redhawk took a possible record class buck higher in the mountains and packed the entire deer back on a pack frame, which was quite a feat. It was only day one and we had two nice bucks down and plenty of time left.
Day two had the three of us going deer hunting again, and this time Jeremy took a buck at about 230 yards. We packed it down to the skiff, and I duck hunted the remainder of the day. I had a good day and took a drake bufflehead and two drake and one hen Barrows Goldeneyes. Day three saw the other guys deer hunting, with Redhawk taking a buck, and I duck hunted, taking a Harlequin hen. That evening, we scouted out some other areas and discussed going high towards the snowcap for deer.
Day four saw us depart early in the morning and climb about five miles of steep, uphill terrain to get just below the snow top of a mountain. It was noticeably colder than the previous days, and on a steep ridge directly across from us, there were deer. We noticed two big bucks fighting near the top of a hill 300 yards away and decided that Jeremy and I would shoot. I picked the bigger of the two at the top of the hill, and we decided I would shoot first and then Jeremy would shoot on report. I assumed an offhand sitting position and squeezed off one shot, crumpling my buck, which rolled to the bottom of the hill. Jeremy was unable to hit the other buck, so we started glassing around.
Then it was bad news as there were five brown bears at the edge of the snow. The rifle shots had been as if we had rung the dinner bell. They were running in a full sprint to my deer. We then noticed the deer on the other hillside had started looking into the bottom of the draw where my deer was laying in the alders and were leaving the area quickly. We were on a steep knife back ridge with me at the top and then Jeremy and Redhawk in descending order. They both made it clear they were leaving. When I looked down toward Redhawk, I saw a large brown bear crest the ridge only 20 feet behind him. He was looking at us, so Jeremy and I raised our rifles as I hollered, “Bear!” Redhawk did not even look back as he sprinted up the hill to us, and the bear was obviously spooked by my hollering. He ascended the ridge between us and the boat, and I had enough time to judge the bear at about nine feet.
We had just seen six brown bears in a small area, and we had a tense hike on the steep four and a half miles back to the boat. We had radioed the boat to let them know our situation. We worked together and watched each other’s backs until we were picked up by the skiff. It was apparent the bear activity was due to the change in weather, which may have triggered some aggressive pre-denning feeding. We moved to another area to continue our hunt.
The next day, I duck hunted and Redhawk and Jeremy were to deer hunt. However, they spotted three more brown bears lower and decided to look for a deer on the beach, which they found. I ended up getting two Harlequin drakes, and we fished in the afternoon. The three of us caught halibut and some assorted rockfish. We headed in the next day and boarded a Cessna caravan for the ride back to Kodiak City. That evening, we had dinner and set about our separate ways.
This was one of the most fun hunts I have been on, even with the bear encounters, and I am closer to my goals of a Super Slam and a complete collection of North American ducks. In the week we spent living on that boat and the camaraderie we experienced, I know I would hunt or fish with any of these gentlemen again. I want to thank Our Good Lord for giving me the ability to enjoy these adventures and to meet good, like-minded people, like Redhawk, Jeremy, Jamey, and Brandon, who are dedicated to true conservation through sustainable use of our natural resources.