"In North America there is one large animal that belongs almost entirely to the realm of towering rock and unmelting snow. Pressing hard against the upper limit of life's possibilities, it exists higher and steeper throughout the year than any other big beast on the continent. It is possibly the best and most complete mountaineer that ever existed on any continent. Oreamnos americanus is its scientific name. Its common name is mountain goat." -Douglas H. Chadwick
The late Jack O’Connor once wrote: “Goat hunting begins, where Sheep hunting ends.” High in the rocky, cliffy crags, you will find the snow white Rocky Mountain Goat, alone with only the company of an eagle or two. He is the true king of the mountain! Never quite as coveted by the north American hunter, as say a Dall Sheep. His stubby little “hooks” simply don’t compare with a massive, flaring set of full curl sheep horns. Even when compared to other species in the north country, such as the Brown/Grizzly & Black Bear, as well as the Moose, he is always “second fiddle”. To me, however, he is a special treasure and a prize to be earned.
Alaska has a way of piercing your body, heart, and soul. As long as you live, not a day will go by that her beautiful visions wont cross your mind. You may recall that I hunted Dall Sheep in the Alaskan Range back in 2009. Upon completion of this hunt, as my Master Guide, #527, Scott Mileur was driving me back to Anchorage for my flight home, I told him I was coming back soon to hunt “Goats”! My plan was to draw a tag for the Chugach Mountains, near Scott’s home in Palmer. Just as with the Dall Sheep drawings, I was unsuccessful in drawing a tag in both ‘10 and ‘11. Scott told me that he had goats on his Kodiak Island concession and that I could buy an “over the counter” tag. He was confident that we could kill a fine mature Billy (male) Goat, as well as hunt Sitka Blacktail Deer while I was there. He insisted that I waited until November to hunt, as the Goats would have a long winter wool coat and the Deer would be coming into the rut. The deal was done!
I arrived in Kodiak on Halloween night just as night fell on the rock. It had been a long day’s travel and I had changed planes 3 times. I was actually quite surprised when I saw that both my rifle and backpack had made the journey as well! Scott would fly in from Anchorage the next morning, and the plan was to purchase groceries and other supplies, gather and weigh all of our gear, and hopefully fly out late that afternoon by bush plane. Our destination was Scott’s Silver Salmon camp, on Olga Bay, located on the southwestern corner of the island. Scott arrived as scheduled, and we got all of our projects completed; however, 55 mph winds on Olga Bay would keep us stuck in Kodiak City throughout 11/1, and we would not fly out until 4:30pm on Wednesday, 11/2, aboard a Havilland Beaver equipped with pontoons. We were getting behind schedule, big time… Love that Alaska weather!
While I was in the city, between the times I was watching Scott “Day Trade” over the internet (quite the speculator ), I had a chance to educate myself about the island and visit some interesting sites. Kodiak is the 2nd largest Island in the U.S.A. It encompasses almost 3,600 square miles! It is inhabited by less than 14,000 people, including U.S. Coast Guard personnel. The native people are the “Alutiiq”, who have lived on the rock for thousands of years. They have survived by hunting and fishing for seals, whales, salmon, halibut, and shellfish. Enter the Russians in the late 1700’s. They killed those who resisted, others by disease, and then practically enslaved the survivors to fish and hunt for them in return for the white man’s wage and way of life. Today the Alutiiq are a highly recognized and respected entity on Kodiak.
If you are an outdoorsman, Kodiak is “HEAVEN” on earth! Most of the economy spins around fishing, the military, hunting, and general tourism. The “ F/V Cornelia Marie”, from the TV hit show reality series, “Deadliest Catch”, anchors here. I even had the pleasure of having breakfast on my last day on Kodiak with Capt. Jim Wilson of the “F/V Incentive”, who took over the Cornelia Marie when “Capt. Phil” died last season… Do you remember?
There are over 3,500 bears on Kodiak Island (almost 1 per mile)! As no Black Bear exists on the rock, when I refer to the Bears, they are all “Brown Bears”, aka- “Kodiak Bears”… The biggest of their kind in the world! In the lobby of the Best Western Inn where I stayed, before and after hunting camp, stands the life size mount of the #4 Boone & Crockett Brown Bear! It measured 10’- 10 ½” in length and the skull measured 30 5/8”. Massive is an understatement! It was killed in 1998, just a couple of miles west of the Kodiak City International Airport. Despite all of the stories and TV shows about this “Alpha Killer”, nobody has been killed by a Kodiak Bear since 1978, and since this time only 8 people have been attacked, and all survived with “no lasting injuries.” Compare that with the 2 people that were killed this past summer by Grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park, WY… If you hunt them, they will fear man!
The Rocky Mountain Goat is not indigenous to Kodiak. They were transplanted on the island from mainland Alaska in the 1950’s & ‘60’s. The goats flourished on Kodiak, as did the Sitka Blacktail Deer, which was transplanted during this same time period, using Pacific Blacktail Deer. Other species were tried, including Dall Sheep, but failed. Additional successful transplants include the Roosevelt Elk, Bison, and Reindeer. Bears and Fox are the only predators on the island. Although Bears are opportunists, they will rarely expend the energy to chase down a goat or deer when fish are plentiful, and there are all kinds of rodents, roots, berries and grasses, on which they can feed. Depending on the weather, Kodiak Bears have a very short hibernation period, which usually starts in January, awaking and leaving their den again by mid to late April.
Our bush flight to Scott’s hunting concession was spectacular! At 7,000 feet I could see across Kodiak, over the Shelikof Strait to the Katmai Coast of the Alaska Peninsula. Heck, “I could see Russia” from my plane (just josh’n )! We landed at 5:30pm on a beautiful sunny afternoon on the saltwater bay, unloaded our gear, and got to work setting up our camp and getting our 20 foot steel, V-hull boat readied, which Scott leaves chained upside down on the beach year round. It is powered by two 15 HP outboard motors which are stored under the boat, along with gasoline, propane bottles and other marine and hunting gear. By dark thirty, camp was set up and I had retrieved 5 gallons of fresh water from a nearby creek. A fresh salad and spaghetti were on the menu for the night, and we turned in early, both exhausted. Around midnight I was wide awake, as my tent was being pounded violently by a 45 mph wind, and I could hear both rain and sleet slamming against the rain fly as well. Oh well, so much for a beautiful day in Alaska!
It was now Thursday 11/3… Still a pounding wind, fog, rain, sleet, and snow! We had an early breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon, which were delicious! Scott is a big believer in feeding his hunters well, and I have never met a better camp chef! Dinner at base camp also included pork and rib eye steaks. Scott makes me eat a salad and my vegetables too. If you go hungry hunting with Mileur, it’s your own fault. There would be no hunting today. We couldn’t travel the 20+ miles down the bay to Goat country, because the sea was too choppy, and Deer near camp would be bedded tighter than ticks on a stray dog. I went back to my tent to arrange and check my gear and rifle, awaiting daylight around 9:30am. We would spend the rest of the day in our rain gear, working on the boat and motors which had been tossed ashore overnight, and building an “Electric Bear Fence” around camp, that runs on 4 D cell batteries and produces a 5,000 volt shock. We were also preparing gear and supplies for a Bear hunt located further inland along the Ayakulik River. I was supposed to have killed my goat today, or by Friday at the latest to stay on schedule. Scott was throwing in the deer hunt at no extra charge while I tagged along with another hunter and guide, Greg Acord, who works for Scott, trying to bag a late season Kodiak. In return I would help Scott set up his two camps. It reduced my bush plane expenses by 50%, I got to fly in a day earlier, and also participate in a Bear hunt! To me it was a no brainer. Also officially, I had through Tuesday 11/8 to try and tag a Goat with Scott as my guide, before I flew out Wednesday 11/9 for Kodiak City and ultimately return home.
That night after dinner, Scott made his daily call home on the satellite phone to check in with his family. This is our only source of communication. Scott would also call into to Andrew Airways several times a day to check on weather and flight conditions. No planes had flown to our end of the island since our flight on Wednesday evening. In the end, there would not be another flight our way for 5 straight days! We passed the time reading, listening to the radio when atmospheric conditions permitted, talked politics, and swapped hunting tales. Mileur’s stories were always better than mine!
Scott has guided in Alaska for the past 34 years. He is greatly respected by all of the bush pilots and other hunting guides, and practices only “Fair Chase” hunting ethics. He is a transplant from an Illinois farm life, and came to Alaska shortly after high school and a couple of years of college to follow his dreams and learn his trade. To earn a hunting guide’s license in Alaska, one must apprentice for three years under a Master Guide. Scott learned his trade from the two most famous guides in Alaska, Bill Pinnell and Morris Talifson, “The Last Of The Great Brown Bear Men!” He worked for Bill and Morris for 14 years, as well as for Stan Frost in the Alaskan Range. He is known as a “Producer” and has guided many hunters to Boone &Crockett Bears, Dall Sheep and Moose. In 2011 alone, he guided 4 spring Kodiak Bear hunts (including a bow hunter), killing 3 bears in the 9’-10’ class. Then he went 4 for 4 on Dall Sheep in the Alaskan and Chugach Ranges. The streak continued with a successful Moose and Black Bear hunt on the Alaskan mainland. Now it was my turn, followed by 1 fall Kodiak Bear hunt, another deer hunt, and then wrapping things up with a 2nd Rocky Mountain Goat hunt by Thanksgiving! Scott will then turn his attention to trapping season over the winter, and the whole cycle starts over again.
Mileur is a beast of a man at 6’4’’, weighing in at around 225 pounds. He is as strong as a Bull! A master of his trade, he has incredible skills and knowledge. I have only met 2 other men in my lifetime that can rival Scott’s hunting skills and prowess: Michael Grosse of Gunnison, CO, and Will Powell of Malaga, NM. One of their keenest traits is incredible eyesight, at extremely long distance, with just a knack for spotting movement and the slightest obscure object that is simply out of place. All of them extremely athletic, they possess the strength, agility, and endurance to move across the wilderness at a lightning fast pace while blending perfectly into the environment, always using the wind and terrain to their advantage. Men like these are a unique species all to themselves, and they are absolutely lethal at their craft!
Friday morning, 11/4, and I was now 5 days on Kodiak and still had not even started hunting. We ate breakfast, made a call to Andrew Airways for flight and weather conditions, and piddled around with a few camp chores. The wind was still howling, and the fog, rain, sleet, and snow were still making our lives a little miserable. Finally, around noon the storm blew through! Scott called into Andrew Airways again and because the wind was whipping so hard in Kodiak City, they were shutting down for the day. Both Greg Acord and his Bear hunter would be stuck in town for another day at least. Olga Bay was starting to calm, and we quickly readied the boat, grabbed our packs and my rifle, and set out to find some goats!
About 30 minutes into our trip down the bay, we pulled ashore in a cove that had an abandoned and dilapidated series of docks and ruining buildings. This area is known as “The Cannery” and was built in the late 1800’s. It is located on Alutiiq Indian property, and as the name states, it was once a fish canning and fertilizer plant in the middle of nowhere! Scott has been trying to gain access to the hunting rights on this land over the past couple of years. There were also two small prefab cabins next to the cannery, one of which was actually stocked with some food, clothing, bedding, furniture and even a Coleman lantern filled with fuel and extra mantles. It’s common to see cabins such as this throughout Alaska. The doors are not locked and anyone is welcome to use them in emergency situations. Fifteen minutes later we were again racing across Olga Bay, to start our hunt.
We pulled ashore at the mouth of a small river and a long canyon that, for secrecy sake, will be called: “Last Chance Canyon”, which is actually the nickname for this area. It earned its name years ago from one of Scott’s associates, as during the spring Bear hunts, if all else failed, they could always come here to find a Kodiak. Mileur has been spotting Goats in this canyon on one particular mountain (jpg.086) for the past several seasons each spring, and last season spotted 3 lone Goats that he was sure were mature Billy’s. He “assumed” they would still be there, as the slope faced the south and was covered in cliffs near the summit. This mountain was not even visible until you were about 2 miles into the canyon, and was actually located near the head about 4 miles from the bay. It was a leisurely hike in, and we glassed for game along the way. The landscape was made up of tall brome grass, willow groves, alder patches, salmon berry bushes and millions of dormant clumps of fiddle head ferns. I learned quickly not to touch the salmon berry bushes with a bare hand as they are covered with needle like thorns that would stick you and break off in your skin like a splinter. You needed to pick your feet up when walking through the ferns, as these little devils would reach up and grab your boot like a net, sending you on your face to the ground. I have often found there are just some things in life that you only do once, wish you hadn’t, and never do it again!
As we continued our hike, Deer tracks and scat were everywhere, yet we only spotted 2 small Blacktail doe. Huge piles of Bear scat were also present in abundance. Unbelievably, Scott explained that the Bear scat was very old and went back to the Spring, judging by the berry seeds and grasses in its makeup and composition. There were actually very few Bears this time of year near Olga Bay, as most were further inland deep along 1 of the 12 river heads on the island. It is now the end of salmon spawning season, and as the bears follow the fish, they were busy filling their bellies and putting on fat, preparing for their winter’s sleep. The Kodiaks would return in full force to our area to hibernate, and awake and feed heavily on berries and grasses here in the spring.
As we approached our mountain, we intensified our glassing. After a few minutes Scott was first to spot a band of 3 goats near the summit in the snowy cliffs. This was the first time I had seen a live Rocky Mountain Goat with my own eyes, and I was truly in awe! We set up the spotting scope, took a seat, and from a distance of close to 1 ½ miles away, we studied, analyzed and discussed this small band for close to an hour. Rocky Mountain Goats are extremely difficult to field judge for both trophy quality and to even determine sex! Scott even admitted that with all of his years of experience, he still had trouble figuring out what was what. I had spent the past year looking at as many pictures as I could find, and taking a “flash card” ID test over and over on the ADF&G website. It is legal to harvest either sex, although the authorities strongly encourage taking only Billy’s, and strongly discourage taking a nanny with a kid, for obvious reasons. Since the goats were also now in rut, the sexes could and would be in mixed bands. Scott and I had already discussed this in advance. I refused to harvest a nanny, no matter what her horn length was, and I was willing to go home empty handed. My goal was to harvest a mature Billy of at least 3 years of age, hoping for minimum horn length of 8”. A really huge Billy will only have horns in the 9 1/2’’ to the 10”range. Trying to judge a mere inch from a distance of hundreds and hundreds of yards is a tough task, I can assure you!
Clues were slowly becoming apparent. First, the 3 Goats turned into 4, as a small Kid emerged from behind a rock. Ok, we have at least one Nanny for sure. As we continued to study their behavior, horn structure, defecation posture, shoulder structure, stains on the hindquarters, and overall body language, we came to the conclusion that we had 1 mature Billy, with 8’-9” horn length and the largest body mass. We had 1 immature Billy, probably about 2 years of age with 6”-7” horn length. He was the smallest of the 3 adults. Finally of course, 1 Nanny and a Kid. The Nanny was a large old girl with 9’-10” horn length. An interesting note, Goats grow between 60%-70% of their total horn length by the time they are only 2 years of age! Additional annual growth is limited to as little as 1/10th of an inch!
We must have been moving around a bit too much as we studied our prey through Scott’s 30 power spotting scope. Eventually they were all looking directly at us with their naked eyes at a distance of 2,500 yards! As we were in a solid cross wind, with falling thermals, and well below the band, there is no way they smelled us… Their eyesight was amazing, and furthermore they could have cared less about us, from their towering fortress. They were safe and they knew it!
It was now just past 3:30pm. The Goats had us pegged – the wind direction meant we would have to move back down into cover and around the other side of the slope to even attempt an ascent. We estimated the stalk would take between 3 to 4 hours, and there just wasn’t enough daylight remaining to close the deal. A first for me, which was difficult to say the least, we backed out, zipped back down the canyon in under 90 minutes, and flew back across the bay on even smoother waters to our comfortable camp and a steak dinner. I had whiskey and a smoke or two waiting for me which sounded great, and it took a little of the sting out of leaving a dream behind. We would return in the morning and try again. This is real hunting in a real world. Life was good and our hopes were high for success on Saturday. We wondered what the weather forecast would be for tomorrow? Oh well, out of our control.
The morning started like all of the rest. My mind and body had not quite adjusted to Alaska time which was 3 hours behind Texas time. I was wide awake each morning by 4:30am. My tent was a “six man” made by The Alaskan Tent Co., which I had to myself. I had 2 cots, the second of which was great for storing my clothes, gear and rifle, keeping them off the damp floor. I had a Coleman lantern and a propane heater, which took the chill out of the morning air. As I fired up the heater, Scott heard the striker “click”, and hollered over: “Why are you up so early?” My response was always: “Good morning Scott! Go back to sleep I’m fine.” I stepped out of the tent to get rid of some whiskey and brush my teeth. The wind was calm and the sky was clear with more stars then I can ever remember seeing. I just knew it was going to be a great day! We ate breakfast and listened to the radio for a weather forecast.
Yes, things were great now, but a “South-Wester” was headed our direction! Scott explained that this was as bad as it could get! Yes, we would make it over to “Last Chance” this morning, but coming back in the evening would be a different story. Basically, the waves and breakers would be slamming our boat on the port side of the hull, which could and would capsize us. Even if we tried to zigzag the waves coming home, we ran the risk of a breaker coming over the bow or the aft, if Olga really started to get ugly! Scott said: “You don’t want any part of that 38 degree water buddy!” We looked up at the sky, and sure enough we could see the stars being gobbled up by the building clouds in the southwest. After careful consideration and contemplation, we said “WTF”, and we were burning across the bay at full throttle!
Olga Bay has a perfect name! She is like a beautiful Russian woman… When she is happy, she is loving, and fulfills all of your desires and needs. When she is angry, her fury has no bounds, and she will punish you into submission, or snatch your life on a whim. This morning she was happy. We had left camp in total darkness at 7:00am. She, “was as calm as a millpond.” Plankton glowed beneath the propeller and under our boats hull like fireflies in the night! It looked like we were riding atop a fluorescent green fire! I so Loved Olga this morning. We made it to the mouth of “Last Chance” in a record time of 45 minutes, anchored our boat well up shore, strapped on our packs, pulled out our headlamps, and started up the canyon at 8:00am, a full 1+ hours before daylight. I looked back to the southwest, as did Mileur… Yes, the star eating clouds were right behind us. “Who cares? We made it!”
10:30am, and we were once again glassing the same group of Goats from the previous day. They had only moved about 200 yards and were lower on the mountain. A very nice 9+ foot Kodiak Bear was also on the edge of the mountain feeding in a saddle not far from the goats. The Bear was probably digging up roots and ground squirrels. He paid no attention to the Goats and they in turn showed no fear of the Bear, as they were perfectly safe on their steep cliff. We spent almost no time watching the Bear, just as earlier that morning when we passed on a very nice Blacktail buck. We had one track minds at this point, which only focused on that mature Billy, meeting a 140 grain Nosler bullet.
The South-Wester had arrived, with 35 mph gusting winds, fog and rain. The wind actually whipped in a u-turn through this canyon, and on the mountain we were about to ascend, blew opposite of the storm. Would it hold that direction? As the goats spotted us again, we backed out into the cover of the willows on the southwest base and started our ascent out of sight. It was a hard climb through the brush, and once that cleared, we were forced to work our way around to the west, to stay out of sight and stay in the crosswind. We finally reached a flat bench near the summit by 1:00pm. We estimated that we were about 200 yards above the goats, who should still be on the south side of the slope in the cliffs… Mountains always look easier to climb from the bottom, and everything always looks different once you are on top!
We headed east across the bench slowly, as I jacked a round in the chamber. Our Billy could pop out of the fog at anytime. At one point we were walking on a bear trail in the rock. This trail has been traveled for thousands of years by the great Kodiaks, with front and back foot prints embedded a good 4 inches deep into the rock. Each Bear that travels this trail simply places his feet in the previous laid tracks, which gives them stability on the steep and slippery rock. I should have taken a picture of this too, as it was fascinating, but I was too focused on the job at hand. There was also a small lake on this mountain near the summit. These Goats had everything they needed to survive up here and never had to leave.
As we traversed the south slope we also began to descend to gain visibility off the cliffs and down into the chutes. Goat scat and tracks were everywhere and a “barnyard” aroma filled the air. I have ran into that smell in the past, while hunting Barbary Sheep in New Mexico. The Goats had to be very close, but we just couldn’t find them. We were confident they neither spotted or smelled us, but we were also down to just 2 more chutes to peek into. We removed our packs and now crawled on our knees. Scott would peek off one ledge, and I would peek off the other. As I slowly looked over the edge, blood began pounding in my ears like a drum, and adrenaline was rushing through my veins, as my eyes were in disbelief!
Directly below me, a mere 30 feet away laid the Nanny and small Billy, and with a slight twist of my head, I then spotted the Kid and finally the large Billy we were after! They did not have a clue we were there. They were so close I could count eyelashes. It was amazing! I pulled my head back out of sight and tapped Scott’s boot. We never spoke even a whisper, as I just mouthed the words: “they’re right down there!” Scott then looked over the edge and recoiled back with that famous ear to ear smile of his. I had no shot at the Billy, so I simply crawled out as far as I safely could in a prone position, and just waited. It didn’t take but a minute or two before that old Nanny’s “sixth sense” kicked in. She started twitching her head back and forth and finally jumped to her feet, which startled the rest of band to full attention. At last, they spotted us and decided to make a quick exit in single file, but it was too late! My Winchester .270 WSM spoke loudly, making its point through both shoulders, and the mighty Rocky Mountain Goat buckled to his knees. He regained his footing, took two steps in the opposite direction, and fell 300 feet from his bedroom, straight down the mountain, hit with a thud, and laid motionless! I was thankful I spent so much time this summer shooting out to 500 yards in preparation for this hunt! The irony of the shooting distance still makes me laugh.
Both Scott and I were in a daze. We couldn’t believe how the events played out. We high fived and took some pictures as we planned our route to recover my trophy. It was not easy to get down that chute, and just one wrong step, we would share the same fate. Scott made it to the goat first, and confirmed both horns were intact, and he was indeed a “Billy”! Then the carcass started rolling down the chute for another 200 feet or so. Again when we tried to get a hold of it, the rolling continued. Finally, I had my hands on my beautiful Goat! We measured the horns at 8 ½ inches and aged him at 4 years. He had a beautiful long white coat, with a thick beard and chaps. We took many photos and then caped and quartered my prize. It was now 3:45 in the afternoon. It was also raining and blowing quite hard. Scott ate lunch, but I wasn’t hungry. He kept looking out towards Olga Bay. I asked him if he was worried about the boat? He said he was wondering if the storm had blown the boat up the beach out of the waves, or if the boat was just rocking back and forth in the rocks, wearing a hole through the hull. It would be dark in 3 hours and we had heavy packs, a mountain to descend, and then make are way back out of the canyon. Olga also looked quite angry through my binoculars. There was no time to waste.
Up until now, I was very proud of the way I had kept pace with The Great Mileur! However, he had another gear, which I simply don’t possess. I was moving steadily forward and tried to keep up, but Scott was on a mission. If he got too far ahead, he would stop and rest his back, with his hands on his knees. Once I arrived, I was hoping for a break too, but he was off again! I should have eaten lunch, as my gas tank was empty. Finally, Scott retrieved a sandwich and candy bar from of my pack, and I ate them in the rain while hiking out. I was now soaked to the bone from both the weather and sweat. Exhausted, we reached the beach just as darkness fell. The boat was fine, but yes it had been tossed well ashore by the tide and the storm. Olga Bay was now in a rage!
At this point Scott and I had a powwow, to discuss our options for the night. First, there was no way we could make it back to camp in this storm. Second, we had a 2-man tent and 1 sleeping bag for just this type of emergency situation, along with a couple of Mountain House dinners and an MSR stove. Our final option was to pull the motors off the boat, spend 30 minutes getting the craft back in the raging surf, reattach the motors, and try to make The Cannery for the night. After careful consideration on my part for all of 1.5 seconds, The Cannery sounded like a Hilton hotel suite, and that is exactly what we chose! We weren’t dodging breakers for 5 minutes when we got hit by a huge wave on the port side. As the boat rolled and then righted itself, we looked at each other. I saw “deep concern” in Scott’s eyes, and I know he saw white knuckle fear in mine! The shore and a 2-man tent was looking pretty good at this point, but we pressed on literally jumping 8 foot breakers at the bow of the boat. Again we got smacked on the port side, but somehow our Norwegian built boat righted itself one more time. I only thought I was wet and cold earlier that evening. Now I knew what it really felt like! Hey, I have always said I wanted to die (someday, many, many years from now) on a hunting trip, like my Uncle Ted, but dying of hypothermia while trying to swim ashore would be a horrible way to go. I pressed my St. Hubert’s medal to my chest and conversed privately with Jesus. I wanted to live so very much!
After 90 minutes of being chastised and beaten by Olga, we could see The Cannery through our headlamps. We pulled into a small river delta, wasted no time in getting anchored, pulled the goat meat and cape out of our packs, shoving them into a covered hold in the bow, grabbed everything we would need for the night, and trudged up the hill to the little cabin. We had made it! The only thing on me that was actually still dry were my Kenetrek boots and socks, even though I dumped a good quart of water out of my Neo overshoes, which are kind of like hip waders. We fired up the lantern and got the MSR stove running for some heat. We sorted through the old clothes hanging on the wall which were torn, eaten and overall just filthy, stripped to our birthday suits and redressed in our borrowed duds. As I pulled on the torn sweat pants and zipped up a cotton hoody sweatshirt, I felt so thankful for these clothes! We heated up some Tang and boiled water for our dehydrated dinners. Our clothes were wrung out and hung all over the cabin to semi-dry overnight. Thank goodness for the extra sleeping bag. I gave Scott the mattress and I took the box spring, and we turned in for the night. We were warm and dry, as the South-Wester continued to blow and rain throughout the night. As I drifted off to sleep, thoughts of the day spun around in my head like a top. It had been a good day. I felt very happy and satisfied with everything in my little world. I gave thanks to my Lord and Savior.
Sunday morning, 11/6, we awoke in the darkness and quickly dressed. My high dollar synthetic clothing was still wet, while Scott’s tightly woven wool clothing was practically dry. The truth is, I got schooled by Scott, who only wears wool clothing and Helly Hansen rubber rain gear. He had gotten wet the day before, but nothing like I did. My Marmot rain gear had been put to shame, but hey, at least I looked cool! The storm was dying down, and Olga was now just a little miffed. We packed up, straightened up the cabin, and left some nonperishable food and batteries as payment for the night’s stay. Up the bay we sped, and within less than an hour we were back in our Silver Salmon camp. Scott cooked us breakfast after we changed clothes and got all of our things hung above the lanterns and heaters to dry. Scott checked in at Andrew Airways and although they were not flying today, the weather forecast for Monday was fantastic and it looked like planes would fly at the crack of dawn. After we rested a bit, we got the goat meat hung up and caped out the skull. I had figured we would just relax in camp the rest of the day, and then at about 1:30pm, Scott said: “Let’s go kill you a deer!”
Being dry, rested and well fed gives you a new outlook on life! The “South-Wester” had blown through, and a steady breeze came out of the north, perfect for where Scott wanted to glass for big bucks. As we walked a game trail, we cut a large track of a big Kodiak that Scott thought was pretty fresh. If we could locate this Bear by chance today and it wasn’t all rubbed up, Scott would have his Bear hunter fly here in the morning. We continued on a couple of miles until we came to a very large basin covered with broken patches of willows and alders. We climbed up on the side of a southeastern facing slope and started glassing. No Deer and no Bear, but it was still quite early.
After a few minutes we headed back down into the basin, with the wind in our face. It wasn’t long before Scott froze in his tracks and motioned me to continue forward slowly. Not 30 yards in front of us stood a fine Blacktail buck. He was not very wide, but had a 4 point frame on his right beam, but only forks on his left side. He was on high alert. Scott whispered: “he would make a fine first Blacktail.” Although I had 2 Deer tags in my pack, this buck just didn’t make my blood boil, and I fiddled around just long enough for the buck to blowout. I was actually relieved with the outcome. We turned to the east and climbed up on another small hill, and sat down to glass again.
Within seconds we were staring at 2 more bucks at a distance of about 260 yards. They were looking at us too, but after a short time, they went back to browsing and trashing alders with their antlers. These guys were bigger, with wider racks, but both bucks still just forked on at least one beam. This is very common for the species, who looks like a little Mule Deer, but acts like a Whitetail. We kept glassing the basin, and soon turned up another buck that made my ears start to pound! This buck had it all! A tall, wide, thick 8 point frame, including long brow tines. He was cruising across the basin at the base our hill, along a thick brush line, which kept him mostly hidden. He was about to disappear from sight at the apex of the hill. Scott wanted us to close the distance and move to a higher position. Not me. I had seen his eyes in my scope and I knew he would reappear in a moment or two, and would continue cruising the brush line. We briefly bantered back and forth in a whisper, when the buck reappeared, on queue. I rested my rifle over my pack and flicked the safety off, again in a prone position. We estimated him at no more than 200 yards. Now this monster just needed to hit a gap in the alders. He was just clearing the brush when he spotted our shapes on the hillside, faced us squarely and froze in his tracks. I was already squeezing the trigger. BOOM… WATHUMP, and as I recovered from the recoil to settle back into my scope, Scott said: “Man, that is one dead Deer!” The bullet had entered the base of his neck, driving through his chest and burying into the right shoulder. He never felt a thing. The kill was clean.
When we walked up to this monster buck, Scott was impressed! He said I could hunt Blacktails for years on Kodiak and never kill one this big again. He wasn’t sure if he would make the books, but he would be very close. This buck also had a short 2 inch, 3rd beam that had grown just above his left eye. We took lots of pictures, caped and quartered my trophy, as it started to gently rain on us yet one more time. It was only about 4:30pm by the time our packs were loaded, and in about an hour, we were back in camp, after an easy hike home.
After we hung the venison up with the goat meat, we checked to make sure the bear fence was still hot. That was my job, which wasn’t very much fun or fulfilling! Our camp was surely starting to smell pretty good to a hungry Kodiak. We then started preparing equipment and gear on the beach for our flight to Bear camp on the Ayakulik Monday morning. Dinner was delicious, and I sipped my whiskey while we listened to the radio and made plans for our morning move. Another satisfying day in Alaska had come to an end, and I couldn’t have been happier!
Monday morning, 11/7, and I again woke up far too early for Scott’s liking, and he let me know it. It was quite cold and really the first morning we had a hard freeze. The skies were clear with a light breeze. It was going to be a beautiful day. During breakfast we called in regarding our plane and the move to Bear camp. Greg Acord and his Bear hunter would be dropped off first, out of Kodiak City on the Ayakulik, and then we would be picked up with the majority gear including an inflatable raft that was stored at Silver Salmon, and both of the outboard motors. Although today was beautiful (jpg.128), high winds and more storms were being forecasted for the remainder of the week. If I was going to get home on schedule, I needed to fly out 2 days early or take my chances. Although I had been looking forward to tagging along on a Kodiak Bear hunt, my gut told me to get out while I can, and the decision was made. I would fly back on the Beaver after all of the gear was dropped on the river.
Scott and I got to work closing down the Silver Salmon camp. He would return to hunt here again in a week. We pulled the motors and drug the boat well out off the tidal plain and anchored it solid, well inland. Quickly we gathered all of our remaining gear from the tents and hauled the venison and goat meat down to the beach. The plane could be here at any time and we had to be ready to go. I kept looking for a family of Harbor Seals I wanted to photograph. I had seen them watching us close from the bay back on Thursday when it was stormy. I kept trying to take pictures in the rain and the wind, but it was like playing “whack-a-mole”, and every time I got them in focus and clicked the shutter they submerged beneath the waves. I started worrying about my camera getting soaked and called it quits. They were apparently feeding somewhere else today. Although I never saw any whales, it is not uncommon to see both Humpbacks and Orcas in Olga Bay. You always know when an Orca is nearby, as the seals will be out of the water, up on the beach, barking!
At 11:00am, the Beaver pontoon plane made a smooth landing and we started loading gear. It would take two trips to get everything over there including the two of us. It was a beautiful 10 minute flight up the Ayakulik River to camp. I met Greg and the Bear hunter who seemed like a very nice guy and determined hunter. After 3 extra days in Kodiak City, he was chomping at the bit to get this hunt started. They could scout today for Bears, but by law in Alaska, you are required to wait 24 hours after a bush plane flight before you can hunt Bear and several other species as well. I almost changed my mind and stayed, but finally I wished them luck and bid them all farewell. Scott and I would talk again over Thanksgiving. Within an hour we landed safely at Andrew Airways.
Scott had given me a phone number for Harry Dodge, who wanted both my venison and goat meat. Actually, everybody in Kodiak wanted it for their own freezers. Wild game is more common for dinner in Alaska then beef, pork, and poultry, any day. The cost of trying to fly it back to Texas is ridiculous, and I knew none of it would go to waste. I called Harry from the flight office, and he was on his way to pick me up, and also drop me off at the Best Western.
I walked back outside where I had left my rifle and pack, along with my meat and trophies. There was a hoard of about 10 hunters crowded around, admiring my horns and antlers. Some were going out and some were coming back in. Most of those coming back in were empty handed. Goat horns off the cape are not impressive in the least. What they were all looking at were the Blacktail antlers. They all congratulated me, and several of them told me they were sure that I was going to make B&C with my Deer. To me that was just icing on the cake.
Harry pulled up in an old Chevy 4×4 pickup accompanied by a 12 year old black Labrador, named “Ruben”, who rode on the front seat with us. Harry was a friendly, soft spoken, older gentlemen. I already knew that he used to guide with Scott, but I felt like I knew his face and should recognize his name. We loaded up and drove to Mac’s Sporting Goods. We needed an ADF&G proclamation for the meat transfer documents, which we were both required to fill out and keep on hand. As we completed the documents in the breezeway of the store, I noticed that practically everyone who either entered or exited all greeted Harry as they passed. Who the heck was this guy? Harry and Ruben then dropped me off at the Best Western Inn, he thanked me again for the meat, I thanked him for the ride, and he left.
If you ever visit Kodiak City, I highly recommend the Best Western Inn! They know how to cater to the outdoorsman, providing a game freezer at no charge, as well as a guest storage room for things like rifle cases and an overnight bag. Basically anything you wouldn’t need while hunting or fishing, regardless if you are still checked in or not. Courtney, the desk manager, remembered me as she had me “penciled” in for a room on Wednesday. They understand weather and planes on the rock, and how schedules change constantly. Larry, the maintenance man, then helped me store my capes in the freezer. He was a hunter too, and was very impressed with my Blacktail buck. He even took my antlers for a while to show other staff members and his brother off the premises. All of the staff including Dixie the Bartender and Gill the Chef were very hospitable and friendly. Most of the people I met in the city just seemed very happy and relaxed. Life on Kodiak is good! I made a quick call to reschedule my flight home for Wednesday, took about a 60 minute shower and just relaxed in the bar for the rest of the evening. I would have Tuesday to get my rifle & gear cleaned up, and repacked, as well as pack my capes and headgear for the plane ride home.
Up early, but no one to scold me this morning! Since the restaurant opened in 2 hours for breakfast, I wasted no time and jumped on the computer in the business center, reviewing the Boone & Crockett website for scoring my Blacktail. I would need a net score of 100 to make the 3 year awards program and a net score of 108 to make the all time record book. Furthermore, an official B&C scorer needs to measure my buck after a 30 day drying period. According to my tape, he green scores 107 gross B&C with a net score of 102 5/8! Regardless of the official tally, I am very humbled and honored to have tagged such a fine trophy.
Later that day while shopping for souvenirs I came across several books on the hunting history of Kodiak Island. One really caught my eye, which was simply titled “The Hunts”. As I thumbed through the pages, the store owner told me that it was a really good book! I had seen this book before, advertised on the internet and in magazines. I glanced at the author’s name, which read “Harry Dodge III!” Sure enough his picture was on the back cover with his lovely wife and Ruben the Labrador! I told the store owner I had met Harry yesterday. She went on to tell me that he was a well known writer and author and quite a celebrity on the Island. Harry has spent his life guiding hunters on Kodiak, and began his career with Pinnell & Talifson. Feeling like a dork, which is common for me, I purchased an autographed copy of the book and called Harry up to thank him again for the ride yesterday. I apologized for my poor memory, as I had been in the presence of a hunting icon, and told him that I had purchased one of his books. He just laughed and thanked me again for the meat! He felt “The Hunts” was his best work and to please call him after I read it to let him know what I thought. Although my copy was autographed, I wish I could have gotten him to write a personal note… Something neat to show my grandchildren someday. Harry Dodge will be remembered forever in Bear hunting circles!
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Even the parts I made up! Scott Mileur called me Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. His Bear hunter killed a B&C boar on the 3rd day of the hunt which I would have missed anyway… Well, not really, as I would have still been there on the Ayakulik River with them! You see, after I flew out on November 7th, the storms and winds were so bad on Kodiak, they didn’t have another plane on that end of the Island until November 17th! Kodiak International Airport actually closed after I flew out early on the morning of November 9th, as Alaska was hit with one of the worst storms they have had in 50 years! Scott’s Deer hunter cancelled his hunt, and the 2nd Rocky Mountain Goat hunter had to be rescheduled for 2012!