Kodiak Island Blacktail/Caribou

We woke up at 6:00 and got our gear together a little quicker the second day. We decided to give the caribou a rest and look for deer. We headed west, swung around the base of the ridge we climbed yesterday and headed for the ridge where we had seen the biggest buck the day before. We bumped into a small buck and a doe on the ridge we wanted to climb. Once we got halfway up the ridge, we spotted the group with the bigger buck. I got the spotting scope out and confirmed that he was a small 4 point. There was also a big forkie. Craig had taken a blacktail before and was looking for a big one, but I was happy to shoot anything decent. They worked up the opposing ridge and eventually disappeared into some tall brush. The big buck was the first to disappear. He seemed to be a little more cautious than most. The majority of the deer bedded in the tall grass from what I could tell. This guy wanted something more secure.

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Once they disappeared into cover, we continued our climb to get up above them. On top we could see into the next canyon and all the way to the ocean. There were a few more deer in view, but nothing of size. At one point Craig said he saw a bear. I asked him where and he pointed me all the way toward the large bay about 4 miles away. Sure enough, even in the binoculars you could see a large black dot cruising across the flats. I pulled out the spotting scope and we watched it for a few minutes. That bear could really move. I started glassing the bay and picked out several more bears working around the inlet. I remembered reading that Chuck Adams likes to blacktail hunt in late August and early September when the bears are low looking for fish instead of in the hills with the deer. Seemed like sound advice to me. We worked over to another saddle and found a few more deer including a nice 3 point. I was trying to figure out if I could close in on him with the wind.

At one point I looked up the ridge above me and saw furry black ears coming my way above the grass. My heart jumped into my throat as I thought bear cub! Before I could figure out if I should jump up and yell it turned sideways and I saw it was a beautiful black fox. He was almost the size of a small western coyote. He passed behind me about 30 yards away and headed down the back of the ridge. Not long after that, the wind shifted a little and the deer below seemed to smell me and cautiously moved up the ridge. That made the decision easier and we headed back to the cover where the nice buck had disappeared in the morning.
We eased down the ridge and it looked like there was a good bush to hide behind on the right side. Craig stayed about 100 yards up the hill and I eased down the hill. Since the wind was blowing from my right, I had to stay above where I thought the deer were but it was a good spot. I could sit down and just see over the grass down the hill. If anything came out and crossed the knee of the ridge, I should get a shot. I put on an arrow and drew my bow once for a quick check. Everything seemed good.

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I hadn’t waited 30 minutes when I glanced down and saw antlers bobbing. I looked in the binocs and saw the big forkie feeding about 70 yards below. He started moving my way up the hill. He fed around a patch of brush and stood broadside at 50 yards. I wanted to shoot, but the buck was still coming and 5 or 10 yards closer should guarantee a hit. He moved to the left and I drew the bow. As he walked through a gap in the brush at 45 yards, I let it go. I don’t know if I hadn’t compensated for the angle enough or I punched the trigger, but the arrow sailed right over his back. He jumped and ran downhill 10 yards looking around for the source of the commotion. He had no idea I was there and shortly began walking back up the hill, to the right this time. I was certainly interested in another chance. I nocked an arrow and got ready. When he gave me a quartering away shot at 45 yards, I held a little lower and watched the arrow fly true. He jumped then walked downhill slowly, obviously in pain. After about 50 yards his hindquarters started to wobble and he bedded in sight. A few seconds later, he rolled over and kicked. I had my first blacktail.

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I waved Craig down and we took pictures. Then we cut up the buck while looking around occasionally for bears. We hadn’t seen any activity, but in a place like Kodiak you never know. Craig offered to carry my bow and spotting scope so I ended up with about 60 pounds on my back. The walk back to camp was pretty uneventful. We ate some Mountain House meals in good daylight and talked about strategy for the caribou the next day.

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Morning found us slogging across the tundra looking for the caribou again. We spotted them after a while only a few hundred yards from where we left them. They were once again in the middle of open ground with minimal stalking cover. We closed the distance to a couple hundred yards again without detection. The wind was in our faces this time and seemed steady. Craig had come to Kodiak for a caribou, so I told him to try the stalk. I would swing around below them in case they changed direction or maybe for a follow up shot if he got one and the herd came my way.

I could see Craig pretty well. He belly crawled 100 yards closer and the herd seemed oblivious. Every once in a while I could see his head come up as he found the herd and ranged them. Then the herd started wandering right toward him. My heart was pounding just watching the imminent encounter. Craig obviously noticed too since he hunkered down and tried to disappear in 6 inch tall cover. It was hard to tell how close they were, but suddenly one of the bulls pegged Craig. The standoff began as more bulls walked to the front and also began to stare. Then the group started easing away and Craig realized he had better act. He told me later that he had been trying to range the bulls, but the grass was interfering with his rangefinder. He finally came up and drew his bow.

I couldn’t see the shot, but the herd suddenly shuffled off away from me. I kept glassing to see if one would fall, but didn’t see anything. I walked up to Craig and he said he had missed low. He thinks they were about 45 yards when he first got spotted, but they put some distance between him before he was able to get off a shot. The herd didn’t go more than half a mile so we kept after them the rest of the day, but again it seemed like they knew we were around and stalking was tough. We ended the day vowing to get them next time.

As before, we gave the caribou the next day off and went looking for deer on day 4. We had glassed a really large buck a few miles away on a couple small peaks. Craig is a small, fit guy and he can really cover ground so I told him he should go after the buck himself. There wasn’t any need for us to stay together if we were deer hunting. Packing a deer back to camp was a one man job. I told him I would get up top and go down the ridge above camp that we never checked after we found the caribou the first day. I was pretty sore so I hung out around camp and ate lunch while some rain rolled through that morning. I fashioned some improvised gators out of a waterproof pack cover hoping that would make the wet foliage tolerable. After lunch I headed up the ridge. About the time I got to the top another rain storm arrived. I found a comfortable seat and pulled on my poncho for about an hour wait. When it cleared I hiked up to the ridge top.

The clouds were hanging low and I couldn’t see much. They would raise a little at times and I saw a couple deer across the bottom. Before I could really confirm the size on anything, the rain and clouds arrived again. I set my poncho out on the ground and rolled up in it. After another hour wait, it cleared but the deer disappeared so I kept easing up the ridge. I got caught one more time in rain before it finally cleared up. The wind was blowing pretty hard, but at least I could see. Half a mile or so down the ridge I peeked over the ridge top and spotted a nice forkie bedded about a hundred yards down the ridge. I wanted something a little bigger for my second and final deer so I kept moving.