Kodiak Island Blacktail/Caribou

I peeked over the top again about 100 yards later and saw a dandy buck standing on a small point 70 yards below me. He was looking down the ridge and probably had four points per side. I eased back and dropped my pack. When I peeked over again, I saw the buck bed down. He must have been bedded and stood for a minute to look at something below. It was a lucky break for me since I could only see his rack now and probably wouldn’t have spotted him. The route to the buck was open, but he couldn’t see me over the foliage without standing so I had a chance. I got into a crab crawl position and started easing down the 70 degree wet slope. After 5 yards or so the wet grass squeaked against my boot soles and the buck’s rack turned my way. I froze and after a few minutes they turned back downhill. I ranged the rack and at 65 yards knew I wanted to get closer. I tried easing downhill again. My butt was getting soaked, but slowly I was closing the distance. After 10 more yards, the grass squeaked again and the buck’s rack swiveled. I froze for 5 minutes before he relaxed this time. I ranged him and at 55 yards I thought I was close enough. If I tried to get closer I might alert him. With the steep angle of the hill, I should have a solid 50 yard hold. I made the decision to wait and got comfortable with my bow in my lap and an arrow on the string.

kodiak-archery-hunt-241.jpg


It only took 30 or 40 minutes. The buck stood and casually looked down the steep slope. He was totally exposed and quartering away. I aimed the pin for the bottom of his off-side shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The arrow zipped away and looked like a perfect dart. It arced into the buck and made a solid whack. The buck lunged off the point and disappeared. I was worried about finding a blood trail in the tall wet grass so I hustled down to the point to see if I could spot the buck. When I got there, I could see the deer down and kicking only 100 yards below.

kodiak-archery-hunt-221.jpg


I went back up and grabbed my pack excited about making a great shot on a great buck. When I got back to the point it was easy to see the buck’s path. He had sprayed blood all over and the trail would have been an easy one to follow. As I continued down the hill the blood only got better. When I got to the buck, I could see why. My arrow went right through the buck’s heart and exited just below the front left shoulder. The entry was high on the right side of the rib cage. I couldn’t have placed the arrow through the buck any better. I took pictures, cut all the meat off the carcass and began the pack to camp again. It was a mile and a half walk and I got back to camp around 10:30 right around sunset. I was whipped but ecstatic. Craig was already at camp and said the buck was a dandy and way over the P&Y minimum. He had seen some deer, but the big buck was nowhere to be found. He had watched a sow with two cubs running from a big boar.

We went to bed anxious to get after the caribou again. Unfortunately when the alarm went off it was pouring rain. We went back to sleep and awoke a couple hours later to the same. It turned out to be a long day in the tent. I was pretty wiped out from the hiking and packing so I didn’t mind. Craig and I got caught up on hunting stories from the past 20 years. We were getting picked up the morning of day eight. That meant we only had two more days to get a caribou. If we wanted to pack them out without a very long night, we needed to get ‘em tomorrow. Hopefully the weather would break and give us a chance.

When morning of day six arrived, it was still foggy and rainy. We made breakfast and hoped for the best. Around noon, the rain stopped and the fog lifted a little. We knew about where the caribou would be so we figured it was good enough. We pulled on our wet weather gear and headed for the river bottom. We spotted the caribou before we even hit the creek. With visions of antlers dancing in our heads we made it to the creek quick enough, but found things had changed a little. All the rain had swollen the creek and there was no way we could cross at the beaver dam, not even in hippers. We knew the creek only got bigger below from previous walks so we headed upriver.

About a mile of walking and an hour later we had located a couple spots where we could jump the creek. We had to go above a split which shrunk the creek size considerably. We headed back toward the caribou with renewed energy. We closed to within a couple hundred yards again and faced our familiar dilemma. The bou were out in the open. We watched them for a while to see if they were moving any particular direction. It was hard to tell, but maybe they were coming our way a little and they were moving more uphill than any other direction. The wind was blowing mostly toward them so I told Craig one of us should swing around and follow the creek until we got on the other side of them. Craig said he would take the direct approach and I should swing around.

I got down along the creek and had pretty decent cover. A couple animals looked my way once or twice, but I was at least 200 yards away and in good cover. I found a great draw behind the herd and moved up the hill and got directly opposite of Craig on the other side. I crawled up until I ran out of cover and spotted the herd about 120 yards away. I watched them for 20 or 30 minutes trying to figure out what they wanted to do. I even crawled to one end of the cover and back trying to anticipate their movement. Eventually I concluded they weren’t really going to come my way and seemed to be drifting uphill. I needed to swing around and get above them.

I reversed my stalk and got down along the creek again. This time I went up close to the cover along the base of the opposing hills and swung above the herd. I couldn’t see them, but knew they had to be right below me. When I eased around a patch of brush, I saw antlers about 100 yards below me. The herd was milling around in the same bottom I was in. Now if they would just come my way. I snuck around to the end of the cover and positioned myself behind a patch of ferns. I was right in the middle of the bottom. The herd drifted right for a while and I thought they might head towards the brushline I had just left. Then the big guy swung them my way and here they came.

That brings us back to the start of this story. The bull Whitey and the herd kept coming. They were spread out in front of me and coming at a steady slow walk. Whitey was facing me and he didn’t offer a shot as he closed to within 50 yards. Then he turned broadside just as another bull stepped right behind him. I had no shot since I was almost guaranteed to pass through. I was getting nervous with bulls almost 180 degrees in front of me. The wind was good, but the bulls on the right could hit my scent at any time. I ranged Whitey again at only 45 yards. I scanned the rest of the herd. The young bulls were to my left. Then I saw the second biggest bull in the herd. He was straight ahead, 45 yards, broadside and all alone. I decided he would do just fine. I drew the bow and sent an arrow right through his heart.

The bull jumped and the herd bunched together about 50 yards away. My bull was jittery and knew something wasn’t right. After a few seconds he must have realized he was in trouble because he took off like his tail was on fire. He only made it about 5 seconds before piling up in sight. The rest of the herd watched nervously and made their way back towards Craig. I thought he might be in position to drop a bull of his own, but he had backed off when he realized the caribou were heading my way. He came walking up when he saw me looking for my arrow. We took pictures and cut the bull up for the trip to camp.

The amount of fat on the bull was amazing. It must have been 2 inches thick on top of his backstraps. By the time we got him done, it was around 10:00 PM and it started raining again. The hike back to camp was nothing short of miserable. We were tired, the ground was wet, it was raining and in the dark we couldn’t navigate through the tundra very well. We kept running into holes, creeks, beaver tunnels and every other thing you could fall into in the dark. We got back to camp around 12:30. We just cooked up some Mountain House and went to sleep exhausted.

The next morning we slept in and got ready for a fast meat run. We brought the bear spray and shotgun just in case a bear had found the carcass during the night. We made it to the kill site in about an hour and 45 minutes this time. That was 45 minutes faster than our miserable night hike the evening before. We approached the carcass cautiously, but didn’t see any bears or sign that they had been there. We did find a very brazen fox that would sneak in and grab a bite of fat with us 10 feet away. We loaded up the last of the meat and the antlers and made a pretty quick trip back to camp.

kodiak-archery-hunt-253.jpg


Craig still had the second half of the day to get a deer so he ate a quick meal and headed up the mountains. He spotted a few and tried one stalk, but nothing came together. While Craig hunted, I tried to pack things up in preparation for the plane. We finished packing in the morning and the pilot showed up right on time. The weather got better and better as we flew north. By the time we got to Kodiak, it was a beautiful blue bird day. The view from the plane was stunning. I asked the pilot how he would get the antlers back. The blacktails would ship back easily, but the caribou was enormous. He thought I might be able to check it as baggage. He thought that stood a better chance than shipping it.

We got all our gear packed up back at the transporter’s office. They ran us to the post office to mail things home then to Henry’s for lunch. The food was awesome and the place was packed for a Tuesday afternoon. It looked just like a Friday night at Chili’s or Applebee’s back home. Then he dropped us off at the airport for the trip home. I had decided to try to check the antlers as baggage. I had already wrapped the points to protect them, but the ladies at the airport said the whole thing had to be covered. I told them we didn’t have a car or anything to go get supplies. They were very helpful and brought out boxes and tape for me. I spent an hour wrapping the antlers into a giant, crazy looking cardboard sculpture. The TSA guys were not thrilled, but it passed inspection and actually made it home intact. I don’t know that I would recommend that method, but it was a lot cheaper than having them crated and shipped home.

kodiak-archery-hunt-254.jpg


All in all, the trip was amazing. Like I said above, I’ve never had as much success in as little time. Kodiak is certainly a beautiful place and I’ll be back. I’m sure Craig wants some revenge on the caribou too. I’ll get the deer and caribou scored in the near future. Based on the examples in the airport, my four point buck is probably in the mid 90 inch class. I have no idea about the caribou. He’ll look really good on the wall no matter what. Just for reference, I shoot a Bowtech Allegiance, Easton full metal jacket arrows and G5 Stryker broadheads.


Jason Juliana is an Air Force mechanical engineer currently stationed in Virginia. He was born and raised in New Mexico and loves chasing elk with a bow every September the Air Force will let him. He is a true DIY hunter who has never been on a guided hunt. He has taken big game from almost every Rocky Mountain state, Alaska and a handful of states east of the Mississippi. He also enjoys bird hunting, fly fishing, long range rifle shooting and taking his wife to dinner since she lets him hunt s