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Alaskan Solitude – Black Bear Hunt

Southeast Alaska is known for  black bear hunting. Her towering forests, and lush shorelines provide plenty of cover and food for big bears. As with most parts of Alaska, it takes some work and time to get there. One of my favorite things about southeast Alaska is that solitude is easy to come by. May 13th found the four of us (Dad, Ben, Ken and I), making the trip. We would travel by foot, car, boat and plane to get there. We landed on a commercial flight in Ketchikan, then boarded the Inter-Island Ferry and nestled in for the 3 hour voyage to Hollis. We chowed on some good food from the diner on the boat, along with a healthy helping of anticipation as we watched whales, sea lions, and fishermen out the ferry windows. We were blessed with a rare bluebird day.

We hit the island and traveled north via an old forest service Suburban. We’d be driving for a few hours and then embarking on a skiff to an isolated camp site, and hunt the beaches for big black bruins! The weather quickly turned Alaskan as we sped across the chop of the inside passage. After a few short hours of prospecting camp sites, we selected a nice grassy beach several feet above the high tide line and got to setting camp and eventually out looking for bears.

We motored through the bays for the next couple of days without finding very many stalk-able or shooter bears. Those that we made plays on fed into the trees. One evening we came back to camp and were making a very late lunch. Ken went for a stroll up the beach while Ben and I cooked supper. Soon I saw Ken come back around the corner of the bay waving his arms. We grabbed our guns and headed down. A lone boar was tipping rocks and eating crabs a few hundred yards away. Ken had seen him and quickly called us over. We also jumped another very young bear as we approached Ken. The tide was coming up and we needed to make our move. I joined Ken as we moved up the bay to get a better shot angle. The bear had gone behind a small rock outcropping, so we were able to move through the open bay as he crunched crabs behind the rock. As I saw him come out from behind the rock I dropped prone and motioned to Ken that the bear was coming back out. A few steps later, my .270 found it’s mark. The bear ran about 20 yards and piled up.

We approached the downed bear and admired his battle-scarred face and claws. I stood over the boar facing back from our shooting location and saw another bear. By then Ben and Dad had met up with us, so Ben and Ken took off after this bear. As they got into position to shoot, the bear re-entered the trees. It was starting to get dark, so I started processing my bear. Suddenly the other bear came back out into the grass along the tree edge. Ken shot and the bear turned, running straight towards them. Another quick shot dispatched the big boar and we’d taken 2 bears in about 15 minutes. One bullet struck the old boar right between the eyes.

Taking a day off from bear hunting typically isn’t part of the game plan. But we were able to meet up with a good friend, Bill Miller from Calder Mountain Lodge, to go fish for a few hours. The fishing was hot for Ling Cod and Yelloweye Rockfish (Alaskan Red Snapper). And I was able to pull in a single halibut. It provided us with a savory meal that night at camp and some of the best salt water fishing I’ve had in Alaska.

We were finally down to our last couple of days. Dad and Ben had yet to connect with a bear. We had a very large boar come out at dusk on our second to last day, unfortunately, he didn’t stay out feeding for long and Dad was unable to finish his stalk.

We finally located a bear, and the stalk was on. The bear was intent on rolling driftwood logs over and eating crabs and seaweed. He paid no attention as we slipped along the shore. We closed the distance to under 100 yards, and Ben put a perfect shot on the bear. He was face down eating grass as the bullet impacted him, he fell flat on his face and never twitched again. This bear was also missing a good chunk of his upper lip.

Sour weather was on the horizon. Getting stuck in a skiff in a nasty storm wasn’t something we wanted to mess with. Mother nature dictated our next move as we spent the next morning trimming and turning hides, packing camp, and motoring back to get the bears sealed and checked. We  headed south, stopping in Whale Pass for the night. The next day we made our way south to Hollis, back on the ferry to Ketchikan and the long trip home, bear meat, hides, and an incredible batch of memories in tow.

 

Return to the Sage: Wyoming Antelope

Getting so close a few weeks ago and coming home empty handed changed our plans for the rifle opener. Initially we were planning on scouting for 2 days, and rifle hunting the rest of the week. But after tasting the challenge that spot and stalk archery hunting provided, we modified our plans and headed over 4 days earlier, hoping to get the job done with archery tackle. We’d then have a day or two to pick up our rifles if needed.

Wyoming Desert Sunrise
In this sage country, cover is very scarce. Our tactic consisted of driving and hiking into canyons and draws, looking for bucks that were in stalk-able locations. We each had multiple stalks every day — some better than others. It wasn’t an issue of getting within range, but being close enough, and letting an arrow fly are much different things in the bowhunting world.

Buck through the brush

Dad came and met us after a couple of days, and a good friend, Jewkes, also showed up the Saturday before the rifle hunt opened. We spent a lot of time driving, walking, and glassing bucks to stalk.  Cole showed up Sunday afternoon. He would only be rifle hunting, but came out a couple of days early to get familiar with the unit and look at some bucks.

Jewkes came about 3 inches shy of killing a buck on Sunday, but the buck had moved a few steps farther than he had though and he shot just under its belly. The young buck dashed off and quickly learned to keep his distance from Jewkes-sized predators.

Running Pronghorn Buck

Monday morning we headed out to check on a few of the bigger bucks we’d seen. We were hoping to find them in their usual haunts, so we could be there at first light on opening morning. But we couldn’t locate any of them. We checked a half dozen different areas, and none of our bigger bucks were to be found. Disheartened we decided to head to another part of the unit that we had visited just once over the past 4 days.


Glassing for Bucks

I’d like to say that we put on a difficult stalk, but that wasn’t the case. As we were arriving in the other area and had barely driven onto a strip of public land, we spotted 8 bucks feeding from the truck.  We managed to get the truck pulled off the road without spooking them too much, and Jewkes made a short and effective stalk to within range.

I was sizing the bucks up, trying to pick the largest one. They all looked to be about 2.5 year old bucks — none significantly bigger than the others. They all lined up in a row and looked our way as they had caught our movement. The third from the left, however, did have a pretty hook and was a bit more appealing to my eye. I was looking through the camera eyepiece whispering “Third one from the left…third one from the left.”

The arrow flew, the herd jumped and scattered, and the third buck from the left ran off untouched. The second buck from the left, however, had taken an arrow to the spine and dropped on the spot. The shot was a little high, but the buck was down and expired quickly. It was done. We had a pronghorn buck down — spot and stalk style with archery tackle. We were all on cloud nine as we took a few moments to let it all sink in, snap some photos, and then headed back to camp. Tag 1 of 5 was notched. Rifle season started in the morning.


Jewkes' Archery AntelopeJewkes' Archery Buck Closeup

With pronghorn, an inch makes a big difference. In this sense, antelope hunting differs quite a bit from most other hunts as we looked over dozens of different bucks every day, trying to judge an inch here, and an inch there.  The majority of the bucks we would see were around 13 inches tall or smaller with small to average prongs and not much mass.  As the day wears on and the desert warms, heat waves make discerning inches at distances over 300 yards nearly impossible, even with good optics. We made the decision to split up opening morning. Cole and Jewkes went one way, while Ben, Dad and I took the other truck down into the canyons where we had seen several good bucks on multiple occasions, hoping that they would be back for the rifle opener.

Pronhorn Buck on Skyline

They weren’t. We drove through the usual haunts of several different bucks, only to find them empty. We did find several 14+ inch bucks early in the morning, one in particular had sweeping horns, but we decided that only 10 minutes into the rifle season, he could live a little longer.

We covered a lot of ground, and finally found a solid buck that warranted a stalk, but he was a mile away and two draws over. We consulted the GPS (thanks to GPS Hunting Maps) and found a road that would bring us close. After a bumpy drive and a stalk of a few hundred yards, we eased our way over the edge of the ridge. The herd had moved several hundred yards west and had us pegged. I rushed to find the buck, rested over a large sagebrush, checked the range, and took the shot. I hit low and the buck trailed his fast moving girlfriends across the draw and up the canyon. I had an incorrect range, and must have picked up some brush somewhere between myself and the buck and missed low because of it.

We made our way back out of the canyons and onto a big flat that always holds good amounts of antelope — they lived there because they could see for long distance so getting close to them was tough. We found several herds, and Ben and I were able to stalk up a draw, passing several bucks on the way, but ultimately not getting the bucks we were after.

Ben Watching Buck through Scope

We returned to camp to find Cole had killed the first buck he saw that morning. His luck paid off big time as his buck was big and had character. We exchanged high fives and stories of the morning, grabbed some lunch, and headed out to find some more bucks.

Cole's Big Character Buck

Trek Tent Camp

We found another nice buck, who managed to elude us and were driving back past camp, when we spotted a herd on backside of the ridge above camp, close to where I had one of my closest archery stalks several days prior. This looked to be the same buck and I decided I’d make a stalk. Ben took Dad south to try and find another buck, while Jewkes followed me with the camera as we made our way back to camp and up the draw. Hoping we could sneak around the ridge and find the herd within range.

I left Jewkes when I thought we were close and he stayed back with the camera, as there was very little cover. I had to use the topography of the gradual ridge to make my way towards the herd. I crawled forward and saw a doe, she was moving up the hill so I backed off, looped uphill and crawled forward again. The buck was standing next to a doe at about 200 yards, and for a long time either she was in front of him or he was in front of her so no shot was offered. I studied the buck, trying to decide whether I wanted to fill my tag. The doe cleared and he turned his head to look up the draw, his ivory tips glinted in the sunlight and he made up my mind. I grabbed my pack (which I had set behind me) and laid on my back as I pulled it across my chest to use as a rest. The buck caught my movement and looked my way. He stared me down, as I lay flat on my back in some very short grass. After what felt like an hour (more like a minute) he turned and fed. His lead doe was getting nervous and turned, looking to go around the ridge from me where I wouldn’t be able to see them. The buck was following but turned back. I abruptly sat up and shot. His does raced uphill, quartering towards me as they hurried to the top of the ridge. The buck turned downhill at first, then whirled back and I shot again, but the first shot had found its mark.

Brad's Pronghorn Buck

Brad's Buck side view

Brad's Wyoming Buck


Dad and Ben were coming back past camp, so we called and they came up to take a few more photos. They then headed back south of camp to look for a couple more good bucks. Ben found a buck that evening that had a pretty curl, great mass, and good prongs. He put on a very long stalk to within 70 yards in tall sage brush, capping it off with a short shot and tagged out. His buck is 13″ but will likely score the best of all the bucks due to his mass and strong cutters.

Ben's massive hooked pronghorn buck

We capped the night off with some rice and fresh backstraps, enjoying good company, tired companions, and reliving memories of the day. The next morning Dad, Ben and I headed out to try to find a buck for Dad. We drove down onto a large flat where we had gone the morning prior. The bucks make their way across this flat as they move from water each morning. We spotted the sweeping 14″ from the morning before and Dad decided he wouldn’t pass on him twice. With a short stalk his tag was punched and we had tagged 5 bucks in 36 hours.

Dad's sweeping antelope buckDad's Buck Closeup

I’ve long believed that antelope hunting is a great first hunt — but ultimately, it just makes a great hunt whether you’re new to the sport, or a seasoned veteran. The North American Pronghorn truly is a unique and amazing animal, hunting them in the sage deserts of Wyoming is hard to beat.


Morning Glassing for Antelope

Wyoming Horned Toad

Utah Archery Elk Hunt – Manti Unit

I’ve often heard hunters speak of the highs of hunting, as well as the lows. I think sometimes the magnitude of this emotional transition is forgotten after a tag is notched.

Part 1:

A good friend of mine had a similar tag late last year and came home empty-handed. His biggest regret wasn’t necessarily coming home empty handed, but rather, letting himself cave to the pressure of passing on lesser bulls that he would have been very happy to hang his tag on. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I purposely didn’t set a “score” for the bull I wanted to kill — I said if I liked him, I would take him. I had trained my mind for just that occasion. I planned on passing a bull or two, because I knew I would have my chance at multiple smaller satellite type bulls.

Anticipation had me laying awake at night dreaming of large racked bulls tilting their headgear to maneuver between trees as they responded to calls and moved ever closer. I must have played it over a thousand times in my head. As the bulls head moved from my view behind a tree, I would draw and wait for his vitals to clear. I would stop him with a quick chirp and send my arrow on its way. I couldn’t wait!

Scouting trips had me drooling over big bulls. I wanted to hunt bugling bulls so I postponed the majority of my vacation days from work to hunt the last 2 weeks. My brother, and good hunting partner Ben, accompanied me and we arrived with high hopes. Our first day out resulted in no bugles and no elk. But as the sun rose on day 2 elk were found. A bull we named “Main Beams” showed himself and the hunt was on…



Stay tuned for part 2.

 

Sometimes it ends too soon.

All that anticipation for about 3 hours of hunting. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it is funny how things work out. This year’s general muzzleloader hunt in Utah was short, but very cool.

Hunting rarely turns out as expected…

After planning this hunt with my brother and long time hunting partner, Ben, I expected to spend opening day hunting alone, that evening he would come down after work and hunt with me the rest of the week. I enjoy hunting with Ben because he hunts hard, and his hunting style is very similar to mine. So I was glad when he said he got the opener off and would meet me at camp the night before the season opened after dark.

Ben had been watching a great buck early in the season in a particular area, and I hoped to locate this deer (along with a few of his big buddies) the night before the season started so we could position ourselves accordingly before light the following morning. We knew, that along with the light, there would be other hunters – as can be expected on a general OTC hunt, especially in Utah.

This area isn’t a long hike from the road, it is rather steep however, and I barely made the top before dark. I spend about 15 minutes as the light was fading searching for any sign of the big buck. Nothing. I returned to camp, set up the tent in the dark (which was more difficult than it should have been with this particular tent), and waited to Ben’s arrival. He showed up as I was hammering the final tent stakes in with a big rock, trying not to injure a finger or toe. We talked about what I had seen that evening, which didn’t take very long, had some dinner, and hit the hay–in anticipation of what we might find the next morning.

4:30 came pretty early that morning. We wanted to be in position before anyone else so we made our way up the mountain plenty early. We set up on a ridge between two basins, each glassing one. As it was just getting light enough to see, I spotted a buck in the bottom the basin I was watching. I watched him for several minutes, waiting for the light to get a little brighter so I could judge him a little better. He looked like a heavy buck, but I couldn’t put him past his ears. I would expect that he was a 18-22 inch buck, I never did get points counted, as it was too dark and he fed into the timber. I continued to glass, checking in every now and then with Ben. He was not seeing any deer, just the lights from flashlights and headlamps of hunters moving around and across the basin he was watching.

I had a hunter move in from below, check the wind and move on. I’m pretty sure he never saw me, as he was quite intent on sneaking, even though I was only about 20 yards away. I watched a group of does and a small velvet covered spike feed out into the bottom of the basin. I set up the spotter to try and put some big antlers on one of those deer. They suddenly spooked, I turned around to see another hunter just above and behind me. I waved and walked up to talk to him. He told me there were at least 4 hunters on the top of the basin, I had seen one below and Ben had seen a lot of guys moving in from the other basin.

Ben and I decided to move. With all the surrounding pressure, we figured some deer would eventually get bumped. So we elected to move down the ridge, and work through the bottom of the basin I had been watching, up through the timber where I had seen the buck go at first light, and hopefully we could jump some bucks, have some pushed to us, or find some up and feeding in one of the secluded meadows, hidden from the view of hunters on the high ridges.

Let me go backwards just a little bit now. At least 2 of the hunters on the ridge, we had expected to be there. A good friend of mine had told me about this area several years ago, and his sister was planning on hunting the top of the basin. This played into our original plan, as I didn’t want to disrupt her hunt and was hoping she might knock a buck down first thing that morning.

Now back to the story…as we reached the bottom of the basin, we heard several shots above us near the top of the basin. We stalled, watching and listening for spooked deer to flash through the trees ahead of us…Nothing. We moved silently, listening, through a few open meadows in the bottom of the basin. We heard another shot above us (this totals 3 shots). But still no animals were spooked our way.

We continued moving forward, when suddenly I heard something ahead, and saw the flash of antlers come from around a tree about 30 yards ahead of me. The big buck was startled and hit the brakes when he saw us, turning and crossing to my left as he dodged a large deadfall. I was fumbling with the hammer on my muzzleloader as I raised the gun to my shoulder. The deer was picking up speed, I remembered thinking, “don’t hit him too far back.” My iron sights caught up with him and I swung to the front of his shoulder and let one fly. It rocked him hard, he turned towards me and stumbled back. He was dead within 10 steps. I had hit him perfectly through the front shoulder.

Ben had been a few steps behind me watching the excitement. “More bucks!” he yelled, and took off on a “Lance Merrell Run” towards them. They were moving to our right about 80 yards from me. After his heroic sprint, the deer passed Ben at fewer than 20 yards, all broadside and moving past in single file…3 point, 3 point, 2 point. He let them run and the forest quieted down again.

I walked up to the downed deer.

I would not have thought that I would have killed my biggest buck to date with a Muzzleloader on Utah’s General hunt. The buck is 27.5 inches wide and gross scores just shy of 184 inches.

The one and only

This year has been a hectic one. I have only donned the camo twice and both times were for evening  jaunts with a good friend looking for a poor little buck in Northern Utah. No bucks were seen on either of these occasions. Typically by this time of year I have put in 8-10 days of hard hunting with my bow chasing bucks or bulls, or whatever.

But I am looking forward to next week – Utah’s General Muzzleloader season. The only hunt I have planned for this fall is the Utah general deer hunt.  I plan on spending the better part of next week chasing bucks in the Southeast region. This will be my third year hunting this particular area as part of the dedicated hunter program and have harvested one deer…and missed one. The first deer was taken 2 years ago. I hadn’t taken a mule deer buck in several years, and was getting a little bit frustrated finding anything worth shooting in the Cache Valley area. While on a scouting trip for a friend’s elk hunt, I managed to run into about 6 bucks in a high mountain meadow. While none of these bucks were monsters, one was a pretty 27 inch four point, who stood facing me at 60 yards while a few of his comrades busted me from fewer than ten. That winter I changed my region and spent the next year bow hunting every weekend, and finally filled my tag on the third day of the muzzleloader season with a pretty little basket racked buck. Having not taken a buck in several years, I had been holding out for a 4 point, and when the opportunity presented itself, I took it. The next morning I lent my gun to my brother and he managed to take a big three point, his biggest buck to date.

Last year was much like the previous. The bow hunt was full of close calls and near misses. I never launched an arrow, but came very close nearly every day. The muzzleloader hunt rolled around, and I did not find a buck that I wanted to fill my tag with. A good friend of mine was hunting with me and we tried our best to get him his first buck. After a few exciting stalks, we were outsmarted and the deer got away, as did we, with not much more than a few stories to show for it. Ben (brother) had better luck. He jumped a 24 inch 4 point from its bed and somehow stuck an arrow through his lungs before he got away. The buck died within 100 yards of his big three point from the year before. Now they hang together on his wall, perhaps they “hung” together the previous year while still alive.

The rifle hunt got a little bit interesting. I missed a good buck opening morning. I’m not sure how, it happened really fast, and I think I must have shot over him as the shot angle was steeper than I thought. Another good friend, who had never killed a buck either, was along with me and we did manage to harvest a young 3×4. He was all grins as he missed the buck once, but we found him bedded a few minutes later, where he made up for past mistakes and put a good shot as the buck stood to run. A first buck is always a good buck!

I came home after that hunt, a little bit disappointed that I had missed a good buck, but in a way excited for the upcoming years, as I could still harvest bucks the next 2 years.

So it brings us to this year. My wife and I were blessed to welcome our first little hunting buddy into the world in early August. He has kept us both very busy and I have not had the time to get away to hunt yet. So I’m looking foward to next week, hoping I can make good on two years worth of anticipation and take a good buck. I’m not expecting to harvest a monster, although I’ve heard rumors of a few good bucks running around. I would be tickled to take a nice deer, somewhere in the 150-160 class. I think it’s very doable and will report back in a little over a week.

Until then, happy hunting to all you Hunt Addicts. I hope you have a safe and successful season.

BTW, here is a picture that Steve sent me from Wyoming. He’s had a successful season. I’ll post up the story when I get back. In the meantime…keep those pictures coming guys!