Archery World September 1984

Bowhunting the Sitka Blacktail – By Marv Walter

“The Sitka Blacktail Deer is native to the
wet, coastal rain forests of southeast Alaska
and north-coastal British Columbia. The
Sitka blacktail is smallet stockier; and has
a shorter face than other members of the
blacktail group. The average October live
weight for adults is about 100pounds for
does and 150 pounds for bucks. The largest
dressed weight on record for a buck is 212
pounds.”

Hunting the Sitka Blacktail with a deer
call one year ago produced long-lasting memories.
As my partners —
Chuck Hakari and Terry Moore -— and I traveled southwest of Juneau across Stephens Pas-
sage in my 2l—foot Reinell enroute to starting
another hunt, we recalled last year’s blacktail
hunt on the Glass Peninsula on Admiralty lsland.
My unwanted encounter with an Alaskan
Brown Bear was unfaded in my mind.
While carrying my bow-killed blacktail to
the beach, I came upon a huge hemlock tree
which jutted at a 45 degree angle. I straddled
the tree, reclined, and balanced the heavy
load against it to relieve some strain. I had
packed the meat in a plastic bag in my pack
alongside my shotgun and survival gear I
blew my deer call a couple of times to see if
any deer would surface. I had my bow stowed,
not at all ready for action. Good deer sign
covered the area, but with the days success
and my fatigue, I hardly felt like stalking another animal.

There I rested, content, playing with the
call, when suddenly a full-sized Alaska Brown
Bear came loping out of some low spruces and
river drainage just 70 yards away. I froze,
watching him until he turned in my direction.
Instantly I dropped my bow, rolling of the
tree, lowering my pack. I knew I had to get the
shotgun; the bow would never do. I quickly
glanced up twice as the bear closed the distance.

I cursed as I fumbled with the pack straps.
The bear stopped on the other side of the down
hemlock. I raised my hands and yelled as loud
as I could. The bear rose up on two legs, moving
back a step, then dropped down, and rapidly
retreated 25 yards or so. There he
stopped, swayed his head from side to side,
turned, and came at me with a roar At a tree
he again rose to hind legs now only 15 yards
away I could hear him claw the bark, trying
fora look, and showing his full size. Moss and
wood chips flew as he scraped on the hem-
lock.

After only seconds, which seemed like
minutes, I had the shotgun in hand. He
dropped to the ground, coming right at me,
his dark, grizzled fur bristling with terrible
beauty I raised the shotgun and fired. In the
excitement I failed to lock into place and
brace the metal stock and the shotgun recoil
hit me in the face. I must have hit the bear in
the front chest area, but the buff of the shot-
gun bloodied my cheek and numbed my jaw so
I couldn’t be sure. The bear stormed away
instantly, parting brush as he went.

As I organized my thoughts, I hoped to see
the bear lying dead in the brush, but there was
no sign. I put on my pack and headed out of
the area, constantly in fear of his return.
I reached the rendezvous as Chuck arrived
with a good sized deer Tracy walked up a few
minutes later, My bear story got their attention
and, though leery 0f searching for a
wounded bear, we decided to look around.

The brownie had destroyed a rotten log and
torn up quite a bit of muskeg. Trampled brush
and deep tracks in the moss continued for 100
yards.

Flecks of fat hung from a branch; blood
spattered an area where the bear had laid
down. we searched for the animal for some
time, but lost the trail in the heavy brush.
We felt this trip would be equally challenging
and it proved to be just that.
With the double anchor in place, we went
ashore in an 8-foot skiff. It was 8 a.m. and,
with packs ready, we headed for the area on
Admiralty Island we figured would produce
the big bucks. Taking turns breaking trail, we
covered a distance of five miles over shin-
tangle and blueberry bushes, reaching our
base camp about noon.

Not wasting any time, Tracy headed for
the top ofthe mountain in search of a blacktail
buck.

Tracy is a rifle hunter, and carried a 30-06 A
with a 2.5×8 power scope. He also carried a
day pack with rain gear, wool clothing, a compass,
matches, knife, flashlight, first aid kit,
leather gloves (for the devil’s club), extra
food, and of course the deer call.
Hunting Sitka blacktail deer in southeast
Alaska has several options available depending
on the unit or area you hunt. The unit
which has the longest season is Unit 4, which
includes Admiralty Island, Chichagof Island,
Kruzof Island, Catherine Island and Baranof
Island.

The season is open from August 1 thru December 31
with five deer tags available; how-
ever, antlerless deer may be taken only from
September 15 to December 31. A portion of
Unit 4 is open January 1 to January 31 for
registration permit hunting only. Two deer
may be taken during this time but only one
deer may be in possession.

(Hunting Sitka blacktail deer in southeast
Alaska gets easier as the snow covers the up-
per meadows. The deer move toward the
lower bowls where the big spruce trees are.)
The non-resident fees are $l95. which include
the license ($60) and a big game locking
tag. A nonresident may purchase their hunting
license after arriving in Alaska. There is
no quota which restricts the number of non-
resident licenses available as is the case with
some states.

The Sitka blacktail has a separate Pope &
Young record book category which provides a
real opportunity for the bowhunter who wants
to concentrate on the larger bucks for the record book.

Chuck and I put the finishing touches to
base camp before we climbed the mountain.
Chuck climbed the same area as Tracy Chuck
was carrying his 80-pound recurve bow. a .44
caliber Winchester for bear protection, and
his day pack.

It is logical and, in my opinion. necessary
to carry a firearm for bear protection — especially
when hunting on Admiralty Island.
Brown bears (Ursus Arctos) are very
much a part of the Alaskan scene. Until recently,
taxonomists listed brown bears and
grizzly bears as separate species. Observation
of successful interbreeding between them indicated
a single species and a study of skull
characteristics substantiated this hypothesis.
All brown and grizzly bears are now classified
as Ursus Arctos. In popular usage, brown
bear refers to members of this species found
in coastal areas, while those found inland are
commonly called grizzlies.

I carried a Bear Alaskan 69-pound com-
pound and an 870 pump shotgun with the
short barrel and pistol grip for bear protection.
I use 2219 Easton GameGetter arrows
and Snuffer broadheads.

I used my homemade blacktail deer calls
several times on the bottom muskeg meadows
with no success. Upon reaching the alpine
level with south exposure, I called a nice doe
within 15 yards. I’d guess the doe had never
seen man before since she watched me for
several minutes. I was determined to take only
a nice buck on this trip, so I passed up an easy
shot. The doe hardly reacted at all to the five
rifle shots coming from the direction of Tracy
but did walk off in the direction of the shots.

The Alpine meadows contained many
fresh deer tracks and some bear sign. While
moving through the alpine cover, I encountered
several blue grouse. (In Alaska the blue
grouse or “hooter” is restricted to the south
eastern part of the state, appearing from Glacier
Bay southward. Dense, coastal forests of
tall Sitka spruce and hemlock are the usual
haunts of this grouse, but it’s often found near
timberline among dwarfed alpine firs. The
blue grouse is the largest upland game bird in
Alaska with the males sometimes in
weight of 3 1/2 pounds.)
Tracy entered base camp about half an
hour after I did for the evening. He was recovering
from the excitement of his encounter
with an Alaskan brown bear, I listened intently
as he described how he was covering the
upper alpine meadows when he encountered a
brown bear traveling the same trail. A brown
bear at 10 yards and still closing can create a
very rapid reaction. Tracy retreated rapidly
while preparing for a shot. The brown bear
continued his advance. The first shot was well
placed, but did not bring him down; four
additional shots were needed before Tracy felt
his safety was satisfied. Chuck, hearing the
shots and being in the area, helped Tracy with
the process of skinning the bear. It took most
of the sunny afternoon. Tracy left the hide on
top and returned to camp.

His opportunity to shoot a big buck was
now spoiled, because he could not carry out
both the heavy brown bear hide and a nice
blacktail buck. Tracy planned on return to
the top of the mountain the next day for the
meat and hide with his freighter pack. Scoring
on an Alaskan brown bear was worth the
disappointment. Chuck decided to continue
hunting for blacktail before returning to
camp.

Tracy indicated he had seen a tremendous
buck on top about 250 yards away. He didn’t
have a chance for a shot, but was stalking him
when he encountered the bear. About half an
hour before dark I left camp in hopes of calling
in a buck on the muskeg meadows near
camp. I returned at dark after having two does
come within 25 yards at the same time from
different directions. While waiting for Chuck
to return, Tracy and I wondered how this area
would be in late October or November when
the bucks are rutting and snow has driven the
deer to the lower muskeg meadows.

It was now dark and our conversation was
interrupted by a call from Chuck. We quickly
returned his call, which was for help in locating
our base camp. Chuck entered camp carrying the
hindquarters, boned meat from the
rest of the deer, and the antlers of the biggest
Sitka blacktail buck I’ve seen. Chuck wasn’t
given much time before telling us of his after-
noon hunt.

Chuck had left Tracy at 4 p.m. He was
descending the mountain and noticed the
body of a very large blacktail just 30 yards
away. The huge rack of the deer was not noticed
until he looked around a tree blocking
his view. The same tree also allowed him to
nock an arrow, draw, and place the arrow just

behind the front shoulders. The buck traveled
40 yards, then slid down the mountain. He
was still in view as he came to rest. It was 5
p.m. when Chuck started taking pictures,
skinned, and boned the meat. Chuck’s buck
made the Pope & Young record book. scoring
85.

Tracy and I returned to the top of the
mountain the next morning to get his hide and
hoped to call a buck within bow range. After
climbing for an hour, we reached the location
of the bear kill. The area was beautiful and
showed much sign of game activity. We prepared
the freight pack with the bear hide if
the trip down the mountain.

Separating from Tracy, I traveled less than
100 yards when I noticed five Sitka blacktail
deer coming my way. I quickly moved to an
ambush area and nocked an arrow. The buck
was in perfect position as the deer passed by
me. His head was behind a bush, fully aware.
but his body was fully exposed. I placed an
arrow perfectly behind the front shoulders
As the arrow passed through the deer, I could
hear the sound of air being released from the
lung cavity. The buck traveled just 40 yards
The remaining four does stayed in the area
and watched for another five minutes. I yelled
for Tracy to return. It took us only an hour it
skin and bone the 2×2 point buck for the return
trip. Together we descended the mountain, both
packs being heavy with game. We
shared our excitement as we broke camp for
the return trip to the boat.

Pleasure sets in when you experience an
overnight pack trip after blacktail deer.
I recommend hunting southeast Alaska for the
Sitka blacktail deer with a bow. But always be
prepared because of the constant danger due
to accidents, the challenge of nature, and the
presence of the brown bear. >>—>

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