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Sitka bucks in bad boots.

I subscribe to two theories about bowhunting. First, you generally get what you pay for. Second, Murphy was a starry-eyed optimist. As I slipped for the umpteenth time, landed on my face, and skidded downhill with the backpack driving my nose in the mud, I was rudely reminded of my theory about Murphy. I could only hope my other theory was also true. I was paying a huge price in muscle strain, blistered feet, and frustration.

One of my most memorable Sitka blacktail deer hunts began the day before, after my partner Jim Clark and I waved goodbye to our bush pilot and started unpacking our camping gear. Minutes later I discovered the pilot had neglected to unload one small duffel bag from the float compartment of his Cessna 206. In that bag were my boots for the two-week outing--two pairs broken in and waterproofed to perfection. I looked around in stunned silence, and then looked down at the only size 11 footwear within 75 miles--the calf-high rubber boots that graced my feet. They had served me well during a decade of shooting pheasants and ducks, but they were now heavily seamed with cracks. The paper-thin soles resembled mini water skis, and the insulated liners were crumbling like plaster in a skid-row hotel. I groaned and glanced from ocean beach to mountain peaks above. Murphy's Law had smitten my life again.

Now I faced a long, steep, and slippery hike in boots guaranteed to give me grief. I added a large roll of duct tape to my pack in case the rubbers began to disintegrate, crawled into my tiny mountain tent, and drifted toward uneasy sleep.

The year was 1986, and that was my second trip after Sitka deer. That seems a long time ago, but not much has changed in Sitka country during the 20 years and a half dozen more jaunts I've taken after trophy Alaskan bucks since then. These stout, northern cousins of Columbia blacktails still swarm steep coastal mountains in a sweeping are from Kodiak and Afognak Islands north and east to Cordova, then along the Alaskan Panhandle southward to Juneau and Ketchikan. Although lots of bucks inhabit the mainland and islands like Admiralty and Baranof, the best trophy bets are islands in the extreme western and extreme southern parts of the Sitka's range. In particular, Kodiak Island to the northwest and Prince of Wales Island in the extreme south are prominent in the record books. British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, just south of Alaska, are also prime for lots of Sitka deer and some truly nice bucks.

Jim Clark and I were hunting Kodiak Island. As is still the case in 2006, a guide was not required in 1986 to chase Alaskan deer. Anyone with the gumption to camp and backpack hunt on his own needs only some advice on where to go from Alaska game officials plus a bush pilot to drop him on a sheltered ocean bay.

WITH OUR SPARE FOOD and camping gear hung high in a cottonwood tree to foil brown bears, Jim and I headed in opposite directions for a week of hard trophy hunting. We were both loners by nature, and this was serious hunting--10 to 15 miles per day with good binoculars and a compact spotting scope. The objective was to deck some top Sitka trophies, not to socialize over toddies in camp.

Nine hours later, I flopped on a grassy bench between alder thickets and set up my home away from home. My blistered feet were swimming in perspiration and my calves were chafed from the stiff and sloppy tops of the boots. I was 2,200 feet above sea level, with a splendid view of the ocean and peaks all around. Amenities consisted of my one-man mountain tent, goose-down sleeping bag, 10 packages of Mountain House freeze-dried chow, a stainless steel pot for heating water over wood, a handful of tea bags, two large Ziploc bags crammed with trail mix, and a pocketful of jerky. As I gathered dead alder sticks for a fire, the clouds opened in a midafternoon deluge. Murphy was alive and well on Kodiak.

A Sitka blacktail's rack is small. The average deer's ears measure 16 inches from tip to tip, and antlers seldom spread wider than that. A run-of-the-mill, 41/2-year-old buck is a 4x4 (including eye-guards), but some mature bucks remain 3x3s their entire lives. In my experience, only 2 or 3 in every 100 bucks carry 5x5 antlers. Racks tend to be massive com pared to beam length, which boosts record-book score. The Pope and Young record-book minimum is 75 points, the Boone and Crockett minimum 108. Bucks of that size are rare.

After coaxing a fire to life despite sporadic rain, I ate jerky and washed it down with tea. Several hours of daylight remained, so I slipped on dry socks and made a scouting sweep along the nearest ridge. My right sock was poking through a crack in my boot, and I made a note to get out the duct tape before crawling in the sack.

Sitka deer get less hunting pressure than those in the Lower 48, but they still have the survival instincts of other antlered game. They have excellent eyes and ears, and like all deer, Sitkas never doubt their noses. The instant a Sitka buck sniffs human scent, he moves away. He might pause a few times, as wilderness animals are prone to do, but he never lingers long.

The ridge I was following now elbowed to the left, creating a well-watered basin dotted with meadows and brush patches. Shedding my pack and putting my binoculars to work for the next two hours, I spotted three dozen does and fawns plus 14 branch-antlered bucks. The largest was just a 4x4, but my spirits lifted a lot. Back at camp, I taped up my boots, crawled into my mummy bag, and instantly fell asleep.

My favorite time to bowhunt for Sitka bucks is in August and September, because weather tends to be mild and bucks are lounging in the open alpine. But Alaskan deer seasons run from August 1 through mid-January. Late-fall bowhunts also can be good, particularly during the late-October and early-November rutting period.

The usual routine for hunting Sitka deer is moving from vantage point to vantage point early and late in the day. Any medium-size binocular will do, but my favorite is a 10X. You pinpoint deer through the binocular and then evaluate rack size through a spotting scope.

When I poked my head from the nylon tent at daybreak, the first thing I saw was a brown bear sow with two cubs on a distant slope. The second was a troop of Sitka bucks feeding along a ridge above the bears. After fumbling the 30X spotting scope from my backpack, I focused on the deer. The last one in line was a 5x5 with long main beams--the best I had ever seen. Soon I was shuffling upwind in my pitiful rubber boots. They were treacherous on the dew-dampened slopes, but at least they were quiet--except when I fell.

Forty-five minutes later, I hovered 75 yards above the big blacktail. He was feeding with two forked-horns, and as I watched, the little bucks walked over a ridge, giving me the needed break. I slipped down a draw, cut sidehill, and peeked above a rock. The buck was inside archery range and quartering away!

I whipped out my rangefinder. Thirty yards. Drawing my 84-pound Hoyt compound bow, I sent an aluminum arrow on its way. The shaft smacked the buck through the ribs and clattered in the rocks beyond. The animal dove into the brush.

Thirty minutes later, I was gutting the handsome deer. I rough-scored the rack at 108--seven inches above the world record at the time! I was so excited I could barely use my knife.

THE STORY MIGHT HAVE ended there, but my adventure actually had just begun. Thanks to bumper crops of deer, the Sitka buck limit was five per year in 1986. Today, the yearly limit is still three. So you don't have to quit hunting, just because you've killed a deer.

That afternoon, after de-boning the buck and wrapping meat in plastic to fool bears, I glassed another basin until dark. Just after sundown, a tremendous 5x5 with long eyeguards joined 50 other deer.

Rain driven by gale-force winds pelted my tent all night. Typical Kodiak weather. At dawn the winds died, but rain continued to fall, and I glassed for hours without seeing so much as one scrawny doe. Animals were tucked in alder thickets, out of the wind and rain.

At 3 p.m., as the clouds began to break up, deer popped out like magic, nibbling brush and basking in shafts of sunlight. I kept watching the slope where the huge buck had been.

Suddenly, a heavy-bodied deer strolled from an alder patch and bedded with only his antlers above the grass. I peered through the spotting scope ... and felt my heart flutter. This was the same buck I'd seen the day before.

Testing the wind often, I fought alders to the bottom of a draw. From there, I slowed to a turtle's pace and tiptoed crosswind toward a dead bush near the buck. Twenty minutes later, I eased around the bush and spotted antlers and ear tips. My rangefinder told me the distance was 25 yards. My heart was hammering!

A deer blew like a punctured football somewhere down the slope. As the buck leaped to his feet to look that way, I drew my bow and aimed with my 20-yard sight pin. When the string slid from my fingers, the arrow buried dead center in the buck's chest with a sledgehammer crack. The buck went straight over backwards and rolled down the hill.

My feet barely touched the ground as I galloped to inspect my prize. A quick score with my pocket tape said 109--eight inches above the world record!

The following year, a Pope and Young panel officially measured my Sitka black-tails. The first scored 107%, the second 108%. In spite of Murphy and his confounded Law, I had taken the Nos. 1 and 2 Sitka blacktails on the same trip.

All of that took place two decades ago, but I still love to hunt these splendid big game animals, and I look forward to putting up with the bears, bugs, and brush every fall. Only one thing has changed--I make sure I have some good hiking boots on every trip. It makes the rugged hunting a whole lot more pleasant.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The preceding story is an excerpt from Chuck's new adventure book, "Super Slam!" This heavily illustrated, 350-page volume contains 28 chapters--one each on Chuck's experiences with the 28 varieties of North American big game. You can order this action-packed book for $24.95, postage paid, by calling toll-free, 1-800-9162575. Or send check or money order to: Chuck Adams Books, PO Box 10, Cody, WY 82414. Special leather-bound, signed, and numbered collector's versions are now available for $49.95 while supplies last. That's 40 percent off the retail price of $84.95. Only 1,000 of these have been printed, and fewer than 200 remain.
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Title Annotation:Hunting Big Game
Author:Adams, Chuck
Publication:Bowhunter
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:1877
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