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Sitka Blacktail Deer

In 1924 fourteen blacktail deer captured from the Sitka area on Baronof Island in southeast Alaska were released on Long Island adjacent to Kodiak. Two more deer from Prince of Wales Island were added in 1930. Then in 1934 nine additional deer from near Petersburg were released, and the rest is – as they say – history.

Kodiak's gray spine shucks and jives its' way from the hard, sharp, northeast corner 100 miles to the southwest where the land rolls down into large hills and smooth, rounded mountains interspersed by wide flat valleys. The colonization of Kodiak and neighboring islands by blacktails was gradual, slowed by the very rugged terrain at the release end and periodically harsh winters up through 1975.

Then a series of about seven mild winters in a row turbo charged the migration and the takeover of the Kodiak Archipelago was complete.

These days the deer population goes up and down on the whims of the weather. Kodiak bears have learned to prey on fawns, and large boars who were always late to den have found that these deer – too swift to catch most of the year – are vulnerable in the dead of winter when snow slows them down, and as a consequence more bears are staying out longer to take advantage of this smorgasbord. Hunters take large numbers of deer along the coast and some of the larger inland lakes, but despite all the predation it is winter that largely controls deer numbers.

Right now (2014) there are low numbers of deer on the harsher northeast end of these islands and good numbers towards the milder southwest end. Dog Salmon has decent numbers of deer presently.

Sitka's are beautiful deer with striking black facial markings; short in body length and height when compared to whitetails they are wide, stocky animals that can occasionally weigh up to 215 pounds. Most mature bucks are in the 150 to 180 pound vicinity. These deer have a well deserved reputation as one of the best eating deer in North America. I've had a number of clients from the mid-west make the comment, after trying Kodiak's deer for the first time, “Damn, that might be the best deer I've ever tasted”. Many Alaskans rely on them for food so they are important to southern Alaska culture.

I don't do many guided deer hunts; when I do, they are normally booked for seven “hunting days” following the end of my fall Kodiak bear/deer combo hunt which ends on or about November 9th. The deer hunt runs from approximately Nov 9th-10th through the 16th-17th. This time period corresponds with heightened rut activity and the hunting is lively.

Hunting is usually done out of a back pack spike camp, especially if heavier snows haven't arrived to drive the deer down lower, but lacking significant snow cover I recommend a backpack hunt that gets you in a mile or two and past the resident deer hunters who only do day hunts from the coast. This gets you into largely un-hunted territory where you have the deer and the land to yourself, and in general you'll find bigger deer.

This back pack deer hunt – though of shorter duration – is as serious as any expedition for sheep, goat or bear. It is a hard work hunt conducted in conditions varying from cold and snow to rain and wind. Normally there will be some short and sweet weather days mixed in too for variety.

Our hunts are for two bucks. While the present regulations allow for three deer we limit our clients to two in deference to subsistence hunters who use the area. We first try to get you onto a good mountable buck in the 85 to 95 B&C class, then we'll look for something 100 points or better. Of course the client is the final arbitrator on size. Some very large bucks don't score particularly well due to unbalanced matching points, but still make impressive mounts and memories.

The bottom line on these deer trips is they are a fun hunt with many animals to see with all the action activated by the rut. Sure, there is a little suffering involved, as in all my hunts, but it's worth it. This is the easiest hunt that I do and probably the most fun.