I hadn’t previously had a chance to go hunting with my father-in-law, Eric, so when I got the call from him asking if I wanted to join them for a blacktail deer hunt in Prince William Sound, I was game. Our hunt was delayed a day due to 8-10 foot seas so I left the house a day late at 5 AM to hit the Whittier tunnel time to make it to Whittier, Alaska, in time for our departure.
Driving through the Whittier tunnel is quite the marvel in itself. Ideas for construction of the Anton Anderson Memorial Whittier Tunnel began in 1914 as a means of access to a closer deep water port to Anchorage (Seward being the next closest). The reality of such a tunnel did not come to fruition until World War II. Using Whittier Alaska as a rail port reduced exposure of ships to Japanese submarines, reduced risk of Japanese bombing the port facilities because of the bad weather, and avoided the steep railroad grades required to scale the Kenai mountains. Construction began in 1941 and was completed on April 23rd, 1943, linking Whittier Alaska to the main Alaska Railroad in portage.
We arrived in Whittier well before first light and were welcomed to buckets and buckets of rain. We met with Matt from Whittier Water Taxi, and loaded up. As daylight broke, we motored out of the harbor and were on our way to Naked Island.
Calm seas, unbelievable scenery, and a pod of dall porpoises all accompanied our trip to the island, which lies almost in the very middle of the Prince William Sound.
We had decided to set up camp at the head of Bass Harbor. We quickly got the gear unloaded, camp erected, and a tarp setup to get out of the rain that we knew was coming.
A few very aged deer skulls were nailed to the trees around camp from previous hunters, which we took as a good sign!
After hustling to get camp setup, there was still an honest half-day of hunting to be had, and we were going to take advantage of it.
Growing up in the interior, this was all new to me. The trees appeared much like bonsai trees as they were struggling for survival and I was sure the trees were very old despite their diminutive sizes. The scenery across the water toward the adjacent islands along with the beauty of Naked Island itself lent itself to some pretty impressive pictures.
After Eric and I split up for a while and while I was moving quietly and methodically, I must’ve been daydreaming as I saw the rear end of a deer that saw me before I saw it. Of course that was the only deer that the two of us had seen all day. Heading back toward where I had stashed my pack, I ran back into Eric.
We heard two shots from a bit higher on the island. It turned out that Todd, the last guy who joined us on the hunt, had harvested a small buck. By this time, the sun was beginning to set, and we decided to head back toward camp.
Taking advice from others who had more experience hunting in Prince William Sound and other locations around Southeast Alaska, we too experienced the wonderment that is the Duraflame Log. We got back to camp and had a rip-roaring fire in what seemed like no time!
My wife and I had pre-cooked all our meals before the trip, vacuum sealed them in individual packages, and froze them flat. All that was required to eat was re-heating them in boiling water. Tonight’s menu consisted of moose burgundy on dinner rolls. The next morning we ate moose sausage, egg, and salsa breakfast burritos. Needless to say, we ate like kings!
After breakfast the next morning, we set out and were immediately met with a ton of rain, which lasted the better part of the day. We were planning on going up to a spike camp for a night at higher elevation on the island. I apparently went up the steepest, slipperiest, most brushy way imaginable. I felt a bit sheepish feeling so whupped after scaling the colossal 1250 feet of elevation that Naked has to offer.
After gaining most of the elevation, the Island gains just a few more feet northward, and I was making my way to the top, going slowly as I was seeing some pretty good sign of deer along my route.
I stopped at a decent vantage point at the edge of a clearing and no 60 yards ahead of me, I could see the body of a blacktail deer in the brush, seeing everything on the deer except its face. I quickly dropped my scope covers and tried to quietly chamber a round, but got a bit overzealous and since I was louder than I had hoped, the deer was all over me, ears perked and tensed. I shouldered the rifle, found my mark and sent the 150 grain bullet zinging into the crease.
I reloaded and could see she was hit well and was stumbling as she was headed toward me and to my right. After the shot, a second deer ran, and I stood still for about 10 seconds listening for noise and a direction to head. I walked about 10 yards to my right and saw the second deer about 50-60 yards out standing broadside looking right at me. I took a second shot and pinned her right where she was. Within about minute, I had bagged my first two Sitka blacktail deer. I dropped my pack, found the deer right away, and GPS’d their location so I could come back and dress them later.
Once at the planned rendezvous point, I met back up with Eric and Todd and we enjoyed a quick break after our climb. Todd was kind enough to follow me back to where I had bagged the two does and help dress the second one. After our work, we enjoyed Nicole’s pre-cooked meal of chicken, mashed potatoes, and broccoli.
The last full day found us hunting the top half of the mountain. We continued to see lots of blacktail deer sign, but nothing all day long. We made an honest effort of it but a few hours before sunset we decided to head back to our camp at the head of Bass Harbor in Prince William Sound.
I had never done it before, but I drew on the experience Todd, who had drug deer before, and we decided to do a deer-drag back down to the salt. As relatively small as the deer are, after about mile 2, it feels like you’re dragging a sack of bricks and every 50 yards, someone tosses another one in! From now on, I think I will break the deer down like normal, stuff ’em in a set of TAG bags and use the pack.
Not a hint of daylight accompanied us back to camp. We stumbled our way in the pitch dark to find our shelter had collapsed from the high winds the night before. After repairing that, we had a Duraflame log ‘bonfire’ of two logs. Spaghetti and caribou meat sauce felt good after a long day of hiking and dragging deer.
Pickup day was nice and afforded me a bit of time to beach comb for the kids before Matt showed up to take us back to Whittier Alaska.
We had a great hunt. We didn’t see many blacktail deer, but definitely didn’t come home empty-handed. A few new hunting partners, new areas, great conversation with a couple of good guys makes for a fun time had by all. Sometimes what you hunt isn’t necessarily what you end up bringing home as a prize. I think this is why many hunters enjoy the whole aspect of hunting, above and beyond actually harvesting game. The experiences, memories, and bonds built between hunting partners can be gained nowhere else it seems. This hunt wont soon be forgotten…