The Sampler's Platter

Imagine hunting multiple species in Alaska and needing to travel with only one gun.

“Wait … wait … wait,” I pleaded with Linda as she rolled through her sales pitch to get me to accept the invite to Larsen Bay, which resides on the interior coast that Kodiak Island shares with the mainland of Alaska. “Did you say ‘slug gun’?”

Linda Powell is a long-time friend, a closet bear addict like myself, and is no rookie when it comes to destination hunting. I should’ve known better than to question her.

I could hear Linda smile through the phone as she briefly paused. “Yes,” she added, “I said slug gun. And we’re taking shotguns because we’ll be hunting waterfowl in addition to Sitka blacktails. Are you coming or what?”

This was one of those conversations I didn’t even need to drag out by requesting time to check with my family to see if I could make our schedule work with the dates of this trip. Alaska. Mountain Sitka blacktails. Waterfowl hunting with a view.

“I’m in.”

During my first trip to Alaska, which was a handful of years ago, someone told me, “You get out of Alaska when you can, because you never know when the next opportunity will come along.” My knee-jerk response was, “Who would be in a hurry to get out of Alaska?” And I meant it. As it turns out, that door swings both ways.

After a 6-hour flight and an overnight in Anchorage, our tag team of five hopped on an early morning flight to Kodiak City. Two flights down and one to go. So far, so good.

Standing in the waiting room of Servant Air, looking up into the eyes of a full-body-mounted brown bear, I jumped when the receptionist touched my shoulder to get my wandering attention.

“You and your crew will need to find rooms for the evening,” she said. I looked out the window at the snow pounding on the trucks in the parking lot and swallowed my frustration. “We’ll fly in the morning at the earliest … if the weather improves.”

I looked at Linda and smiled. “Well, at least the company’s good.”

As the float plane eased up to the dock in the Larsen Bay marina, warm thoughts of my previous trip kept me shielded from the thumping northerly winds.

“I don’t think blacktails are on the menu today, fellas,” Mike Carlson said has he reached for a handshake from each of us. “But I hope hunting harlequins is a solid consolation prize.”

Being ready to rock for blacktails, I needed to shift gears quickly. The weather had already robbed me of more than a half-day from my 5-day hunt. I scurried to my room, hopped into some camo and switched my shotgun from deer to duck mode just as quickly.

And less than 2 hours later, I was standing next to my first Drake harlequin. I felt a little bad, in a way, because as excited as I was to wrap my mitts around a duck so highly coveted by so many serious waterfowlers across the Lower 48 states, I couldn’t help but look past the duck and into the sea-kissed slopes of Larsen Bay’s notorious blacktail haunts.

But Mother Nature thinks she knows best, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the weather, complaining feels wonderful but it gets me absolutely nowhere … especially in Alaska. We spent the bulk of the next few days hunting waterfowl and blacktails close to the bay because brutal winds were making it impossible to cross the big water to get to the good deer hunting.

With one more day to hunt, I looked at Linda from across the dinner table and smiled. “We’re in Alaska,” I said. “It could always be worse.” I was reminding myself as much as stating the obvious.

Getting everyone out of bed early enough for an on-time deer departure was definitely not a problem. Daylight was scarce and we had a pile of tags to fill.

Slipping through the narrow inlets, we systematically dispersed hunters via boat about every half-mile of “deer heaven.” With the wind subsided, deer seemed to be everywhere.

As we rounded a sharp rock outcropping, I spotted a buck working through the brush within 50 yards of the shore. And a buck killed close to the shore is a much easier dragging job than a buck killed a mile up the mountain. I pointed out the deer and Mike slipped the boat ashore on the backside of some rocks, shielding our arrival.

I tiptoed across the tidal rocks as silently as possible—which I’m sure was about like a bulldozer sneaking down a jogging trail, because when I peeked over the bank, three bucks were staring me in the face.

Luckily for me, blacktails have a tendency to act much more like mule deer than they do whitetails, and the three bucks trotted only a few yards before stopping to look back.

With less than 100 yards of crisp Alaskan air between me and the biggest buck, I held tight behind the shoulder and pulled the trigger. I sent another slug into the buck as he sprinted toward cover, but I knew it wasn’t necessary.

Easing forward, I took the high ground and approached the thicket where I last saw the buck. And there, right at the bottom, was my deer. The dark black hair on the buck’s forehead and the double white throat patch were beautiful, but I couldn’t help but smile in relief that we were less than 100 yards from the beach.

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