Kodiak’s deer season always surprises newcomers — it opens so early and seems to run forever.
But its quirks run deeper than dates on the calendar.
The hunt and the conditions are different than almost any other hunting grounds I’ve encountered.
I’ve never hunted in any other state with a deer season opening on August 1. Even the special archery seasons start later.
August 1 is the middle of summer on Kodiak, and with that you have to contend with heat, dense vegetation and flies determined to spoil your venison. Even if you keep the flies from your deer, you still have to keep a tiny little biting fly locally called “white socks” from eating your own body.
Why bother when the road system season runs all the way through the end of October?
Because it really is a unique hunting opportunity, and the venison is the best it will be all year.
If you haven’t walked away from the road and climbed a hill recently, you’re in for the first surprise.
All that greenery on the hillsides has been busy. The grass is no longer ankle high, and in fact it can be over your head in many places.
Add in dense alders in full leaf and salmonberry bushes as tall as the deer, and the challenges mount.
It’s a trick even to see the deer.
They can stay completely out of sight while still within first down yardage on a football field.
Though deer season is still a month away, you really need to start climbing the hills today to learn how to navigate through the tangles and start locating deer concentrations as the weather changes.
There really is a pattern to the way the vegetation grows, with the most obvious occurring as you climb higher into the hills. Climb far enough, and the grass gets shorter while the alders thin.
Eventually you reach an elevation where the tall grass and alders suddenly give way to tundra. Take a drive up Pillar Mountain and watch the changes in vegetation along the way to get a feel for what I’m talking about.
Deer love that high tundra in clear calm weather, but happily descend to lower elevations overnight and especially when a storm closes in.
In balmy weather you might well have to climb all the way into the tundra to find the deer, but at least they’re easier to see up there.
If you’re out early in the morning, you also can intercept them as they climb higher for the day. Due to the nature of the grass and steep hillsides however, you have to learn to watch below you for deer as you climb. They’re lots easier to see while looking downhill than when looking uphill.
In stormy weather they dive into the deepest alder patches and ravines, especially on the downwind sides of the hills and mountains.
Read between the lines, and I’ve just described an incredible array of shooting conditions. You can be faced with very long shots in open terrain, offhand shots in tall grass and close quick shots in tight cover.
And sometimes you’ll be faced with all on the same day!
You need an accurate rifle capable of performing in all of them, but your shooting skills have to be up to the task as well. For early season hunting I have grown to love flat shooting calibers, but in rifles topped by “moderate” glassware.
A 3x9 scope is about as big as I’ll use when factoring in the possibilities of close shooting, and I like 2x7’s even better.
It may sound line an odd combo, but my favorite is a 7mm Rem Mag or comparable caliber topped by a 1.5x5 scope. The 5x is plenty for longer shots, while the 1.5x pays bonus points when the shooting is really close and fast.
When you take your first Kodiak deer, the challenges are just starting. For one thing you have to get it from point A to point B. There can be miles of rough terrain between your harvest point and your waiting vehicle.
Lots of hunters wear full sized backpacks while hunting on Kodiak so they can bone out their deer and carry it out. The field butchering is time consuming, but it can pay off when covering miles.
On closer hunts I prefer to drag deer out for easier hanging and butchering back home, but that requires “Kodiak style” field dressing.
Forget about opening the body cavity from stem to stern, as well as cutting the throat. That opens the deer to blow flies, and they’ll descend on you and your deer on the drag out.
You don’t need to cut the throat, because modern rifles and ammo do a thorough job of bleeding out deer.
Along with a throat cut, opening the deer from the pelvis to the top of the rib cage, or even to the base of the rib cage, is an open invitation to flies laying eggs in your deer.
I find it best to make about a 6-inch incision and remove only the intestines while leaving the heart, liver and lungs in place. I then use a piece of twine to sew the opening closed.
I remove the heart, liver and lungs while skinning the deer, and in the meantime I haven’t had to contend with flies.
But the fly battle isn’t over once you get home!
Flies will assault a hanging deer unless you protect it thoroughly. And the thin deer bags made from cheesecloth simply don’t work because flies lay their eggs right through it. You need to use the heavy elk- or moose-bags made from closely woven fabric to protect the meat.
They’re just starting to appear, so you might not have made the acquaintance of white socks flies yet. Just wait another week or so, and you’ll become all too familiar!
Those miserable little biting demons will settle for any bit of open flesh, but they’re specialists at climbing under the brim of your hat and biting right where the had meets your head. They’re also fond of faces in general.
There are probably more insect repellants than shelves to display them in a store, so you have lots to choose from. But choose you must!
I shy away from the 100% DEET versions because they don’t work that well for me. Or at least they don’t work long. I simply sweat them off and have to reapply them often.
I have much better luck with the waterproof versions, even with lower DEET concentrations. They can stay with you for several hours and work just fine. My pick of the litter for staying power is Ultrathon in the cream lotion form, both for covering exposed skin and for smearing on the bill of my cap.
And what about my claim that Kodiak’s August venison is the best of all?
You really have to try it to appreciate the difference. It’s absolutely sweet, because in August the deer feed heavily on blossoms and tender young grown up high.
One small bite of it, and the hassles of an August hunt will seem a small price to pay.
After 40 years of enjoying Kodiak and over 20 years writing the Outdoor Kodiak column, Hank Pennington still can't get enough. He can be reached at email@example.com.