The buck appeared slowly from the dense willows. First an ear and a horn, then an eye, and finally its head and neck.
I had frozen mid-step the instant I saw it, one foot in the air and my balance wavering.
We stared at each other for a few moments then I slowly started lowering my foot.
That little movement was too much.
The buck whirled and dove out of sight before my foot reached the road.
Oh, I should have mentioned that I wasn’t hunting when I encountered the buck. I was hiking down the road this morning on my usual walk.
And of course, the deer season doesn’t open until Friday.
I’m no road hunter, but the numbers and distribution of deer I’ve seen while driving and walking are good news.
It appears we finally have plenty of deer around, with the population recovering nicely from the winterkills two and three years ago.
I anticipate that lots of hunters who failed to see deer, much less score, in the last couple of years will be pleased with the 2014 road system season.
A couple of weeks back I wrote in general terms about Kodiak deer hunting. Now I’m going to get specific.
Most hunters put more thought into their guns and loads, so I’ll start there before moving on to other important elements of a hunt.
Frankly, there are so many types of habitat for deer hunting on Kodiak, almost any firearm is going to work when it is suitable for the terrain. You can find everything from close-in stalking to extreme long range shooting depending on where and when you hunt.
Clearly, it’s asking a lot for any one arm to cover the full spectrum.
But if you eliminate the two extremes — close cover with shots inside 50 feet and long shots to 400 yards or so — it really isn’t asking too much for a rifle to do it all.
Properly sighted in with just the right scope, any rifle in the 270 Winchester or 30-06 class will do. In my experience, that translates into any cartridge that will launch a suitable pointed bullet at somewhere between 2900 and 3100 fps.
Pull out the ballistic tables, and you’ll find there are a whole lot of rounds that qualify.
If you want to stretch the range further, then of course more velocity will be an advantage. And if you’re going to be shooting deer at very close ranges, you simply don’t need all that extra power and the weight in the rifle to launch it.
My choices in scopes run to a little lower power than lots of hunters favor these days, mostly because I prejudice my choice in hunting areas for more close shooting and less long shooting. Even so, my choice of lower power scopes easily extend my range to 400 yards and beyond.
In my experience one of the best “all around” scopes for Kodiak Island is a 2x7 variable. I have lots more use for the 2-power end of the scale than longing for more power beyond 7x because of the places I hunt. But even when presented with a 400 yard shot, 7x is plenty.
In fact my favorite scopes for Kodiak are 1.5x5 variables. I don’t feel I lose any long-range function even at 5x, nor do I feel I’m gaining much close performance in the short drop from 2x to 1.5x.
The big difference is in the size and weight of the scope while retaining a wide field of view. Guns mounted with such small variables are just easier for me to carry and use.
But there’s a trick involved in going to such small scopes.
You can’t “scope” the countryside for deer, as so many hunters do today.
In fact “scoping” for deer is a bad idea when other hunters are in the area. If you happen to be looking through your scope for deer and another hunter is on the same hillside, it looks for all the world as though you’re pointing your rifle at them.
That can lead to harsh feelings, for sure.
I back up my choice of lower powered scopes with higher power binoculars for deer spotting. My first choice is 10x25 compacts, and my second choice is 10x40 full-size binoculars.
The extra power is invaluable during in bucks-only hunting, even as it falls a little short when you move into the high country and start to really stretch the range at which you examine animals for horns.
In the open country where you can easily use them, spotting scopes are invaluable on Kodiak deer hunts. Mine can be used at 20x, 40x and 60x. Frankly the 60x is useless without a heavy tripod and no heat distortion, but the 40x gets more use than the 20x.
But the Kodiak glassware list doesn’t stop at scopes, binoculars and spotting scopes, especially for high country hunting.
As the distance to deer stretches, you’ll discover the great difficulty in estimating ranges in Kodiak’s high country. I’ve been fooled more than once!
You will remember the day you finally broke down and bought a rangefinder for your Kodiak hunts, they’re that valuable.
Of course, Kodiak’s prevalent wind requires a lot of judgment in your long-range shooting even when you know the range. Go back to the ballistic tables and look at “wind deflection” for various calibers and ranges.
A mild 10mph breeze can mean the difference between a clean kill and wounding at 400 yards, and a clean miss at that range with the common 20mph Kodiak wind.
No matter where you hunt on Kodiak, a long day afield will bring you face to face with another important fact of life. There may be water everywhere, but it’s not safe to drink due to the prevalence of giardia or “beaver fever.”
That intestinal parasite is present in virtually all waters of Kodiak, even without beavers. And trust me. You do not want an up close and personal encounter with this particular intestinal parasite.
But the water situation gets even more perverse when you move up into the high country. It’s a virtual desert up there.
You can walk for miles and never cross a creek, because they’re all below you. You either have to climb far downhill to reach water or carry a day’s supply with you.
I never venture out on a day’s hunt without carrying at least a liter of water from home, and I also carry a water purification pump. On ventures into the high country I carry a spare empty liter bottle until I reach the last known water course, then refill my original while also filling the empty.
One long climb from a high peak back down to the first creek was enough to convince me of the need for the extra water along with the pump.
Whether you’re climbing high or staying low, it also pays to carry rain gear.
Those white puffy clouds you see hanging around the mountaintops reveal themselves to be cold wet fog with wind once they descend upon you.
Even if you avoid the clouds or sudden rainsqualls at lower elevations, the raingear will be welcome for warding off the wind when you settle down for a rest or to watch likely country for deer.
You’ll be amazed at how much you sweat on an average hunt, and how quickly you’ll chill when wind meets sweaty clothing.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.