Arctic Alaska Part 2

Arctic Cold

The nights were getting cold. Sub-freezing temperatures holding until late morning when the sun would finally creep up above the mountains and thaw some of the frost. It was a chore getting up with 20F putting on waders and wading boots that are frozen solid. Boiling water and pouring over the boots usually did the trick.

Full moon over the river setting behind the mountain.

If the sun was out all day, late afternoon felt pretty nice until the sun dipped behind the mountain and it would instantly drop about 20F. Heavy frost or a light dusting of snow was expected most mornings now.

Camping in Alaska

Glassing The Tundra

Our next group of hunters arrived and we now had four new tags to fill. I did not expect that it would all happen in two days, let alone three in one. The morning of September 16 we were up on our hill glassing the valleys and mountain sides when we spotted two decent bulls coming down the mountain behind our camp.

Once the two bulls crossed the river and appeared to be making their way through the brush in the valley down below, we came up with a plan. The guide took two of the hunters down to intercept while I stayed up on the hill with the other two hunters to keep glassing on the bulls and provide hand signals to where they needed to be.

After a short time we could no longer find the bulls and had lost them somewhere in the brush. The hunters down below had ventured a half mile or more south and had stopped at a confluence where two drainages merged, glassing back to us watching for hand signals. We didn’t know where the bulls were so at this point no signals were given besides a shrug. Now we were just waiting for the bulls to emerge from cover.

As we sat idle and watched from the hill, several more small herds of caribou were moving through in the distance and one herd was making their way toward the guys down below. Unknowing, the guys started hiking up the other drainage toward this new group of caribou. All we could do was watch.

A Distant Shot

As they neared, it was apparent they spotted the herd when they all dropped down to the ground. A decent bull was in the mix and after we heard the gunshot, we watched it drop. The hunter made a clean 125 yard shot from the other side of the drainage.

While all of this was happening, we finally glassed the original two bulls again. They had bedded down in the brush which made it difficult to see them. We grabbed our packs and started hiking South to meet the other guys. Once we met up again, a new plan emerged.

I stayed with the successful hunter and worked on caping and quartering out the caribou. The guide took the other three hunters back North to keep an eye on the two bulls bedded down. He was going to give hand signals if he needed me.

About Those Hand Signals

Just as I was finishing up, there was a confusion of hand signals and miming back and forth through the binoculars until I finally understood the signal to run quickly over to where the other hunters were. On my way jogging and hopping across the tundra I could see the two bulls emerging from the brush. Staying crouched, I quickly caught up with the guide and the two hunters that were planning to shoot.

The bulls were moving and quartering away so we needed to move quickly to get close enough for a shot once they cleared the brush. At 250 yards, the two bulls were coming out into the open. I helped one of the hunters, Chris, locate the first bull as it was stepping out into the river – the guide spotted for the other hunter, Mike.

Three Caribou Down

The bulls were getting nervous and it was now or never. Chris made the shot and the caribou just stood there. Then it stumbled and splashed into the water. Mike was quick to make a shot on the second bull before it disappeared back into the brush.

Chris with his bull caribou after we pulled it out of the water.

It was getting late in the day so once we quartered out the caribou, we packed what we could back to camp and left the rest to cool overnight. The next day Mike hiked back with me to help pack out the rest of the meat while the other guys headed back to the glassing hill.

Day 2

As we were preparing our last trip back to camp, we glassed a group of caribou further South and we could see the guys moving into position. Again, we were able to watch it all unfold through our binoculars as the last hunter shot his caribou. It was a successful hunt for all four hunters and they were all done in just two days.

Arctic Alaska Part 1

Recently I had the opportunity to help out with some guided hunts North of the Arctic Circle here in Alaska. Targeting caribou, wolves and brown bear. Based out of Kotzebue, we would shuttle hunters out into the tundra with a Cessna 180, 206 and a Super Cub. Often times hunters were flown out to gravel bar staging areas where the larger planes had enough room to land and then shuttled one at a time with their gear into tighter locations where only the cub could get into.

Most of the time camp is going to be set up adjacent to a river in which thrive arctic char and grayling. Never do you have to travel far to find a water source for drinking and cooking.

When looking out in any direction, it is an endless view of tundra, hills, mountains and valleys filled with water braids, brush and gravel bars. Waders are a necessity. No matter where we are heading to glass for animals or make a move to intercept, there is going to be water to navigate through.

Caribou are the main objective for most hunters, although many also purchase a wolf tag and/or brown bear tag in case the opportunity presents itself. Predator control is just as important in managing populations as is the limit placed on game animals. Wolves and brown bears have a huge impact on caribou herds – it is important to manage both. In this particular hunt unit, a hunter could take as many as twenty wolves and two brown bears in a season.

My first day out with the first two hunters we had in camp was a huge success. Early morning we started hiking out across the gravel bars and through brush to gain an advantageous high point to glass from. Upon cresting the hill, caribou were spotted running away on the other side of the valley and stopping to look back. That is when the guide spotted the two wolves working their way down the valley toward us. We all laid down to stay out of site and crawled to the edge where the hunters got ready for a shot. There was a big male black wolf and a female gray. With rangefinder out, I was giving yardages as the animals trotted closer. The female laid down over 300 yards away. The black male continued closer and dropped into a trough at about 220 yards. I informed the hunter as the wolf comes out the other side that it would be just under 200 yards. As it came up out of the trough into the open it stopped and stood there and the hunter wasted no time in making the shot. The black wolf was down.

The female jumped up and started running away. Attempting to keep up with the yardages (it was approaching near where I first ranged it) I stated it was over 400 yards. Blowing on a distress call, the guide managed to stop her on a dime. Immediately the second hunter made the shot at 460 yards with his .300 Win Mag and both wolves were down. It was quite an eventful morning and we were just getting started.

While we were getting busy with caping out the wolves, the hunters glassed a small group of caribou making their way down the valley. Once it appeared they were bearing down upon us we stopped everything we were working on and laid down ready to shoot again. The caribou began trickling down the edge of the hill directly in front of us less than 100 yards away. Patiently waiting for the larger bull of the group to come over the ridge, we held still as the others were making their way close by. The bull appeared and the hunter made an ‘easy’ 80 yard shot.

With three animals on the ground, we kept ourselves busy for the rest of the day with caping, quartering, and packing them back to camp.

Our second day hunting the same two hunters started off much the same, early morning glassing from our vantage point. We kept our eyes on different groups of caribou feeding and moving along off in the distance, waiting for a decent bull to show up some place near enough for us to make a move and intercept.

After a short while, I spotted a group that came over the top of the mountain right behind our camp. As they were making their way down the side of the mountain toward the river valley I could clearly see a large bull in the group, visible even without binoculars. Once they reached the bottom and began crossing the river and making their way through the brush, we hustled about a half mile into position – another high vantage point close to where we anticipated the caribou to start filtering out the other side of the brush.

No sooner did we get setup and already they were showing up, we spotted the bull but I was only able to range to the edge of the water which was about 350 yards away. The bull was still further. Once he stepped clear for a shot and no other caribou were standing near or behind him, the hunter made the shot. We watched as the bull stood there, then staggered and dropped. After running down the hill, across the tundra and through the water to where he lay, I ranged back to the hill – 460 yards.

This father and son duo exceeded expectations and began their trek home the following day with grand memories of some amazing hunts that I was privileged to be a part of.

Alaska 2018 in Review

Mat-Su Valley

Deshka River King Salmon
Deshka River King Salmon in early May

The 2018 season started off early May in Southcentral Alaska guiding on the Little Susitna and Deshka Rivers for iFishAlaska. The boat was a 24′ flat bottom with an outboard tiller jet seating up to 6 clients at a time. King salmon were the target and numbers were low. Catch-and-release fishing on the Deshka River was good, but mostly because so few people were fishing considering you could not keep or technically even remove fish from the water. Even so, people were still happy to be catching fish.

Matanuska-Susitna Valley is an area in Southcentral Alaska south of the Alaska Range about 35 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska. It includes the valleys of the Matanuska, Knik, and Susitna Rivers.
Little Susitna River King Salmon
Little Susitna River Kings

The Little Susitna River was regulated to harvesting fish only on weekends. With low numbers and high, turbid water which made fish counting difficult, it went to all catch-and-release and shortly after closed completely to king salmon fishing.

Deshka River King Salmon
Deshka River King Salmon
Deshka River King Salmon
Deshka River King Salmon
Deshka River King Salmon
Deshka River King Salmon with Trevor Smith of TSFLYCO

The Deshka River soon after closed to fishing for king salmon as well as pretty much everywhere else in Southcentral Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula.

Deshka River King Salmon
Deshka River King Salmon

Someone must have been looking out for me because shortly after the closures, one thing led to another and I was offered a position guiding halibut and salmon in Lower Cook Inlet for King of Kings Guide Service and Lodge. We fished out of 20′ Bayrunners with a center console and 4 passengers at a time.

Beach launching Lower Cook Inlet
Launching and landing on the beach requires a special 1980’s “beach rig” suburban with deflated tires
Feeding Eagles in Alaska
Early in the summer, eagles are plentiful along the beach and willing to eat from your hand. Once the salmon start moving into the rivers, the birds follow.
Alaska Range Lower Cook Inlet
Late night sunsets were spectacular.
Mount Iliamna Volcano Lower Cook Inlet Alaska
Mount Iliamna looking approximately 35 miles across the inlet from the lodge.
Mount Iliamna Volcano Lower Cook Inlet Alaska
Mount Iliamna
Halibut Fishing Lower Cook Inlet Alaska
Mount Iliamna on the left, Mount Redoubt on the right. Halibut in the middle.

King of Kings Lodge is a family run service located on the Kenai Peninsula. Our halibut and salmon charters are very unique when compared to most of the other Alaska fishing charters. If you’ve ever experienced a halibut or salmon charter where it felt like they were herding cattle, you will enjoy the refreshing difference of our personalized service.

Halibut Fishing Lower Cook Inlet Alaska

We Fish Near Shore – No long boats rides, wasting time, and being beat up by rough seas. We Fish Shallow Water – No tired arms and back, or reeling up 300 feet of line with a 5# weight.

Halibut Fishing Lower Cook Inlet Alaska
Halibut Fishing Lower Cook Inlet Alaska
Halibut and Salmon Fishing Lower Cook Inlet Alaska
King Salmon Fishing Lower Cook Inlet
King Salmon Fishing Lower Cook Inlet
Fly Fishing Silver Salmon Kenai River Alaska
Once in a week I had a day off to do some fishing myself. This day I did some fly fishing for silvers on the Kenai River.
Fly Fishing Silver Salmon Lower Cook Inlet
Fly Fishing silver salmon on a local stream down the beach.
Fishing Ling Cod and Tiger Yellow Eye Rock Fish Alaska
Later in September we squeezed one last trip in to chase after ling cod with a bonus tiger rockfish.

I will be returning to King of Kings and looking forward to 2019.

Wilderness Trout Fishing in Northern Minnesota

The reason we travel to Northern Minnesota to fish stream trout through the ice is for the experience and the solitude. Although we could have easily kept limits of trout, we only kept a few rainbows around 20″ and let everything else go. The lakes were empty of people and we really felt alone out there. Some lakes were completely untouched and we were the first to break trail. Sure, you could go to some other ‘trouty’ destinations where you have chances at much larger fish with cityscapes in the background or on the horizon – but you just can’t beat the wild scenery of the North and having an entire lake to yourself, wondering what might come swimming through your hole in the ice.

The 320 lb Deer

On Sunday, October 15 of 2017 I entered the woods around 2:30pm to setup for an evening bow hunt. The temperature was around 46 degrees, the wind was blowing out of the West around 13mph and it was partly cloudy but starting to become overcast. After walking into my hunt location, I setup my treestand in a spruce tree and settled in for about a four-hour sit. I waited patiently as the sky became more overcast and the sun lowered in the sky.

Bow Hunting Minnesota

Spruce trees offer great concealment.

Shortly after 5pm I did my first rattling sequence. This sequence was very short and non-aggressive. I waited for 15 or 20 minutes and repeated the same delicate sequence. Some time had passed when I happen to notice movement through the trees 50 yards to my right. It was a buck. Despite all of the dead and dry leaves on the ground he managed to approach almost silently – had I not spotted him, he could have very well snuck right up on me.

(Videos may not show correctly on mobile.)

Link to Video.

He did not appear to be looking around like he was seeking anything in particular so it is difficult to say whether the rattling drew him towards me or not. He paused periodically and lowered his head to pick up mountain ash berries from the ground but was pretty quick to snap back up and look around if he thought he heard something. It was breezy which may have had him on higher alert.

This was a very respectable deer but a young deer. Judging by the thickness of the antlers and size of the body I think this deer was no older than 3.5 years. In two more years I think he could be a giant if he lives that long. I was content with watching this deer and observing his behaviors, but I also wanted to wait and see what else might show up. Trail cameras were not a tool I utilized this season so I really had no idea what might be walking around out there.

After waiting some time for him to make his way behind me and disappear hopefully some distance away, I decided to do another short rattling sequence. By now it must have been around 6pm or shortly after. Again, some time had passed when I noticed movement off to my right but further behind me. Taking hold of my bow from where it was hanging on my left, I stood up and turned myself facing towards the tree to prepare myself for a shot. As the deer approached I could see it was another buck. Again, he did not seem to be seeking or looking around so it is difficult to say whether the rattling attributed to him being there or not.

Once this buck was directly underneath me yet still behind my tree, I could see he was a very fat and healthy deer – much larger than the first buck yet not necessarily a larger rack. His neck was so swollen thick it was almost like he did not have a neck. He was all body. At this moment I was not thinking of shooting this deer. It seemed too early in the archery season yet and I was just getting warmed up! Sitting high up in a tree and looking straight down I did not realize just how big he was. At that sharp angle they can look so far away and be difficult to judge. The size of the body seemed to have dwarfed his rack. He turned a bit to his left and began making his way behind me. Carefully I turned myself around so that I was looking around the other side of my tree. There was more mass than I initially thought and now I had to make a split-second decision. I did not quite have a shot since there were branches in my way. I knew that if I drew my bow back I was going to shoot this deer.

He continued walking quartering away from me. As the distance from my tree increased, I was going to have an opening to shoot through. I drew my bow back. He was right in my shooting lane now within 20 yards and as soon as I settled my pin on him I released the arrow. I watched as the arrow disappeared behind his ribs, angling forward towards the opposite leg. The buck took off. Immediately I started shaking. By this time I had sat long enough I was slightly chilled to begin with so that always seems to make it even worse when you get the shakes!

The shot placement looked perfect. I was feeling very confident and excited to have just harvested this deer. Pulling my phone out, I messaged my friend Mitch that I needed his help with a deer. While I waited, I got myself out of the tree and took my stand down. I immediately went over to where I made the shot hoping to see my arrow. No such luck. It was starting to get dark now and I couldn’t even find a spot of blood. My heart sank and I was filled with mixed feelings and frustrations, second-guessing my shot and replaying the sequence in my head.

Thankfully my past experiences told me not to be discouraged and I was still confident in the shot I made. There were deep indentations in the ground and leaves scattered where his feet landed. Slowly making my way in the direction he took off, I began following the tracks finding each spot where he landed and kicked up dirt. I was able to stay with the tracks long enough until I finally found a few spots of blood. His direction changed and he began heading straight left of his initial course. At first I found some good blood, but then it was only a small spot here and there. It was difficult to follow but I was able to stick with it. Pausing after each spot until I could see the next spot.

About the time Mitch showed up, we just started finding larger areas of blood and the tracking quickly became easier. We both felt like we were close now and any minute we would see him. I was filled with relief when I scanned up ahead with the flashlight and could see a deer lying on the ground.

(Videos may not show correctly on mobile.)

Link to Video.

The arrow had entered from behind the ribs and lodged into the opposite shoulder. It was a good lung shot but since there was not an exit hole and the entrance was higher and further back – there was also not a lot of external bleeding. After some photos, field dressing and a lot of brute force dragging, we were able to get the deer to the edge of the woods where I could drive the truck to and load it up. It took a number of attempts even with the aid of a platform against the tailgate for leverage but we finally managed to load it in.

Big Archery Buck in Minnesota 320 lbs

The live weight of this deer was more than 320 lbs! He field dressed at 260lbs!

Once home we put it on the scale. Field dressed it weighed in at 260 lbs!

Due to the type of hunt this was, I had to clean up the gut pile, bag it and take that with me so we weighed the guts as well for an additional 60 lbs. That put the live weight of this deer at more than 320 lbs!

Follow Mitch:
Snapchat: smerz188