Seeth's (and his wife's) first out of state adventure!

seeth07

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Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
411
Location
Markesan, WI
Ok since Mr. @mtmuley has this hunch that I'm just a thread troller with no big game hunting experience, I thought I would please him with a good full on story of the first time my wife and I packed the bags set for the wilderness unknown.

That wilderness unknown was the Tongass NF and to most people, unknown and unexplored it is.

The planning began around Christmas time the year before and over the course of 7 months we put in a lot of effort collecting the correct gear, making phone calls gathering information and coordinating logistics for the travel to get there. The logistics were probably the most intimidating for a couple trying for the first time to do an out of state big game hunt. It was a 7 hour drive to the airport for us, two commercial flights to Ketchikan, float plane to POW island, pick up and drop off to get a rental of a 4wd pickup and then a 2 hour drive to where we wanted to start our hiking from. We left at 8pm on a Friday and then didn't get to that hiking spot until 10pm the next day.

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So our hunting plan was to over 3 to 4 days hike up and hop around from high mountain top to high mountain top in the alpine searching for late summer bucks still hanging out up there and then spend the last 3 to 4 days looking for a black bear down feeding on the salmon streams. Sounds easy right? Those of you right now that have ever been to the Tongass are probably rolling on the ground laughing.

So we woke up Sunday morning and began to hike. It was first a 5 mile hike up an old logging road to get up past a bulk of the heavy dark timber and then a .5 mile walk up through some dark timber and 1.5 miles to the base of this large peak. The old logging road hike wasn't too bad with some downfall and a large rockslide area with a few deep creeks to cross. Once we left this old logging road is where the real fun began. The dark timber wasn't terrible but some downfall and the steep incline still made for a challenge. Then there was 1.5 miles of alpine muskeg and that is a whole another kind of fun. When we finally arrived at where we saw on the map we wanted to pitch camp, it was 7 miles in, a 1500 foot elevation climb (we started at sea level) and took about 12 hours getting us there just after 5pm. My wife wanted to rest and just work on setting up the tent so I hiked to a knob about 300 yards away to start glassing. Did that into twilight with no deer spotted but did find a really nice spot we could glass from in the morning and then this nice ridge we could work up glassing as we went. I went back to camp to a grumpy sore wife telling me that this is it for her. She can't make it doing that kind of hike day after day keeping camp with us. She wasn't moving camp and stated "there better be deer here cause this is where our camp is staying".

We got up in the dark the next morning and headed right to that nice glassing spot I found maybe 600 yards from camp but through muskeg hell. For those of you not familiar with muskeg, it's basically this vast mat of vegetation that is kinda floating on water. Or so it seems...sometimes your walking on hard ground and the next thing you know your boot busts through and its 1-3 feet until it hits bottom. Anyways, we made it to the spot just as it was getting light out and we are glassing down below us in this big open creek meadow as well as a few benches on the north slope of this mountain. About 3/4 of the way up this mountain, most vegetation ends and it's rocky. There's a deer! Hey it's a buck! Holy crap it's a dandy buck! He is perfectly silhouetted standing right up on the top of this mountain. Not where I was expecting to see a buck at all. He was 800 yards away and about 800 feet of vertical elevation above us. All we could do was watch him and he went up and over the top out of view. Ok, so there are deer here, let's see what else we can find. We take a hike for a few hundred yards and look back to that mountain and what the hell, on a bench we've been staring at all early morning now stands a doe. Well I guess we need to get up there. Took about 2 hours to hike up that way which was only a distance of about 600 yards, it's some rough, steep stuff to hike. We got right at the base of where the vegetation mostly ends and turns to rock and I hear my wife go,

"you got to be kidding me"

"What's wrong?" I replied.

"Look down there, right where we were glassing this morning...there's a deer there"

Wouldn't you know it, sure enough not more than 30 yards from the exact spot we were glassing from is a deer and not just a deer but a forkie buck. A legal buck. Well we came this far up this beast of a mountain top, might as well explore it some and see why that buck was up here. We spent the early afternoon up on top reviewing numerous big deer tracks, watching geese come in and land on the tiny pond in a little crater of to one side of this mountain and just enjoying the spectacular view.

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We made our decent down to a bench on the north slope to watch that creek valley meadow until dark and didn't turn up any more deer.

The next morning the plan was to just spend the whole day from that first glassing spot and have the discipline to wait it out and catch the deer moving around that area. Plenty of tracks were there and we saw a buck and a doe in that area so we had high hopes a buck would give us a chance eventually if we were patient. Well that lasted all of 30 minutes when just like the morning before, the same buck shows up in the same spot up in the rocks and he has a friend, a much bigger friend. Like an absolute giant 10 pointer (I'm from the midwest, I call them for what they really are). We watched them feed, drink, walk around up at the very top of that mountain for a good 30 minutes before just like the day before they disappeared over the top. I looked at my wife and told her we have two options: either we stick to the original plan and wait it out or we go back to camp, pack up, move it to about 500 yards under those bucks and then get up super early and beat the bucks up top and hope they show up again tomorrow morning. I was glad she decided to move camp cause that is what I was leaning towards.

We went back to camp and packed up. The hike and then setting camp back up took us well into the day, until around 2pm. The good thing about this move was that from camp, it was a short 100 yard walk to this ledge that overlooked the same creek meadow we were looking at in the morning but it was just on the other side. This allowed my wife to sit that evening still watching that area while I wanted to hike up the mountain and GPS my path and the amount of time it was going to take to allow for easier travel in the morning. I got up top, sat for awhile enjoying the view again (with a small glimmer of hope of seeing one of those big bucks) and then headed back down to just sit with my wife for the last hour of light.

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If you look really close in this picture above, you can actually see our second camp location. Its a bright red tent in the center of this picture. Off to the left of this photo you can actually see the creek valley we have been focusing our efforts on thus far. Basically right off the left edge of the photo the far side of that valley has this big steep little knob where we were glassing from. Where I'm standing when I took this photo is exactly where we saw those big bucks. They were hanging out on these mountain "flats" feeding and drinking in the puddles created up here in the rocks. Our game plan was to beat them up here in the morning, get the wind in our favor and hope they show up.
 
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seeth07

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
411
Location
Markesan, WI
Back to the story. I get back to camp to grab a jacket before joining my wife where she was sitting for the evening and was shocked that my wife was actually sitting in the tent. She heard me coming and jumped out of the tent yelling "where the *bleep* have you been" clearly very upset with me. I might as well had been at the bar and smelling of perfume the way she reacted to my presence.

"Why what's wrong" I said.

"You didn't hear me shoot? I shot twice!"

"hmmm nope I guess the sound doesn't carry to the back side of that mountain top. What happened?"

Well turns out about an hour earlier, that same forkie came out into that creek valley and started feeding in the exact same spot by our glassing spot. It was 300 yards away from here and since she didn't realize it was that far, shot underneath him. The buck unaware of what just happened (this guy has probably never seen a human before or heard any noise that load in his life before) didn't move and she reloaded, aimed higher and the buck ran off out of sight. We now are in a situation where we have to make an incredibly hard decision, one of the hardest I've ever had to make while hunting. The hike from camp to where this buck is at isn't easy. Its easily an hour hike. Yes, a 400 yard hike in this terrain really takes that long. We have less than 2 hours of daylight left. Do we pack up the tent and head down there with camp just in case she got the deer? Getting a deer and then hiking back up to camp in its location isn't really feasible. This however totally ruins our entire plan for the following morning. What if we get down there, don't find any blood or hair and she didn't hit the deer? The decision was brutal to make but we knew that we had to give it all we could to see if that deer was hit and if it wasn't just deal with the disappointment that the next mornings hunt is ruined.

Camp got quickly packed up and we made our decent down the slope, across the very wet creek valley and arrive at the shot location. There were some tracks, fresh ones where you can see mud on near by vegatation resulting from a spooked deer. There was no blood. No hair. Circle and weaving back and forth 10 yards in his direction of likely travel. Nothing. 20 yards. Nothing. 30 yards. Nothing. This trip is turning into a nightmare. I'm so upset, raging inside but holding it back not to let my wife know for I know she is already feeling just as bad as I am.

To be continued...

Here is a map of the deer hunt area. The top camp is camp number 1 on the first night. The rest of the way points are pretty self explanatory. By the way, the topo lines here are every 100 foot intervals. The horizontal distance between the contours going up that mountain where the bucks were is about 150 feet right at the location of the doe waypoint. That should help give you a scale of what this country is like...its deer hunting in sheep country (or so I've been told since I've never been sheep hunting!).

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seeth07

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
411
Location
Markesan, WI
Well right as I'm about to give up for the evening and just pitch the tent, I find what I think is a tiny speck of blood. By the way, finding blood in the muskeg is a true test on a person's eyes and ability as there are tiny red specks all over in this style of vegetation. I'm about 50 yards away from the shot location and by the time my wife came over to me I've found another speck. We start following along the trail using mostly deer tracks and just a speck of blood here and there. We were literally on our hands and knees it was so hard to tell the little specks of blood from vegetation. It takes us awhile just to track it maybe 50 yards tops and it's getting harder and harder to track in the fading light. With the sun now under the horizon, we aren't going to be able to track this in the dark as with flashlights in these conditions just isn't going to be practical. So I propose to my wife: why don't we just walk slowly in the direction he's heading and just cover as much ground as we can while its still light just focusing on finding him laying dead. If you had a fatal shot, he shouldn't be too much further ahead of us. She agrees and we make off in two slightly different directions but in the general direction he was headed. I make it 50 yards and yell out,

"He's right here!"

"What really? No way!"

It was a beautiful animal and my feelings flipped 180 from the hour before. It was actually a really good shot hitting both lungs but what happened was it hit ribs both going in and out losing all its velocity and the bullet was caught in the backside hide. Due to the high downward angle shot, the entry hole was high 2 inches under the loin and it was found in the hide only about 3 inches up from the sternum. So all the deer had while running was a tiny pinky sized hole that wasn't producing much of a blood trail. The deer in total ran probably close to 150 yards and when we found it was already quite stiff.


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With the little bit of light left, we wanted to get camp set up. My wife said she would take care of that and found a good dry spot on the muskeg about 50 yards from the deer. While she did that, I started working on the deer. It wasn't too long and we were both working in the dark. I wasn't too fast as this is the first big game animal I ever worked on while it was on the ground. Back at home, we always just gutted them and then hung them up for a few days to age either in our walk in cooler or if cool enough, just the shed. A few hours later, I had all the quarters and other meat in the bags except for the tenderloins. I started working on them, got the first one out and gave it to my wife who already had a fire going to cook us a rewarding supper. I flipped the animal over and while working on the second one, my knife slipped and caught my other hand on my wrist. It immediately started gushing blood and I rushed to finish this tenderloin and get it In the bag. I walk over to the camp and sat down on a log holding my wrist tight to stop the bleeding. What happened next I honestly don't really remember. My wife says that when I sat down, I was pale white in the face and looked like I was going to pass out. Blood was dripping down from my hand that was covering the wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding. I guess she got me some water and forced me to drink it while she immediately got the medical kit and started tending to my wound. I don't believe I ever actually passed out and my wife said I looked really close a few times but she did what she could to keep me awake. The cut was about 3/4 of an inch long in a "c" shape due to the angle of the cut and was about 1/4" deep. I lost quite a bit of blood and my wife figures it could have been as much as a cup or more just while I was sitting there. Based on how the log and area around it looked the next morning, wouldn't surprise me. My wife used some clogging agent (powder stuff that is often used for a dogs nail when its cut too short and you can't get it to stop bleeding), some gauze and then just wrapped my wrist super tight in an ace bandage for the night.

After sleeping for a few hours, the sun came up and woke us up and the first thing to do was to address my wound. We unwrapped it and it started to bleed right away. So what my wife did (good thing she works at a health clinic!) is clean it out really good with alcohol and then again put a little layer of that powder stuff down and then sealed the wound shut with some "hospital super glue". I don't know what it actually is called but I know she stole it from the clinic for our first aid kit just in case someone got a nasty cut. Again, wrapped it in a bandage and I was good to go for now.

We loaded up camp into our packs and then loaded up the 40 lbs of meat or so. I took the bulk of it getting my original 55# pack up around that 85#-90# mark. I never trained with a pack that heavy before and after this haul, I deeply regret not doing so. My wife's was probably around 50# and I'm so thankful she was willing to handle that much. We looked at our GPS and for some reason it crossed my mind that it may be easier to just walk this creek drainage straight out to the old logging road (the red and pink route below). The distance was only 0.6 miles and based on what we could see in front of us, the first 400-500 yards was just open meadow/muskeg. The alternate option was to follow the ridge we hiked in on where we knew it was a pretty straight forward hike and knew the route to take (the blue route below). This option was about 1.5 miles but half of it would have been on the old logging road as it wraps back around. One extra piece of information: when we hiked in, we did want to just walk up this creek drainage. However, when we got there and looked at it from the old logging road, we saw so much downfall and nastiness that we decided to check it out up top where the satellite image showed an easier hike in. How bad could that drainage really be we thought? Saving 0.9 miles of walking with these heavy packs sure sounds good don't it? NEVER AGAIN!

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Basically the last 400 yards was a complete disaster (the red line above). The downfall was so bad combined with the fact that the terrain was literally at a 45 degree angle or worse following this creek made it nearly impossible. The topo map lies because it certainly doesn't show you just how nasty that creek drainage really is. I'm not joking when I say that it took us 3 hours to go that last 400 yards. I've never heard my wife swear so much in her entire life. She actually broke down and started balling with about 100 yards left and gave up. I went on and told her I would come back to get her once I found the road. It was a trying experience that truly tested my mental and physical strength.

Alas we made it both out to the old logging road and now it was just a relatively simple downhill hike for 5 miles or so. We took our time and navigated the rock slide very carefully with our top heavy bodies due to the packs. By the time we made it back to the truck, it was about 3PM and we were exhausted. We drove the 2 hours into town to buy a cheap cooler for the meat and we stopped at the fishing dock where they were more than happy to load it up with shave ice (thanks to the biologist for that hot tip). One last thing we wanted to do before we left town was to see if the clinic there was open to get me some stitches. My ace bandage was showing red at this point indicating that the wound had opened back up due to the amount of movement I was using during the jungle climbing in that deadfall. Unfortunately, there was a sign on the clinic that said "please call xxx-xxx-xxxx or 911 if you have an emergency and need medical assistance." We called and apparently there was no doctor nearby that could come in to do stitches that evening and we were told to hit the ferry in the morning at Hollis and then over to Ketchikan if we needed "non-emergency" help. We figured we could handle it ourselves.

We took the truck back to the general area we got the deer at because there was an inlet and river there that we wanted to focus on to try and fill our bear tag. The reason we wanted to focus on this inlet was because we were told by the biologist and an online buddy that it generally was full of bears in the fall and also because when we drove in there on Saturday night, we saw one cross the road right near that bridge.

Once we got to this bridge, we stopped and my wife did her magic again cleaning up my wound, removing the glue and reapplying some new glue. Needing to just relax, we decided rather than look for bears in the last little bit of light we would instead just do a little fishing. We caught numerous pinks which wasn't really hard because lets just say they were so thick in the river you could practically walk across the river on their backs. Also caught this one nice coho that we kept for supper that night :)

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We drove down the road a little ways and found an old gravel pit area where we could pitch our tent to serve as base camp for our bear hunting along this inlet for the next few days. We went to bed early and slept like babies!

To be continued...
 
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AndyPOW

Member
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
13
This is outstanding, gives the real flavor of hunting blacktails in the Tongass Alpine. You two are hardcore!
 

seeth07

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
411
Location
Markesan, WI
Up until this point, we have been extremely lucky with the weather. The highs were in the 60's, night time lows were in the 40's and other than a brief shower while fishing on Wednesday evening, it's been mostly clear skies and beautiful.

We were brought back to the reality of what Southeast Alaska is normally all about when we woke up early Thursday morning. Sometime overnight the rain showed up in full force and it didn't stop for the rest of our trip.

The plan for this day was to start at the bridge of that river and work our way downstream to the inlet slowly hiking and observing what we see. Our plan wasn't necessarily to walk in on a bear feeding on the running salmon but instead find their feed areas that we can use to sit on waiting for a bear to show up. From what we learned during our research beforehand, these black bears this time of year will head down into the river, grab a salmon and then head up on the bank and eat it. They don't just feed in the river or right on the bank like a grizzly might do. Some of these feed areas we found out aren't even right on the river bank so it's important to check the "bear trails" up away from the river.

Well it didn't take long and just 200 yards away from the bridge we found the first substantial feeding area. There was 20 or more salmon tails (they eat basically everything but the tails) and a few of them were super fresh. In fact, there was a salmon still alive, half eaten indicating that we very well might have spooked this bear on our way in. Over the next 6 hours or so, we made our way down stream and found a few other decent feeding areas. The very last one we found was this massive feeding site with a monster track found in the mud. For size context in the image below, the dimension from the tip of my thumb to the tip of my pinky is about 8".

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All of our hiking so far for the most part was in pretty dense forest all along the river bank. After going a little bit further down and around a bend in the river, it really opened up to a wide flat of tall grass (you can see this in the photo below). There was no sign of bear in this area for a few hundred yards so we figured it wasn't worth scouting anymore. We decided to rest a bit and do some fishing. Have I mentioned yet that it's impossible to not catch a pinky this time of year? Is it possible that fishing can be so easy that it isn't fun? Nope, it's always fun!

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With tired arms from wresting pinkies, we charted a straight line to the road using our GPS which was perpendicular to the path we took going down the river. Taking a shortcut back to road sounds like a good plan right? Did I not learn my lesson the first time? I guess not because we ended up hiking through a nasty swamp. It was brutal with us at one point walking in knee deep water and muck. We made it out to the road completely soaked (there was some really intense downpours plus the swamp walk) and no way to really dry anything out without a single break in the weather. We did have some dry cloths at the truck to change into for sleeping in the tent but knew the next morning wouldn't be fun putting on our cold and wet cloths to hunt in.

Friday morning it was hard to get some motivation going in my wife. We were both dreading another day spent in the pouring rain but with less than 2 days left to hunt, I knew we needed to muster up the strength to at least get out there for first light when the bears would most likely be active. We got dressed and I gave my wife two options. Either we could try to find an easier way into that last feed area and sit on that spot all day hoping to get a chance at the beast that left that huge track (we did find a super sweet natural elevated blind to sit in where some massive trees blew down which made that option interesting) or we could be lazy and just hike into that first active feeding spot just 200 yards from the road. You all probably don't even need me to tell you what she chose.

We parked the truck beyond the bridge by about 500 yards and chose to walk in there so we could approach the feeding area downwind. We slowly worked our way in and it sometime during the hike in is when we could turn off the flashlights. We were getting in there just in time. We cautiously approached once we got close and all of sudden my wife excitedly but quiet goes "Hey! There's a bear!". Looking up ahead I see this black bear doing it's best yogi bear impression, fish in mouth and standing on its hind legs looking at us from 75 yards or so away! It drops down and doesn't run full speed but trots away from us and down towards the river. I whisper "let's go, we got to get to that ledge and hope to catch him on the other bank". We as quickly and quietly as possible close that 75 yards and I look down on the river and catch him moving through some brush on this island in the river where a 10 foot wide creek separates this island. The island is about 20 yards wide by 50 yards long and I see him moving to the left. My wife can't see him yet and she is frantically trying to get a shot set up (scope covers off, shell chambered, etc.). I tell her to focus on the left where the creek breaks away from the main river because I can see he is going to cross there. Sure enough he pops out, I yell out "hey bear" and he stops for a second, looks at us and BANG...THAWAP followed by a MOAAAAAAAAAN from the bear. "Hit him again!" I shout. BANG. Dead bear, 100 yards away. My wife breaks down and just starts balling. I'm right there with her. It was a special moment and we sat there cherishing the moment and reflecting for quite some time.

We get down to the bear and having never been apart of a bear kill before, it was truly remarkable to see one of these amazing creatures up close. They are absolutely gorgeous and while this bear is no monster, it had a perfect, nice black glossy coat - no rubbing. We created a little rain cover with a tarp strung out over some overhead branches to stay out of the rain and began our work. The first task was the check the meat quality. We started skinning a hind leg and then cut a piece off to fry on our jetboil. I continued to skin the legs free while my wife cooked. The taste check passed and although it was nothing as good as that blacktail, it was certainly edible so we decided to take every ounce of meat along with the hide. For those that don't know the regulations, Alaska in fall bear seasons where bears are likely feeding on salmon don't require you to take the meat.

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We took our time and got the hide off, skull removed and meat all in game bags. The short 200 yard hike out to the road was sure welcomed. Back into town we headed to buy another cheap cooler and once again filled up both coolers with fresh shave ice. To treat ourselves and get a little piece of society back into us, we decided to have lunch at this great little pizza joint there in Craig. Afterwards, we headed over towards Hollis where the ferry would take us back to Ketchikan and found a spot nearby where we could pitch our tent for the night. Got that done and spent the rest of the afternoon deboning and cleaning up meat chunks and putting them in gallon freezer bags and then in the cooler with ice. We were able to get both the deer and bear in the two 40 quarter coolers we bought which was perfect.

To be continued...
 

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seeth07

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
411
Location
Markesan, WI
Saturday morning we had to get up bright and early still in order to catch the ferry leaving Hollis at 8AM. It's a nice calm and peaceful 3 hour trip across the Clarence Strait into Ketchikan. We had a hotel booked for that evening but couldn't check in for awhile so we decided to rent a car and explore the tiny road system that exists around Ketchikan. We ended up around Ward Lake and hit the Perseverance Lake trail. We got to the end of the trail at Lake Perseverance and started to do a little fishing. I wasn't able to catch any monsters but did manage a few healthy little ones.

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On the hike back out, I wanted to see if in Ward creek there were any salmon in the creek to occupy a final hour or two before we could check into the hotel. Well as luck would have it, there not only was salmon to keep us busy, but a few dog salmon to boot allowing me to opportunity to catch one and complete a salmon trifecta! I'm going to apologize in advance for this photo to those of you die hard salmon/trout anglers that are going to view this fish laying on the bank in absolute agony - I assure you the photo was done swiftly and it was quickly returned to the water!

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At this point, I think both my wife and I are just about "Alaska'ed" out and its time for a little R&R. We get checked in and hit the showers for the first time in over a week. Afterwards, we put on some nice fresh clean clothes and head down to a bar on the docks. It was a great evening and beautiful view to sit back and reminisce what has truly been a phenomenal experience where two notice western big game hunters from the Midwest were able to push through some foreign obstacles (long hikes, difficult terrain, weather, uncooperative animals and poor decision making) and achieve a huge amount of success.

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Well Mr. @mtmuley ... much better for ya?
 
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