A friend of mine once told me he’s never ready to give up the current season before the next one begins.
I find this statement to be true—especially in November. Days are shorter and the weather is temperamental and unpredictable. Not wanting to lose out on an opportunity in the waning days of early winter, one year I called my friend Chet to make plans for a rabbit hunt. We’d had a late snowfall and rabbit hunting held an appeal since the hares had turned white and the ground was still brown. Chet’s response was immediate. “I’ll do you one better,” he said. “Let’s go get some deer.” The only areas in Southcentral Alaska for deer hunting are in Prince William Sound. Late season hunts are tricky, and even trickier was Chet’s plan to fly out to Montague Island for a day hunt … the following day. After carefully reviewing the forecast and a detailed weather briefing, the plan was laid.
My primary goal was to have my son, Ian, accompany me in whatever adventure we managed to put together. He was at times a reluctant passenger in the plane. More often than not, there would be some grumbling prior to our departures. Despite this, after almost every trip, he returned with enthusiasm and a smile. So while we were having dinner that Friday evening I brought up the plan to go deer hunting on Montague Island. The expected reluctance surfaced, but I detected a little interest too.
The next day began early with a final briefing, packing the plane and getting the man-cub up and moving. Light arrived by 9:30 and we had a fairly long haul in front of us. We left our airfield before dawn in a light snow with calm air and flew into Merrill Field to meet up with Chet and his friend, Dwayne. They were waiting and ready. We topped off the tanks on both planes and headed up Turnagain Arm toward Portage Pass and Whittier. The weather consisted of snow showers and a heavy overcast at about 3,000 feet.
Montague Island has a well-earned reputation for weather—for a lot of things really—but mostly weather. When flying into Montague, and the majority of islands in the Prince William Sound for that matter, there is a lot of open water to traverse, no real beaches in the event one has to hole up, and the potential for severe wind. There are also the tides which will open small segments of beach and just as quickly swallow them up. We were lucky. The day we’d selected had relatively calm weather, a tide that was in our favor and no real wind to speak of. There are many stories of hunters who have gone out by boat or plane for a weekend and had to stay in some hole, sometimes for days, waiting for the weather to break.
Once we cleared Portage Pass, the weather opened up to near perfect conditions. The surface wind in Whittier was building big white caps in the harbor, but the wind at our altitude gave us just a few bumps. Clearing the pass, we climbed to 5,000 feet and took a heading direct to Montague. We could see forever. Descending, we flew around the southern tip of the Island and immediately spotted two deer. A good sign, we hoped. We looked several beaches over carefully and selected one facing the open ocean. The tide was on the ebb and we landed without incident.
As we began unloading we saw two sets of tracks from the local deer wandering aimlessly below the high tide line. Another good sign. With the late snow, typically these deer stay at higher elevations requiring hunters to make a lengthy hike to kick them up. Our time frame would not allow for too long a stay. We kept a wary eye on the weather, made another check of the watch to monitor the tide and began walking north along the beach in search of our prey.
It was obvious that we were not the first to inhabit this stretch of beach. Several sobering reminders of past visitors remained. There were two plane wrecks along with the remains of what appeared to be a lifeboat. We also saw fresh tracks from a fair sized brown bear that recently wandered along our beach. We intended to give him a wide berth as we could not fly and hunt bears in the same day. Best not to provoke him if at all possible; we were after the deer.
My son was fourteen on this trip and had just in the last year really begun to enjoy hunting. He has a gift that I envy. He is a remarkable, natural shot. I shot competitively during my youth and up until just after getting married, but after starting a family and business, I was unable to pursue it anymore. I have always had to work for every shot. If my son can see his target, he can hit it, regardless of the weapon. On this trip he had my old Savage 99, which he was quite familiar with, and carried it as capably as an adult would. We climbed through the scrub trees above the tide line to higher ground where we could glass. Ian was quiet, patient and kept his eyes moving. I think I spent more time watching him than I did looking for our quarry. We spent the day climbing, and glassing, moving and glassing again. We stopped for sandwiches and continued spotting. We found ourselves on what appeared to be a heavily overgrown skid road with periodic open areas of grass. As we crossed over a slight knoll, we came up behind a medium sized bear. He was approximately 70-80 yards away and was busy rooting around with his head down. The wind was in our face and he made no movement that would indicate he sensed us. Carefully, we backed down the way we came and headed in another direction.
The watch on my wrist was the keeper of our day. The tide was coming in and the sun seemed to be quickening its fall. Our time on this island was ending too quickly. We began our return to the planes some distance away. Our sense of time was shared as Chet and Dwayne returned within a few minutes of us, coming from the opposite direction. We talked about what we saw or rather what we didn’t see, loaded the planes, made all our preflight checks and took off while we still had some beach remaining.
The return flight was as uneventful as one could hope for. The weather continued to give us her best and we spotted a pod of whales on the north end of Knight Island Passage. It was twilight as we approached Portage Pass. Again, the same overcast clouds were still there and we ducked under them as we went through the pass and along Turnagain Arm toward home. A light snow began; we listened to some music and recanted our day. Less than an hour later we landed at our unlit field and taxied to our tie-down.
This was not the hunting story we’d hoped for. There were no trophies taken—no harrowing tales. We didn’t even get to miss a shot. Instead, I was given an opportunity to watch my son take another step towards becoming a man. Once again, with no apparent effort on his part, he managed to impress me. His confidence and watchfulness were more than many grown men I’ve hunted with.
Since our trip to Montague Island Ian’s reluctance to go hunting continued to fade as we took more trips to the field. There was no more mention of TV, friends or games. He is now collected and sure. My son has become my hunting partner. And each time we venture out I am reminded of just how lucky a man I am.
Categories: Outdoors & Recreation