After having my Afognak trip delayed because of weather, I was finally back on Kodiak. I had to laugh as I climbed in the Beaver float plane that would carry me to my destination. Plastered right there on the control panel was a not so subltle reminder that I was indeed “Livin’ the dream.” My trip on this incredible island would include duck hunting, fishing, trapping and hunting for blacktail deer. Here are the photos of my adventure on Afognak. SEE THE VIDEO OF DAY 1 HERE
After a hop, skip, and jump in the Beaver plane, I was once again back at one of my favorite places in Alaska. Afognak Wilderness Lodge is tucked into Seal Bay on the northeast end of Afognak Island, and these guys have some of the best hunting and fishing in Alaska right in their back yard. Afognak Island sits three miles north of Kodiak Island of Alaska’s southern shore. It stretches 43 miles east to west and 23 miles north to south and is home to brown bears, Roosevelt elk, blacktail deer, sea lions, and foxes.
The lodge is run by Shannon, Josh and Luke Randall, and is truly a world class outfit. Not only is there enough hunting and fishing to keep you busy from dawn till dusk, you’ll have a fantastic meal prepared by Brian their cook.
Pretty much all of the hunting in the area is done out of a boat, as this part of the island is pretty isolated. Their main boat, the Cape Current, is perfect tool for the job. As I would find out, it can handle rougher seas than my stomach can, and has a landing ramp that makes beach drop-offs a breeze.
It didn’t take long to get into the action, and we were off almost as soon as I could get my gear out of the floatplane. But we had a problem. We were in desperate need of some fish for Brian to cook up for dinner, so we headed straight to one of Luke’s honey holes. It was amazing how quick we got into the schools of sea bass, often hooking up within seconds of dropping a lure in the water. Not the biggest fish, but man are they good eating!
There was no shortage of trash talk on this trip. Casey had just declared that he had given her the wrong color lure when her rod doubled over. After a 30-minute battle and a pair of burned out arms, she hauled in this 150-pound halibut.
With the first couple hours setting a pace like this, I knew this week wasn’t going to disappoint. Afognak is such a beautiful place, and I could only hope that this weather would hold.
The action just kept on coming, and on our way back from fishing, we spotted some deer bedded up on this grassy ridge above the ocean. Luke and I got dropped off on the beach, and put a quick climbing stalk on this buck. Most big game species in Alaska legally require waiting until the next day after flying to shoot, but not deer.
Not bad for an afternoon. We (Casey, Luke, Frank and I left to right) managed to catch a pile of good eating fish and shoot a deer. What a way to start off the trip.
Unfortunately, a storm rolled in, and we were met with pouring rain the next morning. But we didn’t let it keep us in and spent the day setting fox traps. The following day, the rain let up and we decided to see what “trouble” we could get into. As we were cruising along, we spotted an ermine hunting in the rocks along the shoreline. Frank hammered him with the 20 gauge, and we had our first fur on the stretcher.
We spent the rest of the day hunting ducks. The duck hunting in most of Alaska is history at this time of year, but there are still tons of sea ducks holed up in the coves around the island.
We ended up getting into the ducks pretty heavy. I have to admit, I was succumbing to duck fever, blasting away with the over/under, and not being able to reload fast enough as dozens of birds went screaming by. I blasted a lot more holes in the sky than ducks, but we still ended up with enough birds to make an awesome dinner.
Luckily the weather continued to improve, and the following morning, we were on a mission to get Frank a big buck to fill his last tag. We took advantage of the calm seas to cruise out to a peninsula that Luke had a good feeling about. Sure enough, we spotted a big buck on the peninsula and Luke landed Frank, Casey, and I on the beach to put a stalk on him.
As we were closing in on where we last saw the buck, he suddenly appeared over a rise 20 yards away, walking right toward us. Frank wasted no time and dropped him in his tracks with a single shot from his Ruger .308 Scout with iron sights. A smaller buck came running up behind him and Casey was about to take a crack at him, when a brown bear came tearing out of the gulley behind the deer. It had pushed the deer right to us. Luckily, it ran at the sound of the shot. Frank had his big buck, and we wasted no time getting it back to the boat.
Even though the bear wasn’t being aggressive, Luke and Casey gutted the deer on the ramp, which turned out to be pretty convenient.
Each afternoon, we would check the fox traps I had set out. I set most of them like this, high on the beach where foxes prowl for their food. I tried several different baits including rotten scraps, fresh deer scraps and leftover duck carcasses. I would then cover the trap with grass or moss. It’s quite different than trapping in the snow like I’m used to, and I think I have a lot to learn, as I kept striking out.
That evening, however, I caught a beautiful silver fox. Although he was the only fox I caught on the trip, I couldn’t have gotten a better one. It’s without question the prettiest fox I’ve ever caught.
It’s amazing how hard these silver fox can be to see on the beach, as they blend right in with the shale and gravel mixed with crush seashell that line most of these shorelines. From any distance, they are basically invisible.
The end to another exciting day left us with a beautiful moonrise. It seemed like there was just no end to what this place could hold.
I had to cut out of breakfast to catch this beautiful sunrise. The old saying “red sky in the morning, sailors take warning” held true, as Frank had barely made it out on the morning plane when another storm hit the island. The next hunter, Wayne Farnsworth Jr, was lucky to make it in on the same plane, and we spent that afternoon drive hunting on peninsulas, hoping to push a big buck within bow range. At one of the spots we tried, a fawn stopped so close, Wayne could have touched it, but we didn’t see any bucks.
We woke up Sunday morning to a torrential downpour and howling wind. It was pretty apparent that we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere with the boat, so we decided to climb onto the ridges to still hunt in the trees. Luke and Wayne hunted one side of the bay, while I hunted the other. After seeing lots of deer, I finally connected with this pretty fork horn buck with only 45 minutes left of daylight. I was using the Ruger 6.5 creedmoor that I showed in the rifle weatherproofing blog. As I figured, it sure would need it. The cool thing was that because of the noise of all the rain and wind, I easily got within 20-40 yards of about 25 different deer. I almost stepped on a doe that was bedded, which surprised both of us equally.
These deer have gorgeous thick hides, and I just couldn’t bear to cut this one up for trapping bait, so I’m going to get it tanned. It’ll look much better hanging over the back of my couch than from a marten pole!
I was very impressed with how the 6.5 Creedmoor did on these deer. With the 129 grain Hornady SST bullets, it sure gave them a shellacking. I also used the SST’s on my Dall sheep, and they consistently seem to have a good balance of shock and weight retention. They don’t blow massive holes, but the internal damage is very impressive. You can see that although the exit wound (left) isn’t massive, the shock from the bullet tore off the bottom of the vertebrae, and you can imagine what it did to the lungs.
I awoke my last day at the lodge to see that a couple of inches of snow had fallen that night. Snow makes all the difference in the world when hunting blacktails on Afognak. It pushes deer down on the beach to eat kelp. After glassing several beaches, we found a good buck, and with Luke running the boat like a pro, slid up onto a rock out in the surf.
Josh and I hopped out onto one rock, had to wait for the surge to go down, and then step across another rock to get to the big one before the waves came back up. Careful not to slip and end up in Davy Jones’s Locker, I hesitated and got a boot full of water. Wet foot and all, we quickly laid down and I settled into a good shooting position, a comfortable 200 yards from the buck.
One crack of the rifle, and the buck was down. We pulled up to the beach, with deer still everywhere. It seemed almost unbelievable. I could have easily taken 2 or 3 of the other deer with my recurve (that I happened to NOT have on the trip). He was a great buck to fill my last tag, and what a way to end an amazing week.
It’s always hard to leave Afognak. It’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been and being out there truly is the experience of a lifetime. If you’re anything like me, you won’t want to leave either. Check out Live Hunt for videos of my week on Afognak, and if you want to find more info on the lodge and available hunts, go to www.huntafognak.com.
Live Hunt host Tyler Freel spent a week in December on Alaska’s Afognak Island. While there he caught halibut, trapped foxes and stalked blacktail deer. These are the photos of his adventure.