(Sorry for the delay since my last post. Internet service has been spotty here at best.)
The allure of Alaska, and especially Kodiak Island, is the unknown ... the collaboration between land and sea to make the most seasoned sportsman feel like a complete neophyte in an environment that's both unpredictable and unforgiving.
But thats why we go: It's where we test our skills as hunters. It's a place that rarely hands out gifts of luck, and reminds us that a good pair of boots and a shouldered rifle doesn't automatically put us at the top of the food chain, and a waterproof suit donned in modern camo can't hide us from the aggressive weather conditions.
I've been reminded of all this continuously since arriving ... and even while attempting to arrive ... in Larsen Bay on the island's inland shore. But there hasn't been a moment, not even a fleeting second, where all the TSA prodding and luggage shuffling hasn't been worth every airport line and sleepless hotel stay.
With me came a Mossberg shotgun equipped with the awesome FLEX System. I'm sure it's been said before, but this gun is like Legos for shotgun fanatics, allowing a hunter to configure their shotgun to not only match the hunting situation, but also ... perhaps just as importantly ... to match their individual personality. I like all guns, but I love a gun that makes me look like a bada** when I hold it. Call me shallow, but I'd never drive an ugly truck, and for me that mentality carries directly over into guns, too.
And with waterfowl (harlequins!) and blacktails on the menu, a shotgun fits the bill perfectly for a traveling hunter who needs to be very concerned with the weight of the gear that makes the trip.
If you're on top of your game while reading this, you're likely already begging to ask me, "Really, a slug gun in Alaska?" Absolutely. Appropriately so, the phrase "pumpkin lobbers" has died with the public's realization that dropping a critter with a slug at triple-digit yard ages is a very attainable reality. In fact, when paired with the Nikon SlugHunter scope I also have with me here, I can drop Winchester DualBond slugs within a 2.5-inch group at 100 yards every time.
So, that's what I've got here with me ... and here's how I got here.
Day No. 1
Uneventful ... which is definitely a good thing while on that road (or in the air in this case). Both my flight from Minneapolis to Seattle, and then from Seattle to Anchorage, went up and down without incident, each lasting close to 4 hours. No crying infants. Minimal turbulence. Lots of iPad movie time.
Day No. 2
After spending the night in Anchorage, the hour-long flight to Kodiak City was perfect. It was weird waiting for the sun to show up at 9 a.m., but it showed in enough time to catch some scenery from the plane window.
And that's where our well-laid travel plans were shredded. Thanks to a lethal snow and wind combination, the pilot of our little plane postponed the last leg of our trip until the following morning ... assuming the weather cooperated. Being stuck in Kodiak City for the night wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but the realization that my long-awaited hunting trip was being diminished from 5 days to 4 was very difficult to swallow.
Day No. 3
The weather lifted sometime during the night and we were able to fly to Larsen Bay bright (again, it's not bright until after 9 a.m.) and not-so-early via float plane.
And then at the dock came another surprise ... the "can't fly and hunt the same day" rule in Alaska doesn't apply to hunting blacktails and waterfowl!
Without hesitation, I dumped the carry-on contents of my backpack, replaced them with slugs and hit the sight-in range. After a six slugs to fix the "TSA zero" of my Mossberg, we were headed across the bay for a few short hours in blacktails paradise.
But the only thing I got was a bunch of fresh air and burning thighs. Fairly heavy snow on the mountain tops had pushed the deer from the alpine slopes a bit closer to the beach, but my mild fitness preparation before the hunt came back to haunt me.
Day No. 4
I awoke at Larsen Bay Lodge to the aggressive pounding of waves on the shoreline and a host wearing a big frown. Before he spoke, I knew what was coming: Weather was slapping me across the face for the second time during this hunt.
With water too rough to allow access to to the blacktail hotspots, we were "stuck" hunting in one of the most harlequin-rich bays in the world. I'm far from a serious waterfowler, but I am smart enough to take advantage of a rare opportunity when it lands in my lap and wiggles. By the time the sun set (bright and early at 4:30 p.m.), our group of gunners had leveled three drake harlequins and a handful of Barrow's goldeneyes.
There: I've babbled for way too long and you're all caught up. The wind is still howling and the forecast isn't projected to be kind until tomorrow evening, which means tomorrow will bring more waterfowl pursuits or blacktail hunting close to the lodge if the water is still too rough to get to the big bucks.
Either way, I'm going to take advantage of these super-long nights and put in some serious pillow time. Stay tuned for an update.
Keep your nose to the wind.