Posted on: December 6th, 2016 Chasing Chuck
Bucks on the Boat
I would like to preface this with a thank you to all the guys I have shared a hunting camp with over the years. This latest trip to Kodiak was one of the best week-long experiences I have ever had while bowhunting. And although this is not really a recap of that hunt alone, it was the culmination of a life-long quest with stick and string.
Lots of boys grow up idolizing professional athletes, movie stars or singers. When family members ask them, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The boy says, "professional baseball player" or "country music star" or maybe the oddball response of "rodeo clown."
But my childhood idols used words to craft tales of adventures in far-off places. These idols often were not famous, couldn't hit a baseball 500 feet and probably wouldn't last very long with a bull chasing them. The talents they did have were ones I tried to hone: ability to sneak close to animals, proficiency with archery equipment and artful storytelling through the written word. In my opinion, no one was better than Chuck Adams.
First "Big Game" Bowhunt
I started reading hunting magazines shortly after learning my ABCs. And nobody was more prevalent a writer than Chuck. I learned to love his writing style and gawked at every photo of him with a monster animal in his hands and a giant grin on his face. I continued to shoot with fingers and wear a beanie while bowhunting until I was 20. I went into journalism because I figured on a career in outdoor writing. I might have been a little overboard in my approach to try and follow in his footsteps...
By the time I graduated from college, I realized that there would only be one Chuck Adams and I eased up trying to follow his every step and find my own path. But one of his accomplishments stuck with me since I was a kid and I couldn't shake it until I was able to do the same thing--five archery deer slams. At the time, he was the only bowhunter to record five archery deer slams.
Finger bow and beanie. Old school...
I grew up a deer hunter and although I was very fortunate to be in a bowhunting family, with parents that took me on hunting trips for vacations every year, I never expected to chase exotic animals. So when I read stories about sheep hunting in the pristine wilderness of northern Canada or safaris on the golden plains of Africa, I loved to pretend I was along side the storyteller, but I knew deep down that wasn't who I would be. I was a deer hunter and even though Chuck hunted everything, he always admitted to his love for deer--especially blacktails from his youth.
Since I also grew up in California, it was easy for me to relate to his passion. By the time I was 15, I was lucky enough to have hunted and arrowed blacktail, mule deer and even a Coues' deer. It was at that point I thought that an archery deer slam was a possibility. Over the next decade, I was able to shoot a few whitetails, but an unsuccessful trip to Kodiak for Sitka blacktails left me one species short of the North American archery deer slam.
First day of deer hunting at age 11. Beginner's luck!
It wasn't until my second trip to Kodiak that I was able to arrow a nice buck and finish the first deer slam. It only took me 16 years of bowhunting deer! At 27, I hoped that the next ones would come more quickly or I would have to find the fountain of youth. Luck was on my side, and four years later, two well-placed arrows on another trip to Kodiak made slams No. 2 and 3 a reality.
First Sitka Blacktail and first archery deer slam
When I returned from that trip, I decided to make a serious effort at No. 4 and 5. I would need another Coues' and two more Sitkas. I decided to try something different for Coues' and found an early season hunt. It was great to see a different side to the smallest deer in North America. I was able to arrow a fuzzy-antlered buck this past August and saw for the first time that the color green actually exists in the desert. That was another trip made special because I made new friends, including a couple from Bowsite.
Velvet Coues' and No. 5 for that species
Although I had not planned on going back to Kodiak this year, a few friends really wanted to go and had to convince me pretty hard to make the trip this past month. I think the conversation went, "Zack, do you want to plan a trip for this year to Kodi..."
"Yes! I'll set it up," came out of my mouth without thought. I think my subconscious knew the deer population was up and it IS my favorite hunt, so mid-November found me landing on Kodiak island with 5 good buddies.
Quite the cast of clowns
The first night I was able to make a good shot at last light--after an errant warning arrow (it's only fair that I gave him a chance)--on a mature buck dogging a doe. The good news was deer slam No. 4 was over fast. The bad news was going to be what the next three hours would hold--skinning/quartering a deer in the dark and packing down the mountain through a never-ending alder thicket. The things you hope for on a Kodiak hunt! Luckily my hunting partner Matt (yes, that Matt) was very eager to help...
Three hours and 11 falls later, we were back at the shore and ready for pickup and a celebratory cocktail. Man, I had forgotten how much fun it was to stumble around in the alders with a heavy pack in the darkest of dark. I was quickly reminded. Luckily, Matt did not try to smother me in my sleep that night and I vowed to help him and that he would have the next shot. At least that's what I said...
No. 4 and a fun pack out at night!
The next day, we climbed to the top of the mountain and never found a good stalking opportunity. While creating over a little rise, I looked to my right and saw a fox at 30 yards. I told Matt, "Don't move, there is a fox right there. Do you mind if I shoot it?" Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my body had knocked an arrow and come to full draw. Matt graciously decided to let me shoot, as though I really gave him a choice. Keep this in mind for anyone considering on bringing me on a hunt.
When the fox started to move, Matt called to it and it started coming towards us. What a good hunting buddy! It went behind a small knoll and we walked closer. When it popped out at 10 yards, I knew it was in my effective range and it was over quickly. Two days and I had a nice buck and a fox. Matt hadn't even drawn his bow. At least I didn't make him pack another buck all through the night again, right? Seriously, don't everyone invite me to be a hunting partner at once.
First Kodiak Fox
I was serious about helping Matt the next few days and we were able to rattle a couple nice bucks into bow range. Matt made good shots at alarming distances (15 and 10 yards) and I did return the favor of packing out his bucks. See, I'm not as bad as I seem.
Matt's Second Buck
On the last day, I hunted alone while meat care, duck hunting and fishing was handled by a couple guys with no tags left. Just before a snow storm, I found a bedded buck 400 yards away. I marked the green patch he was bedded under and began my stalk. I had to backtrack and sneak around a large pond before getting the wind right and crawling up a cut below the ridge line. When I peaked over, I excepted to see the buck's antler tips at 25 yards. The snow storm had covered my stalk and I knew he was still going to be there. Arrow nocked, I scanned the brush in front of me.
That's when I saw his eyes burrowing into me from directly to my right. Turns out there were two green patches and I picked the wrong one. He could only see my head, but he had me. It was wide open between us, the only thing I could do was sit and wait. A minute later, he stood to check his does and I figured it was going to happen. The shot felt more comfortable than any other time I have released an arrow at an animal. Sometimes, it just works. Five seconds later, he was on the ground. Of course, like the good hunting buddy I am, I called Matt on the radio to help me pack. I really know how to make friends...
Five archery Deer Slams
It wasn't until we were heading back to the beach that it started to sink in. I had made a goal based off another person's achievements and two decades later, I was there. At the time I conceived this goal, it was widely reported that Chuck Adams was the only bowhunter to have 5 archery deer slams. I don't know if that is still true today, there may be others or he may have 10 deer slams at this point. But for a kid that had an idol he knew he could ever be like, this was the one moment in my life where I could say, "I did what Chuck did."
I know I'm not a kid anymore--although I spend much of my time acting like one--but it was fun for me to look back at a journey that took me from childhood to the present. I have spawned new unrealistic goals since this first one as a child of chasing Chuck and they will probably never come to be. However, when I was younger, I never seriously thought I'd be able to get to 5 archery deer slams. I guess you can dream up crazy things at any age, that is not a something reserved for children.
Although I have started chasing other species across this continent, I will always be a deer hunter at heart. Nothing makes me feel more like a bowhunter than when I have a deer tag in my pocket and a bow in hand.