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October ’99 Sitka Blacktail / Mt Goat Combo
By Johnnie Laird/Musked Excursions

10/16. I was up early and drove on down to the airport ferry to catch the 9:15 AM ferry over to the jetport. Steve from Missoula Montana was due in on the 9:40 up from Seattle. His flight was on time. We said our hellos and headed back over to the town side. During breakfast we discussed our planned Sitka Blacktail / Mt Goat Combo hunt. We looked at the weather. It was a windy, low cloud, foggy and rainy day. Not looking good for flying into the Goat lake. (Our plan was to fly into Goat lake first and then when we were done with the Goat we would head over to Prince of Wales Island for the Sitka Blacktail hunt.) We headed up to my house and went through Steve’s gear. We watched the weather and listened to the marine forecast. It wasn’t sounding favorable for Mt Goat hunting. After some discussion we decided to take the late PM ferry over to Hollis on Prince of Wales Island and do some deer hunting first. When the weather breaks we will gear up for the Mt Goat hunt.

10/17. We got into Hollis at 2:00 AM and drove on up to the cabin and settled in for a nap. In late AM I woke up to the sound of Bobby Warren (my Asst. Guide) loading his gear into the cabin. After eating and getting a few chores done we headed out a logging spur to a ridgetop to get in a short afternoon hunt. The rain had stopped but it was cloudy and the brush was very wet. We didn’t see much fresh Deer sign as we eased our way along the ridge. We did see some fresh Bear sign. We stopped occasionally to blow the call. On the way back to the rig we called in a doe. She was spooky. We worked our way back to the trailhead and glassed the clear cut till dark. We drove back to the cabin in the dark talking our plans for tomorrow over.

10/18. After strong coffee and a light breakfast we headed out. Steve likes strong coffee like I do. Those who have hunted with me know I make good coffee. Fresh ground beans every morning. A local company ‘Ravens Brew’ has fresh strong beans and I make it strong enough to walk on! We decided to head for a lower alpine area that I know of. We climbed the mountain in a light rain. The brush was very wet. After an hour and a half or so we topped out in the lower alpine muskeg shelves. We eased our way along making the call. We sighted one Forked Horn and a Doe and Yearling. They were not impressed with the call! We worked our way on up through the muskegs. Above what we call Texas Camp. We sighted another Fork. Not impressed at all with the call! The Wolf tracks we spotted earlier were getting heavier. It looked like one adult and several juveniles. We worked our way around behind a knob. One small Doe came charging into the call. We were sighting some fresh Deer droppings but only medium to low fresh tracks in the trails. We worked our way back to the main ridge trail and prance. The clouds / fog became thick. We eased our way in the fog up to the upper alpine. Fresh Wolf tracks all the way. Going both ways on the trails. Up on top the fog got thicker. We hunted our way along the ridgeline in the fog and back to the pass and the trailhead down a different route. We jumped two Does and a Yearling in the steep timber just off the top. The trails were showing lots of sign. As we worked our way down the mountain we quickly ran out of heavy sign. The Wolves had pushed the Deer from the top to the steep old growth timber. We reached the road in the twilight. The wood stove felt good. Annette’s meal of Pork Roast; Shrimp; Corn Bread and Apple Pie hit the spot. We were tired.

10/19. After coffee and a light breakfast we drove out a logging spur and Steve, Bobby and I started our morning work out. At a place where I always wanted to hunt but never got to yet. We hiked out the blocked off logging road and worked our way around to the top of the most recent clear cut. We were seeing only light Deer sign in the trails. It was lightly raining and the brush was very wet. The fog moved in and out. We came on a Doe at 10 yards. She moved off side hill and away. We worked our way across the top of the clear cut in the old growth. Making the call. The rain got heavier. We came to the uprange edge of the cut. The ground was becoming very broken up with radical rock outcroppings and very steep. There was the odd Deer track in the trail. We worked our way slowly up and found a pass. That put us up on some muskeg shelves. The fog and clouds moved in and out making visibility difficult. We worked our way up through the steep rocky ground to a large lower alpine bowl. As we stopped for lunch we talked things over. The fog had our visibility down to 50 yards or less at times. It was obvious that we were pushing Deer. We talked about our decision to come on the Deer hunt first. We wanted to go hunt Goat first then Deer. That would put us closer to the Deer rut. We reminded ourselves that if we were to have gone after the Goat first (if we could have even flown out by now) we would be sitting around in the fog and clouds looking for Goats instead of Deer. We knew that coming on Deer first would put us even farther out in front of the rut. Which is a very difficult time to hunt these Blacktail. We finished our sandwiches and needed to get going. We were cold and wet. We warmed up in a little bit as we decided to side hill up toward the top and back down range. The ground was steep and broken up. We started seeing more sign. We topped the ridge and blew the call. Lots of fresh sign. No response to the call! We worked our way down into this large bowl and down its little stream. Fresh beds, droppings and tracks. Not a Deer! The cold rain continued. It smelled like snow in the air. The raindrops were mixed with ice. We ran into an old flag line. We zigzagged our way down the mountain. In a small muskeg area we came upon a spot where the ground was all pawed up by Deer. They were starting their rutting tendencies. We hid in the brush and made the call. Nothing! We were cold and wet and had enough. We worked our way side hill and down the cut and to the spur and out. We were disappointed in only seeing one Doe. While Bobby worked around the cabin Steve and I made the drive into Klawock for gas and propane. When we returned the wood stove and Annette’s meal of stir-fry shrimp and rice hit the spot.

10/20. We were up early with the aid of the alarm clock. It wasn’t long before we were hiking up an old logging road trail. It was twilight. It looked like it was going to be a nice morning. After a couple of hours of hard climbing we eased out of the regrowth and into a low alpine muskeg. As we just entered the thick brushy forest on the upper part of the muskeg we jumped a Buck. It made tracks. We couldn’t spot it again. We slowly worked our way uprange and side hill into a stand of large Hemlock. We spotted a large Doe just above us. She was not impressed with the call and ran. We eased along the side hill on well-worn Deer trails. There were a few fresh tracks. But not what we are used to seeing. We slowed down. As we moved around a berry brush thicket Bobby spotted a buck across an opening at about 100 yards or so. “A nice buck, 3x with 2 eyeguards.” It had us made and was standing broadside looking at us. Steve looked it over quickly and decided to take it. He stood steady and squeezed the off hand shot. I could not see the Deer from my position. Bobby said “nice shot”. Steve’s Ruger #1 in 7mm with 160-grain handload Nosler Partitions did the job. We found the Buck about 15 yards from where it was standing. It was about 9:45 AM and the sun was seeping through the clouds, fog and tall timber. It was a nice 3x3 with 2 eye guards. It wasn’t a Monster Buck but a very nice Sitka Blacktail. Steve was one happy camper! It was a clean quick kill. After the photo session we caped and quartered up the Buck. We loaded it into our packs and headed back down the mountain. It had clouded in and began to rain. It was about 2 PM as we reached the cabin. After changing into some dry clothes we headed into town. We dropped off Bobby at his apartment and took the Deer head over to Skip (Bobby’s father) at Prince of Wales Taxidermy. Steve and Skip had a lot to talk about. Steve does wood work for Taxidermists (plaques, basses, etc.) After a visit we left the head for Barbara (Bobby’s sister) to skin and get it down on the salt. It was late by the time we got back to the Hollis cabin. We ate a snack toasted Steve’s success with a few beers and turned in.

10/21. After sleeping in we were up for coffee and breakfast. We boned and cleaned the Deer meat and wrapped it for the freezer. We decided to go on and take a look at the Harris River and see if it was fishable. The water was extremely high and brown from last night heavy rains. It was a no fish day. We decided to take an afternoon ride on a sightseeing trip on the southern part of the road system. We took a look at the Haida village of Hydaburg. All the creeks were at flood stage. It continued to rain hard.

10/22. After coffee and breakfast we decided to do some sightseeing and fishing up the northern road system. All the fishing holes we stopped at were high and dark. Fishing was not good. We drove on to the town of Coffman Cove. We got some fresh oysters at the Raincountry Liquor Store. Some for Steve to take home and some to put on the Barbie. We took the long way home. The beach road that now connects Coffman Cove and Thorn Bay. It is the first time I have driven the Big and Little Ratz Creek road. We sighted a few Deer and some very beautiful scenery. It continued to rain hard all day. The weather was not cooperating for our Mt Goat hunting plans.

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10/23. After we got up and had our coffee and breakfast we listened to the Marine Forecast on the VHF (like every morning). The weather was not sounding good for our Mt Goat hunt yet with continuing wind, fog and rain. Steve decided to purchase another Deer tag and we would hunt a few more days for Deer and see if the stormy weather would ever lay down. It wasn’t long before Bobby; Steve and I were hiking up the old logging road trail. In a pounding rain. As soon as we climbed into the first low alpine muskeg we spotted 2 Bucks. A small Fork and a nice 2x3. We slowly worked our way up through the muskegs. I didn’t make the call because of the lack of success in calling in the last few days. As we topped this small knob we jumped another nice 2x3. We watched it as it eased off into the brush. As we worked our way down through the openings slowly the fog set in. We sighted 5 or 6 Does. The herd was here. Then another nice wide buck at about 60 yards in the fog. Our eyes strained to make it out. Then it was gone. We worked our way back uprange on the steep timbered ridge. Jumping Deer the whole way. We topped out and worked our way back down through the muskeg openings. We sighted many small Bucks, Does and Yearlings as we eased along. The heavy rains and winds had driven the Deer out of the old growth timber to the muskeg openings to bed down. We just didn’t come across the nice heavy 3x or 4x that Steve was after for his second Deer. We headed down the mountain in continued fog and heavy rains. The wood stove was a welcome site. We loaded up on Shrimp-k-bobs, Stew, Crab Salad and Blueberry Pie and dried out.

10/24. We were up drinking our coffee to the sound of rain on the roof. It wasn’t long before we were on our way up the old logging road / trail. The rain was wet and cold. We climbed up through the regrowth and into the lower muskeg openings. We eased our way up the ridgeline. The rain became mixed with snow. We worked our way up to what we call California Camp. This was the snow line. We eased our way along. 1 fresh track in the snow moving in our direction. We climbed through the snow. Up to Alpine Base Camp. The snow was about 2 to 3 inches deep. But not a track since the one just above Ca. Camp. We climbed up the shelves to just below the sheer rock face we call the Goat Rock. Tracks in the snow ahead. “Bear tracks.” “No two Bears.” “Looks like a Sow and a Cub.” We all realized at the same time. And they were fresh. We eased up ridge. It was obvious we were not very many minutes behind the Bears. We bailed off the steep hog back ridge to the East. Over knee deep snow. Not a deer track one! We worked our way side hill and down range. Down into the big muskeg pass area. One old buck track form last night. We stopped for lunch and I tried the call. We hunted our way out for the next three or so hours. Jumping only one Doe, in tall old growth just below the snow line. We figured most of the Deer were bedded most of the day. After getting to the cabin we had a little daylight left so after a little woodstove action and a change of cloths Steve and I took a quick trip down to the Harris River to see if it was fishable. After one of Steve’s first casts, into the high brown river, it was hoopen and hollering. “Fish on”. A nice chrome bright Silver (Coho) Salmon at about 8 or 10 lbs. We caught 5 fish before we headed back to the cabin in the dark. Annette’s dinner of Pork Steak & Potatoes along with left overs was too good.

10/25. We were up early and after coffee and a light breakfast we were climbing the mountain again. The brush was wet. Fog lay in layers o the mountainsides. It had warmed up a little. We hit the melting snow line just above the first lower muskeg opening. Steve spotted 1 Buck in the brush right off. He had us made. We couldn’t make the rack but he was nice. He eased off into the big timber. We followed but could not find him for a better look. We continued upridge. We crossed a nice buck track in the patchy snow. We dogged it. After following it for away we lost track of it as it headed off the mountaintop into the steep old growth. We stopped for lunch. We continued to where we saw that bunch of Deer 2 days ago. We jumped one Doe. There are only a few tracks in the patchy snow. We worked our way down into the timber and side hill up toward the main ridge. It was very steep. Few tracks. The Deer were bedded again today and not out and about and hadn’t been. The fog had moved in and out all day long. At times visibility had been good, sometimes none. We enjoyed the day on the mountain but were disappointed at not seeing more Deer. The wood stove was a very welcome site as it has been. Annette’s Roast Beef and Mashed Spuds hit the spot.

10/26. We got up and made coffee. The Marine Forecast is calling for a possible break tomorrow. We decided to catch the mid afternoon ferry back to Ketchikan so we can be ready to fly to the Goat lake if the weather breaks. We started packing the rig and putting the cabin to bed. About mid morning we headed into Craig and picked up Steve’s cape and antlers at Prince of Wales Taxidermy. Bobby had already gone into town to get ready. We picked up a bag of salt and our Ferry tickets. We picked up Bobby and drove back out to the cabin and finished packing. We departed Prince of Wales on the 3pm Ferry for the 3-hour ride. After unloading the Muskeg Mobile, Steve and Bobby checked into a room at the Gilmore. They took their gear up to get ready for the possible flight tomorrow. I went on home for a visit with my wife Fran (who has been working all season on POW Island on the Hydaburg Road Project), Beaver (our old choc-lab), and Panther (our cat). We haven’t seen much of each other since the fall hunting began back at the end of July.

10/27. After having a good breakfast we finished our getting our gear together for our scheduled 1 PM flight. The weather was not good but we would give it a try. After talking with the girls at Taquan Air dispatch we decided to take a Turbine Otter out to the Goat lake. With Ernie Robb at the controls we were up and away. It was a very bumpy rough flight but there was a high ceiling and no rain. We could tell there was another fast approaching storm coming in from the south. We were on approach to the lake in no time. The wind shears were picking up. It was no time for cruising the ridges looking for animals. I could see the snowline was in the low muskegs. We made it into the lake and unloaded the plane and said our good-byes to Ernie. He wished us luck, knowing this was going to be very difficult at best. We set up base camp and Bobby rounded up some firewood. The wind continued to build. We sat around the campfire and talked over our plans. We brought extra tents and sleeping bags. We would leave base camp set up and arrange clothes, food and gear for a second (and third) supply run. We would hike in the morning with as light as loads as possible. After freeze-dried dinners we turned in. The wind howled. The temperature and the snow line were dropping.

10/28. After breakfast and coffee we put the finishing touches on our packs and headed out. It wasn’t raining but the brush was wet. We climbed up through the steep old growth timber. We ran into the snow line in the lower muskeg openings. We arrived at Camp II about noon. We had wanted to get up to the higher Camp III but with 3 inches of snow on the ground here our plans changed. We decided to set up camp. Rain showers moved in from the South as we set up camp. We listened to the Canadian Marine Weather forecast. It didn’t sound good. A gale force storm on the way. After lunch we headed up the valley to check things out. Rain showers turned to snow. We sighted Wolverine tracks right off. And then Brown Bear tracks from last night, quartering downrange. As we worked our way up the snowy valley we crossed a track, also quartering downrange. It was 2 Goats or Deer about 2 days old. We headed on. The Wolverine family had it all tracked up in several places. We worked our way up and across the steep slide chutes. We cut the Brown Bear track again. He had came from the high country. We headed through the stringers of scrubby timber and into the little valley bottom. The snow was about a foot deep. No fresh Mt Goat sign. We didn’t cross any or couldn’t spot any while we glassed the mountainsides above us. It was time to head back. It would be pushing dark by the time we reach camp. We headed down the other side of the valley. On the way back we cut more Wolverine, a different Brown Bear and very fresh Black Bear tracks just above camp. Bobby and Steve work on getting a campfire going while I boiled water for freeze-drieds and hot chocolate. The snow stopped and a few stars made an appearance as we sat around the campfire. I turned in and drifted off to sleep while Bobby and Steve sat around the fire talking.

10/29. The weatherman was right. The wind howled in during the night. The rain pounded and then turned to mixed rain and snow. We had wind gusts up to maybe 80 mph, we guessed. You could hear them coming from a distance. It sounded like a fright train. It lasted for several hours and then slacked. It got quiet sometime in the early AM. It began to snow. We woke up to over 2 inches of wet snow. The wind was still kicking it up. We built a fire. Had coffee and breakfast. The visibility was very poor with low clouds and fog and continuing snow squalls. We decided to wait it out awhile. The wind died down. The snow turned to heavy mixed rain and snow showers. The visibility would almost let up then back down again. We could see it was snowing down to low elevations below us. It was a campfire day. We listened to the Canadian Marine Weather station. It was not good. Continued mixed rain and snow and high winds. With the outlook even worse with a possible storm / hurricane force storm on the horizon. I called my wife Fran in Ketchikan on the satellite phone. She said she would keep an eye on the Ketchikan forecast for us and watch the Alaska Weather program on TV. I would get back with her later tonight and tomorrow. We enjoyed the fire and glassed the area at the few opportunities we had. Mixed rain and snow continued all day. We turned in during a torrential downpour that lasted into the night.

10/30. The winds howled in again. As strong as last night maybe even stronger. You could hear the wind sheer coming and then feel the gust hit, which would shake the muskeg ground, and listen as it moved up the valley and then another. This was in constant very strong winds. Then like last night things got quiet sometime in the early AM. We woke up to a fresh layer of snow. It’s important to have good gear at a time like this. Steve was ready to hunt. Our plan for today was to Steve and I would hike up the west ridge and Bobby would head for base camp with our wet clothes and bring back more supplies, freeze dried, dry clothes, etc. Then he would go scout up the East Ridge above Camp III and Alpine Camp. After coffee and breakfast we headed out. Steve and I climbed the steep ridge. About ¾ of the way up, against a rock wall we cut a Goat track; 1 or 2 days old, it was hard to tell it was snowed on. We continued on in the deepening snow. The snow was knee to thigh deep on the ridgeline. This is where I expected to see tracks and beds. Not a sign of a Goat. There was a break in the weather and we could see around good. We glassed and we glassed. Not a track could we make out anywhere? From up here I usually can get the Marine Forecast from Ketchikan. I got out the radio and gave it a try. It didn’t sound good. They also were calling for a possible hurricane force storm followed by mixed rain and snow to seal level Not good! But a possible break in the weather tomorrow morning. We watched as a large snow squall moved in on us. The visibility dropped to nothing in the heavy snow. After awhile we headed off the ridge toward camp. When Steve and I got back to camp we noticed that bobby had been back and headed up the valley. Steve and I talked the situation over. There was definitely a large storm coming. Should we continue to hunt or take tomorrow mornings-possible window in the weather and head back to Ketchikan? Once a storm like this sets in they can last 3 or more days. Hunting during that time would be very poor at best. What worried me as the low snow, even for the West Coast, that was in the forecast. Slush ice on the lake and the plane can’t land! It’s a long hike to the salt water and beaches for landing a plane at are few and far between up in this bay. We would wait till Bobby came back and hear his report before we make the call. We settled in by the fire as the snow quit and the visibility got good again. Bobby came in just at dark. The snow was over thigh deep at Camp III. It was very tough climbing up the steep mountain trail to Alpine Camp. With not a track in the area. Above Alpine Camp the cold wind whipped across the ridge. The snow was blown off exposing hard frozen grass and ice. He cut Goat tracks. Three goats had come off the top and were headed down into the next valley over. Bobby could not stop and glass. He had gotten sweaty wet and his clothes were freezing hard. His rain pants were already frozen. It had taken him over 5 hours by the time he made it back to camp. From Camp II it would not be possible to hunt the west ridge. As much as I hated to I made the call on the satellite phone to Taquan about a possible flight about noon tomorrow.

10/31. We woke to a partly cloudy morning. After coffee and breakfast we started breaking camp. Steve glassed the upper valley mountainsides. Bobby and I started folding up tents. Steve spotted some fresh trails in the snow in the upper valley. We talked over the situation and tuned in the Canadian Marine forecast. The hurricane force storm was eminent. We continued packing and I made a call to Taquan Air; the weather in Ketchican was marginal but workable. We headed for the lake. After we got to the lake we started breaking down base camp. I called Taquan again and gave them the favorable weather report for lake conditions and they said that Ernie would be on the way with the Otter. After a couple hours of packing out to the beach we were on our way to Ketchikan. The weather was closing in fast. The valley was socked in as we left the lake. It was stormy on our approach to the Ketchikan waterfront. We were all glad we made it in safe but were disappointed. Bobby headed for Craig (Prince of Wales Island) on what would be the last flight of the day. Steve settled into a room at the Gilmore. Fran and I meet Steve later for dinner. Steve wanted to come back on another Mt Goat hunt earlier in the season. We tentatively agreed on another hunt schedule for the first part of Sept. ’00.

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