October 29, 2008
Amid Alaska’s Aleutian
Islands’ ash-belching vol-
canoes and foggy seas October 30, 2008
3:15 a.m. Typical. My ride
will be here in
20 minutes and I’ve just finished pack-
exists a population of
animals so unspoiled, so
8 a.m. We’re at the Ace Cargo
hanger about to take a
Beechcraft 19 aircraft out to the islands
ing. We’re headed to one of the greatest un-hunted by non-native we’ll hunt. We’ll stop once for fuel in
hunting destinations in the world: Alaska! Dutch Harbor, the town made famous
We’ll be hunting the westernmost part Aleuts that the Boone by Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.”
of the state, the stormy Aleutian Island and Crockett Club only From there we’ll fly off into the foggy
chain that divides the Pacific Ocean and
the Bering Sea. We’ll literally be hunting
recently decided how to divide between ocean and sea, headed for
the place where East meets West. They
between two worlds—halfway between classify them. The author’s call the Aleutian Island chain the “Ring of
Asia and continental North America. journal entries document a Fire,” a smoking chain of islands thrust up
Two years ago, a fellow named
George Weaver approached me at the
rare hunt for these “Asian by volcanic forces that often erupt, send-
ing soot and ash into the stratosphere.
Safari Club International (SCI) conven- reindeer,” as well as the They just told me that all airplanes were
tion and asked if I’d be interested in effects of eating 10 sea grounded for several days a couple
hunting reindeer in Alaska. Reindeer?
I knew Asian reindeer were released in
urchins in one night. months ago because of an eruption. Soot
was causing airplane engines to flame
parts of Alaska about 80 years ago, but By Jim Shockey out. Thanks for the way-too-much
I didn’t realize they could be hunted information. Maybe I’d walk away from
anywhere other than Greenland and Europe. They’re interest- this adventure if I didn’t know that somewhere out there, 1,000
ing animals that grow larger antlers in relation to their body miles from the tarmac, live some of the most spectacular antlered
size than all other big game. It didn’t take me long to sign on animals nature has ever produced.
for the adventure.
9:25 p.m. Anchorage is a tremendous city. I’d
move here in a second if I thought I
2:30 p.m. There is fog below us, but we see
occasional patches of storm-tossed
ocean and the odd island. They are strange sights. The fog
was worthy of the challenge. The hunters are some of the best makes the islands look like they belong in a “Jurassic Park”
and toughest in the world. I’m staying tonight at the Captain movie. The Ace Cargo guys are darn good pilots. We’re side-
Cook Hotel. Nice place. slipping between sucker layers of clouds. The pilot says the low
66 American Hunter ■ August 2009
American Hunter ■ August 2009 67
visibility clouds bank up against these
islands, but once you bust through, it’s
clear sailing—usually. I’ll have to trust
him because I can’t see 10 feet from the
window in this airplane. This is definitely
a white-knuckle flight, as we’re floating
down, bumping through the gauze.
2:45 p.m. As soon as I
could see the
island, we were down safe and sound.
That quick. The wind has to be gusting
near 30 knots.
3 p.m. Forbidding? Harshly
beautiful? I’m trying to find the words
to describe what I’m seeing. There are
tons of sea ducks. A wave of yellow grass
stretches as far as I can see up the steep
slope of the mountain beside us, but there
are no trees. Is it a volcano? I can’t see the
top for the clouds. I must remember not
to ask. There’s an odd black soil underfoot.
Reindeer Situation Report Volcanic ash? I must remember not to ask.
October 31, 2008
eindeer may look like caribou,
even smell like caribou, but
they are, in fact, reindeer. There
development of nearby villages. Reindeer
on the Aleutians were never domesti-
cated and, with no antler market, they’ve
6 a.m. I have estimated the
time, as I don’t know the
hour or even what time zone we’re in. I’m
is a bit of controversy regarding roamed free since the transplant. guessing we’re at least a couple zones west
the science behind this, but the fact of the The animals introduced to Umnak of Pacific Standard Time. We eat a big
matter is they are classified by the state of and Atka islands in the Aleutian chain breakfast. The place is nice, but I can’t wait
Alaska as reindeer. Furthermore, although roam freely over the entire 80x20-mile for the hunting part to start.
the initial indications were that the Boone
and Crockett Club was going to catego-
rize these animals as caribou, and mine
Umnak Island and the smaller Atka Island.
Numbers are reported to be near 6,000
on Umnak and 2,000 on Atka. These ani-
7 a.m. The wind is blowing
hard, but it’s clear at
elevation, which provides a magnificent
was initially scored as such, B&C has now mals have essentially never been trophy sunrise. We load the quads and Polaris
officially decided that they are reindeer. hunted. And they’ve only been minimally Ranger and we’re off. I’m wearing my big
Effectively this means that unlike SCI, B&C hunted for food by the native Aleuts. full-length rubber raincoat over all the
will not record these animals in its record The first reindeer I took scored 511 SCI clothing I brought, and I’m still chilled.
books (reindeer are not recognized by
B&C as a North American game animal).
So there you have it. The state of Alaska
points, the second-largest ever taken and
the best ever with a muzzleloader. My
second reindeer scored 464 SCI points,
10:15 a.m. We head up
a trail toward
the top of the mountain (which may or
says they are reindeer, B&C says they are which places it among the top 10 all time. may not be a volcano). It’s a spectacular
reindeer, SCI says they are reindeer and, I believe that bulls scoring over 600 SCI view. The sun rises and the sea ducks are
from what I hear, even Santa Claus is in points will be taken in the not-too-distant flying. Bald eagles are everywhere. They
agreement. future. The minimum score for inclusion sit on little knobs on the side of the rolling
The reindeer were likely introduced to in the SCI book is 264 points. hills. We even see a blue-phase arctic fox.
Alaska around 1892 and continued to be The Aleutian Pribilof Island Commu- The fox is pretty, but not native. It’s one of
reintroduced until about 1935. The first nity Development Association (APICDA many escapees from a failed fur farm.
transplants are said to have taken place
on the Alaska Peninsula and the main-
land. There are records of transplants to
Joint Ventues Inc.) has subsequently
approached me to form a unique partner-
ship to benefit the local communities and
12:15 p.m. Reindeer! We
see 12 or so,
all of them are bulls. We begin working
Unalakeleet and Point Barrow, Nunivak; hunters. Starting this fall, my staff will act our way over to them. The valley floor
St. Mathew and the Pribilof Islands in the as the exclusive marketing consultants looks flat, but it’s not; there are rises and
Bering Sea; Kodiak Island in the Gulf of for Umnak Island, and we’re working hidden ravines and gullies. Volcanic ash
Alaska; and the Aleutian islands of Umnak with APICDA Joint Ventures Inc. to teach covers the island tens of feet deep; it’s eas-
and Atka around 1914. members of the island community how ily erodible, as eons of rain gouges deep
Officially, reindeer were transplanted to market this amazing treasure to Ameri- into the island face make clear. Some are
for subsistence food and skin sources for can hunters. (Contact Dan Goodenow at straight walls 20 feet deep. We’ll have to
the native populations and for economic firstname.lastname@example.org.) be careful traversing them with the quads.
68 American Hunter ■ August 2009
1 p.m. We spot two bulls injured
from fighting. Both are
limping. The rut is just over, and the bulls
are starting to band up. They’re good bulls,
but it’s too early in the hunt to take one.
2 p.m. More bulls. Our Aleut
guide waves us over. He
is on the edge of a ridge, looking down.
We sneak up on the bulls and see the tips
of antlers, but can’t judge them. The first
bull sees us and stands. Then all of them
get up, creating a forest of tines, shovels
and beams. One bull is huge, but I find
him too late and the herd scatters, joining
the other 12 we’d spotted earlier. They’re
out at 400 yards now, watching us. It
would be an easy shot with a good cen-
terfire rifle, but 250 yards farther than I’m
comfortable shooting my T/C Endeavor.
3 p.m. These animals know 4 p.m. We’re practically sitting
on top of the world,
calves and smaller bulls, but nothing big
enough. We keep looking.
the deal. They’ve been
hunted for meat by the Aleut people
for nearly a century. I’m a little upset at
spotting reindeer herds miles away. They
look like bunches of white ants against the
yellow grass of this fantastic place. God,
6 p.m. We make a stalk and
get to within 150 yards
before a bull spots us and stands. He
myself for not being able to pick out the it is beautiful here. It strikes me now that is one of those “good-from-far-but-far-
biggest bull sooner on the original stalk, this has to be one of the most beautiful from-good” type bulls. I let him go. Then
but there are too many bulls, too many places on the planet, and hardly anyone we spot a massive bull. Not many points,
big sets of antlers. I guess that’s not a ever gets to see it. It’s truly a highlight of but the thickest antlers I’ve seen on
bad problem to have. And I remember my hunting career. I wish every hunter anything but a moose. We make it to 40
it’s only the first day. Plenty of time left. could be here for this sight. We see cows, yards, and can see the tops of his heavy
American Hunter ■ August 2009 69
The author’s bulls both scored in the
top 10 all-time SCI. Introduced in 1892,
Alaska’s reindeer may look like caribou,
but they are an entirely separate species.
back for their leader. It is definitely the biggest
bull in the bunch. As we walk up to him I
realize just how big he really is. Holy smokes!
He has a double bez on one side, double
shovels and long tines and main beams. It’s a
5 p.m. When I booked this hunt,
I wasn’t sure I’d want to
hunt two reindeer; now there’s no question.
Without a doubt, it’s a world-class hunt.
Please continue sleeping, Mr. Volcano.
antlers. He has only four points on each 6 p.m. King crab legs for dinner
tonight. Everything is good
side up top, but what mass! I hold my
breath and wait for him to stand so I can
shoot, but—oh no—the wind changes! A
7:30 p.m. It was gorgeous
light all day. We picked up a few skulls
back at home, but the stock market has
dropped something like 40 percent in the last
few weeks. I just called home on the satellite
puff at the back of my neck and the bull and sheds we saw lying around. Awesome phone, and it’s dropped again. Guess I’d
is up and running. There is nothing I can stuff for anyone who likes shed hunting, rather spend my last dollars on a hunt, doing
do but watch him run. but it’s our consolation prize for the day. something I love rather than watching my
7:30 p.m. The sun’s setting
and we have a
long walk to the quads and a long ride
We worked our tails off, but could not find hard-earned savings going down the toilet—at
the bull we were after. Tomorrow. There’s least that’s how I’m justifying the expense of a
always tomorrow for a hunter. second reindeer.
back to camp. What a day. Best hunt I’ve
been on in years—tons of animals, giant November 2, 2008 November 3, 2008
bulls, plus absolutely remote and wild
lands. It made me totally forget that we’re
walking on a volcano that’s shaped like
10:30 a.m. We barely
start to work
our way up the mountain trail when
12:30 p.m. We spot some
bulls right off
the bat, down below us near the ocean, and
an island. We’re lucky with the weather. we spot the herd of bulls from the first attempt a stalk. Fellow hunter Kelly Johnson
The wind’s blowing hard, but it’s still clear. day, high up on the shoulder of the and I are along for moral support as George
9:30 p.m. Back at camp, I
meet the chief
mountain. We pick a walking route that
should put us above the herd.
Weaver and a hunter by the name of Peter
are up to bat. The bulls, five in all, are in a
of the local village, Mark Snigaroff.
He’s a great guy; I like him. He tells us
stories about being out in the ocean on
11:15 a.m. It’s a little
now that we’ve left the quads behind.
perfect position for a stalk. We make it to
the edge of a ravine, knowing if the bulls
continue on their current route, they’ll
skiffs fishing for 400-pound halibut and We’re up in the black, sooty soil well emerge no more than 60 yards away.
hunting sea ducks. He promises to bring above treeline—not even lichen lives here. That’s exactly what occurs. Peter quickly
in a pail full of sea urchins before the Please volcano, don’t tremble while we’re takes the biggest bull, dropping it in its tracks.
hunt ends—about $4,000 worth in a fancy up here. Yellow, waving grass stretches out Then George takes a second bull with a
sushi bar. I’m going to eat like a king, or far below. A fog bank is coming in off the great running shot. Even as we help the guys
maybe a walrus. ocean; perfect for cover. quarter and skin the bulls, we see another
November 1, 2008 1:30 p.m. We drop down
into the grass
group of bulls on a distant ridge. Some 150
to 200 animals were in another herd down
2 p.m. We’re looking for the
heavy-antlered bull in the
same place we left him yesterday. I thought
and cross the last wide-open patch, totally
hidden in the fog. What a stroke of luck.
Then, there they are 250 yards away. Still
in the valley below. We see the odd smaller
group here and there in the distance, but
we can’t get to any of them due to the many
about him all night. I’ve never seen any- too far, but they don’t know we’re there. ravines. No worries, two bulls in one day is
thing like those antlers. They wouldn’t score There is a runoff channel that’s the perfect good by any measure.
as much as some of the other bulls we’ve
seen, but no antlers have ever impressed
me so much. I’m focused, with only that
depth to belly crawl through. We make
it to 176 yards and I decide that’s close
enough. The big bull is in perfect position
9 p.m. We make it back to camp at
dark for a dinner of live sea
urchins. Mark comes through as promised
bull on my brain. There are lots of herds in and I have a good rest. I take the shot and with a bucket of 18 of the spiny creatures.
the distance, but we’re checking every dip he goes down. The wind pushes the big Kelly and I chow down on them, cracking
and fold on this side of the valley. He’s got Nosler bullet slightly off course, but still them open and slurping down the innards.
to be here somewhere. the shot is in the nine ring. Mmm, good! They taste like a mixture of
The other bulls cross the ridge, looking raw egg yolk, honey, gasoline and fish slime.
We’re stuffed now and can hardly move.
I’m filled with self-loathing over my lack
of self-control. I ate 10 all by myself. Kelly
came in a distant second with seven, and
the rest of our camp shared the last one.
November 4, 2008
9 a.m. I was a little concerned
that I might be up in the
night suffering some weird side-effect
of eating enough sea urchins to feed an
entire Japanese family, but it wasn’t the
case. I feel great. My mouth feels a little
bit like a tidal mud flat, but otherwise
I’m ready for action.
10:30 a.m. Kelly and I
the quads through a deep ravine when we
spot three bulls on the far slope. We ditch
the quads and start climbing, probably
ascending 900 feet. We have 500 more to
go. It’s a lot of fun if you like sweat. Kelly
is in excellent shape and he’s climbing the
mountain easily, not huffing at all.
3:30 p.m. We reach the
bulls and one
has the longest main beams I’ve ever seen.
Another bull has unbelievable bottoms.
Kelly and I decide they have character, and
we like character. He goes after the long-
beamed bull, and I begin to sneak on the
one with big bottoms. It is a tough, hands-
and-knees stalk. I can’t get any closer than
170 yards. Kelly plans to wait until I take
my shot. He is using a centerfire, so he can
reach out if he has to.
Within seconds my bull is down and
out. No wind-drift this time. Kelly takes
his shot and drops the bull in its tracks.
7:30 p.m. What an abso-
once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Kelly and I are
thrilled. As we stand there on the side of
the mountain (which I finally admit is a
volcano) our smiles nearly stretch from
the ocean on one side of us to the sea on
the other. The sun is setting on us now,
bathing us in golden light. I can’t speak
for Kelly, but I’ll return to this enchanted
place to hunt reindeer between two
worlds, where East meets West. ah