In this blog article, we’re heading to Kodiak Island, Alaska, to take a look at the Sitka blacktail and the various deer hunting opportunities on the island. So lace up your hunting boots and let’s go!
Sitka Blacktail Deer Species Overview
Kodiak Island, Alaska, is home to a wide variety of fish and game, including all five species of Pacific salmon and wildlife including the famous Kodiak brown bear, Roosevelt elk, mountain goats, Sitka blacktail deer and others. Something that many find surprising is that out of all the different critters that call Kodiak home, there are only six indigenous land-dwelling mammals that are native to the island, all the others have been introduced over the years, including the blacktail deer, which were transplanted from Sitka Alaska in 1924. I did a video and blog on this topic a while ago which you can check out later if you’d like to learn more.
Much like salmon, blacktail deer is a renewable, organic food source that many locals and visitors seek to fill their freezers with, as blacktail meat is very high in protein, low in fat, and quite delicious. In fact, on a personal note, after eating virtually every game animal in North America, I like blacktail deer the best. Blacktail deer can range quite a bit in size. During the fall months, does typically weigh around 80 to 90 pounds and bucks can be anywhere from 120 to a whopping 200 pounds, which I didn’t believe until I harvested a few 200-pound bucks myself.
Sitka blacktail deer have a reddish-brown coat in the summer and early fall months which transitions to a darker grayish-brown color in the late fall and winter. With some exception, blacktails on Kodiak typically don’t have the huge, massive antlers that the big whitetail and mule deer of the lower 48 are known for. Very few Sitka blacktail bucks develop antlers that score over 110 points by the Boone and Crocket measuring system. No matter the antler or body size though, the deer on Kodiak can be challenging to pursue and they’re delicious and nutritious to eat.
There are a number of different options as far as seasons and methods for hunting the Sitka blacktail deer on Kodiak Island. On the small and rather limited road system of Kodiak, the general season runs from August 1st through Oct 31st, and hunters are allowed to harvest one buck. Additional road system hunting opportunities include the bow and arrow, crossbow, or muzzleloader season which runs from Nov 1st through Nov 14th, which allows for one deer of either sex to be taken. And finally, the youth deer hunting season is open from Nov 16th through Dec 31st.
Off the road system, hunters are allowed to take three deer. From Aug 1st through Sept 30th, only bucks can be taken, and from Oct 1st through Dec 31st, either does or bucks can be harvested. Of course, be sure to check the current season regulations before going hunting though, as they can be subject to change from year to year. More information can be found at the Alaska Dept of Fish and Game website.
What to Expect
Hunting blacktail deer in a place such as Kodiak is quite different than hunting whitetail deer in the lower 48, especially in areas such as the Midwest, where tree stand hunting in hardwood forests or agricultural areas is the norm.
The first challenge with blacktail hunting on Kodiak is getting to where the deer are. When the season starts in August, many of the deer, especially the mature bucks, can be up high in the alpine regions of mountains, some even in the same areas that hold mountain goats. As the season progresses though, the deer will typically start to head back down to lower elevations. In the early season, deer can also be very difficult to spot, as the bucks are still in velvet and they tend to hold tight to the extremely thick cover.
While there are many public use ATV trails on the Kodiak road system, which can get hunters into areas that hold deer in general, the larger, more mature deer tend to stay in places that are not so easily accessible, or, that are completely off the road system in the more remote areas of the island where hunting pressure is much lighter. Either on or off the road system though, if you’re planning on going after a quality buck, then you’re most likely going to be doing a lot of hiking through often steep, challenging terrain. And again, if it’s an early-season hunt, you’ll probably be doing a lot of bushwhacking through very thick brush, which by the way, can also be areas where bears like to hang out and feed on berries. So make sure to stay bear aware at all times! Considering all these factors, while you certainly don’t have to possess the fitness level of an Olympic athlete, getting in good shape is an important prerequisite for pursuing and then packing out a harvested blacktail. If you need some pointers about getting fit for the hunt, check out the video I did on that subject.
A couple of options that don’t require quite as much bushwhacking and hiking through thick cover is to do either a fly-in drop hunt or a boat hunt. If you have access to a boat, blacktail deer can be hunted successfully along the miles upon miles of beaches that surround the island, as deer quite regularly move through such areas. If you’re interested in a deer hunting outfitter or guide who offers boat-in services, just do a quick search on Google or visit Kodiak.org to learn more.
Hiring a local air service, such as Kodiak Air Service who I can personally recommend, is another great way to get off the road system and get right to a good hunting location. A skilled bush pilot can drop you off at an alpine lake or other locations that will most likely have a good population of quality deer, little hunting pressure, and in many cases will be out of the super thick low elevation cover that can make hiking so difficult. Of course, doing a fly-in drop hunt has many other challenges, such as bad weather shortening or prolonging your stay in the wilderness, but that’s a whole other topic, perhaps for a future video.
Whether you ATV in, hike in, boat in, or fly in though, your typical Kodiak blacktail deer hunt is a spot and stalk style of hunt, where you first find a good location to glass a surrounding area from, spot your target animal, and then cautiously get to within shooting range, which can be quite a demanding endeavor, as the deer you spot may be a looooong ways away. While blacktails don’t seem to be nearly as wary as whitetails, at least in my experience, they do have very keen scenes, so getting to within range undetected can be very challenging, especially on older, wiser bucks.
As I often tell deer hunters from the lower 48 who want to hunt blacktails on Kodiak, the adventure begins after you have your deer down! As soon as you harvest your deer, especially on a hike-in or fly-in hunt, you’ll have a lot of work to do. You’ll have to get your deer skinned and quartered relatively fast, with no machinery or fancy power tools to help you, load up the meat on your back, and start packing it all back to camp…which can be many miles through tough terrain. And once you’re back at camp, you’ll need to store your deer meat properly and ensure that it stays cool, clean, and dry at all times, which often requires some game meat maintenance to keep it in good shape while in the field.
Something else to be aware of is that in many areas the sound of a rifle shot and the smell of blood in the air is literally like ringing a big dinner bell for hungry or curious bears who may be in the area and very well may come in to investigate. In fact, many of the bear maulings that have taken place on Kodiak over the years have happened during deer hunting situations. So learning about and implementing bear safety is another absolute necessity before hunting blacktails on Kodiak. I’ve done many videos on these topics which you can check out here at this channel to learn more.
So there you have it, my friends, that’s an overview of Sitka blacktail deer hunting on Kodiak Island, Alaska. If you’d like to see more, check out the video below…