In the Beginning: Kodiak Pt II, by Adam A. Smith

Day Five: Moving Day

That night we slept PHENOMENALLY. We woke up just before 0900 the next day. We had zero inclination (initially) on going up the hill until the following day. We had planned to sit around camp, tend to the hides and lick our wounds. But as it goes, when you get a good weather day on Kodiak, you’d be a damned fool to waste it.

Back up the hill, we went. We discussed, and I gave Blake the nod to have first dibs at a second goat. He was headed overseas for 365 shortly after we got back from the hunt, obviously no question in my mind who deserved first dibs. It was a long slow grind getting up above the treeline to the small alpine lake we had spiked at three nights before. When we got there, we knew that we would have to ration our water until we found another water source up and over the other side, or made it back down to that small lake.

We loaded up the Nalgene’s and water bladders and continued the painstaking climb to the spot we had bivyed two nights before. We decided instead of searching for a place to camp in the dark on the other side that it would be smartest to bivy where we knew we were partially protected from the wind and push over the top first thing in the morning, in hopes of stumbling upon a nice billy close by. Once we reached our bivy spot, a little bench nestled on the southeast side of the mountain covered in soft spongy lichens, we pitched the tarp and rolled out our bags. With over an hour of sunlight left, we grabbed the spotter and edged to the ridge above us to take a peek at the north-facing bowl on the other side. A few deer greeted us in the bottom, two of which would have been very respectable Sitka blacktail bucks. They were sparring. We watched them for the better part of half an hour, at one point they were really going at it. Much like humans, the does didn’t care much for the bucks’ antics and fed off in the opposite direction. This was the first time I had been able to watch two bucks fight, and with the spotter in hand, we were able to zoom in close. Another super cool experience Kodiak offered us.

We headed back down to our camp for the night with the fading light and glassed the opposing mountain until it was close to dark. We took turns sharing the spotter as we watched a lone billy traverse a near-vertical slide. What impressive animals they are. It never ceases to amaze me how nimble-footed these creatures are. At the end of the night, we had spotted goats on nearly all of the peaks around us. Kodiak is a tremendous place, especially to the passionate goat hunter. 

We forced down packs of ramen, DRY. Washing it down with our allotted ration of 6 ounces of water for the night, talk about rough. I wanted to drink that entire Nalgene bottle!! We were not sure what lay ahead of us in the days to come, so ration we did. Sleep came easy that night, and our aching dehydrated bodies longed for the water sitting in our packs that we refused to give it.

The air was cold and crisp as I hunkered under my down quilt. I thought I had just drifted off to sleep, but after I glanced down at my watch, it was already 0244. Thankfully, the wind had ceased. It was a calm, peaceful night at 3,000′ on the island. I turned my headlamp on to scan the remainder of the bench we had chosen for our bivouac. No bears or disturbances. Whew. Sleeping under a tarp on a bright, crisp night on Kodiak is something I will do my damndest to make a part of my annual cycle. Kodiak is high on my list of favorites when it comes to hunting destinations.

Just as I drifted back to sleep, the low grumbling of a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 on a night flight over the island snapped me from my drowsy state. I poked my head out from under the tarp just in time to watch them pass overhead. If one goes their entire life without spending a night under the stars in the great white north, they have done themselves a disservice. The solitude and vastness that comes with spending a night under the blanket of the Milky Way in the last frontier is particularly humbling and will forever be one of my favorite experiences on this planet. No matter how many times I get to stare up at the twinkling lights that once guided sailors home, I continually find myself in awe, appreciative of my ability to call such a magnificent place home.

As the hum of the C-130 faded into the darkness, I tugged my wool neck gaiter up over my ears and laid my head back down on my makeshift pillow comprised of a glassing pad, rain gear and spare merino base layer. I drifted off once again.

Day Six: Red Sky at Morning

Morning came quickly. As I glanced out at the valley below, I gazed at the dense rolling fog beneath. It took me a few seconds before I grasped what I was looking at. Everything below us as far as the eye could see was encompassed in thick, rolling fog. The only landscapes visible to us were the peaks that seemed to float about on top of the foggy abyss.

 We had breakfast, packed up, and hit the trail. Upon topping out on the ridge just above where we had spent the night, we overlooked the bowl below and the rolling ridgeline we intended to hunt. Upon further investigation, we had not located any white blobs and elected to carry on.

We made our way along the bench overlooking the bowl where Blake had taken his first billy, just two days ago. We crested the backside of the bench and began to work our way into unseen territory. That’s when Blake spotted the back of a goat just 120 yards away. It was working left to right quartering towards us. We backed out, dropped our packs and got on our stomachs to crawl back down to assess what sex of goat it was. Upon discovery, it was a very young billy, and we figured he most likely would have nannies nearby. We watched him as he spun and fed quartering away from us. As he worked over the ledge, we got up and moved in to close the distance. 

We got to where the goat had stood just moments ago and found nothing but fresh beds. Lots of beds, they were everywhere. We were definitely in the right place. We found a pinch point where we figured this goat to be heading, we set up and watched below us. Just as we thought, right as we peaked over the ridgeline, the young billy was with eight other goats side-hilling away from us. Luckily, they were not spooked, simply headed to new country. My best guess was somewhere more protected, out of the wind. We watched them disappear over the ledge back into the bowl we had just traversed. 

We decided that we needed to thoroughly check the remaining cracks and ledges below us before continuing onward. After further investigation, Blake spotted horns. We could only occasionally get a glimpse when the goat would shift in its bed. We could tell it was an adult goat, and because all the nannies had left with the young billy, we assumed it to be a lone billy, content all by himself.

You know what they say about assuming…after over an hour of shenanigans, I decided I would work down toward the goat and try and bird dog it out so Blake could get a shot. Well, I’ll be the son of a monkey’s uncle, that billy grew a pair of tits and popped out a kid! I ranged her at 93 yards and snapped a few pictures before headed back up to reconvene with Blake. He sure looked dumbfounded when I abandoned our plan right when he thought it all should be coming together. 

The rest of the day was spent watching goats. It was a goat hunter’s paradise. We had counted many goats that day, I did not write a number down in my journal, but the number 36 stands out in my head for some reason. I’ve got to get better about taking notes! Either way, it was a lot. A lot more than I had ever seen on one mountain, I was in heaven. When I die, I hope I go to Kodiak! 

We watched nannies and kids and the occasional two-year-old billy throughout the day and finally decided that we needed to get camp made before we got caught with our pants down. We found a “protected” spot, moved the inconvenient rocks (most of them), and made camp. After we were happy with camp and our freshly lightened packs, we decided to explore more unseen country. 

We worked up the ridge to begin glassing new country and quickly spotted the closest brown bear we had seen yet. He was at 1500 yards grazing away from us. We decided it would be best for all involved parties if we just sat down and watched him feed away from us. We did our best not to give the curious brown giant a reason to investigate the two moving blobs on the hill. That next mountain the bear is on is the last hill we decide is steep enough for goats to live on, so we determined it will be plenty okay for us to wait and see that country tomorrow. That is if the weather allows it. 

As we head back to camp, I thought back to the barren nanny we had seen earlier and how big I thought she was. That goat was a freakin’ tank! She made the young billy that was hanging out with her look tiny. She wandered away from the nannies and kids around 1400 and had hunkered down in a cut above camp. We had elected to not pursue her in favor of hoping to find a mature billy elsewhere. When we got back to camp, we began working on dinner. I sat in Blake’s tent with the door open, waiting for my mountain house to cool off as he boiled up water for his meal. When he looked up and saw that same barren nanny working her way down towards us, he ranged her at 527 yards. She could see our tents but could not make anything of them. But she sure as hell did not want to work directly towards us.

I talked Blake into grabbing his gun and making a play on her. We sealed our meals and stashed them in the tents. I grabbed my binos, range finder and my rifle, just in case. This is Kodiak, after all. As we closed the distance, I knew we had to be getting close. Especially if she was still on her same path, sure enough as we came around the edge of this ridge, I spotted her horns about the same time she caught my movement. A staredown ensued. Now, because we are just such magnificent hunters, Blake had been walking behind me and was still out of her view. So I hunkered in for a long staredown as I instructed Blake where she was and how he could close the distance. I ranged her at 75 yards…she was dead where she stood if I wanted. But as I mentioned, it was Blake’s turn.

As Blake is moving in, the nanny is pissed. She can’t figure out what the hell this moving blob of rocks is. She was stomping her hooves left and right showing us her displeasure in the situation. As Blake makes himself visible to her, he raised to take the shot, and all I hear is click…. I snap my head to Blake the same time the nanny did, and he turns to look at me with a shit-eating grin on his face. Yes, he forgot to chamber a round before the stalk. We did a little bit of whisper discussion while the nanny continues to stomp her front hooves in obvious discomfort of our presence. We decide with the impending rain showers supposed to move in that night, and the goat gods were screaming at us to let her walk. So, walk, she did. 

We snapped some pictures of her before slowly turning and moving back towards camp. That was another close encounter, and one I will remember forever. It was cool to be close enough to hear the stomp of her hoof on the ground each time she showed us her aggravation. I wish I had gone to where she was standing and taken a picture of her hoof prints in the mud.

Back at camp, we ate our cold mountain houses. If you think dehydrated meals suck, let them cool down and then try eating them. Not my favorite, that’s for damn sure! Before crawling into our tents for the night, we decided to check the backside of the mountain that the bear was on just before dark, in case any goats chose to reveal themselves.

Luckily for us, a mere forty goats decided to materialize out of the woodwork. Yep, just like deer in a food plot right before dark. They just seemed to pour out of a cut. We started counting billies, and I think we counted five or six. Only two or three being nice mature billies.

Nonetheless, it was forty more goats than we had seen half an hour beforehand. Things were looking up! We watched the goats until dark, a handful of them cut the distance between us almost in half. We got in our tents with high spirits, hoping we’d wake up and find goats outside the tents!

Just before bed, I sent off a few texts via the Delorme and checked the weather. The weather had always said that we had a chance of rain in the next few days, we simply did not know what that would entail. Off to lullaby land we went.

Day Seven: Tent Shenanigans

 0230 that next morning I awoke to Blake SCREAMING my name, the upwind corner of his tent had come unstaked in the rocky soil. He held the tent up while I scrambled to get my cold boots on my bare feet. No time for clothes, skivvies and boots it was, I cursed the bone-chilling Kodiak wind as I kneeled there at 3200′ re-staking my best friend’s tent via dim headlamp illumination. Once I got Blake’s tent all pitched and guyed out seemingly fit for the situation, I got my cold, bare-bones back into my tent and under my quilt to try and warm up.

We tried to talk (yell) a bit back and forth, but the wind was whipping through so good that we could barely make out what the other was saying over the sound of our tents flapping in the wind. Finally, at 0430, we threw the packs in my tent and weathered out the worst of it in Blake’s tent. Man, what an experience. 

It felt like God was mocking us. “So you want a goat hunt? Alright, I’ll give you a goat hunt.” Little did I know, you should be careful what you wish for. Next time I’m on Kodiak, I will be sure to specify when I ask for a goat hunt from the big man upstairs. All joking aside, we had a miserable 24 hours. Rain? I can handle the rain. I can manage 24 hrs in a tent with just rain. But the 60+mph winds we encountered, those, THOSE I can do without. Hilleberg made a lifetime customer out of me on this trip. We ended up getting geared up and out of the tents somewhere around 1400 and made sure our tents were surviving. We made sure all the guy lines were secure and doing their job, and even added guy lines anywhere we felt we could make more secure. I think the Enan I was in faired a million times better than Blake’s Niak, both Hilleberg tents. The Enan is their tunnel tent design, and we discovered that it sheds the wind MUCH better than the free-standing style. 

We had what I like to refer to as “same tent shenanigans” all day long. We realized I had left the book I brought with me at BASE CAMP **face palm**. So we resorted to looking through all of the pictures we had taken and re-living the success we had had thus far. We also found great competition in seeing who could keep hard candy in their mouth the longest without chewing on it. I eventually won, though I can’t quite remember how long it was. But I knew I needed to brush my teeth afterwards, that’s for dang sure!

About 1600, the rain had ceased, and we decided to gear up and get out in the wind to do some glassing. We came here to hunt, didn’t we? We ventured up onto the ridge above camp to find the goats we had seen before the weather set in. To our surprise, they had worked their way even closer in the storm to seek shelter from the driving wind a rain. One storm spent in goat country will create a sense of respect for goats one never knew possible. The goats had made it within 1,500 yards of us before the next impending round of “weather” headed our way. We retreated to our safe havens, had dinner and retired for the night. We said prayers for better weather and for the goat gods to shine upon us at least one more time.

Day Eight: Appreciation

When we woke up on day 8, the wind had stopped or at least calmed down to 5-10 mph. But the moisture was still very much present. We decided to wait out the rain…….twelve hours later at 1830 it had passed, and we finally crawled out of the tents. We knew that the goats had to be nearby and were probably plenty hungry from all the hunkering down they had to have been doing the past few days. So we devised the plan to grab a few things and maybe anchor a goat that night before bed. 

We headed out severely underprepared, as we’d come to find out. Blake, with a pack, and me with the spotter, we set out to find some white critters. We hit the top of the ridge and immediately found nothing. With the degree of steepness and the angles we were presented with, I suggested we slowly continue downhill. It wasn’t one hundred yards into our descent that I spotted goats below us moving away from us on our ridge, within 600 yards. I took a look at what appeared to be their intended route of travel, and we devised a plan. We dropped off the ridge to the backside and busted our you know whats off to catch up to our quarry. 

Now, at this point, we did not know if there was a suitable billy in the mix or not. We just knew that we needed to make up some ground to be within shooting distance if we did find the right animal. After a 500 some yard descent, we found a perfect little bench where we could both post up. There was no time to set up the spotter, so I laid down with my binos, and Blake flipped out his bipod and got set up to take a shot. The goats started to trickle out from behind a knoll below us. I began to call them out, “young billy..nanny……….kid…young billy….nanny.. billy. Okay, that’s a nice billy. The range is 212. Send it when ready.” As Blake is getting settled for the shot, I read out again, “216 ready when you are.” And just then an even nicer billy comes out from behind the knoll. It had to be just as Blake was getting ready to take the shot, I said: “Wait! Wait! Wait! Nicer Billy. Way nicer billy. You on him?” He was, I read off the range again, and off the round went. Two hundred sixteen yards, Blake smoked him with the first shot. But, like most goats, this billy just soaked up the bullet and kept on truckin’. Blake managed to get another round in him at 227 yards before he disappeared over the ridge.

I began to fear the worst — this goat was going to do the ol’ drop and tumble. We gathered our gear and devised a plan. The goat was moving along pretty well, even though he had a few through the boiler room. We decided to slowly inch down the ridge to the last place we saw him, Blake, of course in the lead. As we came over the last little knoll where we had last seen him, there he was. It looked like he was taking a second to pause and try and collect himself. He turned and saw us and went again, it took Blake a few seconds to get on him, but he sent the final round down, and business was taken care of. The billy expired feet from dropping down what would have been a five hundred plus foot tumble before it would have finally stopped at the next bench waaaaaaaay down there. 

We were both ecstatic! After all that time in the tents, we were on cloud nine for that evening to work out so perfectly. We got the billy positioned for a few pictures with the hard-fought trophy and then began to break him down. Now here is where we realized how stupid we had been. Blake took a knife out of his pack by mistake, and I only had my Kershaw folding knife on me. Luckily Blake had his freshly sharpened Benchmade knife on him, so we decided we would gut the billy, flip him oven and lay his open half on the big flat shale rocks and hope to God that the bears would not find him in the dark. We got the goodies all pulled out, and the billy laid open, said a little prayer to the goat gods to help us out “just this once” and back to camp we went. Bloody hands and smiles on our faces — until it started getting dark and we left our headlamps in the tents. Stupid move numero dos. 

Heading back up the ridge, we had a pretty good feel of what was ahead of us and how to navigate it. HA!! We cliffed out, and I almost soiled myself when my next step was going to be my last. Luckily, Blake talked me off where I had gotten myself, and we worked down, and around the grave maker, I almost took a swan dive off of. We made it back to camp well after dark and feasted on trail mix to help lighten the load the next morning. Sleep came easy that night — we had outlasted the storm and made it happen. Blake tagged out on goats before his deployment. He had shot four white animals in Alaska within 365 days. Man, what an accomplishment. He had shot one goat in February on Kodiak, then a sheep in September, and two goats on this trip. This dude just did in one year what some people won’t accomplish in a lifetime: three goats and one awesome ram. I am still speechless when I try to fathom how that all worked out.

Day Nine: Back to Base Camp

We awoke to clear skies and a calm morning. Are we still in the same place we weathered through the tropical storm “this billy probably ain’t worth it?” What a beautiful morning to process a billy. We headed down to find Blake’s second billy undisturbed and stiffened up. The meat was mostly cool, which was a sign of relief. It all kept very nicely. We got his billy broken down and divvied up and headed back to break down camp. We had camp broken down and headed back up our last climb before it was 4,200′ down to basecamp. We hit the trail to head back at 1330 and reached the top of our final peak at 1500. All downhill from there. It took us two and a half hours to get to the bottom, and we made killer time. Once at camp, we contacted Taj, our pilot, and he advised us to get out while we could unless we wanted to spend the next seven days right where we were. 

Well, not having the food to be able to pull that off, we decided our hunt was over. Three goats in nine days, we felt pretty accomplished. That being my first big trip into the backcountry with Blake and we didn’t kill each other, I knew I had a hunting partner in him now. We reminisced on the journey and talked of future adventures and what life laid ahead of us in the coming months. 

This trip was a special one for both of us. We had the opportunity to hunt together finally. Two Kansas boys alone in the middle of Kodiak island, pushing the limits finding out what they are made of. We truly got to know each other again and rekindle an old friendship. Life is all about making the most of the time you have here on this earth, and after this trip, I know that we will both tell you that there will be plenty more nights spent in skivvies and boots re-tying guy lines and re-staking the other’s tent. This trip was the first of many to come, but I know it will be one that we remember the most. 

Here’s to another adventure, and another story that awaits to be told. 

Posted by Nolan Osborne