The Alpine Rules
FOUR POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND BEFORE HEADING UP FOR BLACKTAIL DEER
I’m not one of those dudes who have been hunting for 30 years. I don’t have a ring of racks in my garage or an elegant mount in my living room. I don’t have epic stories of 400-yard shots. My hunting career is littered with chaos.
I shot my first deer in the leg. I was with my high school basketball coach and his daughter. She put one through the neck of a fork-in-horn at 150, and then dropped a 4-point at 250 to set up my beauty of a shot just above the knee.
My next shot dropped it but it was still pretty embarrassing. Anyway, there are a bunch of “duh” things you have to consider when hunting, such as don’t shoot it in the leg, bring water and take responsible shots, but there are plenty of other things I’ve learned while hunting with some excellent experienced hunters in Southeast Alaska. Here are four hunting tips, one for each of the four points on the buck you’ll shoot:
- PAY ATTENTION TO THE WEATHER
Incredibly obvious, but it cannot be overstated. Check the forecast, but remember that the town in which you are staying is not the mountain on which you are hunting. Upon arrival, ask about the higher-elevation conditions. It might be sunny and clear all week according to your phone app, but the fog might never leave the mountains right behind town. Also ask about the latest weather patterns. Sometimes that fog will lift in the early afternoon rather than mid-morning, and sometimes the wind turns off right after dinnertime.
I was on a hunt in which thick clouds shrouded the top of the mountain all morning. We stuck it out because things had been clearing up later in the day. They did and we bagged a couple nice alpine bucks. And I’ve almost gone down a mountain because the wind was so terrible. It shut off and the evening was clear and calm. But be smart with this one. At
some point you must be responsible enough to say enough is enough and that returning safe is always the most important part. If the weather is making you uneasy, do the right thing.
- ASK QUESTIONS AND BE OBSERVANT
If you’re from out of state and have a hunting guide, listen to the hunting guide. If you’re going to act like you know more than the local, or otherwise do it your own way, why even bother to get a guide? (Note that big game hunting requires one for nonresidents.)
It baffles me how often my guide buddies report that the biggest issue they have with clients are the ones who say things like, “Well, in [insert state here] we…” This isn’t California, or Delaware, or last year. If you want to tell a neat little anecdote, cool, but listen to the people you
hired. Also, be mindful of the little nuance that the guide, your
buddy or a local might show you, but not tell you.
It could be as simple as how they look over ridges, how they navigate terrain, what they bring to eat, how often and how much water they drink or where and how they get rid of said water. Experienced hunters just do what they do – most times they don’t realize their habit could be something that completely changes how you hunt.
- BUY TRAIL CRAMPONS
Just getting to the alpine for an early-season hunt is a pain. There are slick logs with mossy slopes. And when you do get clear of the timber, there’s vegetation that even on dry days wants to send you rocketing down the slope. My buddy, Beau, who is a bow hunting fanatic and as
close to a minimalist as I know, put me on to crampons and I haven’t turned back. I bought a pair for $60 and absolutely love them. The steel spikes fit right over your boots and provide you grip when heading up those steep inclines or while side-hilling.
Some people use corked rubber boots for the water proofness and grip, though you sacrifice ankle stability. Corked leather boots can be great, but what if you have to navigate rock? It takes just a few seconds to remove the crampons or put them over your boots. Get a pair. Today.
- FIELD-DRESSING GLOVES AND A BUFF
A deer is down on top of a mountain. The gnats, no-seeums, mosquitoes, blow flies and pterodactyls all know it and can’t wait to get at the human who is going to cut it up. Sure, you could “be a man” and just swat them away, but seriously, you just shot a deer and are elbow-deep in its chest cavity, hacking and pulling out organs.
Why not put on some gloves and spare yourself the blood smears that attract the bugs? The Buff brand of headwear is perfect to combat those flies that try to enter your skull through your ears or nose and bite you on your brain. A Buff hides all skin except your eyes, so you’re not waving a bloody knife around at bugs you’ll never hit.
Who cares what you look like? You just shot a deer. The picture of you with the rifle is going on social media, not the one with the blue gloves and covered face.
As a bonus tip, be at least somewhat honest about your kill. Yeah, you can hold the antlers out, lean back, and have your buddy take a photo from ground level so that the rack looks like a set of goal posts, but everyone knows what you’re up to. AmSJ
Editor’s note: Correspondent Jeff Lund is the author of Going Home, a memoir about fishing in Alaska and California. For more, go to jefflundbooks.com.