Hunting Sitka Black Tailed Deer

hunting sitka blacktail deer

How To Hunt Sitka Black Tailed Deer In Alaska

Sitka Black tailed Deer Hunting Alaska

My first time hunting the Sitka black tailed deer was epic. It involved a taildragger Cessna 150, a beach landing, and a smack on the dash to get the plane started back after the first landing. My friend, that was the pilot, decided to leave the plane running for the next two landings. It was 10 degrees. We had planned on using the company float plane, but the boss told us he couldn’t do it. He told us he didn’t want to be responsible for us freezing to death and refused to fly us to Admiralty Island for our hunt. Luckily a co-worker and good friend overheard the conversation and approached me soon after and offered to fly us over in his plane. He only asked that we give him some venison if we happen to be successful.

We had to play the tides and only had the second half of the already short Alaska winter day to hunt. We needed low tide to be picked up. It would come early the next morning. So we hastily set up camp and made our way into the dense forest to hunt the Sitka Black-Tailed deer. The camp was simple. A tent, some sleeping bags, a saw and a coffee pot. The saw and the old percolator would make many trips in my backpack in those days and I still have both.

This was one of the first of many adventures that I would embark on in my years in Alaska. It marks the beginning of my new life after Desert Storm and aviation school in Colorado. I made it and the thoughts and excitement that permeated my mind then still dance around in there today. Those memories are still my greatest investment and I withdraw from them often. 

hunting sitka blacktail deer
Waiting for the plane on the beach after a week of black taile deer hunting. Self Photo Ken McBroom

We split up to hunt our own way and try to increase our odds on our short hunt. The cold was only a slight inconvenience and discomfort. Being 25 years old hiking off into the Alaskan wilderness can overshadow any inconveniences or discomfort. I honestly don’t even recall the cold on our trip. I guess I chose to leave that out of the memory bank.

It had only been an hour or so and it was already getting dark. The forest was both dreary and beautiful, a scene I would come to love about Southeast Alaska. I spotted a lone blacktail doe looking around a giant spruce tree. She was motionless. I made the shot. Just like that within hours of leaving Juneau I had harvested my first of many Sitka blacktail deer. I made that shot with a Marlin 30-30 Lever action rifle. Carrying a 30-30 into bear country will get you grief in Alaska, but that 30-30, like back home in Lynchburg Tennessee, would take many deer in Alaska. I finally broke down and bought a Winchester 30’06.

I skinned and quartered the deer back at camp. My friends returned to camp with a fire to welcome them. The heart is sliced and ready for the pot. My friend David pulled a container from his pack for his dinner. I still see the lid that read corn chowder soup. I asked if he wanted to add it to my pot with the deer heart. He thought that would be a splendid idea and dumped the dried soup into the simmering water with the fresh sliced heart. I remember there was a small silver packet that had the spices for the soup. David carefully added these spices and the aroma still lingers. It was ready in minutes.

This was the first time having corn chowder soup with sliced deer heart or corn chowder soup for that matter and it was the last. It still ranks up there with the greatest meals of my life. It might be that the hunting adventure and the cold damp air helped it rank, but as I recall it tasted pretty damn good. I think I’ll add a pack of dried corn chowder soup to my pack on my next hunt. When I take my first Sitka blacktail buck I can sit right there and cook up corn chowder soup with sliced deer heart on the mountain side.

I spread the fresh deer hide on the floor of the tent to sleep on that night and I slept like a baby. I found out later that Brown bears will come out of their dens in the winter sometimes. Especially if they smell food. Maybe the deer hide under my sleeping bag and a fresh kill just outside the tent wasn’t the best idea looking back, but it sure was a great idea then.

We could hear the Cessna coming in early the next morning. The hunt was quick. We had our payment for the flight out to my very first Alaska hunting adventure ever. It took three trips to get us back. Only 2 people can ride in the Cessna 150. With our gear we were hoping that the meat wasn’t adding too much weight to make it off the short beach runway. We divided the gear equally and made it fine. This trip would begin my forever desire to hunt the Sitka blacktail deer both for the adventure and the meat. 

I would hunt the Sitka blacktail many times over the years I spent in Alaska. Each trip was as exciting and challenging as the last. I was fortunate enough to harvest many blacktails, but there’s one caveat to all those hunts. I was never able to harvest a Sitka blacktail buck. It wasn’t all misfortune or a simple lack of luck. I just never really pursued a blacktail buck. I hunted for the meat. The hunting was so tough. Tromping through rain forest with downed trees and tangles, I never even considered passing up a legal deer. Now I’ve added that quest to my bucket list. I think maybe, in some ways, my inner soul left the Sitka blacktail buck as my nemesis so I would have a reason and drive to go back to conquer it. I’m not sure if nemesis is the proper word here. I honestly never set out to kill a blacktail buck and it never really entered my mind as something I was unable to accomplish until after I had left Alaska. Now it’s there and will linger until I conquer it.

About the Sitka black-tailed deer: Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis 

The Sitka Black-tailed deer is a smaller specimen next to all of its cousins. It is distantly related to the mule deer and closely related to the Columbia black-tailed deer of the Pacific Northwest. The rack on a Sitka blacktail tends to be a dark brownish or chocolate color. The antler size is small and rarely measures more than 110 inches on the Pope & Young scoring system. However, the antler size is secondary and relative to the hunt. Trust me when I say a 90 inch Sitka blacktail deer is just as much a trophy as a 165 inch whitetail. That is if antler size is your marker for trophy status. I would love to harvest a 90 inch blacktail one day but any healthy representation of the species would do as a trophy to me.

Sitka blacktail deer has a range focused on the rugged, wet and remote. They range throughout the coastal rainforest of Southeast Alaska and into northern British Columbia along its coast. Sitka blacktail deer are excellent swimmers and have occupied most all islands throughout the inside passage in Alaska. Sitka blacktails are also found throughout the mainland as well. The habitat where they reside is inhospitable to humans but safe and comfortable to the Sitka blacktail. The one exception is in the Alpine. The alpine is above treeline and is a lot of work getting to but easy to navigate once there. This is where the blacktail live until the snow depths drive them to the refuge of lower elevation and thicker forest.

Logging And Sitka Black Tailed Deer

I began my civilian aviation career by building a logging machine called the Sikorsky Skycrane. I was fortunately picked to be on the crew. We would go to the field with that helicopter when we had it ready. The field was the Tongass National Forest. The Skycrane was used for select harvest logging. No roads built, no drainages disturbed. After reading the following study about logging practices and the Sitka blacktail deer I wonder if we might have been a part of this study. We had forest service technicians that marked the trees we could harvest and when we were done you could not tell we ever logged the area.

Here is a summary of that study that you might find interesting. I know I did. If you are a hunter please comment below what you think. I know that I always thought that the clear-cut areas were great for the Sitka blacktail deer. What say you?

logging practices and sitka black tailed deer
Back in the day logging on Prince of Wales Island.

Since the early 1940s, timber in Southeast Alaska has been harvested almost exclusively by the clear-cut method. While clear-cutting offers a number of economic and silvicultural advantages over other harvest methods Ruth and Harris 1979, it also causes significant, long-lasting changes in the vegetative composition and structure of the stand Alaback 1982. These changes can create adverse habitat conditions for a number of old growth-associated wildlife species, including Sitka black-tailed deer.

In Southeast Alaska, a lot of wildlife and forest research has focused on habitat relationships of Sitka black-tailed deer. Studies indicated that deer used second-growth stands that were 30 to 150 years post logging much less than nearby old growth. This low use could be due to the lack of forage in these younger stands. In comparison, old growth forest provides deer with good cover from the canopy from snow. The snow in old growth forest does not get as deep as snow in clear cuts and forest without extensive canopies. Old growth forest also provide relatively abundant, high-quality forage leaving the deer less susceptible to bad winters thus helping to increase the survivability during those times.

The cumulative conversion of productive old-growth habitat into even-aged second growth will result in long-term declines in the deer herd.

While I was always told that the cutovers created by clear cuts provided more habitat and food for the blacktail deer this study offers a different view. It only makes sense to me that a natural approach, even from logging, can be more beneficial to the Sitka blacktails. There is plenty of great research and study about the Sitka blacktail deer and logging by Thomas Hanley  There is one thing that I found interesting and that was that selective harvest where single trees are chosen to be cut helped the deer more than clear cutting. While the clear cut does provide a lot of food for the deer creating more habitat and more deer the winter snows do two things.

First, if deep enough, the snow covers the food that the clear cut provided. It also makes travel way more strenuous using more energy reserves which the deer needs to survive winters. This is especially true when the snow is heavy. Another factor is the loss of certain lichens that are vital, especially during winter, for survival. Here’s an excerpt from the study. Arboreal lichens that are important sources of energy for deer during winter are available in significant quantities only in old-growth forests source (Bunnell 1979, Bunnell and Eastman 1976, Rochelle 1 980).

Hunting The Alpine For Black Tailed Deer

Deer season opens fairly early in Alaska for the Sitka blacktail deer. In  August when it opens the snow has yet to come in Southeast Alaska. The alpine is open and where you will find most of the deer during the early season. Especially bucks. Like whitetails the Sitka blacktail bucks travel in bachelor groups in the early season. This can make for some great hunting high in the alpine. This is a great time for multiple sightings and excellent opportunities to harvest a good buck and maybe why I have yet to accomplish that feat. For me the Coho salmon on the fly was way too alluring. I stayed low chasing the Coho salmon while my buddies were hitting the alpine meadows during the early season. By the time the Coho run was over the snow was flying and I was hunting the lowlands. Or I should say the lower lands as the deer usually aren’t all the way into the lowlands until the snow gets pretty deep. I did make it into the alpine during the early season a few times and it’s magnificent up there. I also hunted the alpine late in the season when the snow was light and the deer were still hanging high eating low bush blueberries. 

Hunting the alpine usually involves a spike camp or if your like me just a flop on the ground to sleep away the night. This only happened when I knew, or at least thought, that there would not be rain which is rare in Southeast Alaska. I was able to flop a few times with just a sleeping mat and bag. A quality tent is recommended when hunting anywhere blacktail deer live. Especially in the early season when rain falls more than snow. A bivy works well and is a lot lighter than a full on tent. Find a rock or dip in the alpine and set up your bivy there. This will protect you from the wind that can sneak up on you in the high country. With a bivy and traveling light you can carry everything with you and just camp where the deer take you. It is not an elaborate camp that’s for sure but I liked hunting the alpine this way. I never liked returning to the same camp each night when there was so much more unexplored mountain ahead. This is the beauty of hunting the Sitka blacktail deer in Alaska. The endless trekking as you speculate what might be over the next rise.

Glassing For Sitka Black Tailed Deer

When hunting Sitka blacktails in the alpine a good set of binoculars are essential and a spotting scope would be even better. I did carry a spotting scope a couple times and it was awesome glassing the many nooks and crannies in the alpine. Ultimately I decided the weight was more than I wanted to carry. I settled on a good pair of 10×42 binoculars instead. Glassing is very important in the alpine. It does not seem so as you wander around up there with all of the open tundra. It looks like you could see any deer for hundreds of yards away on the barren alpine. However, it isn’t until you spot a blacktail deer bedded in the shade that you realize you might have never seen that deer had you not been glassing. It pays to pick apart the mountain side with quality optics.

Unless the deer are pressured where you are hunting they will lay motionless as you walk by them. I’m talking within a few yards. If they are pressured at all where you’re hunting they could get up and meander off over the next ridge where you can’t go. If you aren’t glassing you may never know he was there. It took a couple deer standing and walking away from me as I walked a ridge to realize how well they blend into the alpine. They were in the wide open, but because I thought there was no deer on this particular ridge I was just hiking to the next one. How many deer did I spook before I saw those? After a couple of those incidents I began to thoroughly search the area before moving ahead. Sitka blacktails are forgiving. They will allow you to approach if they think they are hidden. This gives the alpine hunter a great opportunity to spot them, but you have to be looking for them to see them.

Best Black Tailed Deer Rifle For Hunting The Alpine

If you plan to hunt with a bow then your bow of choice will work fine. As for rifles there can be a difference between a rifle for hunting blacktails in the alpine and hunting blacktails in the rainforest below. As for the alpine I would suggest a long range caliber like a 30’06 or 300 Win Mag. While smaller caliber rifles will do most Alaska hunters prefer to carry something that can handle a charging bear if that were to happen. You could tote a handgun or pepper spray as bear protection and take your .243 or .223. Personally I like the 30’06. It has range and will kill any animal in North America. 

Your alpine rifle should be scoped with a quality rifle scope. The southeast Alaska weather is relentless on optics and anything sub-par will leave you with fogged up glass and missed opportunities. I used the Leopold VX-2 and it stood up to everything that Southeast Alaska had to offer. It never failed me once and kept its sighting even through plane rides, boat rides and some pretty rugged hunts. Practice with your rifle and get it spot on because in the alpine long shots are more probable than not. While you can stalk a Sitka blacktail to get in closer, sometimes it isn’t possible due to the terrain. Being able to shoot 300 yards or farther will open up many more shot opportunities on your Sitka blacktail hunting trip.

Best Rifle For The Lowlands

The lowlands, when it comes to the Sitka blacktail deer, really means anything below tree line. Usually the deer are driven from the alpine because of snow. If there isn’t much snow then they can be found in the edges of the alpine. They will retreat to higher ground, if pressured, even with relatively deep snow. They will however need to come down by November to look for a girlfriend and to eat.

When hunting the lowlands you can still use the long range rifle calibers like in the alpine. However, a brush gun like a lever action 30-30 or my favorite a Henry 44 magnum with open sights. Hunting the Sitka blacktail deer in the rainforest can be a challenge but they are there when the snow flies. Most shots on lowland blacktails is going to be close. Like 50 yards and less. By the time you see a blacktail deer in the thick and rugged lowland rainforest, it’s close. Even with a lot of snow the lowlands are a challenge. Even though the underbrush has died back and is covered with snow the blow downs and evergreen spruce give the deer plenty of hiding places.

A quick shot is often needed when you are hunting the rainforest. Sitka blacktail will stay put pretty well. This is especially true if they think they are hidden. They also will scare less if they haven’t seen any hunting pressure, they still could bolt from their hiding spot just as you spot them. A quick shot will come in handy at that moment. With a scope at close range it can be difficult to find the deer in time to make a shot. Not to mention at the moment of truth you shoulder your rifle and one or both lenses are covered with snow or condensation.

When the snow get really deep the deer will seek refuge on the Southeast Alaska beaches. It is a reprieve from the deep snow as well as a vitally important forage during bad winters. Sitka blacktail deer will cruise the shorelines in late winter in search of kelp that has washed up on shore from the last high tide. Many hunters hunt by boat during this time. During high tide you will find deer bedded along the tree line next to shore. They are soaking in the warm sunlight and waiting for low tide to look for more kelp. This kelp and other seaweeds left by the tides can save a number of deer during bad winters.

When hunting by boat we would always spot and stalk. This is a time when either your long range rifle or your brush gun will do. Most of the time you will be able to stalk to within short range of the deer that you spotted from the boat. The snow makes for a silent stalk. Your long range caliber can come in handy as well if you like taking those long shots, the beach is a perfect place for them as the rocks and logs can offer a great rest for your rifle.

Best Hunting Clothes For Southeast Alaska

Southeast Alaska is composed of mountains and rainforest. With these come stalled weather systems from sea. This rain will hang around a long time. Always prepare to get wet when you are hunting Southeast Alaska. Even on those sunny bluebird days. Unless you’re above tree line in the alpine you are still getting wet. The brush that you walk through hardly ever has time to dry completely. So when walking you are forcing that moisture into everything. For this reason the best hunting clothes you can afford is in order here. Waterproof is a must but it must breathe. Quality hunting clothes that are waterproof also breathe. Gore Tex and other materials allow the vapor from perspiration to escape the fabric. You will appreciate this technology less than half way up the side of a Southeast Alaska mountain even in cold weather.

There is one fabric not so high on the new technology ladder that I used 25 years ago when I hunted the Sitka blacktail deer in the Southeast Alaska mountains. This fabric is wool. Wool is a unique fabric. It is warm even when wet and remember as I mentioned above you will be getting wet. While good wool is not cheap it can cost a lot less than some of the new high tech hunting clothes. Wool will keep you warm and it breaths. Wool is a complex material with lots of benefits. It will work in the Sitka blacktail woods in Alaska and is what I wore for years when I hunted there. The biggest drawback I can remember is the weight. Wool is able to absorb 30% of its weight in water. Wool is not “waterproof” but it is water resistant and will help wick moisture away from your body quickly and move it into the atmosphere. This will help you stay warm and dry. Here is a great article about wool and all its benefits by Orvis.

Base Layers

The thing to remember about hunting in Southeast Alaska is to never wear cotton. One of the main mantras in all of our safety briefings, when I worked in Alaska, was “cotton kills.” Cotton will become drenched as soon as you start your hunt. Either by rain or water soaked underbrush or your sweat. Either way, wet cotton will actually wick heat from your body and can cause hypothermia.

A wicking base layer moves moisture from the surface of your skin to the outer layers. This leaves the fabric touching your skin dry. This is why dressing in layers works so well. First, it keeps you warm by keeping you dry but it also allows you to remove layers when hot or add layers when cold. Wicking fabrics move perspiration away from your skin and with water resistant outer garments, that breathe, you stay warm and dry. This all allows the fabric near your skin to trap air which is an insulating barrier. This helps to retain your body’s warmth.

Self-Guided Sitka Black Tailed Hunts

If you are someone that likes to do it all yourself a self-guided Sitka blacktail deer hunt is perfect. There are many different ways to hunt the Sitka blacktail deer on a self-guided hunt. You can charter a float plane that can land you on an alpine lake in the early season. This is where the Sitka blacktail bucks are hanging out early. Another option is to use a float plane to land on the ocean. There may be some bush planes that can land you on the beach for your hunt. You can also hire a boat to take you to great Sitka blacktail deer area and drop you off to tent camp or stay in a forest service cabin.

Another option is to hire a boat that offers lodging and food aboard the vessel. Using a boat as your headquarters is a great way to do a self-guided Sitka blacktail deer hunt while still enjoying a comfortable place to spend the night. You can also just fly into an airport and get transportation to a trailhead or just take off hiking from there. You can get into great Sitka blacktail habitat real quick from the right spot. Let’s look at these options and explain a little about each one.

Hiking In To Hunt Sitka Black Tailed Deer

Hiking and any Sitka blacktail hunt in Alaska go hand in hand. You can be dropped off high in the alpine to hunt or you can start at sea level. Either way, hiking will be a part of any do it yourself sitka deer hunt. If you are OK with hard hiking and are in good shape you can pack a backpack with all your needed hunting gear and trek into the mountains to hunt Sitka blacktail deer. All you have to do is get to where the deer are roaming. Hiking in to hunt can be a great way to save some money.

On Kodiak, I know there are ways to get to some great hunting areas by four-wheeler. You could fly to Kodiak and rent four-wheelers for your hunt. This option would be much less expensive than chartering a boat or airplane to drop you off. The part that saves you the most money when you’re camping in the alpine is lodging.

With everything packed up in your backpack, you bypass the cost of renting a cabin or other accommodations on your hunt and this can save a ton. The thing I like most about this option aside from saving money and the adventure that it offers is the fact that you don’t have to hike back down once you are in the deer. With a cabin or boat where you sleep at night, there is a daily hike in and out of the alpine and this can take its toll after a few days.

Chartering A Plane For Self Guided Hunting Sitka Black Tailed Deer

When planning a self-guided Sitka blacktail deer hunt in Alaska an airplane quickly comes to mind. Alaskan airlines is the place to look for flights to any place in Alaska. Even when flying from Florida check the Alaskan Airlines flights and they can direct you to the right place to get you to your Alaska destination. Once to your initial destination, there is the option of chartering an airplane to drop you off for your hunt. Whether you’re flying to a remote mountain lake or protected cove on the ocean you can fly in all your gear. Two ways to do it well I will mention two ways. In Alaska there seems to be many ways to tackle something. These are a couple of ways that I think most people will consider on a hunt in Alaska.

The first way to utilize an airplane in your self-guided Sitka blacktail deer hunt in Alaska is to be self-contained and mobile. Self-contained and mobile means having everything in a backpack. This puts everything on your back when you’re dropped off for your hunt. This allows you the ability to move around and venture away from a single point where the airplane landed. If you land at a remote alpine lake keep this in mind. While there are many alpine lakes in Southeast Alaska there are just so many that you can land an aircraft on. Couple this with lakes close enough for the charter plane company to access as well as how much you’re willing to pay to go where fewer planes go. You are probably being dropped where other hunters have been hunting.

Shop Camping Gear

This is the only drawback I can see to chartering a plane to take you into blacktail country. Having all your gear in a backpack and being mobile you can then hike away from the drop to access some less pressured areas. Be sure to check with the charter plane company to see which lakes they are willing to land on. By knowing this you can narrow down your online scouting tremendously.

When you have the lakes marked you can then scout from home. You can use google earth and other apps to scout from those lakes to see what kind of options will be available once you’re up there. Without scouting these lakes you might get dropped in a place with a few hundred yards of alpine that drops into oblivion in all directions. You might as well have just hiked up from the beach if that’s the case. Landing sites may be just as limited when landing on the ocean so get all of that information before your trip.

Knowledge is power especially when hunting Sitka black-tails in the alpine. Just be sure to pick a drop spot with more than one and preferably a few options for hunting. There would be nothing worse than being dropped off at a lake where three other hunting groups have already been dropped that season. Especially when you have to climb down the mountain and then back up another, just to get to where there are any deer.

Being dropped off by airplane does have its perks. You can carry more gear. A cooler with drinks and maybe a few perishables for camp cooking. A bigger tent with a wood stove to keep warm. All this is great if you want to have an elaborate camp and be more comfortable on your Sitka blacktail deer hunt. But, it has one drawback and that is you must return each night to the same spot to sleep. This can be awesome for camaraderie and that deer camp ambiance for sure and for some this is where it’s at and that is what they prefer. For me I want to be able to move and go to the deer. I would go crazy if I was dropped someplace where there wasn’t deer. I want to be mobile. I’ll sacrifice comfort and the campfire stories to go deeper into deer country in my search for deer. Besides I usually hunted alone when I hunted Sitka blacktail deer, but if you have a hunting buddy with the same idea you can make great memories high in the alpine without a campfire or steak. Shop backpacks for Blacktail Deer Hunts in Alaska

Chartering A Boat Sitka Black Tailed Deer In Alaska

There are many companies that offer boats for hunting Sitka blacktail deer. These boats are essentially your base camp. Most of these boats will be self-guided hunts offering comfortable lodging and delicious meals during your hunt. They will have an inflatable raft or aluminum skiff to use as transport to and from shore to start your hunt each morning and will pick you up in the evening. The chartered boat for hunting Sitka blacktail deer is a very comfortable option. With hot showers and oftentimes gourmet meals the boat route is a great way to enjoy a great Alaska hunt. It also offers much better protection from bears than a tent would in the high country or on the beach.

As mentioned above the only drawback that I see is that you have to hike out of the high country each evening and back up each morning. One great advantage though is the ability to use the skiff to change locations easily. Moving just a few hundred yards down the shoreline as your starting point can put you into several new drainages and new areas. This becomes vital when you hunt a full day without seeing any deer you can literally change mountains the next day.

Hunting Sitka Black tailed Deer By Boat

There is a time when hunting Sitka blacktail deer by boat can be very effective. This is especially true during winters with a lot of snow. When the snow gets deep it will find its way through the forest canopy which usually keeps the snow out. When the rainforest becomes inundated with snow the winter forage that Sitka blacktails rely upon to get through the winter becomes scarce. This drives the deer to the beach in search of seaweed to obtain the nutrients needed. With each tide, there is a potential for new seaweed to eat and the deer know it.

This is a great time to patrol the shoreline in a boat when hunting the Sitka black tailed deer. As the tide goes out you can see deer on the beach foraging on the seaweed left behind. During high tide search the tree-line along the shoreline for Sitka blacktail deer. They will bed along the shoreline soaking up the warmth from the limited sun rays while they wait for the water to recede exposing new food. The deer also prefer staying along the shore to keep from fighting the deep snow which limits their mobility.

Personally, I have hunted by boat many times and it makes for a fun deer hunt. Spotting a deer on the beach or back in the tree-line offers the perfect spot and stalk opportunity. When the deer is spotted continue on without making noise and the deer will often stay put. Round a bend or beach the boat behind a boulder or log and sneak up the shoreline to within range of the deer. Although I have never used a bow to hunt Sitka blacktail deer by boat I know it would be a great bow hunt for Sitka blacktail in the late season.

Where To Hunt Sitka Black Tailed Deer In Alaska

There is a species of black tailed deer in Alaska that is the Sitka black-tailed deer. They are closely related to the Columbia black tailed deer of the Pacific Northwest. The Sitka black tailed deer in Alaska get about half as big as the Columbia black tailed deer. Like all deer, there are always exceptions. The deer on Kodiak Island gets a little bigger than those in Southeast Alaska. These awesome deer provide a great hunt in Alaska.

If you are looking for a black tailed deer hunt in Alaska there is a few important things to consider. All of my black tailed deer hunts in Alaska was completely in Southeast Alaska. However, I will add information pertaining hunting Kodiak Island Sitka black tailed deer as well. Through personal experience hunting these awesome deer and online research and fellow hunters that have hunted Kodiak I will provide valuable information for you to consider when planning a Sitka black tailed deer hunt in Alaska. No matter what part of Alaska you plan to do it.

As I touched on in the opening paragraph there’s a couple options for where to begin hunting Sitka black tailed deer in Alaska. There’s Southeast Alaska and there’s Kodiak Island. While there are technically a couple more options, these two are the most popular. For good reason. It’s where most of the black tailed deer live in Alaska. I will break both these vastly different locals down for you in terms of terrain, weather and logistics needed to be successful.

Black Tailed Deer Southeast Alaska

Southeast Alaska has a special place in this old hunter’s heart. It is where I began an epic journey that took me all over the last frontier. Living on a boat in Southeast Alaska I hunted remote islands as well as mainland black tail deer for many years and plan to return this next season to take up where I left off many years ago now. Southeast Alaska is a wonderful place to hunt. It is more for the young man than the old but with a little conditioning, an old man like myself should be able to reach a few deer. 

Before you plan a trip to Southeast Alaska and hunt Sitka black tailed deer I want to say “get in shape” I know everyone has heard that advice for elk hunting or sheep hunting but I’m telling you get in shape for a hunt in Southeast Alaska. I would say go ahead and jot this at the top of your list of things to do for a trip hunting Sitka black tailed deer in Alaska. I will explain why.

Southeast Alaska is a rainforest. It’s an unforgiving forest that will test your every bone and muscle as well as your mind. The rain is relentless and the undergrowth along with fallen trees will test you every step. There are times when you must climb through the lowlands and into the alpine. Climbing over the blown down trees larger than any you have probably ever seen will have you exhausted only to hit the alder trees for several hundred more yards. The alders are their own fun. About head high at the start eventually tapering to knee high before reaching the alpine where the terrain becomes nice and easy compared to what it took to get there.

All of this is bad enough to navigate if it was on flat terrain but it’s not. Along with the trying obstacles mentioned you’re fighting gravity. Straight up mountainsides and rock outcrops, the size of houses blocks your way. They often send you back the way you came with your tail tucked. In search of an easier and safer way up.

Black Tailed Deer Access Prince Of Wales Island

Logistically, Southeast Alaska black tailed deer can be a challenge. A boat or float plane is the primary option for access to areas for hunting Sitka black tailed deer. My first hunt ever for the black tailed deer in Alaska was done using a Cessna 150 taildragger. There are places that can be reached by road and/or foot. Prince of Wales Island, a very popular black tailed deer hunt destination, can be traveled by road to hunt. There are hundreds of miles of road system created by logging back in the day. These roads are helpful when hunting Sitka black tailed deer on your own. 

NOTE: I single out Prince of Wales Island as separate from all other Southeast Alaska because of the very accessible road system is worth noting and logistically is not the same as all other areas within the vast Southeast Alaska region, with very few exceptions.

hunting black tailed deer
Map of Prince of Wales Island Where To Hunt Black Tailed Deer

I can say I was part of clearing some of the areas that became great places to hunt Sitka black tailed deer but not the roads. We logged with a helicopter (see the photo in the article linked above) and select-cut trees. We landed the logs on a barge and never made a road to access the trees. The roads that are on POW island now were created before my time.

There’s also a study that says that clear cutting, something we never did with the helicopter, is bad for the Sitka black tailed deer. I think many hunters on the ground and in the mountains would disagree. What say you? Leave a comment below if you like hunting Sitka black tailed deer.

Prince of Wales Island is a great self-guided Sitka black tailed deer hunt destination for deer hunters visiting Alaska. It offers plenty of access to hunting areas. Keep in mind that this road system gets hit pretty hard so the deer have definitely figured this out over the years. While the road system remains a viable option for hunting blacktail deer if you’re looking for a trophy black tailed deer then you might think about using the road system to get you to new areas and then hike in to get into areas that see fewer hunters. There is big Sitka black tail bucks on Prince of Wales island, but it can take some work to get to them.

Trip Planner For Hunting Prince Of Wales Island Road System For Black Tailed Deer

If Prince of Wales is your black tailed deer hunt destination, her is a plan for hunting the road system on the island. If you plan to get back off the road system to hunt where there is less pressure from the road system then please see the trip planner section for the rest of Southeast Alaska below.

Your initial destination is to get to Ketchikan Alaska. Then from Ketchikan you have a couple of options. You can take the ferry from Ketchikan to Hollis Alaska. If you fly into Ketchikan Alaska then you can rent a car there and take it with you on the ferry to get to Prince of Wales island. Be sure to check to see if there is a stipulation on gravel roads. Some rental companies state that you can’t drive on gravel or unmaintained roads with their vehicle.

The other option is to rent a truck over on the island. This is probably the best way to go because you won’t have to pay for the vehicle on the ferry. Anyone renting a vehicle on Prince of Wales knows you are going to drive it on gravel roads. Be sure to call ahead. Cars there are limited. A lot of lodgings offer trucks with your stay, for a price.

Kodiak Island Black Tailed Deer Hunting

Kodiak island has long been the destination most known and talked about. Many videos and articles are written about hunting Sitka black tailed deer in Alaska. One of the reasons that Kodiak island deer hunts are so popular is first the size of the deer. Deer tend to be a little bigger on Kodiak island in body size and antler growth. I would say that the reason for this is that the winters can be much milder than Southeast Alaska. While cold can hurt the Sitka black tailed deer in Alaska it’s more the snow that seriously impacts the deer in Southeast Alaska.

Kodiak does have Brown bears. They can affect the fawn populations in the spring, but the biggest enemy of the Sitka black tailed deer in Alaska is deep snow. A study found that clear cutting old growth forest in Southeast Alaska actually hurt deer populations. You can read about this study in here. 

Trip Planner For Hunting On Kodiak Island

Like most of Southeast Alaska deer locations there is only two ways to get there, boat or plane. You can get to Homer and take a ferry to Kodiak or you can fly into Kodiak airport and again checking Alaska airlines flights will get you to the right flights. Once in Kodiak you will need to get to the hunting grounds. You can charter a flight or you can charter a boat to get to Kodiak Island to hunt blacktail deer.

You can also book a hunt with a boat that provides lodging along with a hot shower and good food. I’ve never booked a hunt like this but I did live on a boat in Southeast Alaska. I was able to come out of the mountains to a cozy boat anchored in a calm bay. The only thing about doing it this way is you must come down every day and climb back up. This not only tires you out tremendously it also eats up some of your hunting daylight which is short already during the deer season. I actually preferred staying in the mountains as opposed to coming down each day.

Now having said that when the days get shorter and the snow begins to fall then you don’t have to hunt at the upper elevations. The bucks come down for the rut and the snow further drives the deer closer to the beach. This works out well for using a boat as your main camp. The hot shower and cold beer is a great end to a short day and a long night.

A Great Video of Hunting Southeast Alaska Sitka Black Tailed Deer in The Alpine

About Ken McBroom 216 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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