Story and photos by: Austin Legg
“Who goes to Alaska in December?”
That is the question I kept getting when I told people I had booked a “Cast & Blast” trip to Kodiak, Alaska in December.
Well, it was the only spot still available and it was the last week of the hunting season. So unless I wanted to wait a whole year to go, I had to take it. Of course, I booked the trip and I added my dad, brother and my friend Kaleb to the hunt party.
In Alaska, there is a strict certification process to be a guide and guided trips are expensive. With a Cast & Blast trip, you book it with a transporter, not a guide. That is part of what makes the trip so affordable. A transporter can house you, feed you, take you fishing and provide transportation to and from the hunting grounds, but that is about it. They can’t spot deer for you, they can’t pack it out or skin it for you, etc. So, you do need to be able to hike and hunt on your own to do a trip like this. Aside from cost savings, what makes a Cast & Blast so appealing is the extra activities. On our five-day hunt, we would also be able to go duck hunting, crabbing, fishing, fox hunting and of course deer hunting. In addition to that, Kodiak has a good deer population and you can buy up to three deer tags. That is a recipe for a good time.
It wasn’t a bad flight to get to Kodiak from Boise. But being in mid-December, the weather can be unpredictable and I was nervous. I knew some guys who got stuck in Kodiak and couldn’t fly home after their hunt for over a week due to weather. When we landed in Kodiak the weather was surprisingly beautiful, but the forecast showed a big storm coming in. We stayed the night at a little Air BnB with plans to fly into Larsen Bay the next afternoon. I was still asleep in my bed when my phone began ringing early the next morning. It was the outfitter in Larsen Bay. I could hear a frantic tone in his voice. “Get to the airport right now, get on the plane, or you’ll never make it out here.”
I rallied my dad and brother out of bed as quickly as possible and we hot footed to the airport. We were still groggy but were loaded on a tiny plane headed for Larsen Bay in just minutes. The weather window was closing fast and we were grateful to get out of Kodiak and start the hunt. The downside to this quick change of plans was that we were a man short. Kaleb wouldn’t arrive in Kodiak until later that afternoon and I was worried what would happen to him if the weather turned for the worse. More on that later.
We arrived in Larsen Bay without incident and quickly got settled in at the lodge. The lodge has two bunkhouses. The lower house was where my group was supposed to be, but the previous week's hunters were still there and unable to leave due to the weather. That meant there would be eight of us crammed into one small bunkhouse. We were told it would be temporary because those hunters would be on the next open plane out of Larsen Bay.
On the first full hunting day we saw a decent deer numbers. A few small bucks and probably 25-30 does and fawns. Late in the day I spotted a buck at approximately 2,000 yards out that was feeding out in the open by himself. He had a massive body and right away we could tell it was an older, mature deer. But at that distance, even through the spotting scope, we couldn’t tell what caliber of buck he was. That didn’t matter much. I had three tags in my pocket and with the uncertain weather I wasn’t going to be overly picky. I decided to try for the buck and we made our way in his direction.
Fighting the brush and the snow actually took substantially longer than I expected. I was able to look at OnX and easily find where the buck was when we spotted him, compared to where we were. I was certain we were in the right place. But the buck was nowhere to be found. It was frustrating. It took us almost three hours to close the distance and he ghosted us. With daylight quickly starting to fade, we decided to head back to the beach where a boat would be coming to get us.
We made our way back down and about halfway back I had the thought that I should turn around and look for that buck again. I stopped and glassed back at the hillside. Sure enough, the buck was out feeding. I couldn’t believe it. I was with my brother, Justin, and I said, “I know we don’t have much daylight left, but should I try and get that buck or should we head back to the boat?” Without hesitating he responded, “Well, we’re here to hunt.”
I scrambled to find a shooting lane through all of the trees. It was a tight window and with only a few minutes of daylight, I knew I had to be quick with this. I ranged the buck at 630 yards and got set up prone using my backpack for support. It was by far the longest shot I’ve ever considered taking on an animal, but I’ve practiced the distance and much further hundreds of times. I knew I could make the shot. I squeezed the trigger and the buck instantly dropped and went sliding down the steep, snowy face. Just like that, the 4th out of the 5 deer on my deer slam quest was down. This was first deer of our Alaska Cast and Blast and would end up being the biggest buck taken by our group.
Unfortunately, the weather never really improved over the next few days. Every day the weather was in the low 30’s with rain and snow. That didn’t bother us much but the sustained winds of 30+ mph everyday were horrible. One day we actually didn’t hunt because we had 70 mph sustained winds and non-stop driving snow. The bad weather meant we never got the opportunity to go out fishing or duck hunting. On top of that, no planes were able to fly. That meant my friend Kaleb was stuck by himself in Kodiak for the week with no way to get out of town. It also meant the previous week’s hunters were not leaving anytime soon and all eight of us would remain cramped in the lower bunkhouse.
I am not one to complain. I decided I was going to brave the weather and make the most of this trip every day possible. That meant I had to be particular with my gear. Base layers, warm outer layers, waterproof layers, etc. It is hard to dress for a constant mix of rain, snow and wind. The most valuable piece I had on this trip was the Aegis Bibs and Aegis Jacket. I was able to hike in it and remain warm and dry enough that when I sat and glassed in the snow for an hour I didn’t freeze. I highly recommend that set for a trip like this.
We did have a bit more success on the trip even with the bad weather. We were able to get my brother and my dad nice bucks about midway through the hunt.
On our final hunting day, we were in the boat heading across the bay. All of our heads were on a swivel looking for deer and I was able to spot a buck down on the beach. He was with a few other does and had apparently been pushed lower due to the previous night’s blizzard. We nosed the boat into the beach softly and quickly got a prone shooting position in the sand. It was pretty incredible to be on the sand, surrounded by ocean and snowy mountains while shooting a blacktail buck on the beach. Not something you get to see or do every day.
I gutted the buck right there on the beach. The saltwater from the ocean came right up to the gut pile and washed the blood away. Once I was done, I loaded the buck into a cooler on the boat and then jumped back onto the shore to go meet up and hunt with my dad and brother. As I turned to wave goodbye to the boat, I saw one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. I took a picture but I am not sure it does it justice. It was like everything around me was in a world of black and white, except for the bright red blood being washed away by the ocean. I took an extra minute to appreciate the beauty of where I was.
Alaska is unforgiving. The terrain is brutal, the weather is relentless, the animals are tough and I was grateful to witness it all for myself. I don’t think anyone can go hunting in Alaska once and not aspire to go back again. I just don’t think I’ll go back mid-December next time.
Due to weather, we ended up getting stuck in Larsen Bay for a few extra days. It’s just something you have to be ready for on a late season Alaska hunt. Even though we didn’t get to do all the things we wanted to, all eight of us in camp harvested bucks, we ate well, we laughed hard and we made unforgettable memories. An Alaskan Cast & Blast is an amazing experience.