Fall time for us is synonymous with stocking the larder. Our giant raspberry patch supplied us with cases of raw berries. It’s always a pleasure to tie yogurt containers around our necks and pick with both hands, gathering not 50 yards from our little house. Slipping out into the cool sunny mornings with the smell of dew on fallen leaves, we fill a quick bowlful of ruby gems hanging off the bushes to accompany breakfast. The larger bowls of berries are jarred up and pressure sealed in pint jars, requiring no refrigeration. That is the gathering part for us.
The hunting part is a critical part of our remote diet, since the grocery store is 60 nautical miles away. Normally the small Sitka black tailed deer are plentiful and easy to harvest along the coastlines and at all elevations, but not so this particular year. With a hard winter and tough icy spring preventing the deer from acquiring forage and water, there was massive die off on the west side of Kodiak. There are always hardy survivors that provide more of a challenge to hunt. We found small herds up on mountaintops and high valleys thousands of feet from sea level.
Lacing up boots tight and strapping packs on with long rifles, we look forward to the workout ahead. Upwards we aim, picking our path through towering alders, dense thickets of salmonberries making hiking feeling like swimming uphill, and the lovely wild rose bushes grabbing at our clothes and skin. Above tree line there’s a wonderful view of our bay below and a cooling mountain breeze. Over rises we hope to see a nice buck - big bodied is always nice, its rack inconsequential. Often, though, it can be a bear foraging, stocking itself up with a few more calories before its long winter’s sleep.
Fortune smiles on us and we are able to harvest a nice deer, protein filling our packs. Between the two of us the weight is manageable, but alone it can be a hefty 100 pounds. One thing about hunting on Kodiak, never ever drag your deer. Bears will smell and follow at the speed of a horse galloping straight to you and your prize. A friend of a friend only had time to shed his pack with his driver's license, hunting license, cash and gear after a glance uphill, seeing a sow was coming for him and the hind end of a buck he was dragging. Neither pack nor deer were recovered and I can imagine the cubs with the momma bear after they had had their caloric fill, having play-time with the fun plastic and pack. Memories for everyone involved and lessons learned the hard way.
With the scarcity of deer this fall, we only brought in the one animal. However it filled empty cases next to the jars of berries and summer salmon, and we are grateful for all the surrounding land and sea provided for us. It's a good feeling to see your pantry filled with wholesome calories, hard work and satisfaction filling one jar at a time.
Is one animal enough? It can be, but we have Adelia's parents to help supply meat for as well as others in town who can't get out anymore. In our back pockets there was a potential ace in the hole: Elk tags for Raspberry Island, conveniently located on the way to town via skiff. We closed down our house for the winter, stocked the wood shed, raked leaves for the garden beds and greenhouse, knowing we'd be back in our own beds later in the winter. Our home and its surroundings has our hearts, but adventure was calling and we headed out to tent camp and hunt the large Roosevelt elk. That experience will come in a follow up post. Stay tuned.