Adventure In The Aleutian Islands, Alaska
By Barbara Crown, Editor
Lots of hunters have been to Alaska, but few have gone to the Aleutian Islands. That's probably because there are no bears, no blacktail deer, no moose, no sheep, no elk, no wolves, and so, not much reason for hunters to head over there. However, two islands offer large herds of free-ranging, wild reindeer. The animals were introduced from far Eastern Russia to Umnak and Atka islands in the early 20th century as a food source for the local native Aleuts. It wasn't until recently that these animals became available to non-native hunters. You see, these particular islands are owned by Native Alaskan corporations, and the hunting and fishing rights are not open to just anybody. Enter the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA) and Jim Shockey's Hunting Adventures.
APICDA is working with native Alaskan communities to develop their local industries for long-term viability and have helped several Native corporations develop commercial and sport fishing businesses. They are also helping to develop sport hunting for the reindeer on Atka and Umnak islands. Additionally, and with help through a partnership with Shockey, they are working to increase awareness of the Aleutian Islands and the native peoples from there.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting both Atka and Umnak islands to hunt the reindeer there. My trip to Atka was cut short due to an accident in our hunting vehicle. You can read what happened there in the Email Extra Bulletin I sent out on August 27 right after the accident.
I sprained my neck and my guide, Kevin Adkins, broke some ribs. A few weeks later, we were both back in the Aleutians to try again. This time we hunted on Umnak Island where I succeeded in taking an excellent reindeer the first day of the hunt, and the other hunter in camp with me, Roger Oerter, killed his reindeer the very next day. You can read my comparison of the hunting on the two islands and my evaluation of this hunting adventure in the November 2010 issue of The Hunting Report. The photographs that follow are meant to compliment that report and help illustrate some of the points I make in my story.
The first thing I have to emphasize about this part of the world is that it is truly remote and, like much of Alaska, a place of challenging weather. Located in the Bering Sea, the weather can change in a minute. The first day out we rode north and were chased by a developing storm that eventually bowled right over us.
We sat in our covered Polaris Ranger, while the storm pelted us with hail for perhaps 10 minutes or so. Luckily it blew over quickly. But it left a carpet of pellet-sized hail for several miles around us.
Soon after the hail came snow flurries. The temperatures in early October went from somewhere in the 30's to the 50's Fahrenheit. What seemed to be constant was the wind.
As it was so early in the season, we traveled further north than guide Kevin Adkins and assistant guide Danny Snigaroff usually need to go. It was the end of the rut, and the reindeer had just started moving down from Mt. Vsevidof, the 6,900 foot volcano where the animals migrate to during the mating season.
After glassing over a couple of herds of reindeer, Adkins and Snigaroff decided we could do better for trophy quality, and we continued to their spike camp by the sea before continuing north and trying to approach some other herds from behind.
The spike camp consists of two tents on elevated wood floors overlooking a waterfall that runs down from the hills where we'd been hunting.
The camp also has an oceanfront view. We had planned on staying there the following night so we could get on the herds right away in the morning, but we didn't need to because both Roger and I tagged out before that.
On our way back to the lodge, we came over a rise to find a large herd of reindeer. It appeared one of the herds we had already looked over had been joined by more deer. We started glassing, looking for bulls with plenty of height, width and lots of "junk." Adkins suddenly turned to me and said, "Barbara, get your gun!"
This bull was more than 500 yards from us when we spotted him. We closed the distance to 190 yards with little more than hillsides and a shallow ravine to cover our approach.
Adkins estimated my bull will score in the lower 400s SCI. That is the level of trophy quality he strives to produce for hunters on both Umnak and Atka islands. Recent world records in the 500s have come from Atka and Umnak.
The second day, when Oerter hunted, we worked our way back to the volcano. We needed to get around some foothills to get a better look at and a better approach to a herd reindeer. Once we got into the hills on foot, we spotted several herds scattered over a series of mountain sides.
Oerter's reindeer should score in the mid-400's. Here he is pictured with assistant guide and native Aleut Danny Snigaroff in the center and registered Alaskan guide Kevin Adkins on the right.
Both trophies side by side and two happy hunters.
The lodge on Umnak Island is called Ugludax Lodge and is located on the edge of the village of Nikolski. It is a $1 million lodge with all the comforts a hunter could want in a remote location. The bedrooms are spacious and warm.
There is comfortable living area with overstuffed couches and a flat screen TV.
Adkins wife, Katy, prepares fantastic fare in the extra-large kitchen. During my stay we enjoyed an oriental-style pork loin roast, chicken enchiladas, homemade apple pie, smoked salmon and more. You will not lose weight here.
The dining area overlooks a huge lake and the hills behind the lodge.
To see more photos, visit my Facebook page.