A lone berry hangs from a bush on the edge of a muskeg in which the author and his wife sought a buck, but found a doe. (Photo by Jeff Lund)

A lone berry hangs from a bush on the edge of a muskeg in which the author and his wife sought a buck, but found a doe. (Photo by Jeff Lund)

I Went to the Woods: Muskeg mornings

Twenty minutes after the first call and maybe two after the last sip of coffee, a gray body walked casually behind a smattering of brush in the middle of the muskeg.

I had heard what sounded like legs moving through salal a few minutes before, but figured my excitement to be out under blue skies made a trophy squirrel sound like a deer.

The morning was still and cool, bordering on cold — perfect for enjoyment, but not ideal for creeping.

The hike from shore to the muskeg had been loud, and more than a few times I was so frustrated by the tangled brush and sucker holes that led to devil’s club patches, I charged forward, valuing speed over silence.

We arrived carefully on the edge and stood in a lightly-worn game trail while the reverberations of our approach dissipated.

Few things hold the promise of an untouched muskeg on a calm, quiet morning as rut kicks off. It may have been walked before, but not today.

“Go with a fifty,” I whispered to my wife who responded with a sequence meant to travel roughly 50 yards and inspire a buck in the immediate vicinity to stand up, move or step out. Rather than post up in a muskeg and try to bring something in from a mile away, we like delicate approaches and quieter calls which focuses our attention on hunting the muskeg well, not treating the call as a magical apparatus. If nothing responds, then we try to bring something in from further away.

I scoured the edges with my binoculars, looking for a set of floating eyes or antlers fixed on the noisemaker, or any movement. There was none. We crept to the edge of the muskeg and sat at the base of a tree and behind enough brush to conceal us yet still allow for any shooting lane I might need.

When nothing responded, Abby went to work on the coffee while I ate a breakfast of trail mix. This was the first leg of a circuit that would take us through almost two miles of prime terrain. But we needed to eat too so what do you do? Risk spooking a deer with the sound of firing up the Jetboil?


I have sworn off pre-dawn meals and hiking in the dark during rut after a morning in which I was 20 yards from an alder that ended up being a fat-necked buck in the early pre-dawn light. Not a minute after that one spooked, another appeared off the logging road spur my buddy and I were walking. Our plan had been to hunt the muskeg at first light rather than hunt our way to the muskeg at first light. So thanks to that morning, I emerge from the tent ready, assuming there is a buck lurking and saving breakfast for a more convenient time. It also serves as an excuse to be patient rather than moving boldly through too much territory too fast.

Trail mix chewed, coffee sipped, I caught the movement. Perfect. The program was validated. Just be cool and make the shot.

The deer had vanished behind a thick clump and would emerge on the other side maybe 30 yards away. I’d have a lane and a broadside shot. Perfect.

I waited as patiently as I could, now under the influence of the first dose of caffeine mixed with anticipatory adrenaline.

An ear flicked and the deer broke the stillness. Doe.

We called and waited for the buck, but it never came. Next time.

• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

More in Sports

The Nogahabara Dunes spill into a lake 35 miles west of the village of Huslia as seen from the back seat of a Super Cub piloted by Brad Scotton of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based in Galena. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Sand dunes a unique Alaska landscape

NOGAHABARA DUNES — From a molded seat of sand dug into the… Continue reading

Fly fishing for salmon in the saltwater might reduce the opportunity to get quick limits, but there’s nothing like it. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: Silvers on the fly

A school of a few dozen fish moved slowly through the teal… Continue reading

A common aerial wasp forages on cow parsnip flowers. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Cow parsnip flowers

Cow parsnip is known in our field guides as Heracleum lanatum, although… Continue reading

A roadside daisy displays a fasciated center. (Photo by Deana Barajas)
On the Trails: An odd plant malady, a clever duck, and more

I recently learned about a mysterious, relatively rare affliction of plants called… Continue reading

Juneau’s Jacob Thibodeau (right) takes a selfie with WSOP legend Phil Hellmuth in the background. (Photo provided by Alaska Sports Report)
Juneau’s Jacob Thibodeau and Mario Fata consistently cashing in at World Series of Poker

Anchorage pro Adam Hendrix remains Alaska’s most prominent poker player, but don’t… Continue reading

Heidi Reifenstein reaches Father Brown’s Cross to complete the Goldbelt Tram-Mount Roberts Trail Run on Saturday, setting a new women’s record for the 3½-mile race with a time of 37 minutes and 40 seconds. (Photo by Jeff Gnass)
A mother of a mountain: Heidi Reifenstein sets new women’s record for Goldbelt Tram-Mount Roberts Trail Run

Longtime Juneau resident returns to peak form after taking break from racing while raising kids.

The Nogahabara Sand Dunes in the Koyukuk Wilderness Area west of Koyukuk River. (Keith Ramos / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Alaska Science Forum: Mystery of the glass tool kit in the sand

From space, the Nogahabara Dunes are a splotch of blond sand about… Continue reading

After a morning hike, a satisfying breakfast for under $20 hits the spot. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: Food for thought

To my left is a man with a thick British accent who… Continue reading

A bumblebee pollinates the flower of shy maiden, which will turn upward soon afterward. (Photo by Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Flowers, showy and otherwise

The spring and summer flower show at Cowee Meadows (way out on… Continue reading

Athletes compete in a swim event at the Dimond Park Aquatic Center on Sept. 16, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: It’s OK to say an athlete failed at obtaining a goal

During the telecasts of the 2024 Olympic trials commentators stated that around… Continue reading

A brush turkey on a mound the size of a car (Flickr.com photo by Doug Beckers /CC-BY-SA-2.0)
On the Trails: Nest-building by male birds

Most birds build some sort of nest where the eggs are incubated.… Continue reading

Insects like these flies clinging to a tent seem to be in ample supply in Alaska’s boreal forest. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Insects of Alaska forest humming along

Recent long-term studies revealed a three-quarters reduction of insects in parts of… Continue reading