Sun is better than rain, but the author and his wife know both can make hunting difficult. (Photo by Jeff Lund)

Sun is better than rain, but the author and his wife know both can make hunting difficult. (Photo by Jeff Lund)

I Went to the Woods: The heat of the moment

The tent was unzipped only enough for my feet to be outside. I was exhausted and needed a respite from the mosquitos that were able to attack unencumbered in the windless alpine.

Moments later Abby was next to me in a similar posture, ears, eyes and nostrils insect-free.

It was only mid-morning, but the realization that the hunt was over had settled in. With the heat, size of the moon, lack of fog or clouds and tight time window, the odds were not good that we’d be able to tag a mountain goat or a deer, but we tried anyway.

We left the boat launch and six hours later were on the edge of the alpine, roasting under the late afternoon heat. We glassed the snow patches and saw nothing. There was one doe bedded defiantly in the sun, but the mountain was otherwise brutally majestic in its stillness.

Not wanting to spread our scent all over the mountain, we stayed on the lower tier and glassed, hoping to make a move in the waning moments of the daylight, but thinking the following morning would be our chance.

Fifteen minutes before sunset a mountain goat fed over the ridge on the opposite side of the mountain. It was remarkably similar to what happened on my wife’s successful mountain goat hunt a few weeks ago. A goat fed over the ridge directly across the basin. We moved quickly around the ridge, crested the peak, lost sight of the goat, but found a good buck bedded behind a rock. Abby told me to take the buck, so I was holding, waiting for it to stand when the mountain goat appeared to our left.

The deal was, if we saw a buck first, it was mine, goat, hers. Now there were both, and I kept the rifle only because she was afraid in the commotion of giving her the rifle, we’d lose both. The buck didn’t move as the goat fed closer, seemingly unconcerned with the humans bedded just 75 yards away.

As I turned to watch the goat continue its way toward us, the buck bolted and I didn’t bother taking a shot at the running deer.

The goat looked up as I handed the rifle to Abby, but still didn’t seem to mind. We finished processing the goat in the last minutes of daylight, had dinner then started hiking back to camp.

I was hoping for a repeat of something similar, but this mountain was a little more rugged, the distance between us and the goat a little further and the sun a little closer to setting. We had no move.

So we waited for a buck on our side of the mountain while the mosquitos feasted. We stayed until dark, but no deer left the protection of the cool timber and under the bright moon, we made it back to camp. We knew that unless clouds or fog rolled in the bright moon would allow an all-night feast and deer would be returning to cover just as the sun rose.

I unzipped the tent at 4:30, a full hour before sunrise and saw an ever-growing glow trace the ridge. We crept to our glassing spot and searched while the mosquitos hunted.

An hour passed. Nothing. In the goat’s place was a large black bear vacuuming berries. We hiked half a mile up the ridge without seeing, or spooking, anything. After another hour we retreated to the tent and called it.

Time and weather dictate all outdoor activities in Southeast Alaska, and that understanding helps temper disappointment.

There will be other opportunities.

• 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 “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.

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