Monday, December 7, 2009

"North by Northwest - Seaduck Hunting in Alaska"

If you've never been to Alaska to hunt or fish, I don't think you can truly appreciate the "wildness" of the state. In a matter of words, you just can't get "there from here" or anywhere else in the state easily and quickly. Pat Pitt (thewaterfowler) said it best when he likened hunting in Alaska to hunting in church. There's no better way to put it. The mountain views are something to behold, and if you let them, will distract you from your mission - hunting and fishing.

This trip was on the books since I got back last year. Last year I went by myself, but this year, I wanted to enjoy the hunt with some friends. I called up and emailed Gordon, Kris Schaumburg, and my old buddy Jason Zerrer (who used to post here as DRAKE-MS prior to moving back to Missouri), asking them if they wanted to go experience that which can't be described. To a man, they did. All fees were paid and the hunt dates locked in. The only thing left was for the excitement to build over time.

Leaving the day after Thanksgiving (or in Gordon's case, Thanksgiving day) leaves much to be desired as family sacrifices as much as we did in order for us to have a fun trip. Luckily, we're all blessed with good wives and families, and to my knowledge none of us came back to the proverbial "hot water".

We arrived in Anchorage after somewhere around 12 or 13 hrs of air/travel time to be met by a rather inebriated Gordon. If you've never been around Gordon when he's been in the sauce, let me describe it briefly. Take the sum total of Gordon's ability to numb your ears when sober and multiply that by around can flat out bump some gums.

After rechecking the luggage and guns into the local small town airline and grabbing a seat, talk turned to harlequins and old squaws, all the while, the flight was no where to be found. Blizzard like conditions kept the plane grounded, and left us (read me) feeling rather hopeless as this wasn't the first time I'd had issues with this airline. We discussed making the 6 hr drive amongst ourselves and called Tim to check our sanity...per him, we were insane. Traveling icy roads, in the middle of no where, in freezing conditions, on roads we don't know, in a state where things very well could eat you, in the middle of the night seemingly made no sense. We all agreed.

We quickly regrouped, got a hotel room, and grabbed some food and beers. I HIGHLY recommend the Alaska Brewery IPA, Winter Ale, or Amber Ale when visiting the last frontier.

What you have to remember is that it doesn't get daylight until around 9 a.m. in the winter time. In fact, the first morning had a shooting time of 9:12 and our plane flew out at 7:30, so basically we only lost an hour or so that first day.

We actually got to fly in the "big" jet:

ERA plane

"Big" absolutely being relative. In you'll note the runway/tarmac in the photo, you will begin to realize the "pucker factor" we all had boarding the plane. This was not alleviated by the 21 yr old bush pilot I might add.

Seeing signs like this prior to boarding an "itty bitty" plane do nothing to increase the comfort level either:

Ulu knife

Arriving safetly we were met by Captains Tim Bouchard (owner of Alaskan Wildfowl Adventures) and Captain Brian Rhodes, who can be found from December through January hunting the Atlantic for Eiders. Brain owns "The Swampers" guide service and does a great job both on the eastern seaboard and working for Tim. They road us back to the little bed and breakfast they use as a base and fed us a great breakfast of egg, sausage, cheese English muffins prepared by Tim's wife, Diana. I actually introduced Diana to the guys as the hardest working part of the equation. Only yankee I've ever met that cooks "southern" and that's a stone cold fact.

After the meal and quickly dressing we left the harbor for Sawmill bay, an area I had hunted before. Due to the circumstances both Tim and Brian had to work with (us being a bit late due to flights) we couldn't go as far as they would have liked, but we all got some shooting in, and a few Greater Scaup, Red Breasted Merganzers, and both Common and Barrows Goldeneyes were added to the bag.

Slow shooting made for another kind of hunting - for supper:

Finding supper

In the above, you see Tim and Zerrer picking fresh mussels for the evenings appetizers.

Sauteed in a wine and butter reduction by Diana, I can tell you, they turned out fantastic:

Mussel supper

After more Alaskan IPA and some seafood compliments of the Totem Inn, we turned in, extremely excited by tomorrows prospects. We were boating about 30 miles out and hunting an area that no group had been taken too yet.

photos taken by Tim Bouchard of

Group Shot

As you can see by the happy faces, the strategy was a good one. At the end of the day, there were 39 birds harvested, and would have been a bit more had Zerrer and Gordon understood the limits of Alaska fully. This is as much my fault as theirs to be honest by not explaining fully. In a given day, you can shoot 8 puddle or diver ducks PLUS 8 sea ducks, for a total of 16 birds per day. The rub is that you can only take 4 of any particular sea duck which Alaska includes the merganzers in this part but NOT the Barrows which is where the confusion was. I don't think it really mattered though, as everyone was afforded more than ample shooting.

Kris and I hunted together on this day and we both limited on Barrows (8), and Kris got his harlequins, while I picked up my first Black Scoter and Old Squaw:

photo taken by Tim Bouchard of

Old Squaw and Black Scoter

Some of ya'll may remember the "Jack's Bay Rig" of decoys I carved for this trip:

Jack's Bay Rig

Well, they worked as many Barrows and Harlequins were shot over them:

Me with the Harlequins


Here is a group shot of some tired decoys:

Tired Decoys

Hole in the Rock

Merganser Alley

There ya have it, our little Alaskan adventure from my perspective. Hopefully, Gordon will follow up w/ his own.

As it stands now, I have finished out my scoter w/ that black scoter and have only ONE sea duck left: the King Eider.....I'll be saving for a while for that one.
MY personal goal is to shoot every species of waterfowl over my own decoys...I think I'm off to a good start

If you'd like a more first hand account, help with what to pack or where to eat, or just flat out someone to talk you into doing it, feel free to email me. I've been twice now, and would love to talk more about my favorite type of duck hunt (sea ducks).

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