Sniper earned his nickname honestly. He and Mac were on the stalk of a nice spike-fork blacktail deer and needed to close from 500 to about 200 yards before attempting the shot. Problem was the deer was sitting on the hillside looking down at the pair as they side-sloped their way towards the wary buck. They agreed that Mac would shoot first at this deer, but both hunters knew that if the deer were to start moving away, that either man should fire.
Sniper and Mac got within easy range for the .300 Winchester Ultra Mag and .300 Winchester Mag that each man carried when the deer stood up and prepared to leave. Mac had time to get the rifle shouldered and the deer in the crosshairs, which was like two seconds, when he watched the hair blow out from the exit hole as Sniper’s single shot ended the stalk. The deer simply piled up and rolled a little down the hill. Wow, that was a good shot, standing on the hillside without a gun rest at 225 yards, stone-cold dropping the animal, all within the span of two heartbeats.
Mac, Eagle and Sniper enjoyed glorious weather and good hunting for the first three days. Weather like this doesn’t happen very often in places like Kodiak Island, so the trio knew that the other shoe would eventually drop. For Sniper that happened when the front of the cabin wasadorned in game bags holding the field dressed sections of six Sitka blacktail.
For starters, Sniper’s wheels were in less than perfect shape. Having been thrown from one of his horses six weeks earlier, his hobbled walk and knee-brace spoke of a man who was surprised to have made it to the hunt. Mac, in his usual callous and pragmatic fashion, had a game plan to fill the eight deer tags that the trio brought to the island. That plan included plenty of hiking, hill climbing and meat packing, and didn’t account much for human ailments.
So on the first evening, the trio entered the bowl approximately 500 vertical feet and a horizontal mile behind their cabin and took the first deer possible. Eagle watched while Mac and Sniper attempted to jump a pair that were three-quarters to the top of the ridge, only to barely miss intersecting with the deer after a steep climb up the downwind side. Eagle watched the effort, only to shoot a deer that walked right to him. All were happy and feasted on fresh deer that evening, but the abuse on Sniper’s body had begun.
Day two saw the trio further up the same bowl, and without bear interaction with the carcass from the previous day’s deer, the three felt a false sense of comfort that perhaps the bears were still down in the river feeding on salmon. They took the next doe at the top of the bowl and continued up the ridge and to the west to eventually shoot the buck that earned Sniper his name.
With two deer in tow, the trio slowly worked their way back down the hillside towards the cabin, slightly buckled from the weight, but willing and able to take a third deer should the chance arise. Mac spotted a candidate across the bowl on a protruding bluff, but figured the doe was not worth the effort of the climb. In falling light they returned to the cabin, weary but elated from another successful day. In the closing mile of the descent through the interlocking alder stands, Sniper further aggravated the knee by hyper-extending it in the alder thicket.
On day three they ventured across the lagoon in search of new deer. Having glassed at least a dozen from the front deck of the cabin, they felt like today would be a good day to take three deer. With three days left and five tags to fill, they felt good at the prospects of filling all the tags. After dropping one doe, the three spotted three bucks on the move. Mac and Sniper headed to the east while Eagle went west. Mac turned the corner to see two nearly identical spike forks. He dropped the first while Sniper dropped the second. Sniper’s deer piled up, while Mac’s rolled about 50 yards down the hill. Both men patrolled the hillside for the next 30 minutes trying to locate the light brown deer in the light brown grass. They finally located both animals, hauled them to common ground and commenced with pictures and celebration.
About an hour and a half later they started down the hill. Mac and Eagle shouldered the brunt of the load in an effort to reduce the abuse to Sniper’s knee. Eagle also was sporting a bum wheel, but he pushed through the distraction. Mac simply lived up to his nickname of Pack Mule and attempted to carry a pack that surely exceeded the manufacturer’s specs.
When the three met up with the big boar that had either been close-by all along, or came to investigate the sound of the gun shots, also known at this time of year as the Kodiak dinner bell to the area’s brown bears, they were straining their bodies to the edge of their abilities. The mock charge and subsequent retreat were amplified in the minds of the weary hunters. In the waning daylight, the thee began to see more bears heading their way.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Eagle woke the other men. A big bear paced at the outskirts of their electric fence, the smell of six blacktail deer filling his nose, no doubt creating thoughts of breaching the defenses in his huge, thick skull. By morning, a huge brownie lay within a stone throw of the cabin’s outhouse, which also lay outside the safety of the electric fence.
Mac could start to see the strain on Sniper’s visage. He tried to prod the Minnesotan, who had spent a full decade living in Alaska, to head back out into the country to fill the last two tags. The efforts were in vain. The men convened and determined that the only way to relieve the bear pressure was to call in the air taxi service for a meat run. And as soon as the deer took flight for home base in Kodiak city, the bears simply disappeared.
Mac convinced the pair that now was the time to fill the last two tags. But the damage had already been done. A half-hearted hike, highlighted by over-stimulated nerves and damaged joints, was the last time the trio ventured into the field during this journey. For many years since, Sniper has shared the story of walking the Kodiak Tightrope without a net.