A Day on the Delta Clearwater – Alaska

The Delta Clearwater river is about an hour and a half southeast of Fairbanks Alaska. The canoe trip consists of: Eight miles of paddling and fishing on the brilliantly clear D.C., then into the massive glacier fed Tanana River for three miles, then a mile and a half up stream paddle through a slough and finally another mile or so across Clearwater Lake to the takeout. The river trip by itself is spectacular but when you add world class fishing for trophy quality Arctic Grayling, you have wilderness perfection.

 

Chicken Salad to Chicken Shit

Kyran Keisling, Hunting Stories, Hunting

The family posing with the little buck I snaked from my sixteen year old cousin. LOWER THE FLAGS!

I got this deer on the Kaibab archery hunt.  I wouldn’t normally shoot such a small buck on the first day of my hunt but I was denied my leave requests for the entire two weeks of the season and I was happy to just get something in the freezer.  I hunted for a total of an hour and half.  At first light I hunted the burn and found a good spot for my tree stand.  I only hunted for an hour that morning because upon arriving at camp the evening before, Kristin and I realized that we had forgotten the baby formula for Harper.  So instead of a peaceful morning of tip toeing through the burn I was driving road #22 back to Kanab.  Once we got back to camp and got Harper fed I jumped into Kevin Grimm’s Rhino with my tree stand and headed out to put it up.  Kevin’s 16 year old son Cody had a tag and was sitting shotgun, I was sitting in the back.  Twenty minutes into the drive I spotted three little bucks beaded down in a little aspen grove.

It’s funny how adrenaline affects the mind and decision making.  The simplest, most obvious tasks become complex and obscure.  To a layman the act of aiming at your target would seem like an important step in killing an animal but to a hunter tweaking on buck fever it can be a superfluous task that can be easily traded for a shooting at random.  The experienced hunter knows that the fever can make loading a shell on par with playing a Jimi Hendricks riff.  He knows that it can make a man do wildly stupid things that he would never do in a normal state of mind.

So anyway, I tell Kevin to slow down and I begin to jump out of the Rhino and notice that Cody is jumping out with me. It is important at this point that I tell you my history of hunting with my buddies/family.  In our circle it is every man for himself.  The quickest draw gets the shot.  The fastest to the fishing hole gets the first cast.  I’ve actually seen my brother Conz throw an elbow into Jacob’s ribs as they both drew down on a forkey buck simultaneously.  So Cody and I are jumping out of the rhino together, my mind firing off like it was a rival jumping out with me and I bark, “I got it”!.  Cody, being the obedient adolescent that he is, hops back into the Rhino and they continue down the road, completing the perfect Compton Drive By maneuver. The dumb little three point stands there looking at me as I draw and release.  The arrow drills him through the neck and he drops in his tracks.  I jump up and start war whooping and fist pumping.  I’m still in Neon Deion celebration mode as Kevin and Cody drive up.  I look at them expecting to see equally stoked attitudes but I get a full dose of the “you just put a booger in my beer” look.  What’s their problem, I think to myself.  Then it hits me. The reason for their somber look filters through my adrenalized brain.  I just pulled the ultimate asshole move on my 16 year old cousin, a cousin who has never killed a buck with his bow.  A cousin that was sitting shotgun in HIS rhino and was giving me a lift to my tree stand spot. My heart sank.  My chicken salad had just turned to chicken shit.  I just fell into a bucket of roses and came out smelling like a turd.

There was only one thing I could do……. Teach Cody how make a sincere apology.

Phat Bastard, A Couse Deer Hunting Tale

George and Kyran Keisling pose with Phat Bastard

Phat Bastard – Unit 36c couse whitetail buck- We named him for the 2.5 inches of fat this buck had encasing his meat.

The Baboquivari Mountains lay shrouded in a dense fog as George and I glassed through the first rays of morning.  Beams of sunlight shot through the misty clouds creating a hypnotizing array of color all around us.  The Senora Desert was at its finest.

I had taken a week off for the hunt and was prepared to squeeze every bit of hunting, out of every minute I had.  I wasn’t worried when we didn’t see any deer at our first glassing station.

The colors of dawn had given way to the soothing warmth of sunny November as we made our way up a ridge to our second station.  I drifted back to my past coues whitetail hunts.  Both of them had resulted in brutal beatings to my hunting ego.  In fourteen days, not only did I not see a buck, but donated nearly half of my flesh to the native shrubbery.  I shuttered at the thought and offered up a little prayer to the Good Luck God, that this year would be different.

Fifteen minutes later, it was.

“I’ve got a buck, a good buck”! George whispered.

My heart skipped a beat.  Finally my drought was over.  One look at the buck through my binoculars confirmed, that it was over in a big way.

It was hard, at a half mile, to get an exact count on him but there was no doubt that he was a whopper.  As quickly as we had spotted him, he disappeared into a large patch of ocatillo.

We had to make a quick move to cut the monster off.  We ran full throttle through the desert, stumbling over loose rock and dodging cactus. We dove under a barbed wire fence and headed up a ridge that would, hopefully, give us a view into where he had disappeared.

Suddenly, I heard something from a gully to our right, roll some rocks.  We skidded to a stop and turned to see another buck jogging through the thick mesquite, 50 yards away.  I could tell he was shooter, so I shouldered my trusty .270.

A quick survey of the situation revealed that my only hope was a small opening in the mesquite just ahead of him. He was in extremely thick cover, moving fast, and whitetail deer never stop once they get going.  It looked grim.

All at once, it was like the hand of the Good Luck God himself reached down and pulled the buck to a stop in the center of the opening.  I couldn’t believe it.

Boom!

He didn’t even flinch.

“You missed,” George blurted.

The buck stood stone still. I jacked another shell in and just before I could get the crosshairs on him again, he was gone.

Desperately, I chased after him, hoping in vein, that I would see him running up the ridge.  When George finally caught up with me I was walking in circles, kicking rocks and screaming obscenities.  I was having a temper tantrum that would make any pre-schooler proud.

“He was 50 yards away.

“I could have hit him with a rock.

“ How in Gods name could I have missed a shot like that?” I yammered.

“I’m cursed.

“I might as well give it all up right now.

“$#@& this trusty .270.”

George politely, didn’t say a word. There was nothing he could say that could make it better.

“How big was he?” I finally asked, after the twenty minute tizzy fit.

“I don’t know, it was fast, but I do know he was big enough to shoot on the first day,” George answered.

“I botched it, didn’t I.?”

“I’m pretty sure you botched it Ky.”

“ I must have knocked my scope off when I bumped it in the truck this morning,” I said. “There is no way that I could have pulled off of him at that distance.”

“Maybe we should go back to camp and sight your gun in and come back later for the that other buck we saw before you shot,” George replied. “I didn’t see where your bullet hit but he didn’t move a muscle when you shot.”

I agreed, and defeated, we began to hike back to the truck.  As we walked, my mind churned.  No matter how I replayed it, I could not convince myself that I could have missed.  I had felt so steady when I squeezed the trigger. It finally got the best of me.

“Let’s go back,” I said, “just to make sure.”

“I think you missed but it’s definitely worth a look.”

We spent a good 45 minutes trying to relocate the spot where I had taken the shot, but because I had run so far up the hillside, we couldn’t.

“What are we doing,” I asked rhetorically.

“This stuff all looks the same.

“We’ll never be able to find my shell casing in this mesquite jungle.”

I was absolutely disgusted with myself.  I would have to add yet another tale to my “Couse Deer Failure” book and this one was going to be embarrassing to tell the boys back home.  50 yards standing still, 50 yards standing still, 50 yards standing still, kept running through my mind.

“George we’re just wasting time here.

“ I blew it.

“Let’s go get a sandwich,” I groaned.

George agreed, and once again we were on our way back to the truck.  This time it took a half-mile for the torrent in my brain to turn me around.

“I’m sorry I’m being so wishy washy George but if I don’t make absolutely sure that I missed, it’s going to drive me nuts.”

“No problem.

“I’m just a hitchhiker on this hunt.

“We have all the time in the world,” George replied reassuringly.

Another 45 minutes of searching went by and I still couldn’t find my shell casing.  Just as I was about to give up for the third time, I saw the golden glitter of my brass shinning in the sun.  It was a small victory, but was little consolation for missing the easiest opportunity I’d ever had, at any big game animal.  I looked across the arroyo and immediately picked out the opening that the buck was standing in when I shot.  All that remained was to confirm my miss.

It didn’t take long to find the deep hoof marks that were left behind when he jumped into the mesquite trees.  My eyes scanned every crease of the rocky ground around the prints. First left, in the direction he had run; nothing.  Then, I scoped back to where he was standing, no blood.  Slowly, I focused on the dirt that lay beyond the hoof prints, and there it was, a small spot of pink, frothy blood.

Light headed with amazement I screamed to George, “I hit him, I hit him!”

“No way! Really?” George yelled and ran over to help me track.

The blood trail was sparse at first, and then pinched off completely. Once again my head swam with visions of failure.  It wasn’t missing at 50 yards anymore, it was wounding at 50 yards, and it made me sick to my stomach.

“What an emotional roller coaster this has been,” I whined “ If I lose him now, it’ll haunt me forever.”

“Hey, look Ky,” George said smiling and pointed to a beaver tail cactus high on a ridge above us. It was saturated with blood.

The buck was lying dead under a cholla, 100 yards beyond it.   Two dime-sized holes penetrated both sides of his rib cage.  The 140-grain bullet had passed perfectly between two ribs on one side, ripped through both lungs, then passed perfectly between two ribs on the other side, not once, hitting bone. The bullet never expanded.  I doubt that he even felt it hit him.

By noon, opening day, we were back at the truck with a buck that was more than I could have ever hoped for. In two hours I had been as high, low and back again, as a hunter could get. I was in complete ecstasy, not because of the size of the buck but because I had experienced and learned, something that I would never forget.  I had almost let that beautiful 6×5 rot in desert and thankfully, listened to my inner voice.  Or maybe it was the voice of the Good Luck God that I heard, who for once, decided to grant me one wish

Tales of Tatanka

There is an old Rodger Miller tune that states, “You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd”, that may be true but I found out that you can crap your pants in one.

Kyran Keisling, archery hunting,

I Should have been wearing a loin cloth rather than the camo.

 

So there I was……. In the Congo….errr……. I mean the Kiabab. In the moonlight we could see the herd of 170 Bison laying in a meadow twenty yards off the highway. Fellow hunters had also seen them and were nervously congregating on the roadside pullout no more than 400 yds from the Grand Canyon Park entrance. Daylight was half an hour away and everyone was jockeying and jacking their jaws about what was to happen next. Jacob and I drove straight by them and headed to the boundary road that would take us to the trails that we knew they would use to escape. We knew this because our good friend Richard Clark had showed us the area on a scouting trip the week before and more importantly because the day before Jacob had nearly been stampeded to death in that very spot. Jacob’s rendition of the experience was gut busting funny but in my mind I could only imagine the fear and adrenaline he must have felt standing in front of a tree as animals weighing a ton and running 30 mph peeled off at 5 feet in front of him. A bow seemed so miniscule and worthless. Now it was my turn and my stomach began to knot up as we bounced down the dirt road. Jacob was unable to get a good shot the day before and I thought that he was either brave or stupid to do it again because I hadn’t even experienced it yet and was already shaking like a dog shittin peach pits. We pulled over, jumped out and ran to get to our spots along the trail.

If it was done right everyone that had a buffalo tag would line up along the border fence like we were doing and wait for them to slowly wander out of the meadow. Once one is shot and falls, the others will mill about, wondering what happened to their fallen comrade and other hunters could come in and pick them off one by one. We knew this would not be the case because restraint like that would be impossible for a few of the impatient, selfish bastards at the highway. They would bum rush them, sending them on their way, screwing it up for everyone else.

It sounded like distant thunder. A low rumble. My heart pounded so hard I thought that it would bust out of my ribs. My mouth was as dry as lizard testicles. Suddenly the moment was broken by Cox’s Army ripping in from both directions on the road. Like a military operation the trucks came in at full speed slinging gravel and launching over bar ditches. Two white Fords came to a sliding stop behind me and 5 guys jumped out onto the road. In an effort to let them know where I was and in hopes of having them move along, I leaned out of my hiding spot and told them that the herd was coming and then dug back in. I had selected a nice little stand of spruce that I felt would require the buffalo to go around rather than running me over. The rumble was growing louder by the second. They were still 500 yds away but they sounded like they were right in front of me. And still the 5 men him hawed directly behind me. I leaned out again and said “I’m sitting here!” in a stern voice hoping they would disperse to their own piece of the forest. The rumble grew louder. They would be coming into view soon. I fidgeted, trying to play out every possible scenario that might present itself. The suspense was so thick I could have cut it with a knife. AND STILL the men stood within spitting distance of me. This time I let ‘er rip and barked angrily “You guys need to fan out and get out from behind me!”. With that, 4 scattered but one walked in front of me and began to sit down on a log twenty yards away. “Hey Dude, you are right in my lane! If I shoot and miss I’ll shoot you!” It was all the power I had not to finish with “you stupid son of a bitch”. It is amazing how inconsiderate, unethical, and self serving or just plain ignorant some people can be. He walked out of my lane and went right back to the road where he had been standing before. I was going to turn and yell at him again but the proximity of the pounding hooves readjusted my focus.

Many metaphors could be used to describe the sound, a locomotive, Lava Falls in Grand Canyon, a massive Monsoon storm but none come close to what it was like sitting there in the silver of daybreak, listening to the crashing crescendo. The suspense was suffocating. Any second they would come into view, then seconds would go by and the sound would only get louder….. How loud can it get? Jesus these beasts are powerful I thought and I, on my own free will, am waiting for them to run headlong into me. It felt like I was treading into a tidal wave. Just when I thought I would keel over from an aneurism, the thudding hooves veered to my left and gradually disappeared over the hill. The stampede was no more than 75 yards away but the spruce and fir jungle I was surrounded by, hid them. I didn’t know whether to shout for joy and relief or throw my hat down in disgust. “If I find the ass clown who jumped them out of the meadow I’m going cut his balls off!!! What a selfish cockknocking chicken f*!@er!!!” Jacob screamed into the forest. A few other hunters up the road shouted in agreement. I half expected a lynch mob to gather and storm out into the meadow looking for blood. Chuckling, I walked out of my blind and headed back to the truck. Although I was disappointed I didn’t get to actually see them, it was still an incredible experience. I was just getting into talking distance of Jacob when the rolling thunder began again. Unbeknownst to us only half the herd had passed. The other half was on its way. I spun and sprinted down the hill to get into my blind before the dill holes in the two white fords could swipe my spot. Luckily I swooped in an instant before they could snake me and believe me, they tried. It was a sequel. The same sound, the same adrenaline. This time I could tell they were headed more in my direction. Through the dim light I finally got my first glimpse of them and froze. Trees the size of my thigh, pine cones and critters were being tossed in the air as if they were whirling in a cuisanart. The stomping hooves sent vibrations through the ground and I remember thinking that it felt like I was standing next to railroad tracks as a train passed. I could smell the pungent musk they emitted. The bile from nearly tossing my cookies coated my tongue. Every sensory organ in my body was red lining. But again they flanked me and passed 40 yards to my left. They slowed to a walk for a moment and I thought I may be able to make a move to cut them off but no sooner had the thought crossed my mind, they broke back into a run. This time I jumped out of my blind to watch them pass out of range. At probably 25 miles an hour the herd broke out into the clearing of the road and split around the two ford trucks missing them by no more than two feet. The five men behind me had already moved down the road. They waved their fully drawn bows like they were doing the “sprinkler” dance at the passing Tatanka. I hoped that they wouldn’t be foolish enough to take such a risky shot.  And then all at once they were gone. This time there was no doubt, I was pissed. I wanted to kick the living crap out of those cheese dicks that had parked behind me and I thank god for my quality upbringing because a lesser man would have. But suddenly through the steam coming out of my ears I heard some more coming. This time it was not as loud and I could tell it was some stragglers. Without a thought I headed into the thick timber hell bent on cutting them off. I paced directly toward the sound.

I have been an adrenaline junkie my whole life. I have climbed 1400 foot backcountry cliffs that have taken days to ascend, I have run some of the biggest whitewater in North America and rappelled blindly into deep chasms but I can honestly say that when that Buffalo came barreling around the tree in front of me, I have never been so scared. It was at 10 yards and coming in hot. I drew my bow but in the two seconds it took me to do it the buffalo had cut the distance in half. Obviously I beat a hasty retreat backward, stumbling over my heels, still at full draw. I could have shot but I wasn’t sure if it was a cow or bull (my tag was for cows and yearlings) but more importantly, all I had to shoot at was her thick skull. The only thing that kept me from being pulverized was a log laying about 3 feet high across the trail. She looked up momentarily to jump the log and our eyes met. She snorted a very loud grunt and exited stage right even. Trailing her was a yearling. I was still at full draw and he made the fatal mistake of pausing. I drilled him in the bread basket. The sound of that arrow hitting home was the sound of heaven. He ran a little ways into the woods and stopped. A few finishing shots and I had my once in a lifetime Tatanka. He was tiny. I didn’t care.

It was weird though. Normally when you kill you are in the woods all by yourself. When I kill, the excitement causes me to scream a mighty war whoop of thanks to the hunting gods and I do some Tiger Woods fist pumps. This time however it was like time square with peeps crawling everywhere and I felt it would be inappropriate to celebrate. I walked up the hill and met Jacob and in the calmest voice I could muster said, “I just killed a Buffalo, Holy shit I just killed a Buffalo with my bow. That was the coolest thing I have ever done in my life.” He gave me a big hug and we walked down to admire him. Even more weird than the throngs of people was when Jacob grabbed a customary kill beer and threw it to me. Normally having a beer at 5:30 am after a kill would have been child’s play (hell, I’ll have a beer at 5:30am even when I don’t kill sometimes) but the adrenaline coursing through my veins caused me to dry heave and I had to put the barley pop down. It took two days for me to come down from the high. As I sit here writing this I try to think of ways I might be able to catch that high again. I can never kill a buffalo in AZ again so maybe I’ll put on my roller skates and prove ol’ Rodger Miller wrong.