A Coast Guard/Kodiak Love Story

Photos by U.S. Coast Guard’s Lauren Dean and Ashley Wallace

 

The following appears in the February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal: 

BY PETTY OFFICER THIRD CLASS LAUREN DEAN

For Petty Officer First Class Ashley Wallace, a Coast Guard yeoman, occasionally her blue uniform is hung in the closet and replaced with camouflage, zero-degree thermals and hunting boots. 

On weekends, she and her husband, Petty Officer First Class yeoman Branson Wallace, layer up, pack their rifles, emergency signaling devices and a surplus of food and clothing. They like to escape the daily grind while experiencing some of the world’s best hunting and fishing opportunities on Alaska’s Kodiak Island.

Wallace says when she was a child growing up in a military family in Cheyenne, Wyoming, her father made every effort to immerse the family in the local culture and lifestyle. They went camping almost every weekend, and often this included hunting and fishing. 

Hunting has been in Wallace’s blood since those days, and it all began with her father’s steady guidance, she says. 

“My dad used to take me hunting with him and I’d go to what he called ‘man camp,’” Wallace says with a smile. “It was awesome. I got to go to man camp and hang out with a bunch of retired chiefs. My father was an active-duty Coast Guard chief damage controlman at the time and his two best friends were both recently retired Navy chiefs.” 

“It was very neat to be a female in that world, and to be accepted. I feel like that’s where my love of wildlife really started.” 

Wallace also mentioned that this experience was invaluable for her unforeseen life in Kodiak, where her dreams of Alaskan adventure came to life. 

WALLACE SAYS SHE WENT from shooting milk jugs with her first shotgun, a .410 gifted to her by her father, to shooting a bow and arrow at targets when she picked up archery in high school. This was the first place she learned to shoot a compound bow.

“I’ve been an archer since high school,” Wallace says. “When I first came into the Coast Guard, I was in an archery league in Traverse City, Michigan. I was one of the only females in the league and that kind of lined me up for hunting.”

She says she went to Traverse City for her first tour in the Coast Guard, left for specialized schooling for her job as a yeoman, met Branson and then traveled on to New Orleans and Texas. 

“My husband and I got orders to Kodiak in 2013 and knew nothing about Kodiak, but we were so excited,” Wallace says. 

“We started helping teach at North Star Elementary where they were introducing the National Archery School program in town,” says Wallace. “It’s been part of the Alaska school curriculum or extracurricular activities since 2013, where they teach kids how to shoot compound bows. It was a very cool experience to see them fall in love with archery at such a young age, like I did.”

From there, Wallace says she and her husband got into fishing. But, after the thrill of fishing, it wasn’t long before it gave Wallace an itch to begin hunting, since hunting from a boat is common in parts of Alaska.

“I wanted to spread my wings a little bit, so Branson and I bought a boat,” says Wallace. 

“I think it’s important that they [women] see that you can be the girl that puts on makeup and dresses up, and then all of a sudden you’ve got war paint on, and you’re in camo, and guttin’ something and haulin’ meat out.”

From there, they branched out to fox calling, which entails a lot of thought because foxes are very intelligent animals, often cautious and simultaneously curious. With some beginner’s luck, she got a silver fox on her first hunt. 

Ashley and Branson also got into beaver trapping. 

“I think it’s really important to note the importance of beaver trapping,” Wallace says. “They wreak havoc on the ecosystem. They block off the stream so salmon can’t get upstream.” 

She noted that she and her husband are completely against using foothold traps because they think the traps are inhumane, and they also make every effort to use what they harvest.

WHEN SHE’S NOT TRAPPING, Wallace seizes unique opportunities for special hunts. 

“I just went on two of the most incredible hunts I’ve ever had in my entire life,” she says. “I can check those off my bucket list.”

One was a rigorous mountain goat hunt, where they had to battle sketchy terrain, extremely high elevation, sheer cliffs and the world-renowned Kodiak brown bears. 

“Planning ahead is super important,” Wallace says. “You constantly have to be ‘bear-aware.’ You’ve got to know about the weather change, that the floatplane may not be able to get in to get you back out. We always pack an extra bag, a dry bag with another set of clothes, an extra coat and extra food for at least two or three days, and we leave that at base camp. We also carry a Delorme, which is a Garmin product that has a built-in map, and we can text on it too, which is pretty great.”

For Wallace, hunter safety is paramount in the woods, but there are some big benefits of hunting that tie back into wildlife conservation.

“The majority of the money that hunters pay for tags, for guns, for bullets – a portion of that money actually goes back to wildlife conservation,” Wallace says. “It’s important that people realize there is a purpose to it.”

It takes a lot of work, experience, safety and skill to hunt safely, so she is extremely grateful to have a spouse who loves to hunt as much as she does. Wallace says she couldn’t do it without Branson and she also really appreciates the native influence on the island, the creativity of the people here and the blending of cultures. 

“You fly out to this island and you forget all the problems of the Lower 48,” Wallace says. “I feel at peace in Kodiak. I’ve never felt so much a part of a community as I have here.” ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak, go to dcms.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Director-of-Operational-Logistics-DOL/Bases/Base-Kodiak. 

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HARVESTING, SHARING GAME MEAT
For Petty Officer First Class Ashley Wallace and her husband, Petty Officer First Class Branson Wallace, being stationed at U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak not only means they can get their hunting and fishing fix on the island but also eat and share the wild fish and game with others. 

“Branson and I love living off of the meat/fish we harvest and we love sharing our passion with other members,” Ashley says. “We started canning and have given both canned and vacuum-sealed fish to several of our co-workers who aren’t able to get out.”

The Wallaces’ send their fish and some game for canning to Indian Valley Harvesting in Anchorage and brought back some delicious protein-packed treats from their previous hunts. 

 “We had deer bacon, caribou beef sticks and goat jerky made with our harvests this year,” Ashley says. “We will use them on our upcoming Dall sheep hunt.”

Ashley and Branson are involved with several veterans groups that help introduce the outdoors to those who have served in the armed forces, including Project Healing Waters (projecthealingwaters.org), the Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org) and the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation (wwiaf.org).

Giving back to those organizations and helping fellow servicemen and –women is important to both Ashley and Branson. 

“We take military veterans out on our boat fishing and teach them how to fly fish on the rivers. We also donate a box of fish for the Wounded Warriors in Action veterans every year when they come up,” she says. “Every veteran who gets underway with us takes home all the fish we’ve harvested for the day. If we don’t catch anything that day, or get too little to fill a 50-pound, box then we top it off from our personal freezer.” 

And some of their USCG colleagues also get to be a part of their Alaskan adventures. 

“We enjoy taking our coworkers out hunting and teaching them,” Ashley says. “We just took (Branson’s) co-worker out deer hunting, and he harvested his first deer here in Kodiak!” 

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