Photos by Bixler and Krystin McClure
The following appears in the March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY KRYSTIN AND BIXLER MCCLURE
I lay prone on the bare rock with my gun pointed at the target. A dozen or so axis deer were meandering through the thick brush back up the mountain to escape the heat of the day.
My guide Earl was telling me to wait until I had a good shot. The trades were beginning to freshen and I could hear the waves breaking behind me along Molokai’s fringing reef.
Because we were Alaskans given the opportunity to hunt in a lush island paradise halfway across the Pacific from the Last Frontier, it was a relief not to worry about bears, biting cold, wet boots, or stuck four-wheelers. But admittedly I was already getting hot as the sun shot up in the sky.
“Go!” Earl said. I pulled the trigger.
FOR A NUMBER OF years, Bixler and I have toyed with the idea of hunting axis deer on Molokai, the quiet and least touristy of the main Hawaiian Islands and which is known for its friendly atmosphere and historic leper colony.
Axis deer were introduced to Molokai and thus have no natural predators, so they are plentiful. This was clearly evidenced by the antlers adorning everyone’s homes along the island’s few streets. Feeding on tropical fruits, the deer are supposedly the best-tasting game. Molokai, like the rest of Hawaii, is private ranch land, so hunting with either the landowner’s permission or a guide is a must if you want to be successful.
Bixler found guide Earl Dunnam of Hawaii Safaris online (hawaiisafaris
.com) and booked a doe-only meat hunt – a rarity among the usual trophy buck hunts – for two mornings and two evenings.
We met Earl before sunup on his family’s ranchland not far from our beach house along Molokai’s eastern shore. Our rental minivan scraped bottom as we pulled off the highway through a cow pasture to meet our guide at a good glassing spot.
The deer are small and spotted but also surprisingly good at blending in with the island’s tropical environment. Our guide, a Molokai-born and -raised hunter, introduced himself and described the hunt on his family’s several-thousand-acre ranch. We were ready to do this.
AXIS DEER TRAVEL DOWNHILL at night to feed on plentiful tropical fruits and grasses and head back up during the day to bed down during the hot sun of midday.
As the sun started to rise, we started glassing for deer on the lowlands of the ranch and talking about the hunt. Bixler and I were already sweltering in the heat as Earl told stories of his Alaskan moose hunt outside of Bethel a few months earlier.
“Hunting is so much harder in Alaska,” he recalled, having spent 10 days in a cramped tent in freezing temperatures. “It makes you appreciate hunting in Hawaii!”
Earl paused and pointed to a hillside, where there was a large group of axis deer feeding. Bixler agreed to go first on the hunt – we were poised to get two doe each – and investigated the gun we would be using, a bolt-action .270 with an adjustable scope that our guide would adjust after he ranged the animals.
We hopped into Earl’s beat-up hunting truck – he called it a “Molokai truck” – and quietly headed over to the other parcel. He parked and we readied everything. Earl took us through tall grass and over old barbed wire fencing, evidence of the island’s heavy ranching days.
Bixler carried the rifle while I toted a gallon of water to keep us hydrated as we followed our guide up an animal trail on the hillside.
The axis deer were feeding down in the drainage upwind of us. The three of us crawled along the ground to small cliff. I stayed back while Earl and Bixler set up for the shot. I heard them talk quietly and after a moment of silence, Bixler took the shot. He turned around and gave me a thumbs up.
“Go again,” Earl whispered.
Bixler couldn’t line up a shot and the three of us scurried higher up the hill while a group of axis deer passed behind us. A second later, they were gone.
We hiked down to Bixler’s deer and Earl gutted the animal. We dragged it to the truck while Bixler recounted the shot. It was a perfect shot, but lining up for a second was difficult because the deer are so plentiful and move so quickly. As it was my turn that evening, I took any advice he was willing to give before the evening hunt.
The hunt that night was not successful. The axis deer remained in cover and did not move downhill as our guide said they usually do. A wild boar was probably scaring them, so we returned to the same spot the next morning to catch them at sunrise.
EARL SUPPLIED BIXLER WITH a second rifle at one spot and walked with me to the same spot we had been the previous night. I pointed the rifle toward a bare patch in the hillside and waited.
A group of 10 to 12 deer started to graze in the patch. Earl dialed in the range and I took the shot. I saw the deer go down, but before I could celebrate Earl was ushering me further up the hill.
“The deer are going to pass through that higher bare patch up there. Point the rifle and I’ll get you dialed in,” he whispered. “Take a shot when you have it.”
The shot seemed far, but a deer filled my scope so I fired. I nailed it again and we started to hike up and down the drainage to get to that deer.
“Three-hundred-twenty-five yards,” Earl said. “I didn’t think you would hit it, but I figured you should try.”
“That was the longest shot I’ve ever taken,” I replied happily, having reached my limit of two deer within five minutes.
We hiked up to the deer and Earl deboned it. It was a young one and Earl said again and again that this would be the best game meat we would ever eat.
Next we went to my second deer and took a quick picture. Earl had me head down the old washed-out road to meet Bixler while he deboned the animal. I met Bixler near Earl’s beat-up Molokai truck. Our guide, who had a 100-percent success rate last season, was happy we were back on schedule.
That night was Bixler’s chance to get his last deer. We met Earl at his off-the-grid house and were quickly reminded of our home in Seward by all of his various boats and off-road vehicles lining the property. We were heading to a new spot since he had a trophy hunt coming up and wanted the herd to resettle. He took us through a more open, grassier area where we climbed a hill to glass for deer.
As usual, Earl spotted a few first and Bixler spent his time lining up the shot. Bixler fired and we paused for a second. The deer went down and Bixler and I walked to the doe while our guide got his truck and headed up the old road to meet us. After gutting the deer and hauling it to the truck, we returned to his house to grab our minivan and thank Earl for the incredible hunt. He went inside and handed us a few steaks and tenderloins for dinner from yesterday’s deer.
We cooked the venison that night with the rest of our family, including our 14-month-old son Lynx, who was enjoying playing in nothing but a diaper. He started to shove little pieces of deer meat into his mouth, so we all took the celebratory first bite.
“Wow,” I exclaimed. “This is incredible.”
“Yeah, I guess everyone was right,” Bixler continued. “This really is the best meat!” ASJ
Editor’s note: Krystin and Bixler McClure own and operate Seward Ocean Excursions, which offers water-based expeditions on the Kenai Peninsula. Go to sewardoceanexcursions.com or call (907) 599-0499 for more information.