The following appears in the July issue of Alaska Sporting Journal
Editor’s note: Our correspondent Bjorn Dihle recently pitched a story to us, but in this case Dihle wasn’t going to pen it; his niece, 12-year-old Kiah Dihle, would be the author of this piece. “She’s a talented and thoughtful writer and her article about her dad teaching her to hunt will resonate strongly with your readers,” Bjorn wrote. We agreed with that sentiment, so enjoy Kiah’s point-of-view on her introduction to hunting with her family.
BY KIAH DIHLE
As a kid growing up in Alaska, I am fortunate enough to have a seemingly never-ending supply of wild game and salmon end up on my plate.
I’ve never really paid attention to the steaming venison roast or halibut casserole on the table. It’s not that I don’t like the taste of what Alaska has to offer; it’s just that I have always taken for granted the food that has been at every family dinner. It always seems to be there – never asking for anything in return – and so far, I have never given it anything.
I embarked on my first deer hunt at the age of 11 (I just recently turned 12). I found myself panting and wiping perspiration from my forehead as we trekked up one of the many mountains on Admiralty Island, near Juneau and well-known for its dense brown bear population. The funny thing is, our bear trouble that hunting season didn’t happen on the island that has so many of them; it happened on another island that is much less likely to have bruins.
I WAS WITH MY dad and grandfather as we squatted on the rocky cliffs looking at the alpine below for deer. The prickly plants dug into my backside and my eyes were nearly closed, as we had been waiting there for several hours.
While my grandfather and dad looked and as the wind gently caressed my face, I dozed off for a short time. By the time my dad prodded me awake, I had 32 mosquito bites on one hand and multiple bites all over my face.
“Hey,” my dad whispered, nodding to a minuscule brown spot in the distance, “you see that buck over there?”
I squinted. “Yeah,” I mumbled groggily and stretched. I had a feeling that he would want me to go after it, so I stood up readily.
“Do you want to go get it?” he whispered excitedly.
I frowned at him, failing to see his enthusiasm at hiking a half-mile and attempting to make a nearly impossible shot at a deer half concealed by brush. But I shrugged anyway, and said, “Sure, let’s go!”
My dad and grandfather stared at me in disbelief. I felt a certain excitement about making an attempt to get the blacktail that made me forget the difficult climb down. I already had my pack on and was reaching for my gun, ready to go, when my grandfather said to my dad, “Luke, that looks to be a long shot and a steep climb. I think maybe you should do it before the buck runs away.”
I looked at him and was disappointed, but, after some thought, I agreed and watched my dad race across the ground, stopping behind trees every now and then. I memorized how he did it – the way he stayed low to the ground and concealed himself at every chance he got.
Soon I heard a shot and watched the buck tumble to the ground. My grandfather and I met my dad to gut the deer and put the meat in game bags. I was overwhelmed with emotions as I walked up to my dad, who was holding the deer by its antlers. The animal was indescribably beautiful; its brown coat shone in the sun, and its eyes, glazed over, still held intelligence that gave me yet another reason to respect this great beast and ask questions about it.
I wondered why someone would kill an animal as beautiful as this one. Was it because they wanted a trophy, something to show off to others? Or was it because they wished to have the experience or because they needed the food? I don’t know what I would have felt if I had shot that deer, but I think it would have bettered my understanding of each piece of meat I eat at dinner.
With every bite of any animal I have, I am taking a bit of that animal’s life. As I looked at the deer my dad held, I decided to fully appreciate every spoonful of deer stew I ate and every piece of grilled salmon on my fork.
My uncles still tease my dad about this hunt, saying that he pushed me out of the way to get the nice-sized buck, and although I laugh along with them, I have a feeling I would have never been able to make that shot.
ABOUT A MONTH AFTERWARDS, my dad and I climbed through the woods of a mountain on Douglas Island, searching for another deer. We finished the hike through the treacherous, slippery vegetation and continued on to the alpine where the deer usually lay hidden.
We scoured the trees and rocks that dotted the side of the mountain, but with no luck. As we sat concealed by a blueberry bush to watch for deer and enjoy a Clif Bar, I lightly punched my dad’s shoulder and said, “Are you going to push me out of the way this time?” Unfortunately, we were not successful that day, and as we got situated for the night, I became determined to get a shot at a blacktail the next day.
As dull morning light seeped through our orange tent walls, my dad and I opened our eyes to an overcast sky and left camp to go hunt for half a day.
We came back empty-handed after I spooked a doe, and though disappointment snaked through the air, the excitement of the hunt remained. We began to pack our sleeping bags and mats in our backpacks. As we began to take down the tent, my dad reached down to one of the corners.
“Kiah,” he whispered.
His fingers ran along a 5-inch-long tear in the orange fabric. “Look at this.”
“How did that happen?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. As we headed up to get our cooking gear, I stopped and bent down.
“Dad,” I whispered, confused, “what’s this?”
He came to my side to examine the object in my grime-covered hand. A lemon-lime sparkling water can sat staring back at us, drops of moisture running down its aluminum sides. Water leaked out of five punctured holes in the can: four at the top and one at the bottom.
I gave my dad a confused look, and he pointed to another object half covered in a chunk of dirt 5 feet away from where we stood. A nearly identical can sat lopsided in the same condition as the first. Truly puzzled, I packed the cans in my bag, and my dad and I continued down the mountain, every now and then whispering about the sparkling water cans and keeping an eye out for any movement that would indicate a deer.
We got back down the mountain and walked to the road. My dad went to get our truck while I waited quietly, enjoying the crisp fall air. When he returned, I got into the truck and unloaded my gear. Dad called my mom to tell her that we were back. Once he got off the phone, he smiled at me.
“Guess who those sparkling water cans were from?”
I shrugged and laughed. “Did Mom know where they
“Yes!” he replied. “Bjorn and Reid [my uncles] hiked up to our camp spot and left sparkling water cans for us to drink.”
“As they turned around after setting the cans by our tent, they saw a massive black bear across the tent from them. They said it was one of the biggest black bears they had ever seen. Reid said he debated shooting it because it didn’t act scared of them and he didn’t want us stumbling onto it, but in the end, they managed to push it off.”
“Wow,” I laughed. “That’s crazy! I guess the bear came back and tried to take our sparkling water cans. He must have been the one to rip our tent too!”
We drove home and I turned on the radio, switching it often. As X Ambassadors’ song “Renegades” played on our speakers, I thought about the question that I had asked my dad and uncles multiple times before I’d gone hunting: “What is it you love about hunting?”
What I really wanted to know is why they would take a two-week-long hunting trip in locations ranging from the bitter-cold Brooks Range to the incredibly wet mountains of Southeast Alaska.
They all replied somewhat differently, but they had a few things in common. All of them said, “I do it for the adventure.” They also agreed that they did it for their bellies.
I’m sure that is why many of you reading this article hunt: the peace and the solitude, the adrenaline and the pain, the gunshot and the animal; they’re all reasons that we go hunting.
So I encourage those reading these words who haven’t tried hunting to try it. Explore! Instead of coming home in your car listening to Justin Bieber and worrying about all of the problems going on in life, escape the chaos and get out into the wilderness.
I certainly haven’t done much hunting, but from the five experiences I have had, I can say that it will change your life for the better. ASJ