First elk reported taken by bowhunter in Southeast Alaska

Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2000

PETERSBURG (AP) -- Jack Hicks harvested an impressive elk on Etolin Island on the first day of the season -- collecting what's believed to be the first elk ever taken by an archer in Southeast Alaska.

Nine bowhunters qualified to participate in the hunt. As of Sept. 28, Hicks was the only hunter to score.

Hicks had the tag and ultimately was credited with the kill, but he praised the role of his hunting partner, Gary Aulbach, along with the beach support provided by several other friends.

''A hunt like the one we exposed ourselves to could easily make enemies out of a lot of people,'' Hicks said. ''It was very grueling. But it was nice to have someone where you know what to expect and be able to pull together and pull it off.''

Hicks said it was a hunt that neither he nor Aulbach likely would try again.

Hicks is an accomplished bow hunter -- president of the Devil's Thumb Archers -- and passed the certification required for participating in the hunt.

Although he has gone after big game before, Hicks said things definitely got hairy during this hunt.

''It was by far the most physically demanding ordeal that I've ever been involved in.''

Hicks and Aulbach set up camp on Etolin Island on Sept. 14, the day before the archery-only hunt began. They were close to the 2,000-foot level and planned to climb higher to find the elk herd.

They awoke early on opening day and headed up the mountain on a trek that took them about an hour away from their camp.

When they reached the 2,600-foot level, they spotted some animals and began using their calls to attract them.

The calls were almost too effective, as the herd moved up the mountain and held fairly close to the hunters.

Hicks and Aulbach waited for a time, and then headed back down slowly -- trying not to push the animals. About halfway back to their camp, they stopped to rest and eat some breakfast bars.

''It was a beautiful setting -- the most beautiful setting you could ever imagine a seven-point bull walking out,'' Hicks said. ''And that is exactly what happened. A bull walked out in the meadow at about 45 yards and stood there broadside.''

Hicks slowly raised his bow and notched an arrow. He drew back, but realized that his sling was tucked in and that he had to back off his shot. He fixed the sling and started to raise the bow again when the elk moved.

''I turned to Gary and asked him to chirp (use his call). I couldn't since I had a candy bar in my mouth.''

Aulbach called and the animal positioned itself in line for a shot.

Hicks pulled back on the bow and the release -- the archer's equivalent of a trigger -- malfunctioned. The arrow was released before Hicks had a good shot.

Still, the arrow struck the animal. It took off, trailing blood.

Hunters often wait an hour or so before approaching in such circumstances, hoping the animal will get stiff.

Hicks said he did his best to wait patiently, but wanted to get off another shot. The elk had bedded down about 125 yards from the hunters, in full view.

As Hicks approached, the bull rose and walked over a ridge. The elk wasn't all that difficult to follow since the size of his rack would betray a number of likely hiding spots, Hicks said.

He missed with two more shots, but managed to get two arrows into the chest cavity before the elk fled again. He finally was able to approach for a final shot.

''Gary parted a window (in the brush) so I could hit him with my last arrow, which was, in fact, my very first arrow which had dropped out and I had picked back up.

''I took the shot and the bull expired about three minutes later.''

It didn't take long for reality to set in -- and the prospects of packing such a large animal out of the mountains.

The elk was killed Friday, but it was well into Tuesday before they got the last load of meat to the beach.

Hicks said they were battered, bruised and exhausted after shouldering 1,000 pounds of meat.

Looking back, Hick said he was sorry that it hadn't been a picture-perfect, one-shot hunt. But he said he learned something from it and hopes that others can, too.

Hunts can't always go the way you plan, but the difference between a successful harvest and failure can be the people working at your side, Hicks said.

''If there was a moral to the whole story, it is essentially that your hunting companions make all the difference in the world. There are a lot of things that you simply cannot do by yourself.''

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