In 1979, Earle and I came down to Juneau so I could do some sign changes on Bullwinkle's. He was bored. Some men he knew were about to go deer hunting on Admiralty Island, so they invited Earle along. I was relieved - now I could paint in peace! When he got back, Earle shared this story with me:
"Well, we got there by float plane, and there was a little cabin near the shore. It belonged to one of the four men on the trip. All of us hauled the supplies, guns and so forth, up to the cabin. It was cozy, with bunks built in. I put my sleeping bag on one and started a fire in the fireplace, as it was chilly and damp. The men broke out the booze, and you know I never drink, so I took a little walk outside for a look around. Not far from the cabin I saw bear sign and, knowing something about bears, I decided to keep my eyes and ears open.
"Well, the next morning we have some breakfast and started out to hunt. I was surprised that they were all so noisy - they were scaring off any game within miles. But I was a guest, so I kept my peace. All day we hiked up the mountain, they talked all the way, and a couple drank beer as they went. I was disgusted. Not a sign of deer, of course. I figured they had all high-tailed it over the mountain by dark. Back to the cabin - supper was late, they all had to hash over the day first.
"Early the next morning I told them I was going up to hunt alone, up the next mountain over. They all assured me there were no deer there, they had hunted there last year. But I just went on my way. It was peaceful and lovely on that mountain, and I saw signs of deer and bear, both.
"About noon I settled down on a low tree branch (the ground was wet) and ate my sandwiches. I made a few deer sounds, too. A bit later, I had a call from nature, so I found another branch to site on, dropped my pants and sat with my rifle at hand, as always. I took my time and made deer sounds and pretty soon, I seen a deer head with forked antlers going by behind the brush. He was looking for where those noises were coming from! So I slowly raised my rifle and shot him in the eye. Down he went. Well, I was still busy on that branch and humming a little tune when up he gets! Here he was again looking right at me! I couldn't believe it, I was sure I had got him. So, OK, I lifted up my rifle and shot him again. Down he went, again. Well, I finished my business and pulled up my pants and moseyed over behind that brush. Was I surprised - there were two identical bucks, head to head, dead! So I had my work cut out for me, had to gut and clean two good-sized deer. It took me all the rest of the day, hauling one at a time for a quarter-mile or so, then going back for the other one. I was nervous about all the bear sign I had seen and also about other possible hunters seeing my antlers as I carried the deer.
"By the time I was down, the tide had come in and the little beach I had walked across that morning was covered with water! I could see the lights of the cabin and hear the men talking, but it took a while to get them to hear my whistles and yells. One of them came over in the skiff, laughing about me being so dumb as to go up there, when they had got a Doe that day. I asked, 'One?' 'Yes, but a nice one,' was the reply. I just said 'Oh." He started to push off, but I said wait a minute until I got my deer in the boat. He sure was surprised when he saw two!"
And Earle was sure surprised when he found out they all shared what anyone got and all he ended up with was a quarter and the antlers!
I was kind of glad I missed that trip.
Postscript - I had those little antlers on my porch for years, 'til someone promised to cut them into buttons for me. Of course I never saw them or the buttons again!
Ellen Northup has lived in Alaska for 30 years and now runs the Senior Center downtown. She lived many years in the interior with her husband, who was an Alaskan game guide out of Slana.