The Lore of Lanai
– Drew Carroll, Seek One Productions –
The United States is host to many incredible hunting opportunities. From elk and mule deer of the Rockies, whitetails of the Midwest, to the moose and grizzlies of Alaska. Until recently, Hawaiian hunting opportunities didn’t seem to be on many hunter’s radars. The abundance of axis deer, sheep, goats, and boar on several of the Hawaiian islands remained somewhat of a secret. However, in the last half-decade, it seems that secret has been discovered and is now near the top of many hardcore bowhunter’s bucket lists… and for good reason!
For many, the prospect of hunting in a tropical vacation destination is the primary allure. The islands of Hawaii are a tropical paradise, and Lanai is no exception. With two Four Seasons hotels on the island, pristine white sand beaches, and deep blue water, Lanai is a hunting trip that can easily be disguised as a vacation getaway for the wife or whole family. For those that want to get far away from the touristy shopping districts and hoards of people, Lanai is your spot. For others, the prospect of harvesting some of the tastiest wild game meat on the planet, and the opportunity to spot and stalk in a target-rich environment is enough to travel the six hours from the coast of California. For us, it was the latter.
When we arrived in Lanai, we immediately recognized the insane numbers of axis deer that call this island home. In fact, on our approach to the runway, the maze of deer trails blazed through the Lantana were blatantly obvious from the window of the small single-engine aircraft that shuttled us from Oahu to Lanai. After settling in at the hotel and making sure our equipment survived the long journey, we immediately headed out to test our stalking abilities on these wily critters. Before landing on Lanai, I had a presumption that the island was almost entirely flat with very few trees, however, I was pleasantly surprised when our guide pointed the truck in the direction of a pretty substantial mountain that was almost entirely forested. We spent the first two days of the hunt trying to intercept a massive herd of deer that migrates into the valley for water and back up the mountain to bed on a daily basis. Several shot opportunities later we came to the quick conclusion that this was going to be very difficult with a bow. The drought conditions coupled with little to no wind gave too much advantage to the deer’s acute hearing. It was nearly impossible to sneak in within fifty yards, and even when we could, the sound of the bow going off sent every deer into orbit before the arrow reached its intended target. The typical stiff breeze of the island’s tradewinds would have made bowhunting much more doable, but as usual, when the video camera is out, the conditions just didn’t want to cooperate.
On day three of the hunt, we decided to change our tactics and head down into the open Lantana flats below the mountain. This made spotting deer much easier and afforded us many more stalk opportunities. Since the conditions still weren’t conducive to bowhunting, we elected to break the rifle out and stack the deck in our favor. It wasn’t long before we had two really nice axis bucks on the ground, and delicious venison being processed in town at Bob the Butcher’s. Two major reasons we wanted to experience this hunt were; one, to bring home some of the best wild game meat on earth, and two, to hone our spot and stalk skills for the long season of bowhunting ahead of us. Being able to hunt axis deer in the summertime gave us the perfect opportunity to accelerate our stalking experience before most other hunting seasons open. There is no other place I know of that has more opportunities for stalk after stalk in such a short amount of time. So for the next day and a half, we picked the bows back up and crawled through the thorny Lantana until our hands and feet were raw. Unfortunately, the wind conditions never improved and we left the island without filling a tag with the stick and string. We left the island with a year’s worth of freshly earned spot and stalk experience, and an excuse to come back and try again.
Looking back on this hunt, we couldn’t imagine a better way to experience the islands of Hawaii. Bowhunting is something that has enabled us to connect with the environment and culture in a way that few other activities can, and Hawaii is rich in hunting culture. Subsistence hunting and fishing is a way of life on the islands, and having that common thread of love for the outdoors and respect for the animals immediately created a bond between us and the locals. This connection and sharing of Aloha is what will stay with us long after the last bite of venison is gone!