Hawaii! Most of us think of its beaches, swimming, golf tennis and just plain relaxing in tropical sunshine – not its hunting. Think again. The island of Lanai is home to the most beautiful deer in the world, the axis deer, and in good numbers. Imported from India more than 50 years ago, this deer has flourished and spread out over most parts of the island.
Lanai is small, and it’s only a 20-minute flight from Maui. For years, it has been the plantation Dole Pineapple uses for growing and processing pineapple. There are two major hotels; a 105-room hotel next to a golf course in the island’s interior and a 250-room hotel on the coast. (There may be a third hotel by now. When I was there, entertainer Kenny Rogers was contemplating building one.)
In 1989, the state of Hawaii realized there were too many deer on Lanai and authorized permits to cut the herd from 6,000 to a manageable 3,000. My hunt was in mid-July after most of the hunting had already taken place. Guide Richard Masicampo said more than 2,000 had been taken before I arrived that season, so the pressure to reduce the herd the next year would not be so great.
What Richard was telling me was not to count on taking a trophy buck. The hunting would be tough because so many deer had already been taken and the remaining animals had become very shy.
Still, I had high hopes and as much interest and excitement as any hunt I had planned – for a couple of reasons. I was looking forward to the sun and relaxation of Maui as well as hunting on Lanai. I enjoyed eating and sleeping in one of the world’s quaintest 10-room hotels, located mid-island up in the pines. The teriyaki steak dinner there is one of the best I have had anywhere in the world.
Hunting axis deer on Lanai’s steep, volcanic slopes is similar to hunting the Coues deer in Arizona. The weather is quite warm, the canyons deep and the catclaw bush is a “gotcha!” for sure.
This hunt had been on my mind many times. I had hunted a big bowl-shaped canyon high on the island two years earlier but had been rained out by a tropical storm with winds reaching the velocity of my hunting bullets. Now, I was set to return to try for a big buck.
Four o’clock in the morning of the hunt, Richard met me. We ate, checked the backpacks and headed in the opposite directions of the bowl I had hunted earlier. We would be hunting in the remotest area of the island. With hunting pressure from either side, he said, it probably would be the only place we would find a buck. It was cloudy and not nearly as warm as I had expected. Intermittent winds caused by hurricane Delia gusted around us.
At first light, we were off, wearing our packboards, but leaving lunch at the four-wheeler. The canyon was singing with bird life, including wild turkeys. It truly gave me a feeling for all nature and of being alive.
We hiked through the canyon bottom, in and out of the creekbed and through thick Koa trees and heavy brush. Two hours later, we came to the head of the canyon and climbed up the mountainside for a better view. We could see bucks on both sides of the canyon, but none had antlers large enough to be called a trophy. We glassed for about five hours before finding a buck in a cave. This deer had a 10-12 inch brow tine on one side and no third point on the other. We returned to the four-wheeler and as I was cleaning my boots Richard said, “There’s a 30-incher. Let’s go!”
Three bucks stood together about 400 yards away, too far to try shooting under such windy conditions. The buck Richard had seen was behind a tree and all we could see were feet and legs. If we stared though, we could make out high, dark antlers.
We started moving toward the deer, trying to get closer for a better shot. One buck may have had a 33-inch antler on one side, but its other antler was broken in half. The second was the 30-incher Richard had seen. It was difficult to get any closer because of the cover between us and the deer. If we tried to go through, we would come within a short range, but would spook the deer for sure and probably would not get to shoot. Our only alternative was a parallel trek along the hillside.
Fortunately, there were heavy gusts of wind to help cover our motion and keep our scent away from the deer. We crept forward, keeping the deer out of sight, and narrowed the distance between us. It took some real shooting, but after a couple of shots the buck was down. It took us awhile to get through to the deer.
After taking pictures and a rough measurement, we learned Richard was correct: the buck was close to a 30-incher. Richard and I got back just in time for dinner. He worked most of the night, caping and salting the skin for mounting. I must say, he did an outstanding job.
I highly recommend this short hunt for anyone who goes to the island and after a few days of soaking up sun, wants to get away into the bush. It is a super hunt and a great experience.—William Paulin