Domestic Exotics

A Hawaii Deer Hunt

(by Carl Wilson)

Well…then let’s move there.” I suggested to my Hawaiian-born wife when the subject of Mom wanting to get out of the Northwest winters and back to Hawaii came up. She could use a little assistance and we were the ones who could most easily assist.

While I was pretty sure the fishing would be great—and it is--Hawaii is not what I would have considered to be an overall Sportsman’s Paradise, yet that’s where we were headed. I learned decades ago to make the most of wherever I may find myself and to make no attempts at predicting the future. Just months prior, my wife and I had completed a road trip through Montana to consider the merits of that state and the possibility of moving there. Next thing I know, I’m loading an overseas shipping container in our driveway in preparation for relocation to the Rainbow State. My crystal-ball is obviously broken.

Fast forward a few years and here I am working on Oahu, the commerce hub of the state--I haven’t been deer or elk hunting since we landed. There is some upland gamebird and feral hog hunting here on Oahu and while I have enjoyed the incredibly rugged foothills and canyons and jungles in pursuit, that’s all there is to pursue here on this island. However, much like South Texas, some smart individuals brought in a few exotics--as well as domestics--to this state. Axis deer, mouflon sheep and blacktail deer, as well as feral goats, sheep and the aforementioned swine can all be found on the outer islands.

But that’s not this island and you can imagine the obstacle the Pacific Ocean presents when it comes to getting out and scouting those animals on the weekends. Furthermore, while there are state lands managed by the DLNR, there are no national forests in Hawaii. My ten-day, Eastern Oregon hunting/camping trips of yesteryear would be difficult, if not impossible to replicate. Still, there are opportunities here which lend themselves to someone like myself, who does not know the outer rocks as well as I might. The same opportunity exists for out of state hunters.

Now bear in mind, regarding these big game transplants, there are no predators here, save man. No wolves. No cougars. Not even a pack of coyotes. On some islands, in some areas, the populations on public and private lands have exploded to the point a problem—not everywhere—but it is a reality that an unchecked population within any finite habitat resource is bad news.

Getting back to my limited scouting opportunities brings me to mention private property hunts. I’d never paid a trespass fee for hunting privileges before, but I found by participating in a management hunt as opposed to a trophy hunt, it was very affordable. Even a visiting hunter from the mainland, with a $95 non-resident hunting license, can choose between a variety of different packages and prices. For the hunter with limited scouting opportunities as well as limited time, there are several outfits which cater to the visiting sportsman, even if that sportsman is simply visiting from another island. A quick Google search will get you enough contact information to start your “scouting”.

When the conversation with my wife of a long weekend on Maui came up, I launched into a search which eventually brought me to Jeff of Arrow One Ranch, ( We’d fly into Lahaina, Maui. Pick up our rental car, check into our room at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, then make the drive out to the rendezvous point during daylight hours so I would be familiar with it in the early darkness the following morning.

I had no illusions how this hunt would play out. I would not be setting up for an extended camp in the wilderness, not on a one day management hunt. I figured Jeff knew the ranch and the quarry well enough to provide me with an opportunity for a shot, and I was correct. There are ranches in the lower 48 that are twice the size of the island of Maui, and we are fenced in by the Pacific Ocean here. However, it’s not shooting fish in a barrel and there are no guarantees. But with Jeff’s knowledge and competence, he located a small bachelor group and were able to stalk through the rugged broken country to within 90 yards. He told me to take the small spike standing broadside.

I should mention how pleasurable my maiden-voyage experience on a guided hunt was. The ranch is managed by Jeff Grundhauser who along with Jeff Merle, accompanied me afield. I typically travel with a firearm and am familiar with the added airline/TSA hassle. Although this was my first time flying with a long-arm, I didn’t need to bring one. Jeff has a couple of rifles he will loan--not rent--to a visiting hunter if that is your method of choice, to simplify the traveling experience.

Besides axis deer, Jeff has mouflon sheep and some feral critters too if you’ve an interest. Their specialty is bowhunting, but they did not hold that against me, making me feel like I was with old friends. They were intrigued with the rifle I brought, a Spanish Mauser model 93 chambered in 7x57mm. My father gave me that rifle some 35 years ago, and with it I took my first blacktail, now my first axis deer.

Getting back to the broadside spike, I’m slightly out of breath. Jeff has set up the shooting sticks and I time my breathing with trigger pressure and my sight picture. In the early dawn light, the iron-sighted sight picture isn’t as clear as I’d like, and that makes me think of scoped rifles I chose not bring. This may prove to be my last iron-sighted hunt, time will bear that out. Still, that little mauser rifle is very comfortable and comforting.

The trigger broke, the rifle spoke and the deer was recovered in short order. Jeff brought up the Kawasaki Mule and after a short drive back to the “surgery room”, we were processing venison. Postmortem examination revealed he’d been hit a little further forward than I’d intended and while I double lung-ed him, I’d also punched through both front quarters. After processing, we transferred the quarters to my cooler and iced it for the trip back to the villa where I froze it. Arrow One Ranch will freeze and store the meat for you if need be, though that was a nonissue for me.

Back in the villa’s kitchen, we sampled some tenderloin and liver that night. Fantastic fare! Really, unbelievably good. This was my first bit of axis deer I’d had, and I wasn’t prepared for the mild flavor. Closer to grass fed beef than the blacktail I’ve eaten, but still venison. Jeff suggests the flavor is due to the axis deer primarily grazing as opposed to browsing. We flew the frozen venison home as checked luggage in the ice chest we’d brought with us. The flight back to Oahu from Maui is only around 30 minutes long so no dry ice was necessary. A flight back to the mainland would likely be a different story. It’s worth a thorough researching with the airline of choice prior to attempting to check a cooler full of any perishable item.

If you’ve put a vacation to Hawaii in the budget, I’d submit for your consideration that there are worse ways to spend one of those vacation days than in pursuit of a domestic exotic in paradise.

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