Molokai Hunting – After Action Report

Hunt dates: May 2019


Hunting in Molokai, Hawaii was by far one of the most fun hunting experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The hunt was dominated by a new form of hunting to me: herd hunting.

The population of Axis deer on Molokai is estimated at 20,000 while the human population is only 7,000. I didn’t understand how thick and densely populated the island was until I was down in the field.

The style of hunting was a combination of stalking and ambush hunting. My hunting guide, Ku, understood the daily migration patterns of the herds in the area. In the evening, they would come towards populated areas for water under the cover of darkness. During the day, they would retreat to the dry highlands free from human hunting pressure.

Part of the time, we would wait in a river bed or major crossing point for herds of 40 – 80 Axis deer. Inevitably when I couldn’t get close enough to take a good shot with my bow, they would spook, and we’d go around the mountain and set up in a new spot or try to stalk a group directly.

molokai hunting

With a rifle, I can see how the high density of Axis deer would make the hunt relatively simple. With bow it is an order of magnitude more difficult. Getting within 30-40 yards is hard enough on a single Axis deer (which is one of the most skittish deer species in the world). With a herd, I was trying to hunt a single Axis deer, but he / she had 40 – 80 sets of companions who would sound the alarm. More eyes means more difficult.

Overall, the high quantity of animals combined with the difficulty of archery success meant that the trip was constant “action” and very rewarding.

In two days we managed 20 miles through some moderate terrain. It was not as physically challenging as the terrain of Idaho where I hunted for elk (for the documentary I’m working on). It was a sweet spot of tiring and challenging so as to be fulfilling, but not overwhelming.

I had a 45 yard shot on a lost Axis fawn, but I did not take the shot. Before the hunt, I felt my upper limit was 40 yards so taking a 45 yard shot was unethical. I was proud of myself for maintaining that disposition even in the heat of the moment when I had few chances. At other times during the hunt we were 5 – 10 yards away from a herd, but it was still dark in the morning so I couldn’t see enough to shoot at them.

The final hours of the hunt, I asked Ku to use his rifle to kill deer that we stalked. By noon we had two Axis deer, which I gutted, skinned, and processed with his help. I packed 60 lbs of meat off the mountain back to our truck, which was a rewarding experience that gave me a lot of respect for public land hunters who pack hundreds of pounds.

The feeling is different to have had Ku take the final rifle shot on those Axis deer than if I were to kill them with my bow. Even though I did 98% of the work and let Ku do a small percentage, it does feel different. I’m at peace with the decision, though. It feels good, just different.

Key Learnings:

#1. In Hawaii, hunting by the moon is valuable.

Until half-moon, the animals don’t have much light at night to feed so they will be more active during the day. On the half to full-moon, there is plenty of night light so animals can feed at night (making them more elusive during the day). Ancient Hawaiian hunters used to hunt based on the moon.

#2. I have progressed a lot as a hunter since my elk hunt in Sep 2018.

My confidence, skills, and capabilities are almost night and day from that period, which suggests I am learning quickly and consistently.

#3. When an animal’s head is down feeding, move. When the animal looks up, stay completely still.

Hunting whitetail in Texas, this isn’t often a concern (there are so few deer). In Hawaii hunting axis, this is imperative.

#4. Shot placement with an agitated deer is subject to change.

The axis deer on Molokai are arguably some of the hardest to kill in the world. Axis is the most skittish deer and they are moreso on Molokai because it’s an island. For example, in Texas it is common to spotlight deer (hunt with lights) where they stop and provide an easy shot. On Molokai, they do not stop at all, but instead continue running. They’re much more adept at survival. Ku told me that many of his archery shots are placed slightly below where the heart would be located so that when the axis try to jump the string, the arrow still finds the heart.

#5. Preparation beforehand on animals and terrain is important.

Knowing the habits of animals, their movement, and how to utilize that for hunting takes time and effort. Although Ku and I only spent approximately 48 hours hunting together, he had the preceding weeks to understand the migration patterns and habits of the deer we’d be hunting. This is similar to pre-season preparation that many hunters do across the country, which I’ll start implementing this season.

#6. Processing meat in the field is not that difficult

After two rifle kills, Ku taught me more about processing the meat in the field. Although I have experience doing the gutting, skinning, and quartering, I always take the quarters into a processor when I simply don’t need to. Instead of getting so much burger ground out of the meat, we took a bunch of roasts and steak / stew chunks that I can cook with on my new big green egg (courtesy of Scribe Media and Zach Obront).

Cool Tidbits & Takeaways:

  • Pre-season preparation – Whether on Molokai or Texas whitetail season, I’ll spend some time in the field without a bow just watching and gauging what animals are doing.
  • Bring two releases – I was made aware of how problematic having a single release could be. From now on I’m bringing two.
  • The temperature on Molokai allows deer to move and feed relatively often compared to Texas where the heat causes them to bed frequently
  • Rain causes axis to clump together and bed
  • Glassing (using binoculars to find animals) is an important part of hunting on Molokai and is far more satisfying than the Sep 2018 elk hunt because there were so many more animals
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