In Pursuit of Sika DeerPosted on: January 14, 2020 By: FHMD
Three years ago, I decided to make the transition from hunting casually for a week a year for elk or mule deer to someone who does not stop hunting. That journey started with a sika deer hunt with Muddy Marsh Outfitters through the Sisterhood of the Outdoors. I started hunting 13 years ago after moving to Colorado from Maryland. Now as an avid hunter, I often kick myself for not enjoying the bounties of hunting in Maryland when it was my home. This sika hunt is one of my highest priorities every year – I am obsessed with it. This year I drove to the airport, took the red-eye, and harvested my sika all in the same 24-hour period.
To start, the Eastern Shore of Maryland is one of the most diverse and fascinating landscapes you’ll ever see. I have had the pleasure of hiking through water that threatened to go over my boots, across long expanses of marsh and forest. I sat in a blind with water up to the middle of my boots and in a tree where water and marsh were visible as far as I could see. In addition to the landscape, the diversity of wildlife is also amazing. During every sit I have been dazzled by the Delmarva fox squirrel and cardinals. The variety of ducks in Maryland is also a change from what I am used to in the west. On my latest hunt, I heard a great symphony of sounds as eastern turkeys gobbled and were answered by sika bugles and whistles, as well as the largest flock of wood ducks I’ve ever seen fly over my blind.
Prior to my first sika hunt, I spent hours poring over resources to learn more about them – you can read more about them here. Sika deer were introduced to Eastern Shore in the early 20th century. Sika are closely related to red stags, have a distinctive rack, and are small in stature compared to white-tailed deer. Sika are also some of the toughest animals, pound-for-pound, that I have come across. They are also among the most skittish. These qualities make them one of the toughest animals to harvest, as the hunt often does not end with a good shot. I am lucky to have hunted with TJ and Joe at Muddy Marsh Outfitters. Over the years, they have spent many hours answering all my questions (I am a scientist and like to know everything about everything). They showed me pictures of animals that were wounded by an arrow, yet survived the long cold winter to come back to be the “big man” at the feeder within a year.
I can also understand the reasons behind sika being called the “swamp ghost.” Sometimes they appear out of nowhere on you and that first bugle/whistle in the dark is nothing short of eerie when you are out there in the middle of the marsh.
Every sika hunt is different. During my first hunt, I was greeted upon arrival with bugling and whistling in the swamp. I heard my first Sika come, splashing through the marsh as she walked. She proceeded to do the Sika crouch-jump-run for about five minutes before settling below the feeder. I was able to make a good shot but she jumped and turned as the arrow went into her body. Being deep in the marsh well past dark, we hiked out and returned to track her in the morning. Tracking in calf-deep water and looking for blood drops floating on leaves was one of the most amazing and gut-wrenching experiences I’ve had. Lucky for me, Joe is one of the best trackers I’ve ever known. As the trail went “dry,” I saw a spot of blood floating on a leaf – “There she is,” Joe said. I didn’t see the deer until I was on top of her — on an island in the middle of the water.
I have been on two more sika hunts. Last year I lost a spike, still in velvet, due to extensive rain washing away the blood trail. This year, I was able to harvest a hind (female).
Hunting in Maryland is like coming home. I find beauty in all of the places that I venture to hunt, but returning to the Eastern Shore is one of my favorite adventures, and I plan to continue as long as I can imagine.
For information on planning your hunt, including lodging options, hunting guides and outfitters, outdoor retailers and shooting ranges, visit the Plan Your Trip section on our website.
This article was written by Jaimie Robinson.
Images are courtesy of the author as well as Brian Griffith and Stephanie Aprile via Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Flickr account