Last summer while in Kodiak, AK we went crabbing with Branson Wallace and his buddy Aaron Thompson. We recently reconnected with Branson to ask him about life on Kodiak, his duties in the USCG, and how both of those things have shaped his life and effected his journey to becoming an outdoorsman..
Tell me about your life in Kodiak, what made you want to extend your tour?
My wife and I will have spent six years on Kodiak in June. I am a Yeoman for the U.S. Coast Guard, which means I do administration work for crew members and officers. When we first moved to Kodiak I was stationed on the USCG Cutter SPAR a 225 ft buoy tender that services navigational aids out along the Aleutian chain. It was a unique perspective, being able to see the Kodiak islands from the water as well as experience the way a lot of Alaskans live out in remote villages. It opened my eyes to how people can live off the land by hunting and gathering plants, animals, and sea life, and thus rely less on the outside world. When we were stationed in Kodiak we’d never really been considered “outdoorsy” people, I’d never hunted or fished and didn’t spend much time in the mountains. We learned quickly if you really want to take advantage of the outdoor opportunities on the island, you have little choice but to get to know the outdoor spaces and all they have to offer. The availability and accessibility to year-round outdoor paradise made us want to stay, fishing and hunting right outside your door. So after the first three years I spent on the SPAR I transferred to the Air Station where I have continued my administration work.
From your experience at the airstation and on the SPAR what is the most interesting thing you learned about Kodiak Island?
Alaska is a remote state, and Kodiak is an island within that remoteness that yields a level of unpredictability that requires you to really go with the flow. The weather will sometimes sock the island in with fog and wind that will ground aircraft for days at a time. The grocery store runs out of food regularly and fresh produce can be hard to come by. This was one of the reasons we really liked getting into hunting and fishing; our freezers are always stocked with meat and fish. I’ve learned that we as humans are very adaptable and to thrive especially in adverse conditions you have to take full advantage of what is available and practice preparedness.
What does a day/week in your life look like?
Aside from my day to day work life, which currently is on a regular 7-3, five days a week schedule, in the summer we’re out fishing a lot, we will hit the river before work to fish for sockeye or silvers and clean up the fish after work. We’ll often camp out at the end of the road in Pasagshak and take the boat out on the weekends to pull crab pots and eat fresh crab on the beach. In the fall we’ll get out for hikes during the week and go hunting on the weekends. Last fall I took Ashley out on a float plane for a 7-day mountain goat hunt. We got dropped off on a lake and did roughly 35 miles of hiking and camping and we were both successful in harvesting billy goats. It was one of the hardest things that we’ve done in Kodiak and being successful at our goal together was really special.
What have you learned about yourself as an outdoorsman since living in Kodiak?
I wasn’t one before we moved here. I laugh now, because of how much we’ve changed in the last six years, this place will forever be imprinted on our souls. When I was a kid, I was a boy scout and eagle scout which taught me the basics of camping and fishing but the first animal or deer I killed was on Kodiak. This island was a whole new beginning for me, I bought my first rifle here, went crabbing for the first time and our chest freezers are stocked with fish and game meat that showcase just how abundant these opportunities are. When you can go fishing minutes from your house and hunt out your backdoor, the ease, access and abundance make it impossible to want to leave.
How did you get started with crabbing and hunting having never done it before? What would you recommend to other folks who want to try something new?
Don’t be hesitant or embarrassed to try something new and ask for help. We talked to a bunch of people who hunt and fish to pick their brains about what to do and where to go, but really you just have to go out and do it and learn as you go. Crabbing for example was definitely a trial and error process. A few buddies and I bought some pots and asked a few locals how to do it. We placed pots and would check them a few times a month. We had a hard time finding the crabs in the beginning, but eventually after moving the pots around and trying new locations we had some luck.
A huge learning experience was how to process the meat of the animal we harvested. I had never processed my own game meat and had to learn how to break black tail deer, goat, and caribou down for the first time. I learned about all the different type of meat cuts and how to do your best not to waste anything and then store it for future use. This was a long learning process that I needed to ask help for. There are so many ways to do it and so many things you can create from game meat, sausage, jerky, roasts and chili. Catching fish and crab wasn’t such a steep learning curve but picking crab meat out of the shell for hours and filleting fish was something I’d never done before and took a few times to get right, as well as how to smoke and can salmon to save for the off season.
What is the most unexpected thing about life on Kodiak?
Life here taught me that there are outdoor opportunities everywhere. As a hunter now I want to eat my own meat I’ve harvested because I know where it came from, how it was processed, so all we eat now is game meat. We are leaving this summer to head to new Coast Guard positions in Louisiana and I know that a part of Kodiak will follow us wherever we go. We hope to come back after our time in the south, but in the meantime, I’m going to take the outdoorsman, hunter gatherer lifestyle with me and am excited to find new species to hunt and fish and keep learning new techniques. I’ve heard crawfish are tasty too!