In Print: Brett Watts

brett searching through binoculars on stone outcropping

Brett Watts is a flight mechanic with the USCG and currently stationed in Kodiak, AK. We hung out with Brett last summer when we were on the island and he took us on a scouting trip into the hills to make a plan for the opening day of deer season. We caught up with Brett recently and asked a few questions about his upbringing and time on Kodiak. 

Tell me about your life in Kodiak:
I’ve been working for the US Coast Guard for 14 years and have spent the past ten years as a flight mechanic on UH 65 helicopters. They are the smallest aircraft in our fleet and are deployed onto our Cutters (large ships) that patrol the Bering sea so that we always have a floating air station ready to respond to anything that might arise far from Kodiak. Out of the calendar year we spend about forty days deployed on these ships. When I’m back in Kodiak I try to get on the night shift as much as possible to take advantage of the daylight and all of the outdoor opportunities Kodiak offers.

How does hunting/general outdoorsman activities impact your relationship with the space where you live?
I’ve spent about four years in each location I’ve been stationed. I’ve spent time on the east coast, Hawaii, California and most recently Alaska. I’ve been lucky in this regard, but I’d like to think I’m geared towards making the most out of any region that I’m in. When I look back at my time in each space, I have hundreds of memories of all kinds of adventures in the outdoors – and I look at pictures of such good times that I’ve had exploring new places and I feel grateful.  Although after all of this, I don’t know how you can top Kodiak. This landscape motivates me to get up early and get after it. I’m a big sports fan but I spend almost no time watching sports, I’d rather be outside. I think that’s a testament to how much Kodiak has to offer. Whether it is on a day hike with my friends, checking my trap lines, or on a more gregarious multi-day pack trip, I’ve learned in a place like this that you can waste daylight even if you have a lot of it.

Brett's hunting rifles
How do you get started when you relocate?
No matter where I’ve been stationed, the Coast Guard is so small that I already arrive knowing people. Initially networking is really important to find the good spots to adventure, especially on an island like Kodiak where there are sparse trail maps and markers and trailheads can be near impossible to find. Trust is an important component as well when you are sharing wild spots with people. In so many of these places you can be one of only a few people to see such remarkable vistas that are protected and respected. You know when a buddy is showing you a “secret” or lesser known spot that there is an understanding of just how special it is.

After a bit of time on Kodiak, I had hiked all of the well-travelled trails and I started branching off of those and now have been doing my own thing. I frequently go out on multi-day trips and I sleep in a bivy sack a lot by myself. I often end up several ridges past where the trail ended and most of the time you don’t know when the last time a person was on those trails. You’ll find the occasional bit of manmade trash or marking that shows someone else has been that far past the common trail which makes you feel you’re not alone in your journey. Kodiak has a funny way of making you feel like it’s attainable to access everything, but yet there are so many miles of land to explore. Each trip you take becomes the launch pad, the doorstep to explore a new zone.

When did you start hunting?
I grew up in Oklahoma in a family that routinely took hunting trips on 150 acres of family owned hunting land that’s great for whitetail deer. I learned my hunting techniques at an early age and honestly didn’t know that there were people who didn’t hunt. We also took yearly hunting and fishing trips to Buena Vista, Colorado, which was where I first saw and fell in love with mountains. I loved the feeling of getting up into altitude and the clean, fresh, crisp air in the mornings.

Kodiak hillsides
What makes hunting on Kodiak unique? What is the land like?
The terrain is unlike anything else – the mountains may not be as tall as Colorado, but the brush and alders are going to get the same amount of calories out of your effort. The proximity of the mountains to the ocean is also unlike anything I’ve experienced. You can still get the same epic adventures as anywhere in the world – physically and mentally. During the summer in Kodiak everything is in full bloom, which makes the landscape visually gorgeous from afar, but the minute I decide to cross a hillside as the crow flies I have to entirely rethink that decision. The lush greenery that gives Kodiak the name Emerald Isle is full of hardwoods, alders, grasses, brush, thorns, devils club – you have to evade plants that could get you spiked or boiled and end up doing 100 different yoga positions trying to avoid these things. You always have the promise and protection of alpine. There is a far better line of sight – but now you have to decide if you want to camp up there because of the wind. Trying to make the right decisions with the gear you have. You can get stuck places based on the wild, wild weather so you have to be ready for unpredictable circumstances.

How do the plentiful bear on the island impact your hunting?
The way I deal with the countless bear on this island is that I give them the respect they deserve as wild animals, which for me means giving them a wide berth and not looking to engage with them. The goal is always to see the bears first and be aware of the wind so that you can always stay downwind of them.  Things get a bit more complicated once you have a critter on you, whether fish or fresh meat you really have to play the wind game, always wanting the wind to scrub your scent away from the bears. After a few years I have a much more relaxed mentality with bear, but I still keep my head on a swivel.  When we pack goats out over a multi-day trip, I just put my meat away from where I am sleeping and get it up into something that is going to make noise so we can hear it. As silly as it sounds the best thing you can do when a bear is getting into your stuff or impeding the trail you are trying to climb is to wave your hands in the air and yell, “Hey bear! Get outta here bear!”

brett riding a 4 wheeler through a creek

What is your favorite thing about Kodiak?
I love how uncertain life is here, the edginess of the weather, unpredictability of the terrain, and heading out the door not always knowing what the day is going to hold.