Off the Grid with Brett Watts

Mountain landscape

Brett Watts is a flight mechanic with the U.S. Coast Guard, currently stationed in Kodiak, AK. We caught up with him to ask a few questions about his career in the USCG and life on the island.

Tell me about your life in Kodiak?

I’ve been working for the U.S. Coast Guard for over 17 years, having spent the past 15 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 we always have a floating air station ready to respond to anything that might arise. Out of the calendar year, we spend about 40 days deployed on these ships. When I’m back in Kodiak, I try to get on the night shift as often as possible to take advantage of the daylight and all the outdoor opportunities.

Man hiking through mountains in Kodiak, Alaska

How do hunting and general outdoor activities impact your relationship with the land?

I’ve spent about four years in each location I’ve been stationed—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 I’m in. I have hundreds of memories of all kinds of adventures in the outdoors. I look at pictures of such good times that I’ve had exploring unfamiliar 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 used to be a big sports fan, but I spend almost no time watching sports now. I’d rather be outside. I’ve learned that in a place like this you can waste daylight, even if you have lots of it.

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 important to find the good spots, especially on an island like Kodiak where there are sparse trail maps and markers, and trailheads can be near impossible to find. Trust is a critical component 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 shows you a “secret” or lesser-known spot that there is an understanding of just how special it is.

I’ve never really felt anywhere was my home until I moved here. I’m now 36 years old and have just bought my first house. My intent is to stay in Kodiak forever. I feel a sense of belonging to, and ownership of, the environment.

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 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 the mountains. I loved the feeling of getting up to altitude and the clean, fresh, crisp air.

What makes hunting on Kodiak unique?

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 number of calories out of your effort. The proximity of the mountains to the ocean is 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, devil’s club—plants that could get you spiked or boiled—and you end up doing a hundred different yoga positions trying to avoid them. You always have the promise and protection of alpine. There is a far better line of sight—but now you need to decide if you want to camp up there because of the wind. You can easily get stuck with wild weather, so you need to be ready for unpredictable circumstances, and make the right decisions about gear.

Man setting up tent on mountain top

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. There’s no ceiling to how wild, rugged, and remote you can get up here. You could spend more than a lifetime and always have more to learn from what this wilderness has to offer.


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