Kodiak, Alaska, is an assault on the senses, unlike any other place I have experienced. The environment is as fierce in its conditions as it is in its beauty. I seek to travel to such places as often as I can, and my camera allows me such adventure.
My name is Craig Francis, and I am a South Carolina-based photographer. I have built my career by documenting the journeys of people who prefer no roofs in their pursuits. Thus far, my sea duck hunting trip to Kodiak is the frozen pinnacle of my travels, and it treated me to the greatest natural spectacle I have been blessed to witness.
Raspberry Island Remote Lodge. I highly recommend the wood fire sauna after spending the day in 0 degree wind chill.
The outfitter we were to hunt with is located on Raspberry Island, a small strip of untouched creation separated from the mainland of Kodiak by the Kupreanof Strait. Traveling to such a remote location in the bitter cold of late November requires an uncommon love for ducks. A certain acceptance of self-inflicted misery is needed, however mitigated by Gore-Tex and a thick pair of wool socks. The sun rises late in the morning that time of year — and as the sun began to crest the mountain peaks across the bay, legal shooting time was eagerly anticipated with successive glances at our Sportfisher II Classic watches.
This beautiful drake Barrow’s goldeneye required a moment of admiration.
The target species was Harlequin, a duck that is but an idea to most waterfowlers in the lower 48. We found them in abundance on Kodiak, along with long-tailed ducks, black scoters and Barrow’s goldeneyes. I have had the pleasure of photographing in some incredible waterfowl habitats, but none compare to Kodiak.
My singular favorite image from the trip: Chad takes aim at the lead drake Harlequin.
Three days of hunting presented us with the gamut of weather conditions. The winds would change at the authoritative whims of Mother Nature, the chill of her breath gnawing at our souls. The daily bag limits of game birds in Alaska are quite generous; we often stayed out hunting for eight hours or longer, moving locations several times throughout the day. A thermos of hot butternut squash soup stashed in our bags for lunch was a welcome treat to warm our bellies and keep us in the hunt for a few more hours.
Rigging decoys and questioning our sanity during the early morning bombardment of wind and snow.
The hunting was indeed spectacular, and the walls of our offices and living rooms shall soon be adorned with those memories. What is more tangible than taxidermy, however, is the camaraderie of men, all cold and wet, sharing a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Kodiak is an amphitheater of the wild, and I was blessed with an open, blustery window into a world that I can only describe as raw nature.
I have a love affair with the mountains. Growing up in the South, they so rarely allowed me their company that I built their stature in my mind to be even greater than their heights in reality. Before I was a photographer, I, too, was a hunter. Now that I know it is possible to hunt ducks in the early morning pinkish glow of snow-capped Alaskan slopes, I fear that I am forever ruined.