Sika Deer Hunting
By Christie Bonniwell
There it was again, the high shrill of a bugle. It was not a deep bugle so it had to be a
younger Sika stag. I hear the splashing
of something crossing the water.
Anxiously I wait, looking for movement in the brush. Finally the brush starts moving, I start
shaking, and out walks a stag, probably a year and a half to two years
old. He was only fifteen to twenty yards
away. I put the scoop of my muzzleloader
on him, slowly squeeze the trigger and the gun goes off.
As the smoke clears, I see him run away, jump and
land. I got him! I look at my watch; it
was only five minutes after shooting hours started. The first thing I do is call my
husband, Aaron Bonniwell, who tells me
to wait at least a half an hour before I get down from my stand. I then call my father, Ken Starke, who
also tells me to wait before I get down. That half hour felt like an eternity. I keep putting my binoculars on him making
sure he was still down and finally I could not wait any longer and decided to
get down after twenty minutes of waiting.
I walk to where I made the shot and there was a nice pool of blood. Knowing I put a great shot on him I run to
where I saw him fall. As I see him lying
under a pile of brush, I am overwhelmed with excitement and adrenaline. I finally got an opportunity to take down
this magnificent creature and what a great feeling it was.
Photograph – Christie Bonniwell with her, well earned, first Sika deer.
I had been waiting four years for a moment like this. In that one moment, I saw all of my hard work pay off. I had been hunting this
secretive animal for four years and I was hoping that this would be my
year. Four years ago, my father, my
husband and I found out about Sika deer hunting from a family friend. He told us you have to go and experience it
yourself. Sika love marshy areas so you
will need to wear waders or knee boots to hunt them. I was open to hunting a new species so we sent
in our forms and patiently waited to see if we would get drawn for the
We hunt Sika deer in Cambridge, Maryland at the
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Sika are not originally from the United States. They originated in Japan, Taiwan, and Eastern
Asia and were introduced to the United States in the early 1900s. Sika love marshy areas and usually only move
early in the morning or right near dusk.
Along the east coast of the United States, the average Sika stag weighs
between 70 and 90 pounds and an average hind, or female, weighs around 50 to 70
pounds. Sika deer are related to the
elk family and not white tail deer. They
have a bugle like an elk but much higher. The rut for a Sika occurs in November
and is the time when the majority of the bugling can be heard.
Every year we went and I never had the chance to see a Sika deer while hunting. I saw them along the road, in the fields, or
heard them in the distance. The first
year we hunted and heard our first bugles. We were hooked. We would go sit at the check station just to
see a Sika in person. My father shot at
a stag our first year hunting and missed.
He hunted hard until he finally killed his first Sika in our third year
of hunting. I guess the third time was the
charm for him as the saying goes. He
killed an amazing 3×3 stag. Any stag
that is a six point or more is an awesome trophy stag.
Photograph – Ken Starke with his 6 point Sika (3×3) that he harvested in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Our fourth year of hunting was when I finally killed
my first stag. It was a year and a half old spike. A perfect animal for my
first stag. I look forward every year to
getting the form in the mail and filling it out in order to enter the
drawing. I have fallen in love with this
majestic creature and they have become my favorite species of huntable wild game.