Finding Adventure and Escape in a Conservation Hunt on Hawaii

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Hawaii is a land of escape that has beckoned wanderers for centuries. The word alone brings forth images of lush, intense greenery, sparkling turquoise waters, miles upon miles of deserted beaches and turtles the size of a small car.

There’s also a side to Hawaii that not many people know about. There’s been an aggressive overpopulating of Axis Deer, and are considered an invasive species to the island. The deer first came to Hawaii in the 1860s as a gift from Hong Kong to the monarch who ruled at the time, King Kamehameha V. They were first taken to the rural and remote island of Moloka’i, and have since taken over. Regular hunting is used to control the deer population, with the added benefit of feeding the native residents, helping to preserve the wilderness, and also providing a fantastic place for visitors to commune with nature and get closer to the meat on their plate.

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There are so many different ways to experience the famed islands, but in true Alister & Paine style we knew we wanted to experience the lush luxurious getaway aspect that most people fly out for, but also connect with the history of the land, find adventure in an untouched part of the world that most people don’t even know exists, and head out on our first tropical hunt with local guides from Hook You Up Outfitters—after an exploration of the luxurious Four Seasons Lanai’i.

Hawaii has a way of stealing nomads hearts and drawing them in, a gravitational sort of pull towards the lava rocks and deep blue oceans and sunshine filled skies that puts you in a tropical trance.

From the moment you lift your satin eye mask and see the sun beckon from the sky from your plane window, the Aloha spirit fills your soul. We opted to skip the bustling island of Oahu and headed to the remote island of Lanai’i for some much needed peace and quiet.

Island Hopping on Paradise Helicopter’s Bell 430 Twin Helicopter.

The island is owned by Larry Ellison, purchased for $300 million a few years ago. Larry wanted a private oasis, a place to play in the lush Hawaiian islands that was completely unspoiled by tourism or other industry. The luxurious Four Seasons Resort is the only resort on the island, located on the southeastern coast of the pristine island of Lanai with cliff front and lava rock overlooking the famed aquatic sanctuary of Hulopoe Beach. It’s a little harder to get to than Waikiki—our island-hopping plane seemed no bigger than the Tesla that greeted us. It’s absolutely worth the journey, to stroll the lush botanical gardens, see the local Axis Deer frolic in the distance, indulge at the refreshing pools and spa, snorkel in the bay, horseback ride along the coast…it’s a little slice of rugged island heaven.

The luxuriously appointed Four Seasons Lanai'i lobby welcomes guests to paradise.

While the Four Seasons’ impeccable attention to detail shines in the luxuriously appointed island chic suites, accommodating staff, and incredible pool sanctuaries spread throughout the resort, one of true highlights is dining at Nobu Lanai’i.

An evening meal watching the sunset while seated at the cliff-side terrace dining room is quite literally the best table in the world. So much of the menu is local cuisine, caught hours before being served. The servers here definitely take a more laid back approach, so don’t expect New York City style Michelin service. If you can, request Jarrod as your server. As the Sake Master, he can take you through a tasting from the driest onigoroshis all the way to the dynamic daiginjos. Even to the sushi lover, this menu is intense, so listen to the experts and then dive in. With the right guidance, a taste of the Jalapeño Yellowtail or Miso Black Cod can be a religious experience.


The entire impetus of escaping to Hawaii from the hustle bustle of NYC was to find adventure in our first hunt—along with rainbows and sunshine, of course.  We wanted to honoring the meat that graces our dinner table nightly, recognizing the old way of life and the sacredness that once was providing for a family.

We ‘hooked’ up with Hook You Up Outfitters for a Wild Axis Deer Hunt, run by Sonny Thater who is one of the rare few allowed to guide on Moloka’i. The island itself is a small stretch of island with a rural feel that remains true to its island roots, with a high percentage of its population being of Native Hawaiian ancestry who continue to preserve their rural lifestyle thanks to their love of the land. 

Sonny has a unique perspective to hunting from mainlanders who typically purchase their meat pre-processed and packaged—growing up in Hawaii fishing and hunting was a lifestyle for his family. They never took more than they needed, and they took care of the a’ina (land) from mauka (mountain) to makai (ocean).

Sonny Thater, Hawaii native and owner of Hook You Up Outfitters.

After months of planning with Sonny and his Hook You Up team, the dawn of the hunt arrived and with it, trepidation and excitement. Sonny and his lead guide Gene, a rough and ready hunter (and owner of Buckchasah Outfitters) who has been hunting on Molokai since he was a kid, met us before daylight to head deep into the forest. After hours of trekking through the lush island forest, we came across the herd. Dozens upon dozens of beautiful axis deer, grazing just within 300 yards. I hesitated and Gene nodded at me, an unspoken command that the shot should be taken. 

The buck’s soulful eyes met mine and he stood at full height. He bowed, imperceptibly, as if to acknowledge the age old relationship between man and beast. His blessing bestowed, and my finger pressed the trigger. My hearing returned and I could hear my heart in my chest as I took in what just happened; the deer and I engaged in the most ancient of traditions and rituals. 

Just a few hours later and we were grilling the freshly cleaned meat on a barbecue overlooking the wild ocean, but not a bite entered our lips without a thankful prayer to the island mountains that are home to these animals, and to the buck itself for its sacrifice.

The moment we boarded the flight home our hearts yearned for the islands. For the wild ocean breeze, the scent of fresh seafood in the air, the adventure in a trek to the wilderness, the sacred nature of the hunt, the thrill of it all. Mahalo, Molokai. Until we meet again.

To find the Wild Axis Deer in Molokai, you have to hike through the most beautiful terrain.