Alaska is a dream hunting destination, it is wild, vast, and is home to animals not found in the lower 48. Providing a lot of opportunity for the DIY hunter. The only downside is that planning the hunt can seem like a logistical nightmare. Alaska might as well be a foreign country. The distance from the rest of the United States, and the difficulty accessing hunting areas, make it hard to plan. Especially for your first hunt there. The hardest part is knowing where to start, what to bring, and how to get it all home.
Picking the Adventure
Narrowing down what you want to hunt is the best start when planning your Alaska trip. Although there are a few areas with multiple species, pick one species you are most interested in. Non-resident hunters are able to hunt caribou, black bear, moose, & Sitka blacktail on over the counter tags as well as in a few special draw areas. There is also the opportunity for non-residents to hunt Roosevelt elk with a permit, or apply for limited and extremely hard to draw Bison, and Muskox tags (Muskox may require native assistance).
The state of Alaska has three types of tags for non-residents: general areas, draw permits, and registration permits. These are important to understand when looking through the regulations for an area to hunt. General area hunts are also known as Harvest Ticket Hunts (HT). Many of the areas available to non-residents are HT hunts.
There are also draw tags referred to as “permits”, these are often coveted tags in areas with a limited number of hunters. These are only available during the draw with an application period of November 1st to December 15th. The other type of permits are known as registration permits. Registration permits are either obtained on a first-come first-served basis or in person from a license agent, with a few being offered online. These permits have conditions on the hunt that may include a quota and closing the season once the quota is reached. These hunts take place after draw permit hunts in areas where there are no general HT hunts.
For a non-resident to hunt you need a hunting licenses and either a harvest ticket or permit (draw or registration), depending on the area, as well as a locking tag for the animal you will be hunting. The locking tag is really just the non-resident fee to hunt that animal. They range in price of $150 for deer to $400 for moose. A locking tag may be used for an animal of equal or lesser value so long as you also have the harvest ticket or permit for that animal.
Lock in on transportation
Getting into the hunting area is the whole crux of the logistics for an Alaskan hunt. Alaska has very limited hunting that is accessed by road. The few areas that can be accessed by a road to hike in are mainly limited draw areas, restricted to residents only, or have a weapons restriction. For example, the haul road is bow only within 5 miles of the road.
With easy access in short demand, many resident hunters also run into the same problems getting into hunting areas. Unless you own a bush plane or boat, you are most likely going to have to hire some form of transport.
The main modes of transport include boat, bush plane, float plane, or raft. There are two categories of people who can legally drop you off, transporters and outfitter/transporters. The difference is to be legal a transporter can’t pick areas or assist in the hunting, they are only allowed to take you where you tell them. This is often the cheapest route but requires the most digging on your end to find the place that you would like to hunt.
Transporters that also work under a Master Guide license may provide you with their knowledge of the area on the best place to go. They can also scout out areas before you arrive and use their knowledge of the area to drop you in the best location. This often comes with a higher price tag but can be worth the extra money in the long run. In some areas this is actually the only option and the price can be pretty close to what a standard transportation would be.
If you are going the strict transporter route you will want to investigate the area from home much like you would on any western hunt in a new unit. Look over maps, pick the brain of people who have hunted there, and talk with area biologists to narrow in on a good location. It is also important to talk with the transporter ahead of time and ask where they know they can land or boat to. Also ask about places where they have dropped people off in the past. Charter pilots may be flying the same hunt areas almost daily and can be a resource on suggestions of where to hunt and places to access and land in the area.
Air charters are one of the more popular routes for non-resident hunters. Finding a good and reliable air charter is important in the success of the hunt. You will want to plan this out well in advance. Around 6 – 8 months for most good air taxis. The Alaska fish and game publishes a list of licensed air charters. Take this list and narrow it down to areas where general seasons exist. Since most flights are based per hour you will want to find someone close to the hunt area to save money.
There are two types of charges for hunters using an air service, some charge a flat rate for the whole service; including information, and trips to take the meat out. Other just charge hourly based on fly time. When you are looking at the cost, remember that with each flight there is dead time for the pilot to return to base. A 30-minute flight in is charged for an hour round trip.
For a flat rate trip it is good to know if the price includes flying out meat and antlers, if they know spots to hunt, if you can be moved if there is no game, if there is any scout time in the air to look over the area, and if there is a way to check-in if you get something early and would like the meat taken out. The amount of services often dictates the price of a flat rate charter.
It is important that you know what kind of service that air taxi provides. If you show up expecting that they will know the area and drop you in a good spot, but that is not the type of flying they do, or a service they provide, then you will want to know that well in advance so you can plan out where to hunt. It is a good idea to talk with references of the air charter and ask as many questions as you can. There is nothing worse than when expectations are not met. It is important to let them know what you want and know what you will get.
Keep in mind that with any transportation into the backcountry weather plays a huge factor. Having a flexible schedule in the plans really helps. If you arrive and the weather is going to get bad it is good to pad your entire trip with extra weather days before and after the trip.
The amount of weight and gear you can take with you depends on the type of plane you will be flying. The average weight on most planes would be yourself and about 60 lbs. of gear. You will want to weigh your gear at home and plan accordingly. This is where selecting what you bring and what you will leave can be important in planning your Alaskan Adventure.
One of the hardest parts, especially on your first trip, is knowing what gear to bring. Since most hunters will be flying in to Alaska for the hunt, narrowing down to the right essentials is key. The weather can be harsh, windy, wet, cold, and even snowy. You want gear that will hold up to anything. With limited space you have to choose your gear right.
If you are taking a bush plane to the hunt location, you will want to make sure that your gear not only fits the weight requirement, but the space available as well. For the bush plane use soft sided bags and split the gear up so it can be stashed and the weight distributed. I use multiple dry-bags to organize all my gear for the plane.
For tents, something that can hold up to gale force wind and rain is important. I suggest a four season tent but a really stout 3 season will also work. Because it can be wet, you will want to seal all the seams on your rain fly with seam seal. Make sure that you also have any holes patched and reinforced. I always pack a few extra stakes for my tent and buy quality stakes that are longer than the ones the tent comes with. The ground in many of the places you are hunting is fairly soft and a couple of the longer stakes help.
When thinking of camping there are constraints but also benefits to the limited access points. Odds are you will be flying or boating into where you will base. You are limited by the weight the plane can carry but that is generally more volume than you would carry on a backpack hunt. You can have a fairly comfortable base camp if you choose. Larger tents and backpacking cots seem to be the norm on these hunts. Some of the more popular base camp tents include large tents like the Cabela’s Alaskan guide tent, Frontier Gear Bombshelter, Hilleberg tents, as well as various four season three to four-man North Face and Mountain Hardware tents. Most of the large four season tents carry a pretty hefty price tag and although comfortable and durable are only worth it if you will be using them for a lot of seasons. Those tents may not be necessary to purchase for a one-off hunt and there are options to rent those types of tents from various gear rental companies in Alaska.
If you don’t have a hefty four season base camp, there are plenty of other tents that will work. The requirements for any tent would be to have a good wind rating for the poles, a vestibule, and a rain fly that at covers any exposed door or mesh completely. Family car camping tents are generally not going to work really well in harsh winds and rain, so look for one that is at least designed for the backcountry. Keep in mind that adding a tarp in with your kit can really extend the weather proofing of your standard tent so long as you have something to secure it with.
Outside of a base camp I will bring a small back pack tent to spike out from. Depending on the area where I can be dropped it may be necessary to spike out from your base camp to get into better hunting where the transporter can’t take you. This is even more important if getting dropped by a boat, as you will likely hunt farther from the drop area. In that instance, a base makes a good gear stash, but most the hunt will be backpacking.
Down vs. Synthetic
The best sleeping bag for Alaska always seems to be a hotly debated topic. The best material and temperature rating are the most talked about. In wet weather areas, a lot of hunters swear by synthetic. Synthetic bags stay warmer even if wet and will help wick moister off of damp base layers to the outside of the bag as you sleep. The downside compared to feather down bags is that they are heavier and don’t pack up as small. The disadvantage to a down bag is that if it gets wet the insulation properties no longer work. With new advancements like waterproof feather treatment and water resistant fabric coatings, some of the pitfalls are alleviated. The waterproof coating on the feathers works well in most instances, but I have found that if it is completely soaked or submerged, it is not as good as synthetic.
I have used both types of bags in Alaska, I used to swear by synthetic but have since opted for a lighter more packable bag and gone with down. I have not had a problem with either. I store my down bag in a dry sack in my pack if the weather turns wet and have not had a problem. The decision really boils down to how much spiking out or moving your camp you plan to do, and how much space you need in your pack.
The temperature rating is going to depend on the time of year and personal preference. I always sleep fairly cold so I shoot for a bag below comfort temperatures. In August a 20 degree bag is adequate but by October I look for something around zero. In Fairbanks for example the average low temperature in August is 46 degrees, September 35, and October the average is 17.
Gear Suggestion: top picks based The North Face Cat’s Meow 22 Sleeping Bag , Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z Torch Sleeping Bag: 5 Degree Synthetic. Down: Mountain Hardware Phantom. Montbell down hugger
With so many options, most hunters know that a synthetic or wool layering system is key. I would stress that good non-cotton socks and underwear are also a must. Outside of a layering system essential pieces of clothing include good gaiters, Gore-Tex boots (waxed before the hunt with snow seal or something similar), solid rain gear, and a solo-hunter rifle cover.
Food can be bulky in your luggage but it is nice to have everything planned out at home before you leave. Half the time I buy my food before the hunt in Alaska, the other half I get most before I leave and pack it in my luggage. Either way I like to plan out my days and count the calories per day while at home. I then create a list of what I want to bring. If I am basing out of where I land the plane or boat I can bring heavier lunch item than I do on backpacking trips. The majority of my food is still dehydrated meals, but I will include a few things I like to call “real food” like pre-cooked sausages and salami for lunch, with cheese and bagels.
I always include at least two extra days of food when I am flying in. There are many times the planes or transportation is delayed by weather. Delays are common place, so it never hurts to have extra. On really hard hiking or packing days it also helps to have a supply of a few extra calories you can dip into.
Something to think about is a form of satellite communication. Especially since where you are hunting is so remote. Most transporters have a satellite phone to rent. It is a good idea to easily communicate not only pick-ups, but emergencies as well. Another popular option or addition to a sat phone is a satellite messenger. I have been carrying the Delorme inReach and have found it simple to send texts when a call is not necessary. They are also handy because they include GPS coordinates in the message and a SOS feature for real emergencies. The location sharing is especially useful on float hunts or hunts where you may be moving base camp. The satellite messengers are cheaper to use and own than satellite phones and make a good addition to the gear kit.
One thing a lot of hunters ask about for Alaska is bear deterrents such as electric fences and bear spray. I have used both on some hunts, and none on others. Most the areas you will hunt actually don’t have very high brown or grizzly densities, but some areas do. On Kodiak island for example I have used a bear fence not only for camp but to keep the meat safe after the kill. Just like anywhere there are bears, you want to keep a clean camp. I hang my food if there are trees around, but if not I will use a bear fence if the area has a lot of problems. For the majority of the hunts you can do DIY, a bear fence is not necessary.
As for bear spray, I have read a lot of studies and it is an effective deterrent. I will carry it when I am bow hunting or in areas with a lot of bears. If it is a high bear area I will have it even with a rifle because I generally keep my gun in a rifle cover and never have one in the chamber until I need it. There may be instances if I really was in a bad situation where the bear spray could be handier than a gun. especially if there was no time to get a gun ready. I don’t see bears as a huge problem but there are areas that are worse than others, and in those places I use extra caution. The most likely encounters will be when walking back in to pack out meat or field butchering an animal, so during those times I pay the most attention and try to approach the area from up wind.
Rent vs. Bring
If you don’t have some of the gear you would like that might be specific to Alaska, there are outfits that rent high quality gear. For some of the bulkier items or things you won’t ever use again, it is better to rent. On one hunt my brother and I rented a larger tent, camp package, and zodiac raft. We found it easier to rent everything than try to fit it into our luggage on a commercial plane. It ended up being fairly reasonable to split up the cost and took the hassle out of packing everything for the trip. It also allowed us the luggage space to get the majority of our meat home with us on the plane.
Bringing home the Bacon
The hardest part about traveling by plane for any hunt is getting everything home. This can even be one of the more expensive parts to the hunt. There are two options for getting the meat and animal home. Either shipping or taking back with you on the plane. After looking into all the options, the cheapest seems to be bringing it back as checked luggage. The easiest is to have a butcher ship it.
When you plan your trip you should add a few buffer days at the end to account for weather. If you have no delays, this time can be best spent taking care of getting everything back. If you are going to ship something, I suggest shipping all the non-perishables home like antlers and gear. Then bring the meat back as additional luggage. I have done this countless times and never lost any meat in the process.
When I plan for after the hunt, I look for a lodging that has freezers available for game. Alaska has many options as a lot of fishermen and hunters go through the area. If there is no lodging with adequate space, there may be a butcher around that can freeze and even quick package your meat before you leave. If you have something large like a moose, a hotel freezer may not even be an option.
Lately I have been loading a soft sided large Yeti hopper with frozen meat, and then checking it and paying the extra bag fee. Everything is still frozen solid when I get home. In the past I have loaded meat into plastic bags frozen inside of a garbage sack lined cloth duffle bag. Depending on how much meat you have you can price out which will be cheaper, shipping home or bringing as luggage.
If you are to bring antlers as luggage every airline is different but in the past I have used duct tape and cardboard to completely cover the antlers and pad them from damage or damaging someone else’s luggage, then checking them as their own item.
Figuring out how to get it all back is often the hardest part logistically. If you are like me and trying to make the trip as cheap as you can. There is always the headache free way of having it all shipped by someone else, but if you want to do it yourself, it can be done. The key is to figure out how you are going to get it all home before you leave and where you can find the needed supplies to package and freeze it for the plane ride home.
A trip to Alaska is something that every hunter should experience. There is so much hunting available the hard part is knowing where to start and how to prepare. Once you iron out the logistics of what you are hunting, how you are getting to the area, what you need to bring, and how you are going to get it all home, you can then sit back and actually enjoy the part you set out for… the hunt itself.
Estimated costs for fly time:
Moose hunt including getting the animal out, air scouting, pilot suggested area. $3700 per hunter – minimum 2.
Caribou Hunt including getting the animal out, air scouting, pilot suggested area. $1700 per hunter.
Super Cub average: $325 per hour Load capacity around 500 lbs including people and gear.
Beaver average: $700 per hour. Load capacity around 1,200 lbs including people and gear.