A lot of this information is based on a hunt out of Kotzebue but most of it can also be applied to most villages in Alaska.
If you are planning a DIY hunt for either Moose or Caribou in Alaska, there is a lot that you need to know in order to have an enjoyable and successful trip. I know cost is probably the driving force behind most decisions whether or not to go guided or DIY, (It was for me on my first trip also) but don’t let that be your only deciding factor. I have been to Alaska 17 times on trips that involved DIY, guided, and now as a guide myself. I have spent a lot of time talking to hunters in town and in the field about their trips. I have heard horror stories from guys that blame everyone but themselves for their failed trip that could have been avoided with just a little bit of prior information and planning. Hopefully the following information will help you if you are planning a DIY trip.
One of the biggest problems I have found is that everyone from the lower 48 is on a tight time schedule. Alaskans are not. Up there, the weather dictates what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. When you get off that last scheduled airline flight, leave your date calendar and watch behind. You should PLAN on not returning on the date you expect. Low ceilings, poor visibility, wind and rain kill hunters and pilots every year in Alaska. Every one of them would be alive today if they just didn’t HAVE to get back to town or back to work. If the weather is poor, don’t expect to be flying that day unless you don’t value your life. The weather may be nice where you are at but it may be horrible just over the next mountain range or along the coast where your pilot is trying to fly out. He could have fog, wind, zero- zero visibility or a broken plane being fixed. A cautious and safe pilot is a blessing in Alaska and you should be thankful, not upset, he doesn’t want to fly in marginal conditions. He’s trying to save his life and yours. Plan on delays and you’ll have a much more enjoyable trip.
You’ll have to decide if you are going to use a registered guide or a transporter to get you back into your hunting area. Cost is about the same for either one. If you are thinking about bringing your entire camp and not using the gear from an outfitter or fly-out service, it is nearly impossible today with the extra cost of baggage on the plane and also the fact that you cannot bring a lot of the essential items that you will need even as checked baggage ie: fuel or propane. Forget trying to bring along a raft, large tents, or heavy cooking supplies and food. So that leaves you with using someone else’s gear. Transporters can rent you equipment in town and then fly you out to a site and then you’ll set it all up.
One important aspect to remember is that a transporter is not allowed to provide a camp that is already setup and ready to go (state law). The advantage to using a registered guide for a drop off type DIY hunt is that he can have a camp already setup in an area that already has caribou or moose there. If you’re using an outfitter, he should have a camp already setup ahead of time. Since transporters are not allowed to set up a camp ahead of time, some of them end up dropping off hunters in any place that isn’t already taken. What this means is that they (you) may be getting the less desirable sites. If it was a good location, it would already have a camp there.
You must also be prepared to fix all of your own meals in a DIY camp. This takes time to prep your food, cook it, then clean up your mess so you have clean dishes at 5AM the next morning. Believe me, a good guide works his tail off on a hunting trip for his clients, this is just one of those examples. Most hunters on a guided hunt (despite what most say) don’t help out in camp and expect that their meals are prepared and their trophies are packed out and properly taken care of. (heck, that is what they are paying for).
Most hunters I’ve talked to just don’t realize all the work that is involved in a DIY hunt, especially for moose. Caribou are not much larger then deer and can be packed out in two trips. Moose are a completely different problem. If you are planning on bringing back the cape and antlers, you must take care of them in the field. Cutting off the antlers correctly is critical unless you are willing to pay your taxidermist to fix them once you return. Capeing out your animal is also critical and if you don’t know how to do this, you probably shouldn’t be on a DIY hunt. The cape must be fleshed of all meat and fat. The ears must be turned right away along with the lips, eyes and nose. Then it must be salted and dried for several days, then rolled up. NEVER ever put salt on a cape that has not been fleshed property and turned!! You will ruin your cape. Salt will dry out the meat and fat and it then becomes impossible to remove later.
In the area around Kotzebue, where I hunt, it is a law that you must bring out the bones of your moose also. You cannot de-bone it in the field. That means when you get a moose down, it will take 9 or 10 pack trips to get it all out. 7 or 8 trips for the meat, one trip for the antlers, and one for the cape. Also, you cannot bring out the antlers or cape of any animal in Alaska until ALL of the meat is back to camp. So, if you plan on taking several days to pack it out, you need to make sure the carcass/meat doesn’t get taken over by a bear. Bears love moose! I’ve had more then one bear show up to take over a carcass and they don’t share willingly. The laws in Alaska about wasting meat are very strict and the state patrol (wardens) will land to inspect your kill to verify that every ounce of meat has been taken out. I take pictures of all of my carcasses just so there is no question. I know of one hunter that was back home for almost two months when he had a knock on his door from the Alaska State Patrol. He was given a ticket for wasting meat. They had flown in after he left and taken pictures of his kill and found out who had dropped him off and later flew down and hand delivered his citation. It cost him thousands of dollars. (don’t remember what area of Alaska he was hunting in).
The town of Kotzebue has no taxidermy shops and no facilities for storing your meat or a company that will pack and ship it out for you. You will have to have these arrangements in place before you get up there. Once your meat is back in town, you have to get it flown down to Anchorage and into a cold storage locker right away. Northern Air Cargo is one option for shipping meat and antlers down to Anchorage. Alaska Airlines will NOT ship antlers. The airlines will ship your meat and cape back only if it is sealed and in a proper shipping box. However, you guessed it, there are NO shipping boxes available in Kotzebue! You will have to take them up with you and leave them in town until you return from your hunt.
Phone service is marginal in Kotzebue. Until last year (2008) there was no cell phone service. Now, only a handful of cell phones work up there. There is a state patrol office in town and they also handle all of the fish and game duties.
Flying into Kotzebue is by Alaska Airlines only. They have three flights in and out of town each day. I would highly suggest booking your flight directly with Alaska Airlines. There is a good chance you may need to change your return flight. If you use one of the booking companies like Travelocity, Orbitz or Expedia, the airlines will not change your flight for you, you will have to go through the company you booked your flight with to change it. I’ve seen some very frustrated guys in the terminal in Kotz trying frantically to get a hold of their booking company. Not easy to do from Kotzebue because I’m sure you don’t have their number handy.
Packing for your trip should be taken very seriously. If you are planning a trip to Alaska, feel free to send me a PM and I’ll forward on to you the packing list I’ve come up with after more then a dozen hunting trips to AK.
Here are a few questions/info that you need to take care of before your trip:
- If flying out to camp on a bush plane, you will have to limit your baggage to around 70 lbs.
- Do you have confidence that you can take care of your trophy in the field? Field dress it, pack it all out, fleshing it out turning ears, lips, eyes ? Did you bring salt with you?
- Do you have plenty of game bags, plastic bags and boxes to ship your meat home? Moose weight around 1200lbs plus!
- Do you have an extra duffle bag to bring your cape back with you? Moose capes weigh around 50-75 lbs. after they are fleshed and salted.
- How are you getting your antlers back? Airlines will NOT ship antlers anymore.
- Are you prepared to spend a few extra days before, during or after your hunt due to poor weather?
- Are you prepared to fix all of your meals and clean up after every meal. This all takes time away from hunting.
- Have you scheduled an extra day in Anchorage on the way home to take care of shipping arrangements for your cape, meat and antlers?
Some contact numbers for Kotzebue:
Alaska State Patrol Kotzebue, 907 442-3222
Bayside Hotel and Restaurant 907 442-3600
Nullagvik Hotel 907 442-3331
Taxi 907 442-2244 or 907 442-3651
Northern Air Cargo 800-727-2141 Rates are around 35 cents a lb. for back haul to ANC.
Alaska Airlines 800-654-5669