Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Adventure - 48 Hours in Alaska - Bow Hunting

Join this bowhunter and his friend for an unforgettable experience in the wilds of the Alaskan backcountry.

Planning a do-it-yourself bowhunt to Alaska is an adventure in itself. This was my sixth such trip to the great state. My buddy Jason and I went together and I thought we were prepared for anything that would be thrown at us. We had been planning this trip for over a year. We decided to use the transporter, 40 Mile Air, out of Tok, to do a drop-camp for caribou. We would be hunting the 40 Mile caribou herd, which is known for producing some nice record-book caribou every season. The 40 Mile herd is one of Alaska’s smaller caribou herds with an estimated 40,000 animals. I guess 40,000 animals is small when compared to the Alaskan Western Artic herd, which is reportedly over 400,000 animals strong.

deer huntingThe logistics of getting to Tok went off without a hitch, and it wasn’t long before I was climbing into the back seat of the Piper Super Cub aircraft. This was my first ride in a Cub, and to say I was excited would be an understatement. Jason had his own plane to ride in. Our pilots, Leif and Randy, gave us an incredible one-hour flight to the leading edge of the 40 mile herd. Surprisingly, we only spotted a few bears, moose and a lone wolf during the flight. No caribou. It wasn’t until we cleared the last ridge that we spotted the first few caribou. Then we spotted a wave of caribou in the valley that we were going to land in. We literally had caribou on our short Cub landing strip, which was nothing more than a 100-yard flat spot of gravel, clear of brush and boulders.

Caribou Everywhere
That day, Jason and I set up a modest but comfortable camp. Because of weight limitations on the Cub flight, we had lightweight backpacking gear and freeze-dried food. We had enough supplies for our planned eight days in the bush. Alaska law prohibits hunting the same day you fly so we had to sit in camp and watch beautiful caribou bulls migrating through the valley. What a wonderful sight we had waited a long time to see.
The next morning we woke up to a dense fog and heavy drizzle. This was far from prime hunting conditions. Excitement was in the air, though, as we had prepared and traveled a long ways to get to this moment in time. I decided to make a hot cup of coffee, soak in the beautiful surroundings and give my wife, Jennifer, a call on the sat phone. I wanted to tell her we had arrived to camp safely.

5 Tips for Planning Your Trip

#1: Planning: I consider planning a bowhunting trip to Alaska as part of the adventure. First off you need to know what your goal is and what kind of adventure you are looking for. There are many things to consider. To hunt some species you are required to have a guide. Most of the other species are affordable for the middle-class DIY hunter. You also need to decide what type of hunt is available for that particular species you want to hunt and if it’s possible to hunt multiple species. Resources I use for planning my hunts are the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the internet, and the most reliable is a personal friend or acquaintance who had done the hunt before.

#2: Equipment: My suggestion is to buy the best equipment you can afford. Some standard equipment used in the lower 48 states might have to be considered survival equipment in Alaska, ie - tent, sleeping bag, rain gear... Buying cheap gear at Wally World isn’t going to cut it in Alaska. One other thing to consider is weight. Most likely your trip will involve some type of flying. Whether it is a commercial or bush flight, there will be weight limitations. Know what these limits are and pack accordingly. Some equipment is better off rented when you arrive in Alaska. There are many rental services available. Check ahead and secure the rental equipment before you go.

#3: Packing: The logistics involved in getting to your hunting destination may involve several different modes of travel: Commercial airline, vehicle, boat, bush plane, raft… You have to be prepared and knowledgeable for every leg of your trip. I’ve found that packing gear in to small organized soft duffle bags work best. It’s much easier to get these smaller bags in to the cargo compartment of a small plane and your pilot will appreciate it. You can then put the smaller bags in to a larger duffle for the commercial flight and leave that bag with the transporter while you are in the field. If possible, these duffle bags should be waterproof. There’s a good chance you will encounter wet weather on your hunt, lots of it. Another good container is an ice chest or large plastic tub. These containers can be left with the transporter and will be helpful with getting all that precious meat home. The standard airline approved hard case for your bow will help get it there intact.

#4: Safety Gear: Like I mentioned earlier, some gear you bring may be used to save your life. Bring a good quality synthetic sleeping bag and four season tent. It’s almost a guarantee that you will encounter inclement weather which  you will not be able to hunt in. I’ve spent many huntless days stuck in a tent because of the weather. I consider rain gear as safety gear. If you get wet, hypothermia is a real possibility. Most outdoorsmen in Alaska prefer durable PVC rain gear like Helly Hanson Impertech. Bring a satellite phone. You can use it to communicate with the transporter as well as get help in the case of an emergency. There are satellite phone rental companies located in Alaska and the lower 48.

#5: Meat Transportation: Getting your meat and trophy home should be included in your trip planning. I’ve explored different methods to accomplish this and found out that it can be costly if you are not prepared. If you are flying you must know the rules for each leg of your trip. The rules vary between airlines and transporters. Generally, the meat bags need to be manageable and under fifty pounds. The containers should be approved,  good quality and leak proof. Antlers are not allowed on some airlines. Meat and antlers can be shipped through some commercial cargo companies as they ship perishables to and from Alaska. Know the transportation rules before you go and be prepared. There is nothing better than barbequed caribou steaks after a successful DIY hunt in Alaska.

By Ed Fanchin

Posted by Bow and Arrow Hunting Magazine

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