Hunt Alaska Now: Self-Guiding for Trophy Moose & Caribou Dennis Confer


Here is everything you need to know to plan a successful,memorable, safe, economical trophy moose or caribou hunt in Alaska. This book gives you the experience of 800 happy hunters and the best of 30 years' research, finance, statistics, and organizational experience. -368 pages, 119 photos & illustrations, by Dennis Confer.

SOFTCOVER, $29.95

"The best hunting book I have ever read. Invaluable reading for all Alaska hunters."   -Tony Russ

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments                                                       9

Introduction                                                             11

Chapter 1 – Planning and Organizing Your Hunt              19

Chapter 2 – Selecting Your Hunting Area                       37

Chapter 3 – Costs and Economizing                             59

Chapter 4 – Travel and Transport                                69

Chapter 5 – Hunting Techniques and Tips                      87

Chapter 6 – Trophy Judgment                                     129

Chapter 7 – Meat and Trophy Handling                         151

Chapter 8 – Camp Equipment, Setup, and Rafts             175

Chapter 9 – Guns, Ammo and Optics                                     205

Chapter 10 – Food and Clothing                                  227

Chapter 11 – Packing and Shipping                               249

Chapter 12 – Laws and Regulations                              269

Chapter 13 – Bears, Safety and Stories                         287

Chapter 14 – Memories – Hunting Stories                      305

Chapter 15 – Telepathy                                             321

Chapter 16 – About the Author                                    337

Appendix (includes list of illustrations & tables)               347

Index                                                                     360

Book Order Form                                                     368

Chapter 2
SELECTING YOUR HUNTING AREA 

Alaska is huge, 586,000 square miles and much of it is public land. It has three million lakes, 3,000 rivers and countless mountains. There are some large expanses of public land that are off limits to hunting. These include national parks and monuments mentioned in Chapter 12 on Laws and Regulations. There is a tremendous amount of land available to hunters without “No Hunting” signs, but native corporations own some impressive tracts and permission is required to hunt these. Game is not everywhere. There are expansive voids that you want to avoid. Some of the voids are teeming with caribou for short periods and empty at other times. You want to be in the right place at the right time. With caribou, there are an estimated one million or so in this state at this writing – that is an average of about two caribou per square mile. That is deceiving because when you find the caribou, there could be a hundred to a thousand or more in one square mile or less – leaving 500 square miles void theoretically, based on the average of two caribou per square mile. This is just an illustration, but may be close to the truth. The point is, don’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our caribou hunters, over a 14-year period, typically saw 1,500 to 3,000 caribou per party on a single hunt. Occasionally, some parties would see only a few hundred and others would see as many as an estimated 5,000 on a hunt.

The moose population was estimated at 160,000 or about one per four square miles. If the ratio of males to females is 35:65, then there might be one male for 10 square miles. If within the male population, 40 % of the bulls are 50 inches or better, there might be only one 50-inch or better bull in 25 square miles. It could take you many seasons to find one of these bulls. How do you do it? It can take a lot of time and money to find one big bull. But, to magnify the problem, you want two to four big bulls. One way is to locate the bulls from the air, but how many can be seen from the air at any given time – especially if they are in the woods? One of my favorite pilots and air taxi owners who flew for many years often said, “I don’t know how your hunters shoot so many fine bulls; we don’t see them flying.”

 I would say, “Norm, moose don’t fly!” The point was, you might have to put in a lot of flying hours to find a big bull from the air and at $250 or more per hour, it might cost $2,500 or much more to locate one bull that way. Some hunters can afford that, some can’t, and some detest that method of locating game. While it is a good method and legal in Alaska to locate a bull with aircraft, it is not legal to hunt the bull the same day airborne; however, the bull will likely stay in the vicinity, and it could be fairly easy to collect him the next day. The fair chase rules of various groups express what many hunters believe. The rules say it is not fair chase to locate the trophy by air – period.

 You locate your hunting area through RESEARCH:

 1. One good source of information is sporting magazine articles that sometimes pinpoint locations of successful hunts. You often have to read these very carefully and between the lines, as many hunters don’t care to pinpoint good areas. As a boy, I saved articles on hunting in Alaska. Years later, these articles proved valuable. In most cases, the areas were great. There may have been a decline in game and decline in popularity with hunters, but in time, game became abundant again, and many of these old locations were un-hunted. I pay attention to burns that occur every year. These areas often become fantastic areas for hunting maybe six to nine years after the fire. Biologists and others keep records of these burns.

 2. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), Division of Wildlife published an extensive Harvest Summary book annually, about 475 pages up until about 1996. The information in it was invaluable. It gave data for the state by game management unit (GMU) and subunits and in the case of caribou, by herd. Each unit and subunit has well-defined boundaries. Of particular interest to non-residents were breakdowns: total kill by residents and non-residents, total number of hunters, average antler size in the case of moose, and percentage success for residents and non-residents. This helps you pinpoint prime hunting areas. The state collects the same information today and some of the biologists I worked with just two years ago had exactly the same information in the same format as in the Harvest Summary and shared it with me and may share it with you. Some data and general maps are included in this chapter for caribou and moose.

 3. Chris Batin’s book, Hunting in Alaska – A Comprehensive Guide, includes detailed where-to-hunt information, harvest statistics and much more. This book is a great aid for planning your hunt. There are other books that can help. Check www.google.com (Alaskan hunting books). You can order from Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, or Borders. These can help you choose an exact hunting location. Many of the major magazines like Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and others have search programs that you can utilize. There is a great deal of information out there today.                             

4. A great resource for you is Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Visit www.adfg.state.ak.us or www.wildlife.alaska.gov. They have many sections for hunt planning. Visit Hunt Alaska especially, Hunting and Shooting under Wildlife, Big Game – Introduction to Moose Hunting and An Introduction to Big Game Hunting in Alaska. Also see Alaska Wildlife Harvest Data for kill data by GMU and others. The information does not pinpoint exact hunting locations, but it sure helps you get started. 

              

5. A list of licensed big game transporters (air taxis and boat operators) can be obtained from the Department of Commerce and Economic Development, Division of Occupational Licensing, P.O. Box 110806, Juneau, AK 99811-0806 for $5 – call 1-907-465-2543 for information on this. It does not list phone numbers – only addresses! The yellow pages of major phone directories from Anchorage and Fairbanks also list air taxi advertising. The listings are not comprehensive, although they are still helpful. You eventually must talk to air taxis to make arrangements to get to your hunting area. Many of these are good, reliable sources of information; some are not. Talking to them will give you a good idea of how helpful they choose to be.          

Chapter Four covers travel, transport and air taxis.You should read it before contacting them. You will want to find out the following: how long they have been operating in an area; what the pilot’s experience is in terms of flying hours; what their safety record is; about their knowledge of the hunting area, rivers and lakes; what the success of their clients has been (get some references - they keep records on the state transporter records/reports); what the costs and payloads are for their planes; and what the flying time is to and from your destination as the plane has to be paid for both ways.

              

 6. Alaskan Fish and Game biologists residing in the area you will hunt are often great sources of information and even river conditions. You can get the biologist’s name, phone number and location by writing to ADF&G, Division of Wildlife Conservation, P.O. Box 255261, Juneau, AK 99802-5526 or by visiting www.adfg.state.ak.us.

              

7. River information: It is important to try to get information on the difficulty of floating rivers. Your air taxi can probably help you. In some cases, personnel of the National Weather Service (River Information and Forecast 1-907 266-5160) have been able to help. If you can’t get good information on a river you wish to float, fly over the section of river to ascertain if it has rapids, waterfalls, log jams, sweepers or any other dangers. If you are advised that the river is a Class “X” river, you must know what that means.

              

 International White Water Scale:
   Class I: Moving water with a few riffles and small waves…few or no obstructions…these are the rivers you want.
  Class II: Easy rapids with waves up to three feet…wide, clear channels that are obvious with scouting…some maneuvering is required.
  Class III: Rapids with high, irregular waves often capable of swamping a canoe…narrow passages that often require complex maneuvering…may require scouting from shore.
  Class IV: Long, difficult rapids…generally not possible for open canoes…
  Class V: Extremely difficult…very violent rapids…significant hazard to life…
  Class VI: Nearly impossible and very dangerous….

              

 It is best to stick to Class I or II rivers when hauling heavy loads of moose meat. The weight makes maneuvering rafts more difficult. Very careful study of USGS maps and their contours will give you an idea of how many feet the river drops over so many miles and shows you waterfalls and some rapids.

              

 8. Professional big game guides can provide information, but you should not mislead them if you are not looking to do a guided hunt. However, some of them will fly out unguided or unaccompanied hunters and may provide you with good information. They will probably not fly you into their best areas that they might save for guided clients, but you should expect that. You can get a listing of big game registered guides from: Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development, Division of Licensing, P.O. Box 110606, Juneau, AK 99811-0806, phone 1-907-465-2543 or from the Alaska Professional Hunters Association by calling 1-907-522-3221, 7801 Schoon St., Anchorage, AK   99518.

9. Warnings: There are GMUs closed to non-residents and Controlled Use Areas in Alaska where you cannot land a plane during the hunting season. Check these out in   the Alaska State Hunting Regulations before you go too far in your planning. Many hunting areas are difficult to access; keep this in mind when you are researching areas to hunt. Rivers or lakes must be deep enough to allow float landings and takeoffs with maximum loads. Some areas have many lakes or rivers providing access; others have very few. Some areas can be accessed by landing strips, but these often become very popular and can be over-hunted; some strips are almost unknown and do not appear on maps. Ask air taxis about such things. Be aware that the air taxi you deal with may not land more than one party on a given lake in a week or more, but if there are lots of other taxis available such as in Anchorage or Fairbanks, several different air taxis might land parties on the same lake within a day or two of when you land. Resident hunters could be a good source of information, but many are naturally reluctant to disclose favorite hunting locations. Many are also talkers and not doers, and you should take what they say with a grain or two of salt. 

10. Once you have narrowed down your hunting area to a river drainage for a moose hunt, you should obtain topographic maps from the US Geological Survey (USGS) to study the area and choose a section of river for your hunt. You can get free indexes and catalogs, and addresses of map dealers and libraries from the Map Distribution Section, USGS, Denver, CO 80225. The maps you want are 1:63, 360 series, 1:62, 500 scale where one inch on the map equals one mile. These maps are generally about 17 inches high and 15 inches long. They show rivers and lakes, marshes and swamps, mountains, hills, valleys, benches and ravines, contours and elevations, streams and trails, vegetation, forest, and clearings, sand, gravel, rapids and waterfalls, and more. There are larger scale maps where one inch equals 2,000 feet and smaller scale maps where one inch equals 16 miles. You will normally spend at least two hours studying each map; there might be anywhere from one to six maps for a 35-mile float hunt. Topographic maps are extremely valuable for moose hunts on rivers. They are not as useful for caribou hunts because of the nature of the terrain. That will be discussed later. To protect the maps on the river from getting wet, fold them so the portion you want to see is on the outside, place them in a large ziplock bag and use indelible ink for marking them; use them for recording your diary for the hunt.

 CARIBOU
   Timing: You can hunt caribou in Alaska in some places from August 1st through April 15th – that is eight and a half months. We all have our own preferences, and I will give you mine and the reasons for them. My experience has mainly been hunting the Northern Alaska Peninsula, Mulchatna and Western Arctic herds.
   August: The meat would be outstanding at this time, but it could be difficult to keep for more than a few days without spoilage from warm temperatures and flies. It would be warmer than later hunts and buggy (be prepared). The antlers would be in velvet and would be soft and not hardened, especially in the first three weeks of the month. The tundra or mountains would not be as colorful as on fall hunts, but the hunt could possibly be combined with some first-class fishing in many locations. Nevertheless, an August hunt could be perfect for some of the following circumstances: you want to take your son hunting but he has to be back in school in early September, or you want to do a hunt right after you finish salmon fishing in July or the early part of August and you can’t afford two trips to Alaska in one year. If I were to do an August hunt, I would prefer to do it as late in August as possible for the sake of the meat and antlers, and I would prefer to land in a high mountain lake to hunt the mountains or on a river where the fishing was outstanding. It can be done and it can be a good hunt, but September would be preferable to me; your chances for the best trophies would be later. I would not expect to see a large number of caribou. The caribou would have their summer colors, brownish with no white manes. 

  September 1st – 15th:  In many places, the antlers would be coming out of velvet about the 7th and, after that, would be polished and hard. If shot in velvet, the velvet could be stripped and antlers stained if necessary. The meat would be excellent. It would still be warmer than later September, but cool enough at night to keep meat well. The groups of caribou would likely not be as large as later, but the bulls would be getting ready to go into the rut and some would enter the rut before the 15th. I would expect to see more caribou than in August but not as many as later. If it was a tundra hunt, at least some of the bulls would be down from the mountains. They would be starting to get their fall or winter colors and be more tan or gray than brown. Some could even be developing their handsome white manes. There would likely be some bugs during the warmest part of the day, but not too annoying (still, be prepared for bugs).

September 15th – 30th:  This is my favorite time for hunting caribou. The weather is cool and invigorating, there are seldom any bugs, the tundra is colorful, the manes are white, bulls are in the rut and larger numbers of big bulls are seen since they’re moving around more. This is when we see the greatest numbers and concentrations of caribou. The meat of big bulls is still good as they haven’t been in the rut too long yet, and the lakes and rivers have not begun to freeze up yet, but it may be cold enough to get the ducks moving. Ducks and ptarmigan provide a lot of fun after you’ve taken your bull.

 October: We stop hunting caribou about October 4th for two reasons: In our experience, by October 4th, the bulls have been in the rut a little too long and the meat, although usable, starts tasting what I think of as livery, and the lakes start freezing up and can create pickup problems. One year, our lake froze deep enough to prevent pickup by float plane on October 5th, but not thick enough to support a Super Cub on wheels. Our air taxi got us out by landing on a small hill (only 100 feet long) a half mile from camp with a Super Cub in 40 mph winds and getting us out individually. But, we could not retrieve our caribou and camp gear until December because the temperatures kept rising and falling and the ice was not thick enough to support a plane with wheels or skis. The caribou we took were in the 385 to 400+ B&C point class after we tried for one in the 450 B&C point category. I think caribou trophy hunting could be excellent in October, but the meat of bulls is not.

 After October:  Hunting continues, but the days get too short, and I don’t care for excessive tent time. It gets colder than I like; temperatures can fall to zero or below, and the winds make it feel even colder. I love to hunt, but I also like to be reasonably comfortable and safe. It is a good time for subsistence hunting for cows and calves by snowmobile or from cabins if you can. If the snow gets deep enough, the herds can be reached by planes with skis. These late hunts can be dangerous.

Location: There are many different herds of caribou in Alaska. Alaska lists 30 or more distinct herds, depending on the list used. Many are small herds of 500 or so. I have hunted mainly the Northern Alaska Peninsula herd out of King Salmon, the Mulchatna herd out of both Anchorage and Dillingham, and the Western Arctic herd near Kotzebue. The Porcupine herd is large and expensive to hunt. The Western Arctic herd is also large. The Northern Alaska Peninsula herd was great up to 1995, but not south of King Salmon anymore. North of King Salmon, in the Lake Illiamna and Lake Clark area, it can be good at times and low in costs. The best herd to hunt today, in my opinion, is the Western Arctic herd out of Kotzebue if you want to see a lot of caribou and have lots of choices for excellent racks. It’s possible to see 3,000 or more on a hunt there, but it’s more expensive than hunts farther south. Non-residents can shoot up to five there. The Mulchatna herd shrunk from its former 200,000 animals. It has split into many herds, and their location is undependable (meaning it can vary from year to year) at any given time of the year. In October 1996, biologists noted the herd’s changing traditional patterns that made it difficult to pinpoint their location. They also noted the abandonment of their usual winter grounds. Non-residents can no longer shoot two there. Many hunters only see 100 to 200 caribou on a hunt; that doesn’t leave many choices. However, I recall a recent story. The guided hunter only saw one caribou during his hunt, BUT it was a bull high in the record books. We all get lucky once in a while if we hunt a lot and tough it out.

 Even today, a lot of people have wrong ideas about Alaska: Eskimos live in igloos, it is dark for long periods of time, fish jump out on the banks and are easy to catch, and everyone gets their moose and caribou. These are not true. Data gathering is difficult for the state and although the best data is in the Alaska Wildlife Harvest Summary, it is sometimes incomplete – as noted in the summary. Resident success rates on caribou were perhaps 53% to 58% in 1990/91 through the 1994/95 seasons. Nonresidents’ success rates were 23% to 37% for the same period. The facts are many non-residents go to the wrong place at the wrong time without adequate research. About 5,000 caribou tags were sold to non-residents in 1994; they harvested an estimated 1,850 caribou. Success rates were increasing then. The total kill for 1990/91 through 1994/95 was estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000 a year, one to one and a half percent of a population of about 1,000,000 - very much under harvested. In 2001/2002, harvest was 32,616. Our 350 caribou hunters had a 93% kill rate and a 100% opportunity rate on trophy caribou for 14 years. With few exceptions, the only hunters that didn’t kill a bull were those that had shot 360 to 380 B&C bulls before and held out for a 400+ B&C bulls. You can expect 100 % success if you do your planning well and have a bit of luck.In this discussion, I will skip over the smaller caribou herds – the Nelchina herd that is only available to residents, and the Porcupine Arctic herd because of access and cost. I will concentrate my discussion on the Mulchatna herd in Game Management Units (GMUs) 9 B and C, 17 B and C, and 19 A and B; the Western Arctic herd in GMUs 21, 22, 23, and 26 A and B; and the Northern Alaska Peninsula herd (Peninsula herd) in GMU 9 B. Note that the Mulchatna herd is in GMU 9 B and C and the Peninsula herd is also in 9C; they overlapped at times and it was my feeling that when they overlapped in the winter, some of the Peninsula herd moved north with the Mulchatna herd when they left this area. This could account for the decline in the Peninsula herd. The Mulchatna herd has broken up into lots of herds that are scattered. Some caribou are now occupying parts of Alaska that haven’t been occupied for 50 years or more.

 Some of the herds I skip over could be a good bet for non-residents. The Porcupine Arctic herd is large and lightly hunted; the success rate is high and there are likely very good bulls in the herd. Access is difficult and more expensive than other areas. Smaller herds like the Fortymile, Rainy Pass, and Mentasta could evolve into good hunting for non-residents in the future.

 Mulchatna Herd: The Mulchatna herd is now less than 200,000 caribou and is spread out over a big area in GMUs 9 B and C, 17 B and C, and 19 A and B. Parts of it can be accessed by air taxis from Anchorage, Lake Illiamna, Dillingham, and Bethel. There are a lot of air taxis in Anchorage and Dillingham (air taxi research is discussed in Chapter Four). Non-residents can no longer shoot two caribou from this herd. The overall success rate was 87% for the 1990/91 through 1994/95 seasons; non-residents took 3,429 caribou during the 1994/95 season. Most non-residents take mountable heads from this herd (see Chapter Six on Trophy Judgment). Record book heads routinely come from this herd. I personally prefer to fly out of Dillingham to hunt the western side of this herd; it seems to have fewer hunters at the present time than the eastern side that is accessible by many air taxis from Anchorage. Although it costs about $230 to $270 to get to Dillingham via Peninsula Airways or Alaska Airlines, the air taxi savings can offset the air taxi cost out of Anchorage. It might also be safer flying a larger commercial plane at higher altitude over the mountains to Dillingham than flying a smaller plane at lower altitude through the mountains. The mountains can get fogged in or snow can block visibility and cause delays in getting in or being picked up when flying through the mountains out of Anchorage. There is probably less likelihood of that happening via Dillingham.

 You can also fly commercially to Lake Illiamna or Bethel and from there by bush plane. You can land in lakes or on rivers in float planes, and there are at least two landing strips to land wheel planes on that are good hunting areas at times, but could have more budget hunters because wheel planes cost less to charter than float planes. The Mulchatna herd roams over an expansive area and may be a misnomer in the sense that it is perhaps 10 to 20 herds or more. It is common for herds of 3,000-10,000 to be on the western side when herds of 3,000-10,000 are in other locations.

 Biologists know that the Mulchatna herd had expanded greatly and were concerned about overpopulation, under-hunting and devastation of the herd and food supplies due to the expansion. The herd may be declining now. Fortunately, so far, it looks like the herd has been staying healthy by splitting up and expanding into new range in its quest for food. Unfortunately, no single individual that I know can predict with a high degree of certainty where a large group will be in a certain time frame. That is true of all animals, but caribou roam much more than others, and it is more difficult and costly to change areas in Alaska. Fortunately, air taxis that live in the areas, fly around some when they aren’t flying hunters and have some idea where the caribou are; so do the guides that fly around in their searches. Fish and Game also might know, but government budgets are lean, and they can’t fly every day and may not have current information. Game biologist, Jim Wollington, in Dillingham 1-907-842-2334 is a good source of information.

 For a couple of years, caribou in good numbers (5,000 to 10,000) were in one area accessible to hunters from about September 15th through October 2nd. Then along came a year with warmer than normal temperatures and they were minimal till October 2nd, when they appeared in great numbers. If you planned your hunt for seven days and went home before October 2nd, you didn’t get to see the big numbers – that happened to us. You pay your dues, take your chances, and go with the odds. Even when the numbers were low, some caribou were in the area, and some fine B&C records were taken. That’s hunting! One final point, since caribou are sometimes unpredictable in their movements, when you fly to your selected spot, if no caribou are evident, fly around; if none are spotted within ten miles, go to your alternate location. Be sure in your planning to have one or two alternates.
Western Arctic Caribou Herd:  This is a very large herd numbering about 450,000. It is more expensive to hunt here than points farther south because of the distance from Anchorage or Fairbanks, but in my opinion, it is worth it to see 3,000 caribou or more compared to 150 or so.

Caribou:  Jeff Eichhorst (WI) – 100% on three hunts.
 ....in other locations. Kotzebue is the closest access point with air taxis. Some caribou are in evidence within reasonable range of Kotzebue in August, and the numbers increase in September. There are not many caribou hunters evident during those times. My familiarity with these comes from GMU 23. The bodies of these caribou seem to be about one-third smaller (250 pounds for big bulls) than the caribou farther south, but the antlers can be as large. While in general, the antlers seemed to be somewhat smaller than bulls farther south, some have huge antlers in B&C proportions. Again, farther south today, one might not see more than 150 and that doesn’t give one many to choose from so today it may be that the average trophy bull caribou here may be larger than those farther south. We have shot many fine bulls here. Access is by landing on rivers or lakes, or landing on wheels on mountains or valleys. Since they are so abundant and seemingly lightly hunted, limits are generous and even a non-resident may shoot five, if he has five tags. Hunter numbers are low; success is high:  100% can be expected today; the greatest numbers of caribou are reportedly shot from this massive herd. Air taxis in Kotzebue can get you into this area. Game biologist Jim Dau in Kotzebue 1-907 -442-3420 is a good source of information. Contact www.cityofkotzebue.com, 1-907-442-3401 for a list of guides and air taxis, restaurants and accommodations providers. 

Northern Alaska Peninsula Herd:  Many tremendous bulls came from this area in the past. The herd was always smaller than the major herds, but access was easier because of the number of lakes and cheaper because the distance from King Salmon makes for shorter air taxi flights and lower costs, the caribou were easier to locate, and there were plenty of fine bulls in the herd. If conditions were not good, air taxis from King Salmon could access the southern part of the Mulchatna herd. Previously, I mentioned my thoughts about the numbers of caribou decreasing and the possibility of some of them joining the Mulchatna herd. Whatever the reasons were, the numbers of caribou south of King Salmon decreased, and it could not be demonstrated that predation, disease or over-hunting were the causes. In general, south of King Salmon, caribou for all practical purposes are off limits to non-residents now to conserve what’s left for local residents. We used to see an average of 1,500-3,000 caribou per party here, but the point now is – out of King Salmon, it is best to fly north and hunt the areas around Lake Illiamna or Lake Clark. Two fine air taxis that we worked with for years were King Air Service of Naknek, adjacent to King Salmon 1-907-246-4414 and Branch River Air of King Salmon 1-907-248-3539. They are both reliable taxis and very knowledgeable of hunting and conditions. This is probably the most economical caribou hunting on a fly-in basis, and although the numbers seen may be smaller than other places, you can expect good results. Game biologist Jim Woolington of Dillingham (1-907-842-2334) is a good source of information.

 MOOSE

Not everyone gets their moose in Alaska, and although almost every bull you hear or read about is a trophy of 60 inches or better, that is not the average. It’s just that only the bigger bulls make the news. Data from Harvest Summary indicates that in 1994/95, 50,000 moose harvest tickets were issued – about 47,500 to residents that harvested about 6,000 moose for a 13% success rate for cows, calves, and bulls. The rest (3,100) were issued to non-residents who fared better with a harvest of nearly 1,000 or so moose and a success rate of 31% largely for bulls. It’s not that non-residents are better hunters; it is that they spend more time and more money perhaps to get to better areas. The average effort to be successful was seven days of hunting. A lot of residents pick up harvest tickets (residents don’t have to buy tags) on the chance they might see one near a road while driving to a cabin or favored fishing spot; many never actually hunt moose and many cannot or would not pay the costs of a fly-in to a distant location where there are more legal moose than exist by the roadside. Their lower success reflects this.

 A 31% average doesn’t sound too impressive, does it? But within every average, there are unsuccessful (zero %) and successful (100%) and in between. With proper planning, a little good luck and half decent weather conditions, you can be 100% with a party of two or four. Our 450 moose hunters had a 91% opportunity rate (high 100%, low 76%) and a kill rate of 76% (high 88%, low 59%) for 12 of 14 years. This excludes one year when rivers froze up early and greatly shortened hunts; we had to pull our hunters out early and even rescue four. The other extreme from the coldest September in 50 years was the following year that was the warmest and wettest September in years, when flooding greatly reduced success. Compare these rates to the statewide non-resident average of 31%. For 14 years, the bulls averaged 58 inches; that included a few 36-inchers when they were legal, a lot of 48- to 55-inchers, a lot of 56 to 63-inchers and some 64- to 72-inchers. Within our average, there were many parties of two or four that were 100%, some 75% in parties of four, some 50%, a few 25%, and a few zero. That’s hunting!

 Moose don’t run in herds, but there areas I call pre-rut conference areas, where there might be 25 mature bulls or more in one to four square miles who gather before the rut (to decide who is getting what areas for cows?). I personally know of two of these areas and don’t know anyone else, that is talking, who knows of others. I’m sure some biologists and some other hunters know of some but doubt that they’d speak of them. Obviously hunting in these choice locations is of very limited duration and not many parties should participate, so, most of our hunters have hunted non-pre-rut conference areas. But, we did it smartly. Since there aren’t herds of moose, and we wanted to see as many mature bulls as possible and couldn’t cover enough ground on foot to see a lot of bulls, we did the best thing we could think of. The best plan was to have bulls come to us. I have hunted lakes, mountains and valleys, and I have seen my fair share of bulls, but, since I started floating rivers, I have seen many more. Our average party sees four to nine mature bulls on float hunts. Why?

 While there are resident moose in many locations (lakes, marshes, mountains and valleys), there are many cows that live on rivers because the food is good and because it’s a good place to raise calves. Many calves are born on rivers. Rivers are good places for raising young. Mothers can lead their young across rivers easily with their long legs to evade wolves and bears. They love rivers. Mature bulls when mortally wounded often run into the river for safety. I believe this could be because their mothers who raised them on the river taught them to run to the river for safety. Many bulls come to the rivers for the rut because there are a lot of cows there. But, during the spring and summer, they take up residence on favored lakes, and on hills or mountains. Some go there to avoid bugs, I’m sure. There may be an instinct for them to move from rivers to conserve food for cows and calves and for the winter!

 When the rut begins, many bulls move to the rivers in search of cows in heat. They come from the hills, mountains, and lakes on either side of the rivers from perhaps 25 miles or more, and progress downriver, into the normally prevailing air currents sniffing out cows. You know the old saying, “Up in the morning, down at night.” As the air warms during the day, it rises up hills; at night it cools and comes down; game often takes advantage of the air currents to evade predators and locate other moose. Rivers flow downstream or downhill. Normal air currents are uphill or upriver. The bulls predominantly, but not necessarily, move down river. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is we are hunting on the river’s edge, and the bulls are funneled to us by their search for cows that stay nearby for the safety of their young, and we are increasing our hunting area many fold. If you are hunting a 35-mile section of river, you have a 35-square mile hunting area, but if the bulls are coming to the river from 25 miles on either side, you may have effectively increased your area to 50 miles times 35 miles or 1,750 square miles, which can only help you since there are not that many big bulls per square mile in most cases. You can effectively reduce your hunting area to 400 square feet if you enter the woods and minimize your visibility; you should only do this when stalking moose you have already seen or heard.

 When water is low in the fall and when snow or glacier melt is done for the summer, the bulls will often take the paths of least resistance for travel, which are gravel, sand, or mud bars and islands. So, if you are patient, you will normally intercept a good number of bulls. We also call a good number of bulls. We’ll cover all this in Chapter Five. Location:  Here is where the harvest statistics will really help you. Ask the biologists for this information. Go to www.adfg.state.ak.us for their names and phone numbers. Analyze data by GMU and subunit. Obtain hunting regulations – they have maps of GMUs; the maps show many, but not all, of the major rivers and bush communities that may have air taxis.

A careful study of the statistics from the game biologists is revealing, although some statistics need some interpolation and interpretation. The statistics show the following:  total kill by GMU and subunit; number of residents and non-residents hunting and their success rates, and even average antler spreads. You will want to concentrate on GMUs that have the highest success rates for non-residents and largest average antlers.

Some GMU subunits for 1994/95 show success rates for non-residents:  20% to 39% (20% of subunits), 40% to 59% (40% of subunits), 60% to 79% (24% of subunits) and 80% to 100% (16% of subunits). Obviously, you want to pick the more successful subunits. Your study will show GMUs 9, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 26 to be productive. These statistics will help you narrow your quest to several GMUs and subunits, narrow your search to a dozen rivers or less of thousands in Alaska, and narrow your search for bush communities with possible air services. Your choice of hunting location will eventually be selected on the basis of success and antler size, accessibility, river difficulty and dangers, type of terrain you prefer (foothills, forests, swamps, tundra), and distance and cost from Anchorage and Fairbanks. Some hunting areas will be cheap to access, but perhaps too close to population centers for best results. Others may be too far and too expensive, and some may be reasonable and distant enough to assure good hunting. Antler size by subunit might be available from biologists; the average for 28 subunits that I reviewed was 48 inches (some units don’t have the 50-inch rule). Averages ranged from 32 to 59 inches by subunit. Kills by subunit ranged from 6 to 275 with an average of 82 kills for 28 subunits; these subunits are larger than most counties. Some GMUs are larger than some states. 

Other factors you must consider (see regulations) are season dates and antler restrictions. Be aware – some subunits may be closed to non-residents and some GMUs may have seasons that are too short or end before you want to hunt. Most will have antler restrictions of 50 inches or three or four brow tines; some will not. You must know what will make you happy – see Chapter Six on Trophy Judgment.
 Timing: 

 August:  Refer to timing under “Caribou.” The same factors apply to moose concerning antlers, meat, and general conditions.

 September 1st – 15th:  Refer to timing under “Caribou.” The same factors apply for antlers, meat, weather, and bugs, but you will possibly be hunting farther north where temperatures will likely be ten or more degrees colder and some seasons could end September 15th or 20th. Those with early season ends can be excellent. All bulls do not go into the rut or arrive on the rivers at the same time. There is evidence that many of the biggest bulls, 65 to 75 inches, go into the rut earlier than other mature bulls 50 to 60 inches so they can breed more cows (they also do not go into heat at the same time – some earlier, some later than others). Those that go into the rut early, say September 3rd or 4th, could be worn to a frazzle by September 20th or so, and when later bulls go into the rut, the old fellow may be the loser on a challenge. Normally, you will see more bulls after September 15th, but they could be more average. Calling may be more effective after the 15th; the type of calling early varies from that of later. Calling is covered in Chapter Five. This is the time you could run into a pre-rut conference of bulls and could see as many as 25 to 40 bulls. It is also the time the biggest bulls may be rutting; there are fewer bulls in the 70-inch class, than in the 50-inch class due to attrition, and often lesser bulls will not be evident when bigger bulls are, so you might see fewer bulls than later, but they might be monsters. When 50-inch bulls are evident, the little guys may stay in the background – just observing and learning.

September 16th – 30th:  This is my favorite time but more and more seasons are ending earlier. Some close the 15th, 20th, 25th or 30th. The first frost usually occurs on or before the 15th and changes the colors of the leaves. They start to fall, increasing visibility along rivers. The leaves change fast and can fall quickly after the 15th. It is not uncommon for them to change and most are blown down in a 10-day period or less. It is less common, but temperatures on a few hunts could be as high as in the 50s or 60s and on other hunts be zero or slightly below at this time. Most of the time, temperatures range between 20 to 25 degrees at night and 35 to 40 degrees by day, which I consider ideal. The colder weather is most invigorating to me; I also enjoy the campfires and campfire cookery more.

 You will usually see more bulls during this time as more are in the rut, but, oddly, usually few cows and calves. A lot of cows go into heat about the 20th and seem to hole up off the river waiting for a bull to find them. Our average party of two or four would usually see four to nine mature bulls per hunt – sometimes more, sometimes less. During the rut, young bulls would usually stay in the background, observing, and learning what the big boys do.

 Be aware that the hunting regulations do not get issued until late June or early July, and seasons could be reduced by five days or more or even eliminated without warning. The Game Board usually meets in April, and sometimes in May you can get information on upcoming changes. Call about Game Board results at 1-907- 267-2354.

Changes in hunting regulations could affect your plans and airline reservations (See Chapter Four). Keep in mind that freeze-up of the rivers could occur on a few rivers as early as September 22nd; this has only happened once in the last 20 years or more. Freeze-up seldom occurs before the 30th on most rivers but is always a possibility. I feel safe with a season end of September 25th for getting out before freeze-up.

 After September 30th:  There are few seasons open for moose for non-residents after the 30th, but since I only recommend float trips for moose for non-residents and freeze-up occurs about or shortly after that, I don’t cover it here.

 

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Reader Comments:

"Great Book! It's one of the best organized, most thorough, sensible, and entertaining how-to books I've seen in years....a writer who makes advice pleasurable to follow...Great stuff!"  David Petzal (Field and Stream)

Your books are a must read for anyone even tinkering with the idea of sheep hunting in Alaska.Rick French, Wasilla AK January 2006

Reviews from Amazon

Reviewer:

L. Fister "lorelif" (Corvallis, OR United States

This is an excellent book concerning how to do float trips in Alaska and covers many practical aspects of such hunting. It has the added benefit of also being fairly entertaining reading. Only problem is that it's darn hard to find as it's out of print and everyone who has a copy won't let it go, The author would do well to come out with a reprint if a second edition isn't in the works.

Must have for Hunting Alaska, March 27, 2002
Reviewer:

phil brower (Silver Spring, Maryland United States

What a great book! I plan on moving to AK next year and plan on doing quite a bit of hunting. The book tells you everything you could ever want to know on hunting moose and caribou. After reading the book I felt as if I was ready to be droped off in the Alaskan tundra and start hunting. The book is a must have if you plan on hunting in AK. The book takes you through every step on how to do it your self and keep it afordable.


A MUST!, August 10, 2001

Reviewer:

Timothy Nichols (Milwaukee, WI United States)

I highly recommend this book for anyone that has never gone to alaska to hunt moose or caribou...It covers hunting techniques, judging trophies, as well as what to outfit your camp with. I am going to alaska for the first time to hunt this year, I plan on using part of my 75# to bring the book with me!

Self guided moose and caribou hunting for dummies., February 13, 2000

I am about to embark on my first fly-in, self guided hunt to alaska. This book is an excellent guide for any moose/caribou hunter no matter what your previous experience maybe. The book covers everything you will need to know, you will have every question answered. It is like the author is holding your hand as you are preparing for your trip; its great. The author also gives excellent narratioin of personal grizzley bear encounters and how he dealt with the situation.


Self guided moose and caribou hunting for dummies., February 13, 2000

Reviewer:

APSCHRAMEL@AOL.COM (Minnesota, USA)

I am about to embark on my first fly-in, self guided hunt to alaska. This book is an excellent guide for any moose/caribou hunter no matter what your previous experience maybe. The book covers everything you will need to know, you will have every question answered. It is like the author is holding your hand as you are preparing for your trip; its great. The author also gives excellent narratioin of personal grizzley bear encounters and how he dealt with the situation.


Most comprehensive Alaska Moose & Caribou prepatory published, August 12, 1998
Reviewer: A reader
As a hunter who has lived in Alaska from 94-98 I can vouche for the exceptional content of this book. I have hunted both moose and caribou in Alaska and found the book to be an exceptional tool for the do-it-yourselfer. The crux of the material is setting up a float trip from the lower 48 from beginning to end. It is chocked full of hunting and camping tips, moose and caribou specifics, and right down to how many pair of underwhere you need. The book sells the float trip as being the most memorable and productive method for hunting Alaska's harsh terrain, and he is correct! Techniques used on a land based hunt led to a 54" bull in '97 for me. If you want to hunt Alaska, not pay a fortune for a guided trip, yet want to be prepared for all possible problems -- this is your book. If you don't plan on going to Alaska in the future, the entertaining stories of floating moose camps is worth the price alone. The pictures are fabulous and definately drooling material. If you weren't interested in moose before, you will be after. The general tips for camping will improve any elk or deer camp; provided you want to hunt seriously and don't depend on a bar for evening entertainment. Highly recommended and wish I could have done a trip this year!

Excellent for the do-it-yourselfer and great money saver., July 29, 1998
Reviewer:

tonyr@midusa.net (Salina, Kansas)

Excellent resource for hunting/fishing in Alaska. Will show what to expect in planning, shipping of trophies, gear. air taxi's. A must have for a hunter planning or just going to Alaska. Excellent resource for hunting/fishing in Alaska. Will show what to expect in planning, shipping of trophies, gear. air taxi's. A must have for a hunter planning or just going to Alaska.

 

 

 

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