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Big game hunting in Alaska

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BY CHRISTOPHER BATIN
Two bull moose ambled in, side by side, stopping occasionally to tear up brush with their 50-inch antlers. I thrashed nearby brush with a scapula and bellowed out my very best cow call. The largest bull walked to within 20 yards and would have come closer, but my friend, Mike Citrone, took the shot. The next day, another bull walked within 12 yards of us.
While in Alaska for the 2012 OWAA conference, you will have access to hunting moose and a variety of other big game, including caribou, brown bear and deer.

MOOSE

Alaska do-it-yourself big game hunts are not cheap. Our hunt in September cost $1,900 per person for the fly-out, plus another $900 each to fly out about 560 pounds of boned-out quarters per moose. Other hunts go for about $3,900 per person, and you provide all the gear. A guided hunt for moose will run you $10,000 or more, including tip and license fees.
Moose hunting can be done via the road system, but the success rate is around 20 percent. Many areas are open to hunting, yet pressure is high, especially on weekends.
Your best bet for success is to arrange a fly-out hunt with an air-charter operator. Moose hunting success is best the last five days of the season, which usually runs anywhere from Sept. 15 to 25. However, success can be had at any time. Last year, we bagged a bull on Sept. 7, yet this year because of warmer-than-normal temperatures, they didn’t respond to calls until Sept. 16. Plan for a 7- to 10-day moose hunt, with 10 days being ideal.

CARIBOU

A caribou hunt usually has a greater success rate, although the price isn’t much cheaper. There is limited caribou hunting along the road system. But I’d advise against it if you are new to Alaska hunting; it’s too unpredictable and tough going.
For best success, choose a fly-out caribou hunt. Try a fly-out to the Mulchatna region or to the Central Arctic herd east of the Dalton Highway. Or you can spend a little more and try the largest herd in the state, the Western Arctic herd, out of Kotzebue. Caribou are often still in velvet in late August, so plan to hunt right after conference. Don’t wait to hunt caribou in late September. When the bulls go into rut, the meat becomes inedible.

BEARS, SHEEP, GOATS AND DEER

To hunt brown bear, Dall sheep or mountain goat, you are required to hire a registered guide. These hunts range from $9,000 to $15,000. Find a guide and negotiate a price. No discounts have been offered at the time of this writing and many bear guides are booked years in advance.
Enjoy black bear hunting along the road system, or via boat or air drop-off. Hunting is also good in the Chugach and Tongass national forests using U.S. Forest Service cabins that rent for about $35 a night. Bears can be found on the salmon streams, but most are in the high country feeding on berries. They are approachable if your stalking skills are good. You might also have a chance at a wolf.
The best blacktail deer hunting is located on Kodiak Island, with fair to good hunting on the islands of Prince William Sound or Southeast Alaska. You’ll have to climb high for the big bucks, but the effort is worth it.
A do-it-yourself fly-in hunt requires knowledge of wilderness hunting skills. On a recent hunt, the air charter operation restricted us to 50 pounds of gear per person for our 10-day hunt. That’s basic gear and not much more.
Air charter services are available out of Fairbanks and other larger cities in Alaska, but it is often cheaper to fly Alaska Airlines to a hunting area and then hire a charter from there.

ADVICE FOR ALL HUNTERS

Be in shape for hunting. I have packed out three of four moose hindquarters for a mile, at about 120 pounds each. Each moose requires about 10 separate trips. So, if you shoot a moose one mile from camp, expect to walk 20 miles just packing. I once bagged a moose three miles from camp. It took me four days, from sunup to sundown, to pack it all out.
Many hunts offer fair to good fishing and bird hunting, so remember to inquire about those opportunities.
Because of the limited number of big-game hunting preferences listed in our conference survey of members, and due to the complexity of big game hunting and personal fitness, areas, logistics and costs, Fairbanks CVB and I decided to work one-on-one with anyone wishing to plan a big-game hunt. Send me an email stating what you want to pursue, and we’ll correspond on what I feel is the best possible area and transportation option for your trip. If discounts become available, and they match your criteria, I’ll contact you. All hunts should be booked before early February or sooner, as the air-charter and boat operators quickly book the slots at national sports shows. ♦
Author’s note: Alaska Hunter Publications (www.alaskahunter.com) offers several books and DVDs about float hunting and Alaska big and small-game hunting available to OWAA members at 50 percent off.
—Chris Batin has been a member since 1979. He is the 2012 conference local chair. He is also editor and publisher of Alaska Angler, and Alaska Hunter Productions and Video Productions. Contact him at ChrisBatin@AlaskaAngler.com.
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