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Thread: Questions on planning a late-season Denali Highway caribou hunt

  1. #1

    Default Questions on planning a late-season Denali Highway caribou hunt

    It looks like I might have a chance to drive down from Fairbanks this next weekend and try to fill my DC482 tag for a bull on the Cantwell side of the Denali Highway, unless they hit the quota and close it by emergency order before then. I've got a bunch of questions about how to do it safely, if at all.

    Is there any up-to-date source for road conditions? Do the folks at Alpine Creek or the Gracious House mind phone calls from non-customers just calling to see if it's safe to drive out there? How about the troopers? I saw in the Nelchina news thread that the road was fine this past weekend, but online weather predicts snow in Cantwell for the next couple days, then colder, clear weather for the weekend.

    I drive a 4WD crossover SUV with 17-inch Blizzaks, so I do alright in a bit of snow but don't have the ground clearance to power through 8+ inches. I would plan to drive back to Cantwell each night to check the forecast and make sure I don't get snowed in while I'm sleeping. What's the road usually like with some snow at this time of year -- do enough hunters and others still drive it to make pretty good tracks? Is drifting much of a problem around mile 85-100?

    What can I expect for caribou numbers and behavior compared to mid-September? Are they in bigger groups or well scattered? Moving more or feeding more?

    Does anyone have experience with bull meat quality at the end of October for this herd? From the info I could find it sounds like people get pretty good meat when the season re-opens after the rut closure. Is a large bull still risky a week after that? I know it wouldn't be as good as young or early season meat; I just want to make sure it's edible.

    Also, once the Denali Highway gets snowed in, is it ever worth hunting the Parks through Broad Pass or anywhere else for this herd? I haven't seen anyone mention that, but it is in the hunt area and I've seen bou there in the winter before.

    Thanks in advance for any advice!
    Jason
    http://www.troutnut.com -- Fly fishing photos & insect hatch encyclopedia.
    http://www.daltoncorridormap.com -- Exact 5-mile Haul Road corridor boundary for GPS & Google Earth

  2. #2
    Member AK Ray's Avatar
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    Coming out saturday evening the snow on the road was warming up and getting "punchy", but by the time we were in Ahtna land the road was fine and icy. My Old Toyota pickup was dropping through what had been a super hard packed snow in the AM, going up some of the hills the front tires spun a little as the snow gave way. The wind is blowing today according to the NWS and with some fresh snow it will be drifting over more. There are steep up/down hill sections and they might give you an issue. As long as the big trucks are out there and breaking things down it might stay open another week or two without a lot more snow.

    As the day warmed up I found that when passing oncoming trucks you did not want to pull too far over or the crown of the road might not let you get back on the road. I had to back up once to prevent the truck from slipping further to the side - forward was not working - typical winter snow driving stuff really. Just have to know what you are doing is all. The only issue for you and your cross over SUV is that when an F250 is coming up the now one lane road with a foot or more of snow on each side where are you going to go? Will you back up a half mile to a pull out with over 12 inches of snow in it? or will the F250 be able to get over far enough to allow you to get through? You may be able to drive the road, but you may not be able to get off the road and will end up blocking it while hunting. Bring a good snow shovel so that you can dig youself a parking spot.

    We saw most animals just east of the Big Su. We ended up getting busted by a herd we did not see while stalking a herd we knew was around but not exactly where in the hills and gullies. Long frustrating afternoon. We should have just sat them out and waited for them to make a move, or for a single to move towards them and cut it off.

    On the way out there were dozens of bloody spots along the road from the Big Su out to Brushkana creek. About twice the amount that were there in the morning on the way in. If we had only just sat and waited them out rather than drive around looking for them. However the people that were taking animals were driving around looking for them just like us. A lot of folks had ATVs and were pulling them out from well off the road.

    Did see one guy with what appeared to be a cow. He as at one of the spots we had earlier busted a herd while stalking another. He was bigger than the animal he was working on when we checked him out with the binos. No horns of any kind and really small. Or the guy was an NFL lineman and just dwarfed the animal. Hard to tell at 800 yards, but the animal he was working on might have had a live weight of less than 150 pounds. Hope he saw boy parts on him when he shot. I suspect that with no obvious enforcement by AST people are willing to take the chance on shooting cows.

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    Member Dupont Spinner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AK Ray View Post

    Did see one guy with what appeared to be a cow. He as at one of the spots we had earlier busted a herd while stalking another. He was bigger than the animal he was working on when we checked him out with the binos. No horns of any kind and really small. Or the guy was an NFL lineman and just dwarfed the animal. Hard to tell at 800 yards, but the animal he was working on might have had a live weight of less than 150 pounds. Hope he saw boy parts on him when he shot. I suspect that with no obvious enforcement by AST people are willing to take the chance on shooting cows.
    Something to remember is the Bulls will be starting to drop antlers this time of year. Cows will carry them into late winter/spring.

    As far as calling to check weather and road conditions...the lodges would most likely rather have you do that then have to mount a rescue party.

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    Member AK Ray's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dupont Spinner View Post
    Something to remember is the Bulls will be starting to drop antlers this time of year. Cows will carry them into late winter/spring.
    I am aware of this, but when a grown man appears to be two to three times the size of the caribou he is bent over cleaning, he is either indeed a huge man, or that caribou is not a bull. Every bull we saw was good sized and healthy with dark faces. The caribou this man was cleaning had a light gray face like the calves and some cows we spent the day watching, and again was tiny compared to the man.

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    Member PG13's Avatar
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    We were on the opposite end of the Hwy and it was slim pickens. Took a bull out with us but it was only one of two that we heard about in the first 15 miles. The other was a large-bodied bull that had dropped its antlers and was milling around alone. Heavy animal, especially dragging it uphill but the fella was a real treat to visit with and he spotted us a couple giant and delicious beers to take back to camp for the night. Steinlager was the brand.
    Go Big Red!

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    I too seen a few cows on wheelers but was told that the Fed Permit holders can take cows. Not sure if this is true. We connected on two nice bulls in Paxson. Seen over 100 animals yesterday...

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    Member AK Ray's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by trailblazersteve View Post
    I too seen a few cows on wheelers but was told that the Fed Permit holders can take cows. Not sure if this is true.
    I was wondering about that as well, so I didn't go ask the guy (that and he was nearly a mile away down hill). Then he ended up passing us just south of Talkeetna on the way home, so I doubt he was a local Federal permit holder.

    Just east of the Big Su the small groups of 10 to 15 animals that we ended up bumping into, but not getting a shot on, all had three to four bulls in the herd. Some were pretty nice sized, but all of them were still pushing and chasing cows around. It was interresting to watch the ever expanding herd out on the river. The bulls were standing around and toying with any cow that was still up. Most cows were laying down on the ice by 4pm.

  8. #8

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    Thanks for the info, guys. I'm still really torn on whether to go, but it's not looking good. It should, at least, be cold enough by the weekend that any hard packed snow isn't going to soften up on me... but there might be too much risk anyway with all the new snow.

    Has anyone been out there or in the Cantwell area since it started falling this week?

    I found a SNOTEL weather station online that reports snow depth on Monahan Flat, north of the mile 85-100 area west of the Susitna, and it looks like the snow depth there has doubled (from 4 to 8 inches) in the last couple days:

    http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/nwcc/sntl-datarpt.jsp?site=1094&days=7&state=ak
    Jason
    http://www.troutnut.com -- Fly fishing photos & insect hatch encyclopedia.
    http://www.daltoncorridormap.com -- Exact 5-mile Haul Road corridor boundary for GPS & Google Earth

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    Member Matt's Avatar
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    I think you are worrying too much about nothing. This is by far probably the easiest hunt in the state of Alaska.

  10. #10
    Member Berto's Avatar
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    i drove out from the Su toward Cantwell Sat eve and the road was fine. With more snow and some wind the road will get dicey...do you have chains? have you considered using a snowmachine? if i was going this weekend, i'd use a snowmachine.

    best of luck!

  11. #11
    Member Mammoth Hunter's Avatar
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    Drove from the Paxson side 50 miles in opening day and didn't see any bou. The snow got worse and was less traveled at mp 53. I didn't see any hunters with bou on that road. Most left after the morning.

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