Wach Report II- Planning the hunt
Ok...My first WACH Report dealt with flights, camping gear and having a back-up plan. Now lets look at hunt preparations.
It is critically important that you know as much about the country you are going to hunt long before you get there. Some flight services will assist you in getting maps on Unit 23 and some don’t. Hunt planning services will assist you in all steps of the process and you should expect that because that is why you are paying them. I am a big fan of having a Topo map in my hands. I have these darn things all over the place because it can provide you with so much info long before you ever reach your drop location. I like to use the USGS TOPOS at a 1:24,000 scale because I like details. My maps have symbols drawn all over them. I create all kinds of mini notes on my maps about possible glassing locations; camp spots and hazards as well as my drop off spots and my pick up points. Even when I am going into a new area and cannot scout it prior to the hunt I know where I will be doing most of my hunting based upon the Topo map.
When I am doing a new float hunt I sit down with my pilot and we put in the drops and pick up points on the map. Nothing sucks worse for a pilot than to find his client at the wrong pick up point and having to land on a new gravel bar. Pilots like to land at know spots. One of my pilots had to pick up one of my groups a few years back and the group missed the pick up spot at the mouth of the Nimmi River in the upper Naotak River and the pilot made a unknown landing at this new spot. All went well until he rolled over a soft spot and did a prop strike as the 206 tipped forward. When that happens that plane has to be torn down and certified before it fly’s again and during hunting season that causes a huge mess for all of the other groups who were counting on that service getting them out.
Many flight services tell you things like " We will not know where we are dropping you until a few days before your hunt", or " We will put you down in front of the migration" These are red flags guys! You should be involved with some parts of the decision on where you will be dropped. The pilot is the one who makes the safety decisions but as the paying client you should be educated enough to know something about your area and have some say-so about locations. This is very hard when you know nothing about the area you are hunting in. In a unit as large as Unit 23 there is lots of choices and you need to come to the planning table with some info for sure! Do not be afraid to ask your pilot questions! How many others groups will also be hunting in this drop locations? How close is a water location. Can we do a quick fly around so I can see the lay of the land? All good questions and a quick fly around are very important. Why? You get a chance to see the lay of the land, you see water locations, and you get to see if the how many other groups are in the immediate area. Is there any reason to fly all the way to NW Alaska and get dropped next to 100 of your new best friends? This is an extreme but not by mush many times!
The first few conversations with your hunt planner or flight service need to be getting a feel for what kind of hunt you want, experience and expectations. Cost should not play into these conversations yet. I always ask my groups what kind of hunt they are looking for, Drop vs. Float hunts. How remote they want to go and dates. Dates are important because the caribou are 100% dependent on weather on the north side of the Brooks Range when it comes to herd movement. If a group can only hunt in early Sept. I need to get them into the drainages that are up near Unit 26 so they have a realistic shot at seeing animals; this narrows the choices down quickly. It is important to have some choices for the hunting group to research, back to the importance of maps. The choice ultimately comes down to the hunter and I make suggestions giving the pros and cons of each suggestion. We always look at back up plans as well.
You can kind of of see why the hunt-planning phase takes 9+ months to do. Lots of things to consider and lots of homework. Yes it is easier to just book a package drop hunt and arrive in Kotz with luck on your side. But when you are involved in the planning process you become invested in your hunt and the results are almost always better than just hoping the pilot “drops you on front of the migration!”
For you guys who are planning 2013 hunts now is the time to start the process. Read, study maps, ask questions look at the AF&G web site, as it is full of lots of good info. For you guys doing 2012 hunts, good luck and have a great hunting experience!
Northwest Alaska Back Country