It’s seems there’s a lot of new hunters in state, and as a recent transplant (moved up from Wyoming in 2007) I thought it might be helpful to discuss a few things I’ve learned so far. I understand that hunting in Alaska is overwhelming for the uninitiated. There’s a lot to figure out: complex regulations, controlled use areas, management areas, subsistence hunting, parks, preserves, reserves, transporters, guides, outfitters, native corporations, travel logistics, wildlife populations, etc. etc. And in the meantime we’ve all got dreams of 40” rams and 70” moose filling up our heads.
The first thing you have to be prepared to do is change your outlook. Everyone outside of Alaska has their own ideas of what Alaska is and what opportunities it provides. The simple fact of the matter is once you really start to understand it (and especially once you get here), you’re likely going to have to change your perspective and expectations. I came from a place where I had it pretty easy – where I could typically harvest several big game animals every fall, and that was just hunting on weekends or after work. And I’ve quickly come to understand that hunting like that is just not a reality here for the majority of people. That’s not to say there aren’t numerous opportunities for amazing experiences and the hunt of your dreams, but it takes some work and planning. It’s not going to be quick and easy.
Planning and research…
Do your homework, and start now because it takes some time. There’s a lot of information out there that can help you plan a successful hunt, but no one is going to drop it in your lap. I spend at least an hour pretty much every day (usually the first hour while I drink my morning coffee) researching hunting in one way or another, whether it’s reading books, combing through harvest statistics, looking into transporters and guides, reading up on the latest gear – you simply can’t know too much. Personally, I find the research and planning to be a lot of fun.
Prioritize what you want to hunt for – you’re not going to be able to do all of it all at once, so decide where you want to start. Learn what species are present where. Don’t move to Fairbanks with the hopes of bagging a blacktail. Pick a hunt the seams doable to get your feet wet and go from there.
Grab a book and start reading. This website’s store has just about all of them. Batin’s Hunting Alaska is a good start. I also recommend Confer’s Hunt Alaska Now, Strahan’s Float Hunting Alaska’s Wild Rivers, and Bartlett’s Float Hunting Alaska (sorry Mike ). And there are numerous good books on specific species to go to from there. If you want to kill a sheep, get a book on sheep hunting. These books aren’t going to tell you all the secret, but there’s a wealth of information available that could take you a lot of experience and research to acquire.
Get a copy of the regulations, and read them. Then read them again. You can download a pdf online if you’re out of state. If you’ve got questions, and you will (harvest tickets, registration permits, drawing hunts, tier II hunts – what the heck?!) ask them. But you’ll ask better questions and get better answers if you at least have a general understanding of the regulations. Spend time on the ADFG website. The amount of information available is hard to describe. Again, it takes some effort to sort it all out, but you can garner a lot of useful information. Learn your way around the Harvest Reports. Talk to Fish and Game, go into the office and peruse through all the handouts and publications. Talk to the people there – they’re there to help.
Learn what resources are available to you and utilize them. Google Earth is awesome. You can download pdfs of USGS maps for free from the USGS Store using the Map Locator. Get a copy DeLorme’s Alaska Atlas and Gazette. Take notes in it. Get TOPO software or something similar and start looking into potential areas. I love maps – I’ve got lots of them. I make copies of the expensive ones so I can write all over them and highlight drainages, hunt unit boundaries, whatever helps me better understand an area.
As you’re gathering all this information, organize it so it’ll be useful to you down the road when you go back through it. I’ve got filing folders for sheep, goat, moose, caribou, ducks, transporters, etc. so I can keep track of handouts, harvest statistics, maps, notes, whatever. I have similar folders on my computer broken down by species, transportation, gear, etc where I can save excel spreadsheets (for analyzing harvest statistics or contact information), pdfs, pictures, whatever. Organize your internet favorites. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than knowing I have a website bookmarked somewhere but I can’t remember what it’s called and I have to go page by page through a hundred bookmarks to find it. Take notes, make lists, it all helps.
Talk to people…
You can’t beat personal advice and assistance. Find other people who like to hunt… at work, you’re spouses’ work, neighbors, wherever you can. Get involved in local hunting and shooting organizations. Talk to people behind the counter at sporting goods stores. Get to know people. Show an interest in hunting, and that you’re willing to help out with the work and planning. There are a lot of people looking for a hunting partner or who are willing to help out someone new to the area. You’re going to have to show them you’re a worthy partner… there’s enough bad seeds out there that people are cautious. But nothing beats firsthand experience and having a local familiar with a hunt or area show you the ropes.
For starters, look at the sticky on hunt planning at the top of this forum. Mike and the others have compiled some very useful references and information. Read hunt_ak’s sticky on Alaska Draw hunts. Learn to use the “Search this Forum” tool. It’s located in the upper right corner. A lot of your questions have been asked before (often many times). People are more willing to help those who have shown they can help themselves.
Private Messages (PM) are intended to be private. People are generally reluctant to post too much information where the whole world can read it, but will often help via a private response. If someone shares information with you through a PM, keep it private and don't immediately post it on the main forum for everyone to see. There’s a reason they communicated with you that way, so respect that intent or you’re not going to get future help.
Be specific in your questions. You’ll get much better information. Instead of asking “where would you recommend I go for moose?” ask “I’ve noticed there’s a trail out of This Town that runs up along That River in unit 20D. Does this area receive a lot of pressure? Has anyone had success in this area? How rough is the trail? PM me if you want.” There are a lot of good people on this forum and elsewhere who will help out, but don’t expect anyone to just lay it all out for you. Remember, every new hunter is potential competition for a limited resource.
Keep this in mind as you undertake your research into hunting Alaska…
Access is the name of the game. And it takes some time to figure it out. Alaska is big, no doubt about it, so you’d think there’d be plenty of room for all, right? First of all, take out the national parks, native lands, North Slope development, private property (1% of the state, but often a key 1%) and your available hunting options just got smaller. Realize that getting to your chosen hunting spot might realistically require a plane ride, another plane ride, and a 3-day float trip. Obviously, not everyone can afford these types of hunts every year. The thing is - less than 10% of the state is accessible by road. There aren’t logging roads and farming roads crisscrossing every section.
You’ve got 360,000 people in the Anchorage/Matsu area. According to ADFG, there are about 90,000 resident hunting licenses sold every year. That’s 13% of the total state population (680,000). So assuming 13% of 360,000 people, you’ve got roughly 47,000 people centralized in one area looking for a place to hunt. Of course not everyone is hunting the same thing at the same time, but you get the point. Access is limited, and if you can drive there so can someone else.
If you’ve got an ATV, raft, boat, horse or plane you’re a step ahead of the game. If you don’t, you’ve got some options – burrow one, rent one, buy one. Find someone else who has some transportation, show that person you’re a decent, respectable individual who likes to hunt and maybe you can work out a trip. And of course you can always use your own two feet. There’s a lot of walk-in accessible hunting in this state, if you’re willing to take the time and go the distance. You’re probably not going to kill a lot of sheep over the weekend (although stranger things have happened). You may have to walk in 10 or 20 miles, and there’s no guarantee that there won’t be a Super Cub unloading hunters when you get there. But walk-in hunts are doable – people do it every year.
If you’ve got the means and desire to fly into an area, keep a couple things in mind. There are limited transporters accessing any area, so plan ahead. Air charters book up early. There’s also competition to the do-it-yourselfers from guides and hunt planners. That’s just a fact, so be flexible in your plans and have a back-up plan.
When you take all this into consideration, you realize why people in AK are reluctant to give up too much information and why people hold on to their honey holes. When you invest so much time and effort into something, you find yourself cautious to go handing it out freely. Even I’m reluctant to share the fruits of my labor with my hunting partner, but I do trusting it’ll stay between us. So far so good. And you also understand how hunt planners, guides, outfitters, and transporters can be a viable (albeit more expensive) alternative.
I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture, but just trying to serve up a healthy dose of reality. There are lots of opportunities if you put in the work up-front. The planning and research pays off.
I killed a cow moose two weeks after becoming a resident. Besides putting moose meat in the freezer, I had an awesome hunt in new country and learned a lot. I had a coworker who was going on a draw hunt for cow moose and offered to go along and help out. Doing my research I found out there was a registration hunt nearby. I got a permit, with the outlook that if we got his moose early and still had some time maybe I could try for a moose of my own. I looked into access. I got maps and GPS coordinates. I borrowed an ATV from a coworker. Things worked out, and we got my coworker’s moose on day 2. Day 3 I did some exploring, found a way into my area, and shot a cow moose that evening.
We also got my hunting partner a nice black bear last year. He’s also a Wyoming boy originally, so we’re both learning as we go along, but we have some locals to help out. He drew a 2009 goat permit out of Seward so we’ve got more in the works. On top of that we’ve got some preliminary plans laid out for a walk-in sheep hunt and a moose hunt. Fact is we may not have enough time to fit it all in next year as the details come together. That’s all right… just means we’ve got a jump on the following year. And my dad has been dreaming of a dall sheep for 51 years, so I’m working on getting something set up in that regard in the next couple of years (he’s picking up the bill for transportation when I figure out the details, so that helps out). I can’t wait!
Keep dreaming, but get to planning. Good luck.