I just returned from a 8 day float hunt out of Kotzebue with my two hunting partners. My first thought for when I returned was to write up a story about my hunt for others to enjoy, but honestly a trip like this is impossible to put into works. The whole experience was truly awesome and one I am positive I cannot duplicate. Instead, I thought I would share alittle bit of my hunt (along with pictures!) and offer up a few things that worked for us on this trip and did not work. This was our first time taking on a float hunt so I am open to any comments you guys might have on the way we did things.
We arrived in Kotzebue on Tuesday, September 7th and immediately called Jim Kincaid of Northwest Aviation for a ride to his hanger to unload our gear. While organizing our bags and storage tubs for the next days flight Jim informed us that the caribou migration was still very far north, most likely due to the warm weather. The river he was putting us on had shown little sign of any caribou, and in their scouting flights they had only saw about 50-60 animals within a few miles out our drop off point. Our spirits took alittle bit of a hit, as we were hoping to see vast amounts of animals migrating across the tundra, but nontheless we were going to get out there and have fun. The flight out to the river on Wednesday was great with beautiful weather, and upon landing on the gravel bar we were in awe of the natural beauty around us. The crystal clear water of the river, color of the tundra, and rolling mountains in the background made for a moment where we just had to stop and take it all in. I had planned the trip, and my main hunting partner was able to go along despite the high costs because he promised his wife we would be bringing back lots of meat for their freezer. My other partner is stationed in Puerto Rico, and had traveled two days at a much higher expense for the trip. That first day I had a bit of worry in my mind that we would be spending the week without seeing, or coming home with any animals.
Day 2 we started the morning glassing behind camp and immediately saw a monster grizzly feeding on one side of a hill and two very nice caribou bulls grazing on the other side, about 300 yards away from the bear. As we were prepping our gear for the stalk the bear spooked the caribou closer to us and my two buddy's (Eric & Mike) moved in and downed both bulls within 100 yards of each other. It was a great relief that on the first day of hunting we already had animals down and meat to take home to Erics wife!! We worked quick on quartering the bulls because of the heat and ended up with alot of hair to pick off the meat back at camp. We spent one more night at this camp unable to find another caribou for me to take, then headed two miles down river in the rafts to an area that looked really "moosey". After setting up camp Mike went off to do some fishing and Eric & I headed up a little shelf about 12 feet high behind camp to glass and call for moose. Within two minutes of walking on the shelf I caught sight of a dark brown spot with some white glistening on both sides of it in the sun. I threw up the binoculars and a large bull moose came into focus walking towards us about a mile away in the tundra below the shelf we were standing on. We made a stalk out of sight and when we came back around to where the bull should have been he was gone. There did not seem to be enough cover on the ground to hide the big bull, so we both figured the bull had winded us and ran off. Eric gave three grunts in his moose megaphone anyway and to our surprise a large set of antlers rose up from behind a small bush. The bull stood up and made a bee line straight for us. At 155 yards he stopped and gave us a front on view of his antlers with 2 brow tines on the left and three on the right (in a four brow tine area). We went through every technique I have learned on this forum on judging antler width and decided to take the shot. The bull turned out to be definitely legal and quite a challenge to quarter and move back to camp. I have an amazing amount of respect for you guys that go out moose hunting solo and pack out quarters alone, man they are alot of work!!
We stayed two nights at our "moose" camp then spent two full days rafting down 40 miles (as the crow flies) to our pull out point. The highlight of the trip came 10 miles down river on our first day of hard rafting when the caribou migration showed up!!
Thousands of animals were on both sides of the river with a group of about 200 crossing right in front of us, just the experience we were hoping for on this trip. Along the way we could have taken several more caribou and another bull moose but the amount of meat we already had was just enough for us to handle and we did not want to donate any back in Kotzebue. Our last night in the field before pickup was the clearest we had and gave me the opportunity to see the northern lights for the first time. Man, what a great way to end the trip! Because of the cost of this trip Eric and I had decided it was going to be a one time deal, and as soon as we stepped foot back at Jim Kincaid's hanger we booked again for next September, I cant wait!!
What worked for us:
1. Good research of our transporter and the area made this trip a success. Jim Kincaid run's his operation out of Kotzebue year round and runs a class operation. There are a few transporters that run out of Kotz for 25 days out of the season and are real bad news so I would suggest you do your homework before selecting one of these guys.
2. We didn't overpack. There were a group of guys who had everything they brought tore apart in the hanger trying to drop 50lbs before the flight out. We were 400lbs underweight to start out and ended up getting two flights out of the field instead of three at the end which ended up getting us $1200 refunded when we got back to Northwest Aviation.
3. The havalon knife. Great piece of gear.
4. While skinning and quartering the caribou, Eric started at the rear and me at the front which ended up getting hair all over the meat which we had to pick off at camp later. On the moose, I made all the initial cuts first, then we skinned and quartered one section at a time. This took longer but left little to no hair on the meat at the end.
5. The rafts: we were able to cover alot of ground and see a ton of country. Using rafts while hunting was just awesome.
6. We used bungee cords and cinch straps on the rafts to keep the meat suspended off the floor. We never had a problem with the meat getting wet and it offered great ventilation to the meat while rafting.
7. We left a storage tub in Northwest's hanger while we were in the field filled with trashbags, bubble wrap, tape, cardboard, zip ties etc for packaging the meat antlers on return. It worked out great have all that gear ready when we returned as we were able to quickly get out meat and antlers packaged and over to Nothern Air Cargo for shipping.
8. The 10" trick for field judging antlers on a bull moose!
What could have gone better:
1. No one brought a journal or even pen and paper. We witnessed so much on this trip it would have been nice to record some memories.
2. Not enough game bags. We brought just enough to change out on all the meat once but would have been nice to have some more handy.
3. More tarps. We brought one big tarp and one small tarp and the amount of meat we had would have been easier to set up each day with one more tarp or two big tarps.
4. Saw. I brought along a gerber hand saw that broke apart right as I was capping the moose antlers. A wyoming saw or something similar is a must.
5. More rafting experience. None of us had ever worked a raft before and we had a few close calls. Maybe alittle more research on the rafting part beforehand would have been helpful.
6. Not rafting enough. We may have spent too much time at each place we stopped resulting in two 10 hour days in the raft covering 40 miles.
Well, thats all I got. If anyone is heading out to Kotzebue soon on a hunt and needs more info fell free to PM me. Here are some pictures!!