My Mid-August Noatak Float Hunt



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  • My Mid-August Noatak Float Hunt

    I am flying out of Kotzebue with Eric Sieh on August 12, to the headwaters (Twelvemile Creek) of the Noatak. My brother and I plan to do some backpacking in Gates of the Arctic first, then begin a float-hunt which will end in Noatak (or Kotzebue if the weather allows and the Pro-Pioneer with Oar Saddles seems capable).

    I've read with great interest a lot of threads on this forum regarding the Noatak, GMU 23 in general, and issues regarding locals, non-locals, non-residents, wanton waste, etc. etc.

    With all that in mind, I'm forging ahead, and I'm excited. I've done three previous caribou hunts: two mid-September hunts, and one mid-March hunt; all rifle hunts 5 miles off the Dalton highway. I now want to get a bit further off the road system :-)

    On the Noatak, my goals are to harvest two caribou and one grizzly bear if the gods favor me. Because this is a long float early in the season, my greatest concern is meat care. Not only because I feel sensitive to that issue in this area, but I consider myself primarily a meat hunter. Antlers just don't taste that good.

    So, my questions are: given I observe the general tenets of proper meat care (quality game bags, out of sun, dry, citric acid coat), how many days (or range of days depending on conditions) in late August can a person grounded in reality expect caribou meat to retain high-quality? I would also like to salvage most/all of my grizzly meat. Any suggestions regarding this? What age/sex/condition of bear should I target? Is meat care/longevity any different from caribou?

    One possible scenario for how this hunt could work is that we float the first half or more without hunting, then hunt the lower half when I'm at max a week from Noatak. This will probably take some willpower if we see a lot of animals. A mid-trip meat fly-out has been considered, but is economically unfeasible for us starving college students.

    I'm not demanding this be a "trip of a lifetime." Quite the opposite, I'm hoping to have a lifetime of trips like this. I want to do it as intellegently, ethically, and elegantly as possible. Any feedback, constructive, critical, etc. that helps me accomplish that will be greatly appreciated!

    Please know that I have read most of just about every book that I can get my hands on by Larry Bartlett, Chris Batin, Tony Russ, Duncan Gilchrist, and other Alaska and hunting authors. HOWEVER, I'm eager to learn from the diversity of opinions and experiences that this forum offers.



  • #2
    12 mile creek! Now THAT'S headwaters alright. Sure there'll be enough water to float the PP?
    I'd recommend leaving the griz meat behind. 2 guys, 2 bou,1 griz, and gear. Sounds like a load for the PP. I'm curious just how long you plan to be out there.
    Meat care, spoilage will largely be determined by weather. Unfortunately you won't know what the weather will be after you shoot something. Under the right conditions, a guy could keep meat for around 10 days. Wet or really warm weather will lower that number.
    I'd also plan on ending your hunt at Noatak. The farther you go downriver after that, the more wind will effect your progress. Especially trying to get from the river mouth to Kotz.
    I would strongly recommend NOT showing up in Noatak with sour, smelly meat. You won't be welcomed.
    I can't help being a lazy, dumb, weekend warrior.......I have a JOB!
    I have less friends now!!


    • #3
      Getting along in Noatak

      I don't have a lot to add on your specific questions regarding meat care that you haven't seen already. I have been meaning to chime in on the issue of Noatak and this seems like a good place to do it. I appreciate your thinking ahead about meat care.

      The developing controversy over this caribou herd is really unfortunate because it seems to stem from old issues that continue to plague Alaska including race relations and use of limited and valuable natural resources. Part of the critisism is that all outsiders care about is antlers and that we don't contribute to the local economy. We just take..

      From a personal perspective, I really hate to see this controversy going this way. When we made our trip three or four years ago, we used a local Kotzebue air taxi, bought fuel and butane locally at two stores, hired a taxi (car), then went on our trip. We harvested a moose and a caribou. We salvaged every scrap of meat, and even got checked by enforcement. The officer pulled out every strip of rib meat just to be sure, that the nonresident who shot the caribou did everything right. Then we floated down to Noatak where we de-boned our meat. (We mailed fish boxes to ourselves for the trip out. That worked great.) We hired local kids to move our meat and gear up to the airstrip with their new Honda ATV and had a great visit with them. We gave them the bones for their dogs, and lightened our load by giving them all our left over candy bars. We gave Mom 25 pounds of salt. Grandpa (role of Dad) stopped by and showed us some herbs he had been collecting that day, and we gave him our left over fuel which he appreciated. We were there for the meat, so we didnít give away any of that. I personally would not give my meat away because it would imply that I donít value it, and that I am there for antlers. My Dad and I both bought some scrimshaw drawings on antler from a local artist. (Just to be balanced, we were also visited by a bunch of drunk older kids after we went to bed even though it is a dry area supposedly.) The kids we hung out with wanted us to come back every year.

      Then, we flew back to Kotz where we had to spend the night at a hotel. Our one large pizza cost us $65. I am afraid this was not a representative experience, but rather an isolated incident. Too bad. Alocal couple in Noatak even offered to plug in their empty freezer so we could store our meat overnight. In hind sight (I am so slow, this just occurred to me!), perhaps that was a veiled invitation for us to leave some of it with them. I suppose I would have shared if I thought they were in need, but my impression is that lots of people leave meat. Maybe thatís more so in Kotz than the smaller villages though. There seemed to be plenty of caribou around to feed everyone and there were a lot of people in motor boats going out to head them off.


      • #4
        Be Careful!

        I did a hunt with my Dad two years ago from August 12-20 and we hunted right on the Noatak. It was a drop-off hunt, and didn't involve any rafting. We were out there for 7 days of legal hunting (8 days total) and we took 4 caribou. The weather was warm (somewhere around 70) and we decided to wait until day 3 to take our first 'bou. We took the 2 that third day and had about 50% spoilage on that meat. To say the least it was very frustrating and sad to see. We did everything we possibly could to keep it fresh, but to no avail.

        I agree with the above posts, pull out on the Noatak. the animals you'll see downstream of there will be minimal at that time of year. But, I strongly recommend waiting until you're closer to Noatak to take your caribou. Use the beginning of the hunt to focus on bear and becoming a better photographer. I am confident that you will have no problem finding the caribou once you are closer to Noatak.

        So, in short, enjoy your trip but be smart about when you take your meat. It must be your number one priority, even if it means passing up that trophy bull on the second day of your hunt!

        Good Luck!


        • #5
          Thanks HunterTom. I appreciate the helpfull specifics of your advice. I'll take it to heart and if the weather is in the 70's, I'll wait 'till a couple/few days before Noatak village to take my caribou. My goal is to be a "trophy meat hunter," so passing up on a great big rack may not be easy, but if that's what it takes, so be it.


          • #6
            Sounds like a great trip Ian. A bit long and you may be a bit crowded in a ProPioneer. You and your brother, two 'bou and a grizzly? I'll be back up in Kotzebue on August 24th. Eric will fly us out somewhere.


            • #7
              Meat care

              Ian: Two years ago, we hunted from our camp right on the Noatak (upstream of the Aniuk confluence) in mid-August. It was hot and, as my son, Hunter Tom said, we lost about 40% of our meat to spoilage. It would have been worse but that we put the meat bags (once they air-dried sufficiently) inside of heavy duty plastic garbage bags and immersed them in the river itself. Problem was that the river level was constantly dropping and wasn't very deep to begin with. If you're in a raft, it might be possible to hang them over the side of the raft. Definitely use a lemon or spice based insect repellant on the meat bags. Best of luck to you.


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