Alaska Hunt Planning: Getting Started
There are many ways to plan an Alaska hunt, but the information you gather is pretty much the same no matter what door you come through at the beginning. Here are some common beginning points, together with the steps that follow.
Most hunters begin with an idea of the species they want to hunt. If that's you, the first questions to consider are as follows:
- Determine the species. Many areas of Alaska offer the opportunity to hunt more than one species on the same hunt, but multi-species hunts are usually a compromise with one species being predominant in the area. It's usually best to figure out which species is most important to you and plan your hunt around that animal. Our main Hunting Page contains a menu listing all big-game species in the state; clicking on a species name takes you to a page focused on the biology, distribution and regional hunting tactics and locations for that species.
- Availability. Review the Regional Pages and the Alaska Hunting Regulations to determine the best locations where the desired species is found.
- Abundance. Read the Wildlife Management and Harvest Reports, and interview the area biologist to determine the health of the species population in each area. Contact information and sample questions can be found on our Resources Page.
- Select the area.Once you've sorted out where the animal can be found, and you've spoken with the biologists in the respective areas, you'll be in a position to focus on a region or an area within that region. Begin with a look at our Places Landing Page, which links you to every area of the state.
- Select the air charter. Once you know where you're going, you can choose an appropriate air service to get you there. You can find a complete listing of air charters for each area in our Directory.
Some hunters prefer to focus on a certain region of the state, in order to experience that area's uniqueness. If that's your approach, here's how to proceed:
- Select the region. Orient yourself to the characteristics of each region in terms of terrain, vegetation, weather patterns, rivers and access points. Much of this information can be found in our Places Pages.
- Determine hunting opportunities. Peruse the Alaska Hunting Regulations and read through the Game Management and Harvest Reports for a good sense of the opportunites in the area. After you've digested the written information, write down your questions and call the area biologist. Contact information and sample questions are found on our Resources page.
- Determine access points. Whether you're looking at a float or a drop camp hunt, you need to find access points to the area. This information is available through the air services working the areas.
- Select the air charter. Once you know where you're going, it's time to look for a reliable air service to get you in and out safely and on time. A complete listing of air charters, by area, is found in our Directory.
Many hunters have a preference for float hunts while others prefer drop camp hunts. Still others want to hunt on horseback or from an ATV, or perhaps budget constraints demand a road-based hunt. Here's a system for planning a method-based hunt:
- Choose the method. Talk to the rest of your group and decide which method you prefer. If you're floating, this may mean that you need to line up raft rentals, keeping in mind that the choice of boats will be determined to some extent by the river itself. Give yourself some flexibility by just getting a deposit down on the rental calendar while you study the situation before committing to a specific location.
- Choose the area. For river trips, look through the various river guidebooks and DVDs to narrow your focus down to at least the regional level. While you're at it, check out our Master River List; we have a listing of hundreds of rivers from across the state, together with the print and DVD resources for each one.
- Determine species availability and population health. Look through the Alaska Hunting Regulations and the Wildlife Management and Harvest Reports to get a sense of what's going on in the area you've chosen. Following that research, contact the area biologist with specific questions about the health of the game population and hunting pressure. The latter is particularly important on road-access hunts or ATV-based hunts, as the areas typically accessed by these methods are generally more crowded. Contact information and questions are found on our Resources Page.
- Select and air service. If you're flying out, this is the time to choose your charter. Be sure to meet their deposit requirements on time or you could be "just another guy on the phone". A complete listing of air charter services can be found in our Directory.
Mistakes to Avoid
Note that each of the above methods end with making your transportation arrangements. This is intentional. One of the classic mistakes hunters make is starting with air charter selection. This inevitably puts the air service in the role of fielding your questions about the river, the quality and quantity of game to be encountered, recommended rafting and camping gear, and many other things that would be better directed to someone else. Most air services don't mind some of these questions, but you must remember that their primary job is to provide transportation to and from the field location.
Doing Your Research
Any successful hunt in Alaska absolutely depends on good research. This research falls into one of two categories: non-perishable information, and perishable information. Let's look at each category and the kind of information you need to collect. Non-perishable information usually only needs to be gathered one time. Once you have this data you can use it for your upcoming hunt, hand it off to friends who are going to the same place later, or archive it for future use. Here are some examples of non-perishable information you might need to gather.
Non Perishable Information
This category contains details you need to collect, usually only once per area. In other words, once you gather this information, you can put the details in a folder and store it indefinitely for use later.
- Game Management Unit / Subunit
- Drop-off coordinates
- Terrain and vegetation
- Available species
- Hunting tactics
- Fishing opportunities
- Land managers
In addition to the above information, float hunters will need to gather the following, relative to the river:
- Whitewater rating
- Drop-off and take-out coordinates
- Mileage between drop-off and take-out points
- Recommended experience level
- Recommended boats
- Known river hazards and issues
Perishable data is the kind of information that frequently changes. This information is critical to your success, and in most cases needs to be gathered every time you hunt the area. Here are some examples of the kind of perishable information you need for a solid hunt plan.
- ADF&G regulatory changes / Emergency Orders
- Hunting pressure (local and nonlocal)
- Guide activity
- Regulatory changes
- Harvest data / success rates
- Overall game population health / trends
- Migration patterns
- Water levels / snowpack (river trips)
- Wildfire activity (habitat quality)
Making Sense of the Data
Gathering information is only part of the planning process. You need to know how to make sense of the data. For example, if you discover that the moose density in your area is .25 / sq. mi., and the primary habitat covers most of the area, it'll be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But on rivers that flow through areas of vast tundra, all the prime habitat is usually in the river corridor. So moose will be concentrated in these areas and thepractical density will actually be much higher.
Other factors such as hunting pressure, guide activity and local subsistence pressure require local knowledge that may be hard to obtain. It's wise to hire a consultant to assist you the first time through. Outdoors Directory offers fee-based consulting for all types of expedition planning. CLICK HERE for a description of our services. Also check out some of the excellent resources we have in the Outdoors Directory bookstore. Of particular interest is our Hunt Planning Library, which contains research materials you need for planning your hunt.
Do You Need Help?
Some hunters prefer having an extra hand in putting their hunt together. Whether it's because Alaska is a new place for you, or you are hunting a different area, you might consider out Hunt Planning Service. We recognize that your hunt is very important to you, and that each hunt is different. We take our hunt plans seriously and are more than happy to assist you directly, on whatever level you require. Visit our Hunt Planning Service page for more details, rates and booking instructions.
A Video Overview of our Hunt Planning Services
Our Hunt Planning Library consists of an ala-carte menu of titles you can pick and choose from to meet your needs. Check it out!
- Alaska Atlas and Gazetteer: An essential tool for any Alaska hunt; used by most air services as a general reference guide.
- Food Grade Citric Acid Powder: Citric acid powder for caring for your game meat in warm field conditions.
- The Alaska River Guide: The go-to book on river systems around the state of Alaska. If you're planning a float hunt, you need this book.
- A Complete Guide to Float Hunting Alaska: This book provides a good introductory orientation of Alaska float hunting.
- Field Care of Big Game: This ADF&G DVD is a must-have for anyone learning the process of field-dressing moose and other big-game. Shows the entire process of field dressing a moose.
- Float Hunting Alaska's Wild Rivers: This book is the definitive guide on float hunting in Alaska. Features over 500 pages of how-to information on Alaska float hunting, together with writeups on 50 float hunting rivers across the state.
- Hunt Alaska Now: Dennis Confer's book features information on self-guiding for moose and caribou, along with information pertaining to float hunting in Alaska.
- Love, Thunder and Bull: This is the DVD that became the standard for teaching hunters how to call moose. A must-have practical guide by Wayne Kubat. Part Two includes additional moose footage and calling methods.
- Is This Moose Legal? Required for some hunts, this excellent online video from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is a great tool for honing your antler-judging skills.
- Medicine for Mountaineering: An excellent field guide for treating injuries ranging from simple to life-threatening trauma.
- Solutions for Meat Cutting: A great resource for hunters who prefer to process their own game at home. Covers the main cuts and other information of use to the do-it-yourselfer. Contains a special section on making your own jerky and sausages.
- Take a Closer Look: This ADF&G online video features over an hour of great video footage designed to assist you in determining the difference between boar and sow bears, along with tips on judging bear sizes.
- Wilderness Navigation: Covers the techniques for navigating remote areas. A must-have if you need to brush up on your compass navigation and dead reckoning skills.
- Wild Edible and Poisonous Plants of Alaska: A small paperback to toss in your pack. Anyone hunting remote areas should know how to identify edible and poisonous plants. In a survival situation, this booklet could be a life saver!
What's next in Alaska hunt planning?
Okay, so you have a general idea of the species and region of the state, and perhaps some sense of whether it's going to be a float hunt or a drop camp. Where do you go from here?
Do you need help planning your hunt? If so, check out our Hunt Planning Services. We offer complete top-to-bottom assistance with all aspects of your float, drop, or road-based hunt.
This section outlines all the major steps in the hunt planning process, together with a time frame in which they should be accomplished. Though not locked in stone, it should give you a pretty good idea of what is involved in planning an Alaska hunt.
A critical aspect of planning your hunt is choosing the right location. This section walks you through the entire process of area selection, starting with understanding the regions of the state and breaking it down into smaller pieces to help you decide the best place for your hunt.
We've listed some books and DVDs for you on this page, but at some point you need to do some research with real people. Who do you talk to? What kinds of questions do you ask? How can you avoid time-wasting mistakes. We explore all that and more in our Hunt Planning Resources section.
Maps play a critical role in hunt planning. One of the most useful tools out there are the color infrared photos available in Anchorage and Fairbanks. We discuss those maps and how to use them for hunt planning purposes in our Color Infrared Photos section.