It’s definitely not easy, but with enough planning, hardy sportsmen can enjoy the adventure of hunting our largest deer species without a guide.
The most common do-it-yourself big game hunt I’m asked about is elk, and until recently, mule deer were second. But over the past year, I’ve been getting more folks asking about DIY moose hunting in Alaska, pushing it ahead of mule deer hunting inquiries.
Back in the 1980s and early ’90s, moose hunting was of keen interest to
many hunters. Over the past few years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in hunting these massive members of the deer family. In this month’s Road Hunter column, we hit the road – or should I say air, or river – in search of what it takes to tackle a do-it-yourself moose hunt in Alaska.
MOOSE HUNTING IN Alaska requires a lot of pre-planning and work. Start by being honest with yourself, and others in your party (you don’t want to do this hunt alone), making absolutely certain your outdoor skills are to the level where you can survive in the wild under any conditions.
If bears, freezing weather, snow, mosquitos and being out of touch with civilization make you nervous, then a guided moose hunt might be more to your liking. The next consideration is to accurately pinpoint your level of health and physical fitness. Moose hunting can be extremely tough, especially when you get a bull down. Hiking across the tundra, through bogs, over snow and in rivers is the norm.
One recent moose hunt I went on with a buddy found us carrying waders, knee boots and hiking boots in order to efficiently negotiate the variety of mountainous and boggy terrain we’d have to hunt; we used all
three pairs of boots. Many people rank the physical demands of moose
hunting as the toughest of all Alaskan big game due to the tundra and water that’s often negotiated.
ONCE YOU KNOW you can physically handle a moose hunt, research the state and find a place to go. Thoroughly explore your options, making sure there are moose in the area you plan to hunt. Decide if you’re going on a river hunt or a mountain hunt, or maybe a combination of the two. On a river hunt for moose, you’ll likely get dropped off by an air charter in one spot, and picked up seven to 10 days later at another spot. Here, you’ll navigate rivers in a raft, so be certain you’re comfortable doing that with all your gear and 800 pounds of moose, per bull.
On a mountain hunt, you’ll probably stay in one camp that’s reached by bush plane, then hiking and glassing each day. If you get on a big bull, you might spike camp out for a few days. Make sure you can physically handle hiking in the terrain you’ll be hunting in, survive with minimal rations, and navigate in fog, snow and other conditions that may pop up.
As for gear, pack light. On my last 10-day moose hunt, I wore the same
outer clothes every day, and I wore some of those on my flight into Alaska on the commercial flight. I hunted in Dry-Plus waders every day, and took a medium-weight rain jacket, a few pairs of socks and underwear, thin gloves and a stocking hat, along with a couple base
layers, and that was it. You don’t need a lot of gear, but it’s got to be good quality.
If renting your camping gear from a bush service, insist on going through it all before it’s loaded onto your plane for the drop. In addition to the wrong raft frame being given to hunters, I’ve heard of rafts with holes in them and tents that didn’t hold up to high winds.
Some air services even pack all of your food for a hunt. This can be a big time-saver when flying out of remote villages with no stores, or very limited, pricey selections.
Make sure the food is what you want, and that it’s included. Perhaps the best piece of gear you can invest in is a satellite phone. If there’s an emergency, you want to get out. Sometimes simply surviving a remote hunt in Alaska means the hunt was a success; filling a tag can be secondary.
One packing tip that works great for me is putting all my gear into a single large dry bag. I then use three, 5-footlong LoopRopes to lash it to my pack frame. Now I can check it in as one piece of luggage with the commercial airlines, and use the LoopRopes and pack frame to haul meat.
EFFECTIVE MOOSE HUNTING comes down to gaining elevation and glassing. The goal is to spot a target bull, then figure out how to get to it. Cover as much ground as possible with your eyes, not your feet. You can walk several hours a day on tundra and through bogs, which is some of Alaska’s most challenging terrain to negotiate. If you do walk, get from point A to point B fast, as you want to spend time looking for game, not walking. If you can set up camp and glass directly from there, that’s ideal.
A spotting scope and stout tripod are a moose hunter’s best friend. I like a thick carbon fiber tripod, as it’s sturdy and light. A quality spotting scope is necessary to size up bulls to make sure they’re legal, and to plan a stalk.
A lot of hunters think they can float a river in a raft and bulls will be standing around every corner. These hunts can produce, but the number of moose that are standing just out of view is surprising. Spend some time glassing these river bottoms from an elevated vantage point and you’ll see more moose.
For a first-time moose hunter, the most surprising moment comes when they walk up on a downed bull. A big bull moose can stand over 7 feet tall at the shoulders and weigh 1,500 pounds. You’ll get about 700 pounds of boned-out meat off a big bull. If you’re going to have your
bull mounted, add at least another 150 pounds for the antlers and cape.
Be sure to have the proper tools to handle a downed bull. The same knife you use on deer will work fine, and be sure to have a sharpener. If hunting near water, having a one-man inflatable raft is a great way to pack out moose meat. If not, then make sure your pack frame is a good one.
Start with quartering the bull, then removing the backstraps, rib meat,
neck and brisket meat and securing it in game bags. All shank meat and
the tenderloins must also be taken. Alaska meat salvage laws are very
clear, and there’s no hiding a moose carcass from troopers patrolling from the air, so make certain to abide by the regulations and recover all the required meat.
Prior to finalizing your moose hunt, make sure you have a plan to get the meat out of the field, all the way home. A couple seasons ago, three buddies filled their moose tags. They weren’t planning on that much success, but it happened.
Six planeloads later, their meat was out takes place along the road system. These are usually meat hunts for small bulls, and some places require getting a tag through a lottery system. Where you stay and how you travel impacts these hunt costs.
Most hunters choose to fly out for their moose hunt and get dropped off. For an air taxi service to supply your gear – complete with tents, cooking gear and a raft – and haul you in and out of the field, along with your moose, the starting cost is around $3,500. The more the transporter provides, like food and survival gear, the more costly.
There are multiple transporters in Alaska’s hub villages, and they can be contacted for options and price quotes.
Then there’s the cost of getting the moose out of the field, packing it and sending it on to Anchorage or Fairbanks, then home. Those costs can total up to $2,000. If you want to ship the antlers and cape home for a mount, that’s another $800 or more.
The current cost of a nonresident hunting license is $160, and $800 for a moose tag. If you want to pick up a wolf tag, that’s an additional $60, and $350 for a wolverine tag. Always leave room for incidental costs. A do-it-yourself moose hunt can be one of the world’s most rewarding adventures. But moose hunting is far from easy, or simple, which is what makes it so appealing.
Nonresidents don’t have to hire a guide for moose hunting in Alaska, as is required when hunting brown/grizzly bear, Dall sheep and mountain goat. Moose numbers are doing well in Alaska, and the last two seasons have seen a tremendous success rate on monster bulls. If you’ve ever dreamed of hunting big bull moose in Alaska on your own, now is the time to live that dream.
Editor’s note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s best-selling book, Hunting the Alaskan High Arctic, send a check for $38 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489, or order online at scotthaugen.com. Follow Scott on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.