What You Need to Know As You Plan Your Alaska Big Game Hunting Trip
If there’s one state in the U.S. known for its untamed wilderness and extreme big game hunts, it’s Alaska.
Because Alaska has the lowest population density of any U.S. state at just 1.28 residents per square mile--compared to the US average of 93.29 residents per square mile--you can expect to get lost in natural beauty and vast nothingness.
Now that you’ve decided to take on one of nature's most extreme wildernesses, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know to plan your Alaskan hunting trip.
Choose Your Game
While Alaska is known for great hunting, fishing, camping, trapping, and so much more, it’s important to create a plan for your trip. You’ll want to target a specific game for big game hunts and research their patterns and seasons.
The last thing you want to occur is to plan an elk hunt outside of their active period.
This doesn’t mean you’re necessarily limited to only one game when you hit the trail. In many regions, multiple seasons will coincide, allowing you to pursue deer, elk, and bear potentially simultaneously. Even then, you want to understand each species’ patterns and tendencies.
During the Great Westward Expansion in the early 1800s, the U.S. was overflowing with plains bison and woods bison roaming the land. The plains bison and the woods bison are often grouped together as American bison or buffalo.
Bison or Buffalo?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, especially within the U.S., a buffalo traditionally refers to large cattle animals found in Asia and North Africa, such as the water buffalo or cape buffalo. Bison refers to the large cattle found around North America. Even today, calling a bison a buffalo is common and highly acceptable.
Woods bison are the largest game found in North America, the female or cow weighing on average around 1,200 lbs., with bulls weighing upwards of 2,000 lbs. These bison are known for their long necks and taller shoulder hump.
Plains bison are slightly smaller and typically more herd-oriented. With a weight range between 700 and 2,000 lbs., these bison can be found all across the U.S., with approximately 20,000 kept in different nature preserves.
Most buffalo hunts are restricted under government drawings and private ownership, making the hunts all the more worth the trip.
Known for their tender meat and beautiful pelts, black bears can be hunted during two Alaskan seasons.
During the spring season, black bears emerge from hibernation on a drive for food to regain energy. Primarily focused on plants, bears usually push to the river’s edge to feed on kelp and other underwater plants that push up on shore.
As the cold begins to set in during the fall season, black bears focus on weight gains prior to hibernation. This means movement over a greater range in search of food.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) does not make a distinction between black bears and brown bears (grizzlies) when it comes to hunting seasons. Grizzlies typically feed on salmon and other forms of meat and are much larger than black bears.
For such a large herd animal, caribou are known to travel thousands of miles every year following an intricate web of game trails seen only from the sky. There are 32 primary caribou herds throughout Alaska with more than 750,000 roaming the land.
Subsistence hunting, or hunting for the sole purpose of food, is open year-round. The sporting season, on the other hand, takes place for a short two months. Hunting is regulated differently throughout the state, and you should check with local laws before hitting the trails.
Thinhorn sheep, also known as dall sheep, are large, white, curly horned sheep found throughout the mountainous regions of Alaska.
Dall sheep hunts are considered one of the most complex game because their patterns are more randomized, and hunting includes tracking, stalking, and working hard for your trophy.
Found along Southeast Alaska and throughout many of the secluded islands, the Sitka black-tailed deer is a species of mule deer. One deer can range between 80 and 120 lbs in weight.
These mule deer can be found in a wide range of terrain, from wooded areas to open plains.
Wapiti, also known as Elk, are the largest deer found in North America ranging from 500 to 700 lbs. Alaska is home to two species of elk, including Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain elk, most easily identified by a slight difference in color.
Elk hunting regulations are split into five distinct regions, and each holds its own seasons.
Along the Southeast Panhandle and Southern Islands, herds of Rocky Mountain goats can be found grazing across the land. Also referred to as big horned sheep, these stocky white animals can grow up to 300 lbs and more than 3 feet tall.
This region is known for rugged terrain and picturesque landscapes.
If you’re looking for the second largest animal in North America, look no further. Moose are known to grow excess of 1500 lbs and are considered a simple animal to hunt, being easy to call in.
Their large size makes them easy to spot and easy to take down. Moose are relatively abundant throughout Alaska.
Not only will you need to fly into Alaska, but many hunting lodges and lands are extremely remote. You may need to prepare further travel to get you into the depths of the land.
Further, consider how you will move your trophies. The idea of carrying a moose is silly, and you’ll likely need to rent a snow machine or snowmobile.
This often includes some form of pull-behind sled where your field-dressed game can be tied down.
The cold seasons through Alaska are brutal and not something you should take lightly.
For some hunters, renting a hunting lodge is a great method to escape the weather and keep yourself warm at night. For others, this means a below zero or canvas tent, which allows for an easy setup basecamp for the hunt.
If your lodge needs firewood to keep warm, ensure more than enough is cut, split, and dried.
You can never come too prepared with warm layers when considering the cold Alaska weather. In an instant, the winds could pick up and suck the warmth right from your body.
Consider your options if it begins raining, snowing, the wind picks up, or you start sweating.
You also want relatively warmer weather clothing such as thin gloves, long sleeves, and pants. This will keep you from sweating, which would ultimately chill your body.
Your hunting gear should be camouflaged to match the terrain, and GunSkins offers all kinds of patterns to help you blend anywhere you roam. Our licensor partnerships with big names like Realtree and True Timber let you match the wrap on your hunting guns to your clothing, so you can stay stealthy from head-to-toe.
You may also want to consider orange undergarments to be easily noticed in case of an emergency.
After your hunt, you’ll likely have hundreds of pounds worth of meat that will need to be shipped back to your hometown.
Return shipping of meats and gear can be a costly endeavor and should be part of your initial plan. This includes some form of cooling, usually utilizing dry ice.
Since you will likely be in the depths of the wild, it’s important you bring gear for survival as well as tools to help rescuers find you should you get lost or end up alone and injured.
Consider bringing a:
- Traceable GPS.
- Satellite phone.
- Flare gun.
In a survival situation, you need to take care of yourself until help can arrive.
When carrying survival gear, you want equipment to be lightweight and able to fit into a single pack. You should consider carrying:
- Canvas or tarp (bright orange).
- 550 cord or rope.
- Matches and lighters.
You may also want to consider additional equipment such as animal snares or an emergency fishing kit.
This set of gear should allow you to build shelter, maintain fire, and maintain a constant food source. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, it’s important to find a safe, easily visible spot and set up your shelter with the bright orange tarp. This will make you easily seen from the air.
Exploring what many refer to as the vast emptiness of the north will come with its own risks.
But Alaska is one of the last true bastions of untouched wilderness in America. It’s a beautiful region that has rewarded hunters time and again.
With such a wide range of terrains in Alaska, you’ll need to change the design and look of your equipment. By using GunSkins vinyl wraps, you can wrap your gear in woodland camo for the early fall, change it to winter camo for the long cold snow season, and to a green woodland camo for spring. This can all be done at a low cost from the comfort of your home.
Don’t let travel keep you from the best big game hunting in the U.S. It’s time to plan your trip to the great wilderness of Alaska.
Population density in the US, by state 2020
Wood Bison Species Profile, Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
It's Bison, Not Buffalo. And Other American Bison Facts.
Sitka Black-tailed Deer Species Profile, Alaska Department of Fish and Game