I don't know any shortcuts that get a guy in the door ahead of everyone else. Resident Alaskan pilots largely thrive on repeat clients who book ahead and keep coming back. Any business would rather deal with repeat steady customers who are known to them and dependable. Some pilots probably run in excess of 80% (or more) repeat business and getting a seat in their plane as a new customer is darned hard. You've gotta be either determined or lucky...maybe both. What I've seen is that the most organized and top-performing outfits (pilots) are very good, very in-demand, and very solidly booked with only the occasional opening for moose. Caribou opportunities are usually easier to find. A combination of factors account for this, but just know that caribou hunts are easier to lock down than moose. One other thing: guys who hunt year after year are going to notice and end up occupying the best moose locations. If a pilot has a late opening you might as well assume it's not in the magic forest of moose. It could be a good hunt (and should be of course) but don't expect a primo location. Pilots know their locations and favor repeat customers by giving them the top spots.
I advise any serious guy to get logical. Don't hope for an accidental moose opportunity. Start a data base of all possible pilots, transporters, air charters, whatever you can find. Don't start calling too fast. Get a dozen names and numbers before starting, and keep adding names or leads to your data. Chase everything...every tidbit...every lead and note it in your records. Talk to pilots with respect. Don't go into the conversation asking for a primo table and the wine list. I can assure you that pilots deal with plenty of pushy want-an-answer nonresident guys and they probably don't reach out as easily to them as to the guy who sounds sincere and willing to work his way to a shot at going. Good transporters take a LOT of calls over the year and most have some sort of system or plan in place for handling new requests. But...you never know when a pilot may drop a gift in your lap (unexpected opportunity) and ask for a fast commitment before handing off to the next guy in line. It pays to be ready (including some money) to commit if a chance shows up.
Find out what GMU and Zone (s) any transporter under consideration is hunting. It pays to research it and learn something about the area's moose, density, terrain, regulations, and so forth. A mountain moose hunt may sound exciting but if a biologist tells you the moose will be in the drainages...you'll be hikng up and down every day. I don't prefer ridge top camps for moose. Great for spotting but obviously terrible for backpacking meat out if you kill 800 feet or more lower and a mile away. That said, if it's what's available and the moose are there, I'm probably going. I just won't be killing one in the valley core and packng it a mile uphill x 10+ loads. I can call a bull a long ways on the right day.
One of the best ways to find a very good and reliable transporter or pilot is by personal referral from someone you know and trust who has hunted with that pilot. You might not know anyone who has done it but there are ways to make contact. Contact for me doesn't mean a forum guy you chat with or someone talking on the web. It's a face-to-face thing where you can meet, discuss, and judge what you're receiving from another. One of the best ways to make it happen is through membership in hunting organizations which have periodic events where members gather. Pope & Young, Boone & Crockett, SCI, PBS, Compton and plenty of other organizations are superb places to find guys who do these hardcore diy hunts and can refer you to a good transporter. I'm not saying it happens fast or without effort, but memberships and attendance in those groups does lead to good hunting opportunities in many cases. I'm not especially social and yet my memberships have brought me into contact with those who volunteered knowledge and gave me a lead to follow which ended in great hunts.
I'll close by saying again...there is no inexpensive, fast and easy way to a superb nonresident diy moose or caribou hunt in Alaska. If you're impatient and can't wait the couple years required, just admit it and move on to something else. If you just HAVE to hunt moose and don't want to go guided, then get going with an organized search and keep with it for as long as it takes. If you have a marathoner's attitude you may be surprised how fast things actually happen.
All opinons and thoughts are welcome.....
I will add that if you put in for a draw area and are successful, the pilot availability can be much better than the otc areas.
Thanks to all the guys who have taken the time to talk and pm. Great post, Kevin!
Midwest, your a great bug, good luck with your quest! I hope you reach your goal.
We've talked about it for years, but little kids and jobs haven't let us plan an extended trip. In 2019 all our kids will be 6+, so easier to take more time. . . .
I've got a pretty good feeling about Midwest's future. Might be a superb adventure ahead.
Aw heck...I just feel sorry for JT. I know what he went through on his 'bou deal in '15. That was a tough one absolutely. Hopefully his next trip goes a little better and he doesn't lose weight again. Good man with a gentleman's approach to life and the sporting world.
They're running the Iditarod right now. It was -30 in Fairbanks a day or so ago. Snow is deep and the rivers there are still frozen like iron. Still, I can't help but think there's a monarch munching on willow tips and twigs somewhere...and he is 6 months away from a rendezvous with an arrow. Anticipation is good.
Heck I couldn't probobly get back into the spot I hunted as it was locked up the last time I talked to the transporter.
It took years of research, calling, deciding on and then waited 3 years to get in the rotation. Pretty much a 5 year plan but more than worth the effort.
Just clearing things up.
If you're serious, my suggestion is to circle a date on a calendar, plan accordingly and make it happen or it won't
That eliminates MANY of the better moose choices.
My thing on avoiding ridgetops has to do mainly with the regions of higher hills and low mountains cut through with faster rivers and streams far below. If you do a ridge camp, be sure you have enough manpower and conditioning to get the packing done.
It's not recommended to go straight from deer to moose for a diy hunt. Elk or caribou are a great intermediate animal. If one of the hunters has experience butchering/moving/handling larger animals...all the better.
Finally and importantly, I agree on the "bottle of rare". Just like a big critter...the harder it comes, the more it's appreciated.
So I guess what I am adding to this is that if it doesn't bother you, don't eliminate someone as a potential hunting partner because of their weapon of choice. It can and does work mixing weapons.
Good advice gentlemen...................... read it and act accordingly!
Watching this and taking notes. Thank you gentlemen. It's an adventure I just gotta do someday. Have a file going already actually.....
Another consideration in pilots and transporters is whether they are putting you in an area which just got hunted by a previous group. As a bowhunter I definitely don't want to follow up on a group which has been hunting and perhaps has killed in there. A predator-attracting carcass isn't a good thing. Moose which have been harassed tend to get shy. Just be aware it happens and you may want to ask any pilot whether a hunting area is getting used multiple times per season. I would probably avoid that if possible, as I go there (and spend the dollar) to hunt unpressured moose where I'm the first and only hunter (partner included) who will be there.
Otherwise I have spent 15 years following and my AK word doc has over 100 pages and I save all good/bad I hear.
I have one ok option after all that!
I will also add that throw in a solo NR and the odds go down 3 fold.
Many years ago I actually had a pilot license, My family has had planes from my grandfather's Steerman through my Dad's last one, a 185. I know we always weighed everything right down to the fuel. Figure take off altitudes and temps in too.
I killed a bull in 2010...mature bull. My pilot (not who I use now) flew in to do the meat haul. The airstrip was the tiniest little narrow strip of gravel along a narrow river. He took 100% of the meat plus the head/antlers (tied to the strut) in one load. Anyway you cut it there was a 180 pound pilot and at least 600 pounds of moose on board. I was there to load and watch him go. Probably exceeded allowable weight by 300 pounds.
Super Cubs (any plane) really can be modified to improve power and reduce weight...in some cases making for increased load limits. Some guys run really big tundra tires and a few run smaller ones which weigh less. I've seen pilots yank their electric starter and battery to save weight...hand-propping to start.
I don't like it when an air service says 50 pounds but that doesn't count your clothes and weapon and what's in your pockets. Guys tend to dress like a snowboarder and have pockets bloated with gear. Come on....it's all weight. Just tell us our overall maximum on everything right? It's not that simple though because I suspect the FAA and other ruling entities make exceptions and allowances for certain gear and where it stows.
There are darned few guys who could do a 10 or 14 day moose hunt on 50-55 pounds if that includes their weaponry, and 100% of their gear/food. I think I also heard that Fortymile Air was weighing hunters and either penalizing or not taking guys who exceed a certain weight. Most Cub pilots I've seen/met aren't weighing their hunters. Some don't weigh the gear but I have something to tell you: A Cub pilot can look at your pile of gear outside his plane and know whether it's close to weight. Most of those weight limits have as much to with volume as weight. A Cub only has a limited amount of space in the tail and your gear had better fit in there or it doesn't fly, period.
I have flown in a Cub when my gear was probably 100 pounds if not more. No sweat for the plane. Every plane's weight limits are set very conservatively and every pilot knows it. Personally I would rather be on the ground wishing I had more gear weight than in the air and wishing I had less. The guy who drops me is pretty strong on gear weight though he isn't weighing anything yet. I work hard to keep my gear load small, tight and reasonable weight. When a pilot can load his plane rather quickly and without frown lines, you're doing okay. In the end, the pilot is the boss and you won't be arguing with him if you're smart.
The first thing I would do after settling on a pilot is talk about weight. Cubs really only have the tail section for cargo if the rear seat is occupied. This creates a balance issue more so than a weight issue. If you pack one big bag your going to be restricted to 50-70 lbs depending on the cub. If you pack in multiple bags and the load can be distributed better you will get away with more. A super Cub's usefull load may well exceed 1000 lbs but most are restricted to 50 in the cargo hold.
It's not all about how much weight but about where the weight is.
How I pack: I generally plan on one waterproof duffel carrying about 25-30 pounds of gear. One ultralight plastic arrow case with 12 shafts. My 2 piece longbow fits in a tube just big enough to hold it. Sleeping bag in a waterproof compression bag. One roll top dry bag (silpoly) holding most of my Mountain House and oatmeal. The rest of my gear is sorted into various wp bags weighing 2-6 pounds. Packing this way allows a pilot to pick and choose what he wants next as he loads. More small bags are preferable to a few large ones. My hunting pack carries my PLB, binocs, cameras, 24 hrs of food, tarp, puffy, rain jacket, fak, sidearm and some other essentials just in case. I try to always keep a ul tarp at hand because I've unloaded planes in the rain and it's nice to toss a tarp over the gear pile until time to move it. I used to be a gear queen until I realized how much stuff I didn't really need or use. I've really knocked my weight back a lot and my pilot has commented on it. And I never stuff my pockets or wear additional layers. I like to fly comfortable and get right to work as soon as the plane is away.
For those reading this thread contemplating your first lightweight fly in hunt, I would advise putting a gear list together and start weighing items. I owned quite a bit of lightweight gear before the trip, but was still surprised how quickly it added up.
In contrast, we were allowed 100lbs/man on a float plane transport in 2012...and it felt like we could have brought the kitchen sink. BIG difference when it comes to planning a float plane transport versus super cub. Both are unique experiences!
All good info, but I'm really confused by this comment. That seems to work exactly OPPOSITE of what I have in mind when looking for a pilot. I don't want the guy that tells me where I'm going...I want to the guy that looks at the "X" on my map and either says "Yeah, I can get you in there", or "Nope, can't do it". If you're going to rely on a pilot to tell you where to go then in my mind that's leaving the most important ingredient in someone else's hands. I value their input, but I don't want to leave it entirely up to them to decide where I'll go.
If you've not done a fly-in hunt there before it boils down to trusting your choice of locations vs a pilot's. A huge majority of pilots using tires will only take hunters to known locations with previously-used landing strips. You simply can't select a spot (say a ridge or gravel bar) and expect a pilot to land there for the first time. There may be a few who would undertake that but highly unlikely. Potential landing strips can look deceptively decent at 100' and 60 mph, but do costly damage if they have unseen obstacles. In most cases going to your choice of area means floats and landing on a lake or river. From there it's up to you to find game and deal with whatever terrain you're in. Plenty of guys do it this way, but consider this:
You're a nonresident on your first moose hunt studying a location you hope will hold moose and trying to find a pilot who will get you in (and out of) there. That's two big challenges. You have the alternative to hire a pilot who has a known and proven spot (he's used it for years) where moose get killed and you'll be into moose. This spot may not be the honey hole of your dreams, but it will be good. His best and finest spots are taken (by request) by returning hunters who keep coming back and earn their way to them.
All of this can be ignored if a guy is an experienced hunter and knows precisely what he's looking at and how to achieve it. So it really comes down to experience and preference. My guess is very few (if any) nonresidents select their own moose destination (independent research) and then find a pilot who will agree to take them there....unless he's been in there with a plane before, or flying floats and headed to a lake.
There are modifications that can increase the performance of a Cub too. A basic Cub is not really that impressive as a workhorse. Start adding some flaps, 30" tires and drop a 180 hp in it and it will do a lot more from rougher strips.
As always, the secret to finding really good hunting spots in Alaska is to have some form of transport that others do not commonly use in that area, or be willing to walk further and work harder than the next guy.
Sometimes you can get an experienced pilot to put you into a marginal strip with the agreement that you will improve the strip before he returns. This is usually a good deal for the pilot. He can land with more weight than he can take off with. Thus, if you don't hold up your end of the bargain, you won't get picked up!
How far are you willing to carry your moose meat? I've packed thousands of pounds of moose meat on my back (and I have the hernia surgery scars to prove it...!) for varying distances. However, at this stage of my life I'm not going to kill a moose anywhere I cannot land a Cub, drive a boat to, or reach with a truck or four-wheeler. At age 67, my tired, fat old ass has been there and done that! I'm a recovering moose meat packer!