2019 Succesful Brooks Range Caribou DIY

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Dec 10, 2018
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I wanted to make a post about our successful 2019 caribou hunt as a thank you to everyone who has ever posted on here about caribou. We both got decent bulls for our first ever caribou so were very happy. Not the biggest bulls in the world, but not too shabby for our first time.

We scoured the forums and learned a lot here, so I'd like to pay it back by relaying our experience , telling our story, and hopefully providing equally as beneficial information for anyone looking to do a similar trip. Instead of posting an intricately detailed thread about the minutia of gear, I'll just tell the story and if anyone has specific questions (guns, gear, cost, flights, logistics, equipment, recommendations, etc) I'll monitor the thread and answer questions the best I can. Planning a trip like this to AK from the lower 48 is kind of daunting, and had it not been for the help of my friend Andy who moved up there, coupled with all the information we learned here, we probably wouldn't have even known where to begin. So thanks everyone.

We started planning the trip a year in advance. We elected to hunt Aug 30 - to Sept 5 ( 7 days in the field ) based on Andy's recommendation for weather and his prior successes around those dates. We chose Brooks Range Aviation as our transporter. Neither of us had ever used a transporter before, but they were professional and seemed experienced. Based on our experience of one trip with a transporter, I would recommend them and wouldn't hesitate to use them again. I feel like we paid a fair price for the service received.

We mailed the bulk of a gear up ahead of time via USPS in action packers. It only took 3 days to get there. We flew up with just our guns and clothes as checked baggage. Everything else we had already shipped ahead.

We lost a day of hunting when we arrived due to flights being canceled because of bad weather. A common occurrence in AK, so consider that when you plan flights and how many days you want in the field.

The weather was unseasonably warm, we were told. I think the coldest it got was 39° and the highest was about 65°. It did rain a little bit most days and a few days the wind blew close to 45 mph.

We did not experience giant herds of animals, likely due to warm weather. Brooks Range Aviation tends to move further south as the weather gets colder so as to avoid ice on the lakes. My hunting buddy and I were dropped further south than anyone else had been at that point in the season. Looking back, we were positioned ahead of the herds as we began seeing more animals later in the hunt. We were situated on a fairly large lake at the base of a mountain about 3/4 from the Noatak River.

A steep drop-off about 40-50' tall and a mile long dropped down to the river valley and became our glassing/hunting spot.
The river wasn't crossable so anything we shot was going to have to swim across to our side. IMG_1522.jpeg
Our 1st day we saw a herd of 11 cows and calfs, noted where they crossed the river, and setup there to glass for the rest of our hunt.
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This spot was 1 mile from camp. We generally saw a few more than we had seen the day before each day, and the day we killed our bulls we probably saw 75 caribou total. On the third day, a group of 3 monster bulls with one that was almost black in color, slipped in behind us between our glassing spot and our camp on the lake. By the time we saw them they were moving away fast, and we learned the hard way that in the tundra terrain, you'll never catch them when they're moving.

On the 5th day of the hunt the wind was blowing sustained around 40mph and it was foggy/misty rain intermixed.
Kind of sucked. We were hunkered down behind a small knob glassing the river valley and looking for caribou. IMG_6454.jpeg
I just happened to stand up to pee and turned the opposite way so the wind would be right. I saw a herd of 10 bulls about a mile away and they were headed right towards our camp. I put the binos on them and could tell that two of them seemed pretty good. Especially good enough for us on the 5th day. We made a mad dash to try and get ahead of them and cut them off since we weren't sure what they would do if they saw our camp. We were hoping when they got to the lake they'd move towards us and not away cause we knew we couldn't catch them. We had to make the final stalk across barren ground and in the process got busted by a group of immature bulls we hadn't noticed. They spooked and made a lot of commotion, but it didn't spook the herd of bulls we were after. After the small bulls spooked we got to our shooting position and everything happened really fast. We had drawn straws so my partner was up first. He wanted the bull with the nice tops so I was going to take the one with the long main beams as they were the two best in the group. The animals were at 265 yards. I don't know if it was because of the wind or because of nerves but he sailed two shots over the bulls back and I was cussing him out. They never spooked at all at the shooting. His third shot he dropped it in its tracks and it was a bang, flop, dead type of deal. Lightning fast my hunting partner jumped up out of the way, I plopped down in his place resting my gun on his backpack, put the crosshairs on the shoulder of my bull and sent one right through the boiler room. He staggered and didn't move around but didn't fall down either, so I put another make-sure shot in the same spot and he fell over dead. I realize now it was unnecessary but I didn't want him to run off. They were lying dead about 50 yards apart from each other and we were a little less than half a mile from our tent. The pack out was pretty easy! IMG_1533.jpeg
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This was at about 4:00 in the afternoon. We spent the rest of the day cleaning the animals and getting them back to camp. During this time, any exposed skin got obliterated by black flies. I mean they tore us up. The bites itched for about a week after we got home and our arms were so torn up we looked like junkies. Those things really itch.

We used citric acid to preserve the meat. We set the meat pile on a little peninsula that jutted into the lake where it would be better protected from bears.
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We never had any trouble with bears and had only seen one the entire time, a few days before. He was about 600 yards away, fishing in the river and just moved on without ever noticing us. The next morning, a red fox was eating the gut piles, so that was neat to see. We fished and cleaned up the last day before we flew back to Brooks Range Aviation's headquarters in Bettles.
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When we got back there was room in BRA's hanger freezer to freeze our meat. We shipped our gear back home from the post office in Bettles, AK. We flew to Fairbanks with our meat and capes in action packers, our guns in their cases, our racks wrapped up in plastic and hose, and just our traveling clothes. We took our capes to Fairbanks tannery. The guy there was super friendly and helpful and offered to let us freeze our meat in his walk in. I can't remember his name but definitely go by there if you're ever in Fairbanks. He's a big help. He had our capes tanned and mailed to us quickly. We elected to have our meat processed in Fairbanks and shipped home to us. We went to Interior Fish processors in Fairbanks and didn't take up the guy at the tannery on freezing our meat. Looking back, we should have gone that route just to cut down on cost as it was expensive to have our meat processed and shipped home. We could have flown home with frozen meat in action packers as checked luggage for a lot cheaper. If I do a similar trip again this is what I'll do.

We bought boxes and shipping supplies at a U-haul store in Fairbanks and boxed up our racks as best we could to fly home with them as checked bags. We didn't split our racks but should have cause it would have been a lot easier. We stuck a fragile sticker on our "baggage" and they made the trip home through baggage handling just fine. We really should have just split the racks. Our boxes looked ridiculous, but the lady at TSA said we did good and no one on Alaska Airlines even batted an eye. When we got back to Houston we did get some strange looks though.
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So that's our tale. If you're considering a trip like this, it's really something to go and experience, I'm glad we went, and I'd recommend doing it. Not counting gear purchases, or things we already owned, we each spent about $6500 for this trip all in with flights and license fees. You could maybe shave some cost off with logistics such as flying home with meat, shipping less weight worth of gear, messing with flights, etc. If you have any specific questions I'm glad to answer. Thanks for reading this and thanks again for everyone who has ever commented in threads or made a post about AK Caribou.
Thanks,
Andrew
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Bull_n_heat

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Thanks a ton for posting this - this was a super informative write-up! Out of curiosity, when you say it was $6500 is that all told or is that per person?
 
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steadytowingandshot
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Thanks a ton for posting this - this was a super informative write-up! Out of curiosity, when you say it was $6500 is that all told or is that per person?
Thanks! That's per person.
$2745 for the air service & right at $1000 for license and tag.

All other expenses were:

-Commercial flights, Houston to Fairbanks, then Fairbanks to Bettles and the return trip (plus luggage fees).
Hotel stay in Fairbanks. Not that it can't be done, but I wouldn't recommend trying to get to Bettles or a remote destination in AK on the same day as a commercial flight, so a hotel stay is necessary.

-The cost to mail gear there and back

-Meat processing and shipping ($400)

-Getting capes tanned and sent home

You could definitely shave off a few dollars here and there but the bulk of our expense was mostly tied to what kind of deal we could get for flights and then paying to ship or fly with excess weight.
 

Dexter Grayson

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Feb 13, 2017
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Kenai, Alaska
Good write up! lots of people struggled up there this year due to the unusually hot weather, you guys killed some really nice bulls given the circumstances. Your buddy Andy and I froze our nuts off up there in 2017!
 
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steadytowingandshot
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Good write up! lots of people struggled up there this year due to the unusually hot weather, you guys killed some really nice bulls given the circumstances. Your buddy Andy and I froze our nuts off up there in 2017!
Thanks! LMAO he told us about freezing up there, and helped us out a ton. We’re both happy we got to bring something home and you’re absolutely right. All the other groups we encountered in Bettles didn’t do as well as we did. It was pure luck of the draw and we just got lucky. Caribou tastes a whole lot better than deer, too, so sharing it with friends back home has been a very satisfying added experience I never considered until I got home
 

mooster

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Dec 2, 2018
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Congrats on your hunt. Great write up and good info for others. What about the the in/out side of things, the camping? What was your weight limit w/BRA? Did you do use your own camp gear? What didn't you bring, should have brought, like, use, etc..
 
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steadytowingandshot
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Congrats on your hunt. Great write up and good info for others. What about the the in/out side of things, the camping? What was your weight limit w/BRA? Did you do use your own camp gear? What didn't you bring, should have brought, like, use, etc..

We originally had a 3rd friend going but he blew out both ACLs 3 months before the trip and had to back out. BRA had us at 900lbs for all three of us, but since there were only 2 of us that went, we were well under that restriction.

We used all of our own camping equipment. We had a seek outside redcliff and a hyper lite 2 man. We didn't need to bring the hyper lite but wanted to just to test it out. It was nice having a teepee style tent you can stand up in and chill in out of the rain. IMG_6453.jpeg
Since we weren't restricted on weight, we had pretty much everything we needed gear and clothing wise. The only thing I wish we would have brought was more of was real food. We originally didn't want to have to mess with cooking so only brought enough food for a couple meals and planned on freeze dried the rest of the time. We fried fish the first day and ate caribou on the last. If I had to to it again, I'd do more cooking. 6 days of freeze dried was just awful. Bring a bottle of hot sauce or something if all you plan on taking is freeze dried. It's not that its that bad, it just gets old fast. I'd rather mess with at least a little more cooking. IMG_6591.jpeg


The helinox chairs were both of our favorite piece of gear we brought. You really need a chair to sit on and those are nice. I see they make a cot and that would have been nice but not necessary where we were. The tundra was soft and not uncomfortable but Ive heard some stories of people not being able to find a dry spot. That wasn't the case with us.
I used blue cosmo to rent our sat phone and that was easy. I'll use them again. We used a power bank to charge our phones and that was necessary for pictures and the alarm clock. We had a kestrel weather meter and that was kind of a nice thing just to quantify the temperature and wind speed.
I'd bring the best rain gear you can afford. It rained most if not every day.
I was glad we brought some fishing stuff. That was neat to do and it was nice to eat fish that one time. We caught a lot of fish. I had a 10L gravity water filter and would recommend it. So much easier than having to pump water.
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This little black, neoprene pouch was really nice. I got it on amazon for cheap. Its nice to put your freeze dried food in and it keeps your hands warm without burning them. I loved it. That gerber complete cook eat clean tool is awesome too.

As far as gear we brought and didn't use, we brought a spotting scope, but ended up not using it. We learned that even if you spot one far away, if it's not heading your way you'll never catch it. 10 and 12 power binoculars were more than sufficient for us. It might be different in a different location, but everything was going to have to get on our side of the river regardless and our spotter just wasn't necessary. They just move across that tundra so fast and you don't so seeing one 4 miles away doesn't help you. I also brought a DSLR camera and didn't end up using it. I think an iPhone is fine unless you're really into photography.

If there's a specific item you're curious about let me know.
 

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etsanger

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Dec 20, 2016
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How did the floorless shelter work out with all the weather/wind? Did you use ground sheets? I'm going up to Kotzebue this year and was thinking about bringing a tipi. Thanks for sharing!!
 

mooster

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Dec 2, 2018
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How did the floorless shelter work out with all the weather/wind? Did you use ground sheets? I'm going up to Kotzebue this year and was thinking about bringing a tipi. Thanks for sharing!!
I and a buddy hunted out of Kotz with an 8 man Kifaru teepee last year. We had plenty of high winds and it was fine. We used longer twisted stakes to ensure we kept things tight. We ran a liner so you want the sides tight to reduce the liner draping into your living space. We had zero condemnation issues. Enjoyed having the stove each night and morning to knock off the chill and dry things. We even saw 18F our last night, we hunted the last week AA flew.
 
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steadytowingandshot
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How did the floorless shelter work out with all the weather/wind? Did you use ground sheets? I'm going up to Kotzebue this year and was thinking about bringing a tipi. Thanks for sharing!!
I was hesitant about a flourless shelter at first, but after about half a dozen trips with it, I really like it. We had a lot of bad winds and it did fine. You can adjust it down pretty close to the ground, and I never had any issues. I did take some 18" long "tundra stakes" and I'm glad I did. The ones the redcliff came with wouldn't have been sufficient for the wind we saw.
 

Mt Al

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Dec 16, 2017
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Montana
Great writeup, thank you. It sounds to me like the key to shooting a nice caribou in AK is to follow the sage advice of "don't piss into the wind"!

Thanks for the recommendation on that pouch, going to get one!
 

Ultraheight

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Apr 20, 2020
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103
Great job on this. Still blows my mind that it would be $6,500 DIY per person. That would pay for a Trophy elk/deer combo wilderness hunt with guides, horses, and hot meals in the lower 48. Still worth it, sounds like
 

Indian Summer

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Feb 17, 2013
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Very nice write up! I like the way you just told about your hunt and followed up answering questions.


What size Action Packers did you use? Where did you get the 18 inch tundra stakes?

I agree the guy at Fairbanks Tannery is super nice. He has the waxed leakproof fish boxes available too for flying meat home. Much lighter and less bulky than coolers or totes.

We’ll be hunting out of Coldfoot with a different transporter. Our main target is actually moose so we won’t start hunting until the 10th to be there during the rut. But we’re allowed to shoot caribou at no extra charge. Our cost doesn’t change by how long we hunt either so I’m not flying out until the 26th.... the day after moose season closes. I’m also figuring that by then the caribou will have been moving for sure.... as if anything up there is for sure right! Lol


One suggestion for the future and for others if you have weight limits is to ask your transporter if he will be flying near your camp site before you get there. If so he can drop the pre shipped gear for you. Ours loved the idea. It makes his life easier too since those guys are so busy during hunting season. By the time we fly out to hunt we wont have much at all. That’ll allow us to buy fresh food in Fairbanks to take.

Congratulations on a great hunt when the weather wasn’t helping! And thanks for sharing.
 

AKBorn

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Aug 14, 2018
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521
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Tennessee
AWESOME write up, thanks for sharing! Great pics and that was a nice pack - 1/2 mile on relatively flat ground, take that one every time!

Just one question - did you get an extra tag or something, or a combo license? License cost could have been $810, $650 for the caribou tag and $160 for a non-res license.
 
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