Gear for an Alaska hunt

A Client's Perspective

Over the years I have read several articles written by guides and outfitters outlining the type and amount of gear that they would advise their clients to bring on an Alaskan hunt. The tenure of these articles is that clients generally bring too much gear. Outfitters struggle to transport duffle bags that are half the size of a Super Cub and rifle cases that are large enough to use as a runway. Another complaint from outfitters is that clients show up with the wrong gear. On my May 2000 Alaska Peninsula Brown Bear hunt there was one hunter who showed up with cotton sweat pants, a cotton sweatshirt, and 7 inch slip on boots to hunt in. Complaints from the outfitters and their guides are generally valid.

In defense of clients, we do not spend as many days hunting in Alaska as our guides do. We spend the majority of our year working in an office, store, factory, or at a jobsite trying to make enough money to satisfy the needs of our family, while saving for our Alaska dream hunt. We may hunt Whitetail deer and sit in a duck/goose blind at home, but it's not the same as hunting in Alaska. Another factor that is different is that we do not tolerate the conditions as easily as our guides. They seem to be more tolerant of the cold, the wind, the rain, and the snow than we are. They can sit all day in a pair of blue jeans and an open shirt, without a hat or gloves, while we try to bury ourselves in a Gore-Tex, Thinsulate parka.

Outfitters faithfully send us equipment lists, but their perspective on gear is from that of a field hardened professional. What I am going to try and do is to suggest gear for Alaska hunting from the perspective of a CLIENT, while keeping the amount and weight to a reasonable total.

I should start out with a disclaimer. I have no equity in any equipment or gear store. I receive no discounts or freebies from any manufacturer whose gear I may mention or recommend. I have come to my conclusions through trial and error, mostly error, and by paying retail. I have purchased enough gear over the past 15 years to outfit a dozen hunters. Just ask my wife! I will also be as specific as possible about where you can buy the equipment, including phone numbers, web site addresses, and the quantity to take on the hunt. Even though I mention Manufacturer A or Store A, you may be able to find an equivalent piece of equipment at Manufacturer B or Store B. Finally, I will limit my equipment recommendations to the type of Alaska hunts I have personally been on - Wrangell Mountain Dall's Sheep and Alaska Peninsula Spring Brown Bear.

Wrangell Mountain Dall Sheep

There are three keys to the equipment for hunting the beautiful white sheep that inhabit the Wrangell mountains; 1) lightweight, 2) layering, and 3) plastic boots.

Synthetic materials make for a happy, comfortable sheep hunter. Starting with underwear, Cabela's - (800) 237-4444 - www.cabelas.com  - sells Thermax briefs - 6 pair, over which a pair of light or medium weight polyester long underwear - 2 pair, should be the hunter's foundation. Don't buy polypropylene. Polypropylene cannot be washed in warm water and it gathers and retains odors. Polyester is a superior replacement for polypro.

An Alaska Dall sheepFor pants you'll need SportHill 3SP Mountain pants - 2 pair. They are available from Barney's Sport Chalet in Anchorage - (907) 561-5242. These pants are made from a lightweight, stretch synthetic that does a great job of stopping the wind. These rugged pants are about 20% of the weight of a pair of wool pants, and you won't freeze in them like you will with a pair of wet blue jeans. They are form fitting and have ankle zippers that make taking them on and off a breeze. The only thing that you will want to add to these pants is a fly zipper. I had my sister-in-law sew a zipper in my two pair.

For a shirt I would recommend a Mircotex (polyester) shirt from Cabela's - 2. This shirt is a lightweight, button front shirt that is warm, soft, and quiet, and it's available in regular and tall sizes.

Over the shirt I layer with a Chinook Windbloc fleece jacket from L.L. Bean - (800) 221-4221 - www.llbean.com  Also available in regular and tall sizes, this jacket is lightweight. It furnished me with a quiet layer of insulation, and more importantly, it stopped the wind, which made my long underwear and MircroTex shirt even more effective.

My final layer for sheep hunting was my Helly-Hansen Impertech rain gear. This is available from Barney's Sport Chalet or Cabela's. I used the bib pants with a parka. Impertech rain gear is compact, rugged, lightweight, and it will keep you dry in situations where Gore-Tex fails. Because it's not a breathable fabric like Gore-Tex, you will have to be careful about ventilating while hiking or climbing.

Next comes foot ware. As a client on a mountain hunt your feet will take a beating. The rocks, boulders, glacial moraine, and side hilling that you will encounter everyday can cripple you without the right boots. If you want to last for more than two or three days while you are hiking and climbing in the Wrangells you need to invest in some plastic boots. I used a pair of ASOLO Guide boots that I purchased from Cabela's. You should also consider Koflach plastic boots that are available from Barneys. Either of these boots will enable you to fully participate in the hunt. They will prevent the foot bruising and ankle twisting that the use of leather boots would subject you to. Take some time before the hunt and get the fit of the plastic boots worked out. They will feel clumsy on the flat land around where most of us live, but once you are in the mountains they will feel great, and they will be worth their weight in gold.

Under these boots you need to use a lightweight Thermax liner sock - 6 pair, and a medium weight wool sock - 2 pair. The Thermax socks will transport your perspiration to the wool socks, while keeping your skin dry and blister free. The last item of foot ware is a pair of Gore-Tex gaiters. Don't buy urethane coated nylon or fleece gaiters. They will get you wet from your own perspiration. The gaiters are put over your plastic boots to keep water and debris from getting inside. I didn't have a pair on my '97 sheep hunt and water from my rain pants ran into my boots.

Some other important items to bring include:

  • A warm, waterproof hat
  • Warm, waterproof gloves - 2 pair
  • A good day pack - try the Master Guide Pack from Crooked Horn Outfitters - (877) 722-5872 - www.crookedhornoutfitters.com  - Use a pair of 20 ounce Gatorade bottles to carry your water. They fit perfectly in the side pockets of the Master Guide Pack.
  • Premium binoculars - 10 x 42s work very well - stay with the best; Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski. Compact and economy binoculars don't do the job. Rely on your guide to have a spotting scope and tripod. Also take along a Leupold Lenspen for lens cleaning purposes.
  • Between you and your guide be sure that you have a reliable rangefinder. Distances are difficult to judge in unfamiliar terrain, and a sheep is too beautiful an animal to let get away because of misjudged range.
  • Get a Petzel headlamp. They are available from Barney's or Cabela's. Also bring along two sets of batteries for the headlamp.
  • Have a pair of camp shoes to wear when you take off your plastic boots.
  • Buy a RapidRod sectioned cleaning rod from ATSKO - (803) 531-1820. It weighs only a couple of ounces and does a much better job than the flexible cleaning rods. Be sure to add 30 cleaning patches and a small amount of Hoppe's #9 in a leak proof plastic bottle.
  • Buy a rifle rain guard from Kifaru International - (800) 222-6139 - www.kifaru.net  - This will protect your rifle from bad weather on the mountain. It will also serve as a transport cover once you are on the way to your spike camp. Your heavy, bulky aluminum rifle case can be left in base camp, or wherever your outfitter designates.
  • Take a small point and shoot camera, with at least two or three rolls of Kodak Portra 160VC, 36 exposure film. Put the camera and film in a Zip-Loc bag, and be sure the camera has a fresh battery.
  • Personal shaving kit; with any contact lens or medical items, including Moleskin that you will need.
  • Baby Wipes, Wet Ones, etc. These will allow you to perform personal hygiene without the need for excessive amounts of water. I usually allow myself four sheets a day, packaged in a Zip-Loc bag.
  • If you have a superb sense of balance and are completely comfortable while traversing mountain faces you won't need the following item. That's a trekking pole. It acts as a third leg, furnishing much needed support and balance while you are hiking, and it can be used as a shooting stick. They are available from L.L. Bean.
  • I take some old fashion wooden, spring loaded clothespins - 12. These along with 50 feet of cotton clothes line are very handy for hanging wet socks, gloves, hats, boot liners, etc. to dry. The clothesline can also be used to tie your sheep's horns and skull to your pack for the hike back to spike camp after your successful kill. Your guide will appreciate you carrying the horns and skull while he packs the meat and hide or cape.
  • Small personal packages of Kleenex tissues - 6. They make nature breaks along the trail easier to accomplish without having to pack a large roll of toilet paper.

All of these items should fit into a medium/large soft-sided duffel bag for the Super Cub trip into your spike camp.

Alaska Peninsula Spring Brown Bear

Alaska Peninsula Spring Brown Bear hunting is made up of endless days of glassing, interspersed with short periods of stalking. The typical Brown Bear hunt is made up of 10 to 12 hours a day of sitting on a hill or knob glassing the surrounding mountainsides and valleys looking for shootable boars. The reason you do so much sitting is to keep your scent from "blowing the valley" and scaring the bears away.

A typical day for me on my May 2000 hunt was to walk about ¾ of a mile from our tent to a knob. Once on top of the knob my guide and I would break out our binoculars and spotting scopes and spend the next 10 to 12 hours taking the mountainsides apart with our optics. In order to be able to glass effectively for up to 16 days some very specialized equipment must be brought to bear. Let's go through the basic clothing, and then the more specialized gear.

Again, synthetic materials make for a happy, comfortable bear hunter. Our underwear is the same as we used for our sheep hunt. Start with Cabela's - (800) 237-4444 - www.cabelas.com  - Thermax briefs - 8 pair, over which a pair of medium weight polyester long underwear - 2 pair, are the hunter's foundation. Don't buy polypropylene. Polypropylene cannot be washed in warm water and it gathers and retains odors. Polyester is a superior replacement for polypro.

For pants you'll need SportHill 3SP Mountain pants - 2 pair. They are available from Barney's Sport Chalet in Anchorage - (907) 561-5242. These pants are made from a lightweight, stretch synthetic that does a great job of stopping the wind. These rugged pants are about 20% of the weight of a pair of wool pants, and you won't freeze in them like you will with a pair of wet blue jeans. They are form fitting and have ankle zippers that make taking them on and off a breeze. The form fitting design of the 3SP pants makes them perfect for wearing under hip boots. The only thing that you will want to add to these pants is a fly zipper. I had my sister-in-law sew a zipper in my two pair.

Brown bears are abundant in our SW Alaska campsOver my long underwear top I wore a Windstopper fleece mock tee shirt available from Cabela's - 2. Because ventilation is so important, I had my sister-in-law install a 12 inch zipper in the front of the shirt. I have suggested this improvement to Cabela's.

For a shirt I would again recommend a MircoTex (polyester) shirt from Cabela's - 2. This shirt is a lightweight, button front shirt that is warm, soft, and quiet, and it's available in regular and tall sizes.

Over the Microtex shirt I layer a zip front Windstopper wool sweater from Cabela's. Also available in regular and tall sizes, this sweater is very warm. It furnished me with a quiet layer of highly effective insulation. And, just as the fleece Windbloc jacket did on my sheep hunt, it stopped the wind, which made my long underwear, fleece mock tee shirt, and MircroTex shirt even more effective. I only wore the sweater when we were on the knob glassing. During any walking it was stored in my daypack.

My final layer for bear hunting was my Helly-Hansen Impertech rain gear. This is available from Barney's Sport Chalet or Cabela's. I used the bib pants with a parka. I tried the ¾ length raincoat with my hip boots, but due to my height, I'm 6'3", the coat came above my hip boots, and I went with the parka and bibs instead. I also modified the bib pants. I cut the legs off 12 inches up from the bottom. This allowed me to don and wear the rain pants over my hip boots and gave good ventilation when the boots were rolled down. Impertech rain gear is compact, rugged, lightweight, and it will keep you dry in situations where Gore-Tex fails. Remember it's not a breathable fabric like Gore-Tex, so you will have to be careful about ventilating while hiking or climbing.

Next comes foot ware. As a client on an Alaska Peninsula Brown Bear hunt you will cross dozens of Salmon streams. Between the stream crossings and walking though Alder jungles, you will sit for endless hours glassing. The accepted foot ware for Brown Bear hunts is an insulated, Air Bob soled, ankle fit hip boot. These are available from Cabela's, Barney's, or LaCrosse - www.lacrosse-outdoors.com 

The problem with hip boots is that they are rubber, hence, they don't breathe. Your feet are housed in a literal sauna. As was important with the plastic sheep boots, you must spend some time working out the fit and socks that you will wear with your hip boots. Special attention must be given to handling the moisture that your feet will generate as you walk. Here is the solution I worked out for my hunt:

I purchased Thinsulate, Cambrelle, felt insoles from Schnee's - (800) 922-1562 - www.schnees.com  - 2 pair. These went into the bottom of the boots, and were swapped each day for a dry pair.
Because of the excessive amounts of moisture from perspiration I had to use two different pair of Thermax liner socks to keep my feet dry, warm, and free from blisters. The first pair of socks was a thin pair of Thermax liner socks from Cabela's - 8 pair. This was followed with a medium weight, calf high Thorlo Winter liner Thermax sock from Schnee's - 3 pair. Over the top of these two pair of socks I used a Thorlo Mountain Climbing wool sock from Schnee's - 3 pair. This combination of socks kept me warm, blister free, and dry during those cold, wet Alaska days. You will need to adjust your hip boot size to compensate for the extra layers of socks and liners. As an added step, every morning I would sprinkle some Dr. Scholl's foot powder into each boot.

Some other items you will need:

  • A warm, windproof hat, with earflaps that come down under your chin. You will really appreciate this hat when you spend several hours on top of a knob in a 30 to 40 mph wind that is mixed with rain and snow. Northern Outfitters' Musher hat fits the bill - (800) 944-9276 - www.northernoutfitters.com.
  • A light pair of Windstopper gloves. A pair of Gore-Tex, Thinsulate gloves, and a pair of Gore-Tex, Thinsulate mittens. The mittens are especially handy for when you are seated on a knob glassing.
  • A good day pack - use the same Crooked Horn Outfitters' Master Guide Pack - (877) 722-5872 - www.crookedhornoutfitters.com  When your order it, ask for the model with the extended spotting scope cover. This will allow you to comfortably pack the longer premium spotting scopes, such as Leica and Swarovski. Take two 20 ounce Gatorade bottles for water. These will fit nicely into the side pockets of the pack.
    Again, between you and your guide be sure that you have a rangefinder.
    Obtain a Petzel headlamp with two sets of batteries. They are available from Cabela's or Barney's.
  • Camp shoes for when you are not wearing your hip boots.
  • Buy a Rapid Rod from ATSKO - (803) 531-1820. Take some cleaning patches - 30, and some Hoppe's #9 in a leak proof plastic bottle.
  • Buy a rifle rain guard from Kifaru International - (800) 222-6139 - www.kifaru.net  This will protect your rifle from the constant rain and snow on the Peninsula. It will also serve as a transport cover once you are on the way to your spike camp. Your heavy, bulky aluminum rifle case can be left in base camp, or wherever your outfitter designates.
  • Take a small point and shoot camera, with at least two or three rolls of Kodak Porta 160VC, 36 exposure film. Put the camera and film in a Zip-Loc bag, and be sure the camera has a fresh battery.
  • Personal shaving kit; with any contact lens or medical items, including Moleskin that you need. Also, take a washcloth and a bath towel. Occasionally, you will have the time and the water to do a "spit bath."
  • Baby Wipes, Wet Ones, etc. These will allow you to perform personal hygiene without the need for excessive amounts of water. I usually allow myself four sheets a day, packaged in a Zip-Loc bag.
  • I take some old fashion wooden, spring loaded clothespins - 20. These along with 50 feet of cotton clothesline are very handy for hanging wet socks gloves, hats, boot liners, etc. to dry. The clothesline can also be used to tie your bear's skull to your pack for the hike back to spike camp after your successful hunt. Your guide will appreciate you carrying the skull while he packs the wet bear hide.
  • Small personal packages of Kleenex tissues - 8. They make nature breaks along the trail much easier to accomplish without having to pack a large roll of toilet paper.
    Take a good skinning knife, with a small sharpening stone. Your guide will appreciate it if you can assist him in skinning your bear.
  • Take some sunscreen SPF30 and some insect repellant. If it gets warm and sunny you will need both of these.
  • If you are going to be in a "Bomb Shelter" or wooden framed wall-type tent take along some nails and hangers. You can use both of these to get you clothes out of your duffle bag so you can hang them where you can find them, and dry them out.
    Take some reading material. There are going to be some days when you can't hunt because of the weather.

That's the general stuff. Now let's look at the specialized equipment that will serve you well on this hunt:

  • A professional quality tripod. I used a SLIK - 444 Sport II model. You are going to be glassing for 10 to 12 hours a day. It will become evident very quickly that you need to use something besides your knees, or a cheap, compact tripod to support your binoculars.
  • Buy a BinoHand. I bought mine from The Outdoorsmans - (800) 291-8065 - www.outdoorsmans.com  This little device will be the interface between your tripod and your binoculars. If your binoculars have a tripod screw adapter you won't need the BinoHand. 
  • Buy the best pair of 10 to 15 power premium - Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski - binoculars you can lay your hands on. I used my Leica 12 x 50mm BA Trinovid binoculars. Also take along a Leupold Lenspen for lens cleaning purposes. This is one of the few hunts where binoculars of greater than 10x can be an advantage. Don't skimp here. You are going to spend literally 90% of your time behind these binoculars taking the mountains around you apart. My guide complimented me on my ability to find and identify bears up to 4 miles away using the setup shown in these photos. You will take great satisfaction in being able to say to your guide, "I've found another bear."
  • Think about taking your own spotting scope. Again, this is one of the few hunts where it can be a real advantage. You will use it on the same tripod as your binoculars. I took my Leica APO Televid 77 spotting scope, with a 20 x 60 eyepiece. My guide and I used it several times to classify a bear that we had spotted with our binoculars. This saved us from making stalks on several bears that we were able to classify as not being of trophy quality.
  • The last of the specialty items is a Slumberjack Comfort Seat. It's available from Sierra Surplus - (877) 743-7723 - www.sierrasurplus.com . This one piece of equipment will make it possible for you to function on the glassing knob for those long days. Instead of having to bend over your knees while glassing, suffering from a sore back, and finally quitting, you will sit comfortably in your Comfort Seat, wrap yourself around your tripod and binoculars, and enjoy your glassing. I cannot stress enough how beneficial this one piece of equipment is.

All of these items should fit in a large soft-sided duffel bag for the Super Cub ride into spike camp.

There are three other things that you should take to camp with you:

The ability to walk - You don't have to be a marathon runner, but you owe it to your guide to be able to walk with him wherever the stalk takes you.

The ability to shoot - You should be able to hit the animal you are hunting from a reasonable rest, with the rifle that you bring, at whatever range the guide can get you to.

The ability to listen - You are paying a lot of money to hunt. Listen to the expert. That's your guide. In almost every instance he will know more about the game, its habits, and the terrain than you do. Listen to his advice.

I hope this list help you to enjoy your hunts in Alaska as much as I have enjoyed mine. Good Hunting !

Article courtesy of Jim Riley of Michigan

 

 

  


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