As my father once said “Luck is where preparation and hard work meet”. This phrase rings loud in my head every year as I spend countless hours preparing for hunting season. The logistics of owning and operating a hunting-centered media company comes with its fair share of preparation and hard work. At 60th Parallel Adventures we specialize in capturing all the elements of our hunting expeditions on camera so that we can share them with others. It is our hope that you may be inspired to take on your very own epic hunting adventure or glean some useful field knowledge that may come in handy someday.
When to start planning a backcountry hunt
Before my hunting partner and I embark on any adventures, there is a lot of work that has to be done. As a good rule of thumb, I recommend planning at least a year in advance for any hunting adventure. We are typically planning 18 months to 2 years down the road depending on the logistics required for the adventure. Now some of you might be thinking, why on god’s green earth would a person need to plan this far in advance for any hunt? Well, there’s a variety of reasons to start planning way in advance; like the fact that air charters, water taxis, guides, lodges and a multitude of other hunting related services tend to book up early and fast. Also, in most states draw tags applications deadlines are usually eight months to a year before the following hunting season. In any case the more homework you have done and the more details you have ironed out, the more likely you are to have a fun, safe, and successful hunt.
Choosing your game and getting a tag
Our planning usually starts with simply deciding what critters John and I would like to pursue and where. Once this little detail is agreed upon the wheels are set into motion. We first start by looking at topo maps, satellite imagery, and getting the general lay of the land that we plan to hunt. Next I call a regional biologist to discuss population densities, genetics, heard health, and other area knowledge. All this information allows us to start looking at draw tags. Now most hunters are familiar with the term draw tag or at the very least may have heard about them, but for those that are unfamiliar I will expound a little on this subject. As most of you already know many states including Alaska have a draw tag system. These draw tags are limited in number and the draw is similar to a lottery or raffle system. A handful of states in the last 20 years or so have adopted a preference point or bonus points system. This means you will have to build points over time usually at a rate of 1 point per year for many years, in an effort to increase your odds of drawing a tag down the road. I could go on for hours on this topic alone, however the take-home message here is, I would strongly recommend getting in the preference point/bonus system for your states of choice ASAP, that is, if you are interested in hunting trophy areas in other states in the foreseeable future.
That being said, you don’t need a draw a tag to hunt the vast majority of North American big game species, since most tags are available over the counter. However, keep in mind that most draw tag areas will generally have higher game populations, better trophy quality, and less people, which adds up to a greater chance to harvest that trophy of a lifetime. In Alaska there is not a preference point/bonus system as of yet, but rather a simple lottery, meaning every year you have the same chance as everyone else to draw any particular tag you might apply for. One of the major cons to this type of system is that you could apply for a particular tag every year your entire life and never draw that tag! The pro to a lottery system is that you have the same odds as everyone else every year, and if lady luck is on your side you might draw your dream tag several times in one lifetime.
Each year during the draw tag application period, John and I spend hours researching each draw tag to death, with the idea in mind that we will not draw any of the tags we are applying for. In our mind drawing a tag falls under our plan B, meaning if we are lucky enough to pull a draw tag then all the groundwork has been previously laid. Our plan A is to line out our hunting season with general over-the-counter tags. Harvest tickets and/or general over-the-counter tags are available to residents and nonresidents. With this type of plan we are set to hunt just about every species in Alaska without pulling a single draw tag. Simply, if we don’t draw a tag then plan A for an over counter tag is set into motion; if lady luck blesses us with a draw tag then plan B springs into action. In either case, all of the aforementioned groundwork for plan A or B has been completed months ahead of schedule, giving us a jump on future logistics. I might also mention that John and I only apply for draw tags that we consider premier tags. Meaning, any draw tag we happen to pull would automatically move to front of the priority list. Since there is a very low chance of pulling most draw tags we treat them as a once in a lifetime opportunity and do everything in our power to hunt that particular tag.
Choosing the location of your hunt
Once we have our tags in hand, the next item to focus on is the hunt location. Since we have researched locational data months prior we already have a general idea of where we would like to hunt. However, this is where we start nailing down details such as hunt-able terrain, animal movement patterns, rivers/lakes of concern or value, and area accessibility. All these details will ultimately help us decide where our next adventure will take place.
Secure transportation to your trailhead or drop site
After locking in your locations, the next element to tackle is transportation. For most of our hunts we use bush pilots to fly us in so we can find areas with less hunting pressure. Choosing the right pilot is extremely important, as flying in remote Alaska is challenging and dangerous, requiring skill, experience, and sound judgement. Timing is also important when booking a pilot. Long before we even get our tags we research the best pilots for different areas that we are considering to hunt. Alaskan Draw tag results are released in mid-February, and as early as March, many of the best charter services are already booked up for the premium calendar days, so the earlier you get yourself booked the better. The same of course is true of water taxies or lodging. Get your name in the books early! When talking to the pilot be sure to ask a lot of questions such as; how much weight can I bring, how many trips will be needed if an animal is harvested, what type of aircraft your flying in, what weather conditions are required for pick up and drop off (as you will need to be able to advise your pilot of the conditions in your area so he can determine whether it is safe to pick you up at the designated time or not, and of course the cost of service. Knowing these details will help streamline your planning process moving forward.
Now that we have our tags, a specific location in mind, and a charter service booked, we can move on to permitting. As videographers, the next step for us is getting commercial filming permits for the areas that we intend to hunt. Without laboring on for hours and boring you to death, I’ll keep this section short and simple. Permitting for photography and/or videography is required on all state and federal lands for commercial use. Since we own and operate a business conducting commercial media, we always work to ensure we are following the guidelines in place for each individual area in which we operate. Permit requirements, fees, and processing vary greatly from area to area and agency to agency. As a general rule of thumb this process needs to be started as soon as you know when, where, and why you are hunting, as some permits may take only a few days to a week to get approved, while others can take a year or more. That being said, if you’re shooting photos and/or video for personal use only, then this step is not necessary.
Gearing up for a backcountry hunting expedition
One of the last and most enjoyable planning efforts we conduct before every hunting adventure is gear selection. Once the foundation of our adventure has been laid, we can focus on all the gizmos and gadgets that will keep us dry, warm, safe, and hopefully successful in the field. As one can imagine, gear selection can be a daunting task and usually takes years to refine. Over the years my hunting partner John and I have made many gear lists for each hunting adventure we would tackle. In recent years we have made a gear list for each species of animal we pursue and the time of year we pursue them.
We constantly tweak and improve each list from one hunting season to the next. For example we have a slightly different gear list for an early season sheep hunt vs a late season sheep hunt. In each list we have a core line up of items we typically use on Dall sheep hunting trips. However, that list can be adjusted for hunt specifics such as the time of year, mountain range, and type of transportation we are accessing the hunting area with. Naturally we would take heavier clothing, warmer sleeping bags, stronger tents, and white gas instead of isobutane fuel for a late season hunting trip vs. early August.
This type of gear list system allows us to adjust on the fly should any major changes be made to the adventure. Not only do we need to take the right gear for the job, but it has to be tuff and reliable as well. Unlike most hunting adventures elsewhere, in Alaska we usually find ourselves many miles from the nearest road or telephone. If our gear fails it can possible create a life or death scenario. So our gear has to be strong, durable, light, and most of all, work well! For these reasons we only take gear on serious hunts that we have personally field tested. Brands like Hilleberg, Sitka Gear, Vortex Optics, Kimber Rifles, Barney’s Frontier Gear of Alaska, and of course, Heather’s Choice, just to name a few.
Our standard operating procedure is to test any new gear out on short one to three day hunts, usually within walking distance of civilization. This way, if our new-fangled piece of gear fails we are not in the middle of nowhere and at the mercy of mother nature. Be sure to build your gear list months if not a year in advance. Take the time to weigh out every item, and give yourself time to test it out. Break in your boots. Buy the best gear you can afford. Shopping in advance will give you time to find good deals and discounts. Investing in quality equipment will only make your hunt safer, and more enjoyable.. As a fellow old time guide once told me, “the only difference between a good hunt and a bad hunt, is the difference between good gear and bad gear”.
Physical conditioning for the backcountry
Last but definitely not least, our physical condition and diet needs to be in check long before any hunting takes place. It’s not uncommon for us to spend 30-60 hunting days in the field each year, and some serious physical preparation is needed to be ready for that. If our bodies can’t stand up to the abuse and physical demands of a hunt, then all the time and money previously spent is simply a huge waste. You can have the best gear in the world, but if you’re not in good shape and have a poor diet you’ve already failed before you begun. Don’t wait until you have an adventure in the works before hitting the gym. Adopt a fitness plan and stay in good shape year round if possible. This way you are one step ahead of the game when it comes time to go hunting. During all the previously mentioned planning, John and I hit the gym several times a week just to maintain a baseline of physical fitness. As hunting season approaches, we begin to increase our work outs and tailor them more and more towards hunting fitness to make sure we are ready for anything the mountain, swamp, or rivers will throw at us.
Backcountry nutrition and meal planning
Once in the field John and I typically burn 5-7,000 calories per day. When exerting oneself at this level it is really easy to deplete your energy reserves and run your immune system into the ground. It’s vitally important to have proper nutrition in the field for consistent energy and recovery. It’s for these reasons we have adopted and depend on Heather’s Choice meals for adventuring. There are many great attributes about Heather’s Choice meals that I could expound upon, but to put quite simply, they provide solid energy without all the preservatives that most other meals have. Also, since gluten is a natural inflammatory and Heather's meals are gluten free, my joints are not stiff and swollen thus thanking me each day as I throw a heavy pack on my back and head up the mountain.
Our daily meal plans are adjusted slightly for each hunting expedition. However, we generally consume around 3,000 calories per day which is far less than what we burn. This is why it is so important that we consume clean, wholesome food. We usually come back from a hunting trip having lost a couple pounds and feeling great with energy to burn. Our diet in the field is what allows us to push the extra mile needed to get the job done. Let’s face it, diet is everything. So make sure you don’t let your diet plan fall through the cracks when setting up your next hunt. It could very well be the deciding factor between filling the freezer and not!