It began in the winter of 2005 with a series of
emails between friends, one of which lived north of the Arctic
Circle in the Alaskan village of Ft. Yukon. We were discussing
visiting him and helping him with the gathering of a winter’s
supply of firewood and then hunting bears and wolves. We all
agreed it would be a great adventure and began to make plans for
the trip. It was already deep winter in the Arctic with
temperatures warming up to only 35 below zero, so our plans were
for the trip to take place the following year.
In the beginning we had several guys who were going to go with
us who later had to drop out. One had a car wreck and while
thankfully he was not hurt, it also wrecked any chances of him
going along. Others had various things come up that kept them
from going. That’s life. The crew that ended up making the
trip consisted of myself, Tom Lindner, Tom Peterson
and Bryan Pettet. Bryan lives in Alaska and was working
as a Missionary to the Athabascan Indians in the Ft. Yukon area.
Over the course of the next months we began to gather the gear
we would need and to make lists of what we would have to take.
Our hunting area would be the Yukon Flats, an area of 10,000
square miles with fewer than a thousand inhabitants and less
than 60 miles of roads. That most of the roads are in and around
Ft. Yukon may give you some idea of how isolated this area is.
Many rivers and streams cut the land. From the air it is
somewhat reminiscent of the Mississippi delta country. The only
way into it and the only way to get around in it is either by
boat or by air. It is remote enough that once out in the bush a
person is literally on their own. We had to cover all bases and
make sure we had enough provisions, medical supplies, camping
gear and any other comforts we wanted before we left.
During the winter of 2005 and the spring of 2006 I purchased
items that were on my list; insulated long underwear, rain gear,
rubber boots, and other items of clothing that would be needed.
One of the guys, Tom Lindner, was put in charge of getting the
menu together. Our plan was to fly to Fairbanks and buy our
final provisions there. Since Fairbanks had a Sam’s Club, Tom
visited the local Sam’s Club and drew up a menu, noting the
various items we would purchase at the store in Fairbanks. We
also ordered enough MREs to use as a noon meal. We could throw
these in our backpacks and take them into the field with us as
well as using them in camp.
In the spring of 2006 we went online and researched airline
tickets. Eventually we found round-trip tickets to Fairbanks at
a decent price. We would be going right at the end of the
tourist season, which may have helped some. I had stayed in
Fairbanks before so I called a motel that I was familiar with
and booked rooms for all of us. I spoke with the motel owner and
told her that we would be going hunting and needed to store some
of our stuff with them while we were out. She was very kind and
told me that would not be a problem.
We also went online and purchased our hunting licenses and tags.
The Alaska Department
of Fish and Game website was easy to use and we had no
problems getting the tags and licenses. Since we were
non-residents we could not get tags for Grizzly without hiring a
licensed guide, so we elected to hunt Black Bear and Wolves.
Bryan was an Alaskan resident and would have a Grizzly tag
should we run into one.
In June we shipped our camping gear to Alaska. Bryan would be
taking care of it and bringing it with him when we met him in
Fairbanks in August. We shipped the ammo for our guns at the
I had chosen to take my old Model 71 Winchester .348, my Freedom
Arms 454 handgun and my Ruger .22 Single Six. The
Single Six would be the “emergency/survival gun”. I had a
small backpack made up that contained one complete change of
clothes in waterproof bags, fire starter, 2 space blankets, a
folding saw, nylon line, some basic medical supplies and the .22
sixgun and ammo. It would be my “go-to-hell” bag. If
something bad happened on the river, if I could make it to shore
with that bag I could survive. Or so I hoped.
The Yukon River on which we would be camping, traveling and
hunting is the 4th longest river in North America. It can be a
treacherous river with a current that runs at 8 knots. It is up
to 20 miles wide in places, being a “braided” river with
numerous channels and islands. For the uninitiated it is hard to
determine where the main channel is located at times. We had
life jackets and all the safety gear, but if something happened
and we went into the water it would not be good. Besides being a
swift river, the Yukon River is mainly from glacial runoff and
is pretty cold. But I wanted to be prepared as well as I could
for any eventuality.
The flight to Fairbanks began in Tulsa, OK. Checking the
firearms in proved to be a “no big deal”. Tom Lindner and I
flew together and had our rifles and handguns in one case. When
we checked them in the guy at the airline counter spent some
time talking with us about his hunting and shooting experiences.
TSA was not a problem either.
It is over 4000 air miles to Fairbanks. It was a long flight in
a plane that was fully loaded. We arrived about midnight, picked
up our rental car and made our way to the motel. The next
morning bright and early we found the Sam’s Club and purchased
the provisions we had listed. We found almost everything we
wanted. Having the same stock numbers as the stores in the lower
48 States sure simplified things. I had expected prices to be
higher, but overall they were only about 10% higher than in our
That afternoon Bryan arrived and that evening Tom Peterson flew
in. We were all together! The next morning we were up early,
loading the trailer for the next part of the trip. Bryan brought
our gear that we had shipped earlier and along with what we
brought with us on the flight up, we had quite a load. It began
raining while we were loading, a sign of things to come. As we
were loading our gear I asked Bryan, “Where’s the ammo?”
and he got a funny look on his face. Oh oh. Here were thousands
of miles from home and no ammo!! Fairbanks has some good gun shops,
however, and with a little work we secured ammo for all our
Lesson: Take your ammo with you.
Once we had all our supplies and the trailer was loaded we drove
out of Fairbanks heading for Circle, Alaska. Circle is the End
of The Road. Located about 70 miles south of the Arctic Circle
on the Yukon River, it is a popular stop for those who are
traveling the river. It is one of the places where goods
destined for the interior villages are shipped from. Items can
be trucked to Circle and then loaded on barges for the rest of
the trip. It is either that or air freight. It is about 150
miles from Fairbanks to Circle. The first 60 miles or so from
Fairbanks are paved with the rest of the road being dirt. The
last 20 miles into Circle can be quite rough and muddy
(depending on how the weather has been). It took us about 4 ½
hours to make the trip. The road winds up over some high,
beautiful mountains. When the sun hit the slopes that were
covered with fireweed it looked like the peaks were on fire!
Arriving at Circle we pulled the boat from its mooring and
loaded our gear into it. We did not have much of chance to look
around Circle since we wanted to head north on the river as
quickly as possible. Not that Circle is all that large. I
believe it has a population of 60 or 70. But it is always
interesting to see how folks live in harsh climates like the far
north. Once the boat was loaded we buckled on our safety gear
and headed out. It was cool on the river and I was glad to have
my rain gear on as it served as a great windbreak.
We had traveled for some time when a long low ridge came up in
front of us. It had something up near the peak and I inquired
what it was. Bryan said it was an Indian grave. The river had
several channels running off to the east, parallel with the
ridge and I asked if he had ever hunted that area. He said,
“No, but I have wanted to.” and turned the boat in that
direction. We went up the channel, which was a quarter mile or
more wide, for a mile or so until we spotted a nice landing.
Pulling into the shore we got off the boat, retrieved our guns
and set out to see what it looked like.
We met back at the boat after 15 or 20 minutes and all of us
agreed that the signs were good. There were bear and wolf tracks
in abundance, the landing we were on was easy to reach and had a
good camping spot. The decision was made, “This is it!”, and
we began to unload the boat. While we unloaded and set up tents
Bryan cut firewood and by the time we had the camp together the
fire was going and we were looking forward to a meal. Checking
the time we were surprised to find it was about 9 PM! Being so
far north, the sun does not set like we were used to. No wonder
we were hungry! The sun not setting “normally’ (like it does
in the lower 48) messed up not only a person’s internal clock,
it also messed with their sense of direction, since it was not
in the “normal” location in the sky.
Our camp was set up with the “kitchen” area about 50 yards
from the sleeping area. No food was taken into the tents. All
this was a precaution against bears. It was interesting the
first morning to see a large wolf track right on top of our boot
print, not 30 yards from the tents.
While the rest of the guys were hunting one of us stayed in camp
to guard against predators. During the week were in camp I saw
only one other person, a native named Dennis who came up the
river in his boat. He saw me in camp without a boat there and
stopped to see if everything was OK. He was looking for a moose
and I told him of a spot where we had jumped one. He thanked me
and headed on up the river. I don’t know if he got one or not.
I did hear a rifle shot a day or so later, up the river from us,
but quite a long ways off.
The firearms we had with us were as follows: Bryan carried a Hamilton
Bowen-built .500 Linebaugh revolver and a Ruger Model
77 in .458 Lott. Tom Lindner carried a Ruger .41 Magnum sixgun
and a Marlin 1895 .45-70. Tom Peterson carried a Remington
.30-06 and a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson. And I had the
Model 71 .348 and the 454 Freedom Arms. The handguns were worn
all the time. The rifles were kept within close reach.
The Yukon Flats is a rough country to hunt. The brush is
extremely thick. In most places you could not see game if it was
within 30 feet of you. There are several ways of hunting bears
in it. The most productive I believe would be baiting. Since we
had not gotten bait permits we did not try that. We hunted the
drainages where there were good sign. We also tried calling. I
am sure now that we had bears on us several times. We just could
not see them. The grass in the drainages was often higher than
our waists. A bear on all fours would be nearly impossible to
see. On several occasions we hunted the length of a drainage
only to find fresh bear tracks across our tracks on the return!
Once we had yipping and howling answers to our calls, but no
wolves came in. They sounded like coyote pups. Since there are
no coyotes in the Yukon Flats there was only one answer as to
what it was. And while we did not get any game on this hunt I
have to say I would do it again in a minute, even if I knew the
results would be the same. It was just incredible being in that
big, wide country!
It rained nearly every day. Some days it only rained for a few
minutes. Other times it rained most of the day. The rain gear
was one of the more used items of clothing that I took. It did
not get as cold as we were prepared for, the lowest temperatures
being in the high 30’s. But it was wet, even when it didn’t
rain. I wore the rubber boots more than my regular insulated
Some of the more useful items included: Deet – the bugs were
thick! Mosquitoes, no-see-ums, gnats, black flies and a few
white socks were always around. Baby Wipes were very much
appreciated. A multi-tool was kept in my pocket. These were used
every day, several times a day.
After 5 days of hunting we broke camp in the rain and loaded the
boat, heading back south to Circle. It was a cold, wet trip. At
Circle we visited the Circle Washeteria. Here one can get
potable water, use the Laundromat and take a hot shower in the
coin-operated shower. It was a great place to visit after a week
in the bush! We also visited the General Store and bought
goodies. Prices were high, but not so bad when you consider how
hard it is to get goods into someplace as far from everywhere as
Circle is. Gasoline was only $3.60 a gallon at Circle. That’s
about $2.00 a gallon cheaper than it was at Ft. Yukon.
The trip back to Fairbanks was uneventful. We spent a couple
days sight-seeing in Fairbanks. Anyone heading that way, be sure
to visit the Museum of the Far North at the University in
Fairbanks. We spent a half a day there and did not see it all.
It is well worth the time.
We also visited some great gun shops in
Fairbanks. If you are ever there, drop in and visit these
Alaska Guns & Ammo
308 6th Ave.
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Arctic Gun Works
1307 Kalakeket St.
Fairbanks, AK 99709
Down Under Guns
318 Driveway St
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Alaska is a grand country. A Do-It-Yourself hunt
such as we put on is a lot less expensive than going with an
outfitter. However, the chances of you scoring game are higher
if you use an outfitter so you have to decide whether it is
worth the investment or not. Also, there are some species of
game that those of us from out of State cannot hunt without a
Guide. But still, if you choose to put it together yourself, you
can have a wonderful time. We did. I believe I speak for all of
us on this hunt when I say, “It was a Grand Adventure.”
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