To say that I was excited would be an understatement of epic proportions. Having grown up reading stories of adventure in Alaska, it was hard for me to comprehend that I was getting to undertake an Alaskan adventure for myself.
Although I had been talking about an Alaskan Caribou hunt for years, I wouldn't believe that it was happening until I stepped foot on the vast Alaskan wilderness.
Now, on the other side of the adventure, I wanted to share the five most impactful lessons that I learned from this trip. If you want to hear more about the hunting stories from this adventure or dive-deep into the nitty-gritty details, such as costs, logistics, and gear choices for this trip, tune-in to episodes 196, 197, and 198 of the Hunt Backcountry Podcast.
Lesson 1: Have a solid plan, but be ready to adapt...
If you want to plan a hunting trip to Alaska, start early. Especially if you are planning a do-it-yourself hunting trip. For the trip to go as smooth as possible, you need to figure out the costs, travel plans, gear, and on and on. While you may be able to throw together a quick, last-minute hunting trip in the Lower 48, a trip to Alaska takes some time to put together.
We started talking about and roughly planning this trip 3-4 years ago. The 18 months leading up to our hunt date, we got more and more specific on gear, logistics, and everything else needed to start our trip with a solid plan.
All of that is important. BUT... and this is a BIG "but"... your plan will fail. Alaska will look at your plans and laugh in your face. As important as your plan is — prepare to adapt.
Our perfectly planned flight schedule put us in Alaska just in time to fly-out on our floatplane. The weather didn't cooperate and we had to spend an entire unplanned day in town. At the end of our hunt, the weather didn't allow us to fly out of the field when were supposed to. During the middle of our trip, we had non-stop 40+ mph winds for more than 36-hours, which meant we were forced to stop hunting and say in the tent for what felt like forever. That's just Alaska.
Lesson 2: We are tiny...
Saying you've been to Alaska is a bit like saying you've been to the ocean. You've experienced it — but only a microscopic sliver of all that it is. Even though we hiked dozens and dozens of miles on our trip, I feel like we only "got our toes wet" in the vast ocean that is Alaska.
The country up there is so unbelievably big, it is hard to describe. The air is so clear that you can see for miles. When you start to hike "just over there", you soon realize that the destination you had in mind is ten-times further than you thought and the terrain between you and your destination is deceivingly difficult to move through.
We learned those lessons on the first day. Then, at the end of that long, hard day, we stood under a night sky charged with the Northern Lights. Watching the cosmic light show of the aurora borealis move through the sky, I realized at a deep level, how small we truly are in this galaxy. That type of perspective is hard to come by unless you escape the day-to-day grind and get into truly big, truly wild places.
Lesson 3: Success and "suck" are sweetest when shared...
There was a lot that didn't go as expected on this trip. Despite the difficult weather and ever-changing plans that I already mentioned, the Caribou numbers were nowhere near what we expected. We had to hunt hard and make the most of the difficult conditions. Those hard times, including the 36+ hours spent in a tent, were made bearable — and even enjoyable — because we had a group of great guys that were all in it together, and all in it for each other. When things sucked, we kept each other going with a positive attitude.
Despite those difficult weather conditions and very little caribou numbers, we filled five caribou tags in our group. Those moments of success were sweeter because they were shared. It didn't matter who was behind the trigger, we were all pursuing success together. We all celebrated together when success was found.
There's some special about hunting solo at times. But an Alaskan adventure is meant to be shared.
Lesson 4: Good gear is critical...
Many of us are "gear nuts". We like to have the best gear possible. But more often than not, that gear isn't critical to our success as hunters. Sometimes, oftentimes, gear is over-rated.
But in Alaska, having the right gear is critical — for success and safety. It is one thing to be wet and cold in the lower 48, when even though you may be miles from your truck, you could still hike back to warmth and safety. In Alaska, when you are hundreds of miles away from help, being cold and wet can be more than uncomfortable — it can be downright dangerous.
When the winds picked up on our trip, we found out quickly which tents were and were not up to the task. If we had relied solely on shelter that failed (as some of ours did), we could have found ourselves in a very dangerous situation.
There are times to sacrifice comfort to save weight. There are times to try out new gear, just to see how it performs. There are times when you can skimp on safety, knowing that when worst comes to worst, you can leave. A trip to Alaska is not a time for any of that.
Lesson 5: Effort and investment are worth the experience...
If you envision an Alaskan adventure only through rose-colored glasses, those lenses will be surely shattered and your perception will change. As great as Alaska is, it will challenge you. The effort you put in and the discomfort you endure will be worth it. Additionally, an adventure to Alaska is not cheap. You'll be investing thousands of dollars in the experience. But if you haven't experienced Alaska and you have that deep desire to do so, the effort and investment will be worth it.
This trip may have been my first Alaskan adventure, but it certainly won't be my last. I already started planning and saving for the next one...
Written by Mark Huelsing of Exo Mtn Gear