Are you one of the lucky recipients of a big game draw tag? If so, then in my opinion you have just won the Alaska lottery.
But where to even begin planning? I've worked for more than 15 years in the hunting and firearms industries, and people often come to me seeking advice on what to purchase for their first Alaska hunt. Often, these first-time hunters have won a draw tag -- many times after just applying once. Isn't that just how the luck of the draw works.
The first thing to do after winning your draw tag is to research the area and game animal you'll be pursuing. Some people do extensive research before applying for the draw tag lottery. If you're one of them -- good for you, you are already ahead of the game. However, many people, especially those new to Alaska hunting, put in their tag applications based on advice from friends or coworkers, and know little if anything about the areas or game species they've applied for.
With your lucky tag number in hand, you should visit the State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game website (www.adfg.alaska.gov, look for the hunting tab). There's a lot of information there about game species and the game management units (GMU) where you will be hunting, including maps organized by species, GMUs, hunt type and hunt number. The last one, hunt number, is the one you'll want to focus on.
Enter your draw tag number and presto -- you have a map detailing your hunt boundaries and conditions. That includes season dates, the reporting requirements of your tag and a written description of the hunting areas including roadways, waterways, or mountain ranges that border your hunting area. This one page is invaluable to your success.
After reviewing all the details, it's likely that you will have questions, including: What is the most productive time of the season for the hunt? What are some access points to the hunt area and would it be best to go by plane, four-wheeler, boat or foot? How much hunting pressure does particular draw hunt receive? What would be a good representative trophy for that hunt area?
You can direct all these questions to a wildlife management biologist at Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Their contact information can be found on the department's website and they can answer questions or direct you to staff dealing with specific areas or species. Be respectful of their time and courteous with your questions and those biologists will be a wealth of information for you.
Once you have a good idea of your hunting area and game species, and have had several good conversations with knowledgeable biologists, it's time to focus your efforts. Perhaps your area is very large and you need more detailed maps for one specifically promising area that has been pointed out to you. The U.S. Geological Survey's topographic maps are a great place to find these areas, you can download them online at USGS.gov or purchase them at at a local retailer.
What comes next really depends on what type of hunt you want to go on. Is this going to be a airplane drop-off, extreme backpacking hunt or are you going with a guide and staying at a lodge? Are you going with friend on ATVs or doing everything by the power of your own two feet once you leave your vehicle on a "road hunt?" Often, this will largely be decided by the tag you have drawn and how remote the area is. One note of caution -- every hunt in Alaska is an "expedition," and even a weekend caribou hunt can turn dangerous if you're not prepared.
So there you have it, the foundation for your fall adventure has been laid. A lot of work still remains. You'll need to be in proper physical condition for your hunt, choose the gear and clothing you'll bring and practice with your firearm or bow to ensure a clean, humane kill. You must also have a plan on getting you, your hunting partner and your gear both into and out of the field safely, hopefully leaving with some excellent, all-natural wild game meat for your table.
For those of us who didn't win a draw tag, myself included, better luck next year. We will have to find ourselves something else to do this fall -- steelhead trout fishing, anyone? But for you lucky few, this marks the beginning of an adventure that hopefully will fill your freezer, hang a trophy on the wall, make new memories or all of the above. Good luck, and remember that a day enjoying that remote Alaska wilderness is never a day wasted.
Cody Jacobson lives in Anchorage and guides on the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Archipelago, and much of Western Alaska. He is a registered guide-outfitter and waterfowl hunting guide, a hunter education instructor and works in the firearms and sporting goods retail industry.