Monday, January 02, 2006

TIP: Finding a Reliable Air Charter

Although there are many good hunting areas accessible from Alaska’s road system, eventually most hunters seek the opportunities available by flying out to a remote area. Here are some tips to finding a reliable air service.


A reliable air charter can make or break your hunt. (c) 2006 Michael StrahanThough most air charter services offer hunters a good experience, there are a few bad apples in the barrel. One hunter reports getting dropped off “in the middle of nowhere” to hunt moose with a couple of friends. Within three days they realized they were in a dead zone far from quality moose habitat. There wasn’t even a track to be found. Other parties find themselves in the midst of other hunters and wind up stalking the same animals as other groups. Still others are gouged by unanticipated last-minute or after-the-fact hidden costs. Beware of charter services that give vague answers, seem hard to contact, or are new arrivals to the area. Not all who fit this resumé are bad, but be careful; new arrivals may be learning the area on your nickel. Consider charters that are well established in their area or that have long track records of success. If they’re providing some of your gear, ask about the brand names, age and condition of it before you commit your cash.


There’s a saying that in Alaska you shouldn’t fly from one side of the range to hunt the other. Fall weather here is notoriously fickle, and your air service may not be able to get through the pass. Some charters avoid this by staging an aircraft on the other side during hunting season. Check with your air service to see how they deal with this or you could lose some of your hunting time to weather. Alternatively, hire an air service that’s already based in a nearby village; they know the area well and can get you into a productive spot with fewer delays.


Begin your search for an air charter service with a look at the Air Taxi listings in the services pages of the Alaska Outdoors Supersite. While this is not a complete listing, it will get you started on some charters that operate in certain areas of the state. Contact the Area Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; ADF&G personnel will not refer you to a commercial operator, but the biologist may tell you the name of the company that performs survey work for them. Chances are, they’ve picked a winner. Search the forum archives on Outdoors Directory for information on air charters, and finally contact folks who’ve flown with the charters on your list. As you talk to hunters, be aware that unsuccessful hunters may wrongfully blame the air service. Read between the lines to see what’s really going on.


Some air services hop around from one “hot” hunting location to another from year to year, while others remain in areas that have consistently produced for them. Consider charters that are well-established in their areas or that have a long track record of success. Ask for references from last season and a few seasons before. Don’t judge an air service by one season; in some years everyone does poorly. As far as money goes, find out whether you’re paying a flat fee or by the hour (the latter can get expensive if the plane has to turn back because of bad weather). Ask about mid-hunt meat hauls. If you’re floating a river, ask about flying the river to scout for hazards before you drop off. Expect to pay extra for these services, but realize that they may be essential to your safety and the proper care of your meat.

Michael Strahan has been an Alaska hunting guide, author, and regular presenter on hunting topics at sportsman's shows and other venues. He is frequent contributor to the Alaska hunting forum.

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