My hunting partner, Gnarly Dan, and I had decided to apply for a caribou drawing permit hunt for the 2019 hunting season. We discussed the various hunts available and decided the DC590, Talkeetna Mountains hunt, was probably our best option. We had also decided to apply for the party permit option. That way either we both would have a permit or neither of us would.
The applications were submitted, and the waiting began. I was in the process of getting my right knee replaced and hoped the whole procedure would be successful in the event we were drawn. The drawing permit results were released in mid-February, when Gnarly and I learned we were successful with our applications. My knee surgery was completed the end of February and I immediately began three months of physical therapy to regain normal use of the joint.
Gnarly and I began calling each other or meeting occasionally to discuss equipment and gear needs and figure who had what or who could borrow the required items from whom. I began seriously searching for where I had put some of my stuff, since the November 2018 earthquake had resulted in a major rearrangement of storage locations of my gear during the clean-up.
This hunt is a remote, fly-in activity if one expects to have reasonable success in finding and harvesting a caribou. Gnarly and I began making lists of items needed for a remote camp which would probably include having to backpack to a campsite from the plane’s landing strip and carry the caribou from the harvest site back to where the bush plane could access the meat bags when the hunt was over. Since we were both a little older, we were also looking to have a comfortable camp for the two-week duration we planned for the hunt.
Because of the remoteness of the hunt location and the fact we were both older, I arranged to rent a satellite phone in case we needed to call for health reasons, to get a meat pick-up, or arrange for an early pick-up. I would heartily recommend anybody doing this hunt have a satellite phone available. While we had no health issues, we did discuss the possibility of a meat pick-up and we ultimately called for an early pick-up to end the hunt.
After some preliminary discussions with the air taxi service, we made some significant adjustments in gear to reduce weight and space while maintaining the function of the piece of gear. Specifically, we downsized the tent and heating system. Gnarly was able to borrow a good, light-weight tent from a friend which had adequate space for two cots and gear. I had a medium sized propane heater which used one-pound cylinders and was light to carry.
As the departure time neared, we began eliminating items that were either extras or were, while nice to have, not critical to the trip. We both did a little last-minute shopping for specific gear we didn’t have and for food items to augment our planned diet of freeze-dried foods, some snack items, and MRE’s.
A couple of days before we were scheduled to leave, Gnarly brought his stuff over to my house. We weighed all the gear and packed it in the back of my truck. Counting both of us, our total weight fell within the range we needed to keep our number of flights into the hunt site to two 185 Cessna plane loads. That was as good as we were going to get.
Finally, our departure date arrived. I picked Gnarly up at his house in Palmer and we made the uneventful drive up to Meekin’s Air Service, located at Mile 115 on the Glenn Highway. We had picked Mike Meekin’s operation based on some great recommendations from friends working for Fish and Game. Mike Meekin had been contract flying for years for Fish and Game doing both game and fish surveys and other related field work. My Fish and Game friends had only the highest praise for Meekin’s flying ability, condition of his planes, his long-term safety record, and his knowledge of the area where we would be hunting.
As things turned out, the FAA federal inspector was on site inspecting Meekin’s airplanes while we were waiting to fly out. I spoke with the inspector and he confirmed everything I had heard from my Fish and Game friends. He commented that Meekin’s safety record was the envy of the industry.
Mike loaded Gnarly and about two-thirds of the gear into the 185 and took off about 1:00pm. I ate a quick lunch while waiting for my turn to fly. A little over an hour after he left, Mike returned and loaded me and the remaining gear in the plane and we were off.
To be continued….