AFI Alaska Caribou a Photo Essay

What follows in an account of our Alaska Caribou Event in 2023 from a participant:


Day 1:

- view coming into Fairbanks 

woke up at 06, had coffee with the kids and finished packing. Sat around
the house until 730 drinking coffee and enjoying my time with the family. While
I'm extremely excited it is always difficult leaving the family home.

Check-in with a rifle: I walked to the counter and said I have a firearm to declare.
There was a small price of paper and an extra 2-3 min of time. Once we were
done, I walked my bags over to oversized luggage and had to fill out my name,
flight number, and sign. Over my bags. delta made it very easy.

*Pro tip while flying: The Delta Lounge is worth every penny... never book a middle
seat! Holy hell! Although the amazing gent sitting in the window gave me an
amazing recipe for horchata. :
Soak rice in water for 24hours, then wash the rice. Place the rice, 2 cans of
condensed milk, 1 cinnamon stick, blend it, strain it, and add water!


When I landed at FAl it was 2am. They finished checking in the last flight of the
night then came over to the oversized luggage section. Checked my ld and gave
me my rifle and roller bag.


Day 2: 

Picking out our caribou at Sportsmans warehouse

Lots of waiting on all participants to arrive. Ran to sporting goods store a few times for extra gear


Day 3:

-View of Barrys garage

All participants arrived at Barry Whitehills house.  Snacked, drank coffee, and discussed conservation, rocks, family, rocks, fossils, caribou, rocks, heart recipes, and rocks.  We slept in Barrys driveway.


Day 4:

-Brooks range on the dalton hwy


-Campsite at pump station 1:30 a.m


Made long drive from fairbanks to Brooks range.  We arrived around 1 a.m. 15.5 hour drive with 9 pee breaks.  Sun still out at 1:30 just kind of gets dusky but never dark. 40 degree temps


Day 5:


Air boat broken, had to take group in three chalks. 2 hours one way. temps dropping to 30's.  Final group arrived at 8:30 pm and camped on tundra.  Very wet! ground wet, air wet, tent wet, sleeping bag wet.  Rained all day.... freezing cold!


Day 6:

-View from camp

 Snowed all "night" Groupd slow to rise after not good sleep due to wetness.  started hunting at 9a.m. and tried to find high ground.  Saw first caribou at 11 a.m. group of cows and calfs 2 miles from camp.  We moved camp from tundra to gravel bar.... less wet.  Tom and Marc Shot bulls but river swelled from melted snow made their way back to camp impassable and we could not help.  They were forced to wade the river at 2 am with packs full of meat and a grizzly on their trail.  arrived around 3 am.

-Tom and Marc with their Meat

-Notching tags

*When they retrieved their meat next day grizz had eaten one quarter of it.... bummer

-Grizz ate my bou 


Day 7:

Hiked 4 miles from camp and saw a bull.  Shot 3 times and missed all (scope rattled loose on boat ride in). Bull ran after the third shot and Trevor ended up shooting him Helped trevor carry out bull.  Not mad at all..... little jealous.  Tundra sucks to walk on like big grassy waterbed.

Day 8:

-Preping rafts

Packed up rafts and floated down the river 15 miles.  Thought we would find new ground to hunt that wasn't so hard to walk on.  We were wrong still hard to walk.  It has rained every day all day.  30 and 40 degree temps.  Group morale is not great due to all being cold and wet.  Trevor, Shawn, and Camera guy still in high spirits.  

New Camp full of 50+ muskoxen, bulls, cows, young ones....super cool to be so close to them.  like something out of starwars.


Day 9:  


Sun came out and temps is 50's. Glorious day, hiked to the glassing knob 3 miles out.  feet, legs cramping all over, need to drink more water.  Need more food.  Need to be dry!  Moral greatly improved in all from seeing Sun for first time in a few days.  Saw Bulls three miles away... might as well be on the moon.Very hungry... ate some berries, hope they dont make me sick




Day 10:  

Sun persists but it wont last the day, dark clouds over Arctic Ocean ominous.  Had coffee in camp, hot beverages whenever possible are a must.  Out of dry socks, might as well not even wear them.  Saw multiple bulls 2 miles away, no way to close distance,  Shawn and Ryan shot bulls.  We cooked heart and tenderloin, hot real food big moral boost to all.  Fried meat in fat from behind caribou eye.  *each eye rendered down to about 4 oz of cooking oil and made a nice tasty crackling.*



Storm from the actric ocean arrived at 8:30 pm.  50 mph wind gusts took down both tents and flung gear all over the tundra.  Morale at all-time low.  Cant reset up tents tooo windy.  must ride out storm...

We finally got tents back up at midnight and collapsed into our bags exhausted from days work.  we will all be cold and wet forever...

Shawn and Ryan got Bulls..... neat.


Day 11:


 15 mile float back to our take out.


5 tag holders left in camp. all holding out hope to see a bull on way out but alas it was not to be.  Sun came out halfway back and helped lift our spirits.  everyone is thinking of gas station Buffett in cold foot.  soooo hungry...

-Cool sheds

Arrived at our van at 3 pm and were on road to coldfoot by 4 with all gear and meat loaded.

Ate dinner at buffett and slept on floor of gas station.  it is a wild place inhabited by the niest people where there are no rules and a peice of lasania costs 27 dollars.  Trevor seems relived we all made it out... morale very high and hot food is very good.

-Coldfoot AK


Day 12:  Our drive south continues...

Trevor moves to back of van to sleep and I take the front.  Van engine explodes as we come to a lurching stop on side of gravel road 175 miles north of Fairbanks. 

Trevor uses inreach to contact rental service at 9:00 am they say they will be here in 5 hours.we have 10 dehydrated meals and 10 nalgenes of water. Its 39 degrees out and raining.  we wait nervous about meat spoilege and the timer for our flights back in fairbanks.


-Hitchhiking back to fairbanks


At 4 pm trevor receives word form the rental company, they are just now sending driver out to get us and tow in the van.  ETA 9 p.m.  2 Nalgene remain and 2 dehydrated meals.  Trevor decdes rental company is unreliable and we make plans to send pairs back to fairbanks to get a personal vehicle to come get us.  5 of the group goes back via hitchhiking,  We arrive in fairbanks at 10 pm.  

- No one is coming to save us...



Day 13:

Rescue vehicle did not arrive to pick up Van and 5 remaining until 3 am.

They arrive with meat and gear in fairbanks at 9 am.  We start to butcher and clean skulls for transport. we sleep in barrys driveway.  Barry was very helpful in meat care and breakdown allowing us to freeze all meat.  We gave about a thrid to Barry as a thank you.


Day 14:

we checked into hotels and showed for first time in 9 days.  Very nice to sleep in bed.  All are awaiting flights home.  we do a few chores for Barry as a thank you.  My flight is second to last before Trevors.  We have beer at airport.  Very good trip.



Animals I saw:

Pacific Loon

Tundra Swan


Gosh Hawk

Snow Owl

Ring neck duck


Camp robbers


snow geese

grizzly bear




arctic fox

red fox


34 miles walked on tundra and 33 miles rafted


Big lessons:

Nothing is waterproof

Invest in your sleeping system (lightweight, water proof, warm -15 degree bag would be great)

Walking on tundra very hard averaged 1 mph with empty packs

Logistics in Alaska is nightmare, Plan extra days into your trip in case of mechanical failure

Plans are at the mercy of Alaska

Arctic time is a cultural phenomenon where no one seems to ever be in a hurry or care about a timeline.  there is no sense of urgency among the locals... not a bad thing, I think they just realized the above and stop worrying.


Tundra = gym full of deflated basketballs every foot or so.  Then plant 8-16 in of moss and turf over basket balls, then fill gaps with water, then replace gym floor with a water bed. Impossible to generate momentum.


Total cost:


Tags and license = $945

Van rental = $1000

Raft rental = $400

Boat ride up river = $500


DIY cost with group of 10 = $2,845 each but can save money by renting smaller van and going with only 3 or 4 people.

About Hunter Owen

Father, Angler, Avid Hunter