Hunting season is in full swing in Western Alaska! The fall moose hunt attracts hunters from all over the state to the Kotzebue area. Hunting guides fly in and set up makeshift operation bases at the local airport. It is from this location that guides will fly hunters to the wilderness in hopes of getting a big bull moose.
During this time, I got the opportunity to transport some interesting and odd cargo. My captain and I had the job of transporting around 15 pallets full of moose and caribou antlers from the village of Selawik, AK back Kotzebue. From Kotzebue, the antlers would then be loaded on another cargo aircraft and flown to Anchorage. Once in Anchorage, a local company takes the antlers and makes all sorts of goods such as ulu handles and jewelry.
Now before y’all start freaking out about the number of antlers and how they were taken, let me clear things up. While a portion of the antlers did indeed come from animals that were taken during the hunting season, most of the antlers were sheds that were found along the rivers and across the tundra. It is not uncommon to take a stroll through the woods and come across antlers that have simply fallen off a moose or caribou.
Additionally, hunting season brings an additional safety risk that must be considered. With the abundance of aircraft in the area transporting hunters and guides, it is extremely important to make sure you are always looking for other air traffic and that you are making proper radio calls.
All of this may seem like common sense for pilots, but it’s when you get comfortable and complacent when things often go wrong. For the most part, everybody is extremely safe and perform the correct procedures.
Another “only in Alaska’ thing that took place occurred when we were getting ready to land in the village of Deering, AK. As we flew over the airport to get set up for our landing we noticed some black specs on the runway we were planning on landing on. As we got closer, we realized these black specs were a heard of about 20 musk-ox. A musk-ox is similar to a buffalo and can weigh up to 700 pounds. I think it is safe to say that hitting one of those with our airplane would ruin our day…while we would hopefully win that battle, it wouldn’t be pretty.
Deering is known for its abundance of these beasts, usually they just hang out a few miles from the runway minding their own business. I guess they just wanted to change things up on this day and give us some excitement. Taking care of the musk-ox issue was quick and easy. We radioed our village station agent and he proceeded to use his truck to scare the musk-ox off the runway. It is experiences like this that make me grateful to be able to work in such a unique place. There aren’t many places where a pilot must circle waiting to land due to a herd of 700-pound musk- ox. Everyday provides unique challenges and no day is the same. Just another day at the office for an Alaskan Bush Pilot.