Caribou on Adak are big and abundant. They were introduced to Adak in the 1950’s to provide hunting opportunities and emergency food for residents of the Adak Naval Air Station. A June of 2012 census found that the caribou herd was about 2600-2800 animals.
There are several reasons caribou are so abundant on Adak: no predators on the island, no prior grazing had reduced or altered the plant life, no significant parasites or biting insects, and no need for long-distance migrations. Because of the remoteness of the island, logistical challenges, and limited year-round human population, there is not enough hunting to control herd size.
With plenty of food and little to bother them, Adak caribou can get big as well as numerous. The largest caribou on record was taken on Adak (weighing in at more than 700 lbs). The quality of caribou meat taken from Adak is also excellent. These animals are not under pressure to continually migrate and are able to graze leisurely.
Despite the challenges of access to the animals, weather, potential changes in air service and the tendency of hunters in some seasons to stack up in the same areas, Adak can still provide a great hunt. The country is spectacular, and the animals abundant if you can find them. With the no limit, open all year season on cows, Adak makes a good meat hunt. There are no bears or fox to threaten your meat, only eagles. Just remember the same wanton waste rules apply here as anywhere. You can also mix in some small game hunting for the abundant ptarmigan and fish for Dolly Varden trout, salmon and halibut in season.
How can I get to Adak?
Currently, Alaska Airlines flies a 737 jet to Adak twice a week on Thursday and Sunday.
Where are the animals found on Adak?
Caribou move across large areas. They can be seen anywhere on Adak but most animals are on the south end of the island far from any vehicle access in summer. Recently, animals have been seen more regularly on the northern end of the island but mainly in winter. View caribou location maps of where the animals were found in the August of 2005 survey and in June of 2012. In June of 2012 over 70% of the caribou were found between False Bay and Teardrop Basin on the south-central side of the island. The caribou tend to migrate north toward town and along the western side of the island throughout the fall and winter.
Where are refuge lands on the island, how will I know if I am on the refuge, and how can I get a map and GPS Coordinates?
View a land status map for Adak Island as of 2005. Most of the land near town (northside) is private and belongs to the Aleut Corporation. Vehicles or ATVs are not allowed on the Refuge. ATV ruts are developing on Refuge land on the Mt. Reed unit from trespass use. You can avoid taking an ATV into the refuge by loading the coordinates of the refuge boundaries into your GPS. Download GPS coordinates for the refuge boundaries. The refuge boundaries are only signed on the Mt. Reed unit where the Heart Lake ATV trail crossed into the refuge. ATVs are not allowed beyond those signs. Download “Know Where You Are” to help find your way around Adak.
Can I hunt caribou on Refuge lands on the island (south side), and how can I get there?
Yes, all Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge lands are open to hunting. Access to the refuge is either by boat, on designated free public access easements which cross Aleut Corporation land, or by crossing Aleut Corporation land outside the easements after first obtaining a land use permit and paying a fee to the Corporation. Hiking or boating offers the best access to areas with caribou. Easement maps and coordinates are available here. The GPX files you download to your GPS will contain numerous files. The ones of most value to you are 7b – Husky Pass Trail; 4B – Shagak Bay Trail; 9C – Lake Betty Trail; 10 – Finger Bay Trail, and 0.193.79 – the Mt. Reed refuge unit boundaries. The easement allows access to public lands and waters and is open to foot and ATV traffic although only the Husky Pass and Shagak Bay easements are suitable for ATVs. However, you cannot hunt in an easement unless you have a permit from the Aleut Corporation. Even if you plan to hike to the refuge and hunt in the refuge, it is wiser to have an Aleut Corporation permit because you may see animals on the way in..
Do I need to get a land use permit from the Aleut Corporation?
Yes, unless you plan to hunt from a boat on the refuge end of the island, you will want a permit from the Aleut Corporation. All road and ATV accessible areas are the private property of the Aleut Corporation. On public access easements such as the Husky Pass Trail you can travel across Aleut Corporation land without a permit but you cannot hunt. If the world’s record bull was standing in the middle of the easement you could not legally shoot it without a land access permit from the Aleut Corporation. Permits can be acquired at the airport as every flight arrives or in the Aleut Real Estate office next to the store. Contact the Aleut Real Estate for more information as they also handle the permits. The cost in 2017 was only $40 for a week.
Should I walk or use an ATV and where can I use one?
ATVs are not allowed on refuge land but can be useful for hauling out meat on the road system or over the Husky Pass or Shagak Bay trails. This is very difficult ATVing due to deep mud holes, and steep slopes and sidehills. Be prepared for getting stuck. ATVs have caused a significant amount of damage to the tundra of Adak Island in only about 12 years of use They were never allowed on island when the Navy controlled Adak. Since then, fine hiking trails have turned into unwalkable mud wallows. Eroded areas and tundra damage are very obvious anywhere vehicles have gone. Think about what you are doing to the land and be responsible. Do not take ATVs into the refuge. You can be cited for ATVs in the refuge. Download GPS coordinates for the refuge boundaries. Also, watch for signs and know where you are. The Mt. Reed unit is the area of the refuge you are most likely to accidentally wander into with an ATV. Several operators on Adak rent ATVs from 4 wheelers to 6 wheeled ARGOS.
Do I need to worry about unexploded ordnance or other remnants of military use of the island?
Yes, Parcel 4 shown in red on the Adak downtown map is closed to all public access due to live, unexploded ordinance. Military cleanup has been in progress on Adak for many years but there is a chance you could encounter unexploded but still dangerous ammunition and even bombs anywhere on the island. Do not touch or pick up any item that might be old ammunition, bombs, grenades or other explosive devices. The Adak map has a section describing what you should do if you should find any of these items.
What licenses and tags do I need to hunt caribou?
Alaska residents need an Alaska State hunting license and a harvest ticket for each animal taken. Non-residents need an Alaska State hunting license, a big game tag and a harvest ticket for every animal taken. A guide is not required. Purchase tags and licenses, online, or by calling 800/478-2376, or at a license vendor.
For harvest tickets contact Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) (800/478-2376). Harvest tickets must be obtained from a licensed vendor or from an ADF&G office. (There is no ADF&G office on Adak). Adak is in Game Management Unit 10.
You do not need an additional permit to hunt on the refuge. A Special Use Permit is only required for commercial guides or transporters.
What is the season and bag limit?
Cow caribou hunting is open year round and there is no bag limit. Bull season is only open August 10 to December 31 with a limit of 2 bulls per year. Please check Alaska Fish and Game for the most current regulations regarding the harvest of caribou on Adak Island. Meat from each animal must be utilized in accordance with ADF&G wanton-waste regulations. When packing out meat from the kill site, the antlers must be removed with the last load of meat. Wanton waste is a punishable offense and is enforced.
When is the best time of year to hunt?
That depends on what you want. Caribou tend to disappear from the Adak road system about the first of April and do not return in any numbers until October. Access to animals during this period can be very difficult unless you have a boat or are capable of rigorous hiking and packing animals out. Very little of the island is accessible by trucks or ATVs. Caribou can be very close to town or right in town when snow blankets the mountains. However, if planning a winter hunt, know that you will probably need to wait out some vicious, dangerous storms and you will have shorter days for hunting. High winds and driving rain or snow can happen at most any time of year. The Aleutians are the “Cradle of the Storms” so be prepared with high quality rain gear and layers of wool or poly fleece.
- If you want bulls, you must hunt between August 10 and December 31.
- If you want antlers in velvet, then hunt until the end of August.
- If you want velvet-free antlers, then hunt after September 1st.
- If you want edible meat, then do not take a bull caribou from late September to mid October during the rut. Most game meat processors will not even accept meat from rutting bull caribou.
Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Photos by: Aleutian Outfitters