Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Game Management Unit (GMU) 23
For general information regarding legal meat salvage, please refer to the Alaska Hunting Regulations. The following are some regulations with particular relevance to GMU 23.
- In GMU 23, prior to October 1, you are required to leave the meat on the ribs, front quarters and hindquarters of moose and caribou until it is brought out of the field. Meat may be boned-out once it has been transported to a state-maintained airport or may be boned-out in the field after October 1.
- You cannot hunt or help someone else take big game until after 3:00 a.m. the day following the day of flight. This does not apply if you have flown on a regularly scheduled commercial or commuter flight to a state-maintained airport.
- Weather can cause delays in field pick-up times. Caring for your meat in the field and ensuring it remains in good condition is your responsibility. Some hunters who plan to be in the field more than four or five days arrange to have their pilot check on them part way through their hunt and take the meat back to Kotzebue. If you have already taken an animal, it would be advisable for you to fly out with the meat, package it and ship it out, or donate it as quickly as possible.
- If you are sending meat to Kotzebue prior to leaving the field, be sure to fill out the ‘Transfer of Possession’ form, located in the back of the Alaska Hunting Regulations booklet and available through your transporter. Meat left unattended in Kotzebue is subject to dust, dogs, flies, warm temperatures and possible citation for meat salvage violations.
Prepare for Shipping and Processing Meat
- There are no commercial facilities such as a coolers, freezers or meat processing plants in Kotzebue.
- Many meat care items may not be available in Kotzebue, especially during the busy fall hunting season. Be sure to bring game bags, tarps, coolers, and shipping materials with you.
- Air cargo carriers will not accept meat that might leak blood, and they require meat to be securely packaged for shipping. If you plan to ship meat out on a wooden pallet, you will need to provide a clean tarp and have your meat bagged in plastic. The only time meat should be wrapped in plastic is when it is being shipped on an airline, not out in the field.
- Alaska Airlines may be able to sell you waterproof ‘wetlock’ boxes, but they often run out of them in the Kotzebue terminal.
- Check with your guide or transporter to clarify if they will provide shipping materials for you or if they can store these items for you while you are out in the field. Plan ahead for how you will get your meat home, and arrive in Kotzebue prepared.
- To contact shipping agents in Kotzebue and learn about hours of operation, call
- Alaska Airlines: (907) 442-3477
- Ryan Air: (907) 442-3347
- Northern Air Cargo: (907) 442-2744
- Everts Air Cargo: (907) 442-3702
- ERA Aviation: (907) 442-3020
- Bering Air: (907) 442-3187
- Be sure to schedule enough time in Kotzebue prior to flying home to process and pack your meat for shipping. Once again, there are no meat processing facilities in Kotzebue and it is your responsibility to take care of preparing, shipping, or donating your meat.
Please be aware that not everyone may welcome the offer of meat, even if it has been well cared for and is in good condition. If you are unable to donate your meat, you are still legally responsible for keeping it from spoiling and should be prepared for taking it home with you.
- Consider taking your meat home instead of donating meat locally. Alaska wild game meat is lean, healthy, and organic. When compared with the cost of shipping a trophy, as well as the cost of high quality meat in the store, the price for shipping your game meat home is quite reasonable.
- Make local contacts in advance.
- Giving questionable meat away is illegal and offensive. It is the hunter’s responsibility to keep meat in good condition and suitable for human consumption. If you give away spoiled meat to be used as dog food, both you and the recipient may be cited for waste.
- Your guide or transporter may have a means of getting your meat donated, but you must still fill out the ‘Transfer of Possession’ form when you transfer meat to your guide, transporter, or local recipient.
- In smaller villages, you can also try to contact the Tribal or City office, village store, or the post office. Again, not everyone may respond positively to the offer of meat. You must still complete the meat transfer form.
- Specifics on meat care for different species:
- As caribou bulls go into rut, hormonal changes give their meat a strong odor and flavor. This generally occurs in early October. At that time subsistence hunters shift from taking bulls, especially large bulls, to cows or small bulls. Although there is no closed season on bull caribou, it is considered poor practice to harvest a large bull during the rut. It would be considered offensive and disrespectful to offer local people meat from a rutty bull caribou.
- Although the rut does not affect the flavor or odor of meat from bull moose, large bulls almost stop eating at this time and quickly use up their fat reserves. At the same time, fighting and antler thrashing makes their meat tough. Additionally, moose dig rutting pits in which they urinate and wallow, and their hair becomes saturated with urine-soaked mud. It is difficult to avoid transferring the urine on the hair to the meat while butchering a rutty bull. For these reasons, most Inupiaq hunters do not harvest bull moose during the rut, and as with bull caribou, it would be considered offensive and disrespectful to offer local people meat from a rutty bull moose.
- Meat and fat from both brown and black bears is prized by residents of some inland villagesin Unit 23. The law requires that only the hide and skull be salvaged from brown bears taken under general season or drawing hunts; you must salvage the meat if hunting under the brown bear subsistence registration hunt RB700. From June 1 through December 31, either the hide or the meat of black bears must be salvaged and removed from the field. However, some local residents consider it disrespectful and wasteful to leave bear meat in the field.
Respecting the Land and the Locals
While the wilderness of northwestern Alaska may feel vast and empty, it has been the homeland of the local Inupiat Eskimos for thousands of years. Each bluff, ridgeline, mountain, and bend in the river likely carries an ancient name and has seen thousands of years of seasonal use. Some of these lands are now privately owned by individuals or local and regional Native corporations. Please respect the rights of private landowners and don't trespass on private lands or subsistence camps, even if they do not appear to be in use. For maps and specific information regarding hunting on state, federal, and private lands please read the ‘Land Information’ section in the Pilot Orientation materials.
A few things to keep in mind:
- As discussed, the fall hunting season is a critical time for local subsistence hunters and their families to harvest meat. They hunt mainly using boats along major rivers and tributaries. In contrast, most visiting hunters charter airplanes to access hunting sites. Although large, smooth gravel bars make attractive landing areas for small airplanes, be aware that most good hunting locales along major rivers have probably been used by Inupiat hunters for generations. Ask your pilot-transporter not to locate you near areas used by subsistence hunters, and to avoid flying low over all hunting camps.
- There is concern by local people that the increased frequency of small planes and number of hunter camps may be altering the traditional migration patterns of the caribou. The location of villages and subsistence campsites have been chosen based on these historic routes and people fear that increasing camps and hunter numbers on the herd's routes may affect local hunters' ability to harvest their yearly meat. Once again, asking your pilot-transporter or guide to place you far from other hunters and local subsistence camps and away from other camps will help ease this tension.
- If hunting along rivers crossed by migrating caribou, camp and hunt on the opposite side from which the caribou enter the water. This helps prevent disruption of their normal movements, and keeps you from deflecting animals away from other hunters and disturbing migration patterns.
Most hunters who come to northwest Alaska are seeking the remoteness and solitude of a wilderness hunt. Local families who have been hunting here for generations expect to hunt in a wilderness free of competition for subsistence resources. It is important to respect space and avoid close proximity to established camps and local hunters.
Guided hunters employ a guide, pay a premium price for personal and experienced guidance on where and how to hunt, and how to care for their meat and trophy. Long-time guides typically have established areas in which they drop their hunters.
'Drop-off' hunters have arranged and paid only for transportation and possible gear rental, and have the option of identifying where they would like their pilot to drop them off. Please be aware that as more air and boat transporters have entered the drop-off market in GMU 23, numbers of hunters in GMU 23 are increasing. The success and quality of everyone's wilderness hunt will be improved if transporters locate you far from all other hunters; at least 1.5 miles of camp separation are recommended.
Keeping Camp Clean
While there are established camps used year after year by local families, all temporary camps should be left as if no one had ever been there. This may mean cleaning up someone else’s mess.