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Jail Time For Alaskan Bush People Stars

Billy Brown (right) and his son Joshua must serve 30 days in jail. (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

Billy Brown (right) and his son Joshua must serve 30 days in jail. (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

One of the Discovery Channel’s most successful of many forays into the Alaskan way of life has been the polarizing Alaskan Bush People, which chronicles the Brown family’s desire to live off the grid. The show has a huge following and scored big ratings for the cable network. The family has drawn its share of controversy over its run on TV also.

Now, after news surfaced a couple years ago that some family members were indicted on fraud charges when applying for Alaska’s oil fund payments, two of the Browns face some jail time.

From The Daily Mail:

Two family members on the reality TV show Alaskan Bush People were sentenced to 30 days in jail after they applied for the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend.

The oil wealth fund, established in 1976, requires a portion of state oil revenues to be distributed to qualified residents who have lived in Alaska for an entire calendar year and plan to stay there indefinitely.

Billy Brown, 63, and son Joshua, 31, pleaded guilty to misdemeanors of unsworn falsification for lying on applications to receive the payouts.

Billy, wife Ami, and their seven children are the subjects of Alaskan Bush People, a show that follows the family as they try to survive in the wilderness.

They often go up to nine months without seeing people outside their own family, and have developed their own accent and dialect as they live together in a cabin.

Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg rejected plea agreements from Billy and Joshua Brown, but suspended 150 of their 180-day sentences. 

The sentences also include community service, probation and fines. 

Neither of them will be eligible for dividends in the future.

Here’s our interview with patriarch Ami Brown that appeared in the May 2015 issue of ASJ:


Photo by Discovery Channel

Photos by Discovery Channel

Discovery Channel

By Chris Cocoles
The reality is, our fascination with “reality shows” isn’t necessarily based on the idea that everything you’ll watch when tuning into The Bachelor, Mob Wives or – gulp – Total Divas is 100 percent accurate.
It’s entertainment first and foremost: nothing more and nothing less. Whether you believe everything you’re seeing on TV is the gospel and not a little embellished for when the cameras are rolling is on the eye of the beholder. In others words, don’t take it too seriously from a viewer’s perspective.
Alaska has become the ground floor of the live-action series building block. Whether it’s crab fishing, gold mining or railroading, TV suits have concluded viewers outside the state was obsessed for an inside look at the Last Frontier. Questions inevitably born with each episode: Is it legit? Is it a fraud? Answers surely vary depending on your point of view.
The real or fake question allows loyal watchers from all of that Alaska-based programming to duke it out on Twitter and Facebook with the skeptics who cry foul on the authenticity of probably every single show we’ve featured in this magazine. And then there’s Alaskan Bush People.
The questions about how sincere the Brown family is on their Discovery Channel series chronicling the off-the-grid adventures of Alaska transplant Billy Brown, his wife Ami and their children, Gabe, Noah, “Bam Bam,” Matt, Rain, “Bear” and “Snowbird,” plus their canine pal Mr. Cupcake.
In the spirit of talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, whose famous guests read their “mean tweets” on air, an episode of Alaskan Bush People showed a montage of social media complaints about the show being a fraud.
The Internet lives for such controversy, so Google “Alaskan Bush People fake” and it’s an online feeding frenzy of columns outing the series as complete fiction. A personal favorite meme was a group picture of the family with Photoshopped images of the Mount Rushmore of such urban legends: Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Santa Claus and an alien.
But the Browns don’t care if you don’t believe they’re the real deal. They stand by what you see for an hour on every week.
“We live such a simple life we can’t understand which part is so hard to believe,” the family’s matriarch, Ami Brown, says. “Is it that we hunt and fish and food? Is it that we’re a happy family that sticks together? Is it that we’re independent and depend mainly on each other?”
Billy’s backstory doesn’t lack unspeakable tragedy. As a teenager growing up near Fort Texas, a plane crash killed his sister and parents, prompting him to take to the American backroads, and soon after he met Ami and eventually landed in Alaska with her.
The Browns have endured a very real crisis over the last year. Several family members were charged with falsifying documents regarding Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend annual payments for residents (the cases are pending).
So while the show has its fans and its unabashed detractors, there’s no doubt it’s one of Discovery Channel’s most talked about series. We chatted up with the family’s matriarch, Ami Brown, who talked about raising a family to subsistence hunt and fish and dealing with the real or fake questions that always makes for spirited online sparring:

Chris Cocoles The family’s patriarch, Billy Brown, came to Alaska from Texas. I believe that Texans and Alaskans have a lot in common in their approach to life, so was that a similar move in many ways?
Ami Brown Coming from Texas to Alaska was definitely going from one that’s larger than life to another that was the same.

CC Can you reflect on how difficult Billy’s life must have been when he suffered the family tragedy of the plane crash when he was younger?
AB Just the thought of losing your family at one time would be hard for most people to even imagine, and then losing them at the young age of 16 – it’s something I don’t think can be put into words. I know it’s bestowed in Billy a deep understanding of how important family, faith in God and living for today is.

CC Are you most proud of the idea that your family is living life on your terms and you relish that sense of freedom of being in remote areas where there are so few other people around?
AB There is no doubt that the whole family is proud that we live our life our way. We, of course, relish the sense of freedom living in remote areas away from most people, and it gives us freedom of choice. A dependence on only ourselves is what the Brown family is, and it is us.

CC Before we were introduced to the family on TV, how much defiance did the kids have to want to live a more “normal” childhood?
AB Before the TV show, the kids all thought their childhood was normal childhood. It was all they knew. Since the show and all of them growing up, they all say they couldn’t imagine living any other way.

CC Did the boys and girls catch on pretty quickly as skilled outdoorsmen and –women or was it a learning curve for them?
AB All the kids – boys and girls – caught on quickly and became outdoorsmen and –women early. They’re no different than all Alaskan kids who grew up their entire lives hunting and fishing.

CC How great of a mom has Ami been to raise such a large and eccentric family?
Billy Brown I think you would have to look long and hard to find a mom to top Ami. Her patience and understanding knows no bounds. She is the rock that holds the Browns together. Her attitude, faith in God and family is what has made it possible for the kids to be so well-rounded and develop their unique personalities with the confidence she will stand with them in whatever they do.

CC Is there a best and worst moment you can share about your experiences living in the Alaskan bush?
AB When you live in a place like Alaska with a family so blessed as ours, how could you possibly pick a best moment? Our best moment is that every day we get to live on this great land. Our worst moment was more than just a (single) moment. It was what we called “the dreaded winter of 1995,” when we were deep in the bush with no way out. The snow was so deep and nights so cold we burned our furniture, cabinets and even stairs to stay warm. We ate small game that took days to catch. For months we all fought to stay alive until spring finally came.

CC Even though they were kind of all thrown in this together, the kids have managed to develop their own unique personalities and quirks. But are they are pretty alike too?
AB Ever since the kids were very young, they have all had unique personalities. We think that’s because they were able to develop without any pressure to be anything but themselves. They are all alike in the things they like to do and in what makes them happy. We think that’s what makes our family so strong; we all love our life.

CC This show has a lot of loyal fans for good reason, as it’s a very fascinating look at a unique and foreign way of life to a lot of us. But lots of critics and skeptics as well. What you say to those convince those skeptics about the authenticity of what we see on air?
AB We have earned our right to live our lives the way we do. We have faced snow, wind, predators, hardships, the forest and the sea. We have fought them all together as a family and made a home in this great land like many other Alaskans have done. The spirit of adventure that’s in us was in the pioneers, the explorers, and anyone else that chose to live their lives on their own terms.
(We’re) not complying with the opinion of ideas of others; our spirit is the same that was in the folks who made America the great land we live in today. What would I say the skeptics to try to convince them about the authenticity our show? Nothing. If their lives are so small that they can find fault in with a God-fearing, close-knit family living a simple, happy life, I feel sorry for them. And I don’t think there’s anything I could say to change their minds.
I will say they’re welcome to come sit at our fire and see for themselves, anytime they like.

CC How much pride do you take in the subsistence hunting and fishing that you, especially with so much emphasis on “going organic” among Americans?
AB We didn’t know “going organic” was what we were doing. We hunt and fish because it’s how we eat and they’re things we love to do. Yes, it does give us satisfaction that we and all of our kids have the knowledge and skill to live off the forest and the sea.

CC I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but what’s it like sleeping in that one-room cabin?
AB Sleeping in a one-room cabin gives you great motivation to build something bigger.

CC Has it been beneficial to the family to get perspective of spending so much time in Ketchikan due to the circumstances you’ve endured?
AB Yes, Ketchikan gave the family great perspective of our life in the bush, even as great of a town that Ketchikan is, any town makes you realize how great it is to live without constraints of time and crowds.

CC Do you see every one of the Brown kids continuing to live off the grid as they get older?
AB When the kids were younger, we thought at least a few of them would someday move to town. But as they grew older if became more and more evident how happy they were with our world.
Today, we would be surprised if any of them chose to permanently move from the bush. They have told us, “Why would we leave a life of freedom that we can’t have anywhere else.” I think they summed it up pretty well with that.

CC Has Mr. Cupcake embraced his celebrity status?
AB There’s no doubt in any of our minds that Mr. Cupcake is truly the star of the show.

USFWS Proposal On Nonsubsistence Predator Hunts

A brown bear and her cub walk through sunrise at Kodiak NWR. (LISA HUPP/USFWS)

A brown bear and her cub walk through sunrise at Kodiak NWR. (LISA HUPP/USFWS)

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing changes to regulations for National Wildlife Refuges (refuges) in Alaska that would clarify allowable practices for the non-subsistence take of predators on refuges in Alaska and update existing Alaska refuge regulations for closures and restrictions.  The proposed rule and associated environmental assessment was published in the Federal Register on January 8, 2016 with a 60 day comment period that will end on March 8, 2016.

The proposed rule and the notice for the public hearings are available at the following links:


These proposed regulatory changes for the non-subsistence take of wildlife would apply only to State regulated general hunting and trapping and intensive management activities on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. These proposed regulations would not change Federal subsistence regulations (36 CFR 242 and 50 CFR 100) or restrict taking of fish or wildlife for subsistence uses under Federal subsistence regulations.

You may submit comments by any one of the following methods:

    1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R7–NWRS–2014–0005, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then click on the Search button.  On the resulting page, you may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”


  1. By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R7–NWRS–2014–0005; Division of Policy, Performance, and Management Programs; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us.  To obtain general information and to stay informed about the process, please check back on this website.

We will hold nine open houses and public hearings on the proposed rule as follows:

Date City Time of Open House Time of Public Hearing City Location Information
January 26 , 2016 Kotzebue, Alaska 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Kotzebue, Alaska Selawik National Wildlife Refuge Conference Room at the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, 160 Second Avenue, Kotzebue, Alaska; 907-442-3799
January 27, 2016 Kodiak, Alaska 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Kodiak, Alaska Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, 402 Center Ave, Kodiak, Alaska; 907-487-2600
February 8, 2016 Bethel, Alaska 4 :00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Bethel, Alaska Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Conference Room, 807 Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway, Bethel, Alaska; 907-543-3151
February 10, 2016 Fairbanks, Alaska 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Fairbanks, Alaska Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center, 101 Dunkel St., Fairbanks, Alaska; 907-456-0440
February 11, 2016 Tok, Alaska 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tok, Alaska Tok School, 249 Jon Summar Road, Tok, Alaska; 907-883-5312
February 16, 2016 Soldonta, Alaska 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Soldonta, Alaska Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Ski Hill Road, Soldotna, Alaska; 907-260-2820
February 18, 2016 Anchorage, Alaska 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Anchorage, Alaska U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Office, Gordon Watson Conference Room, 1011 Tudor Rd. Anchorage, Alaska; 907-786-3872
March 1, 2016 Dillingham, Alaska 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dillingham, Alaska Dillingham City Council Chambers, 141 Main Street, Dillingham, Alaska; 907-842-1063
March 3, 2016 Galena, Alaska 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Galena, Alaska Charlie Larsen Community Hall, Galena, Alaska; 907-656-1231

A Different Kind Of Love Boat

Photo by Paul Wade

Photo by Paul Wade


The following is courtesy of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service:


By Andrea Medeiros

Imagine working on a ship that takes you 15,000 miles through remote islands, from the Gulf of Alaska to the Bering Sea, in support of conservation. Six U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jobs provide this opportunity, all operating out of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge aboard the R/V Tiglax.

“Sometimes you don’t see another ship for days at a time,” says Captain Billy Pepper, who has worked on the Tiglax for more than 20 years and is responsible for the ship as well as hiring and managing the crew. Combined, the captain, first mate, two deckhands, a cook and an engineer have 60-plus years’ experience sailing the refuge.

Constantly on the move during the six- month field season that starts in April, the crew works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and is always on call. The Tiglax (pronounced TEK-la) is at sea for extended periods of time without Internet or cell service. Beyond the hours and the isolation, weather, mechanical problems, medical issues and even natural disasters can challenge the crew.

Last year, while the Tiglax was anchored near Attu Island, an 8.0 earthquake hit. “You could feel the chain of the anchor rolling across the bottom,” says Pepper. Alaska Maritime Refuge headquarters called to say a tsunami could hit within 30 minutes. The crew evacuated researchers on Attu. The ship barely made it to safer waters. “It was quite the fire drill,” Pepper says. “Everyone was very anxious, especially with thoughts of Fukushima in mind.”


Photo by USFWS

Photo by USFWS

The challenges of working on the Tiglax are counterbalanced by being among rocky islands with spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife and distinctive cultural histories. “Each island has a different personality,” says Pepper. Every summer more than 40 million seabirds nest on Alaska Maritime Refuge. One of the islands, Buldir, boasts more nesting seabirds than anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. The Tiglax also encounters whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions and other marine mammals.

Built in 1987, the 120-foot-long Tiglax plays a critical role in meeting Alaska Maritime Refuge’s research purpose by supporting scientists from the Service, universities, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and elsewhere.

Umnak and Samalga islands in the eastern Aleutians have been part of the refuge since 1913. Last summer, thanks to the Tiglax, refuge biologists were able to survey the islands’ coastlines for the first time. They discovered tens of thousands of shorebirds in the intertidal zone of Samalga Island, potentially a globally significant resting area for shorebirds on their summer migration.

In 2015, the Tiglax also supported a regular survey of sea otters in the western Aleutians and a second, rare survey on the hard-to-access Pacific Ocean side of Amchitka Island. Both will help biologists better understand sea otters.


Photo by USFWS

Photo by USFWS

Since 2008, when the volcanic island of Kasatochi erupted, the Tiglax and the North Pacific Research Board have been helping scientists from the refuge, the USGS and the University of Alaska- Fairbanks to annually monitor the island over the long term as it comes back to life. Before the eruption covered Kasatochi with ash and changed its landscape, the island had thick vegetation and supported a colony of approximately 250,000 least and crested auklets. To understand the effects of the eruption on the near-shore marine environment, depth surveys and dive surveys were done. “We found it to be completely clear of all life,“ says Pepper. “It was like being on the moon – only it was underwater.”

What other new discoveries are out there on Alaska Maritime Refuge? The possibility of being part of making a new one keeps the crew of the Tiglax coming back.

Andrea Medeiros is a public affairs specialist in the Alaska Region office in Anchorage.



The Best Quotes Of 2015



Happy New Year everyone! I try to be a looking ahead kind of person, but I’m also a major history nerd, so it’s fun to look back on the past. Not that 2015 is more signifciant to Americans as say, 1776 or 1863 or 1945 or 2001. But things happened in 2015 just the same.

For me, one of the best parts about being a journalist – a career that essentially started in the late 1980s when I first started college, is getting to know those who have been interview subjects. I spent just about all of my years in this crazy business called the media as a sportswriter, so I’ve interacted with everyone from anonymous high school softball players and cross country coaches to Hall of Fame icons from baseball, basketball and football and colorful characters from the world of sports. In my two-plus years at Alaska Sporting Journal, I haven’t quite checked at the door my sports reporter roots and have done my best to tell stories about athletes who love to fish and hunt. But I’ve also enjoyed spreading my wings elsewhere and gotten to know some interesting folks along the way. In that spirit of communication, here are some of my favorite quotes from the pages of this magazine from 2015:


Emily Riedel posing in front of The Eroica.

“It’s one of the big conflicts of life for me – the fact that I can’t be an opera singer and a gold miner. I can be one or the other. That’s something that took me a long time to come to terms with. Which one or the other I’m going to be I don’t know at this point in time. I grew up in Alaska and I love ice climbing and skiing. And I love being in Nome and gold mining and have that part in me. And then I have the classical music and love of the arts part. And they just do not mesh well together.”

“It hasn’t been an altogether positive experience; there’s no way I can say it has. There have been many, many challenges, and some of them have threatened to break me completely. But sometimes it takes more courage for when to stop than more courage to keep doing something. But I’m glad I didn’t stop; all the hard times I’ve had, I didn’t quit.”

-Discovery Channel’s Bering Sea Gold dredger and aspring opera singer Emily Riedel of Homer (April)

Hollywood Hunter 1

“I think if we’re honest with ourselves, there is always fear and in the back of our minds the what ifs? But as I prepare for trips that are very intense and dangerous, I try to prepare in a fashion that becomes instinct – to be able to shoot on instinct and think on instinct. To do the things so repetitively before I get there, the odds are in our favor to do the right things. But it’s healthy and good to have a little fear, because it’s a respect; fear keeps you on your toes.”

“It definitely goes down as one of the top hunts that I’ll forever cherish. And that’s because Alaska is so unique to its own. When you to Alaska it’s not only views and not only wildlife; it’s just wild. It’s so free and untamed and uncharted. You just feel so small and so insignificant against such a massive wilderness.”

-Freddy Harteis, The Hollywood Hunter, remembering his bear hunt in Alaska, an adventure his late father Fred Sr. told him stories about, prompting the younger Harteis to do the same. (June)

Dallas Seavey 5

“Creativity and challenges are what I thrive on. That’s what I do when racing the Iditarod. We try to recognize the problem, break it down to its most basic elements and solve it. Whether it’s building an new racing sled or coming up with no strategies in the Iditarod, it’s problem solving. There’s definitely the mad scientist aspect for when you come to a crossroads of a problem that you don’t have an answer for.”

“It’s an incredible feeling. For 355 days a year I’m a dog musher, and to develop these dogs to their highest potential and to make each dog the best athlete that their genetic potential has allowed them and help them maximize that potential. That’s what a dog musher is, in my mind. For the other 10 days a year, give or take, we are focused on not necessarily winning the Iditarod, but running the best possible race. And if I run the team to the best of their ability, that is a goal met.”

-Seward’s Dallas Seavey, who last March won his second consecutive and third overall Iditarod title. (March)



“I’ve always looked at it as my life was very easy before that. I was pretty athletic and school was always easy for me. I never had to work hard at anything. So I looked at it as I finally had a challenge in my life; it’s something I’m going to have to work at.” 

“I never had a depression phase; I never went through any kind of anything,. After surgery when I woke up, nobody had to me that I was paralyzed. You knew it. It was just, ‘OK, now what?’”

“Things may take a little bit longer and I may have to get creative with how I do some things. And there are some things I just flat out can’t do. But that’s part of it. So be it.”

-University of Alaska, Fairbanks rifle coach Dan Jordan, who’s led the Nanooks to three national championships after he was paralyzed throughout his lower body in a climbing accident years earlier. (March)


Animal Planet

“If you think about it, any anthropologist will tell you man has been the nomadic hunter for far, far longer than he has farmed in the world than it really is. I guess I feel like me and my wife were kind of keeping up the tradition; I shouldn’t say tradition but should just say (keeping up) a way of life – with the human population growing – that is dwindling.”
“I’m glad that we live like that, and I’m proud of it.”

-Heimo Korth, who lives with his wife, Edna, alone in the massive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of a handful of families profiled in Animal Planet’s The Last Alaskans. (July)



“We had a fish on and everyone was racing around the boat to try and get to the pole. And when I jumped up from inside the cabin (to run out) my thumb got stuck in the door jam. I smashed my thumb, and I’m sitting there crying my eyes out but still trying to reel in that fish. I ended up landing the fish, and a couple days later my fingernail ended up falling off. So I considered myself being pretty tough for going through such a dramatic experience. So I started pretty young dealing with pain.”

-Anchorage’s Matt Carle, now a star hockey player for the Tampa Bay Lightning, recalling a fishing memory when he was all of 5 years old. (January)

Discovery Channel

“Well, getting off the plane in Alaska the first thing I saw were rows of bald eagles in the trees. I’d never seen a bald eagle except on TV and in magazines. You were literally surrounded by wilderness. I grew up at the base of Mt. Si. (Twin Peaks) in Washington State and the forests were my stomping grounds. Alaska forests were even bigger and surrounded by ocean and with huge trees. I spent that summer exploring. In my mind I can still see the bears, salmon, sea otters and moose. That was huge to me at 9 years old.”

“Topographically, Alaska has so many virgin areas to explore. There is something special knowing that you are probably the first person to set eyes on an area. Alaska is what is left of the United States in its most original state. I would say it is one of my favorite places in the world. Summers in Alaska are surreal with the northern lights and everything buzzing with life.”

-Former Alaska resident Jeremy Whalen, who last year joined a group of adventurerers on a serpent-filled South American island looking for riches on the Discovery Channel series, Treasure Quest: Snake Island. (August)

Salmon documentary 5

“In all the folks I interviewed and was fortunate enough to spend time with, they were not telling me because it was cute or politically correct or sounds good. They’re telling me this because this is who they are. The salmon is in their blood, in their fiber, in their stories and in their culture.”
“Every single thing about it was authentic and that sense of authenticity was overwhelming to me. The words were one thing, but then when they bring you into their home and they show you the 40 cases of jarred salmon that include king salmon hearts, bellies, livers – the whole thing. That’s what they eat in the winter. This was no BS, man; this is the real deal. When they say they subsist on this fish – they subsist on this fish all year long.”

“I think it’s a very important question: why would I eat wild salmon when I want to save them? Why wouldn’t I want to just leave them alone? It’s hard to understand without a little knowledge. If you’re a consumer and salmon is the third most consumed fish in this country, 91 percent of that is farmed. But if you’re demanding wild salmon, you’re demanding a product that by its nature needs clean, well-preserved habitat in order to keep coming back.”

-Mak Titus, who wrote and directed The Breach, a documentary  about protecting wild salmon along the Pacific coast. (May)


“I think that growing up in Alaska, there’s so much that we’re exposed to as such a young age, in terms of the climate and learning how to be comfortable. The way I was raised I was definitely put in situations where I was really happy that I had things available at such a young age. I grew up enjoying those things like skiing, hiking, camping, fishing, biking, hunting – all the kind of stuff that we’re do lucky to have in Alaska.”

“It’s huge for kids to understand all of those skills (I learned) when they’re young, especially living in Alaska. I think that’s great.”

-Anchorage’s Zoe Hickel, who not only fell in love with fishing and hunting as a youngster but also had a passion for hockey, which he plays today for Team USA and with the National Women’s Hockey League’s Boston Pride. (December)


Animal Planet

“We have earned our right to live our lives the way we do. We have faced snow, wind, predators, hardships, the forest and the sea. We have fought them all together as a family and made a home in this great land like many other Alaskans have done. The spirit of adventure that’s in us was in the pioneers, the explorers, and anyone else that chose to live their lives on their own terms.”
“(We’re) not complying with the opinion of ideas of others; our spirit is the same that was in the folks who made America the great land we live in today. What would I say the skeptics to try to convince them about the authenticity our show? Nothing. If their lives are so small that they can find fault in with a God-fearing, close-knit family living a simple, happy life, I feel sorry for them. And I don’t think there’s anything I could say to change their minds. I will say they’re welcome to come sit at our fire and see for themselves, anytime they like.”

-Ami Brown, matriarch of the off-the-grid family featured on the popular but polarizing Discovery Channel series, Alaskan Bush People. (May)

  Ariel Tweto 5

“I met some amazing friends there (in Southern California) and I love the weather and being warm. But I love Alaska; there’s place quite like it. It’s where my best friends live and my family lives.”

“Everyone in the villages really never sees Eskimos on TV. I’d love to have an adventure show and a talk show. I love that (Oprah Winfrey) does so much and she’s such an inspiration for me. One thing about Oprah is she connects with people, and I like that. She build and empire and just want to build my own brand and inspire people.”

-Flying Wild Alaska star Ariel Tweto, who aspires someday to be the “Eskimo Oprah. (September)




“You catch so many fish and it’s so beautiful. It’s such a special time when you’re up there, get away from everything and get into nature and God’s beauty and be hooking into a lot of fish,.”

“For me it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 inches long or 40 inches long. It’s all about the strike and setting the hook. That’s why I can’t understand why some people get so enamored by going out trolling with the rods in the holder. All of a sudden, they hand you the rod. That’s not fishing – that’s reeling. Even in the times when I do go out and saltwater fish, I want to hold the rod.”

“This might be crazy, but my goal in life is to be 100 years old and go fly fishing at Rainbow River Lodge.”

-Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who in retirement has made Alaskan rivers an annual destination to catch trout, grayling and salmon in massive numbers. (September)

Here’s to getting to know a whole new group of Alaskans  this year. Have a wonderful 2016!

Dreaming Of Holiday Steelhead

If you’re celebrating Christmas or other holidays this month, we hope you and your loved ones best wishes for a great experience. Here’s a steelhead fishing adventure for you to be thinking of a dream Alaska trip as you celebrate the season

Steelhead fishing 3



Life is filled with contradictions.

The only ones that make sense to me are the ones that involve fishing. So when I kept setting the hook and missing on an afternoon trout trip in the Alaska Panhandle, I decided to adjust my approach. I wouldn’t set the hook. I’d wait and let the rainbow do more of the work.

I sent my fly into the current, watched the line form a tight arc and then swing across the current.

Bump. Bump. I waited. Bump. Waited. Boom.

After the fish shook, I pulled the tight line through where I had it pinned to the cork and swung my 5-weight to the side. Fish on. You’d think that if a fish bites all you have to do is yank and it’s on, but there’s a lot that can go wrong. The current will ultimately take your fly line downriver at different rates of speed creating a giant U or a W or two between you and the fly. When a fish takes, a hook set will often pull the slack, but not move the fly into the corner of the fish’s mouth. That’s why it’s important to mend the line – to make sure you are as connected to the fly as possible.


Steelhead fishing 1


This is also why I like to swing flies. Cast it downriver, let the line get tight, then follow the swing as it moves across the current to a true dangle directly downriver from my boots. It’s an easy way to stay connected to the fly.

However, hook sets can be tricky. If you set the hook backward, you’re pulling the fly upriver. Since the fish is facing upriver, you’re likely pulling the fly from its mouth. By waiting a second to make sure the trout takes and turns, you can get a good hookset. You can also get a good set by setting to the side, rather than directly back.

If nothing else, the contradictions in fishing keep it fresh. That’s why people can fish and fish and fish and fish without getting bored – especially with a
fly rod.

You constantly have to think, OK, I need to get this fly under that branch. That means I have to shoot the line under that other branch, have it unravel and drop the fly upriver from where the fish is holding. I have to do this without backcasting too much because there are trees and bushes behind me.

So I have to figure out how to do all of this, and then when it’s time to hook up … do nothing. Just stand there and feel the rod bounce in my hand, and rather than instinctively pull, I have to wait. Pause. Hold. Delay. Then set.

It’s difficult but it works. The next day I caught the biggest fish I ever had in that river, which shall not be named.




Then, of course, there are situations when a half-second matters most. A few days after I mastered patience and was rewarded with some beautiful, fat trout in a small stretch of thin water, I went to a larger river for a weekend of camping in the rain and catching steelhead. At least we hoped as much.

I was using my new favorite steelhead pattern – one that I tied but am sure I did not invent, even though I have never seen it before. It sinks quickly but isn’t too heavy, and is perfect for even water up to midthigh depth. It’s a compact design with no extra material, so every hit can find the hook.

I was fishing a run that was parallel to a downed tree on new water. It was at the edge of my longest roll cast. Because the water was clear and maybe a little low, I didn’t want to get too close and spook anything holding more toward the center.

I was using an indicator and saw it dip but didn’t react. I let the rig swing out, then stripped and cast again. Same spot, no dip. I had missed a strike. The oral coordination of steelhead is often incredible. Their ability to take with such calculated caution causing only a subtle change in the direction of a fly is almost unfair – especially considering once the fish is on, the fight is so violent. I kept throwing to the same spot to make sure I gave that fish another chance, but it had either moved or was onto me.

I moved to the tail end of the run and fished where the top of the tree pointed. I knew the indicator would disappear. I really knew it. I stared through the cold air. My eyes watered, but I dared not blink.

Nothing. Nothing. Bump. Bump. Hook set. Nothing. Too late. Bump. Wait. Overzealous-oh-my-god-that-was-a-steelhead hook set. Way too late. Catch tree branch behind me.

These weren’t those fun little trout in the unnamed creek. These were steelhead in an unnamed river. These demand angling excellence.

Steelhead fishing 4


I dialed in and almost tried to guess when the hit would come. I sent the fly to the same spot. I felt a pull so strong I almost dropped the rod. I didn’t have to do anything, which was great because I may have messed it up. The steelhead jumped from the water, but rather than tail walk, it went end over end and did water gymnastics rather than dance. I laughed and kept tension. I was connected to the fish of a thousand casts. Then the line shot back at me. Hookless. Bad knot.

I felt almost sick.

I worked downriver, trying to convince myself I’d get another shot. It was still early in the morning. I had brought a 14-inch rainbow to shore and hooked up with a brute of a steelhead. There were fish around. I just had to stay focused.

I continued to work downriver, covering as much water as I could and making quick sets on every tink.

Near the end of the run, I felt a pull and before the pull stopped, I yanked back. Fish on. I lifted the rod, but the fish stayed down. Solid. Still on. Game on.

I moved it toward the bank, maneuvered so that I was facing it, then dropped like a catcher blocking a pitch in the dirt. I trapped the fish in a few inches of water between the shore and I.

I reached into the water, grabbed the tail, turned it on its side and looked down the flank. Not the prettiest or biggest, but you don’t think about those things in that moment.

You don’t think about the unsuccessful elk trip a month earlier. You don’t think about the bad knot that cost you a fish. You don’t think about those dry spells when you are sure that if you had to live off the land, you’d starve.

You think about that moment and how you made it work. You figured it out.

You won.

This time.

Editor’s note: Jeff Lund is the author of Going Home, a memoir about fishing and hunting in Alaska and California. Go to
JeffLundBooks.com for details.

An Alaskan Holiday Wish List



It’s Dec. 21 everyone. Those who are waiting until (nearly) the end to finish their holiday shopping (like me, but I’m almost done) can find some great ideas for the Alaska sportsman or -woman in their lives from our correspondent, Steve Meyer.

Happy shopping!

By Steve Meyer

Seems like Christmas is an opportunity to stand down from my usual diatribe of things that annoy me, or worse, and instead, allow me talk about something everyone enjoys – presents!

It always surprises me when people have trouble selecting a gift for hunters. If there is an easier demographic to buy for it escapes me. It’s hard to go wrong with ammunition for the recipient’s favorite shooting iron. Even a brick of the lowly .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridges would be welcome by any hunter/shooter, considering the difficulty in obtaining them these days.

But the proliferation of outdoor gear for the hunter is astonishing and can be tough to make a valid choice, especially if you don’t hunt yourself and have no real working knowledge of the activity and its gear requirements.

Do those on your gift list a favor and talk to their hunting friends. Hunters talk gear constantly and it’s a sure bet they’ll know what your spouse, sibling, parent or buddy is interested in.

When it fails, duplicate it. Being a rather simple lot we hunters like what works; we use it a lot and we wear it out – no matter how good it is – rather quickly, and then an identical replacement will be welcome.


The candidate that immediately comes to mind for duplication is the down vest, which has to be the staple piece of outdoor apparel that every hunter (or any other person who engages in outdoor recreation) uses practically daily. My favorite is the Eddie Bauer Micro Lite down vest, of which I have two and hope for another this Christmas from camo Santa. This vest is warm far beyond what its weight and appearance suggests, is also as tough as any available and it has the classic good looks of vintage Eddie Bauer outdoor apparel that is at home in the field and the city.

Wool garments are tough to beat for utility and for their general good looks. Beretta has raised the bar in this department with their Wind Barrier wool sweater. The windproof lining not only blocks the wind but makes these comfortable to wear, even without an underlayer.

From October to March when hunting the mountains I wear this sweater with the aforementioned Eddie Bauer vest and never have issues with the cold on days that one would reasonably be outdoors anyway. These sweaters are available in quarter zip or full zip. They’re so good I have four.


Now, no one wants underwear for Christmas except outdoors types, and you just cannot go wrong with a merino wool underlayer. First Lite offers some of the best with tops and bottoms in men’s and women’s sizes in light, medium and heavy weights. After using the tops and bottoms for a year, Christine Cunningham and I have discovered we aren’t leaving the house without them. They are also washable, and if it matters, First Lite offers the only camouflage merino underlayers out there.

Sort of in the underwear department are socks – we also consider these as stocking-stuffer gold – and again, merino wool gets the nod. Darn Tough Socks merino wool socks are guaranteed for life, you can wear them for days on end and they don’t harbor odor – not a small consideration in the confines of a sheep hunting tent.

For hunting pants, First Lite again gets top billing with their lightweight merino wool Kanab hunting pants. They have an acetate lining that keeps them from binding while climbing and provides a wind barrier. They are light, extremely warm, washable, very durable and cut a bit large to allow for underlayers. The only thing that is a little annoying is the very tight cuffs that don’t go over large boots well, but they do keep the cold out, so it’s not a bad trade.


For a very long time, hunting-related Christmas presents fell in the male bailiwick; not so much anymore. Being the largest growing demographic in the hunting world, female hunters are now at the forefront of hunting and don’t want to wear hand-me-down crap their husbands, brothers, dads or boyfriends cast off to them.

Prois, a female hunting clothing company, has stepped up and is offering some outstanding outerwear designed for the serious female hunter. There are too many products to suggest them all here, but if you want to impress the female hunter in your life, look at their Archtach down jacket. Beautifully styled for the female form, this jacket is about as good looking as it gets and is constructed of quality material, including a down fill that is extremely warm for its weight.

If you are lucky enough to have a wife or girlfriend who would prefer a new gun over a diamond ring but you really want to show her how much you love her, look no further than Syren division of Caesar Guerini. An Italian shotgun maker well known for their beautiful high-performing guns, this company has taken the bull by the horns and created a separate division dedicated to producing shotguns designed from the ground up for women. These guns aren’t cut-off versions of regular male-market guns. They are built to conform to the female with the grip, the length, the weight, the cast in the buttstock and the elegance that a discerning woman hunter/shooter will embrace.

Most of the line of women’s guns from Syren are of the over/under variety, including field-grade guns and various competitive trap, skeet and sporting clays versions. They recently introduced an autoloader that isn’t quite as pretty as the others, yet it is a remarkably well-built and reliable shotgun for the female waterfowler.

With that and with the risk of offending someone, Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for the coming year.

The Breach Continues Its Message

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Our friend Mark Titus, whose wild salmon film The Breach, was featured in the magazine, filed this update:

Season of Salmon – Season of Lights

The winter rains have come and with them the salmon.  Kids marvel at the return of late-fall Chum and Coho into our urban creeks and streams.  All of us do.  When you watch these large fish in small water attempting to fulfill their life’s mission and truly think about what they’ve gone through to get here, it borders on the mystical.   Life finds a way.


I want to thank you for your continued support and encouragement of this film that somehow found its way into the world.  I’ve had quite a few queries lately on where folks can get it to give as a gift or to watch it over the holidays.  Well, you can access The Breachin all its current formats right now through our very own website by clicking right here:  SHARE THE BREACH


We’re going to have some exciting news to report in the next newsletter (the last of 2015, before the holidays.)  Here’s a peek:  First, The Breach is partnering with several esteemed organizations doing vital work for wild salmon, sustainable food and the planet.  We’re going to have the opportunity to push the film out through their channels while simultaneously raising funds for their important work.  Second, we’ve got a new streamlined, news-packed website heading your way before the holidays – complete with a page to get some cool Wild Salmon/Breach gear.  Stay tuned.


The Time is Now

Wild Salmon have been all over the news lately.  The work to protect them for future generations is more urgent now than it’s ever been:


Bristol Bay

After President Obama visited Bristol Bay this September, the corporation behind the proposed Pebble Mine ratcheted up their efforts to stall and derail the EPA from protecting Bristol Bay.  They are spending millions in lobbying efforts, commercials and hiring outside consultants to testify to Congress on their behalf. 

You can watch all three hours of this testimony right here:  TESTIMONY



If you’d like a taste of what’s at stake in Bristol Bay, watch this stunning drone footage over Lake Illiamna, filmed this last summer by Jason Ching of the University of Washington – click here:  WATCH


Genetically Engineered Salmon

You may have heard about this in the news.  Weeks ago, the United States FDA approved a corporation’s version of genetically engineered farmed salmon for US markets.  Under current laws, these so-called “Frankenfish” would not be required to be labeled as genetically modified when sold to consumers.  Representatives Don Young from Alaska and Peter DeFazio from Oregon have introduced House Bill HR 913 – the “Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act.”  If you feel this is an important issue, please write your legislators and tell them.  You can read an Op-Ed about this by Representatives Young and DeFazio right here:  READ NOW


Now the Good News – Medals of Freedom

Two vitally important characters in The Breach and titanic heroes to the people, waters and salmon of the Pacific Northwest were awarded our nation’s highest civilian honor.  Bill Ruckelshaus, first head of the EPA was awarded the medal by the president in person – and members of Billy Frank Jr.’s family accepted the posthumous award on his behalf.  Deep admiration and sincere congratulations to these two men and their families.  You can read about it right here:  HEROES


We keep our Facebook feed up-to-date regularly with wild salmon news.  You can like our page and follow along by clicking right here:  FACEBOOK


Coming Up

News about upcoming screenings and new ways The Breach will be shared across the country are coming up in a special message  just before the holidays.  For now, enjoy this time with your friends and family as we wind toward the winter solstice and the promise of new life in the streams and creeks wild salmon call home.  And remember to #eatwildsavewild by insisting on wild salmon at your local markets and restaurants.  It makes a huge difference.


Thank you again for your passion and support.  I’d especially like to thank David James Duncan again for his powerful words at the bottom of this page.  I thought them appropriate to pass along to you now in this season of salmon…season of lights…


In Wildness,




From David James Duncan…


The Breach sings the wild salmon like Whitman once sang the folk life and burgeoning streets of America’s cities. The Breach roars the truth that when our thousand rivers and rills are stripped of their salmon, we are all bankrupted – tribes, towns, animals, trees, flowers, all facing a horrendous desolation and dearth and theft of the shared sacred. When our rivers are stripped by ignorance, greed, and apathy, our culture is robbed, our children are robbed, all humanity is robbed of a compass bearing, a great holiness, an ancient craft that Christ Himself practiced. As the father of three kids to whom I’d love to pass down the faith that all beings are holy, I find the silence of salmonless rivers very hard to bear. So, as The Breach so beautifully suggests, let us find the loss unbearable, stand up together, and stop those who would steal away this great gift.  This film shows us the way to keep the Gift coming.



The Search For Alaska’s ‘Poor Man’s Lobster’




The following appears in the December issue of Alaska Sporting Journal 


Ice fishing after sunset on Alaskan lakes has typically been an uneventful experience for me. Trying to tease a bite out of a trout or char while vertically jigging in the dark seems random at best, and usually unproductive.

There are, however, certain creatures of the night that exist below lakes’ frozen lids that are eager to feed. These freakish-looking fish become active when the sun goes down.

Ice anglers searching for action during frigid winter nights can certainly find some by targeting the only freshwater cod found in North America: burbot. These weird flat-headed fish become increasingly active after dark, migrating to shallow water to forage for a meal. They’re enthusiastic and opportunistic feeders and will chomp down on just about anything natural or unnatural attached to a hook.

Alaskan sourdoughs familiar with catching the unusual fish shaped like serpents easily overlook their strange appearance for their flavor on the table. Sampling the fish’s delicate mild white meat willl provide instant understanding of why burbot are considered among Alaska’s most tasty freshwater species. Most people compare the flavor to that of a popular and delicious crustacean, hence the reason why the burbot is often referred to as a “poor man’s lobster.”


MY FIRST EXPERIENCE ice fishing for burbot was several years ago with my longtime friend and fishing partner Chris Cox. We planned our outing at a popular roadside location along the Glenn Highway, and it did not disappoint.

After a short trek, we set up our portable ice fishing shelter on the snow-covered lake and waited for sundown. The spot we picked was the perfect choice: It featured  2-foot depths on a large flat section of lakebed. Like clockwork, our rod tips began twitching just after sunset. We enticed strikes using several types of ¼-ounce plastic and marabou jigs in various bright colors. Although most of the fish went under 2 pounds, we experienced a fun frenzy in the darkness. Turning the light switch off at sunset seemed to be like ringing a dinner bell for the fish; they showed up in force and could not resist our offerings.

Indeed, ice fishing for burbot is far from complicated. Fish can be easily located and are not difficult or challenging to bring to the surface with a rod and reel. Active fish can be found searching for food at depths of 2 to 5 feet during periods of darkness. Drill a hole through the ice, present your bait with some tantalizing jigging and wait for the bite.

Although this fishing is not technically difficult, there are a few aspects I learned over my winter burbot trips that helped add to my catch rate.

Ice fishing burbot 2


INCREASING THE ODDS of hooking up with a burbot is directly related to water depth and the structure on the bottom of a body of water. If you know what the bottom looks like, you can set up over locations that will provide the best potential. A bathymetric map of a lake you’re planning on fishing will help prepare you for knowing where to go before drilling out a single hole.

Bathymetric maps are charts depicting an accurate, measurable description and visual presentation of the underwater terrain. The Department of Fish and Game is a good resource for the special maps and has many lakes available online (adfg.alaska.gov) to view and print. The maps won’t guarantee you catch fish, but they will provide a better insight to know where the shallow areas adjacent to deep drop-offs are at and where burbot can usually be found.

Another tool I use to find the actual depth of water is my fishing sonar, or a fish finder. My electronics allow me to see through the ice, without drilling a hole, and know accurate depth. The device can be a big time saver, especially if you are fishing a remote lake which may not have any charting information available.

I have used various types of lures and bait to catch burbot. I have never found burbot to be finicky; normally, if they are present, they will bite. Burbot are known to be aggressive predators; their wide jaws and small rows of teeth are designed for snatching prey and swallowing it whole. They depend on their sensitive lateral line and two large open nostrils to sense vibrations and smell when roaming the bottom for something to eat.

Indeed, your presentation should be kept near the bottom. I like to be about 3 inches off the lake floor, and I use irregular twitch-pause patterns to try and attract the fish. Shiny jigs, spoons, and glow-in-the-dark plastics are popular for attracting fish by sight.

Some anglers are more confident in teasing a burbot’s sense of smell and simply use a baited hook. Cut whitefish, herring and lamprey eel are commonly used baits and can be very effective. Make sure to change your bait consistently to provide a good scent. Bait can become waterlogged after soaking too long, decreasing the odds of stimulating hungry fish.

Maximizing your presentation can help your cause. My recommendation is to try using a combination of something flashy and smelly – a bright-colored lure tipped with a chunk of whitefish is a good bet. Call it a dual threat to encourage a bite.

Ice fishing burbot 5 22536777756_c446ffcf65_o

SINCE BURBOT ARE well-distributed in a large portion of Alaska, opportunities to catch them are reasonable. Healthy populations can be found in the lakes of the upper Tanana, upper Copper, and upper Susitna River drainages. A few lakes located alongside the Glenn Highway also have good possibilities and are manageable drives
from Anchorage.

Catching these odd fish out from under the ice is a fun adventure for me. It’s an opportunity to get outside during the long winter season and provide a harvest to enjoy.

Burbot are certainly more than just a good source of protein; they also represent another part of what makes Alaska so unique.Ice fishermen like myself rejoice in knowing that when daylight dims, the fishing does not have to end in the Great Land. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on Dennis Musgraves’ Alaska fishing adventures, check out alaskansalmonslayers.com.

Powering The ‘Workhorse Of The Arctic’

Snowmachines 1


The following story appears in the December issue of Alaska Sporting Journal 

Story and photos by Paul D. Atkins

The only thing you could see was the hood above the icy cold water. I was still hanging onto the handlebars as thesnowmachine’s track settled on the hard ice below, which brought me to a complete standstill. My snow pants and boots were full of water and I was in panic mode, wondering if this was the end for yours truly.

Luckily, I made it out of the overflow (water on top of ice) and built a fire to warm up, easing the pain of what could have been a very bad situation. As I tried to dry out, the two guys I was with wrestled my machine from its slushy grave, all the while reminding me of what I should have done and the fact that I was wasting valuable hunting time.

That experience happened 20 years ago, but it’s still a constant reminder of what not to do when you’re riding in the far north.

The first snowmachine I ever saw, I rode. It was an awkward experience, to say the least, and something that I wasn’t comfortable with, especially as a newbie from the Lower 48. I buried it more times than I can remember, and instances like above happened more often than I can remember. It wasn’t until years later that I learned to ride one and came to realize the importance and significance of these incredible machines, especially to the people of rural Alaska.

Snowmachines 2 Search

SNOWMACHINES, OR “SNO-GOS” as they’re sometimes called locally, are truly the workhorses of Arctic. Getting around without one can prove to be difficult, especially when most of the year the land is covered in snow and ice.

Starting in October, when the first cold spell hits and the snow begins to fall, a frenzy of snowmachine activity begins. Covers are pulled from machines and inspections start taking place in yards and garages around town. Tracks are inspected, grease guns emptied and new sparkplugs take the place of old ones. It’s time to get ready.

People rely on snowmachines for all sorts of reasons: For many living in rural Alaska, it’s their only mode of transportation. They don’t drive a car or truck, or even a 4-wheel-drive – just a snowmachine waiting to make its appearance once the white stuff starts to fly. All brands are represented too, and in all sizes. There is everything from the really big machines made for hauling freight and long trekking to the smallest, which can be seen loaded down with kids circling backyards all over town. It’s a great time and creates a new appreciation and a sense of celebration that only the cold dark months can allow.

I have seen my share of snowmachines over the years, but I’m still a novice when it comes to most. Here in the Arctic, being able to ride one is only part of the sno-go experience; to truly understand one you must know how your machine works and be able to fix it when and if the time comes – and believe me, that time will come.

Most hardcore snowmobiles that push the limits in the backcountry – where things can go wrong in a hurry – are truly some of the best mechanics when it comes to this endeavor. They have to be, especially when you’re miles from home in subzero weather and your machine breaks down. Being able to fix the problem and get back home before you freeze to death will give you a better appreciation for what you can and cannot do. Some guys go solo, which is even more demanding and the danger levels are a bit higher, while others choose to travel in bands, hoping that somebody in the group has experience. I belong to the latter group, and have good reason to be so.


Snowmachines 3 shack

A FEW YEARS ago I was traveling north through miles and miles of snow-infested tundra with a hunting friend of mine. Our goal was to make camp that evening in hopes of taking a few wolves. If we were lucky, we’d also take home a sheep or two.

It was a 100 miles from town and would take us all day to get there if things ran smoothly. Everything was going well until we ran out of snow. The temperatures fell below zero and we were miles from any marked trail, so we did something dumb and tried to push through it. We shouldn’t have.

My machine immediately overheated, frying everything inside. It was scary, to say the least, but luckily there were two of us and we were able to limp back home on one sled. That was a long night, but we made it.

It was three months before I could get back up there and get my machine and gear, worrying the whole time if it would even still be there upon
my return.

My machine was old back then, but even the newest machines can have problems. Some of the old timers still swear that the older sleds are better, while the new generation only want the latest and the greatest.

One thing is for sure: snowmachines have evolved over time, especially in the last 10 years. Refinements include everything from four-stroke engines to super-wide tracks to digital controls with built-in global tracking systems that are the norm now. How did we ever do without them?

If you’re new to the snow-going world, deciding on a specific brand of machine to buy can become as important as selecting a soul mate and, at times, may be even more so. It’s a hot topic among those who love trekking through the snow on the back of one. When you do, it will forever seal you to a particular camp.

Much like the Ford versus Chevy debate, choosing what is best depends on what you like. There are many brands to choose from and many places throughout Alaska to buy one. Skidoo, Polaris and Arctic Cat are the more popular selections in the Arctic, each with their own pluses and minuses. Size is also important, and depending on what you plan to do with it, ultimately should dictate
your decision.

There are many places throughout Alaska that offer rentals as well. It’s a growing business and in some of the bigger communities it has become quite popular. Rentals can run anywhere from $100 a day to more, depending on the village you’re in. Most who rent are visitors or tourists who want to experience what gliding across the tundra or digging through deep powder
is like.

Snowmachines 4 Snowmachines 5


MANY YEARS AGO I drew a muskox tag in a community other than my own. I didn’t have a way to get my machine there other than pay to have it flown in by aircraft; that was not a feasible solution due to the expense. I checked around and found a place that had a couple of older machines that I
could borrow.

At first glance I could see that these were early models, though they appeared to be in decent shape. But after 20 miles on the trail I could see that they weren’t. I did get my ox, but getting it back became a problem and we ended up having to call for help. We were fortunately found by a couple of true blue backcountry guys who knew snow and were riding machines built for the Arctic.  It was an incredible experience and made me realize just how important having the right snowmachine at the right time is, especially if you live in the Last Frontier. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an author and outdoor writer from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big game hunting and surviving in the Arctic. Paul is a regular contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.

Snowmachines 6 Workhorse