As in any business, there are a burgeoning number of licenses, fees
and permits required each year. The following is a list of the ones I am forced to comply
with: a state business license, a hunting license, a hunting guide license, separate
federal and state permits for each hunting area, a fishing license, fish guide license,
fishing business license, federal and state duck stamps, state migratory guide license,
plus a local borough guiding permit. In addition, to transport my clients by plane, I am
required to maintain a commercial pilots license and take biannual flight tests. In
order to transport any clients in a motor boat, a U.S. Coast Guard commercial six-pack
license is required. In order to maintain my guide license, I am also required to maintain
a valid Red Cross first-aid and CPR card. Additionally the FCC requires two radio station
licenses. One for our long distance single side band radio and another for our marine
In addition to the time and expense the above licenses and permits
require, all guides are required to carry an insurance policy covering their guiding
business as well as any aircraft and watercraft. If any employees are hired, then workmans
compensation insurance is also required. Insurance costs alone amount to nearly $1,000 per
With the exception of the southeastern panhandle of the state, where
boats are used, airplanes have become an indispensable fact of life for all hunters in Alaska.
Both boats and aircraft are inordinately expensive to operate and maintain in any
environment and in remote, bush Alaska even more so. Many guides fly virtually everyday,
but I try only to use my planes for hauling gear, guides and hunters into and out of
camps. The actual hunting is still done on foot in a fair chase manner, yet every year my
fuel bill still amounts to an additional $300 to $400 per client. Yearly aircraft
maintenance adds another $300 to $400 per client.
By far the single largest expense of a guided hunt is the guides
or assistant guides wages. With the possible exception of boat or aircraft
maintenance, it is also the most important. Most of my guides have been working for me for
over 10 years, are highly competent and knowledgeable, and I pay them accordingly. Between
$2,000 and $4,000 (depending on the hunt) goes directly to the guide helping you in the
field. If they are good, it is also the best bargain of your trip.
Food is also a major expense on a remote hunt. Due to the exorbitant
prices and small selection of goods in remote villages, we try to purchase everything in
bulk in Anchorage before the season and then send it to the closest village. Ten thousand
dollars worth of groceries takes at least a week of wrapping and boxing before it can be
sent through the mail with at least $600 worth of postage. Or it can be shipped air
freight for $.50 per pound. Then everything from tea to TP must be loaded into a small
plane and flown to camp. A fairly accurate rule of thumb in rural Alaska is that
everything costs double by the time it reaches the bush. Including the propane or heating
oil it takes to cook your food and keep you comfortable, $150 per day per person is a
reasonable minimum estimate for food, drink and heat.
So far, depending on the length of the trip, your hunt has cost the
outfitter $4,000 to $6,000. Besides the direct operating costs, he has days, weeks and
often months of his time and money invested in advertising, attending shows, phone calls,
scouting his area, setting up camps and repairing tents, cots, stoves, boats, motors,
rifles, cabins, etc., etc. He also has a large investment of both time and capital in his
business boats, motors, quality tents, dozens of cots, pads, sleeping bags, stoves,
lanterns, cook gear, backpacks,
rifles, binoculars and spotting scopes, radios, satellite phones, etc.
Most established outfitters
also own their own planes or boats. Whether its a single $80,000 Super Cub, a
$150,000 Cessna or a $500,000 Beaver or yacht, they are a serious financial investment. So
are any cabins or lodges they own. What sort of financial returns would any other working
professional make with a $500,000 to a $1,000,000 investment?
Its this unseen hard work, investment, expertise and reputation
of your outfitter that warrant the additional price of your hunt. Add to this the fact
that guided hunts have a much higher success rate and take larger than average trophies
and that your precious time is not wasted learning the country and game habits, and you
understand why guided hunts are considered expensive bargains by many hunters.