The Gear We Take & The Gear We Break
We have the opportunity to test gear in ways that few hunters ever get to, namely, we test it for months, and even years, and from this we can draw some solid conclusions on what works, and what does not. We strongly encourage all of our clients to take seriously our recommendations. So often we see guys trying to get by with gear they would use at home for deer hunting, and sometimes this will work, but the specialty items we use are used for good reason.
For sheep, moose, and caribou we recommend using comfortable calibers such as the .270 Win., 30-06, 7mm Mag., up to the .338 Mag., and of course there is always room for the larger calibers, if the individual is comfortable with those. Shots of 200-300 yards should be considered as normal. Individuals capable of making shot longer than 300 yards are few and far between.
For the big bears we simply do not want to discuss anything under the .338 Mag. with 250 grain premium bullets. Note, we consider this the minimum caliber suitable for use in any of our bear camps! I carry a Brno (CZ model 602) in .458 Lott, and we highly recommend .375 H&H's on up into the big .40's. Rifles used for the big bears should not be new, unused rifles, rather they should be rifles that the clients have put through some testing, and individuals should be sure they will operate in the worst of conditions. My first rifle as a professional guide was one of the highly praised Savage Safari Express, model 116 in .458 Win. Mag., and this rifle failed in every possible manner that one could imagine during a mere 45 days in the bush. From rounds porpoising out of the magazine when the action was cycled, to firing pin seizure, the rifle proved to be totally worthless. I personally recommend leaving your rifle outside in the rain for a week, (at least) then testing it, perhaps the more appropriate test is to do this with a couple of dips in the bathtub, just for good measure. Remember, we don't hunt from warm cabins, and your rifle is likely to be wet 90% of the time. Stainless is great, but internal parts are often blued, (as was the Savage), so don't expect it to be a cure-all. Synthetic stocks are great, but the greatest thing is a well tested rifle, that you know will perform under all conditions. My Brno is not stainless, and the stock is walnut. My best advice, once again, is to ignore the arm chair gun writers and go with proven hardware.
Alaska state law requires that all bow hunters use a bow with a peak draw weight of at least 40 lbs. for deer, wolf, wolverine, Dall sheep, caribou, and black bear. The law requires a peak draw weight of at least 50 lbs. for mountain goat, moose, elk, musk ox, bison, and brown bear; all of these latter species require a fixed or replaceable blade type broadhead (not retractable), with a 20" arrow, weighing at least 300 grains total. We prefer our brown bear hunters be proficient with a bow of 75 to 90 lb. draw weight. Bowhunters for brown bear should be aware of the significantly increased danger with this choice of weapon in comparison to a rifle, and they should be aware if trophy fees are part of a hunt contract, a wounded bear is as good as a dead bear. Individuals that choose to pursue brown bear with a bow should have a substantial number of bow kills under their belt. I personally have taken one whitetail deer with a bow, and I do not consider myself qualified to ethically pursue brown bear with archery equipment. We offer archery hunters the opportunity to pursue everything that the rifle hunter can pursue.
This area is actually pretty clear cut, you should be using premium ammo such as Winchester Fail Safe, Remington Safari Grade ammo loaded with Swift A-Frames, PMC has factory ammo loaded with Barnes X bullets (which I recommend above all), or premium bullets in quality handloads. Woodleigh, Barnes, Swift all make fantastic bullets for handloaders. We do frown on the use of bullets such as the ballistic tips, simply because they are designed in opposition to all standard big game bullet designs. The standard for all big game bullets has been penetration with controlled expansion equals mortal wounds on virtually all big game. Such explosive bullets as the Ballistic Tips, while appearing to kill some deer sized animals with lightning bolt effects, they have virtually no chance of penetration on big game animals such as moose, or bear. Since we are not in the business of watching trophy sheep wander off into oblivion because a bullet does no more than surface damage, we prefer that you keep these bullets for the coyotes. As for the old standbys like the Nosler Partition, and Winchester Silvertips, I can only say they simply can't compare to modern bullets like the Barnes X, or Swift A-Frame. My first successful rifle client for sheep placed a .300 Win Mag. Nosler Partition into the neck of a fine ram at 50 yards or so, and after the sheep was recovered we found a nice 8" diameter exit wound in the cape. By all appearances, the result of jacket separation.
The whole idea is to harvest the animal cleanly, so we recommend that you don't skimp on one of the least expensive pieces of gear.
Boots and Such
Every piece of gear up here creates controversy, and boots are not excluded from such arguments. We previously recommended synthetic mountaineering boots for all sheep hunting, if an individual could stand to wear them, but I must now confess that I have personally switched to using theTrango S EVO GTX boots from La Sportiva, and these are essentially lightweight mountaineering boots. Synthetic mountaineering boots, made by companies such as Koflach, and Asolo are great if you can wear them. They have a rigid external shell, with a removable inner boot (this can be removed for crossing glacial streams), they are waterproof, but beyond this, the outer shell does not soak up water like 90% ofleather boots do, decreasing the strength of the boot itself. We have been wearing Koflachs for years, in several models, including the "Viva Softs," and "Alaska Hunters," both models providing execellent protection from abrasive boulders, water, and anything else nature can dish out at them. In August of 2003 I tried the Koflach Degre boots for the first time, and I liked them better than anything else I tried up unto August of 2005. All mountaineering boots provide excellent ankle support, even when you have eighty pounds on your back. The only problem with these boots, if you can call it that, is stiffness, which some guys just can't deal with. We recommend that all potential sheep hunters try these (synthetic or leather mountaineering boots) out if possible, but do not come into camp with a pair that have not been on your feet for some serious walking. As I mentioned above I had a miserable experience with the Scarpa boots, simply because I did not really put them to the test before heading to Alaska. I totally butchered my feet on a 8 mile hike or so, then I was forced to cut the tops out of my hippers to wear for the duration of the hunt, while my feet had to be wrapped with duct tape, and I have scars 6 months later! Point blank, do not bring them into camp if you haven't put them to the test. No "hunting boots" t compare to real mountaineering boots. Truthfully, a tough man can make it for ten days with just about any type boot, but if you are wanting comfort, protection, and top notch quality, we recommend boots that you won't find at Cabela's, actually they do not sell any boot for serious sheep hunters. Sorry guys!
Now we come to the less severe type hunting in Alaska, and we have two types of foot gear left, the hip boot, and anything else. For me, the hip boot is antiquated, but some guys are going to persist in buying them, so if you do, make sure they are ankle fit, and that they have a good sole, like the air bob that has been carried on the Lacrosse. Just make sure to get the right size, and try getting them off and on, before you decide to keep them. Some guys have to go with 1/2 size larger than their normal boots. The air bob sole on these boots is the best we have found for the mud and the muck. As for normal hunting boots, we all have them, and there are thousands of brands to choose from, so we simply recommend that you wear what you have been comfortable with in the past, of course waterproof is still invaluable. I like Vasque, but the world of normal hunting boots is too vast for me to tell you what to wear, but remember, proven gear, is the best gear.
I have personally switched from using the normal hip boots and have been using the waist high breathable (stocking-foot) waders as of five years or so, andthey have become the standard for me. I am currently using the Simms G3 Guide Pant waist high and I use their Guide Boot wading boots as well.
Brno 602 after a spill on the rockslides and 3 nights on the slope