Getting It Back Home

By Paul Atkins

Whether you’re a resident just completing a successful hunt and want to get your meat and hide to a local processor in Anchorage, or non-resident who wants to take it across the country, you need to have a plan ahead of time.
There are few options when it comes to getting your meat, cape and horns from point A to point B. Some have been great experiences while others have not. Like the time when TSA wanted me to “unfreeze” the caribou capes I had checked as bags or the time a good friend of mine killed a very big moose here in the Arctic. He checked his cape as a regular bag on a major airline, but needless to say when he showed up in Phoenix his bags did not. Lucky for him we froze the cape solid and when it did show up four days later it was still okay.

When the hunt is over and it’s time to head home most hunters would like to have their trophies with them at all times. If it was possible to get antlers and meat into a carry-on most of us would do it, but since it isn’t it still feels good to know that your animal is safely secured in the belly of the plane.

Size, time and expense all play a major role getting big game trophies from one location to another. The species harvested will greatly affect factors. If you shoot a moose and want to get the entire animal back home then size, number of boxes and expense will be quite large, but if you take a bear then you can probably get away with checking it as luggage.

If you want the best care for your trophies then I recommend using an expeditor who only focuses on shipping big game trophies. Most expediting businesses in Alaska are owned and operated by hunters and they know the care needed for preparation and shipment of big game, and fish too.

D&C Expeditors in Anchorage deals specifically with transporting big game. Once your trophy is taken care of in the field and you’ve made it back to civilization D&C will do the rest. They provide a variety of shipping services, securely package it, freeze it and even do the taxidermy work if you decide to have it done in their shop. Sean told me that most hunters spend a ton of money on hunting, but forget about getting it home. If you are going to all the work and expense then spend the money to get it home safely instead of trying to save a few bucks and take a risk in losing both the meat and cape.

Another option is to use a major airline. Alaska Airlines is still hunter friendly and provides shipping services to hunters. Many hunts to the bush will at first require a ride on an Alaska Airlines flight. This will be your return route as well which includes your trophy and the rest of your gear. There was once a time when you could check about anything on an airline and not run into any problems. I remember when you could duct tape cardboard around your caribou antlers and that was good enough, but not any more.

If you go to Alaska Airline’s website they have a section on the requirements of shipping big game. They classify big game as moose, caribou, goat and sheep, which includes meat, hides and capes. Whichever you take must be wrapped in a leak-proof polyurethane bag regardless of the outer packaging. There must be no blood, dirt or odor and the maximum weight is 100 pounds per package. This can add up quickly if you are hauling back a moose or a couple of caribou.

The airline also allows a hunter to use a maximum of five pounds of dry ice for shipping perishable items but no wet ice is allowed. All packages must be labeled with the hunter or hunters’ names and addresses plus hunting license numbers. If the package is crossing state lines then the Lacey Act will come into effect. Hunters will need to provide shipping tags with all their information. These tags can be picked-up at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and can also be found in a copy of the regulations.

Alaska Airlines provides boxes to hunters to ship their trophies. Cost varies depending on size, but all meet the airline’s requirements. If you’re just shipping antlers the same criteria applies, but antler tips must be well padded to prevent damage to other luggage. Antlers must also be shipped separately from meat and capes and 100 pounds is the maximum. Shipping several antlers together is pretty common especially if there are more than one hunter. Antlers may be shipped as regular baggage as long as they are free from blood and flesh and meet regular bag requirements. Alaska Airlines provides an airline to door service for a fee.

Like all things there are some disadvantages to using a major airline. Most do not guarantee against spoilage and they do not guarantee freezer space, plus it gets expensive if you have a lot of boxes. I suggest checking out their website and making a few phone calls long before the hunt begins.

If you are just shipping antlers I have found a great and relatively cheap service provided by Northern Air Cargo and their NAC Link service. Northern Air Cargo is located in most hubs in the state and can be found at the airport. All hunters need to do is place their antlers on a pallet and wrap in cellophane. They will fly them to Anchorage where you can have them trucked to the lower 48. It usually takes 2-3 weeks to arrive, but it will save you a bundle. One recommendation though is not to ship any antlers that are in velvet. The moisture inside the package will mold and cause serious problems.

Whatever method you choose to ship your caribou, moose or maybe even a sheep, you should take the time to properly prepare it, secure it in the proper package and if it takes a few extra bucks to ship it a certain way, then so what. After all, your dream hunt is done and you were successful. Seeing the head on the wall or pulling meat out of the freezer is part of the trip.

Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer from Kotzebue, AK. When not hunting in his home state you can find him hunting throughout North America and Africa. Paul teaches at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.