Caribou Hunting
Units 17B/19B

(Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.)

Leaving Aniak lake Approaching Nishlik lake Nishlik Lake Two of the popular camp sites Popular camp site on the north side...
Leaving Aniak lake... Approaching Nishlik lake... Nishlik Lake Two of the popular camping sites... Popular camp site on the north side...
Popular camping Middle of Nishlik Lake Camping area for floaters
Popular camping on the northeast... Middle of Nishlik Lake Camping area for floaters Caribou often swim across Bringing your own small outboard ...

Aniak Lake is in unit 19B. Nishlik Lake is in 17B. For the month of September the bag limits are different for 17B and 19B. The two lakes are similar in migration patterns. 3000-foot mountains surround both lakes. The lakes themselves are nearly 1000 feet in elevation. The mountain range to the west of the two lakes is Ahklun Mountains. Opportunity to experience first hand the exciting migration of these magnificent caribou will be after the 12th of September. On the average between 12th Ė25th of September you will have the opportunity to see hundreds if not thousands of migrating caribou. Aniak and Nishlik Lakes will both give equal opportunity. The odds of seeing the migration are better on those two lakes than anywhere else we know of on a consistent basis. Caribou that have been spending the summer in cooler high country will drop down into valleys and make their way easterly. Large valleys extend past both lakes and are the favored exit for caribou as they leave the mountains. 

The migration is basically triggered by weather but even before the clear cold signal that itís time to move, storms Ė cold fronts with high winds Ė sweep the area forcing small groups to start moving. Usually smaller numbers of cows and calves, twelve to fifty, and even single bulls will break loose first. The number will increase with each pending storm. When the mountains are wearing termination dust like stocking caps, expect large numbers of caribou.

Years with more west wind than normal will disrupt the traditional patterns and the caribou will not follow their predictable patterns. On years like this itís anyoneís guess how successful the hunting season will be. This strong wind can last most of September and is rare, and doesn't happen enough to be stressed about.

Hunters that stay until the end of the month and into October generally get the largest horns. Usually by this time the weather is the hunters worst enemy. Cold temperatures, high wind and snow are commonplace. Often hunters leaving the field describe the hunt as a survival mission. This late in the year caribou are in rut so meat can no longer be donated and must be de-boned and boxed by the hunter and shipped home regardless of the quality.  There is rarely spoiled or rotten meat this time of year, so if you bag a large bull after September you must plan a day in Dillingham to deal with the meat.

Nishlik Lake is also the headwaters of the Tikchik River. The Tikchik River is an excellent way to get away from other hunters at the lake. Once out of the hills and in the flats the caribou seem to zigzag back and forth across the Tikchik River.  They are also slowly coming out of Upnuk, Chikuminuk and Hart Lake areas. The Tikchik float can be started from either Nishlik or Upnuk Lakes. There is a slight advantage to starting your float at Nishlik instead of Upnuk, simply because of the volume of caribou that exit the Nishlik area compared to Upnuk.   A description of the river and the float can be found on our website entitled Nishlik/Upnuk Lakes.

Hunting Upnuk Lake is an excellent choice because the number of hunters is far less than Nishlik Lake. The hunting is described as pretty good however, you rarely get the opportunity to see the large migration there but it does occasionally happen and when it does it is special and unique because the lake is so close to migrate through, they are in a long line. This pattern is unique to Upnuk and Chikuminuk Lakes. It is also rare to see large numbers migrating through Chikuminuk but when they do, they march down the valley from the west like soldiers. Apparently they are coming from the mountains that surround Hart Lake. This is why Hart Lake is usually a good indicator as to whether or not the caribou will march out to Chikuminuk Lake. Although there are other ways to arrive at Chikuminuk, (like marching through the missing link) Hart Lake is still an excellent indicator.

Hart Lake usually produces 60% success and is growing in popularity for hunters wishing to hunt before the 12th of September. We believe Hart Lake is a good place for an early hunt because it is right in the heart of Ahklun Mountain and it just makes sense that at least some animals would drop down there as storms pass.

Hunters choosing Hart Lake can reasonably expect to have a successful hunt if they allow enough time for the storms to encourage the movement of the caribou.

Hunters choosing Upnuk Lake should do well as long as they donít mind hiking northwest towards the Tikchik River area. Caribou often quickly move through the area and the groups are a mixture of cows, calves, young and old bulls.

The thing that frustrates us the most about giving advise to caribou hunters on where to go is that despite our efforts to have all the answers there IS a lot we do not know and just when we think we have it all figured out we learn something else. Usually that we still donít know everything we would like to know about the caribou movement.  We do know that hunters willing to put forth the effort and endure the harsh conditions come away with something special and itís not always caribou. 

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Click here for new vital information about booking a trip into Chikuminuk, Upnuk, Slate and Nishlik lakes, or, floating the Tikchik River.

For more information contact:

Wildlife Conservation Division
P.O. Box 1030
Dillingham, AK 99576
Sport Fish Division
P.O. Box 230
Dillingham, AK 99576