Getting from the Lower 48 to Alaska is the easy part (see post on commercial flight logistics here); deciding on and coordinating a bush flight is the exciting part!
***This post is NOT about Alaska’s state statutes differentiating between a transportation and a guide service – just be aware there is a BIG difference! Simply put, there is a lot of information that a transporter simply can not and will not tell you by rule of law. Using a transporter is still a full-fledged DIY hunt in every regard.***
I could end the post here (but won’t) and simply recommend you book based purely on reputation. It’s 2017, people talk [type] and there is this thing called the Internet. Some transporters have great and untarnished reputations, others don’t have much more respect than a cockroach. While there are others operating on Kodiak, I restricted my search to two of the more well-known and tenured float plane operators on the island. Andrew Airways and Seahawk Air.
(I’ll also mention Vertigo, LLC, which operates wheel-based aircraft. I do not have a sense for this operator’s reputation. Wheels as opposed to floats allow adventurers to access some tough-to-reach ridge lines that are devoid of lakes large enough to land a float plane. Vertigo, LLC, opens up some interesting options in terms of hunting locations, but we ultimately went another direction.)
Prices between Andrew and Seahawk were comparable, within $150 for any flight I checked on, but their weight limits were subtly different at the lightest payload — 800 pounds maximum for Seahawk Air and 750 pounds max for Andrew Airways. This might not seem that important, but for a party of 3 trying to squeeze under weight or for a party of 2 trying to get back to Kodiak proper with some extra meat, 50 pounds could mean the difference between 1 and 2 flights and a pile of money.
Both companies were excellent to deal with via email and both encouraged phone calls directly to their pilots to discuss specific potential hunting locations. Both companies check out well on the Internet, with outstanding recommendations by nearly everyone who mentions them. Both companies will pick you up at the Kodiak airport and provide “taxi” service around town to finish grabbing your last minute gear. Heck, the 2 companies occasionally pick up each other’s clients when push comes to shove or when contracts take a back seat to convenience. We are flying with Seahawk Air, but I’d offer my complete confidence in choosing Andrew Airways as well. I’d have been happy booking with either.
To give you an idea of cost, the last leg of your journey – the bush flight from Kodiak City to the wilderness and back – is booked in one-way, single-flight installments. In other words, you pay for the “out” flight at the nearest max weight ceiling and the “back” flight at the nearest max weight ceiling. These are frequently and usually different; hopefully you were successful in bringing home lots of meat! Weight thresholds are at the 750/800 range (company dependent), 1200, and 1500 pound marks. Predictably, prices for heavier payloads are higher. Also obvious but worth being explicit about, longer flights are more expensive and shorter flights are cheaper. Note: weight maximums do NOT include pilot’s weight.
Close-range hunting destinations to Kodiak proper are in the $600 to $800 one-way range and slide between the min and max depending on payload. For drop-offs on the southern end of the island, price tags are closer to $1,250 for a light plane and $1,750 for the heaviest of payloads. For dad and I’s hunt, even though we are on the close and light end of the spectrum, the cost of our bush flight (and given we’re flying for peanuts from the Lower 48 up to Kodiak – thank you Alaskan Airlines Credit Card!!) is half of the entire trip’s budgeted cost.