Arctic Air ( Mike and Shiela Spisak ) & Outdoor International - Buyer Beware!

Bonecollector

Veteran member
Mar 9, 2014
5,802
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Ohio
I want to post this message of 'what I've learned' and to assist others who may be planning an Alaskan Adventure. I will provide facts and try to abstain from injecting my opinion as these companies and the people operating them have really soured me after 2 years of planning and spending my hard earned money.

Like most folks, my team and I did our research on outfitters/transporters. They all come with plenty of pro's and con's, so one has to sort through the comments and opinions and make the best decision with the information found during the discovery phase of planning. I sorted through nearly 10 different transporters and narrowed the list to 3. I then came across a hunting consultant, Outdoor International, and I figured there was no harm in making a telephone call and asking some questions. So happened, Artic Air was one of the companies the consultant worked with. The consultant not only recommended them, but had hunted with them a number of times in the past as well as having future hunts scheduled with them.
Based on the better than average reviews (not many AK transporters get great reviews based on my research so deciding on an company is tough) and the node from the hunting consultant, I decided to book with Arctic Air.

Unfortunately, as time passed, additional information started to make its way onto the internet. This is because Artic Air previously HAD a good reputation in past years, but was recently purchased by Mike and Shiela Spisak. Mike and Shiela Spisak previously owned and filed bankruptcy with Ram Aviation. When you review the past information available for Ram, it's a colossal train wreak! The Spisak's recently acquired Artic Air and are doing the same thing under this company umbrella. Its almost as if they flip companies like folks flip houses. I've been told this is their 3rd business venture in the past 15 years. More information is now becoming available on the internet as word has gotten out, but it was a little to late to salvage my AK adventure.
Fortunately, I had trip insurance so 95% of my cost was reimbursed. However, I made a number of purchases for gear that are not returnable. Hopefully I'll get to put this gear to good use on a future adventure. Other folks have claims pending and others opted not to purchase insurance, but that was a personal choice. However, the manner in which dozens of trips were canceled was directly related to Artic Air's lack of professionalism, business sense, and good old common sense.

A few points that were not clear prior to my trip that need to be considered for anyone thinking of using Mike and Shiela Spisak and whatever company they may be controlling at the time of your trip discovery phase. I would also question a lot of the information coming out of the consultant, Outdoor International, if vetting is not improved;

1. Artic Air is running their business like a factory, They are not concerned with your adventure, your hunt, your success, or your well-being while in the field. With each passing payment, the communication will become less and less. The manner of communication lacked professionalism becoming of a business.

2. Artic Air has only 1 plane. It is a float plane so landing on water is their only option. Obviously, landing on water is not always a good idea when the rains comes and the rivers are flooding. Artic Air has no back up plan to get you into or out of the field. Other transporters are not willing to work with them. I was previously told they operated 2 planes and worked with other pilots. Following the migration can be tough when you can't land in the travel corridor at the appropriate time.

3. There were so many insurance claims filed this year, that Artic Air and the Spisak's are being questioned for fraud. This fact is also delaying folks from recovering their insurance money.

4. Artic Air received money from 30+ hunters whose trips were cancelled. I'm hearing as many as 40 hunters, but can not substantiate this claim. They offered nothing in return. Yes, there is a contract in place and insurance is recommended. However, when you receive $5,000 per hunter and provide nothing in return that is bad business. (IMHO) They should at least cover the cost of your insurance claim as well as send the proper documentation for one to properly file said claim. They made the sale with no expense. The communication completely deteriorated at this point. They did offer to re-book ONLY hunters who did not have insurance next year. This will only exasperate the issue as they are already booked for next year and from what I understand they typically overbook. It is quantity not quality when it comes to working with Artic Air. (Refer to point #1 above) They never offered another discounted hunt in the future to anyone. I would not accept this offer regardless of price point.

5. Outdoor International was very little assistance at this point. They are still recommending this transporter for other hunters! This is very bad business and I consider them as an accomplice for any future issues of hunters who unknowingly book with Artic Air. The vetting process of transporters and outfitters needs serious improvement at Outdoor International. They sold the trip on the bigger picture stage, but lacked details. This is on the individual to dig deeper, but the change in company ownership clouded some variables from coming to light sooner. Hence my reason for putting out this public notice.

6. I have it on good word that one of the two hunting consultants from Outdoor International went into the field 3 days after I was supposed to be flown into the backcountry. (IMHO) This is bad business. My group was asked to accept a cancellation. This was a real slap in the face by someone I thought I could trust....

7. Of the few hunters who were flown into the field by Artic Air, they were flown into old camps and often times across the lake from other camps. The goal was to simply drop hunters in the backcountry without care of animal migration, hunter crowding, or general placement. Once in the field, communication was very very limited.....

8. Artic Air has no backup plan when things go wrong in attempting to get hunters into or out of the field. I know of one group that was stranded for 2 weeks. Yes the weather was bad, but one float plane and no contingency plan and agreements with other transporters put the lives of those hunters in danger.

9. Of the few hunters who made it into the field this year and were successful, they considered themselves lucky and most will not be recommending Artic Air.

Yes, I am disappointed that I did not get to go to AK. Sometimes things happen and I accept this fact. I am glad I was able to recover my money and was not stranded for 2 weeks in the the AK backcountry wondering if anyone was coming for me as my food dwindled.
However, Mike and Shiela Spisak, currently at Arctic Air, have a habit of making these 'negative' things happen. I've listed their names because I want folks to be able to track the perpetrators and not get hung-up on the company name as they have a tendency to change companies after a few years.
I am also looking into filing a claim with the BBB of AK as well.

If anyone has any questions please feel free to send me a private DM.
 

Yell Co AR Hunter

Very Active Member
Dec 10, 2015
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544
Yell County Arkansas
Sorry to hear your about your experience. A person puts so much trust and money into one of these hunts. I have been doing serious research for the past year on a Alaskan caribou hunt. For me I found a lot of dead ends. For the cost of a transport you really don't get much security in their service. What I found is the good ones are 3 years out on booking. Guides require a sale of an organ. I have made my decision to do a total on my own hunt 2022. I have three choices which will be decided when I land in Fairbanks. 40 mile East or West and over the Brooks range. It will require a lot of effort, but if successful or unsuccessful it will be on me. I can live with that and will enjoy the experience.
One thing I have learned is putting things off gets you no where. Every day is a lost opportunity you can't regain. I wish I had taken an Adak caribou hunt 7 to 10 years ago.
 

hunter25

Active Member
Sep 8, 2016
493
226
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Horrible report. I've been to Alaska 3 times now but my first trip was similar. Other than the fact I actually got to go. But thousands of dollars into a camping trip with a 15 minute plane ride wasn't what we expected. Arrowhead outfitters was run almost exactly the same at the time. But I booked through cabelas so thought I was safe. They sold 2 years ago and looks now like the new owners are really turning things around.
I mostly avoid booking agents now as I've found the best outfits don't need an agent to find clients. Word of mouth and reputation keeps them going.
My last 2 trips were great although my guy does have limited resources.
But I doubt you'll find a more honest guy in the state of Alaska. And I know I wouldn't have gotten left out there.
Hopefully you'll be able to put together a great hunt in the future from what you've learned.
 

mallardsx2

Veteran member
Jul 8, 2015
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Look at the bright side....You can put all of that money towards a new electric vehicle!
 

Prerylyon

Veteran member
Apr 25, 2016
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Cedar Rapids, IA
BC,

Good post; good to get word out!

I know this whole experience stings pretty deep, and believe me, I've been there: an Atlantic salmon fishing trip in the Canadian maritimes 25 yrs ago still hurts!

Look at it this way, there is a silver lining: Alaska is a harsh mistress, it's probably for the better that these people did not have your life in their hands. You can still use the gear later, or at worst sell it. Our physical well being is another matter. Sometimes things happen for a reason...
 
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RICMIC

Veteran member
Feb 21, 2012
1,769
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Two Harbors, Minnesota
BC, I was wondering why you were so quiet the last couple months. I've been fortunate on my guided hunts and never was screwed over like that. I guided fly-in canoe trips to a wilderness area in Manitoba and a few years later the pilot and his passengers died in a plane crash in the Otter that we flew on. Your situation was a bad deal, but at least you are still running half marathons as the buff tough dude you are. Keep on trucking.
 

Bonecollector

Veteran member
Mar 9, 2014
5,802
3,577
Ohio
Thanks to all for the kind words.
I was able to recover financially, but I don't want others to be miss-led by these two people on a trip of a lifetime to have the tables turned or to lose any money.
I'm already planning two another trips to AK- one for caribou and another for moose.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask them here or via DM.

Good luck to everyone this season.
 

tim

Veteran member
Jun 4, 2011
2,256
828
north idaho
bummer, the unfortunate truth is if, you hunt alaska enough, this will happen. Hopefully only once.
My expierence was on a combo dall sheep\moose hunt.
 
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Yell Co AR Hunter

Very Active Member
Dec 10, 2015
755
544
Yell County Arkansas
Not just Alaska, can happen here too!
Any where!
About 20 years ago. A couple of buddies and I booked a hunt in Alabama. The guide dropped me off on the road by a field and told me to use a climber that was located in the far corner. As I was gathering my gear after crossing the fence. A truck pulls up and stops. The guy asked me who I was and what I was doing. I explained John dropped me off to hunt. He said this was his property and John did not have permission to hunt it. The man told me to go ahead and go in and hunt and bring back out the climber. He said when John picked me up have him drive up to his place. I enjoyed watching John get a royal butt chewing. So beware they can be any where.
 
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Slugz

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Oct 12, 2014
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Woodland Park, Colorado
My son and I were part of BCs party. We can validate all the above. If anyone wants more details or info I'll be happy to answer via pm.
My write up is over on Rokslide as there is a lengthy thread there.

All the best

Slugz
 
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Colorado Cowboy

Veteran member
Jun 8, 2011
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Dolores, Colorado
I've posted about this before (about 10 years ago) but I'll repeat it again.

I had always heard that hunting Thorofare in Wyoming's Teton Wilderness was the adventure of a lifetime. I knew several friends who had hunted it years earlier for elk and deer and had a great hunt. I researched outfitters and picked one, mainly because of his experience and accolades by previous hunters. I booked a hunt and it would be a great 70th birthday present for me.

It was a 32+ mile horseback ride to camp that took about 10 hours. It didn't bother me as I had done almost a years worth of preparation hiking, walking and horseback riding. I was assigned a guide and we hunted hard for 6 days, leaving camp on horseback at about 5:00 AM and returning at about 8:00 PM every day. Saw very few elk and only 1 deer. The whole camp went zero animals taken.

What I didn't realize and the outfitter was not telling us is that the wolves that were reintroduced in Yellowstone had decimated the elk, deer and moose in the areas close to the park border in addition to the park itself. I tried to talk to the outfitter after the hunt. He wasn't at the trailhead when we returned, didn't return phone calls and did not answer 2 letters I sent.

The bottom line is that this was my fault as I let past reputations and success cloud my judgement. I should have done more investigating and not depend on his list of past hunters for recommendations. This was my first 100% guided hunt and I made mistakes.

Learned a hard lesson. But on the plus side .....it was not a total loss. I experienced some amazing country and learned that I was a lot tougher at 70 years old than I thought I would be.
 
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JimP

Veteran member
Mar 28, 2016
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Gypsum, Co
As more of us take or go on guided hunts we will find that all of us are open to this kind of a problem.

My grizzly hunt was about like CC's experience however it was dependent on the animals themselves. The hunting was fantastic but the finding was very poor.

One big problem is that when you ask for references all you get are the good ones you never see a bad one even if you go searching since most will not post them unless it was real bad.
 

JimP

Veteran member
Mar 28, 2016
6,483
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Gypsum, Co
I believe you can ask for a couple of references from Unsuccessful clients as well.
But they very seldom will give any.

On my grizzly hunt the unsuccessful hunters were long time clients of the outfitter so asking them was a wash.

It's funny in that after I had a couple of others ask me about the hunt and when I was honest and what I said about the outfitter got back to him I was no longer on his mailing list for the cabins that he rents out during the summer, it was like just turning the lights out. Those hunters learned that I had gone on the hunt from another forum that I was on and not from the outfitter himself.

But that hunt is mute anymore since British Colombia passed a law banning hunting grizzly bears in the Providence.
 
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