By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter
Hunting season per se is largely a fall proposition. With the exception of spring bear hunting, virtually all Alaska hunting is done in the fall. Fall starts much earlier here, and Aug. 10 marks the opening of hunting season for numerous species, including most small game.
In truth, the opening of hunting season only means that the harvesting of animals is legal. The remainder of the year and particularly the month preceding the opening of hunting season, one can still hunt, just not harvest. For individuals who hunt locally, time spent “hunting” before the legal season starts is arguably the most critical time to increase the odds of success.
Hunter success rates for moose, the most popular big game species on the Kenai Peninsula, typically run 10 percent to 15 percent. This is in part a reflection of Alaska in general, where vast numbers of animals are just not available, and for the Kenai in particular, due to bear predation, road kills, lack of access to much of the peninsula and lack of prime habitat. Finding a legal bull moose is the most difficult part of the equation.
Some would argue there are plenty of moose after witnessing the numerous sightings on any given stretch of road on the Kenai. But how many of those are legal bulls? Virtually none. Not only is the bull-to-cow ratio very low, but bulls do not hang out by the road, with the exception of yearlings, the dumb ones, which are quickly harvested by early season archery hunters.
Inevitably, at the conclusion of hunting season, there are still legal bull moose around, and therefore it stands to reason that putting in more effort can better the odds of a hunter’s success. The happenstance of finding a legal bull while driving the road system is just that — happenstance, or getting lucky. Put in enough road miles during the season and there is a chance of seeing and harvesting a legal bull moose. But the odds are not good. Preseason hunting can increase those odds for the hunter willing to put in the time. More than just driving the road system, preseason hunting should take the form of a plan.
Being oldschool, I rarely subscribe to the use of various electronic gadgets that are available for the modern hunter. But there is one that I do use and recommend to others, especially those new to an area or looking for new areas to explore — Google Earth. Available free on the Internet, one can view satellite images of the peninsula or anywhere else in the world by simply scrolling to an area.
Not all of the peninsula comes in real clear, but a substantial part does. Nor does it provide precise detail when zoomed in close, but it does allow viewing that shows bodies of water, swamps, stands of trees and brush, and it will give specific elevations wherever you point the mouse. Ridges and valleys are easily determined, and perhaps most important for the moose hunter, the ruler tool allows precise measurements from point A to point B.
In pursuit of moose, the fundamental decision that must be made prior to ever firing a shot is determining a realistic distance that you can pack the animal out given the equipment you have, your physical conditioning and the terrain features. A reasonable figure as a starting point for those in decent condition would be one mile in reasonably solid terrain. Cut that by at least half if the terrain is swamp and bog. Of course, if you have a handy supply of overzealous high school football players willing to help, then let your conscience be your guide.
This modern tool, coupled with corresponding U.S. Geological Survey maps, is an outstanding way to do some preseason hunting while you relax after a hard day of fishing. If the Internet won’t work for you, and I sympathize entirely, then the USGS maps or just getting out and ground-pounding, like we all used to, certainly still works.
Once you determine the distance you are willing to pack, then you can start searching for specifics that must be present for moose to be in the area. Animals must have food, water and cover for basic survival. Moose require a substantial amount of food and water on a daily basis, and this is a primary limiting factor in their populations. It is said by experienced moose hunters — where there is water there are moose, or where there are moose there is water. There are large tracts of land on the Kenai that, by vegetation, would suggest good populations of moose. But without water, those tracts are essentially unused by moose. That does not mean there must be a lake present. A swamp, bog or small stream will do, but for moose to persist, there must be a readily available source of water.
Hopefully this will get your hunting blood boiling and a follow-up column will go into more detail on the specifics of preseason hunting.
Steve Meyer has been a central peninsula resident since 1971 and is an avid hunter, fisherman and trapper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.