By Joseph Robertia
Bowhunters can let arrows fly at moose today, Aug. 10, while rifle hunters get to squeeze the trigger Aug. 20, but before heading into the woods this week, hunters should be sure to brush up on new regulations to ensure they don’t harvest any violations.
For this season, a legal moose in the general-season hunt is a bull with an antler spread of 50 inches, or four brow tines on one side.
“The historic hunting of spike-forks and 50-and-three bulls is done, at least for the next few years,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The change, made earlier this year by the Alaska Board of Game, came as a result of research into population trends related to the number of bulls to cows, as well as trends in moose harvests for the past several years, Selinger said.
“Our surveys have been showing decreasing bull-to-cow ratios. For example, in (game management unit) 15C, our fall surveys revealed about nine bulls to every 100 cows, when we really should be seeing about 20 bulls to every 100 cows,” he said. “And in 15A and 15C, where the bulk of the moose harvest is, we’ve also been seeing skewed numbers of spike-forks being taken. The harvest of yearling bulls has been around 65 to 70 percent of the total harvest.”
According to Fish and Game records, last season 2,683 hunters took to the woods and roughly 400 moose were harvested peninsulawide. To break these numbers down further, in area 15A, which runs from the Kenai River north to Point Possession, 115 moose were harvested.
In area 15B, which roughly runs from the Kenai River south to the north shore of Tustumena Lake, a good
chuck of which is a trophy hunt permit area, 51 bulls were taken. While in area 15C, the bulk of which is made up of the Caribou Hills, Homer area and Kenai Mountains south of Kachemak Bay, 214 bulls were bagged. And in area 7, which encompasses most of the eastern peninsula, only 23 bulls were harvested.
With the changes to the regulations removing spike-forks and three-brow-tine bulls, Selinger said he expects the harvest numbers for this season to be much lower.
“If I had to guess, I’d say we’ll only see around 50 to 75 bulls harvested peninsulawide,” he said.
The changes have been made to recruit new young bulls into the overall population, though Selinger said hunters have done nothing wrong up until now by taking advantage of hunting so many spike-forks.
“Hunters are not at fault. They’ve been following the regulations in place, it’s just time for those regs to adapt to a changing population,” he said. “We’re hoping these changes will be better for moose and hunters in the long run.”
Selinger added that, while some blame bears and wolves whenever moose numbers drop, wild predation is not the case in this situation, according to the research. Areas without spike-fork harvests are maintaining a healthy bull-to-cow ratio.
“Predation plays a role in the overall numbers of moose, just like road kills do, but we aren’t seeing more bulls than cows being preyed upon or hit by vehicles. In 15A and 15C we’re still seeing a recruitment of cows,” he said. “And in 15B, where we don’t have a spike-fork harvest, we’re maintaining the bull-to-cow ratio.”
If any animal is currently affecting the moose population, it would likely be the hare population, which is still at a high in its cycle and often feeds on the same things moose do, Selinger said.
“The hare will girdle young birch and aspens, chewing off all the bark and killing the stem, which reduces the food available to moose,” he said.
Food availability may be playing a role in moose numbers in other ways. Forest fires often rejuvenate habitat for moose, but there haven’t been many big blazes on the peninsula in quite some time, and the forests that have formed where old fires have burned are becoming mature.
“In 15A we haven’t had a significant habitat-changing event in more than 40 years,” Selinger said. “And, while we had a 50,000-acre fire in the Caribou Hills area of 15C, it remains to be seen how this area will come back. So far, we have been seeing a lot of grass coming in, which isn’t good for moose.”
In addition to the new 50-or-four regulation, hunters also are now required to have any harvested bull sealed within 10 days by bringing the antlers still naturally attached to the skull plate into the Soldotna, Homer or Anchorage Fish and Game offices. After hours or on weekends, antlers may also be sealed at Alaska State Troopers Division of Wildlife offices by calling ahead to make an appointment.
While moose hunters may be in for a tougher season, bear and caribou hunters will get additional opportunities.
Hunters may now harvest three black bears a year, up from the previous two a year, Selinger said.
According to Fish and Game records, roughly 600 black bears were harvested last year, a large portion of which came from the outer coast of area 15C.
“Hunters have been pursuing the animals in the bays and on the mountainsides and doing well,” Selinger said.
As for caribou, there are four herds on the peninsula, and in recent years only two have been hunted, by permit drawing — the Kenai Mountain herd and the Killey River herd, which have an estimated 300 and 250 to 300 caribou, respectively.
“For the Kenai Mountain herd we issued 250 permits, and 19 animals were harvested, which is about the average,” Selinger said. “For the Killey River, we issued 25 bull-only permits, and we had five bulls taken.”
This season the Fox River herd, which primarily resides from the mouth of the Fox River to the south of Tustumena Glacier, will also be added to the hunting opportunities.
“This herd was down to around 20 animals at one point, but it’s now up to around 65 to 70 animals, so we’ve allocated 10 permits to this drawing permit hunt,” Selinger said.