Category Archives: hunting

Hunter’s dream laid bear — Organization grants youth’s wish to hunt in Alaska

Photos courtesy of Hunt of a Lifetime. Hunter Paustian, who grew up hunting with his dad in Oregon, had his wish granted to go on a bear hunt in Alaska, out of Kenai, seeking a brown bear.

Photos courtesy of Hunt of a Lifetime. Hunter Paustian, who grew up hunting with his dad in Oregon, had his wish granted to go on a bear hunt in Alaska, out of Kenai, seeking a brown bear.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Stalking through the woods in search of a bear may be some people’s idea of a frightening, near-death experience, but for Hunter Paustian it doesn’t come close to the real life-threatening experiences he’s already faced and overcome.

“The more of a challenge it is, the more I want to do it,” he said, after returning from a 10-day hunt in the Drift River area across Cook Inlet from Kenai.

The 18-year-old, from LaGrande, Oregon, came to Alaska to hunt with guide Mike Cowan of Crosshairs of Alaska through the nonprofit charity Hunt of a Lifetime, which grants dream hunts to children with life-threatening illnesses.

Paustian was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma — a rare form of bone cancer — when he was 1. A year and a half of chemo and radiation therapy followed, which caused substantial damage to his young heart, requiring a heart transplant in his teen years. At 16, a cancerous tumor returned to one of the ribs in his back, requiring it to be removed.

Despite his illnesses and all the resultant treatments, Paustian has lived as much as possible like any other kid his age, and one of his hobbies has always been hunting. He primarily targets mule deer and elk using his bow or rifle, and also likes duck hunting from time to time. He started hunting with his father when he was 5, and over the years has refined his outdoors skills. His progressing led Paustian to want to hunt one of the apex predators — an Alaska brown bear.

“He doesn’t let his illness dictate his life,” said his father, Jon Paustian. “As parents, we’ve always tried to make sure the disease didn’t define who he is or what he does in life, and he makes it easy for us.”

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‘Among wolves’ offers window to wild — New book profiles enigmatic biologist and his long-term career of field study

Redoubt Reporter file photo by Joseph Robertia. A wolf in Denali National Park and Preserve carries a meal from a caribou kill. Wolf sightings have become far less frequent over recent years in the park, from about 44 percent of visitors in 2010 seeing wolves to 4 percent in 2013.

Redoubt Reporter file photo by Joseph Robertia. A wolf in Denali National Park and Preserve carries a meal from a caribou kill. Wolf sightings have become far less frequent over recent years in the park, from about 44 percent of visitors in 2010 seeing wolves to 4 percent in 2013.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

To Marybeth Holleman, author of “Among Wolves,” the question she most wanted to answer in writing her book about Alaska wolf biologist Dr. Gordon Haber wasn’t what sparked his 43-year, single-minded, life-consuming career studying wolves in the wilds of Alaska. That part was obvious from a mere glance at his field notes, which offer a captivating window into the behaviors, adaptations and interactions of these fascinating and controversial creatures.

Haber explains his interest himself in one of the passages of the book, which is a combination of Haber’s research notes, reports and writings compiled and edited by Holleman, and Holleman’s own interviews and research about her subject.

Wolves enhance, “The ability of our surroundings to evoke the sense of wonder that helps us not just to live, but to be alive,” Haber once wrote.

“I was struck not just by his knowledge of wolves but also by his passion for wolves. He had been studying them for so long but he never lost that initial sense of wonder and that passion for his research, and that really struck me,” Holleman said during a presentation about her book at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus on April 2.

That drive struck early. In high school Haber wrote an essay on his life goals, saying, “‘I have decided on one factor, this being that I intend to live a major portion of my life either in or near the outdoors,’” Holleman said. “And that he did.”

Haber began his wolf research in Alaska in 1966 and continued it until his death when his research plane crashed in Denali in 2009. Summer and winter found Haber backpacking into Denali National Park and Preserve, via skis, snowshoes or hiking boots, spending thousands of hours observing his subjects. Once radio collaring began, Haber contracted a pilot and conducted much farther-reaching surveys from above, observing up to 18 wolf groups in the 6-million-acre park and preserve, as well as the Yukon–Charley Rivers National Preserve, Fortymile region and other areas where the state conducted predator control programs.

All the while he remained an independent scientist with private backers funding his research — such as the Friends of Animals — but eschewing any limitations or directions placed on his work, Holleman said.

“All that time gives him unassailable, experiential authority to tell us something about wolves,” she said.

Colleagues thought him meticulous, with a depth of knowledge to match his wealth of experience — and also enigmatic, being somewhat of a lone wolf himself. When he came to Alaska from Michigan in the 1960s, Haber met with pioneer wolf researcher Adolph Murie, who had turned his studies into the landmark book, “The Wolves of Mount McKinley.” Haber took up observation of the same wolves, the Toklats, that Murie had been studying since the 1920s, creating 70 years of continuous research. That makes the Toklats, along with Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees, the oldest known, longest-studied, large-animal social group in the world, Holleman said.

“Which is, as you can imagine, of inestimable scientific value,” she said.

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Kenai wolves pack ups, downs — Population sees extinction to re-establishment, protection to predator control

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Between poisoning, hunting and trapping pressure and disease, the Kenai Peninsula has not proven a very hospitable home to wolves over the years.

As a companion to Marybeth Holleman’s presentation on her new book, “Among Wolves: Gordon Haber’s Insights Into Alaska’s Most Misunderstood Animal,” at KPC on April 2, retired Kenai National Wildlife Refuge biologist Ted Bailey gave an overview of the history of wolves on the peninsula.

They’ve had their ups and downs since the late 1800s, with pressure from humans being one through line in their history. When the gold rush hit the Kenai Peninsula in 1885-86, the thousands of prospectors hoping to strike it rich brought a hefty distrust of wolves. Apparently they feared a rabies outbreak like they had seen in the Klondike, Bailey said, so they used poison to reduce the wolf population. Poison also was a method of choice for those wanting to harvest fur-bearers to sell the pelts for money during the winter. By 1915, Bailey said, the wolves of the Kenai Peninsula were gone.

By around 1965 they were returning, thought to have emigrated from the mainland after wolves started receiving protection by the fledgling state government.

“The roles were kind of switched compared to today,” Bailey said. “Back then it was the federal government that was poisoning wolves, and the state of Alaska, at statehood, they changed the outlook on wolves. They made the wolf a big game species and they protected it and developed seasons. Today it is kind of the opposite.”

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Sign up and fly right — Archery league offers practice, competition

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Jaron Swanson, 12, takes aim at a target while his father, Aaron, watches his technique as they practice their archery Saturday at the range in the basement of Wilderness Way in Soldotna.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Jaron Swanson, 12, takes aim at a target while his father, Aaron, watches his technique as they practice their archery Saturday at the range in the basement of Wilderness Way in Soldotna.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Jaron Swanson, 12, looked downrange at his target and knew where he wanted to send his arrow. Now he just needs to make it happen. He tried to relax, took a breath and slowly exhaled, drew back on his bow and then held it, and held it — and held it a little too long.

“You don’t want to hold it too long, you’ll eventually start to shake,” said his father, Aaron Swanson.

Jaron took the advice. He drew down, shook his arm out a bit, re-sighted and drew back again, this time letting the arrow loose without much pause. A “thunk” roughly 20 yards away revealed that his dad’s advice had been as good as Jaron’s aim. His arrow was just a hair away from the bull’s-eye.

“That’s it. Good job. Just like that,” the elder Swanson said.

After Jaron had gone, Swanson let a few shafts fly down range, as did his other son, 15-year-old Brady. They were all close to their marks, which Swanson said was the point of being at the archery range, located in the basement of Wilderness Way in Soldotna, early Saturday morning.

“The more arrows you shoot the more comfortable you are,” he said.

Wanting to stay sharp prompted the family to join a six-week archery league offered by the outdoor store.

“We’ve had the range for several years and a lot of people that seemed interested in starting a league, so we decided to give it a try,” said Brian Richards, store owner.

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Moose record shot down — No bull: 75 5/8-inch rack topples Soldotna man’s record after 20 years

Photos courtesy of Boone and Crockett Club. Heinz Naef’s bull, shot along the Yukon River, was certified Jan. 24 as the new world record. Naef, of Dawson City, Yukon, unseats the previous record holder, John Crouse, of Soldotna.

Photos courtesy of Boone and Crockett Club. Heinz Naef’s bull, shot along the Yukon River, was certified Jan. 24 as the new world record. Naef, of Dawson City, Yukon, unseats the previous record holder, John Crouse, of Soldotna.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Heinz Naef, of Dawson City, Yukon, is one happy hunter these days, what with the bull moose he shot Sept. 22, 2013, along the Yukon River near Stewart Island having recently been certified as the new Boone and Crockett world record.

That’s a feeling few hunters can claim, but it’s one with which John Crouse, of Soldotna, is familiar. His moose, taken in 1994 in the Fortymile River area, was the previous world record-holder, finally dislodged about 20 years later by Naef’s behemoth bull.

Naef was hunting by himself, more interested in winter meat than a trophy, according to the Boone and Crockett Club. He removed the antlers from the skull with a chainsaw, nicking them in the process, but they remained intact to measure 75 5/8 inches at the widest point — about the width of a king-sized bed. The left side had 17 points and a palm measuring 17 5/8 inches wide by 51 inches long, which is longer than the average shoulder height of a black bear. The right antler had 19 points and a palm measuring 23 6/8 inches wide by 50 7/8 inches long. The record was certified by a special judges panel convened at the Boone and Crockett Club Wild Sheep Foundation convention Jan. 24 in Reno, Nev. With a final score of 263 5/8 points, the bull has the largest antlers ever recorded for the Alaska-Yukon moose subspecies.

By just the antler spread, Crouse’s moose wouldn’t seem to measure up, at 65 1/8 inches wide. When he first spotted the bull, and even after shooting and butchering it, it didn’t occur to Crouse that he might have a record on his hands.

Crouse, a wildlife biologist, was living and working in Cordova at the time. This bull was by far not the widest antler spread he’d seen.

“The guy I was working for had an 84-inch Copper River rack hanging on the wall in our office,” Crouse said. “And so I walked up to (this moose) very happy thinking, ‘This is a nice, big moose,’ but I was not thinking record book at all because it’s mid-60s. My impression of records at the time was big, wide racks and I wasn’t familiar with the scoring system.”

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Common Ground: Duck, duck, loose terminology

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Scoter? Surf, white-winged or black? Or would that be a yellow nose? Don’t run afoul of waterfowl terminology.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Scoter? Surf, white-winged or black? Or would that be a yellow nose? Don’t run afoul of waterfowl terminology.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

An unquestioned law of the waterfowling world requires that any given duck has more than one name.

The descriptions of a particular duck change not because the duck has changed, but depend on the weather, location, time of day and ancestry of those in proximity. New names are often introduced only when a flock is coming into the blind at 30 or more miles per hour and the bird at issue is in range. For the hunter experiencing any first in the duck-hunting arena, indoctrination in new duck names is part of the initiation ritual.

Before I went on my first sea duck hunt, I consulted my bird identification book and waterfowl regulations for the area. I was going to be hunting, among other sea ducks, a large, stocky diving duck commonly called a surf scoter and less commonly called perspicillata.

The still photos were easy to identify. But the real skill in identification of waterfowl comes from boat men who are experienced at shooting drakes only on the wing. These same men are also experts at a game old duck hunters like to play on the book-learned sportsman.

My partner was throwing out a gang line of mallards that were hand-painted by our captain to look like surf scoters and long-tailed ducks. Since I could identify the decoys, I figured I could probably identify the live bird. My hunting partners were seasoned waterfowl veterans who might be happy to fill in the gaps in my understanding. What I should have done, in hindsight, was take my bird identification book with me and agree upon a vocabulary before I became part of a high-seas Abbott and Costello routine.

When we were set up in the boat blind, I could see a flock of black birds coming our way through a screen of camouflage.

“Scoters?” I whispered.

“Those are yellow noses.”

They were getting within range so I mounted my shotgun.

“You don’t want to shoot those,” the captain said.

“We don’t shoot yellow noses?” I asked. But before I could get clarification another group of three black ducks were coming in.

“Yellow noses,” the captain whispered. I didn’t mount my gun.

“Why didn’t you shoot?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Are we not shooting yellow noses?”

“Yeah, but those were drakes,” he said.

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No refuge for bear hunt — Public fired up about bear hunting closure

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

It’s been more than a month since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an emergency closure of brown bear sport hunting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Oct. 26, but debate continues over whether this decision was reached for biological or philosophical reasons.

On Nov. 25 nearly 100 people — federal and state employees, representatives of conservation and pro-hunting organizations, as well as members of the general public for and against the closure — had an opportunity to share their views during a public hearing in Soldotna pursuant to the federal regulations with the emergency closure.

The refuge opened with a presentation by John Morton, supervisory wildlife biologist at the refuge, which detailed that the known human-caused mortality of brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula in 2013 was at least 70 bruins, of which 24 were adult females. This included a minimum of 43 bruins taken during spring and fall hunting seasons, 23 bears killed in defense-of-life-and-property shootings, and bears killed by agency actions, illegal takes or vehicle collisions. Of the 70, 38 were killed on federal lands.

“The total mortalities now represent more than 10 percent of the best available estimate of a total Kenai Peninsula brown bear population, numbering 624 bears,” Morton said.

This is a significant jump in recorded mortalities when compared to the past three decades of known data. While the legal harvest of brown bears has varied from year to year, in part due to changing hunting regulations, from 1973 to 2011 — which includes 34 years of open seasons — the average legal harvest of bruins was 11.3.

The 24 human-caused adult female mortalities in 2013 were focused on as an aspect of concern for a species deemed “a population of special concern” by the state in 1998, and one that DNA analysis has proven is genetically less diverse than mainland Alaska brown bears.

Also, Morton said, while the brown bear population estimate of 624 — up from the previous 250-to-300 estimate in place since 1993 — was determined by the refuge after an extensive, DNA-based, mark-recapture project conducted in 2010, that higher population estimate was essentially a snapshot in time, not one showing whether the population was stable, increasing or declining.

Morton said that a small proportion of subadult (2- to 6-year-old) females in the age distribution, as well as known low rates of yearling survivorship, suggested low recruitment into the overpopulation.

“Survivorship of adult female bears has been shown to be the primary driver of brown bear population dynamics,” Morton said. “Losing so many adult females will have immediate negative impacts on this population.”

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