Category Archives: moose

Safe from bears? Don’t fall for it — Delayed onset of winter weather leaves nature stuck in autumn

Redoubt Reporter file photos By mid-November, most bears are in their dens for winter. This year, however, a late onset of winter has extended bear activity, as well.

Redoubt Reporter file photos
By mid-November, most bears are in their dens for winter. This year, however, a late onset of winter has extended bear activity, as well.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

By the calendar, it’s winter in Alaska. Usually by the end of November, the Kenai Peninsula has gotten at least one coating of a couple inches of snow and marked temperatures dipping into the teens or single digits. But this year, winter as usual has yet to arrive. With temperatures in the 30s and just a scant dusting of snow, it feels more like October than nearly December, and wildlife aren’t falling for it supposedly being winter.

Bears, in particular, are still in fall activity mode.

“We had reports last week of bears getting in to garbage or Dumpsters,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, on Monday.

A brown bear was reported getting into Dumpsters and breaking into a garage seeking garbage stored inside in a neighborhood about five miles out Funny River Road, Selinger said.

The Kenai Peninsula Bears page on Facebook has a few reports of bear sightings, as well, including a black bear checking out a neighbor’s chickens on St. Theresa Road in Sterling, posted Nov. 19. Another black bear was seen heading into Woodland Estates in Kenai, posted Nov. 19, and a walker reported seeing fresh bear tracks near Hidden Creek on Nov. 4.

Selinger said that his office gets reports of bears out and about every month of the year on the Kenai, so there’s no guaranteed safe period when all bears are tucked away for the winter, but most by now are denned up for the winter.

“Generally speaking, the majority of your animals, by about mid-November, most should be in the den. Some animals go in a little earlier than others, but usually by now they’re all pretty much denned up,” he said.

“Daylight, snow cover, how much fat they have on them — there’s a lot of factors that can play into it. Usually they want to wait until the ground freezes a little bit and makes it better for digging dens, they don’t cave in as easily. It’s a lot of factors all rolled into one. Generally speaking, the warmer it is the more likely they are to stay out longer,” Selinger said.

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Not far from spar — Kasilof man gets living-room seat to moose show

Photo courtesy of Leon Mensch. Two bull moose spar in a yard in Kasilof on Sunday, with blood-stained antlers from having their velvet recently sloughed off.

Photo courtesy of Leon Mensch. Two bull moose spar in a yard in Kasilof on Sunday, with blood-stained antlers from having their velvet recently sloughed off.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Living in Alaska, residents get fairly used to living a little closer to nature than their Lower-48 counterparts. With that comes seeing more wildlife. But even with that expectation, Leon Mensch, of Kasilof, woke up to a spectacle Sunday morning that still made his jaw drop.

“Not too many places you can have a morning like that,” he said.

A moose in his yard doesn’t garner much attention. A bull with a nice-sized rack warrants more than just a glance. Two bulls with racks is downright noteworthy, and those bulls smashing their racks into each other calls for undivided, mouth-hanging-open attention.

The spectacle started slowly. Mensch, a dog musher, had just gone inside after feeding his huskies. Having a yard full of dogs is usually a good alarm of anything unusual, like an animal wandering through. But Mensch said that his dogs must not have seen the moose arrive that day, because they were quiet.

“When I came back in I looked out the window and first saw just one. I went to grab my camera and when I got back to the window both of them were there, sparring in what will (next year) be our garden,” he said.

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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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Haze beware — Pellet gunshot thought to cause moose death

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Moose are best viewed from a distance but they don’t always observe that rule, sometimes showing up on roads, in parking lots and around homes. But even if they’re the ones getting too close for human comfort, people are still the ones held responsible for managing those interactions.

“A moose that is attacking you — or your family, or your dog — you can defend yourself and kill that moose, but you have to be willing to defend your actions for a DLP (defense of life or property kill),” said Larry Lewis, wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “But, a moose just being in the yard isn’t a justifiable reason to kill it.”

Jimmy Dean Rice, of Soldotna, found this out the hard way after being charged by Alaska Wildlife Troopers for a Class A Misdemeanor for illegally taking a moose during a closed season, after he allegedly shot at a moose with a pellet gun this summer.

With a court case pending, Dean Rice declined to comment on the situation. According to a report filed with the Kenai District Court, at about 11:30 p.m. July 16, Rice used a Beeman Model R9 pellet gun — a .177-caliber firearm that shoots at approximately 1,700 feet per second — to shoot a moose that was acting “weird.”

According to court documents, Rice said he planned to shoot the moose in its “ass” to just scare it away, but after shooting the moose it ran a few yards, fell down and died. Large amounts of blood were reported coming from the moose’s nostril and mouth.

Trooper investigation found the dead moose to be approximately 20 yards from Rice’s residence in the tree line, and according to Rice’s own statement the moose did not pose a threat to life or property at the time of the shooting. Troopers noted that Rice’s yard was well manicured with flowers and bushes, which might have drawn in the animal.

Rice stated to troopers that a number of things could have happened to the moose prior to him shooting at it, but added that, while he had “no intention of killing the moose,” he was likely the “culprit,” and added that killing a moose with one shot from a pellet gun qualified him as either the luckiest or unluckiest person in the world.

Lewis said that this is not the first time he has heard of someone killing a moose with a firearm they thought would only haze the animal.

“I remember taking a pellet out of a moose a few years ago that had bled out on a driveway off of Poppy Lane after it had been hit in the femoral artery,” Lewis said. “People need to understand, anything that comes out of the barrel of a firearm has lethal potential.”

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Opening shot — Hunter finds success at home: 1st moose, 1st hour, 1st day

Photo courtesy of James Banks. James Banks, of Kasilof, makes burger out of a moose he shot on the opening day of moose season, within miles and minutes of leaving the house.

Photo courtesy of James Banks. James Banks, of Kasilof, makes burger out of a moose he shot on the opening day of moose season, within miles and minutes of leaving the house.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Opening day of moose hunting season is practically a holiday in Alaska, and just like there are sweet treats at Halloween or presents at Christmas, so does hunting bring rewards for those who have waited months, scouted for weeks and got up early on the opener to successfully set the crosshairs of their rifle scope on a bull.

James Banks, of Kasilof, left the house at 5:45 a.m. Aug. 20. Within minutes he did what many hunters are unlucky enough not to do all season — bag a bull.

Banks, a transplant to Alaska from Minnesota in 2006, grew up hunting in his home state, and said he has spent every fall since he arrived in Alaska pursuing game species.

“I have hunted all over the Cohoe-Kasilof area, and I hunt in the Kenai Mountains for black bear and sheep. I hunted last year but never saw any legal bulls. Saw a lot of moose, just no big guys,” he said.

Following research into moose population trends relating to the low ratio of bulls to cows, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game changed hunting regulations in 2011 so that spike-fork bulls were not allowed to be harvested. The legal bull size was also changed from having a 50-inch spread of three brow tines on at least on one side, to 50 inches and four brow tines.

But for this season, while the 50-and-four regulation still is in effect, bulls with a spike on at least one side are again legal to harvest. Banks said he was thankful for the regulation change.

“Last year was the first time in seven years I bought meat at the store, so I’m glad they brought back the spike rule,” he said.

Banks does his best to live off the land, catching salmon in summer and hunting various species in fall. When he hasn’t found hunting success, he said that helping successful friends pack out or process their meat has always been a fair trade to gain a little bit of wild game for his own freezer.

Moose have always eluded him, though, and as one of the most iconic species to hunt in Alaska, Banks said that he was determined not to have another season pass by without bringing down a bull.

“I had been driving around Cohoe and Kasilof for a week before hunting season. I also did recon in the woods and swamps in those areas. I had seen a lot of moose in that time, but I never saw any legal bulls until opening day,” he said.

In an odd turn of events, Banks spotted a spike just a few miles from his home on Cohoe Loop Road.

“I turned onto South Cohoe looking for a legal bull. I drove slowly, saw a cow, stopped and waited,” he said, hoping a rutting bull would be in tow, but it was not to be.

“Seeing nothing, I drove about five miles farther, then I saw him standing in the power easement,” he said.

It wasn’t a behemoth of a bull, like those seen on postcards with massive antlers of palms and a dozen brow tines protruding forward. But the chocolate-colored animal looked legal — as Banks spotted spike antlers on both sides. He had to be sure, though.

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Avoid fines, know the tines

Photos courtesy of Larry Lewis, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Changes to hunting regulations this season mean that a bull moose with three brow tines on one side, above, is illegal. A bull with a spike on one side, below, is legal.

Photos courtesy of Larry Lewis, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Changes to hunting regulations this season mean that a bull moose seen above is illegal. A bull with a spike on one side, below, is legal.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

As hunting season progresses, so does the count of illegal moose killed on the Kenai Peninsula, either from hunters not making themselves aware of new regulations or not taking the time to be sure a moose meets the known requirements.

“The total is at 10 right now,” said Lt. Jon Streifel with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers in Soldotna, referring to bulls taken illegally in Game Management Units 7 and 15.

“Some were by hunters who misunderstood the regulations and thought forks were legal. Others were hunters who thought they had a spike, then got up on it and saw it was actually a fork, and some were bulls not quite at 50 inches,” he said.

The harvest of spike-fork bulls used to be legal, but out of concern for skewed bull-to-cow ratios, hunters were not allowed to harvest spike-fork bulls in 2011 or 2012. The legal bull size also was changed from having a 50-inch antler spread or three brow tines on at least one side to 50 inches or four brown tines on at least one side.

After the Alaska Board of Game met last winter, the 50-and-four regulation remained in effect for the current hunting season, but it was decided that bulls with a spike on at least one side would again be legal to harvest. Forks-only bulls would not, though.

“As long as it has a spike on one side, it can have anything on the other, including a fork,” said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“It can be difficult in velvet to tell,” Lewis added. “But the bottom line is, if you’re not sure of what you’ve got, you shouldn’t pull the trigger.”

Jeff Selinger said that the regulation change to add spikes but not the forks goes back to managing the bull-to-cow ratio. According to Fish and Game data, while diet and genetics both play a factor, it seems that roughly half of all yearling bulls will develop only spikes and half will develop forks.

“Prior to the elimination of the spike-forks, we saw a high percentage of yearling animals being taken as a fork on one side and a fork-or-larger on the other, especially in GMU 15C where we were seeing as much as 60 to 70 percent of the harvest was forked bulls,” he said.

hunt regs Spike possible fork on one sideDropping the forked bulls from being legal forces hunters to concentrate on the spike bulls, and allows forked bulls to enter the population and remain there for a few more years.

“We’re trying to manage for 20 bulls to every 100 cows,” Selinger said. “So, while it’s nice for hunters to bring home meat, if they’re not sure a bull is legal, they’re better off letting it go, because if this gets out of hand and illegal takes get excessive, we could see our ratio slip again, which could lead to ramifications or restrictions to future moose-hunting opportunities.”

Most of the hunters who made mistakes turned themselves in, according to Streifel.

“And we really encourage people to come forward if they’ve taken a sublegal animal. Action will still be taken, but it will be greatly tempered,” Streifel said.

Streifel said that authorities are not as understanding of those who fail to report their mistake.

“We will look at those as much more serious offenses,” he said.

Streifel added that meat harvested from moose taken illegally is forfeited by the hunter and given to charity, which is another reason troopers encourage self reporting.

Troopers are investigating one wanton-waste kill so far this season. At Mile 108 of the Sterling Highway, an illegal moose was found shot and left at the side of the road.

“It looks like someone shot it, saw it was illegal, and just walked away, which is repulsive,” Streifel said.

Troopers believe the kill happened on Aug. 28 and are asking the public for information about the incident. Those with information can all Fish and Wildlife Safeguard at 800-478-3377.

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Aww-some sight — Moose calves herald start of summer

Photos by Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter. A cow moose nurses her twin newborn calves in a field along Robinson Loop Road in Sterling on Tuesday. Moose calves tend to be born in about a four-week period from mid-May to early June. They can stand soon after being born, and begin to nurse almost immediately. Mother’s milk is their main sustenance for about the first month of life.

Photos by Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter. A cow moose nurses her twin newborn calves in a field along Robinson Loop Road in Sterling on Tuesday. Moose calves tend to be born in about a four-week period from mid-May to early June. They can stand soon after being born, and begin to nurse almost immediately. Mother’s milk is their main sustenance for about the first month of life.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Along with the return of salmon to area rivers and the parade of motor homes down the Sterling Highway, the appearance of newborn moose calves is the third sure harbinger of the arrival of the summer season on the Kenai Peninsula. Calves started showing up last week, as they tend to do in a four-week period around mid-May to early June, though some give birth later if they bred later.

An average moose calf weighs about 40 pounds when born, and twins typically weigh a few pounds less than single cows. Calves can stand and take tottering steps on their wobbly legs a few hours after birth. But unlike caribou calves, which must be able to move soon after birth to keep moose calves 4up with their roaming herd, moose cows and calves tend to stay fairly stationary after calving, which is easier for cows to protect their young.

Calves begin nursing soon, almost immediately, after birth. They can start eating vegetation within a few days, but mom’s milk remains their main source of sustenance for about their first month.

Moose calves have a tough go of it, as they are a prime source of prey for bears, wolves and other predators. And humans can be a cause of stress, and even death, this time of year. There are a few things people can do to make help make sure they aren’t an inadvertent contributing cause of calf mortality.

  • Keep your distance. Few things rank higher on the cute meter than newborn animals, and moose calves are a particularly endearing sight — with ears, eyes and legs out of proportion to their downy bodies. But view them from a respectable distance. Getting too close could cause calves and cows stress, or could even cause them to flee — potentially across a road or away from the relative safety of the calving spot the cow has chosen. Also, if cows and calves are already moving, don’t block their path, with yourself or your vehicle.
  • Don’t assume a calf is lost or orphaned just because you see it alone. The cow might be unseen nearby, and could reunite with its calf even after a seemingly long absence of a day or more. Interfering with a calf might only interfere with its mother rejoining it. Even if a calf is alone, the harsh reality of nature is that calves have their place in the wild food chain. Calf survivability is important for the health of the moose population, but reality is that the majority will not survive the summer.
  • Be safe driving. That’s a good rule any time of year, and it remains true in calving season. Always drive with lights on and be extra vigilant at twilight and in the evening. Watch not only the road but the sides of the road, as moose can be difficult to spot when standing camouflaged against vegetation, and can choose to cross a road with no apparent reason or warning.
  • Restrain your pets. Newborn moose calves aren’t able to defend themselves and are particularly susceptible to injury and death from other animals. Moose cows are particularly protective of their new young and will be more aggressive than usual this time of year, meaning even a merely curious dog could get stomped if it gets too close.
  • Reduce attractants. Moose are meant to eat natural browse — the young trees that are sprouting as we speak. But they sample garbage, pet food, garden growth and other items inadvertently provided by humanity. Don’t let them. Non-natural foods can be difficult for moose to digest, causing sickness and even death. All the rules for reducing bear attractants around a home hold true for moose, as well.

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