By Joseph Robertia
After two years of moose hunting restrictions on the Kenai Peninsula, hunters this season will have access to more moose come the opening day of rifle season Aug 20.
“Moose should be better this year, due mostly to the additional harvest of bulls with a spike on one side,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife manger with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
In 2011, the Alaska Board of Game enacted restrictions out of concern following research into moose population trends related to the number of bulls to cows, as well as trends in moose harvests. For example, one Fish and Game study showed decreasing bull-to-cow ratios in Game Management Unit 15C, on the southern peninsula, where fall surveys revealed about nine bulls to every 100 cows, with 20 bulls to every 100 cows being the target.
Also, in 15A (the upper and central peninsula) and 15C, where the bulk of the moose harvest on the peninsula takes place, Fish and Game was seeing skewed numbers of spike-fork bulls being taken. The harvest of yearling bulls was ratcheting up as high as 65 to 70 percent of the total harvest in some years.
As a result, harvest of spike-fork bulls was not allowed in 2011 or 2012, and the legal bull size 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 Board of Game met this winter, the 50-and-four regulation is still in effect, but now bulls with a spike on at least one side will again be legal to harvest.
“We should see an increase in hunters and hunters’ harvest due to this change,” Selinger said.
Fish and Game numbers indicated a drop in both hunter participation and moose harvest following the 2011 restrictions. In 2010, the year before the changes were implemented, 2,683 hunters took to the woods and roughly 400 moose were harvested peninsulawide.
Changes to the moose population resulting from the two-year moratorium on spike-forks might not be noticeable this year, but Selinger said it shouldn’t be long before the results become available to hunters.
“It’s nutrition-dependent, among other things, but typically it takes four to five years for bulls to start entering that 50-inch or four-brow-tine class, so the large bull class may be the same this season, but we should really see them coming online in the next few years,” Selinger said.
Bear and caribou hunters will also have additional opportunities this season. For many seasons it was anecdotally suggested that there were more brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula than the previous estimate of 250 to 300. Results of a 2010, DNA-based mark-recapture study released by the Refuge earlier this year confirmed that impression, with a new estimate of 624 brown bears.
“We feel we have a huntable population of brown bears on the peninsula, so brown bears will again open on Sept. 1 with an unlimited number of permits available,” Selinger said. Permits are available online and at the Palmer, Anchorage, Soldotna and Homer offices. Hunters will need a metal locking tag, at a cost of $25, before they can be issued a permit, and they should be sure to follow the reporting requirements as identified on the permit, he said.
Black bear hunters can again harvest three bears annually, up from two bears a few years ago. Last season 562 black bears were harvested on the peninsula, a slight dip from the 597 five-year average.
“We’ve been seeing some high harvests from the outer coast area, south of Kachemak Bay,” Selinger said, but added that both species of bears will likely be spending time in higher elevations as berries come in later this fall.
As for caribou, there are four herds on the peninsula, and for many years only two have been hunted, by permit drawing — the Kenai Mountain herd and the Killey River herd, which have an estimated 250 and 400 caribou, respectively.
This season the Fox River herd, which has an estimated 50 to 75 animals that primarily reside at the mouth of the Fox River to the south of Tustumena Glacier, will again be added to the hunting opportunities.
“The Fox and Killey herds are looking good. We’ll issue 10 permits for Fox, 25 for Killey and 250 for the Kenai Mountain herd,” Selinger said, adding that this latter group often does not yield high harvest numbers despite the large number of permits.
“Less than 20 animals harvested is about average,” he said.
No permits will be issued for the Kenai Lowlands herd, the caribou group most often seen as it migrates through the Kenai Flats area along Bridge Access Road. But Selinger said that the herd numbers are on the rise, so they could be hunted in the future if this trend continues.
“That herd is at about 120 animals as of this spring. If it got up to around 150 we could start issuing a small number of permits,” he said.
Selinger said he would expect usual harvest numbers for Dall sheep and mountain goats, and possibly a slight dip in upland game birds — grouse and ptarmigan — primarily due to the very late winter during the spring chick-hatching season. Harvest of predators — such as lynx, coyote and birds of prey — could be a little higher than normal due to the recent peak in the snowshoe hare cycle.
“High hare years typically correspond to moderate game bird harvests,” Selinger said.