By Joseph Robertia
If the cooler temperatures, changing colors and shortening hours of daylight weren’t enough of a tipoff, the growing incident of camo-covered gear and clothing should be indication that summer has fallen, with hunting season on the rise.
Moose hunting has gotten off to a good start for many peninsula residents, reports Jeff Selinger, area wildlife manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, referring to the Aug. 10 opening of bow season for moose, and the Aug. 20 opening of rifle season.
“It’s been busy since the beginning,” Selinger said. “We’ve sealed around 30 moose here already.”
This represents an uptick in hunting success following the slump peninsula hunters have faced in the past few years, due in part to regulations put into place to bolster the area’s moose population and bull-to-cow ratio. 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.
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 requirement for a bull to be harvestable was changed from it 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 in the winter of 2013, it was decided the 50-and-four regulation would remain in effect, but bulls with a spike on at least one side would again be legal to harvest.
“We saw, as expected, 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 on the peninsula following the 2011 restrictions. In 2010, the year before the changes were implemented, 2,683 hunters took to the backcountry and roughly 400 moose were harvested peninsulawide.
By comparison, in 2011, 951 hunters reported hunting and 66 moose were taken — and that was all moose hunts, general season and by permits, Selinger said. And those numbers continued to rise last season.
“Last year we had a total of 1,690 hunters who took a total harvest of 156 bulls, so it did go up again,” he said.
Selinger added that hunters should soon be seeing the results of the two-year moratorium on spike-forks, since it typically takes four to five years for bulls to start entering that 50-inch or four-brow-tine class. He said that the large bull class may be the same this season, but hunters should start seeing large bulls in the next few years.
“15C is already starting to look really good, and in 15A we’re not seeing a lot of moose, but the moose we’re seeing are bulls,” he said.
Selinger warned that hunters should, as always, be absolutely sure the animal in their crosshairs is legal before they squeeze the trigger. Some hunters have already made mistakes this season.
“We’re having a few issues with illegal takes,” he said. “It’s mostly been people taking fork-antlered animals, thinking they are spikes.”