By Joseph Robertia
Before hunters set their sights on the upcoming season, they should direct their eyes to hunting regulations, because some have changed this year.
First and foremost, the season dates have changed. Instead of the general season running from Aug. 20 to Sept. 20, the general season now opens Sept. 1 and closes Sept. 25. The archery-only general season in Game Management Units 15A and 15B also is later this year, from Aug. 22 to 29.
But the requirement for legal bulls remains the same for the general moose hunt in GMUs 7 and 15 (which encompass the entire peninsula). A bull must have a spike on one side, have antlers with at least four brow tines on one side, or have an antler spread of 50 inches or greater.
“There was confusion over what a spike and a fork were and we had a lot with a fork on one side and more than a fork on the other. It’s only legal if it has a spike on one side. If it has two forks it’s not a spike-fork, it’s a fork-fork. People need to really be sure what they’ve got in front of them before they pull that trigger,” said Jeff Selinger, area management biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
In GMUs 7 and 15, antlers must be sealed within 10 days of taking the animal. This can be done during business hours at Fish and Game offices in Soldotna, Homer or Anchorage, or at an Alaska State Trooper Division of Wildlife office by appointment.
“The other big change to the moose hunt season is that the Homer cow hunt, DM 549, will also be shifted to Oct. 20 through Nov. 20, rather than running from Aug. 20 to Sept. 20,” Selinger said.
Selinger said he was optimistic that hunting a little later in the year would yield extra opportunities. Last season, 1,350 hunters took to the field and several of them came home with meat for the freezer.
In GMU 15C, the bulk of which encompasses the Homer and Caribou Hills areas, 128 bulls were taken last year, as well as 18 females in the Homer cow hunt. Since it has been several years since the more than 55,000-acre wildfire of 2007, some areas are regenerating in a way that will help moose.
“We should see some benefits there. A lot of the area came back grass, but a lot of areas had good willow regeneration,” Selinger said.
In 15B, which roughly runs from the Kenai River south to the north shore of Tustumena Lake, 19 bulls were taken last year. Selinger said that the lack of snow last winter prevented accurate population surveys in the area, so it is tough to predict if the numbers of bulls and cows have gone up or down. On one hand, since this area also experienced a burn — the 156,000-acre-plus Funny River Fire of 2014 — visibility will be increased for hunters. But on the other, good moose browse hasn’t grown in yet.
“The fire did a good job in spots but it may be three to four more years before we really see the benefits,” he said.
In 15A, which runs from the Kenai River north to Point Possession, 40 moose were harvested last year, and Selinger said that moose numbers should be stable or slightly declining going into this season. This area, too, experienced a recent burn — the 9,000-acre Card Street Fire in June.
“In time we’ll see some benefit from that fire, too, but it wasn’t really large enough to have a real big impact on the overall moose population in that unit,” he said.
For the remainder of the peninsula — GMU 7 — Selinger said that only 12 moose were taken last year, and he expects low harvests again this year.
For caribou hunters, this season should offer a lot of prospects.
“The Killey River Herd population has been steadily increasing. We just did a composition survey in June and it was up to 400 animals,” he said.
As the herd has grown, so, too, have harvest opportunities, from 25 permits up to 40 last season, from which 11 caribou were taken. The number of permits issued may be raised even higher this year, according to Selinger, possibly to as many as 75.
For the Fox River Herd, made up of 50 to 75 caribou, only four animals were taken last year, and Selinger said that he would expect similar results from the 10 permits issued this season.
“It’s a tough hunt, so one to three animals harvested is the norm,” he said.
The Kenai Mountain Herd of caribou has seen a dramatic decrease in size in recent years, so less permits will be issued for this area than in the past.
“We’re only going to issue 25 permits there, which is down from the 250 permits that were issued until 2013. We dropped it to 50 last year after the herd size went from around 400 animals down to 100 to 150,” he said.
The reason for the population decline is a bit of a mystery. Animals had poor body condition when Fish and Game conducted aerial flights the last two years, but the cause isn’t known.
For the Kenai Lowland Herd, the one most people are familiar with from seeing the animals cross the Kenai River Flats along Bridge Access Road, Selinger said there would again be no hunting permits issued.
“That herd is still only around 100 to 120 animals, and it would need to be up to at least 150 for any to be harvested,” he said.
Bear hunters can also expect ample opportunities this season. Last year 69 brown bears died from human-caused mortalities, of which 65 were hunter harvested.
“So far in 2015, we’ve had 18 brown bears harvested, of which two were adult females. We’ve had an additional two nonhunting, human-caused mortalities, but both of these were subadults,” Selinger said.
The fall portion of the brown bear hunt begins Sept. 1, and Selinger said that the Board of Game set a management strategy to not exceed either 50 to 60 total bears killed by humans, or not more than eight to 12 adult females killed.
For black bears, 241 bruins were harvested by hunters last year, which is a downward trend Selinger expects to see continue this season.
“Back in 2010 to 2011 we peaked at 633, but we’re not seeing as many taken, especially from that area south of Kachemak Bay where most of those 633 came out of,” he said.
Those with strong legs and a healthy set of lungs were able to take 62 mountain goats last season. Selinger said he expects similar harvest numbers this year. Only eight Dall sheep were taken last season, and even fewer may be harvested this year.
“The goats are doing well, but the sheep numbers are trending down,” he said.
Fish and Game is hoping to initiate research to determine the cause of the sheep decline, but climate change is a possibility.
“The peninsula is really right on the fringe of the sheep’s range, so little changes — such as little snow or increasing temperature — it can have a big impact on them,” Selinger said.
For more information on these or other state hunting regulations, consult the 2015-16 Alaska Hunting Regulations Handbook available at any Fish and Game office and on the Fish and Game website.