As summer turns to fall on the Kenai Peninsula recreational interests shift from the fishing holes to the woods with the opening of several big game hunting seasons.
Moose hunting opened Wednesday and officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the number of bulls on the Kenai Peninsula is encouraging. Still with regulation changes in 2011 on antler configuration to improve the bull-to-cow ratio, some hunters have had a problem identifying a legal moose.
“We want to advise to look long and hard before shooting,” said Larry Lewis, Fish and Game wildlife technician in the Soldotna office. “Velvet is hard to see in dim light conditions. In the fog the fuzzy edges look like solid antler projection. It can be difficult to focus.”
A legal bull moose has a 50-inch antler spread or four brow tines or spike on at least one side of the face, according to Fish and Game regulations.
On Thursday three illegal kills had been reported to Alaska State Wildlife Troopers, said Lt. Paul McConnell. The fine for an illegal moose varies based on the situation but could result in a misdemeanor and a fine of $1,000, he said. Each hunter is responsible for determining if a moose is legal before shooting.
“Watch for the points of the antler from the front,” Lewis said. “It can be difficult to see until the animal moves.”
Lewis encouraged people to read moose hunt regulations carefully and contact the Fish and Game office or wildlife troopers with any questions.
Bulls with a spike on at least one side are again legal for harvest after a two-year moratorium. Lewis said the change came to give people more hunting opportunity. A spike-antlered moose isn’t likely to make through a bad winter to reach full maturity, he said.
Lewis said the highest moose density area is in the Southern Peninsula of Game Management area 15 C, east of Ninilchik and Anchor Point.
Soldotna resident Maghan Krucizk claimed her first moose while hunting with her husband, Chris, Wednesday near Clam Gulch. Krucizk said after seeing two bull moose that had smaller antlers they saw another moose stand up and watched him for 10 minutes and waited for him to turn his head to be sure it had a spike on both sides.
“I watched him in my scope and waited for him to turn his head a couple times to be sure,” she said. “I was really excited but I told myself to be patient and relax. It was a good shot and a great trip.”
Soldotna resident Joe Dilley, a retired hunting guide, said there has been controversy on the decision to take away the spike-fork bull moose. He said he’s been impressed with the rebounding population of moose, which is a good sign for the future.
Open to year-round hunting, black bears are one of the most abundant game species and most popular target for hunters on the Kenai Peninsula, Lewis said.
The recent moisture in the air has made for good blueberry crops in the hills of the Southern Peninsula, attracting bears, he said.
“The farther you get off the road system, the higher your chances of spotting a black bear,” Lewis said. “It requires doing some legwork, find a good spot in high country and do some glassing. You will find some black bears munching on berries.”
The bag limit is three bears for residents and one for non-residents.
Hunting for brown bears opens Sept. 1, but the verdict is still out whether the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge will close sport hunting as a protective measure. A public hearing to provide more information on a proposed temporary closure will be held Wednesday from 6-9 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The objective of Fish and Game is that the human-caused mortality of brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula does not exceed 70 in 2014. Since the start of the year human-caused brown bear mortality stood at 54, including five sows.
The management goal is for sow mortalities is not to exceed 17, said Fish and Game Biologist Jeff Selinger.
Hunters are encouraged to take mature boars and to know where it is acceptable to hunt by planning ahead before going out into the field, Lewis said.
“Brown bear hunters have been doing a good job of being selective and the male harvest numbers reflect that,” he said.
Geno Del Frate, Fish and Game regional management coordinator in Anchorage, said the state registration hunt for brown bears will open, but it is uncertain how long it will be open. Hunters planning to go out for the one-bear limit should check to see if the season is still open before going out into the field, he said.
Dilley, who is a pilot, said he has flown the peninsula end-to-end and he saw 23 brown bears congregating around a creek for fish.
The Kenai Peninsula is home to four herds of caribou with the herd in the Kenai flats excluded from hunting. Hunters selected in last year’s drawing permit are the only ones allowed to hunt the herds in the Kenai Mountains, Killey River and Fox River.
The season for the Kenai Mountain herd runs from Aug. 10 to Dec. 31, while the Killey River and Fox River hunt goes from Aug. 10 to Sept. 20.
Lewis said for those interested in drawing for next year’s hunt, the application period is between November and December.
Dilley said he is going on a hunting trip with friends for most of September in the Kenai Mountains. He has a hunting permit for caribou and will hunt for black bear. Hunting is about being in the woods and enjoying the natural surroundings with friends and family, he said.
“We have worked our butts off all summer and the trip is our time to wind down the summers and enjoy ourselves,” he said. “It is a chance to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the wilderness. If I kill something, it is an added bonus.”
Lewis said hunters should be mindful of taking care of their game meat when the weather warms up in the middle of the day. People should be prepared depending on how far they are from a kill spot to taking an animal for processing, he said.
“It’s imperative hunters know the regulations before going into the field,” he said. “Be sure to have a current license, tags and practice good gun safety.”
For more information on hunting regulations, contact Fish and Game Soldotna office at 262-9368.
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.