Legal or illegal? This issue appears at the outset to be a reasonably cut-and-dry question. However, even the most experienced hunters will know any explanation leaves something to be desired when push comes to shove and the decision to fire needs to be made.
Regulations first issued more than a decade ago sometimes seem encrypted in a foreign code, especially to those who don't know the rules like the backs of their hands.
Gino Del Frate, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who formerly worked in Homer and is now in Palmer, said study and practice are the keys to being able to identify a legal moose.
To help in this endeavor, Fish and Game has produced a video targeting those who remain slightly baffled by the "spike-fork" and "50-inch antlers with three or more brow tines" restrictions.
"The video is available at Fish and Game offices. It provides some more study and practice," Del Frate said. "Anybody that is interested should stop by and check one out."
The video, titled, "Is This Moose Legal?," is meant to help hunters stay out of a legal mess and enjoy their hunt instead.
A discussion of what is and isn't legal, complete with examples of both types of racks, opens the film. The second half shows 10-second clips of various bulls in the wild followed by the words "shoot or don't shoot?"
In theory, the rules simply require taking time to think and make wise decisions when a moose shows itself.
Any moose with a spike or forked antler on one side, or any bull with antlers spreading more than 50-inches, or any bull with three or more brow tines on one side may be legally harvested.
"Study and practice. And if you don't know don't shoot. That is the mantra," Del Frate said.
First, the definition of a tine is helpful in determining whether the said moose has three or more. A tine, or point, is 1 inch or more in length and, at the base, it is longer than it is wide.
Fish and Game officials say a mid-antler tine in the bay between the brow tines and the palm is sometimes mistaken by hunters for a third brow tine.
Additionally, the line of bone-colored hair on the front edge of a cow's ear can easily be mistaken for a young bull's spike, especially early and late in the day when low-angle light highlights colors and exaggerates proportions.
Bull calves, which may not be legally killed, frequently have small antler buds called "pedestals" that are sometimes confused with spike antlers by anxious hunters, even though pedestals are rarely more than an inch long.
To muck through this mire of rules and regulations without ruining the fun of a good hunt, caution is advised.
Officials warn not to count brow tines when looking at the moose's profile. It is too easy to be confused by tines on the far side of its rack.
"If you can't see the antlers, you can't shoot. You can't be shooting at big dark brown objects in the woods and then be going to see if they are legal or not," Del Frate said.
If it isn't clear how many tines there are or what the width of the rack is, don't shoot. This point is illustrated at the end of the video when former Fish and Game biologist Ted Spraker shows a seemingly acceptable rack of 49 1/8-inches from an illegal bull.
In addition, the department sets up displays prior to the opening of the season with examples of legal and illegal antlers. According to the video, a moose's eyes are set about 10 inches apart. If the bull in question has two tines on each side about a head-width apart, it is probably legal. If it is standing broadside with its head at a right angle to its body and the tines on his palms extend past his hump, he is probably bigger than 50 inches and legal. However, estimation doesn't always pay off in the end, and it may be safer to count the brow tines. If there are fewer than three on one side, let it go.
If the view is a posterior one, look for a white patch of hair near the anus that marks the vulva of a cow. Bulls have a uniformly dark behind.
On the other hand calves have a smaller, shorter head and have a white patch of hair on the shoulder.
Del Frate said he can't emphasize enough how important it is to practice, practice, practice.
"There are all kinds of moose antlers around the area. The more you look at antlers, the more you practice, the better you get at judging them," he said.
Playing by the rules is a hunter's role in protecting future seasons.
"The number one rule if the moose is illegal, then you let it go. If somebody accidentally gets a moose that is illegal, they need to immediately turn themselves in. That is the rule," he said. "They were set in place to ensure that we have an adequate bull-to-cow ratio at the end of the season. That is the primary reason we have regulations."
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