To shoot or not to shoot? That is the question moose hunters will face Aug. 20 under the peninsula's "spike-fork/50-inch" selective harvest regulations.
It's an important question too, considering the consequences. Killing an illegal moose and abandoning the meat is considered one of the worst hunting offenses. Intentionally wasting meat carries a maximum $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail, with a minimum $2,500 fine and seven days in jail.
Penalties for illegal kills are decided by the court and depend on many factors, said Sgt. Bob Mumford of Fish and Wildlife Protection.
Since there is something of a sliding rule in determining penalties, hunters that mistakenly kill an illegal moose can protect themselves from receiving a maximum sentence.
"We recognize that hunters can make mistakes," Mumford said. "If a hunter makes a legitimate mistake and turns himself in, we recommend a far more lenient sentence than if we discover the animal and do an investigation."
Moose management regulations under the selective harvest strategy have been in place for 14 years. Even though the rules have stayed the same, mistakes still do happen.
"It all boils down to lack of experience and patience," said Ted Spraker, Alaska Department of Fish and Game's area biologist. "If people are good hunters, they take their time. If there's any doubt the moose is legal, don't shoot. Let it go and take a better look."
There are several ways to gain the experience and practice needed to cut down on illegal moose kills.
Fish and Game has produced a video titled "Is this Moose Legal?" to help identify legal game.
The video contains a thorough discussion of what is and isn't legal and shows clips of moose in the field that realistically duplicate the difficult decisions hunters have to make.
The Fish and Game offices on K-Beach Road in Soldotna loan these videos free of charge to anyone who comes by and signs one out. Videos also are available on other types of game.
Practicing judging on mounted antlers can help prepare hunters to do it in the wild.
Hunter education is another possibility and will be mandatory for any hunters under the age of 16 by 2002. Classes are taught by volunteers, cost $2 to purchase targets, and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact the Fish and Game office for course schedules. To preregister for courses in the Soldotna area, call Larry Lewis at 262-9368. For Homer classes, call Gino Del Frate at 235-8191.
Under the selective harvest regulations, any moose with a spike or forked antler on one side, 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.
A brow tine is a point emerging from the first branch or brow palm on the main beam of a moose antler and projecting forward (See diagram, this page). Sometimes a mid-antler tine in the bay between the brow tines and the palm can be taken for a third tine, or a cow can be mistaken for a spike bull by the line of bone-colored hair on the front edge of her ear. To further confuse things, some legal bulls with 50-inch racks only have two brow tines. And a bull's underdeveloped points on a small palm make a fork when combined with a single brow tine, which also is legal.
The best way to judge a large bull is to identify and count the brow tines, not try to judge the 50-inch spread, Spraker said. Judging spreads can be difficult because a large-bodied moose makes antlers appear smaller than they really are, while a small-bodied moose makes antlers appear larger.
"Of all the mistakes made in judging antlers, the majority is made in trying to judge 50-inch spreads," Spraker said. "Probably 75 percent of illegal moose kills fall into that category."
Being patient, knowing the regulations and being experienced at judging antlers can make the difference between a fine and a freezer full of meat.
"People loose sleep and worry about selective harvest," Spraker said. "Now's the time to do your homework. The more you know about it, the more comfortable you are in hunting."
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