ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Most Alaska moose hunters heading afield this fall will share one thing in common -- they'll come home empty handed.
Some will see moose but never a legal animal. Many, however, won't even enjoy that thrill; they will see nothing.
The reasons are simple, according to guides, experienced hunters and state wildlife biologists.
''A lot of them know how to hunt,'' said Herman Griese, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist in Palmer. ''But they're just not motivated to get off their four-wheelers and hunt.''
''There are a lot of people up here who haven't hunted (moose) before, and they try to take the same approach they use (when) viewing.''
Sure, you can see moose along Alaska roads, highways and trails. But hunters should ask themselves this question: How many legal bulls have you seen there? A mature bull with 50-inch antlers or three brow tines is a rare sight, indeed.
Because big bulls are secretive. It's how moose stay alive, and big bulls have played the game for years. Biologists figure they need at least four- or five years to grow those monster antlers.
To maximize the chances of seeing such a moose, hunters need to know something about the animals' natural history. Many hunters waste time wandering around habitats that hold few or no moose, biologists say. Others look for moose in places that make for easy looking like open bogs when moose are more likely to be in thickets, particularly at midday.
And many hunters don't appreciate the two things that attract all animals: food and sex.
Really want to see moose? Start haunting areas with choice food or discover where cows and bulls congregate in late September or early October.
How does a hunter learn these things?
By studying, either at home or in the field.
Many hunters could help themselves this fall by ignoring the early season in favor of reading a copy of ''Ecology and Management of North American Moose,'' a Wildlife Management Institute book compiled by Alaska wildlife biologists Al Franzmann and Chuck Schwartz, with help from moose experts across North America.
Hunters who figure out where moose go to eat or mate automatically make giant steps toward seeing more moose. Hunters who grasp the power of a moose's senses, both auditory and olfactory, begin to understand how to get close to these animals. Dumb as moose might look, as stupid as they might behave in the city, they are superbly equipped to avoid people in the wild.
The smartest bull moose any hunter is likely to meet are those that live within walking distance of well-traveled roads. They've heard the guns of autumn, and they've seen other moose fall dead.
They know the dangers of man better than they know the dangers of bears and wolves. And they understand that man is the easiest predator to outwit.
Hunters can increase their odds by becoming students of moose hunting.
Or they can spend money.
Money still can buy entry to areas where Alaska moose remain more worried about wolves and bears than about men. These moose aren't stupid, but they are noticeably less wary than the animals adapted to life on the edge of civilization.
The deeper a hunter goes into Bush Alaska, the less wary the moose tend to be. That's part of the reason fly-in moose hunters are more successful than four-wheeler hunters, and four-wheeler hunters are more successful than riverboat hunters, and riverboat hunters are more successful than road hunters.
It has more to do with levels of human activity than with moose numbers.
Urban areas, said Griese and wildlife biologist Ted Spraker of Soldotna, now make for some of the most productive moose habitat.
Development brings cleared subdivisions that grow back with tasty willow or get developed and planted with even tastier mountain ash.
Roads make it possible for the animals to move easily between feeding areas in winters of deep snow. And humans displace bears and wolves. But even in these areas of high moose density, hunters may note how rarely they see legal bulls.
It's not because they're not there.
It's because of their survival instincts.
They aren't habituated enough to wander around showing off their big antlers in broad daylight, although they will get reckless during the rut in late September and October. And in winter, when some people start giving moose illegal handouts, the animals quickly lose judgment.
But remember this about wild moose: They feed early and late and spend most of the day sleeping.
And this is probably the most important thing a wannabe moose hunter needs to know, no matter where he plans to look.
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