2003 season looking good

Posted: Friday, August 08, 2003

It's just about that time again, when the fishing tackle gets put away and the hunting gear comes out of storage.

Many peninsula hunters are already busy sighting in their rifle scopes and preparing for the 2003 season, and according to state wildlife biologists, this year may be worth looking forward to.

"There's potential for a good moose harvest," said Jeff Selinger, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"All indications are that calf survival was high through last winter," he said.

The mild winter lent itself to calf survivability in a number of ways.

Less animals die from winter stress and starvation.

Moose tend to be more spread out in mild winters. They're not as likely to use roads and highways for transects, such as when the snow pack gets deep, so there are less road kills.

Also, the lack of a think snow crust makes poor conditions for predators. Wolves can hunt on top of the crust, while moose plow through, becoming more susceptible to predation.

"Last year's mild winter should mean it will be a good year for yearling bulls," said Selinger. "A lot of the harvest depends on the number of spike-fork bulls. They can make up 40-50 percent of the harvest."

These yearlings tend to not be as savvy as some of the older bulls that are more experienced, having already survived past hunting seasons.

Last fall, Unit 7 which includes the eastern portion of the peninsula, from Hope to Seward, and the Kenai Fjords National Park had 329 hunters that harvested 51 bull moose.

Unit 15 is comprised of the central and southern peninsula, including the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the Caribou Hills and the area around Kachemak Bay. Unit 15, for game recording purposes, is further divided in three subunits.

Subunit 15A had 1,154 hunters last season, with 140 moose harvested. Subunit 15B had 286 hunters and 41 moose harvested. Subunit 15C had 1,295 hunters and 262 moose harvested.

The Kenai's estimated moose population is 5,000-6,000 animals.

Hunters hoping to pursue brown bear are out of luck again this year. The peninsula brown bear hunting season is in the final process of being cancelled.

Black bear season will open according to schedule though, and according to Selinger will likely be similar to last year's harvest.

Although with the mild winter, there is the possibility of a banner year for wild berries, which could subsequently affect the bear harvest.

"If we have a good berry crop in the alpine, there is potential for a higher harvest because bears are easier for hunters to spot," said Selinger.

In 2001, the combined total from Unit 7 and 15 was 639 bears harvested, but since there is a split between the fall and spring bear season, the numbers for 2002 have not beeb tallied as of yet.

Selinger also said the sheep and goat season may also be similar to past years.

"We're expecting a harvest of 15-20 rams out of the general season," said Selinger. "We're not seeing a lot of full-curl rams being recruited in the population."

Last season 19 rams were harvested during the general season. For sheep, 16 animals were harvested during the general season.

Caribou could also be much the same as last year. From drawing DC001 in the Kenai Mountains between Hope and Cooper Landing in Unit 7, 250 permits were issued, 11 males and eight females were harvested.

From the Killey River herd drawing, 225 permits were issued and 17 males and four females were harvested. The Killey River herd ranges in Unit 15B. The portion of 15B located within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is open to hunting for caribou.

From the DC 618 drawing in 15B, 10 permits were issued and one male was harvested.

The RC610 drawing, the limit for which is up to three cows but no bulls, 25 females were harvested.

As in years past, Selinger expects that the hunting for wolves and wolverine will be opportunistic.

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