Moose hunting season opened today for resident and nonresident rifle hunters, but this season's unusual weather patterns may adversely affect some riverine hunting locations.
The Moose and Swanson rivers, as well as the Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Trail Systems, are areas heavily hunted each year.
However, water levels on the rivers are down way down as the result of a mild winter, combined with an extraordinarily dry summer.
"I've been doing this since 1993 and this is the lowest I've ever seen (the rivers)," said Max Finch, owner of Alaska Canoe and Camp-ground.
Many hunters choose the area for its blend of thick alders and willows that are prime moose forage, combined with the cottonwood and spruce that provide good cover.
Hunters favor canoes since they provide a means for silent and unobtrusive movement through what can be noisy and difficult terrain on foot.
But the low river levels may be cause for some hunters to change their tactics.
"The Swanson River, from the campground at the end of Swanson River Road west to the portage from Gene Lake, is almost impassable," Finch said. "That far up, almost 90 percent of the river can't be paddled right now it's so low."
Finch said the same conditions, or worse, currently exist on the East Fork of the Moose River, as well.
These low water levels only compound what often can be an already difficult paddle.
"The Swanson River is a tough river because the rocks are just below the surface," said Daniel Quick, author of the book "The Kenai Canoe Trails."
"If water levels are low, the Swanson will be even more challenging."
The low levels are an additional obstacle for hunters who are normally already contending with numerous beaver dams and lily pads that reach their zenith clogging waterways this time of year.
"If someone did get a moose, it would be a struggle to get it out of there," said Mike Adlam, owner of the Blue Moose Lakeside Lodge in Soldotna, which runs guided canoe trips through the river systems.
Canoes typically can alleviate most of the back-breaking work of hauling out a kill and allow hunters to do it in a fraction of the time it would take to do it on foot. Hunters without canoes can find themselves making as many as eight trips, packing 75- to 100-pounds per trip a process that can take days depending on where a kill was made.
However, with water levels so low, the added weight from a moose could have moose hunters pushing, pulling and dragging their way down river instead of floating.
Hunters shouldn't give up hope, though. The recent heavy rains and predications for more precipitation on the way could improve the situation.
"The rain we got was much needed," Adlam said. "Hopefully, we'll get some more."
Also, although the river conditions are poor in places, Finch, Quick and Adlam said the lakes within the canoe systems should remain largely unaffected by the low water levels. Launches will just be a little muddier.
Finch also said some of the areas between lakes are actually a little easier to portage a canoe.
"Some of the areas where you would usually need hip waders can be done in hiking boots right now," he said.
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