FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Friday marked the start of moose hunting season, an annual event eagerly awaited by many across the state.
While 10 other states have moose seasons, Alaska is the only state that doesn't require a special permit to hunt the ungulates.
''We're the only state left in the union where you can walk in and get a harvest ticket to hunt moose,'' said Dave Kelleyhouse, a longtime moose hunter and retired wildlife biologist. ''It's part of the culture here, and in other states it's the luck of the draw.''
In North Dakota, Utah and Washington, hunters are allowed only one moose permit in their lifetime, whether they bag a moose or not.
In Idaho, only hunters who shell out $350 for a lifetime license are eligible to apply for the state's 1,000 moose hunting permits.
Alaska's annual moose harvest (an average of about 17,000 over the last five years) is bigger than the rest of the country combined (about 6,000 last year).
''Moose is kind of our staple as far as big game animals,'' said state wildlife biologist Bob Hunter at the state Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.
Biologists estimate there are roughly 155,000 moose in Alaska and every year more than 50,000 hunters take to the woods, roads, hills, valleys, rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds in hopes of bagging one.
''When you think about filling the freezer, you think about moose,'' said state wildlife biologist Don Young.
An average Alaska bull moose yields about 500 pounds of meat.
''There's people in this state who specialize and love to hunt (Dall) sheep, and others are caribou chasers,'' said Kelleyhouse. ''Moose, to me, is the critter. He's big, he's delicious; you can feed your entire family for the entire year.''
But what is it about moose that attracts thousands of hunters from Alaska and hundreds more from around the U.S. and the world who pay upwards of $10,000 for guided moose hunts in Alaska?
''There's something about the sheer size of the animal,'' said Hunter. ''Moose are impressive animals. Even a small bull is a pretty impressive animal.''
Alaska moose are the biggest moose in the world. A mature bull stands about six feet tall at the shoulders and weighs from 1,200 to 1,600 pounds in prime condition.
The short season is another reason moose hunting sends hunters into a frenzy, said Young.
''We have caribou seasons that start as early as July 1 and run all the way to May,'' he said. ''It's not like moose season, where the season is 15 days or 20 days. There's that anxiety and competitiveness to it.''
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