As hunting season nears the halfway point, Alaska State Troopers with the Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement in Soldotna are hoping there will be no more violators taking game illegally or unethically, other then the ones they've already bagged or currently have their sights set on.
"There hasn't been any increase in violations this year compared to years past," said trooper Jim Cockrell. But that's not to say that there haven't been any violations so far.
One day after moose hunting season opened, troopers received a report from hunters that had found a sub-legal bull moose shot and left near an old logging road in the Clam Gulch area.
An investigation revealed the moose was shot several times and left to rot. Troopers believe the moose was shot late Friday night.
"We weren't able to salvage the meat," Cockrell said.
The moose had an antler spread of approximately 35 1/2 inches and two brow tines.
By law, a legal bull moose must have either a rack with more than a 50-inch spread between the antlers, have at least three brow tines on either side or have an antler that has a spike (one point) or a fork (two points). In the case of the spike-forks, the antler on the other side can be any configuration.
Troopers also are investigating a sub-legal moose taken during the same time period near Mile 5 of Swanson River Road. This moose also was left to rot and meat could not be salvaged.
"We're still investigating both of these incidents," Cockrell said. He added troopers are soliciting the public's help identifying the people involved in he moose poachings or any other wildlife violations.
"We'll keep them as active cases and hopefully someone will come forward. Hunters rarely hunt alone, so we're hoping someone in one of those hunter's parties will come forward, or maybe someone that remembers seeing them that can provide a description of them, their vehicle or their license plate," Cockrell said.
Anyone with any information is asked to call wildlife troopers at 262-4573.
Besides these two incidents where the culprits at least for now have eluded authorities, on Aug. 20, troopers cited Matthew T. Moore, 21, of Soldotna, for taking a sub-legal bull moose in game management unit 15C.
The next day, troopers charged Edward E. Pearson, 41, of Kasilof with failing to validate his moose harvest ticket after taking a bull moose in game management unit 15C. Bail was set at $160.
On Aug. 22, Sheila Fern, 34, of Palmer, was charged with taking a sub-legal bull moose in unit 15C. Arraignment was for Thursday in Kenai District Court.
"We've also had three self turn-ins by hunters that shot moose that didn't make the antler requirements," Cockrell said. On all three the meat was salvaged and given to charity.
Cockrell said these three hunters, like many who take sub-legal moose, unintentionally break the law.
"They do so by overestimating antlers spread," he said.
This is often the result of "bull fever" combined with inexperience at identifying legal moose in the field. Cockrell said there is an easy way to prevent this from happening.
He suggested hunters take the time to evaluate a moose, and evaluate it well, before taking the shot. Hunters should look at it long enough and from enough sides to not just think it is legal, but to be sure it's legal.
For those who don't take the time and subsequently find out they've bagged a sub-legal bull when they get up to the kill, Cockrell said most go to court.
"We'll look at each of them case by case, and look at all the circumstances, but generally fines are a lot less for people that turn themselves in compared to those we catch trying to get away with it," he said.
Moose hunters aren't the only ones bagging sub-legal game this season.
"We've had three sub-legal sheep taken, but all three were self turn-ins," Cockrell said.
New regulations require that Dall sheep hunters take their game's horns to be sealed by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game representative after the hunt if taken in units where a horn size restriction is in place.
Although grouse season is still a few weeks from its peak, troopers already are planning surveillance programs with stuffed decoys in popular grouse hunting areas to ensure there is no illegal, unethical or unsafe harvest of game birds.
"We'll be along Mystery Creek Road, Skilak Lake loop Road, Swanson River Road and a few other locations," Cockrell said.
Troopers are primarily after hunters who violate the hunting regulation that states it is illegal to shoot on, from or across the drivable surface of any constructed road or highway.
"There's really no excuse to shot from the road," Cockrell said. "It's a public safety hazard, but also, if you flush them off the road, they usually only fly a few feet and stop, so hunters can still take a shot, but it'll be much safer."
For those who don't make the extra effort and take the illegal shot, Cockrell said hunters can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for third-degree misconduct with a weapon, which can come with a fine of up to $10,000 and a year in jail.
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