Pilot Russell Merrill is shown with his plane at Tustumena Lake the morning of Sept. 16, 1929. Later that day he left Anchorage for Bethel and disappeared.
Photo courtesy of Stan McLane
Kasilof is a door to Tustumena Lake, an area with more than a hundred years of hunting lore. The March 6, 1897, issue of Forrest and Stream carried a picture of 73-inch moose antlers. They were obtained by Andrew Berg, a Finnish immigrant who reached the Kenai Peninsula in 1888.
Dall DeWeese, a rich guy from Colorado, saw the picture and tracked down its source. In the fall of 1897 he hired Berg, who was working for a cannery at Kasilof, to be his guide.
The Tustumena area hunt produced moose, sheep and bear. DeWeese, it turns out, was a blabbermouth. He wrote embellished accounts of his hardships and adventures; and got them published in sport journals.
He also returned on three subsequent years, bringing his wife, Emma, one year. Lake Emma, by Indian Creek, was likely named after her. Soon rich hunters began traveling from the U.S. and Europe to hunt near Tustumena Lake. Upon reaching Kasilof they invariably hired a guide.
Alaska’s first game laws were enacted by Congress in 1902. A 1908 revision required nonresidents to purchase a license to hunt in Alaska. A further restriction applied only to the Kenai Peninsula. There, nonresident hunters were required to use a registered guide.
Thus, Andrew Berg received the first guide license in Alaska. In 1910 Gov. Walter Clark regulated guiding fees, setting them between $5 and $10 per day. Packers were to charge $2.50 per day. Among other prominent Tustumena Lake guides are Emil Berg (Andrew’s brother), Tom O’Dale, Windy Wagner, Slim Crocker, George Pollard and his assistant, Laine Lahndt. Many more names could be added and the economic importance of guiding was significant to Kasilof.
Guides weren’t the only hunters to use Tustumena Lake. Residents hunted here since before recorded history. In fact, what may be the biggest moose antlers to come from this area appeared in 1899, before guided hunts. These mysterious antlers have a “spread” of 78.5 inches. Ted Spraker, a retired Fish and Game biologist and current Board of Game member, is certain they came from the “bench” near Tustumena Lake. At this time no source revealed who brought in this skull. Fox farmers hunted porcupine and rabbits near Tustumena Lake in the 1920s and ’30s. Game laws forbade feeding moose to foxes.
Kenai National Moose Range, containing about 2 million acres, was established in 1941. It prohibits people from acquiring property within its boundary (which encompassed Tustumena Lake). Tustumena Lake became a “trophy” area in 1977. Since then a limited number of permits are issued each year by the Department of Fish and Game. Hunters win a chance to participate from a random drawing. The largest antlers produced by this hunt came from a moose harvested by Dan Presley of Happy Valley in 2002. Those antlers had a “spread” of 752/8 inches. The current record spread (probably from the Alaska Peninsula) is 814/8 inches.
Through the game management strategy in place, Tustumena Lake remains a wildlife treasure and Kasilof continues to be a door to its wealth.
This column was provided by Brent Johnson with the Kasilof Historical Society. He used the following sources: www.rackmag.com/features/040920Good.html, “Adventures in Trophy Hunting”, Rack, feature story, “Never Say Never,” by Mike Handley, copyright 2006 Rack Magazine; “Alaska’s No. 1 Guide,” by Catherine Cassidy and Gary Titus, Spruce Tree Publishing, Soldotna, AK 2003.
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