Hunters may have less time than they think to apply for drawing permits for certain Alaska sheep.
A change last spring moved the deadline to apply for sheep drawing permits from May 31 to Dec. 6. The deadline to apply for most other permit drawings remains May 31.
The change is meant to give sheep hunters more time to prepare for their trips, said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Division of Wildlife Conservation in Soldotna. Most sheep hunts begin Aug. 10, but the state does not announce drawings from the May 31 applications until early July.
"That only gives people about a month to put a hunt together -- plan for air taxis and so on," he said.
Lewis said that is not so much of a problem on the Kenai Peninsula, where the only drawing permit sheep hunts are in the Crescent Lake area and parts of Round Mountain, which are accessible by road.
"But if you go to Tok or the Delta controlled-use area, those are fly-in hunts," he said.
Suzan Bowen, who oversees Division of Wildlife Conservation publications, said results of the new sheep permit drawing should be out by the end of January.
The change stems from efforts of two separate groups. First, an internal Fish and Game task force looked at how to improve permit drawing hunts and address public complaints, she said. There were complaints that the results of permit drawings are not available until July.
Second, the Koyukuk River Moose Hunters Working Group, a stakeholder panel formed to address increased hunting and potential overharvest of Koyukuk moose, recommended restricting that hunt to drawing permits. The working group asked Fish and Game to hold an early permit drawing because of the logistics involved in a Koyukuk hunt.
When the Board of Game met in Fairbanks last March, Bowen said, it approved the Koyukuk drawing permit moose hunt and asked Fish and Game to try to accommodate the recommendation for an early drawing.
"At that point, we had an internal meeting within Fish and Game," she said. "We said, if we're going to do it for Koyukuk moose, do it also for sheep, because that's what we hear the most complaints about."
The deadline to apply for a small Kodiak brown bear hunt has long been Dec. 6, she said, so Fish and Game made that the deadline for Koyukuk moose and statewide sheep, too. It included announcements of the changes with the May 2000 drawing permit supplement and with letters sent in July to all drawing permit applicants, successful or not. This fall, she said, it sent notices to major hunting organizations. In the last two weeks, it has run advertisements in major newspapers.
Generally, around 6,500 hunters apply for about 650 sheep drawing permits, she said. There are 206 resident and 52 nonresident permits available for Koyukuk moose. Bowen said the department expects around 1,000 applications.
The Kodiak bear permits should be drawn before Christmas, she said. State biologists hope to announce the results of Koyukuk moose and statewide sheep permit drawings by the end of January.
Bowen said the early deadline for sheep is an experiment. The department will try it for a couple of years to see how well it works.
"We've had lots of feedback," she said. "I've heard from a whole bunch of guys that are really happy we did this. I haven't heard any complaints."
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