The Wrangell-Petersburg area moose season closed on Tuesday, October 15th. The preliminary numbers show this harvest coming out above the 10-year average.
Rich Lowell is the area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation.
Despite early numbers indicating an unremarkable RMO-38 moose harvest, Lowell says it turned out to be well above average.
“Things came in much better than we had anticipated. As of Wednesday, the day after the moose season was over, a total of 85 moose have been checked in from the local moose hunt,” says Lowell.
Lowell says that because hunters have five days after the close of the season to check in their moose, that number will likely go up.
The 10-year average for this hunt is 74 moose per year. In the past decade, the annual numbers have ranged from 47 moose to 108.
Lowell says that puts this year’s preliminary count at the third largest on record for the hunt.
“And it was exceeded only by the harvest of 108 moose in 2009 which was the first year the moose antler restrictions were liberalized to include moose with two brow tines on both antlers. Then, the harvest in 2011 of 88 moose also surpassed this year’s harvest. But other than that it was a great season and very productive,” says Lowell.
Lowell says that it is possible this year’s harvest could surpass the 2011 season once any remaining moose are checked in in the next few days.
Kupreanof was the most productive area with a total of 36 moose harvested. 17 of those were taken in the northwest part of the island near Kake.
The Stikine River came in second with 22 moose. That’s slightly above the 20-moose average for the river.
There were eight moose in Thomas Bay, seven on Mitkof Island and four in Farragut Bay.
There were two each on Wrangell Island and Zarembo.
Port Houghton, Etolin Island, the Bradfield mainland, and Kuiu Island each had one.
Lowell says the distribution of the harvest has shifted slightly over the past few seasons. The mainland and Stikine River watershed historically led the harvest. But, in recent years, the number of moose on the nearby islands has increased significantly.
This year, the Unit 3 islands produced 49 moose, while the Unit 1b mainland only had 36.
“Compared to the mainland, moose are a relatively new arrival on the Unit 3 islands and moose have obviously made the swim out from the mainland over to the islands. We’re seeing both the distribution among the Unit 3 islands and moose abundance increasing. We’ve got moose all the way out to Kuiu Island now in the western portion of Unit 3,” says Lowell.
He says this may be due, in part, to logging activity and the presence of clear-cuts.
Lowell says these areas provide good foraging for the moose and their populations tend to increase as a result.
He says that may be why the harvest is not as productive in other areas as it used to be.
“In Thomas Bay, logging also encouraged moose to colonize that area. But, as those second-growth units have begun to close in—the canopy’s closing in—we’ve seen a reduction in both abundance and in hunter harvest for that area. I think it’s pretty much the same for the Unit 3 islands, that the initial response to those units are probably beneficial to moose,” says Lowell.
Although this year’s numbers are high, Lowell says the number of moose harvested that don’t meet antler restrictions is about average.
“Well, we still have a couple of sets of antlers that the Troopers have yet to look at, but they’ll be looking at those. But right now we’re sitting at eight moose that failed to meet the antler specifications,” says Lowell.
That’s about 10%, which is typical.
In other hunting news, there is the local goat hunt on the 1B mainland through December 31st.
The elk season began on Etolin Island in September with the archery hunt which is now over.
The first rifle hunt also ended a few days ago. Lowell says the second drawing rifle hunt is going on now. The drawing hunt ends at the end of October. The registration elk hunt is set to happen the last two weeks of November.