'Hot Spot' hunters target problem Mat-Su moose

Mike Dunham

People are shooting moose in the Mat-Su Borough -- but they're not breaking the law. They are participants in a limited winter hunt designed to reduce moose-automobile collisions.

The Department of Fish and Game authorized a "Hot Spot Hunt" program in 2011, but not all valley residents have heard about it. Some have been alarmed by the sight of hunters bringing down moose long after the regular season has closed.

"They've called the troopers on some of our Hot Spot hunters thinking they were poachers," said Olin Albertson, Fish and Game's area wildlife biologist in Palmer. "So we want to let people know that this is going on."

Each week a dozen hunters are allowed to take moose in four road corridors with especially high rates of moose-car run-ins -- the designated "hot spots." Those include stretches of the Glenn and Parks highways, Knik-Goose Bay Road and the Church and Pittman roads area.

More than 200 hunters signed up for the program at the Palmer Fish and Game office during the application period last October. Hunters must be certified by hunter education programs run by volunteers in conjunction with Fish and Game. They are also required to use shotguns with slugs rather than rifles.

"We don't want rifles to be used in proximity to buildings," Albertson said. Shotguns have a fairly short trajectory, he said, "but rifle bullets can travel a lot farther."

Each permitted hunter is given a randomly selected number. The numbers are then drawn in order, with three hunters selected to hunt in each of the four designated areas every week, Albertson said.

Most get their animal.

The program for this regulatory year (July 1-June 30) opened on Dec. 1. As of the end of January, about 93 hunters had taken their turn in the program, harvesting 62 moose.

Fish and Game says an average of 280 moose are struck by cars in the Mat-Su valleys each year, but that number can double in a heavy snow year. The non-profit Moose Federation of Alaska operates tow trucks to haul the carcasses moose off the highways and deliver them to local charities.

Albertson said members of the federation tell him they've gone on many fewer calls this year than last, though he noted that this year hasn't had the abnormally heavy snow the region received last year.

Nonetheless, he called the program, now in its second year, a success.

"From everything we can tell, it's helping," he said. "If we can keep one of these moose from going through someone's windshield and put that moose in someone's freezer instead, that's a good thing for two people."

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.