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Outdoors/Adventure

Will the summer-long drizzle dampen hunting in the Alaska Interior?

"Rain, rain, go away." Has it seemed like a wet summer? I am used to wet weather. I have fished commercially on Alaska's coast for all of my adult life. Rain and the ocean are synonymous.

The Interior is normally dry by comparison.

Overall, Alaska is relatively dry compared to most of the United States. Wichita, Kansas, a location normally considered dry, annually averages twice as much rain as Anchorage and nearly three times as much as Fairbanks.

Fairbanks is getting hammered with one of the wettest Augusts on record. The Interior city received more than four inches of rain, more than double the average rainfall for the month.

How have the Interior hunting areas of Units 11, 13 and 20 fared? They are soggy. The entire Alaska Range is well above normal precipitation levels.

It's not as if it rains hard. There has been a continuous drizzle, and the mossy ground and the presence of permafrost keeps the water from draining off in many places. I am seeing quite a few folks wearing Xtratufs as their go-to-town shoes.

Delta Junction is wet. It has received nearly double its normal precipitation total of 1.9 inches. However, the bright side is much better than Aug. 27, 1975, when almost seven inches came down in 24 hours.

The Copper Basin has also suffered from a constant drip. The rain totals, though well above normal, are not astronomically off of the graph, although it may seem that way. Water in area streams and lakes has remained high throughout the summer.

Most of the Interior had above-normal snowpack, and the cold spring delayed the thaw and run-off. The streams and swampy areas have not had the chance to dry out all summer.

The saturated ground will definitely have an effect on hunters. Ptarmigan in the high country have taken a hit. Broods are small and not nearly as abundant as the past several seasons.

Sharptail populations in the Delta Junction fields are also down. There are two or three where there are normally 20. Spruce and ruffed grouse have fared the same. Bird hunters may want to try working the ridges for grouse species rather than field edges. Berry crops are the main attraction for spruce and ruffs, and majority of berries this year are located on the south side of ridges near the top.

Delta has seen a decent influx of grasshoppers in the past few weeks. The fields will become more attractive to the sharps. Follow the feed and you'll find birds.

The same will apply to waterfowl. The geese are beginning to move. Although cranes are just beginning to migrate, there are a few over the Delta barley fields already. Check with farmers in the Delta area before you go onto a field. Some farms allow hunters, some do not.

Ducks came through the summer in decent shape. Waterfowlers in Unit 13 will find good birds, but a good dog will almost be a requirement. Normally hip boots would be adequate foot gear for Denali area lakes, but chest waders might be a better option in 2018.

Puddle ducks have moved from the normally shallow lakes to swamps. Their usual feeding areas have water too high for the tippers to reach the bottom. Mallards and widgeon will be following the swans to pick at what they stir from the bottom.

Birds aside, what might the season have in store for moose and caribou hunters?

The second group of Tier I caribou hunters will be in the field along with Unit 13 moose hunters. Good luck. The caribou are beginning to move. This week the snow came right down on the deck in the mountains. The caribou that went high to avoid the swamps down low are beginning to move. However, with a small quota, the hunt may be over just as quickly as the first Tier I hunt.

Moose love wet summers. Food is available almost everywhere and swamps are not an issue for moose. Cows and calves appear healthy. Changes to the community hunt criteria have made the moose hunt slightly more equitable, although access could be a bit of a challenge for ATV hunters. Be prepared for mudholes.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Games claims an excellent moose population for Unit 13. However, residents on the ground see it quite differently. There may be some good habitat that is inaccessible with decent moose, but along roads and trails they are scarce.

Expect the success rate for moose, at least along the Denali Highway, to be dismal. Moose will be inclining toward higher country and likely more scattered than is usual.

Labor Day weekend will be crowded as always, but traffic will taper though the remainder of the season. Don't expect September sun. Bring your very best raingear, and expect the wet and the worst.

With that as the starting point, everything will get better from there. See you here.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest. 

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