Hunting season has come and gone. Whoops, not all of them — just for those 10,000 or so folks with Tier l registration permits.
Seems that 325 caribou were enough to cover the folks who opted for that particular permit. The thousands of hunters who carry those permits are now are stuck with no caribou hunting this season and only the option to hunt moose in Unit 13.
One rolls the dice in December to take a chance on next August. That’s OK, there is plenty to do in Unit 13 besides hunt for caribou.
Instead of a caribou roast sandwich, you can have peanut butter and blueberry jam from Denali Highway blueberries. The blueberries are great this year and the next few days are the optimum time to pick.
It has been rainy, which makes the blueberry leaves loose, which will add time to the cleaning process. But, the berries are thick this year, making it worthwhile to spend that extra time. The right combination of sun and rain has yielded big, juicy berries.
If you are planning on jam, add a few not-yet-ripe lingonberries (cranberries) to help with jelling. A 1.75 oz. pack of pectin will also help.
Don’t trust the instructions on the pectin package — they work with commercially raised Lower 48 berries, not for for Interior Alaskan berries. Trust me, toss in some cranberries.
The same goes for your standard blueberry pie recipe. The bit of cornstarch called for in most recipes will leave you with a great-tasting pie that must be eaten with a spoon. Chop an apple into blueberry-sized pieces and add that to the berries. Also add a tablespoon of flour, and the result will be pie that can be eaten with a fork.
Another alternative for the caribou you can’t hunt is duck.
The hatch was good and the young birds are already in the air. There are a lot of pintails along the highway and a fair number of widgeons. Both are good-eating ducks, though the young birds are full of pinfeathers.
Shotgun shells aren’t cheap. My recommendation is to try to line up several at a time. My old buddy Red Cooney, when asked if he was going to shoot a duck while it was swimming, replied; “No, I’m going to wait till he stops.”
Ptarmigan have had a decent hatch this summer, plus good survival with their broods. However, nesting pairs were in short supply. It may be another year until the ptarmigan recover enough to reliably see them along the roadside, but hunters with good dogs might do OK. (This is just another reason to raise a German shepherd.)
Speaking of dogs that might be able to protect your stuff — not mine, he will give everything away to the first person who pets him — there have been some tent camps burglarized in the Tangle Lakes area in recent weeks. A few folks have lost some camp gear. Keep your eyes open.
Should you happen to spot a caribou while you are keeping your eyes open, remember that the Community Hunt is still open. Also, the drawing permit folks opened their season on Aug. 20th.
Lots of permits were given out at $10 a pop, and the quota is 225 animals. So, those with drawing permit might want to hunt early if they are able. There are animals along the road system and a couple hundred caribou will go quickly. The guys without hunting privileges should bring their packframe and offer to help with packing — they might be rewarded with a few steaks.
Lake trout steaks might be the next best thing. There is nothing quite like lake trout smothered in jalapeño blueberry sauce.
Most of the Denali Highway lakes have a decent trout population, and all of the smaller water bodies can be fished easily from the bank. A #2 silver spinner, a chartreuse crocodile or a kamloops spoon will yield results 80 percent of the time.
Fish the windward shore line. Small lake trout eat snails. Waves thrashing the bank stir up the snails, and the trout come to feed on them.
Trout spawn in the last half of September. Lures that are fluorescent orange will get male lake trout during spawning. Let the females go so they can make more trout.
Come to the Denali, even if you can’t hunt caribou. Your moose odds are tiny, but you can still get out of town and enjoy the scenery. The highway is rough on the Cantwell end, but good from mile 65 to Paxson.
Winter isn’t too far off, there has been snow in the peaks along the Richardson Highway and in the mountains north of the Denali Highway. Get the boat out before the ice auger replaces it.
And while you are picking berries, think hard about making your 2022 hunt plans 10 months in advance.
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.