As hunting season progresses, so does the count of moose illegally killed on the Kenai Peninsula -- either from hunters not making themselves aware of new regulations or not taking the time to be sure a moose they're targeting is legal.
"The total is at 10 right now," said Lt. Jon Streifel with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers in Soldotna. That's 10 bulls illegally killed in Game Management Units 7 and 15.
"Some were by hunters who misunderstood the regulations and thought forks were legal. Others were hunters who thought they had a spike, then got up on it and saw it was actually a fork, and some were bulls not quite at 50 inches," he said.
The harvest of spike-fork bulls used to be legal, but due to concern for skewed bull-to-cow ratios, hunters were not allowed to harvest spike-fork bulls in 2011 or 2012. The legal bull size also was changed from having a 50-inch antler spread or three brow tines on at least one side to 50 inches or four brown tines on at least one side. For a guide to what's legal, click here.
Spike on one side essential
After the Alaska Board of Game met last winter, the 50-and-four regulation remained in effect for the current hunting season, but it was decided that bulls with a spike on at least one side would again be legal to harvest. Forks-only bulls would not, though.
"As long as it has a spike on one side, it can have anything on the other, including a fork," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
"It can be difficult in velvet to tell," Lewis added. "But the bottom line is, if you're not sure of what you've got, you shouldn't pull the trigger."
Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger said that the regulation change to add spikes but not the forks is part of the effort to manage the bull-to-cow ratio. According to Fish and Game data, while diet and genetics play a role, roughly half of all yearling bulls develop only spikes and half develop forks.
"Prior to the elimination of the spike-forks, we saw a high percentage of yearling animals being taken as a fork on one side and a fork-or-larger on the other, especially in GMU 15C where we were seeing as much as 60 to 70 percent of the harvest was forked bulls," he said.
Making forked bulls illegal forces hunters to concentrate on the spike bulls and allows forked bulls to enter the population and remain there a few more years.
Many hunters in error turn themselves in
"We're trying to manage for 20 bulls to every 100 cows," Selinger said. "So, while it's nice for hunters to bring home meat, if they're not sure a bull is legal, they're better off letting it go, because if this gets out of hand and illegal takes get excessive, we could see our ratio slip again, which could lead to ... restrictions to future moose-hunting opportunities."
Most hunters who made mistakes turned themselves in, according to Streifel.
"And we really encourage people to come forward if they've taken a sublegal animal. Action will still be taken, but it will be greatly tempered," Streifel said.
Streifel said that authorities are less understanding of hunters who fail to report their mistake.
"We will look at those as much more serious offenses," he said.
Streifel added that meat harvested from moose taken illegally is forfeited by the hunter and given to charity, which is another reason troopers encourage self reporting.
Troopers are investigating one wanton-waste kill so far this season. At Mile 108 of the Sterling Highway, an illegal moose was found shot and left at the side of the road.
"It looks like someone shot it, saw it was illegal, and just walked away, which is repulsive," Streifel said. Those with information can all Fish and Wildlife Safeguard at 800-478-3377.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Redoubt Reporter, which covers Kenai Peninsula news. Used with permission.