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CLOSEST SEAPORT TO PORTLAND, OR!

Volume 10 • Issue 7 www.aksportingjournal.com PUBLISHER James R. Baker GENERAL MANAGER John Rusnak EXECUTIVE EDITOR Andy Walgamott EDITOR Chris Cocoles

The Port of Garibaldi encompasses three coastal towns, including Bay City, Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach. Besides housing RV parks and lodging, restaurants, seafood processing, a lumber mill, and commercial and charter fishing, the Port’s harbor has moorage for 277 vessels. The Port’s property also features the Lion’s Club Lumbermen’s Park and an antique train display. A walking path is also a popular draw for locals as well as visitors to Garibaldi.

Follow us for updates!

WRITERS Paul D. Atkins, Scott Haugen, Tiffany Haugen, Jeff Lund, Mary Catharine Martin, Brian Watkins, Jenny Weis SALES MANAGER Katie Higgins ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Mamie Griffin, Mike Smith, Paul Yarnold DESIGNERS Kayla Mehring, Jake Weipert

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WEB DEVELOPMENT/INBOUND MARKETING Jon Hines PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Kelly Baker ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Katie Aumann INFORMATION SERVICES MANAGER Lois Sanborn ADVERTISING INQUIRIES media@media-inc.com ON THE COVER Hunter Brian Watkins returned to the Chugach Mountains to seek a Dall sheep after he missed out during a previous twoplus-week hunt a few years ealier. On his return, Watkins scored this nice ram. For more, turn to page 83. (BRIAN WATKINS) MEDIA INDEX PUBLISHING GROUP WASHINGTON OFFICE 14240 Interurban Ave South • Suite 190 Tukwila, WA 98168 (206) 382-9220 • Fax (206) 382-9437 media@media-inc.com www.media-inc.com CORRESPONDENCE Twitter @AKSportJourn Facebook.com/alaskasportingjournal Email ccocoles@media-inc.com 8

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CONTENTS

VOLUME 10 • ISSUE 7

INTO ALASKA’S HEART

The wardens, biologists and interns who work the public wilderness of Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges do their job in some of the most remote and dangerous while also beautiful landscapes on the continent. The new Animal Planet series Into Alaska offers an up-close-and-personal look at the everyday happenings at Kenai NWR, the most frequently visited refuge, and the bear-dominated Kodiak NWR. We caught up with some of the employees who protect this sacred ground.

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(LISA HUPP/USFWS)

FEATURES

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83

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NEVER STOP FIGHTING FOR SALMON One of America’s most significant and contentious midterm elections in history came and went last month. For Alaskans, a hot-button item was the salmon protection Ballot Measure 1. Conservationists were disappointed when the measure wasn’t passed by the state’s voters, but Trout Unlimited, one of the biggest supporters of the proposal, reminds us that the fight for the state’s salmon should never end. THE REDEMPTION TAG Imagine spending 17 days climbing steep terrain in the Last Frontier’s unforgiving Chugach Mountains on the trail of a Dall sheep and coming home empty-handed. In 2015 Brian Watkins left the peaks frustrated and bitter, but channeled those emotions a couple years later when he had another tag in hand for a shot at redemption. Find out if his return was a triumphant one. THE SUP-AR SLAM When gunmaker and outdoorsman Randy Luth owned DPMS/Panther Arms, he made a life-changing business decision: He would promote using AR-platform rifles for hunting, a push that would one day lead to him bagging the Super Ten of North American Big Game, including

taking several animals in Alaska. Find out what Luth hopes organizations that keep such records will do in the future for AR-toting hunters. 123 GIFTS FOR THE OUTDOORS LOVER We’ve all been there. You keep putting off your holiday shopping until the last minute and still can’t think of what to get that angler or hunter in your life. Fortunately, our Scott Haugen offers a one-stop store for hot new items that are sure to please sportsmen and -women. And Tiffany Haugen suggests some cooking gadgets to simplify those family fish and game meals.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 63 Too many bears in Northwest Alaska for local moose, caribou herds? 105 What a Panhandle deer hunter learned in 2018

DEPARTMENTS 17 23 79 131

The Editor’s Note The Salmon State: All about jacks Outdoor calendar The Gear Guy: Best backcountry sleeping bags

Alaska Sporting Journal is published monthly. Call Media Inc. Publishing Group for a current rate card. Discounts for frequency advertising. All submitted materials become the property of Media Inc. Publishing Group and will not be returned. Annual subscriptions are $29.95 (12 issues) or $39.95 (24 issues). Send check or money order to Media Inc. Publishing Group, 14240 Interurban Ave South, Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168 or call (206) 382-9220 with VISA or M/C. Back issues may be ordered at Media Inc. Publishing Group, subject to availability, at the cost of $5 plus shipping. Copyright © 2018 Media Inc. Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be copied by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording by any information storage or retrieval system, without the express written permission of the publisher. Printed in U.S.A. 12

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EDITOR’S NOTE

As 2018 comes to a close, editor Chris Cocoles took a look back through the year’s stories for special moments, like Paul and Eli Atkins’ father-and-son Kenai fishing adventure. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

JANUARY: FOR THE RED, WHITE AND BLUE “There is so much honor and excitement pulling on the Team USA uniform. It is so much more than I ever dreamed. I love how suddenly, you become teammates with your entire country.” – Alaska transplant, outdoorswoman and PyeongChang Winter Olympian cross-country skier Sadie Bjornsen.

FEBRUARY: BE CAREFUL IN ALASKA “Would I trade these experiences for not? No, I wouldn’t, they are part of who I am and if not for them I wouldn’t have learned the things I needed to know in order to survive here in the Arctic. I still don’t know everything and even if I did, you never know what lies around the next corner or through the trees or down the river.” –Kotzebue-based correspondent Paul Atkins on Arctic mishaps.

MARCH: WATERFOWLING NIRVANA “But it was the undulating strings of black brant – flock after flock spread across miles of water – that we all yearned to see. And see it we did. Thousands of brant were observed on every hunt, which meant that filling limits was not difficult.” –Field to Fire columnist Scott Haugen on hunting Izembek Lagoon.

APRIL: SHEDDING CLOTHES FOR THE CAUSE “Emotionally, I think I was definitely up to the challenge, just because I have these good survival skills already. And to be able to take them on the show and be able to use them, that was very cool.” –Anchorage resident and Army National Guard veteran LeAnn Duncan on appearing on Discovery Channel’s survival show Naked and Afraid.

MAY: STEELHEAD ANGLERS ARE A RARE BREED “In reality, there are no rules set in stone when it comes to steelheading; just some general guidelines that are a good starting

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point. Until people discover a way to communicate with the fish, opinions will be purely based on speculation, which gives anglers the chance to participate in some spirited debates.” –Writer Tony Ensalaco on his fishing passion for steelies.

JUNE: OBSESSION FOR SALMON “She took off downstream and I had to follow, but after a brave struggle, she beached herself at my feet. She then began to writhe and roll with tremendous power, fouling my leader and bending my fly into a useless piece of wire.” –Excerpt from David Zoby’s book, Fish Like You Mean It.

JULY: FAMILY TIME MATTERS “Getting your kids outside and experiencing the great outdoors with what Alaska has to offer, no matter where you live in the state, is priceless. Time flies, so do it now and as much as possible, because before you know it they’ll be out the door to college or a career and doing their own thing.” –Atkins on the sentimental takeaways from a fishing trip with his son Eli.

AUGUST: TAKING FLIGHT IN ALASKA “We now spend every nice day in the air since we bought an almost identical Cessna 172 from a friend of ours. My landings are near perfect and the Kenai Peninsula’s collection of short, gravel runways make for an excellent introduction into bush flying.” –Seward correspondent Krystin McClure on learning to fly along with her husband, Bixler.

SEPTEMBER: KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE “Trust is at the core of the hunting buddy. Trust first that the buddy is in shape enough mentally and physically to execute the hunt. I know that the dudes I hunt with can keep it together because they have proven to take it seriously.” –Panhandle teacher/ author Jeff Lund on the importance of who you’re hunting with.

OCTOBER: THIS STATE IS TRULY THE WILD “I’ve always said that what Alaska offers is, there are a million ways to live and a million ways to die, and they’re all in Alaska.” –Country music singer Gary Morris, who’s fished and hunted in the Last Frontier often.

NOVEMBER: BEARS CAN SCARE THE HELL OUT OF YOU “Once more I mustered what saliva my suddenly parched mouth possessed and with every last bit of breath belted out, ‘Grizzly!’ This time my cry rang out like a beacon and froze both men and bear in their tracks – no more than 30 yards apart.” –Idaho sportsman Larry Hatter on a terrifying bear encounter while hunting caribou on the North Slope.

DECEMBER: LAND WORTH PROTECTING “We love these places for the opportunities they provide us. But I think what’s really important to remember is that what we have in Alaska is very unique, not only in the U.S. but globally.” –Kenai National Wildlife Refuge manager Andy Loranger on the importance of protected public land and what they offer. See you in 2019! –Chris Cocoles

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THE FACTS ON JACKS

An average-sized adult sockeye (left) prepares to spawn while a jack, which has spent just one year at sea, lurks nearby in Bristol Bay’s Wood River watershed this past August. Jack salmon have developed different strategies to spawn, usually hiding and then sneaking in to fertilize recently laid eggs. (MARY CATHARINE MARTIN/SALMONSTATE)

BY MARY CATHARINE MARTIN

I

f you’ve fished around Frazer Lake on Kodiak Island over the last 20 years, odds are you’re familiar with jack salmon – a male sockeye, king or coho that returns to its natal stream after an abnormally short time at sea. For sockeye, that’s one year; for kings, one to two; for coho, less than a year. Because jacks spend less time at sea and have less time to grow, they’re much smaller than normal. At Frazer Lake, the sockeye making their way up the river have been, a few times since the year 2000, almost 50 percent jacks. That creates problems for Kodiak fisheries staff tasked with managing for commercial value. But before they can

figure out what to do about jacks, says Kevin Schaberg, Westward Region salmon research supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, it’s important they figure out what jack salmon mean and why the run at Frazer Lake has such high numbers of them. “Jacks are important to your population. Just saying ‘kill them all’ isn’t probably going to solve (the problem). But on the other hand, too many jacks isn’t a good thing either, so we’re trying to figure out where that happy medium is,” Schaberg says. Schaberg and colleagues reached out to the University of Washington’s Alaska Salmon Program, which has been re-

searching sockeye salmon in the Bristol Bay’s Wood River watershed for more than 60 years. They asked for help looking into exactly what’s going on at Frazer Lake and how to address it.

WHAT MAKES A JACK A JACK? Ironically, salmon are more likely to become jacks when their growing conditions are good, meaning that as juveniles in their natal streams or lakes, they grow faster. “If they reach a certain body size or body condition by a certain age, (their bodies) will make a decision to become jacks. Any juvenile male salmon could become a jack,” says Lukas DeFilippo, a PhD student at the University of Wash-

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genes to the next generation, as both adult males and females chase them off redds. As a result, instead of courting female salmon, they hide behind obstacles and sneak in to fertilize just-laid eggs. DeFilippo has found that that means streams with more predation from bears – small and shallow streams – have higher levels of jacks. So do streams with lots of cover for sneaking. A counting weir leading up to Frazer Lake, on Kodiak Island, allows managers to tally salmon passage. Though sockeye jack numbers appears to be declining here, they’ve been higher than other river systems in Alaska. (CHRISTOPHER MILLER/CSMPHOTOS.COM)

ington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. DeFilippo is writing his dissertation on jack salmon and is helping look into the Frazer Lake situation. Jack-fertilized eggs are also more likely to become jacks themselves, he says. “Jills,” or female salmon that return after only a year at sea, are rare in part because for females, smaller body size means

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fewer eggs. On the other hand, jacks can potentially produce the same amount of offspring as a typical adult sockeye. Becoming a jack is a tradeoff, DeFilippo says; more jacks survive the ocean because they’re there for less time, and once they return to their natal streams they’re less vulnerable to bears. But they also have less success passing on their

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WHY IS THE JACK PERCENTAGE AT FRAZER LAKE SO BIG? Normally, “higher levels of jacks” means, at most, about 10 percent of a run. In Bristol Bay’s Wood River system, jacks tend to be between 1 and 2 percent of a population, DeFilippo says. At Frazer Lake, sometimes the jack run appears bigger than it is because the year the jacks were born was a productive one, while salmon born in the preceding couple of years (and returning the same year as the jacks) may have hit difficult circumstances. That, Schaberg says, can make the jack percentage look much bigger than it is for the jack’s actual birth year.


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Lukas DeFilippo, who is writing his PhD dissertation on jack salmon, holds one of the early-returning sockeye at the Frazer Lake counting weir. DeFilippo says jack-fertilized eggs are also more likely to become jacks themselves (LUKAS DEFILIPPO)

From bottom to top, a jack sockeye salmon that spent one year at sea, a sockeye that has spent two years at sea, and a sockeye that has spent three years at sea, as seen in Bristol Bay’s Wood River watershed in August 2018. (MARY CATHARINE MARTIN)

The size-selective fishery is also likely contributing to a larger-than-normal looking jack return. Smaller fish like jacks have an easier time escaping nets, so they’re more likely to make it up the river. Yet the main thing that makes Frazer Lake so different is likely what makes it unusual to begin with: It’s a manmade

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run created there when managers introduced salmon – and salmon ladders – in the 1950s and ’60s. Schaberg says the jack percentages at Frazer Lake do appear to be declining in recent years. It may be that over time, as the run becomes more established, the jack population would even out – but

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what amount of time? Whatever ADFG ends up doing, Schaberg says he wants to be sure they first have the science to know, for sure, that it’s the right thing. “I really just come back to, ‘This is a new population. Do we expect it to function like a system that’s been around for centuries?’ I don’t,” he says. “We don’t have a lot of observations throughout history of a newly initiated


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sockeye population and what happens with that over time.” In most salmon populations, “seeing a lot of jacks is a good thing,” Schaberg adds. “It means next year will be good.” “This is the first and only wild population to have an issue like this for a sustained period of time,” DeFilippo says.

JACKS AND THE FUTURE Jacks are an important part of most, if not all, sockeye runs. They serve as genetic protection against sudden environ-

mental changes. For example, jacks returning from the ocean may not be as affected by the “warm blob” in the Gulf of Alaska that scientists think may have affected many of Alaska’s salmon returns in 2018. One of the variables DeFilippo is looking at is the sweet spot between providing “insulation from catastrophic events” and the ability to maintain an economically viable salmon population. “Especially the time we’re in now, with the blob and ocean conditions,

(jack salmon) provide a little bit more flexibility for that population to circumvent that catastrophe,” Schaberg says. “It’s not by any means going to save the day, but it could prevent huge long-lasting issues.” ASJ Editor’s note; Mary Catharine Martin is the communications director of SalmonState, a nonprofit initiative that works to ensure Alaska remains a place wild salmon thrive. For more information, go to salmonstate .org for more.

A Kodiak sow and her three cubs make off with their catch from Frazer Lake. In most salmon populations, “seeing a lot of jacks is a good thing.” says Kevin Schaberg, Westward Region salmon research supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “It means next year will be good.” (LUKAS DEFILIPPO)

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DON’T STOP FIGHTING FOR THE FISH ALASKA’S TROUT UNLIMITED CHAPTER: CONTINUE SALMON CONSERVATION QUEST AFTER BALLOT MEASURE LOSS BY JENNY WEIS

A

s Alaska anglers begin to move past the divisive political season and return to reminiscing about our best catches of the 2018 season and counting down the days until 2019’s first Chinook begin their migration, some might be wondering how the results of Alaska’s midterm election changes our ability to protect Bristol Bay and the places around Alaska that we love to hunt and fish. In some ways, little has changed when it comes to issues such as the proposed Pebble Mine, and we know

these matters have always transcended party lines and will continue to. Despite the massive, volunteer-driven effort of thousands of Alaska fishermen, tribal and fisheries groups, and businesses, Ballot Measure 1, which would have strengthened current law to protect wild salmon habitat statewide and provide a higher standard that projects like Pebble Mine would have to meet, failed to get the votes that were needed to be put into law. Because the ballot measure did not pass, Alaska’s primary law intended to protect salm-

on habitat remains intact, and weak, as currently written. That said, Alaska elected a new governor, Mike Dunleavy, who will need to hear from anglers and hunters to ensure when the doors of Alaska are swung “open for business,” it includes keeping our fisheries thriving and our public lands in good shape. Hunters and anglers need to remind the incoming administration that our rivers and public lands support growing fishing, tourism and recreation industries, and that one industry should not

So many Alaskans have come together to stop mining and other projects that threaten salmon habitat. Trout Unlimited’s Alaska chapter reminds everyone to continue fighting for salmon conservation. (NATHANIEL WILDER) aksportingjournal.com | DECEMBER 2018

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compromise the health of another – Pebble Mine being the number one example. The silver lining for the failed ballot measure? In speaking with thousands of Alaskans during the years of hard work and dedication that preceded the election, one thing became and remains crystal clear: Alaskans agree protections for wild salmon are needed and that many, many people do not want to see Pebble Mine developed. While we learned during the election that the ballot measure wasn’t what Alaskans wanted, we also learned in the process with respect to our salmon we

have more in common than we differ. In the case of protecting the Bristol Bay fishery from the massive threat of the Pebble Mine, the fight is far from over. The path to protecting this region is multi-faceted and there are many opportunities in the year ahead to help stop Pebble from becoming a reality. Alaska anglers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the country have done a lot for Alaska’s fisheries – the best example being that there isn’t a massive hole in the ground at the headwaters of the world’s greatest sockeye salmon fishery! We continue to hold the power of shaping a fish-

“Alaska anglers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the country have done a lot for Alaska’s fisheries,” Trout Unlimited’s Jenny Weis writes. “We continue to hold the power of shaping a fish-filled future for Bristol Bay and Alaska.” (BRIAN O’KEEFE; FLY-OUT MEDIA)

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filled future for Bristol Bay and Alaska. This is true regardless of who is in office. Trout Unlimited and our network of supporters will continue to work diligently to stop the proposed Pebble Mine, strengthen protections for critical fishing areas and ensure the rivers and places that Alaskans love to fish continue to thrive for generations to come. You can sign the pledge to protect Bristol Bay at SaveBristolBay.org. You can also follow Trout Unlimited Alaska at facebook.com/TUAlaska/ for the latest news and ways to help. ASJ Editor’s note: Jenny Weis is the communications and digital advocacy specialist for Trout Unlimited’s Alaska program. Go to tu.org/tu-programs/alaska for more info.


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PROTECTING

WILD ALASKA

INTO ALASKA’S HEART BY CHRIS COCOLES

B

ill Leacock and Dustin Rose quietly maneuver their skiff along what could easily pass as a Norwegian fjord. Their boat slows to a crawl; they whisper instructions to each other as they scan the elderberry- and salmonberry-lined shoreline in search of a Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge local known affectionately as Broken Ear. As Leacock tells it, the 23-year-old sow bear “would swim from this north island to Camp Island then across the channel on to the shore of the lake. Her cubs would stay on the north island. Broken Ear would then walk over to Thumb Creek and fish all day long. In the early evening she’d return. Her cubs would come to the shore of the north island and watch Mom swim from Camp

WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS TALK ABOUT NEW ANIMAL PLANET SERIES FOCUSING ON NATIONAL REFUGES

Two of Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges, Kenai and Kodiak, are featured this winter on Animal Planet’s series Into Alaska. (USFWS/LISA HUPP; BERKLEY BEDELL)

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PROTECTING

WILD ALASKA

Sockeye like these at Kenai NWR are such a critical part of the ecosystem and habitat of these refuges. “All these salmon coming bring in all the nutrients from the marine ecosystem,” bear biologist Bill Leacock says. “And they spawn and then they die and fertilize everything.” (LISA HUPP/USFWS)

Island to the north island in anticipation. There would be an affectionate greeting and then the cubs would start nursing.” In the moment, this place – one of North America’s if not the planet’s most rugged, remote, dangerous yet hauntingly beautiful – is Broken Ear’s home, Lea-

cock’s office, Rose’s classroom and our public-land backyard, albeit a backyard that most Americans will never get to experience in person. That is illustrated wonderfully on Animal Planet’s series Into Alaska, which offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into

the world of Alaska’s Kodiak and Kenai National Wildlife Refuges, two of the shining stars among the state’s 16 federal refuges covering roughly 77 million acres of protected land. “National wildlife refuges in Alaska are representative of some of what makes Alaska so special, from my standpoint, which is its wild nature, its amazing fish and wildlife resources and the connection that people have with those resources. The scope of Alaska is hard to get your head around to begin with,” says Andy Loranger, manager at Kenai NWR. “There are refuges literally throughout this state – from the high Arctic tundra on the North Slope through the boreal forest and encompassing several mountain ranges, coastal marine areas and islands. Every ecosystem and every biome in the state is represented within Alaska’s national wildlife refuges.” Mike Brady, Loranger’s managerial counterpart at Kodiak NWR, has worked on refuges in Maryland, California, Florida, Virginia and Massachusetts in addition to his time in the Last Frontier. So he’s experienced wildlife conservation in all

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corners of America. “It just goes to show the dedication of the folks. I’ve moved around a lot for the service and every refuge has its own issues. But it’s really the staff that stands behind those issues working on them every day,” Brady says. “They’re super dedicated, hard-working folks and really like conservation. Whatever it is and wherever it is, they’re very dedicated individuals.” Into Alaska showcases them, both the lifers like Bill Leacock and the Dustin Rose-types who someday might be following in their footsteps.

SMILE, YOU’RE ON CAMERA First things first: NWR biologists and officers don’t have the easiest of jobs. Their workdays are spent in far-flung locations away from computer screens and desk chairs, and then tedious hours are spent entering data they’ve collected. No, Kodiak NWR manager Mike Brady is not petting a live bear – that’s not a very smart idea – but as the display at the refuge’s visitor center shows, the bears are the stars of the show here. (CINDA CHILDERS/USFWS)

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Often they survey salmon streams miles from any paved roads or keep tabs on anglers or hunters to make sure said sportsmen and -women are legally harvesting fish and game. They’re working with wildlife species that have zero interest in getting national television exposure. So how much more complicated was it to agree to let a cameraperson and a producer tag along, let alone for refuge staffers to have their everyday grunt work filmed? “It was a big unknown for us, to be frank with you, and we were hesitant for sure. But we felt that introducing the American public to national wildlife refuges in Alaska, our staff and the mission and work of the Fish and Wildlife Service was going to be worth it. That said, we were pretty naïve about what a television production would require,” says Loranger, who appeared on the show during its first month of episodes in November. “I think for most of us being on camera was definitely a unique experience; we’re generally not trained to do that. Some of us are a little bit more camera-shy than others. I’m an introvert. But all in all it was


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a positive experience for our staff, working with the TV crew on a daily basis as well as doing the interviews.” For Leacock, the Kodiak bear biologist, he felt much more comfortable in the field than when asked to amplify his thoughts back at headquarters. And he requested an intimate crew when it came to following the biologist around during bear work, keeping the entourage to just a camera operator and a producer.

Even as federal refuges provide habitat for fish and wildlife, they’re also a place people can enjoy, whether it be rafting, fishing, critter watching or hunting, all of which are activities that can be done at Kenai NWR. (BERKLEY BEDELL/USFWS)

It’s not an unreasonable request, given that it’s hard enough to get close to a Kodiak brown bear, a bald eagle – in another episode Kenai warden Chris Johnson captures an injured raptor in order to get the bird to a vet for treatment – or most other animals without added distractions. “When they first proposed this project, we emphasized to them that we want to keep the crew as small as possible; two max. And they understood that. Bears

“National wildlife refuges in Alaska are representative of some of what makes Alaska so special, and from my standpoint, which is its wild nature, wildlife and the amazing fish and wildlife resources,” says Kenai NWR manager Andy Loranger.

(BERKLEY BEDELL/USFWS)

aren’t really comfortable with bigger groups,” says Leacock, confessing that indeed the more people the safer the group is from potential bear attacks. Still, smaller was better in this project. Leacock was instrumental as coach for Bear Etiquette 101, starting with proper body language around Kodiak’s giant furry superstars. “We definitely wanted to keep the sizes of groups as small as possible. There was a difference between four people and two people,” he says. “For people who don’t know how to minimize their disturbance toward bears, it’s a challenge.” But it’s one that by all accounts both the refuge and Animal Planet crews pulled off efficiently. “Bill does have this special talent and has a very calming presence. I’ve been lucky enough to go up salmon streams with Bill before and he truly is a bear whisperer. A person like myself would never just walk quietly up a bear stream yelling, ‘Hey bear! Hey bear!’” Brady says. “But you’d probably never go to some of the areas that Bill goes to because of the concentration of bears. But Bill is very calm and I’ve gone up to (the O’Malley River bear viewing area) with him before, and it’s just an amazing experience. He has a lot of respect for the bears and he knows what he can and cannot do. It’s not something that you can do on your own.”

WORKING FOR CONSERVATION For Kenai NWR’s refuge manager Lorang46

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WILD ALASKA er, his current love started at an early age. “I was always interested in science. My favorite subjects were the biological sciences. My long-term interest in conservation and the outdoors may go back to some of my fondest memories of youth in New England when Dad would take us fishing” Loranger says. “We’d round up a group of kids from the neighborhood, grab our fishing poles and head out for the afternoon or evening. We’d fish bass, sunfish and catfish until dark, or later if Dad didn’t need to get back.” It wasn’t until late in his undergrad college journey that he had his first real experience plying the trade he’s made a distinguished run out of. He pursued and was ultimately offered an internship with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

There, he accompanied biologists checking wood duck boxes to measure nesting success, rocket-netted and banded waterfowl on the north shore of Boston and conducted studies on river otters’ food habits. It was a life-changing experience for Loranger, who was named the USFWS Refuge System manager of the year for 2018. That volunteer work was “the light bulb going off.” “I immediately knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. The biologists at MDFW all advised me to go onto graduate school, and I did that. I was then able to hire on seasonally with the Fish and Wildlife Service in western Minnesota for two summers” Loranger says. “Like many people, I had a lifetime interest in seeing Alaska, so my wife and I just decided to move up before knowing for sure we had jobs. Thankfully, I was able to continue my career here with the Fish and Wildlife Service.” Loranger often makes the approximate three-hour drive between the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. But he still makes it a point to stop along the route to take in the scenery, not unlike the tour-

Biologist Bill Leacock has studied bears for the last 22 years, including his time at Kodiak. “Every time I’m out there I learn something new about bears,” he says. “I wish I could climb into their head but I can’t. It gives you little glimpses of about what’s going on of what they may be thinking, how they behave and how they interact with each other.” (LISA HUPP/USFWS)

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ists who flock to Kenai, which unlike most other Alaska refuges is located on the road system and offers salmon anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers easy access to its wild front- and backcountry. Loranger, who along with his wife arrived in Alaska years ago before they had children, can still remember his first silver salmon he pulled from the Little Susitna River. Now when he plays instead of works he can enjoy the same lands he helps protect. “We love these places for the opportunities they provide us. But I think what’s really important to remember is that what we have in Alaska is very unique, not only in the U.S. but globally,” he says. “Keeping these places wild to ensure that people have these opportunities in the future, so that they can be as awestruck as I am every time I’m on the Kenai River or make that stop on the drive – that’s important to me and important to the Fish and Wildlife Service.” And when you’re talking 77 million acres of federal refuge land, call it Alaska’s controlled chaos of salmon, moose, caribou, fox, lynx, Dall sheep, mountain


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Broken Ear - note the right side of the sow’s head - is one of many Kodiak bears that Leacock has gotten to know over the years. (©)TIP (MOON) LEACOCK)

goats, wolves and black and brown bears, among so many others. Kenai features just about all you would envision when dreaming of this state. “The Kenai Refuge and the Kenai Peninsula have been nicknamed Alaska in miniature because many of the state’s habitats are found here,” Loranger says. “We don’t have polar bears or musk oxen, but the diversity of habitats on the Kenai from the Harding Icefield, glaciers, the Kenai Mountains and alpine tundra at higher elevations to the boreal forest, riverine systems, including the world-famous Kenai River, and coastal estuaries at lower elevations supports many of Alaska’s most iconic fish and wildlife species.” As for Brady, his nomadic rungs on the job ladder included working with condors at Southern California’s Hopper Mountain NWR, to the opposite coast studying Canada geese and other waterfowl at Maryland’s Blackwater NWR. Now in his second tour of Alaska – he was formerly assigned to Alaska Peninsula and Becharof NWRs – Brady sees the value of learning while working with interns featured on Into Alaska. That includes Rose and Laura Bashor, who in an episode joined Kenai biologist Ken Gates and fish technician Chelsea Pardo at the Funny River salmon weir to sample data from spawning Chinook. “You’re preparing them for the next level, so to make them a good biologist they need to see what you do and they learn from what you do. And hope for the best when they work down the road. We all come from that intern/volunteer level and work our way up through the ranks,” Brady says. “We know what it takes, so you try to give them every available nut and bolt so they can cobble something together. Even 50

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if it’s not with the Fish and Wildlife Service, we hope they bring that conservation (approach) forward, whether it’s for a state agency, a nonprofit or whatever.”

THE ‘BEAR WHISPERER’ In fourth grade, Bill Leacock was given a project assignment and chose brown bears as the topic. Today he has an ursine obsession. Years later in the early to mid-1990s, Leacock was working for the Swedish International Development Agency Lao-Swedish Forestry Cooperation Programme. He had accrued a couple months of annual leave and ended up volunteering to help out George Schaller of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who was trying to carry out wildlife surveys in the Annamite Mountains of Laos near the Vietnamese border. “(Schaller) expressed a need for some help from someone that was a fluent speaker of Lao and was bush-savvy in a Lao sense,” says Leacock. Schaller, a University of Alaska alum and revered biologist who was one of the first mammalogists to work with mountain gorillas, had a life-changing discussion with Leacock. “I was helping him out with some surveys up at the Laotian/Vietnamese border and was picking his brain about potential projects,” he says. “Oddly enough he said they were looking for two: One was the Bactrian camel in Mongolia and another one was someone to do the first brown bear project in Kamchatka, Russia, back in 1995. And I said, ‘Camels sound pretty cool but brown bears in Kamchatka sound great.’ So that’s where I really got immersed in the study of brown bears and that started


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Bald eagles, large mammals, salmon; these iconic Alaskan figures are huge parts of what the state’s national wildlife refuges are about and are featured on Into Alaska. (LISA HUPP/USFWS)

in (the Kamchatka Peninsula).” In that far eastern region of Russia – some of its protected areas might hold Earth’s most dense concentration of brown bears – Leacock was given a welcome-to-bear-research shock therapy. During a pilot trip with Schaller in August 1995, the duo was on the Vechinkya River, which flows into Kurliskoye Lake in the Kamchatka Sanctuary. “I’d never seen anything so spectacular in my life: salmon stacked on top of each other going up creeks that were 12 inches deep. I was just kind of thrown out there to sink or swim,” he recalls. “There were 18 bears around me and I didn’t know what the hell to do. But the odd thing was they would just look at me and let me go on my way down the stream and they would just go about their business.” Leacock’s 22-year run studying bears took him from Russia to Alaska’s Yukon Delta NWR and now bruin-friendly Kodiak, a refuge that has pristine salmon spawning habitat and sustains 3,500 bears. Working with Rose, a University of Idaho student, only reassured Leacock that his tireless research and admiration 52

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for these giant predators and rock stars of Alaska’s animal kingdom is his muse and likely in good hands years from now. Rose, who did two tours in Iraq in the military, always aspired to pursue a career in fish and wildlife enforcement but now ponders more of a research gig. He couldn’t ask for a more seasoned teacher in figuring out these fascinating and often misunderstood giant predators. “It’s a very challenging place for a person like Bill to get around and do the work that he’s doing for everyone. Bear conservation is very important. It’s been a great history here at Kodiak,” Brady says. “We want to make sure that bear is there for the next generation and the habitat is there for the next generation. We have this giant intact ecosystem, which many other managers in the Lower 48 don’t have. We’re really lucky here in Alaska to be able to work on such a large animal on such a large canvas.” Watching Leacock and Rose in action on Animal Planet was a reflection of one generation of conservationists mentoring the next, regardless of where the youngster’s career path takes him. Take a closer look at their bearded faces and you might confuse Bill and Dustin as father and son. “Even before he came up here Dustin had an intense and strong interest in wildlife in trying to figure things out and why things are the way they are. So that was really nice, but he was really new to bears,” Leacock says. “(But) he’s one of the most observant that we’ve had. He’s watching things and trying to figure things out. He was very comfortable, even though he was new in bear country.” What also impressed Leacock about his protégé was Rose’s individuality. Yes, the rookie listened to what the veteran recommended, but Rose was also confident enough to offer his own viewpoint “and maybe challenge me sometimes,” Leacock says, a good sign that he’s well on his way to making his own mark whatever and wherever it might take him. Bashor admits she’d never really handled a fish before meeting up with Gates and Pardo, but here was the college kid jumping into a weir with flopping Chinook and caddying Pardo as they scooped up one particularly energetic female. One of Into Alaska’s gifts is hopefully passing a proverbial torch to the next wave of wild-

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life working men and women. “What’s a better place than Alaska’s national wildlife refuges to introduce young people to the work that we do and perhaps spark an interest in conservation?” Loranger asks.   “These internships are great learning and grounding experiences, and it’s rewarding for us to see a young person decide ‘This is important to me and this is what I’d like to do for the rest of my career.’”

FINDING BROKEN EAR Leacock and Rose spot bald eagles perched among cottonwoods, streams filled with spawning sockeye and a young bear frolicking along the water’s edge. But no Broken Ear. The sow got the name because “her right ear was evidently torn in a fight with another bear at least 13 years ago, at least since I’ve known her,” Leacock says. “Her right ear is barely hanging onto her head by a thin piece of skin about half an inch wide.” Leacock has been around these bruins for so long he knows several of them by name, and he’s been an acquaintance of Broken Ear since first spotting the sow

in 2006. On this day, it doesn’t appear that he’ll reunite with the old gal on this outing as he and Rose cruise back toward Camp Island after their surveying is complete. But then it happens. “I see her right there,” the intern says as he peers over from the port side of the skiff into the brush. Sure enough, Leacock recognizes the animal right away.   “Yep. There she is,” Leacock proclaims as Broken Ear emerges from the bush. “She stood up and as if to say hello.” A few yards away down the shoreline they spot Mom’s two cubs engaged in some wrestling; in other words the usual sibling horse-, er, bearplay. They both take a few minutes to breathe in the moment. They’re working, of course, but you get the sense on camera that they’re as in awe of what’s around them and don’t take for granted what these refuges represent. “Been learning a lot of about how bears behave and how to behave around them,” Rose says back at their primitive Camp Island cabin. “I’ve grown a lot fonder of bears.”

And even Leacock and Rose can take the time to simply be wildlife watchers and admirers. In an early episode, they spy a cub – one of Broken Ears’ brood – and a fox chasing other like a golden retriever and beagle at the neighborhood dog park. Leacock leans up against the porch railing. Rose breaks out a smartphone to record a play-by-play memory. It’s the quintessential national wildlife refuge moment. “My hope or our hope is that through this program, we’re going to be able to raise a little bit of awareness with the public about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the refuges at Kenai and Kodiak and what they’re all about,” Leacock says. “(Showcase) the kind of work we do and build a little bit of support for the effort we make for the landscapes and the waters that we’re trying to conserve.” ASJ Editor’s note: New episodes of Into Alaska (animalplanet.com/tv-shows/into-alaska) air on Monday nights on Animal Planet (check your local listings). Check out the official websites for more on Kenai (fws.gov/ refuge/kenai) and Kodiak (fws.gov/refuge/ kodiak) National Wildlife Refuges.

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The area around author Paul Atkins’ Northwest Alaska home base has a bear problem. There appear to be too many of them, which is having an effect on prized big game species like caribou and moose. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

SOMETHING BREWING WITH BRUIN NUMBERS SOLVING ALASKA’S BEAR PROBLEM WON’T BE EASY BY PAUL D. ATKINS

M

an; that’s a lot of bears,” I whispered to my hunting partner Lew. We sat in our boat while anchored to the bank. It was crazy and hard to believe, and I had never seen anything like it in all my years here in the Arctic. From every direction they kept coming – sows with cubs and boars. They ranged from big to small, emerging from the willows like a herd of caribou. It was an amazing sight.

LATELY, BEARS SEEM TO be a problem ev-

erywhere. Look at the news this past fall. From Wyoming elk hunters to a New Mexico bear guide to a Montana hiker, it seems like there’s a new attack everyday somewhere in the Lower 48, not to men-

tion here in Alaska. Now, I don’t know the exact cause for these tragedies. I only see what I read, but I do know for a fact that no matter where you live, bears, especially grizzlies, are becoming one of the fastest growing problems for those of us who enjoy the outdoors. There’s too damn many of them, period. And if something is not done soon it will only escalate, which could lead to more injured people and a diminishing of the game we love to chase each fall. The bear problem is not something new; it’s been brewing for years. Like wild hogs down south, which are multiplying at an enormous rate, so are bears in this country and other parts of the United States. An unchecked balance

has occurred, and it’s something that nobody seems to think about until when it might be too late. On a recent hunt here in my Northwest Alaska home base, I saw four sets of sows and cubs roaming one sandbar. That was in one evening and within 10 minutes of each other. Some people might think that it’s OK or cool and that they have the right, but it’s not for those of us trying to fill the freezer each year. Those same cubs will eventually grow up and make more bears and the cycle will continue. Something needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.

LET’S FIRST TALK ABOUT what excess bears are doing to game populations. For those

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One thing you can bet on in these parts: If you spend any time upriver, the sight of bear tracks will be a constant. They line the banks, going both ways and come in all sizes. Most bears travel at night or late in the evening.

The far north is some of the most beautiful country in the world. Pristine rivers flow through this country, where the fishing is next to none. Moose and caribou once roamed here like cattle, but nowadays they are few and far between. But bears seem to be everywhere. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

(PAUL D. ATKINS)

of us who hunt for sport and to fill freezers, bears have become a nemesis. I haven’t killed a moose in four years, and it isn’t because I haven’t hunted; I have. My entire fall is devoted to moose and finding a legal bull has become harder and harder over the last few years. The reason is simple: they aren’t there. You can hardly find a legal bull; if you do, you’re dang lucky. Yes, we do see cows and calves; just not as many as we

once encountered. Don’t get me wrong here; there are still moose and many big boys fall each season. There just aren’t as many as there once was, in my opinion. A recent survey by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game came out this past summer detailing its annual moose count for the Squirrel River area in Northwest Alaska. In this one small drainage of Game Management Unit 23, moose once numbered around 3,500. This year the

count stood at 1,300. One bear on average can eat nine moose a year, not to mention what the wolves take. But to go from 3,500 to less than half of that is crazy! I realize nine moose per year sounds high, but that is the average, according to ADFG data. Most outfitter and guide companies have changed their focus too. Who can blame them? It makes more sense to sell bear hunts – they’re almost guaranteed

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– than to advertise moose and caribou hunts, when they are not. Guiding for bears in dangerous, but with the sheer number of bears it makes me wish that I would have gotten my guide license ago when I had the opportunity. Bear hunts in this country range between $10,000 and $15,000, depending on the logistics, and there are plenty of people lined up to do it. I do know of one guide who this year had eight bear hunters and they all filled their tags easily and in short time. I’m guessing next year there will be even more. Besides moose, bears also affect other species as well. In the old days, the Northwest Arctic, and more specifically

the Western Arctic caribou herd, was a slam dunk for those wanting to kill a caribou. However, this year was one of the worst years for finding them and locating a group to hunt. Transporters had to go farther than usual, and those that they did find were sparse. Warm weather did play a part, but the herds stayed far north. Eventually when they did arrive in the Kobuk Valley, many were turned back by bears. If you don’t believe me, just ask some of the locals. “Too many bears,” was something I heard consistently throughout the fall. I also talked to many out-of-state hunters, plus those residents coming

up from Anchorage to hunt caribou and moose. Their stories were all the same: “Didn’t see much; only bears.” Or, “I wish I had a bear tag.” Or, “We had bears in camp every night. It was scary!”

I WROTE ABOUT OUR annual trip up the Noatak to the infamous Eli River in last month’s issue. Yes, we saw a ton of bears, and to be honest that is why we went, in hopes of killing a couple. We were also looking for moose, but we knew in our hearts that we wouldn’t get any. We did see one but he wasn’t hanging around to see what we were. To see caribou would be a dream and the lack of sign for both moose and caribou

It has been the author’s experience that bears and caribou are not known to mix too much. But these days, with all the bears that keep house along the various rivers, they seem to be coming in contact with each other more and more. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

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Moose are the holy grail for Alaska hunters, as one can provide meat throughout the year. But their numbers are way down, a factor Atkins believes is due to abundant bears. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

was obvious. The days of finding moose or caribou in the Noatak Valley in sustainable hunting populations has gone the way of the dodo. I believe bears are the reason. I could see something like this coming many years ago, when I used to venture way up north to hunt by transport. I’m talking 100 or so miles north into the Wulik River country. It’s a pristine place with beautiful scenery – wide gravel banks, low-lying willows and an incredible view of the Delong Mountains.

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The fishing there is some of the best in the world and it was primo moose country that produced every year. It was awesome, and in some years we not only took moose but landed a couple of caribou on each trip. As the years went by, though, we saw fewer moose and caribou became nonexistent. Bears, however, did not disappear. They were everywhere it seemed and there were times when it got quite dangerous. My last trip up there resulted in one

DECEMBER 2018 | aksportingjournal.com

of the closest calls I’ve had with a bear. If it wasn’t for a quick shot from a rifle, it would have ended badly. I haven’t been back since.

HOW DO WE SOLVE this problem? How do we get back to what was once some of the greatest wildlife areas in the world? I just don’t know. Some people will disagree that there is a problem, but they don’t live here and see it like we do. Fish and Game has adopted new policies, in-


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This bear was the lone animal taken on a recent moose hunt. In six days the hunters saw bear sign everywhere, but hardly any traces of moose or even caribou. A silver lining? While most people turn down their nose at bear meat, if it’s properly prepared and cared for it’s quite delicious. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

creasing harvest tags and begging for more out-of-state guided hunters with over-the-counter tags. It has had some effect, but not much. Residents of this unit can now take two bears, whereas only recently it was just one. For many years residents pleaded that the “one bear per person” policy was not enough. The argument was knowing that in some parts of Alaska it was one every four years and still is in some places. I think that is where the problem started. We didn’t react fast enough and now we are dealing with those consequences. Is it just a cycle, like lynx and snowshoe hares? Some say yes, but maybe not. You have to remember that unlike those two species, a grizzly can live for a long time. ADFG also passed laws to allow baiting in some units where baiting wasn’t allowed. For some that’s frowned upon.

They did it in this unit, but few have tried it and the logistics are crazy, the exception being those who have a plane and can check their bait site on a regular basis. Now, I don’t want to get into the baiting debate. If you like to bait, fine, and if you don’t, fine. It’s just that ADFG is trying to do something to solve the problem. Yet there is a bigger problem: People just don’t hunt bears, especially those who live in these rural areas. Unless it’s to protect their property or themselves, they don’t gain anything from it. Yes, you can eat bear meat, but most don’t. If you want a rug or mount, you usually only have one done in a lifetime. Bear rugs are expensive to have done and one is enough for most. I know that first hand.

THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT grizzly bear populations have increased. They have caused problems – even death in some instances

– and they’re not something to trifle with no matter where you live, west, north and everywhere in between. They destroy game populations and cause damage to cabins and property too. But on the positive side, bears are still incredible to view, photograph and, yes, hunt. Spot-and-stalk grizzly hunting is one of my favorite things to do and a hunt I want to continue. I just hope through good conservation practices and science-based thinking we can come together and bring balance to this ever-growing problem. ASJ Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big game hunting and fishing throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. Paul is a monthly contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.

For subsistence hunters in remote Alaska areas like Kotzebue, where Atkins resides, bears can do a lot of damage to game populations. “I just hope through good conservation practices and science-based thinking,” he writes, “we can come together and bring balance to this ever-growing problem.” (PAUL D. ATKINS)

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OUTDOOR CALENDAR

Several winter moose seasons are open throughout December in the state, including game management units in the Mat-Su Valley, Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. (KENT MILLER/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

Dec. 1 Dec. 1 Dec. 1 Dec. 1 Dec. 1 Dec. 1 Dec. 1 Dec. 1 Dec. 15 Dec. 15

Wolf season opens in Game Management Unit 2 (Prince of Wales Island) Resident antlered bull moose season opens in GMU 9C (Alaska Peninsula; Naknek River drainage) Caribou season opens in GMU 14A and 14B (Mat-Su Valley) Resident antlered bull moose season opens in GMU 9E (Alaska Peninsula) Resident antlered bull moose season opens in GMU 17B and 17C (Bristol Bay) Moose season opens in GMU 18 (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta) Antlerless moose season opens in GMU 20B (Fairbanks-Central Tanana, within Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge) Resident moose season opens in GMU 20F (Fairbanks-Central Tanana, Yukon River drainage downstream from but not including Hess Creek drainage and excluding Tanana River drainage) Resident antlered bull moose season opens in GMU 9B (Alaska Peninsula) Various moose seasons open in GMU 14 (Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson Management Area) aksportingjournal.com | DECEMBER 2018

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THE REDEMPTION TAG AFTER A FRUSTRATING DALL SHEEP HUNT IN THE CHUGACH RANGE, A BOWMAN HARNESSES STRONG EMOTIONS TO GIVE IT A GO AGAIN BY BRIAN WATKINS

S

heep hunters who write stories often try to articulate a gorgeous environment, or perhaps a life-changing hunt through descriptive language. Those stories often play out the same: crisp air, serene mountains and achieving a personal feat. I want to tell the story of the raw emotion that often encompasses hunting Dall rams. My backstory with this hunt started in 2015. I was fortunate enough to draw a bow-only, any ram sheep tag. I spent 17

days chasing mountain monarchs. On opening day, I missed a full-curl ram at 82 yards. On day nine, I was forced to say a prayer for safety as I clung to the side of a mountain and slid on fresh ice. (Two weeks later hunter Roy Roth would die 7 miles away in the same conditions.) I blew two stalks between days 10 and 17. My frustration took over and I quit with two days left in the season. I was mentally and physically drained. After enduring the hardships of hunting in

Alaska – extreme terrain, terrible weather, thick alders, sheer cliffs – I quit and went home. My defeat caused me to hate the area. I vowed to never go there again. To hell with hunting sheep with a bow and to hell with Eklutna Lake, where I’d drawn my tag, I thought.

BUT AS THE YEARS passed, that hate evolved into a drive. In 2016, I successfully harvested a

Author Brian Watkins once spent a grueling 17 days in the Chugach Mountains and didn’t get the Dall ram he was after. After stewing about it, he drew another sheep tag and vowed to redeem himself in the same area. (BRIAN WATKINS)

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ram in the Wrangell Mountains on a solo rifle hunt. It allowed me to drop the monkey off my back of harvesting a ram, but it didn’t mend the pain and animosity I had towards the Chugach Mountains and taking a ram with a bow. I had to go back. I needed redemption.

After two years, I decided to apply for the tag again. When the results came back this past February, I was awarded my redemption tag. The preparation for this hunt was different. I already knew the area and the sheep. I wasn’t preparing by scouting; I

was getting in the best physical shape of my life. I’d lift heavier, hike further and work harder in the gym. I’d put myself through mental tests by starving myself for a day and hiking in miserable conditions throughout the year. I was preparing as much mentally as physically.

The sun rises over the Anchorage area’s Eklutna Lake, site of Watkins’ failure and triumph as a bowhunter. (BRIAN WATKINS)

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This time, I was also two years the wiser and prepared to be patient. That patience was my main focus. I even went as far as to write “patience to kill” on my hand as a reminder.

I ARRIVED IN MY game management unit three days early to watch and note where the sheep’s habitual paths took them. I had two groups figured out and had a definitive plan. Frustration would emerge again as other hunters pushed out group one within the first hour of daylight on opening morning. Without a ram in sight, my focus had to shift to group two. Getting in three days early allowed me to see their progression through

each day. They would bed high and feed north to a patch of dark grass. I watched as they rose from their beds and started the migration each day. With that knowledge, I knew where to be. The issue was getting there. I had to move across a 2-mile stretch of open terrain below the sheep. I would have to use features to navigate without alerting the sheep. Rocks and glacial crevasses would be my navigation tools. But I was determined to make this work.

PASSING BELOW SHEEP REQUIRES pa-

tience, skill and time. At one point of my stalk, I had to move across 200 yards of land that was as flat as a football field.

Determined to hunt and kill a Chugach ram all by himself, Watkins set up his solo camp high in sheep country. (BRIAN WATKINS)

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Under the watchful eye of sheep I was forced to move at a snail’s pace. I crab-crawled across the flats to cover distance. I balled up between movements to look like a rock and it took two hours to cross just 600 feet. After the success of moving in plain view, I was able to cover ground at a brisk pace. At some points I was in a sprint trying to beat the sheep to their final grazing destination. I got into position with the wind in my face just as the sheep were coming into view. They were feeding my direction at 120 yards. But as the sheep closed the distance, they suddenly went on high alert. I couldn’t figure out what had happened,


Finally! A motivating slogan Watkins wrote on his hand – “patience to kill” – paid off for him with this beautiful sheep. (BRIAN WATKINS)

as I was out of sight, had the wind in my favor and hadn’t made a sound. Regardless, the sheep took off back to their bedding area in the high ground. As I assessed the situation, I saw the culprit. Another hunter had compromised my stalk. Fury flowed through my veins. Rage filled my chest. I can’t explain the anger I felt watching this hunter carelessly ruin my opportunity.

“Monarchs of the mountains,” Dall rams occupy some of the ruggedest country in Alaska. During his 2015 hunt, the author slid on ice, conditions that claimed the life of a well-known sheep hunter not far away shortly afterwards. (BRIAN WATKINS)

Every feeling that I had felt in 2015 rushed back in and crippled my state of mind. I was crushed.

BUT AS THE NEXT day progressed I would realize that I had actually succeeded. I had been minutes away from outsmarting these rams and only lost due to another hunter’s inexperience. I had come to terms with what happened and felt

accomplished. As my mood changed, I realized the four sheep were still in their bedding area. My plan was to wait them out for the day and see if they’d feed down again. I waited all day, frequently glancing at the “patience to kill” written on my hand. I was astonished as the rams eventually started down the same path across the valley. I set out to duplicate the pre-

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Watkins says the pain of carrying his 98-pound pack loaded with gear and ram 10½ miles out “never felt so good.” (BRIAN WATKINS)

vious day’s stalk. I had to cut the rams off closer to their bedding area in case other hunters were still in the area. I was able to close the distance to 140 yards of a feeding ram. I kept the thought of patience and would let him make a mistake instead of me making the move. He fed out of sight, so I crawled into a position where I expected his path to cross. When the ram came back into my sight, he was 22 yards way. I drew back my Mission Ballistic bow and let my Rage Hypodermic find the vitals of the ram. As the sheep took off, I knew it was a great shot. The depression of my morning evolved into exhilaration. The bipolar emotions of sheep hunting had come full circle in one day. My entire body was filled with adrenaline as I shook uncontrollably. After three years of frustration and defeat, my redemption tag was filled. I had accomplished the ultimate hunt. Since I was determined to fill my redemption tag solo, I was stuck carrying a 98-pound pack out on my back. I had 10½ miles of pain to get to my truck. That pain never felt so good. ASJ

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THE ‘SUP-AR TEN’ SLAM GUNMAKER BAGS 10 OF CONTINENT’S BIG GAME SPECIES WITH AR-PLATFORM RIFLES

BY CHRIS COCOLES • PHOTOS COURTESY OF RANDY LUTH

"I have now been informed that I am most likely the first hunter to complete the Grand Slam Club/Ovis’s coveted Super Ten award while using an AR-15 rifle platform. On Aug. 31, 2018, I successfully harvested a barren ground caribou with my DPMS .308 rifle to finalize my unplanned accomplishment of promoting the fact that you can hunt with an AR-platform semiautomatic rifle utilizing the appropriate caliber." –Randy Luth

W

hen gunmaker Randy Luth owned a company he created from scratch, DPMS/Panther Arms, he made a life-changing business decision, at least as far as hunting was concerned.

SPECIES Rocky Mountain elk WHERE Crested Butte, Colorado WHEN October 2006

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SPECIES Dall sheep WHERE Gold Mountain (Wrangell Mountains), Alaska

WHEN August 2007

SPECIES Barren ground caribou WHERE 2½ hours south of Deadhorse, Alaska WHEN August 2018

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“In 2001, we made our first .308-caliber ARs in 2001. To promote our new AR larger platform rifles, I decided to begin promoting big game hunting with the AR rifles,” says Luth, who sold his founding company in 2007 and now owns and operates Luth Arms (763-263-0166; luth-ar.com). That first prototype rifle was used on an Alaskan mountain goat hunt. After testing it on that outing, Luth went back to the drawing board. His redesign on the .308 included a reduction in weight that made a massive difference when he went back to hunt goats again in Southeast Alaska. This time, the lighter gun worked far better and he enjoyed a successful harvest. Unbeknownst to Luth, he’d started an odyssey to complete hunting’s “Super Ten,” made up of 10 North American big game species. The feat is verified by the Grand Slam Club/Ovis (slamquest.org). It wasn’t until 2012 that Luth even realized that hunters could be acknowledged


SPECIES Mountain goat WHERE Endicott Arm, Alaska WHEN November 2002 SPECIES Shiras moose WHERE Rocky Mountains WHEN October 2017

SPECIES Whitetail deer WHERE Baggett Ranch, Texas WHEN December 2009

SPECIES Bison WHERE Sand Springs, Montana WHEN October 2013

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SPECIES Grizzly bear WHERE Mountainous area 85 miles east of Nome, Alaska

WHEN April 2010

by GSCO. He says eight were taken with DPMS/Panther Arms AR-style rifles. He used one in .338 for the buffalo and grizzly, one in .300 RUM for the elk, and .308 or .223 caliber models for others. So is there anything else that Luth would like to accomplish?

“Even though I just completed the North American 29 with a variety of firearms, I can’t imagine completing it with an AR – even though I would like to,” he says. “I will leave that for another brave soul.” “I would hope that other hunt organizations will recognize this achievement

SPECIES Pronghorn antelope WHERE Fort Belknap Reservation, Montana

WHEN September 2006

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and make it a separate category for others to attempt,” Luth adds. ASJ Editor’s note: Like Luth Arms at facebook .com/lutharllc and follow the company on Instagram (@lutharllc).

SPECIES Cougar WHERE Grangeville, Idaho WHEN January 2004


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WHAT I’VE LEARNED A YEAR’S WORTH OF HUNTING LESSONS TO NOTE FOR 2019 BY JEFF LUND

Y

esterday, Facebook told me that last year at this time I was catching salmon on my fly rod and that my buddy Zack caught a steelhead. I haven’t been fly fishing in almost three months and Facebook has repeatedly reminded me of how I’ve allowed

hunting to supplant fishing as the way I spend most of my hours afield. What a difference a year makes. I have been so distracted by hunting that it hasn’t even really occurred to me to fish. It’s not that I don’t like fishing or don’t want to fish anymore, but in my ef-

fort to go cow free, I can’t get enough of being out looking for bucks. The more time I’ve spent hunting, the more I’ve learned, and for a dude who has only been hunting for six seasons, I have a long way to go. With that in mind, here’s what

If you get out and hunt, you’re bound to learn something. Correspondent Jeff Lund shared experiences from 2018 that will make him a better (or at least more knowledgeable) hunter in 2019 and beyond. Here, Cody Lee prepares to take a shot at a deer during inclement weather. (JEFF LUND)

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I’ve learned so far in 2018 – stuff I’m not ashamed to admit, because most growth is stunted because people don’t want to admit they don’t know stuff. Especially hunters and anglers. We’re a stubborn breed.

SOMETIMES, STAY SILENT It sounded like a doe in distress was charging through the woods. Seriously. I was terrified. The tone was frantic, unrelenting (a short call every two seconds) and covering ground. I don’t know what this dude was trying to do. I sat still and heard a deer crashing through the brush away from the call. It made me wonder if a call can have an opposite effect in areas of high traffic. The following week I went there, I sat and didn’t call. I wanted to see what would happen if I was quiet and patient, letting deer run their usual program. Boom. Three-by-three. It could have been luck, but since I know the spot had seen heavy traffic and the deer were being called too heavily, I decided to refrain and ended up with meat for the freezer. You can’t just blow a call

and expect deer to come running. Volume, tone and frequency are so important.

FREEZING GAME MEAT I used to freeze backstrap presliced, which was stupid because more surface of the meat was exposed to cold. Dumb. This year I cut each backstrap into thirds and froze them. I know this is a no-brainer to many – something that would go without saying – but I’m not very smart. I also learned that this went incredibly well with an avocado Dijon dressing.

GEAR BREAKS, RIPS This is also a no-brainer, but I realized the importance of making sure what I was wearing matched the intended surroundings. In the spring I rolled a black bear up away from the tide, knees scraping against barnacled rocks, but my new First Lite merino/nylon pants were unscathed. It was a great test to the durability of a quality product. I was walking around in the alpine in the same pants this past August and caught a leg on a broken buckbrush branch. My leg was going forward, so I had no way of stopping in

To call or not to call? On one hunt in Southeast Alaska, Lund was taken aback by a deer that seemed to run away from the noise of a call. The next time, silence meant scoring a nice buck. (JEFF LUND)

time. It caught the cloth and tore. Try to slide down shale and your Gore-Tex pants will likely rip. Make twisting cuts with a replaceable Havalon knife blade and it will likely break. Walk through the tangled brush of Southeast Alaskan alpine in merino pants and they might tear. It happens.

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PLAY THE WEATHER

“I used to freeze backstrap presliced, which was stupid because more surface of the meat was exposed to cold,” the author writes. The meat this year was delicious when paired with asparagus. (JEFF LUND)

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After hot temperatures on opening day and the next, and no buck sightings even pre-dawn, a buddy of mine from California and I decided to get off the mountain, regroup and head back up during the rain that was forecast. We started up in the rain and got probably half an hour from hypothermia, but we wanted to get on top of the mountain as the weather broke. Not that afternoon, or the next morning. We wanted to be there when the storm died. We were, it did, and the deer popped. It worked out perfectly. We hiked up in the rain, which meant we were wet on the outside and slick with sweat on the inside. It was miserable. We dumped our camping stuff and stayed in the same clothes because we didn’t want to change into dry stuff in the rain. So we completed the 200 feet of elevation gain with light packs and dripping gear. The rain stopped and we glassed into a bowl, becoming colder and colder thanks to our lack of movement. Within 20 minutes of the rain stopping, deer emerged. Cody waited for the wind to die to take a 280-yard shot at a feeding three-by-three. I worked my way around the ridge to the opposite side of the bowl to intercept a stud fork that I thought might feed over.


OFF ROAD WITH THE NEW ROXOR

Automaker Mahindra just unveiled a new off-road vehicle called the Roxor, and it not only looks like an original Willys Jeep, but it’s also got the hardware (and the history) to back it up. Better yet: It’s for sale in America and it is built right in Detroit. Unlike many other side-by-sides, the Roxor will feature a very CJ-7-ish steel body mounted on a steel frame. The powertrain will be the ultimate off-roader’s dream: a turbo-diesel four-cylinder motor and five-speed manual – an automatic option will also be available – mounted to a low-range transfer case. The 2.5-liter diesel produces 62 hp at 3,200 rpm, along with an impressive 144 foot-pounds of torque at 1,400 rpm. The wheelbase is about 3 inches longer than a CJ-7, the overall width is narrower and towing capacity is about 3,490 pounds. Maximum speed is limited to 45 mph; it’s a similar top speed to that of an old Willys CJ-2A. Fuel economy is somewhere around 32 miles per gallon. Starting prices for the two trim packages range from $16,549 to $19,999 (FOB Michigan), according to company representatives. At $275 per month, you’re going to want one of these.

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You’re in Alaska and the conditions can be treacherous. That means a tear in your rain pants is inconvenient but inevitable. That might never change no matter how much wiser a year’s worth of hunts will make you. (JEFF LUND)

We got them both.

PLAY THE WEATHER, PART II

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August is alpine season. Late October is the start of rut. Between is a dormant period of bucks in timber not willing to move. That’s what I thought. The vegetation on mountaintops looked like it was close to dead, and who likes to eat a brown salad? But the weather still felt like August. I went into the alpine in mid-September and had a doe bust me when I had three bucks at 40 yards. I started asking around. A buddy of mine got a buck at the tree line halfway up a mountain in mid-October a few years ago. He got a buck with a bow on top of a mountain in mid-September this year. A student of mine reported bucks in the alpine well into the “dormant period” I thought had started when August ended. Maybe it was just this year, or maybe I had to pay more attention to the weather than the calendar. ASJ Editor’s note: Jeff Lund is a freelance writer from Ketchikan. His podcast The Mediocre Alaskan chronicles his struggle to be a better Alaskan. It is available on iTunes and Soundcloud. His book, Going Home, a memoir about hunting and fishing in Alaska, is available from Amazon.


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LOOKING TO SURPRISE THAT SPORTSMAN OR -WOMAN IN YOUR LIFE? TRY THIS GEAR BY SCOTT HAUGEN

W

hile winter made its presence felt several weeks ago in Alaska, Christmas is finally here. If you’re looking for that perfect gift for the outdoor enthusiast in your life, here are some items to consider. These aren’t just random products plucked from the internet either, but rather pieces of gear I’ve used multiple times and stand behind.

BLIND BLOWOUT

Earlier this fall, I hunted brant on Izembek Lagoon from a Ghost 2 Man Layout, by Layout Addictions. My 77-year-old father was with me, and this was his first time in a layout boat. He was a bit nervous at first and understandably fidgety. But once we got into the Ghost layout and he saw how stable it truly was, all doubts drifted away. We both had plenty of room to move, including swinging on birds that ap-

proached from awkward angles, which is tough to do in a one-man layout. Dad even got on his knees to remove his coat and rearrange things, and he felt solid. The fact that decoying birds drop in right on top of you, unsuspecting, makes hunting from this nifty blind well worth the price of admission. Info: layoutaddictions.com.

FIND YOUR TARGET CLEARLY

Leupold’s VX-Freedom 3-9x40 CDS rifle scope with a duplex crosshair is not only the hottest scope in the hunting world right now, it’s one of the most affordable, high-quality models in the industry. I put this scope on my wife’s .260 custom Nosler rifle, which was shooting 125 Nosler Partitions. We gave Leupold our specific ballistics and zeroed yardage and they made us a custom dial that eliminates the need for holdover. Simply sight it in, as usual, replace the

top turret with the custom dial, and you’re ready to shoot. It worked perfectly, as my wife made a clean, one-shot kill the first time out on a blacktail deer. This scope is clear, easy to dial in, durable and offers an incredible bang for the buck. Info: leupold.com.

LET THERE BE LIGHT Especially in Alaska, headlamps are an important part of my gear. This year the 250 Lumen Cyclops Conductive Touch headlamp instantly caught my attention. The light never turned on while in my pack, and its bright, direct beam worked great in the duck blind, in the woods, on the tundra, and when traipsing along foggy rivers. The on/off touch pad is silent and the unit runs on three AAA batteries, which last 2½ hours on the high setting, up to 10 hours on the 100 lumen white COB LED setting, or 25 hours on the green COB

Holiday gift ideas for sea duck and goose hunters don’t offer more value than the Ghost 2 Man Layout boat. This blind is stable, roomy, comfortable and perfect for two hunters on big water. (SCOTT HAUGEN) aksportingjournal.com | DECEMBER 2018

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FIELD

The Camp Chef Stove is light, easy to pack and carry and it burns hot and efficient. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)

Tiffany Haugen’s love of cooking big game and fish she harvests is made easier by quality kitchen appliances and gadgets like the All-American Canner that would make great gifts for the holidays. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)

BEST COOKWARE TO PREPARE YOUR GAME BY TIFFANY HAUGEN Here are some holiday cooking-related gift ideas:

curry seasoning. Top with crushed peanuts and fresh basil. Info: crock-pot.com.

ALL-AMERICAN CANNER

DUTCH OVEN LINERS

Successful hunting and fishing seasons end with a plentiful amount of meat, and with each catch or harvest that may mean full freezers. To lessen the dependence on electricity, try preserving your bounty in glass jars for shelf-stable food that will keep its flavor and quality for years. My All-American Canner has pressure canned thousands of jars of regular and smoked salmon, waterfowl, deer, elk and more. The beauty of this canner is in the metal-to-metal sealing system without the need for a rubber gasket. Info: allamericancanner.com.

Dutch oven liners don’t only make cleanup a breeze, they enable multiple courses to be cooked and served in a single pot. Try an easy three-ingredient cobbler with two cans of pie filling, one box of cake mix and a can of 7 Up. Just dump them in the pot in that order and cook with coals on top and bottom for about 30 minutes. Info: campchef.com.

SLOW COOKER Let the Crock-Pot do the work for you, from apple butter to venison neck and shanks. Slow cook your way to tender, juicy perfection. For a simple meal, try slow-cooking a venison neck with one can coconut milk and a package of red 124

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MIMI MOTO STOVE Off-the-grid cooking has never been easier than with the Mimi Moto portable camp stove. Fueled by wood scraps or pellets, the Mimi Moto can be used to cook with or as a heater. The clean burning technology allows for use in many areas. Info: smokehouseproducts.com.

SMOKE CHIEF COLD SMOKE GENERATOR A touch of smoke flavor can add something special to many foods. There’s no

DECEMBER 2018 | aksportingjournal.com

Convenient items every sportsman and -woman chef should have include a CrockPot, Dutch oven liners and a Smoke Chief Cold Smoke Generator to give cheese that smoky flavor. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)


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limit to what you can cold smoke using the Smoke Chief Cold Smoke Generator. Start off smoking your favorite types of cheese and move on to lox, salts, oils, chocolate and even ice cream. Check out my custom recipes at smokehouse .com/blogs/recipes.

CAMP CHEF ONE-BURNER STOVE Last spring while ice fishing for sheefish near Kotzebue, we cooked up a freshcaught fish to perfection. Yes, temperatures were in the teens and it was windy – but the Camp Chef One-Burner Stove worked flawlessly. It’s light, easy to pack and carry and it burns hot and efficient. I like the model with an adapter for both butane and propane. Info: campchef.com. Editor’s note: For more great gift ideas and signed copies of Tiffany Haugen’s popular series of cookbooks on big game, birds, fish and seafood, visit tiffanyhaugen.com. Follow Tiffany on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and watch for her on the online series Cook With Cabela’s and The Sporting Chef TV show.

When you’re in remote Alaska, few pieces of equipment are more versatile than a Mimi Motto Stove, which is part cooking utensil/part campsite heater. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)

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either. I’ve had great success with the DS4K for tracking deer, elk, bears and a range of predators. Info: stealthcam.com.

KEEP IT CLEAN

If you’re a fan of quality video on trail cameras, the Stealth Cam DS4K is the ultimate viewing source. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

Leupold’s Custom Dial System is an efficient set-up that quickly and easily takes your shooting accuracy to the next level. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

LED setting. The shock- and weather-resistant housing held up on all of my outings. Info: gsmoutdoors.com.

SMILE, YOU’RE ON CAMERA I’m a big fan of quality trail cameras, and the Stealth Cam DS4K instantly caught

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my attention. The quality of both day and nighttime video this camera captures is flawless. It’s the world’s first 4K digital trail camera, and the NoGlo infrared flash range is 100 feet. The fast trigger speed means you’ll not miss capturing high-quality still shots

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Alaska is tough on gear, especially shotguns and rifles, and it’s important to keep your gun barrel clean of powder residue and debris. The SSI Gun Rope Cleaner is a two-part system that is lightweight and easy to use. Simply use the nylon rope to pull the brush from breach to barrel, then follow it up with the finishing rope. Available in a range of gauges and calibers, I have had great success with it on multiple hunts – from Alaska to California – and it’s available online or at many local sporting goods stores.

FIND A GOOD RESTING PLACE I’m a believer in solid shooting rests and advocate always taking shots at big game from a tripod shooting stick or gun-mounted bipod. I recently put a Javelin Bipod to use and was greatly impressed. This unit is not only easy to install, the extremely lightweight, durable, magnetic bipod can be removed from the receiver which is mounted on the rifle stock, which makes for easy, comfortable carrying of the gun. Having the option to quickly mount or remove the bipod is a huge breakthrough in the world of shooting aids, but it also can be folded forward or backward while on the gun, and carried that way. The bipod easily pivots, yet can be locked in place in order to eliminate movement. Rubber covers slip over the end of the legs and grip on many surfaces, and they can be removed to expose the tungsten carbide-tipped feet, which grip great on ice and rocks. Info: javelinbipod.com.

THERE YOU HAVE IT – a list of some of the most useful, efficient, trustworthy pieces of hunting gear I used in 2018. There’s no doubt that this gear will bring many smiles if someone unwraps one piece this holiday season. ASJ Editor’s note: For more great ideas and signed copies of many of Scott Haugen’s hunting, fishing and cookbooks, visit scotthaugen.com.


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BAG A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP Whether you're hunting or hitting the backcountry, when it comes to camping in Alaska you better be prepared for extreme conditions, and choosing a quality sleeping bag will make your nights more comfortable. Our Gear Guy Paul Atkins says lightweight Montbell bags combine extreme comfort and thermal efficiency. (MONTBELL)

BY PAUL D. ATKINS • ILLUSTRATION BY JOSEPH FRUEAUF

I

woke up freezing and could hardly move, but I didn’t dare poke my head outside the cocoon I had buried myself in. It was minus 47 outside and too damn cold to do anything but lie there in the tent and shake in my cheap sleeping bag. Eventually I peered through the small opening I had made and stared at the interior of our tent. It was covered with ice from condensation and so was my sleeping bag, which cracked with every move. It was a learning experience. Sleeping in the backcountry is supposed to be roughing it, but the difference between roughing it and being miserable and roughing it are two different things, especially when it comes to a comfortable sleeping bag. When you have camped as much as I have, you learn to appreciate the finer and more comfortable things in life. Hav-

ing a good sleeping bag is one of them. It’s just like having a good rifle: It’s critical to your experience. Now, every adventurer has their likes and dislikes when it comes to choosing gear, and when it comes to picking out a good sleeping bag it shouldn’t be any different.

BAG STYLES The difference in sleeping bags is readily apparent. Two main styles are on the market: mummy and rectangular. Rectangular bags allow you to move around more and are great for those "toss-and-turn" sleepers. However, this additional room comes at the price of additional weight and potential heat loss. The rectangular design does not pack well and some can be quite bulky. Mummy bags received their name because of their tapered shape. They in-

deed look much like mummies from ancient Egypt. While they are not as roomy, they weigh much less than rectangular bags of the same temperature rating. They also pack much smaller. Mummy bags are favored among hunters who have to carry their camp on their back and need to make every ounce count. In addition to being small and lightweight, mummy bags are also more efficient at insulating you from the cold, with most coming with a hood.

PREPARE FOR THE ELEMENTS Over the years I’ve used a bunch of different bag styles with different temperature ratings. Most sleeping bags come with a rating based on the temperature they are tested in, or what the manufacture says you’ll be comfortable in. For example, a minus-10 bag versus a plus 45 is a big difference, but you need

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to remember the ratings are just that, a rating. Even though they say one thing they might not keep you as warm as you want or need. Depending on the season and what I’m trying to do – whether it's hunting caribou in the fall or muskox in the winter – I try to choose a bag that will help

me stay the most comfortable, thus helping in the success of the adventure. For example, when September rolls around I have come to really enjoy the Cabela’s Instinct line; more specifically, their 0°F bag. It provides head-to-toe warmth and it is the only bag I’ve ever used that really keeps you warm, plus

Count on the warmth and packability of Cabela's Instinct Alaskan 0°F sleeping bag to get you through the coldest backcountry conditions. A super comfortable bag with 21-ounce down and 38-ounce synthetic insulation for a comfort rating down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it's one of the best bags that Atkins has used. (CABELA'S) Wiggy's makes one of the warmest bags on the market and Atkins believes it's the only minus-60-degree bag made in the world. The Antarctica model made has a loft average of 10 inches, providing excellent warmth even in the most extreme conditions. It's something to use throughout the winter and it has kept our Gear Guy comfortable, even in the Alaskan Arctic’s coldest temperatures. (WIGGY'S)

has a true zero degree rating. I could get into the specifics but you can find that online. It does weigh in at the 6-pound range, though, which might be heavy for some. Yet for warmth and comfort, it can’t be beat.

WHEN IT’S REALLY COLD January and February are a different story, especially up here in the Arctic tundra where I reside. My hunting partner Lew Pagel and I do quite a bit of winter camping, especially when we’re looking for muskox or wolves in the backcountry. It gets super cold, and when sleeping on hard pack snow in blistering below-zero temperatures, you’ll need a bag that will meet your needs and keep you alive. So when we pack up the sleds, I always take my Antarctica bag made by Wiggy’s. To me, this is the ultimate laminate bag for warmth. It’s so warm, in fact, that even in the extreme you’ll find yourself sweating. It has a minus 60 to minus 80 rating. While it is heavy and quite bulky, for staying warm, this is the bag for you. Last, but not least is my lightweight backpack bag, the bag I go to when I’m hunting sheep or goats or on any trip where I have everything on my back and need to cut as much weight as possible. For these adventures I use the super lightweight Down Hugger 800 spiral wrap system model by Montbell. This bag is incredible, but at first glance it’ll fool you and you’ll wonder how it would keep anything warm and comfortable, especially at an incredible 2 pounds. But it does the job and it packs nice and small, making it ideal for trips to the top of any mountain.

FIND YOUR COMFORTABLE ZONE In the end it will be up to you to choose which bag suits your needs. There are many brands out there that I haven’t mentioned, and they have all kinds of ratings and price ranges. But like all good gear, you get what you pay for. My suggestion is to try several, crawl in, zip it up and see if you like it! ASJ Editor’s note: Follow Paul Atkins on Twitter (@Aktrophyhunter).

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Alaska Dec 2018  
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