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FISHING • HUNTING • ADVENTURE

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WATER! Salmon Trip Planning Secrets

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ALASKA

SPORTING JOURNAL Volume 9 • Issue 11 www.aksportingjournal.com PUBLISHER James R. Baker ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER Dick Openshaw GENERAL MANAGER John Rusnak

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EXECUTIVE EDITOR Andy Walgamott

Like having 4 guys in your pack. Only quieter.

EDITOR Chris Cocoles WRITERS Paul D. Atkins, Chris Batin, Kristin Hannah, Scott Haugen, Tiffany Haugen, Jeff Lund, Mike Lunde, Bixler McClure, Krystin McClure, Martha Nudel

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ADVERTISING INQUIRIES media@media-inc.com ON THE COVER Whether planning a trip to the Nushagak River for coho – where Mike Ainsworth caught this one last September – or for salmon in Alaska’s other river systems, knowing when the runs are in and when they peak will help you make the most of an adventure in the Last Frontier. See page 131 for more! (MIKE AINSWORTH, FIRSTLIGHTGUIDESERVICE.COM) 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 OREGON OFFICE 8116 SW Durham Rd • Tigard, OR 97224 CORRESPONDENCE Twitter @AKSportJourn Facebook.com/alaskasportingjournal Email ccocoles@media-inc.com


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CONTENTS

VOLUME 9 • ISSUE 11

21 (LEANN DUNCAN)

NAKED IN NICARAGUA

Meet proud Alaskan LeAnn Duncan. This Army vet, mom, accountant and outdoorswoman doesn’t mind getting out her comfort zone – nor her clothes. This month, Duncan appears on Discovery Channel’s fascinating mental and physical challenge show Naked and Afraid, in which a woman and man bare all while trying to rough it for 21 days in a remote location. We sat down (everybody was fully clothed) with Duncan to learn more about how fishing, hunting and living in Alaska prepared her for the show.

FEATURES 59

SPEEDRUN FOR SNOWBIRDS Parenthood has limited how much time our Kenai Peninsula-based husband-and-wife team of Bixler and Krystin McClure have been able to spend afield, so when they secured a babysitter to watch their newborn for a few hours, it was time for a full-throttle snowmachine trip into the hills for ptarmigan. The McClures share their hunting tactics, plus a kiddo-approved buttermilk recipe for deep-fried snowbird!

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ALPINE CARIBOU HUNTING Veteran Alaska sportsman Chris Batin has chased big game all across the Last Frontier, but one of his favorite early season hunts is stalking big solitary caribou bulls in the high country. Batin recalls memorable alpine adventures and dispenses advice for planning your own mountain ’bou hunt.

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SUNNY-DAY SHEEFISH When you live in an Arctic outpost like Kotzebue, winter outdoor activities occur at the mercy of Mother Nature. So when the forecast called for a sunny day between raging blizzards, Paul Atkins and his fishing pal Lew Pagel seized the chance – not to mention their gas auger, brand-new ice fishing hut and niksiks – to go catch tasty sheefish.

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TIMING IS EVERYTHING Step one in planning that Alaska fishing trip of a lifetime: Throw out your dayplanner. Trying to fit it around your cousin’s wedding may not result in the best of luck. Fortunately, our Scott Haugen has taken enough pilgrimages to the Last Frontier to know when peak times for Kenai Peninsula salmon runs occur. Find out when your favorite species will be in the sweet spot!

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 33 49 110 123

A Southeast Alaskan’s thoughts on coming home Book excerpt: Girl’s coming-of-age story in Alaska’s wilds Celebrating our national wildlife refuges’ mighty rivers Best new lures for northern pike

DEPARTMENTS 17 43 47 87

The Editor’s Note Protecting Wild Alaska: New techniques to study Anchorage-area moose populations Outdoor calendar Big Game Focus: Black bear

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 © 2017 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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Anchorage’s large moose population could be counted a lot easier with help from the public’s sightings in the city. (ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME)

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ecently, I woke up early and was getting ready to take my dog Emma for a walk. But before we went outside, I checked my email – I don’t always do that – and found a post on the neighborhood blog about a lost dog on my street. Given that a neighbor had found Emma when she’d gotten loose in the first week after I’d adopted her, I told her to keep an eye out for Wilson for its owners. Sure enough, not a block into our walk a little dog bolted across the street and conveniently started playing with Emma. I called the number in the blog and within minutes Wilson and its owner were reunited. If only finding all lost pets was that easy! So imagine the arduous task Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists might have while trying to find resident moose that coexist inside the city limits of Anchorage. I talked to ADFG’s Dave Battle for our Protecting Wild Alaska feature (page 43) as the state hopes to figure out Anchorage’s moose population by collecting DNA data and counting just how many different bulls, cows and calves they find in this city of 300,000 sprawled across nearly 2,000 square miles. I asked Battle how difficult a head count could be to calculate when moose could hiding anywhere from backyards to behind Safeway stores to city parks. But what the animals weren’t counting on was a big assist from Anchorage residents keeping their eyes open and their smartphones handy to call, text or post sightings. Like the lost dog that was happy enough to find me rather than me find him, it’s a helluva lot easier for these hard-working biologists to keep track of nomadic moose when Joe from Sand Lake is texting about a bull chilling in someone’s front yard or Jane in Russian Jack Park calls in that a cow is cruising Pine Street. “Last year what we did was a pilot project, just to investigate the feasibility of doing this. We didn’t do the whole city. Can we do this with the public involved?” Battle wondered. “Can we go out and get enough samples to make this worthwhile? We were really just testing the methodology of it. We had a great response.” Now let’s work on ways to find lost dogs that efficiently. -Chris Cocoles

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TAKING IT ALL OFF

IN THE JUNGLE LeAnn Duncan is no stranger to the outdoor lifestyle in her native Alaska, where she dipnets for salmon. But she was excited to get out of her comfort zone – not to mention her clothes – during an appearance on Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid in the Nicaraguan jungle. (LEANN DUNCAN/DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

AN ALASKAN OUTDOORSWOMAN TESTS HERSELF ON THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL SERIES ‘NAKED AND AFRAID’ BY CHRIS COCOLES

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laska’s LeAnn Duncan is OK with getting her hands dirty. She spent a decade in the Army – three in active duty and seven with the Army Reserves – while her son is currently active with his second tour in the Marines and her daughter briefly had a stint in the Army National Guard. “We come from a very long line of soldiers,” Duncan says. But today she’s an accountant in the Anchorage area and while she still wonders how her life would be if she’d continued in her military career, a zest for adventure was calling, even if it meant shedding her Alaska roots, not to men-

tion her clothes. Later this month, Duncan will appear in the Discovery Channel’s intriguing adventure series Naked and Afraid. If you’re unaware about its hook, Naked and Afraid sends a man and a woman who’ve never met each other to a remote and potentially dangerous location somewhere on the globe. The catch? The newly matched team must strip down completely and each member is only allowed to bring one piece of survival gear to help along the way. Call it a survival-and-skin show if you like, but the contestants often struggle to handle the emotional and physical challenges while working together to try and last 21 days without clothes and

just about anything else but each other. We recently caught up with Duncan to find out about her love of the Alaskan outdoors, harvesting her first caribou just last year and a sneak preview of her Naked and Afraid experience in crocodile-filled and hurricane-ravaged Indio Maíz, Nicaragua.

Chris Cocoles So what’s your background in Alaska and your connection to the outdoors? LeAnn Duncan I was born and raised here and my family would always take me up to Nancy Lake and we would go camping and hiking, all that stuff. I was in the Army for 10 years, so I did leave for a while, and I came back to Alaska.

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It’s really a hard place to get out of your system. This is my home; this is where I’m supposed to be. And my grandfather was a homesteader back in the 1940s and 1950s. So it kind of runs in my blood.

but my dad would bring home caribou and hang it up in the garage and we would help him with that. But I never got to go hunting with him until I turned 44 just this last year. And I got my first caribou last year.

CC How much were the outdoors a big

CC That’s fantastic! LD I’ve shot plenty of grouse and (oth-

part of our life? LD I’m a tomboy, so I spent a lot of my time outside until it got dark and then our parents would make us come in. I would be running through the woods and the neighborhood. That was pretty much what we did.

CC Where did you grow up? LD We lived in Anchorage and pretty much would spend the summers at Nancy Lake; I think that’s maybe an hour and 30 minutes from here. My dad would put us in the back of the truck and haul us out there with as many people who could fit in the cab.

CC Did you do lots of fishing and hunting? LD Lots of fishing, mostly. I actually got started late in life with hunting, and that was an interesting turn of events for me. We were definitely fishing all the time around the Kenai when there was combat fishing, so lots of elbow to elbow. We were pretty much just fishers,

er) birds with both my shotgun and my bow. But that was my first really big animal.

CC What was it like to hunt caribou with your dad after all these years?

LD I was actually really happy I got invited to go hunting with my dad. It was one of those things that you think you would do as a kid, but it just never happened. I was very excited he and his wife invited us for a two-week hunting trip out in the middle of nowhere.

Duncan, who grew up in Anchorage, is no stranger to subsistence fishing, so her experience in Alaska helped while foraging for food and water sources in Central America. (LEANN DUNCAN)

out of here.

CC Where did you hunt? LD It was actually up the Maclaren River, up by Paxson. I think it was like a five-hour car trip, and at the Maclaren Lodge we ran 60 miles up the river in an airboat. My dad has a nice camp set up to be out there for two weeks. I was only able to go for about four days between tax time. I was really lucky that I was able to work some magic just to get

CC What was the hunting experience like? LD We had done the spot and stalk for like three days and we couldn’t get close enough or they were too far away. It was just one of those times and I was getting to where I was saying, “I’m not going to get a caribou and it’s OK. I’m fine.” And then on the last day before we were going to leave, my dad was just thinking Duncan and her Naked and Afraid partner Lee, a commercial roofer and father of six from Texas, celebrate a conquest during an episode that will air at the end of this month. (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

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shoot because we could get a cow or a bull. And I was trying to get it with my bow because I’m a certified bowhunter. And we were just way too far out. But then we saw this herd of caribou that was about at 400 yards, which was way too far for me to shoot. My dad is, I don’t want to say a lazy hunter, (but) he loves to hunt along the river. That way we can get him, put him on the boat and take him back. [Laughs.] So my friend and I went through the willows. It was really hard; we went to within 300 yards and we still couldn’t get close enough and couldn’t shoot him with a bow. I had my rifle too and we got called out to. “The herd is (moving); one’s going left, the other one’s going right.” So I just said, “Fine; I’m just going to pick out a spot and get into a clearing and wait for the first hearty one to go through.” And then my friend was like, “Hey, are you going to shoot that?” So I was getting frustrated because they’re thinking I’m not going to shoot it. And I did. And it wasn’t the biggest one but it was still a bull. I was really excited, No. 1, because it went down on the first try and we didn’t go off and follow a blood trail or anything. It was a clean, quick kill. And for that being my first try it was everything. And I was a little emotional thinking I was going to cry because I killed an animal. But there was an understanding that this was my food and I know exactly where my food comes from. That was pretty important.

For Duncan, one of her biggest obstacles in Nicaragua was the blazing sun. “I was just there for maybe two hours outside and my face had gotten a little bit of sunburn on it,” she says with a laugh. “And that was before we even left anywhere.” (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

CC Was the idea of eating harvested fish and game, which so many Alaskans are proud of, always something that was important to you and your family? LD My mom always made the best caribou stew, so that’s why I love caribou. And we ate lots and lots of fish, which was a main staple of our diet. Of course, we ate other things like grilled cheese and things like that, but having to be able to know exactly where your food came from was pretty important. And I’ve carried that through because I dipnet every year and I know exactly where my fish comes from because I caught it.

CC So Naked and Afraid is a fascinating show to me because you’re challenged in so many different ways: physically 24

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and mentally and emotionally. LD The first challenge in itself was taking me from our Alaskan environment to a very extreme environment and one that I’m not accustomed to. So there was a physical aspect to that whole thing, especially being a redheaded, fair-skinned child and going down to a very harsh environment; lots of sun and lots of sunburn. It was very hot, with lots of bugs. We have bugs here too, so that was really not an issue. But they did have a lot bugs – way more than here. So just that first part of getting adjusted to the sun (was difficult). I think I was just there for maybe two hours outside

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and my face had gotten a little bit of sunburn on it. [Laughs]. And that was before we even left anywhere. So it was just how was I going to deal with that? That was the primary concern when I was out there. 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. I don’t think it was much of a challenge, but I could have done some things a little bit different.

CC How did your kids and your family


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An Army veteran and a mom, Duncan got a taste of big game hunting last year when she bagged her first caribou, this bull, while hunting with her family and friends. “I was a little emotional … But there was an understanding that this was my food and I know exactly where my food comes from. That was pretty important.” (LEANN DUNCAN)

and friends react when you decided to pursue something like this? LD Well, my mom was excited; my daughter, I think she was excited. My parents didn’t have any question whether I was going to be successful or not on the show. They know that anything I set my mind to, I’m going to accomplish. And that’s been my whole life. I moved out when I was 16, so I pretty went full ahead after that.

CC Were you more apprehensive about doing this with your clothes off than the actual setting? LD The clothes are a secondary issue. Once you take them off, you’re just naked and that was not out of the ordinary or weird. The apprehension would be the environment because the hurricane pretty much eradicated everything. [That region of Nicaragua was ravaged by Hurricane Otto in 2016.] It definitely changed the landscape and made it a little more difficult to find food and water and just the basic necessities that you would need for survival. Coming in by airplane and overlooking everything and seeing exactly what happened over there – that to me was amazing because you know what a jungle environment is supposed to look like, but that definitely wasn’t it. [Laughs.]

CC What was more difficult for you to cope with? The climate? Finding food? Getting along with your partner (a commercial roofer and father of six from 26

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Texas named Lee)?

LD I think our biggest challenge was just to make sure that we had water, honestly. We chose a location that was a little bit further away, so it did make it very challenging to make sure that we had a good water source. And because the environment is like it is down there, where there isn’t a good supply of water, the trees fall into the river you can’t drink out of it at all because of the tannins. So definitely finding water and keeping water with the rainstorms that go through there, it made it challenging to stay hydrated and not get in that cycle of dehydration.

CC As your episode airs this month, did anything scare or overwhelm you? LD [Laughs.] Without giving away too much, what overwhelmed me was the landscape. You could walk by something one day and it looked one way, and then the next day you would walk by there and it looked completely different. So being able to identify your trail or your surroundings when you know that you’re going to this location to look for sugarcane, for instance. But the next day, that’s completely not there, so your judgment is changing as you don’t have nourishment or that kind of thing. And the next day you go back and it’s magically there again! [Laughs.] CC While you’ve traveled some in the Army, have you traveled out of Alaska to a place like this, or was Nicaragua a


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destination you really haven’t been to? LD Oh my gosh, no [Laughs]. My first adventure out of the country; it was the first stamp in my passport. So that in itself was one of those bucket list items for me.

CC Would you call it a satisfying, fun experience or was it an “I don’t ever want to do this again” experience? LD Oh no. I would say it was an adventure of a lifetime and one that everyone should consider doing. And I would absolutely go back. CC Now that you’ve been to Nicaragua, are there other boxes that you want to check off as part of a bucket list? LD I want to apply for my pilot’s license and I want to maybe go and see some more countries. My kid has been everywhere with the Marines and I’m still left with one single trip to my passport.

CC Getting back to Alaska, are there still hunts that you want to try after that fabulous caribou harvest? LD Last year, before this opportunity came up with the show, I was scheduled for a black bear hunt for a spring bear. This year it’s on my list again for an archery shoot. And maybe a moose, but I’ll have to do it with a rifle and not a bow because my draw weight is not adequate to shoot a moose with my bow.

CC After experiencing a tropical climate in Nicaragua compared to the reality of an Alaska cold winter, do you ever see yourself not living in the Last Frontier? LD No. Alaska is my home and this is pretty much where I’m going to die. People ask me, “Where do you want to go?” And I say that I want to go to a cabin in the woods in Alaska. There are so many things to see and do here. My biggest adventures are at home and I love that about Alaska. ASJ Editor’s note: Look for LeeAn Duncan’s episode of Naked and Afraid at the end of this month. New episodes air on Sunday nights throughout April (check your local listings for times). Go to discovery.com/tvshows/naked-and-afraid for more. 28

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THRIVING ‘WHERE NOTHING HAPPENS’ WHY AN ALASKAN RETURNED TO HIS ROOTS BY JEFF LUND

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rowing up, “outside” meant a national forest, not a park. When I was old enough, I was able to ride my bike along with my brother and his friends to Prince of Wales Island’s Klawock River, which was a mile from our house. We were limited more by the amount of salmon we could handle dangling from our handlebars than the daily bag limit. We had to catch even numbers of fish; otherwise our Huffys wouldn’t be balanced. I knew what the world was about because my family would make summer trips to Colorado to visit my grandparents, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to contemplate an existence in it. I’d leave Alaska at some point for college and likely never come back. There was so much away from Prince of Wales Island and Southeast Alaska. That’s where things happened, not an island in rural Alaska. I lived in California for 10 years after college, teaching high school English and coaching basketball. It was then that I understood the importance of prioritizing things and how much I missed being where things didn’t happen – at least to the high school version of myself.

WHAT’S MISSING Bill Heavey was my favorite writer when I lived in California. On the Saturday mornings I wasn’t driving an hour or two to get near brown or rainbow trout, I’d turn on hunting and fishing shows. Some were good; others were just OK; most were tolerable. When a Bass Pro Shops opened

Since he lived so close to nature on Prince of Wales of Island, author Jeff Lund (center) was able to spend a lot of time enjoying the outdoors in his younger days. But he also longed for some excitement far away from his rural Alaska roots. (JEFF LUND)

where I lived, I’d walk around on Sunday afternoons wondering what a life that required these things looked like. There was so much camo for so many different areas; so many weapons for so many animals. I had a .270 and a tag for a portion of California with a 6-percent success rate, so I didn’t get too into buying specific camo patterns and wasn’t around for deer season in Alaska. I’d go sit at the bar at Chili’s, where a buddy of mine worked, have a chicken sandwich and a lemonade, and draft my weekly column in my head or on a little notebook I carried in my pocket. I read a book about men reclaiming their masculinity, about how the core of a man isn’t a chauvinistic pig, nor is it embodied by a well-groomed beard thick with styling cream. The Central Valley of California is not exactly the forefront of trends impacting the modern man, but it was close enough to

see the front lines and it worried me. The book stirred something in me that I thought I might be missing, even though I had a career and a good life. I questioned what Lower 48 living was doing to the modern man and woman and what could be done about it. A sophomore in one of my English classes wrote an essay about how much she loved to hunt with her dad and how imperative it was that her friends didn’t know. Girls don’t hunt, especially those who are cheerleaders. That’s what the world was telling her. It seemed ironic that at a time in which women were being encouraged to love who they are – and love what they love – there were specific requirements. Be who you are, as long as it’s this.

GOING HOME I didn’t move back because of the book. I moved back because of a fam-

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After settling in central California to teach English and coach basketball, Lund got used having to drive hours to fish for trout. Yet his heart tugged at him to return to the beauty of Southeast Alaska. (JEFF LUND)

ily emergency, which has since been remedied better than we could have wished. I tried to read the book again, but it had no effect and I put it back on the shelf. I can’t watch hunting shows. The only one I can tolerate is MeatEater because it’s not packaged, the sponsors don’t drive the show, and there is

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a reverence for the animal, not a passing comment. Favorite outdoor writers are usually writing about a life you either wish you had, or think you have. I don’t reread Heavey like I used to; instead, I’ve read a lot more Nick Jans, an Alaskan writer who is living a life more similar to mine. Well, that’s not really true; he

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lives in the varsity portion of Alaska north of the Arctic Circle, I’m down in what is essentially North Seattle, weather-wise. I don’t need a big box store to stand in for the real thing. I don’t need to be reminded that there is an adventurer at my core, because out the window is a world that provides more of both


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“I don’t need to be reminded that there is an adventurer at my core,” Lund writes, “because out the window is a world that provides more of both than I could ever handle.” (JEFF LUND)

than I could ever handle. Sebastian Junger wrote, “Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.” And

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it’s not that I feel more necessary or important here, but I do feel connected. I feel the sense of urgency to live. There are liberals and conser-

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vatives here who can argue just as vehemently as the most provoked Californian, but it’s not really worth the energy when it’s a beautiful day


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to kayak or hike or camp or fish or hunt. It takes so little effort and planning to make it happen. Value doesn’t have to be derived or earned through argument, it is easily found in an experience. One of my journalism students here made fun of me because she shot her first bear when she was 10. (I was 33). She hadn’t killed one since, but at least she knew what it was about and was able to make her own decisions regarding value and lifestyle rather than be subjected to the whims of urban taste because universal individuality doesn’t make sense. So while here in the place where nothing happens, I’m always busy, because a place cannot provide happiness, just the opportunity if one has the right attitude. It’s a daily struggle. ASJ

In a place where nothing happens, the author ďŹ nds himself perpetually busy. (JEFF LUND)

Editor’s note: Jeff Lund’s book Going Home, a memoir about fishing and hunting in his native Alaska and his former home in California, is available on amazon.com.

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PROTECTING

WILD ALASKA

A young bull moose paws through snow in search of fallen crab apples in an Anchorage yard. Earlier this year, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists began utilizing public sightings of the giant deer species in the city to collect DNA and help estimate its bull, cow and calf population. (ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME)

TRACKING MOOSE ON THE LOOSE IN ANCHORAGE BY CHRIS COCOLES

A

nchorage’s population is about 300,000 human beings and an unknown number of resident moose. It’s too bad all those bulls, cows and calves don’t have front doors for census takers to knock on and take a formal headcount. But assisted by public sightings and a new technique of taking DNA samples from moose around the Anchorage Bowl, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game program aims to learn more about these urban critters and just how many of them call Alaska’s biggest city home. This past winter was the first full program where ADFG biologists responded to public sightings of moose throughout the city and the surround-

ing region. Eight teams of biologists each had a grid to cover. Public sightings of moose could be reported via a phone call, a text or an online forum (they received over 500 responses). “Each team had an iPad updating moose locations on the map. We were hooked in online with a couple of other people in the office,” said area biologist Dave Battle, one of the project leaders. “We were keeping our maps updated, so it was a matter of they really didn’t need to call us. We would refresh our maps and say, ‘Here’s a moose on this street’ and off we go.” It turned out to be a pretty efficient system and Battle said it was rare that moose reports didn’t end with his teams not finding the identified animal(s) on or around the spots

on the map. When found, the moose were darted, from which the teams could collect skin samples for analysis (Battle said ADFG hopes to start getting data results later this spring). “Genetic mark recapture is something that’s being done on a variety of animals in various places. They’ve done it with marine mammals. There’s a wolf project going on in Southeast Alaska that’s doing something similar,” Battle said. “It’s been used in a variety of ways. None of us have been able to find anything directly like this, where you’re taking calls from the public, dispatching teams and taking biopsy samples.” Battle and fellow biologist Cory Stantorf managed the project, with biologists Sean Farley and David Saalfeld handling a lot of the research.

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PROTECTING

WILD ALASKA

Anchorage Area state wildlife biologist Dave Battle examines a dart used to collect skin samples from moose. (ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME)

It’s been a complicated process to keep track of moose in such a vast (1,900-plus square miles) city. In other parts of the state – including in the mountains outside of Anchorage – surveys can be done using helicopters and spotting planes. But airspace

limitations in city limits make aerial recon work a nonstarter, Battle said. “One of the big things, of course, is we can do it (less expensively), because we can just drive there instead of having a spotter plane and having a helicopter, a much more massive undertaking,” Battle said. “This was a pretty big undertaking in itself, but at least we didn’t have to deal with planes and helicopters.” And the biggest positives to come out of this include understanding why moose, which are very comfortable in and around Anchorage, behave like they do. Farley and Saalfeld have done a lot of research on this and should get an even better grasp once they receive more information from the samples. Meanwhile, the Glenn Highway, which separates Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from Anchorage, has provided some intriguing data. “(Farley and others) did some work out there that showed that the Glenn Highway is getting to be at least something of a barrier of gene flow across the highway,” Battle said. “That’s another thing we’ll be looking at in the future: Are we seeing other barriers starting to

come up around the urban area in Anchorage? Are the moose on the west side of town getting more isolated than the moose on the east side of town? Or do they move freely across town? It can go either way.” It’s all in the name of science and having a better understanding in this most unique of circumstances: a thriving population of big game animals scattered throughout a city with a similar number of residents as Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati. But is it still difficult to estimate how many moose actually are dwelling in the Anchorage Bowl? “Yes. There’s never been to my knowledge a technique that would give us a real idea of how many moose are in the bowl,” Battle said. “Now I don’t want to say because we’re going to see before too long. I could be way off.” “We’ve always taken educated guesses as to how many moose were here, but we’ve never really known. Whenever we’re trying to manage any wildlife species, we really want the most basic information: numbers and composition of the population and that sort of thing.” ASJ

Battle approaches a moose to be sampled during the 2017 ground-based moose survey pilot study. “Genetic mark recapture is something that’s being done on a variety of animals in various places,” he says. (ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME) 44

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OUTDOOR CALENDAR April 1

Spring brown bear hunt in Game Management Unit 6D (Montague Island) April 1 Spring brown bear season in GMU 8 (Kodiak/Shelikof) April 5-8 Great Alaska Sportsman Show, Sullivan and Ben Boeke Arenas, Anchorage; greatalaskasportsmanshow.com April 20-22 Fairbanks Outdoor Show, Carlson Center, Fairbanks; carlson-center.com/outdoor-show May 10 Spring brown bear season opens in GMU 9 (Alaska Peninsula) May 15 Start of Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby; homeralaska.org May 19 Start of Valdez Halibut Derby; valdezfishderbies.com June 1-30 Seward Halibut Derby; seward.com/welcome-to-seward-alaska/ halibut-tournament-june June 8-17 Halibut Hullabaloo; valdezfishderbies.com June 8-17 Slam’n Salm’n Derby, Ship Creek, Anchorage; anchorage.net/events/salmon-derby

Spring brown bear seasons begin in several game management units this month, including Kodiak and Montague Islands and the Alaska Peninsula. (KEN CONGER/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

Editor’s note: For more specific information on hunting regulations, refer to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s handbook (adfg.alaska.gov).

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“The plastic sled behind her thumped on the snow, empty now, but she hoped that soon it would hold her latest kill.” (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

ALONE IN THE NORTH

AUTHOR KRISTIN HANNAH’S LATEST NOVEL PAYS HOMAGE TO AN ALASKA TEENAGE GIRL’S TOUGHNESS Editor’s note: During the turbulent 1960s and ’70s, so many soldiers sent to fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia returned home bearing the horrors and battle scars of Vietnam. Seattle-based best-selling author Kristin Hannah, whose family fell in love with Alaska and operates a Kenai Peninsula adventure lodge, combined a broken and dysfunctional family’s war-scarred tragedy with the vast emptiness of off-the-grid life in The Last Frontier in her newest book, The Great Alone. The fictional story follows Ernt Allbright, a former POW, and his wife Cora and teen daughter Leni to the Alaskan bush, where the couple’s domestic bliss falls apart as Ernt suffers from PTSD. Young Leni’s courageous tenacity to carry on – even when she must solo hunt to put food on the table for she and her mom after Ernt melts down – is the story’s beating heart. Leni’s coming-of-age tale is penned beautifully by Hannah. The following is excerpted from The Great Alone, recently published by St. Martin’s Press and reprinted with permission. BY KRISTIN HANNAH

S

eventeen-year-old Leni drove the snowmachine with confidence in the falling snow. She was all alone in the vastness of winter. Following the glow of her headlights in the predawn dark, she turned onto the old mine road. Within a mile or so the road became a trail that twisted and turned and rose and fell. The plastic sled behind her thumped on the snow, empty now, but she hoped that soon it would hold her latest kill. If there was one thing her dad

had been right about, it was this: Leni had learned to hunt. She hurtled over embankments and around trees and across frozen rivers, airborne on the snowmachine sometimes, skidding out of control, sometimes shrieking in joy or fear or a combination of the two. She was completely in her element out here. As the elevation increased, the trees became sparser, scrawnier. She began to see cliffs and snow-covered rock outcroppings. She kept going: Up, down, around,

bursting through banks of snow, careening around fallen logs. It took so much concentration, she couldn’t think or feel anything else. On a hill, the snowmachine slid left, lost traction. She eased back on the gas, slowed. Stopped. Breathing hard through the slits in her neoprene face mask, Leni looked around. Sharp white mountain peaks, blue-white glaciers, black shadows. She dismounted, shivering. Bracing against the wind, she untied her pack and put on snowshoes, then pushed the

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snowmachine into the limited protection afforded by a large tree and tarped it. This was as far as the vehicle could take her.

“She brought out her binoculars and scanned the white landscape around her. There. A cream-colored Dall sheep with huge curving horns ...” (K THORESEN/NATIONAL PARK SERVICE)

THE SKY OVERHEAD WAS lightening by degrees. Daylight expanded with each breath. The trail turned upward, narrowed. She saw her first clot of frozen sheep scat within half a mile and followed the hoofprints higher uphill. She brought out her binoculars and scanned the white landscape around her. There. A cream-colored Dall sheep with huge curving horns, walking along a high ledge, its hooves dainty on the rough, snowy terrain. She moved carefully, made her way along the narrow ridge, and hiked up into the trees. There, she found tracks again and followed them to a frozen river. Fresh scat. The sheep had crossed the river here, crashing through the ice, splashing through the river. Big chunks of ice poked up, bobbed, held in place by the solid ice around them. An old tree lay across the ice, its frozen limbs splayed out, water stirring in patches alongside. Snow swirled across the ice, collecting on one side of the log, fanning away in tiny whirlwinds on the other side. Here and there, the wind had brushed all of the snow away, leaving glistening, cracked patches of silverblue ice. She knew it was unsafe to cross here, but anywhere else could cost her hours.

And who knew if there would even be a good crossing point? She hadn’t come all this way to quit. Leni tightened her pack and tied down her hunting rifle, took off her snowshoes and tied them to her pack, too. Staring down at the log, which was about 2 feet in diameter, its bark peeling away, frozen, covered with snow and ice, she took a deep breath and climbed onto it on all fours. The world became as narrow as the log, as wide as the river. Rough icy bark bit into her knees. The cracking of the ice was like gunfire exploding around her. She stared down the barrel of the log.

“If there was one thing her dad had been right about, it was this: Leni had learned to hunt.” (NATIONAL PARK SERVICE) 50

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There. The other shore. That was all she would think about. Not the creaking ice or the frigid water running beneath. Certainly not the idea of falling through.

SHE CRAWLED FORWARD INCH by inch, wind whipping across her, snow peppering her. The ice cracked. Hard. Loud. The log crashed downward, breaking through the ice in front of her. Water splashed up, pooled on the ice, caught what little light there was. The log made a deep snapping sound and thunked down deeper, hit something. Leni lurched to her feet, found her balance, held her arms out. The log seemed to be breathing beneath her. The ice cracked again. A roar of sound this time. There were maybe 7 feet between her and the shore. She thought of Matthew’s mother, whose body had been found miles from where she had gone through the ice, and ravaged by animals. You didn’t want to fall through the ice. There was no telling where your body would be found; water ran everywhere in Alaska, revealed things that should stay hidden. She inched forward. When she neared the opposite shore, she launched herself upward, arms and legs flailing as if she could will herself to take flight, and crashed into the snow-covered rocks on the other side.


AN AUTHOR’S TRIBUTE TO A TOUGH ALASKAN LIFE BY CHRIS COCOLES

K

ristin Hannah’s spiritual connections to Alaska are evident in her book The Great Alone, about a family that heads north during the turbulent post-Vietnam 1970s and struggles to stay together while attempting to live off the grid. Daughter Leni Allbright must become a woman in a hurry for her broken family. Hannah’s other works include a best-seller, The Nightingale, another story of gallant heroism by women, this one set among the French resistance against the Nazis in World War II. We caught up with the Seattle-area resident to get deeper into Hannah’s Alaska roots, writing strong and toughas-nails female characters in her books and the importance of serious domestic conflicts her fictional Alaska family suffers through.

Chris Cocoles Congratulations on another great book. What inspired you take on a very intense storyline? Kristin Hannah Thank you! I don’t think I was truly aware of the intensity of the storyline when I began. In a way, it crept up on me and showed itself slowly, as the drafts piled up. What I did know was that I wanted to write a novel about a girl coming of age in the midst of a really dysfunctional family, at a tumultuous time in America, and against the beautiful, dangerous landscape of Alaska. As I was writing, and learning more and more about my characters and life off the grid in a remote and isolated place, I couldn’t escape the very real challenges of surviving both the wildness in nature and the wildness in man. I think the novel is seen as intense because the characters are so real and the dangers are so dramatic that the reader flies through the pages to find out what happens next.

CC Tell me about your Alaska ties and your family’s business. Do you have an Alaskan experience that you can share? KH I come from a long line of adventur52

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Author Kristin Hannah is no stranger to Alaska. Her family owns an adventure lodge on the Kenai and she’s known to pilot her brother’s boat around Skilak Lake (inset), and those Last Frontier roots inspired her to write The Great Alone about a family’s struggles living off the grid during the post-Vietnam War era. (KRISTIN HANNAH)

ers. My parents felt the call in the early (1980s) and headed north to Alaska. They crisscrossed the state in a battered old pickup truck and fell in love with the place. Luckily, they met a homesteading family and became fast friends. The two families joined forces and built a business based on a dream. The Great Alaska Adventure Lodge (866-411-2327; greatalaska.com), on the banks of the beautiful Kenai River, is one of my favorite places on the planet. Three generations of my family have now worked there. We all love it. I have so many favorite Alaska experiences. Bank fishing on the Kenai in the summer, beneath the remarkable summer light with a fire crackling behind me; flying into “Bear Camp” in a small plane – through mountains that literally take one’s breath away – and then seeing the bears in their natural habitat; eating Dungeness crab at an outdoor table somewhere on the Homer Spit; drifting on Skilak Lake.

CC Alaska is such a wild, sacred and in many ways mysterious place. Is it an ideal location for you to set a novel in? KH Alaska is otherworldly, which is exactly what I’m looking for as a setting for a novel. I love nothing better than writing a story that introduces readers to a place they have never seen. In The Great Alone, the setting of Alaska in the 1970s is absolutely a character in the novel.

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CC Teenager Leni is a badass throughout her coming-of-age journey because of her ability to take care of herself in wild Alaska. Did she have to grow up faster than a kid her age should? KH I love that you call Leni a badass! I couldn’t agree more. The novel is really an exploration of her growing up and learning who she wants to be and where she wants to live and what she wants her life to look like. And yes, she does have to grow up fast. I think that’s a common denominator of children who grow up in dysfunctional families in a world of hidden violence and toxic love. She tries to be the adult in the family because her father suffers from undiagnosed PTSD from the Vietnam War and her mother loves her father in a way that is unhealthy. So in a way, Leni feels she has to hold it all together. She can’t, of course, and when you throw in the dangers inherent in living off the grid in 1970s Alaska, she has to learn to be a self-sufficient survivor very early in life.

CC Is one of the themes of this book how resilient can you be when pushed to the brink, which forces Leni and Cora to survive in the harshest of environments? KH Absolutely. The book is about the resilience and durability of women and about the strength that a human being can find from within when tested to the limits of one’s endurance. That’s


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why I chose the title I did, because even though survival requires people to come together as a community and help each other, it ultimately rests on each person’s singular, individual drive. In a way, we each must ďŹ nd the inner strength to survive alone, whatever our surroundings.

CC You dedicated this book to the women in your family. Can you share a little about what they’ve meant to you? KH As I said in the dedication, the women in my family are warriors. Each of them inspires and teaches and supports me in a different way, and I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

CC I’m looking forward to reading The Nightingale, which also features strong female characters in an even more dangerous setting (World War II when the Nazis invaded France). How important is that for you to showcase the fearlessness and resiliency of women? KH It has become a passion of mine to showcase remarkable, courageous women who make incredible sacriďŹ ces to survive and thrive and keep their

families safe. In WWII France, under the darkest days of the Nazi Occupation, there were women who risked their lives every day to help get downed airmen out of the country and to hide Jewish children. These women inspired me to write The Nightingale. Too many of their stories have been lost. Right now, it feels like a wonderful moment in history. The world is looking speciďŹ cally at the strength and history of women and I am so happy to be writing stories that celebrate strong women.

CC In The Great Alone, you also tackle some pretty serious topics like PTSD and domestic violence. What do you hope can readers take away from such storylines? KH One of the most important aspects of ďŹ ction writing is its ability to shine a light on a dark topic and begin a conversation. Even more than a conversation, perhaps. Fiction can create empathy, can make one understand behaviors and thoughts and pains that are outside one’s life experience. And I believe that empathy is the great beginning of understanding and change.

CC At one point Leni makes a personal statement and says this about Alaska, “I love all of it, and I love this state that has given me a place to belong, a home.â€? I think so many people who have given it a go in Alaska feel the same way. Do you think the adversity she had to overcome deďŹ ned who Leni is? KH Honestly, I believe it takes an incredibly special person to ďŹ nd “homeâ€? in Alaska. This is a state that demands great strength and resilience and ingenuity from its citizens. In return, Alaska gives them a place to live that is unlike anywhere else. I think the great irony with Leni is that her father, for all of his mental instability and volatility, taught her to survive in the wilderness outside and within her own family, and in teaching her to survive, he gave her a way to love Alaska that he could never ďŹ nd.

CC Alaska is such a fascinating place. Do you see yourself writing another book with the Last Frontier as a spectacular setting? KH I certainly hope so! I have so much more I’d like to learn and share about Alaska. ASJ

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Blood. She tasted it, warm and metallic in her mouth, felt it sliding down one icecold cheek. Suddenly she was shivering, aware of the dampness of her clothes, whether from sweat or water droplets on her wrists or in her boots, she didn’t know. Her gloves were wet, as were her boots, but both were waterproof. She crawled to her feet and assessed the damage. She had a superficial forehead laceration and she’d bitten her tongue. The cuffs of her parka sleeves were wet and she thought some water had splashed down her neck. Nothing bad. Resettling her pack and repositioning her rifle, she went off again, began hiking away from the river, while keeping it in view. She followed the tracks and scat, up and up, across jutting shelves of rock. This high up, the world was dead quiet. Everything was blurred by the falling snow and her breath. Then: a sound. The crack of a branch, a snap of hooves sliding on rock. She smelled the musky scent of her prey. She eased between two trees, lifted her weapon. She peered through the sight, found the male sheep, took aim. She breathed evenly. Waited. Then pulled the trigger.

THE SHEEP DIDN’T MAKE a sound. A perfect shot, right on target. No suffering. The sheep crashed to its knees, crumpled, slid down the rock face, and came to a stop at a snowy ledge. She trudged through the snow toward her kill. She wanted to field-dress the animal and get the meat in her pack as quickly as possible. This was technically an illegal kill – the hunting season for sheep was in the fall – but an empty freezer was an empty freezer. She guessed that the animal would dress out at about 100 pounds. It would be a long trek back to the snow machine, carrying all that weight. ASJ

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Editor’s note: The Great Alone is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart and other retailers. For more on the author and the book, check out kristinhannah. com/books/the-great-alone.


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IN SEARCH SNOWBIRDS

SNEAKING IN A WINTER PTARMIGAN HUNT BY KRYSTIN AND BIXLER MCCLURE

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gripped the handles of my snowmachine as I leaned hard over to the right to make a turn in the deep snow on the lake. Bixler took the high road and navigated through a field of half-buried willows as we scouted for ptarmigan in the upcountry in February. We have our methods of flushing the birds, which remain unchanged since we made the big switch from foot to snowmachine as we started to get snowy winters again here in South-central Alaska. A ptarmigan flushed in front of me and landed in the snow down the lake. I signaled to Bixler and we were off on the hunt.

A couple hunters and their snowmachines took on a snowy Southcentral Alaska valley and ptarmigan during a winter hunt. (BIXLER MCCLURE) aksportingjournal.com | APRIL 2018

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Krystin McClure prepares to head out on the trails. (BIXLER MCCLURE)

“WHERE DO YOU WANT to go today?” I’d earlier asked bleary-eyed from being up all night with our unsleeping infant. “The usual,” Bixler yawned as he grabbed his snowmachining gear. He called his mom, Sue, who reluctantly came over to watch our son Lynx. “Don’t be out too long,” Sue requested. We had to limit our time to avoid leaving our 3-month-old with grandma too long during our snowmachine quests. As Sue settled in at our home, we quickly loaded gear and headed to one of our favorite snowmachining spots. The same winter Lynx was born, it dumped snow and the temperature regularly hovered around 0 degrees. It made for amazing conditions and we took advantage of those conditions to hunt ptarmigan in short spurts. WE ARRIVED AT THE parking lot and unloaded our sleds at lightning speed. The 60

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trail wound up the hillside to a hanging valley loaded with feet of snow. Other snowmachiners had been there, but there was not another rider in sight. We traveled down the trail until we reached a lake where the birds like to hang out. Ptarmigan in this valley are always found in the same places, such as along lakeshores in certain willow patches. Our strategy is to have one person ride the shoreline while the other is up in the willow patch. Since ptarmigan usually flush uphill, the latter hunter generally has a good idea of where they land. I cruised along the lake as Bixler rode on the shore. The snow was deep and only the tops of the willows poked out. With a light dusting from the previous night, we kept watch for fresh tracks. Bixler stopped and signaled to me that he’d found some. Ptarmigan spend their winters scurrying around the snow eating willow buds and twigs.

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On the lake, I too was seeing fresh tracks. I slowed to a crawl looking for the heads of the white birds in the snowy landscape. In the distance, I saw my target. I signaled to Bixler to stop while I readied my .22 and took aim. A perfect shot. “They are all around here!” I yelled as ptarmigan began to flush. They flew uphill over Bixler’s head and he started to chase them to a hemlock grove. I jumped on my snowmachine and followed him. He was already off his sled in the knee-deep snow, throwing off articles of clothing while he chased ptarmigan. “They are in the hemlocks!” he yelled as he bagged two birds. I rode my snowmachine around the back of the grove and parked. I told Bixler my location so he could plan his shots, but he was already on his way to try another area uphill.


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The McClures covered a lot of ground, with one snowmachining on the frozen lake and the other along the lakeshore in search of prime flushing spots. (BIXLER MCCLURE)

I walked into the grove and saw a single bird sitting in the middle. It ended up in my tote like the last one. Bixler was now high up on the hillside and I watched as he climbed the rolling hills looking for ptarmigan. “You should come up!” he yelled across the valley. “Yeah, I’ll be right there!” I replied, adding, “We are running out of time!” It is amazing how fast time goes when you were chasing small white birds in the snow. I rode up on a knob and watched Bixler retrieve two more ptarmigan he had shot from a distance. The snow was waist-deep and he was down to his underlayers from sweating so much. We heard the groan of snowmachines in the distance as others rode up to take advantage of a perfect day. “Wow, it’s been that long?” Bixler said as he donned his gear and watched the other riders playing in the bottomless snow. “Yeah, we should get going,” I replied. We put our ptarmigan in our totes 62

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USE BUTTERMILK FOR DEEP-FRIED DELICIOUSNESS Try out this Alaskan take on a Southern dish, which is great for those cold winter days. This is one of our favorite ways to serve upland game birds. The buttermilk tenderizes the meat and adds a wonderful flavor with the spice profile. Serve with mashed potatoes if you are feeling traditional, or salad if you feel you need to be healthy with this dish.

INGREDIENTS Three or four ptarmigan or grouse breasts and legs, with the breasts cut into small pieces 1 quart buttermilk Various spices: red pepper, white pepper, rosemary, chipotle, thyme, bay leaf, etc. Flour Oil for frying 1 cup mayonnaise ½ cup mustard ½ cup honey 1 tablespoon vinegar

DIRECTIONS In the morning, combine ptarmigan, spices, and buttermilk in a bowl. Mix well and make sure birds are covered. Put in refrigerator. When getting ready to fry birds, prepare honey-mustard dipping sauce. (Combine mayo, mustard, honey and vinegar. Stir well and place in fridge.) Prepare a bowl of flour. Dip buttermilk ptarmigan pieces in flour. Place in deep fryer or hot oil. Fry until golden brown. KM

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and headed downhill. The tally: six birds during a three-hour trip, including driving 45 minutes each way to our spot. “Wow, that’s pretty good for a short amount of time,” I said as we loaded everything up. Other snowmachiners were filling the tiny parking lot and we maneuvered our truck around them to get back on the highway.

A YEAR LATER I made buttermilk-fried ptarmigan out of some of those birds. Lynx, now 15 months old, demolished the pieces (he loves game birds and won’t touch chicken!) and pointed at my plate for more. “Just think, in a few years he’ll be ptarmigan hunting with us!” Bixler said with a mouthful of bird. “Yep. Time really does fly when you have fun!” ASJ Editor’s note: Krystin and Bixler McClure own and operate Seward Ocean Adventures, which offers water-based expeditions on the Kenai Peninsula. Go to sewardoceanexcursions.com or call (907) 599-0499 for more information.

A half-dozen birds provided tasty meat that the authors would later enjoy. (BIXLER MCCLURE)

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BULLS OF THE MOUNTAINS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HUNTING ALASKA’S ALPINE CARIBOU BY CHRIS BATIN

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like stalking Alaska barren-ground caribou, but sometimes getting too close can have its risks. The scent of pre-rut caribou bulls hung heavy in my nostrils – a mix of rutting elk and barnyard cattle – but I dared not raise my head and look. My concern wasn’t that the animals would see us hunkered down 12 yards from them – waiting like ambushing wolves and ready to pounce. I was concerned they would spook at catching our scent, and not knowing where we were, inadvertently trample us to death in their escape.

DESTINATION: MULCHATNA HIGHLANDS I was hunting with Jay Cassell, a longtime friend and editor who worked at New York-based Sports Afield magazine. At the time, I had contributed many features to the magazine and its hunting annual over the years. Jay, who had never hunted caribou, finally found time to join me on a late August/early September caribou hunt. It was a good time to be out. The bulls would be just starting to scrape off their velvet and few hunters would be afield. We’d fly out of Anchorage on a chartered floatplane to the Mulchatna River country. Upon our arrival, the pilot flew us over the area, where caribou cows and young bulls were scattered across the treeless tundra. They stuck out like fleas on a bald Chihuahua. The bigger bulls aren’t found with the cows and young caribou at this time, but rather are isolated bachelors. I told the pilot to head to the high country. He found a lake that overlooked the flats and connected to a ridgeback of mountains heading to the west. It was a perfect location.

SCOUTING MISSION After the plane dropped us off, we re-

Jay Cassell of Skyhorse Publishing with a caribou he took with author Chris Batin during a flyout alpine hunt of the Mulchatna herd. The velvet is easily peeled or left on, as either way makes for an attractive trophy. Caribou remain one of Alaska’s most coveted species of big game to target. (CHRIS BATIN)

connoitered the area until dark, easing through the alder clumps and glassing for any bachelor bulls heading our way. Seeing none, we prepared for the next day’s hunt. If you expect to find bulls and cows behind every bush, you’ll be greatly mistaken. Although caribou are herd animals, they are unpredictable, either alone or in a group. We waited a few days, glassing groups of animals walking the flats. The bulls were hiding in the high country and we would simply wait them out. In early September, mature bulls disappear for a while into alder thickets and start scraping away their antler velvet. The mountainside above us, to the left, was covered with alder clumps. We would catch them either going in or coming out. Jay and I agreed to split up, and cover multiple sides of the mountain.

BIG BULLS DOWN! The next day, as the sun peaked over the horizon, I watched a herd of caribou move toward us. I signaled Jay to come over, and we planted ourselves to ambush the largest bull in the herd. They ambled to within 100 yards of us before the smaller bulls bedded down. The shot was too easy, so Jay and I belly-crawled between

the tussocks as the bulls got up and fed their way toward us, none the wiser. At about 12 yards, with the bulls still approaching, Jay eased his rifle up and shot the largest in the group. We dressed out his bull, one that had just begun to strip off its velvet, to cool the meat quickly. Several days later, a bull I had been watching in the higher alders finally trotted through the alpine pass I had been watching. I dispatched him with one shot from my .338. Strips of bloody velvet hung from his rack, making it one of the most handsome caribou trophies I’ve ever bagged. We celebrated with Jay’s freshly made lowbush cranberry jam smothered on Pilot bread and accompanied by caribou backstrap that was seared in slices of thick rump fat that was taken from the upper hindquarter. It was an artery-clogging meal, but there is no finer eating in the world, nor place – atop a mountain with traces of the northern lights in the sky and not another hunter near our camp. For the night, we were kings of the wilderness.

BULLISH ON ’BOU This hunt represents just a few of the many reasons why I recommend caribou

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IF YOU GO: CARIBOU HUNTING BEST SEASON Caribou season in Alaska opens in many units in August. Animals are still in velvet at this time, and the rack makes for a handsome trophy. Velvet is shed by late August to mid-September, which is a good time to hunt those parts of the state where there are open seasons.

HOW TO GET THERE When caribou take too much time to get through the timber, they often get ambushed, as this unlucky bull was by a grizzly bear. The author walked up on it unexpectedly on one hunt, and eased out of the area. (CHRIS BATIN)

to those new to Alaska hunting. I also suggest it to hunters who want a fun hunt without the pressures or low success rates that often come with hunting other big-game species. It’s an experience of a lifetime, with good options to stalk as many animals as you can and with ample opportunity to do so. Whether you hunt them in the Yukon-Charley National Preserve or on the Arctic Coastal Plain, caribou do not disappoint if you time your hunt wisely. The hunting is relatively easy compared to other types of Alaska hunts: There are few, if any, trees and the caribou migrate to you in herds from three to 50 or more, and the racks grow about as large as you want them for your trophy room. Nomads of the Arctic and sub-Arctic tundra, Alaska’s barren-ground caribou are a gregarious species. It’s no wonder they are always on the move for an adequate supply of food. Near the Beaufort Sea in mid-July, it’s been possible to see up to 50,000 caribou per square mile. That’s one heckuva eating machine. Even though the majority are cows and calves, it’s one of nature’s most awe-inspiring, yet humbling scenes. Considering Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s statewide estimate of 950,000 caribou in 32 major herds, it’s easy to understand why Alaska is the number 1 choice for hunters wanting North America’s best barren-ground caribou hunting.

CHALLENGES STILL ABOUND But hunting caribou is more than just going out, choosing your animal and making the shot. Caribou are as unpredict70

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Take a commercial airline to the base city and charter an air taxi service closest to the herd that you’ll be hunting.

WHERE TO STAY This is wilderness hunting, which means you need to be self-sufficient in alpine country for anywhere from seven to 10 days. Due to inclement weather in August and September, add an extra two days on the tail end of your trip. Accommodations are available in all major cities. I prefer the Voyager Inn in Anchorage, which offers freezer space, comfortable rooms and friendly staff that caters to hunters and anglers.

EQUIPMENT Hunting Alaska alpine caribou requires hunters to be self-sufficient in the field. Once you’ve been dropped off in the middle of a wilderness area, you are on your own until the plane returns. This is no place for cheap hunting gear, and forgetting an item can be a grave inconvenience at best, and at worst, imperil your health or even life. So use a checklist, and check it twice, three times and one last time for completeness. Here are some essentials to ponder:

RIFLES Caribou country is bear country, so carry the largest caliber rifle you can shoot effectively. I suggest a quality rifle like a .338 Blaser or a .338 Winchester Magnum. For those more focused on flat, long-distance shooting, many caribou hunters use a .270 and 7mm, or as I have historically used at times, a .30-06 spitting out a 165-grain boattail factory load or Winchester’s Expedition Big Game Long Range ammo. Tack on a 3-by-9 variable Leupold or similar scope and pack a couple of trekking poles, and you’re in business.

RANGEFINDER SCOPES I am not an advocate of rangefinder scopes, because hunters should be able to get their sight picture, judge distances instantly and shoot. There’s often no time for range-finding actions. For both veteran and novice hunters, the Arctic tundra, however, can be very deceptive. Judging distances is tough when there are few landmarks. Pack a rangefinder or learn to use a rangefinder scope and practice with it consistently, which will help you with those shots at 200 to 300 yards. However, the fun in caribou hunting is getting within bowhunting range, with either a compound, recurve or crossbow, like my Ravin R15, with which I can hit a target consistently at 50 to 60 yards. Of the caribou I have taken or helped friends take, most have been less than 50 yards. Caribou don’t take a lot of knockdown power, so it’s more important to be accurate, because you don’t want to be chasing one across miles of tundra. I once had a hunting buddy shoot a caribou at about 20 yards, only to bust its front leg. That caribou ran so fast on three legs, the animal was already out at 50 yards before I could respond amid my buddy’s missed shots. I threw up my open-sighted Voere, put my sights on his nose and followed through, dropping him with a heart-lung shot. Otherwise, we might still be packing those quarters over ankle-breaking tussock tundra, which is a mistake you only do once in life.

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able as the North Country environment they thrive in. Hunters can go for days without seeing a single animal. It boils down to timing, and each caribou herd has its own schedule. At times, even the caribou themselves don’t keep it on a predictable basis. So hunters plan their trips based on historical trends and the animals’ migration routes. Many hunters, myself included, prefer the challenge of stalking caribou while they are still in the mountains in mid- to late August. The mountains are ablaze with color, the weather ranges from the 40s to 70s and sweet blueberries abound. High alpine plateaus and mountains from 3,000 to 5,000 feet dwarf 100-year-old spruce in the valleys below. On these ridges, where it appears nothing can exist, you’ll find the biggest bulls – fat and lazy from feeding on grasses and succulent plants rich in sugars and nutrients that help them grow their impressive headgear. Look for them on windy knolls, where they escape the constant harassment of flies and mosquitoes. You’ll also find caribou cooling off on alpine snow banks.

CLOTHING What to wear is a matter of experience and what you like and don’t like to wear. Take a wide range of layered options for conditions from sunny, 75-degree days to blizzards or freezing rain. But there are some hard and fast rules. Cotton kills. With the exception perhaps of the clothes you wear on the flight in, take all synthetic, breathable, and non-breathable fabrics and think layers. Take a pair of Farm to Field socks for every day of your hunt, as well as ankle-fit hip boots, preferably with lug soles. Combine polyester underwear with polar fleece outerwear and a quality rain It’s best to locate caribou from high ground, then move into position to intercept them. Caribou can walk faster than most hunters can run, so don’t waste time. (CHRIS BATIN)

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On especially hot days, you’ll find them on snowpacks as high as Dall sheep.

FOR THOSE WHO WAIT Other hunters delay until the bulls start joining up with the herds of cows and calves, which takes place in September. North of the Brooks Range, for instance, the bulls of the Central Arctic Herd migrate up river valleys to the foothills of the northern slope of the Brooks. Such

shell. Also pack a lightweight insulated jacket – I like the Xelerator jacket and pants – as temperatures can drop down to the low teens at night and then skyrocket to the low 60s during the day. And don’t forget an insulated hat as well as shell gloves. Pack sunscreen too. Glassing on a sunny day on the open tundra can produce a nasty sunburn.

SHELTER AND FOOD Pack a quality, free-standing tent such as a Bombshelter or a smaller spike-camp tent for two hunters. A small backpack stove that uses unleaded gas is best, and bring more fuel than you think you’ll use, because you will. Take standard as well as emergency rations of Mountain House or other lightweight, freeze-dried or vacuum-packed foods for main meals. Creamy soups, cheeses, beef jerky and trail mix provide quick, high-energy snacks for lunch and at midday. Instant oatmeal breakfasts are quick and simple.

BINOS A 15-by-45 spotting scope with a 45-degree angle eyepiece will minimize neck fatigue and strain when compared to a straight, in-line spotting scope. I use Vanguard 10.5-by-45 binoculars, and a lightweight, sturdy tripod for glassing in the almost ever-present wind.

APPROXIMATE COSTS Caribou dislike timber and travel through it quickly. Look for paths that go through forest patches, and watch exits and entries from high ground. (HEATHER BATIN)

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Flying out via Super Cub can run from $3,000-plus for a simple, do-it-yourself hunt to $5,500 for an elaborate expedition to remote alpine areas for caribou, moose and black bear. Caribou tags are $650 per animal and a non-resident hunting license costs $160. Purchase tags and licenses online before your departure to Alaska. -CB

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a hunt is best planned for prior to early September. I’ve had snow and 15-degree temperatures on September 3 in the Brooks, so plan with caution when hunting the northern herds. When in doubt, I consult with the air charter operators that fly the area. They know the herd migrations better than anyone and can tell you when to book your hunt for the best chances. The Fortymile Herd near Tok is a longtime favorite of mine, and it’s a ruggedly beautiful area to hunt. It’s possible to see at least 15 caribou per trip, and in late autumn, as many as 100 or more. In short, each herd is different.

Hunters glass for caribou and moose in Fortymile country, in eastern Alaska, on a 10-day dropoff hunt. Glass for trophy bulls in early morning and late evening. The author’s Hunting in Alaska: A Comprehensive Guide has an extensive chapter on hunting Alaska caribou and can be ordered directly from him. (CHRIS BATIN)

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on narrow, short-run (strips) that we feel offer the best hunting, and it’s what keeps our success rate high and hunters coming back year after year.” Don’t charter a Cub to fly you to a destination several hundred miles away. These planes are best used when hunting areas near a base city, which is why most Cub-based hunts are near the hunting area. You fly commercial or drive to those small towns or strips, and from there you fly out. Some hunters opt to take a larger plane to the general area, like an Otter, then take a Cub from the strip into the hunting area, which saves both time and money. Such trips are offered by Alaska West Air out of Nikiski. The Brewers have flown hunters into the heart of prime caribou country for several decades. With Mulchatna ’bou numbers down from historical highs, hunters might want to consider black bear and moose hunting opportunities there. On average, statewide hunt stats that I’ve kept show that over 80 percent of caribou hunters who fly out via Super Cub for caribou are successful; 60 to 70 percent

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are successful on moose.

JUDGING RACKS ON THE HOOF Hunters have a very good chance of taking a trophy caribou if they restrain themselves from shooting the first bull they see. The reason is obvious. Most hunters from the Lower 48 are familiar with seeing and judging deer racks. They don’t realize that even a small caribou has a rack three to four times that of a deer. For new hunters to these parts, the caribou is the largest antlered animal they’ve ever seen. If you shoot a small bull, you quickly realizes his mistake when a large bull trots by. What are the features to look for in a trophy caribou? Look for two girthy main beams that sweep up and out over the forehead, often stretching 60 inches or more. The bull should have good brow tines or shovels, reaching far out onto the nose. Good bez tines, located off the main beam just above the brow tine, are important. And the terminal portion of the main beam should be palmated and flattened, with numerous rearward-facing tines.

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MOUNTAIN WEATHER A high-alpine plains caribou hunt is an adventure for the serious, prepared hunter who will have an opportunity to stalk and take a unique trophy. But there are other trophies one can expect on the high-tundra plains of caribou country. When you least expect it, after three or four days of sunny weather, brutal mountain storms may try and beat you into submission. That’s when survival becomes more than an option; it’s a door-die event, where the winner takes all. I recall hunting a high alpine lake in the Chilikadrotna high country in late September. Doug Brewer of Alaska West Air had chosen to reposition me high in the alpine after my brother and I bagged a nice bull moose in another location. I was hunting alone on the second day when I took a nice bull with a flowing white mane. In midafternoon, while packing meat about a mile to base camp, I watched menacing gray clouds roll out of the northern sky. Within minutes, the side of the mountain toward the approaching storm was encased in a sheath of icy-wet snow. The storm wors-


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ened, and once in camp I burrowed into my all-season, two-man tent for shelter. After sunset, the storm howled its fury. I shone my flashlight into the blackness to see tracer-bullet snow zip sideways across an inky backdrop. The wind shrieked its challenge, and I knew it would be a long night. For the next eight hours, I remained zipped in my 40-below sleeping bag, my back against the fiberglass tent pole framework to keep it from flattening. The wind slowly pushed me out of the corner to where the tent pressed around me, which forced me to slide back and reposition every few minutes. At times the wind blew so hard, it was like a giant hand pressing and twisting the tent, like your hand presses an orange over a juicer, rotating and twisting until nothing is left on the inside. I started to think of a Plan B in case the tent poles shattered. I would crawl to a small drainage creek about 40 yards to the left of the tent – that is, if I could find it in the whiteout conditions. I’d wrap myself in a space blanket and tent remnants, and hope for the best. I thought of

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mountaineers atop Everest inside those tent-ripping winds, and told myself if they could survive, so too could I. Time has no meaning in the agony of anticipation. One can neither read nor watch video to help pass the time. Memories were my only entertainment. For what seemed like a year of endless nights, dreary with fatigue from the day’s hunt, constantly fighting the wind without relief, and finally forsaking the promise of daybreak, I slowly faded into a dreamless sleep of exhaustion. I awoke sometime later with a start, surprised that I had nodded off, and hit the light on my wristwatch. It was 5:12 a.m. and something was wrong. Stonedeaf silence had replaced the screeching howls. I felt buried alive, with a portion of my tent heavy on my legs. I kicked off a few inches of ice-encrusted snow. The ol’ tent bounced upright, even though a pole had broken during the storm. The once brown tundra had turned into a rolling blanket of white. My caribou meat had frozen solid. I lit my stove, heated up some soup and leftover caribou. I reinforced the

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Glass clumps of willows and alder for not only caribou but moose in late August, when both species are shedding velvet for the upcoming rut. (CHRIS BATIN)

tent, in case the winds kicked up again. It was pickup day, and if all survived back at the air charter office, I’d be flying home in a few hours. Once back in civilization, I learned that the storm was the granddaddy blizzard of the year. Spawned in the high Arctic, it had smashed through the center of the state with winds of over 100 mph. In fact, an aircraft carrier near Kodiak Island was kept in port due to 40-foot seas. And while I have a great caribou tro-


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phy from that hunt, surviving the worst that Alaska could dish out is a trophy of the heart that I value most. I have since survived other gale-force windstorms and typhoons that were far worse with far less drama, but those are tales for another time.

WHAT MAKES THE LAST FRONTIER TICK The point is, such challenges are all part of the allure of Alaska alpine caribou hunting, and most hunters, myself included, wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. So if you plan to hunt Alaska caribou this year, do so with all the enthusiasm and challenge that it offers, be prepared for the unexpected, and purchase the best gear you can afford. Learn how to hunt the tundra, be in shape and hunt smart by knowing the regulations. Heavy predation by wolves and bears take their toll on select herds. Always be prepared to hunt a different location, should last-minute openings or closures take place. Finally, take time to admire the animals as they migrate and feed, or as they bed down and look

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Pete Anastasi with a Central Arctic Herd caribou he bagged with the author while on an August fly-out trip. Like most experiences in outdoor Alaska, a caribou hunt carries the aura of anticipation, unexpected obstacles and hopefully results in the adventure of a lifetime. (CHRIS BATIN)

down at you from their mountainside overlooks. If you’re like me, you’ll see the caribou for what it is: a symbol of our last great wilderness on Earth, the Alaska high-plains tundra. Indeed, the barren-ground caribou is a resource that we can’t lose through development or mismanagement, less we lose ourselves in the process. ASJ

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Note: Chris Batin is editor and publisher of The Alaska Hunter, and author of the 416-page book, Hunting in Alaska: A Comprehensive Guide, which includes a detailed chapter on hunting caribou. As a special to ASJ readers, autographed copies are available from the author at batinchris@gmail.com or AlaskaAngler.com


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ALASKA BIG GAME FOCUS

Black bears are plentiful, and with liberal seasons, they’re one of the most popular species to hunt in Alaska. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

BIG GAME SPOTLIGHT: BLACK BEAR

BY PAUL D. ATKINS

T

here is something truly special and unique about Southeast Alaska. The country is amazing, given all of its vegetation, monster trees, mountains and bird life, which is totally different than what I’m used to living here in Kotzebue. Bears are also numerous on the Panhandle, especially black bears, and in my opinion they are one of the

state’s best kept secrets! Black bears are the most abundant and widely distributed ursine species in North America; an estimated 100,000 occupy Alaska alone. They’re also one of the most widely hunted big game species in the state and number one as far as bruins go. Here in Alaska they can literally be found anywhere, but are more likely to be located below the Arctic Circle. I’ve never seen one in the Arctic, where

I’m based, but every now and then you hear of one being taken. The densest populations are in the southern part of the state, where better weather exists and an abundance of food is more likely to be found. I find black bears to be one of Alaska’s greatest resources – plentiful in numbers and for the money and time, one of the most enjoyable species to hunt. Of the three bears found in North America, the black bear is the small-

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est. Adults stand about 29 inches at the shoulders and are about 60 inches from nose to tail. Males are larger than females and weigh about 180 to 200 pounds in the spring, with some being a lot heavier. Bears are bigger in the fall, of course, due to diet. But winter hibernation usually costs them 20 percent of their body weight. Cinnamon-colored black bears are also common in Alaska’s Interior. Some bluish-colored bears – called glacier bears – may be found in the Yakutat area and in other parts of Southeast Alaska. Black bears often have brown muzzles and some also have patches of white hair on their chest. Black bears are most easily distinguished from brown bears by their straight facial profile and their claws, which rarely grow more than 1½ inches in length. Black bears have an adequate sense of sight and hearing, but an outstanding sense of smell.

HUNTING LICENSES ARE REQUIRED to hunt black bears. In addition, some hunts require a harvest ticket, some mandate

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GIMME FIVE: FACTS ABOUT BLACK BEARS 1) Black bears are opportunistic when it comes to food. However, they do follow certain predictable patterns. In the spring, freshly sprouted vegetation, including grass, horsetails, and poplar buds are an important food source for bears. 2) Bears readily scavenge winterkilled animals, and in some areas black bears are effective predators on newborn moose calves. As summer progresses, feeding shifts to salmon if that resource is available. In areas without salmon, black bears feed primarily on vegetation throughout the year. 3) In Alaska, black bears occur over most of the forested areas of the state; depending on the season of the year, they may be found from sea lev-

a registration permit or a drawing permit, while some require nothing but the license. If you’re wondering which permit you need, please refer to the cur-

APRIL 2018 | aksportingjournal.com

el to alpine areas. They are not found on the Seward Peninsula, on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, or north of the Brooks Range. 4) Black bears can vary in color from jet black to white. Black is the color encountered most frequently across the state, but brown or cinnamon-colored black bears are sometimes seen in Southcentral Alaska and on the Southeastern mainland. 5) Most drawing hunts are available to residents and nonresidents. Drawing hunts require an application fee and are awarded by lottery. The application period for drawing hunts is during November and December. -Alaska Department of Fish and Game

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Author Paul Atkins with a harvested black bear. More of these bruins are found in the southern part of the state, especially in the Alaska Panhandle. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

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you are interested in. Bear populations and bear management strategies vary across our huge and ecologically diverse state. Black bears reproduce at a higher rate than brown bears, so their seasons tend to be more liberal. For example, in most Interior units, each hunter may take more than one black bear each regulatory year, with no closed hunting season. However, salvaging hide, skull and meat may or may not be required in certain units. Please check the most current regulations for information. Hunting methods vary too with black bear, along with styles. Sport-and-stalk methods with bows or rifles are the most common. Baiting is also allowed in some units, while in others it isn’t. Sitting above a tree stand and watching bears appear like a ghost is something to behold and a lot of fun. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you have the proper license, tags and knowledge to have a safe and hopefully successful bear hunt. ASJ Editor’s note: The Alaska Department of Fish and Game contributed to this story. Follow Paul Atkins on Twitter (@aktrophyhunter).


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WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

A BREAK DURING A TURBULENT ARCTIC WINTER GIVES SHEEFISH ANGLERS CHANCE TO ICE FISH BY PAUL D. ATKINS

W

hat’s tomorrow’s weather supposed to do?” I asked Lew Pagel. “It’s supposed to be decent: sunshine and clear skies. But in midafternoon we’re supposed to get another storm,” he replied. “Well then, we better go drill some holes then, don’t you think?” To say the weather hasn’t been ideal this year is an understatement, especially the winter. Blizzard after blizzard dumped truckloads of snow on us, creating whiteouts and making travel almost impossible. The weird thing is that these storms seemed to intensify on the weekends, which created conditions that only Alaskans can appreciate. Anything can happen this time of year, when March Madness doesn’t just apply to that month’s college basketball tournament; it occurs here in the Arctic too. Getting out to do a little ice fishing is a bit iffy this time of year anyway. Lew

With blizzard upon blizzard blasting the northwest Alaska town of Kotzebue, a rare sunny winter day provided a perfect chance to pitch a brand-new ice fishing hut on the pack and dangle spoons for tasty sheefish. (PAUL D. ATKINS) aksportingjournal.com | APRIL 2018

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Lew Pagel unpacks his old red sled, which he and author Paul Atkins keep stocked with all the gear needed for ice fishing trips. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

and I have done it with some luck, but trying to hook a sheefish in and near Kotzebue Sound in early March can be quite a challenge. The first time out is more like a scouting trip than anything else; hitting “old fishing spots” that have produced in the past is usually our primary goal. Sometimes it works, while most of the time it doesn’t. But like all things in the outdoors, whether you’re hunting or fishing, you can’t catch anything sitting on the couch, so when opportunity arises you have to gear up, get out there and give it your best shot and hope luck finds you. On that first “good day” we did just that!

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down on the tundra. It was a pleasant sight and provided us a sense that maybe spring was just around the corner. The feeling was mutual throughout the community as well. Snowmachines roared in the distance and the old familiar smell of gas, oil and two-stroke engines hung in the air like wood smoke. It was time and you could tell. Everybody was eager to get out and enjoy the country while they could! Lew and I loaded gear into his old red sled. First in was the ice auger, the propane one. I don’t know how we ever lived without one of these incredible inventions. It’s easy, faster and makes ice fishing much more enjoyable. The key is to not forget the propane, like I have done a couple of times before. It makes for a long ride back to town and a pre-

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cious waste of fishing time! Rods, reels, lures and Native fishing devices called “niksiks” were loaded in bags next. You always wonder which lure will work and which will not, one of the great challenges and fun things about fishing, whether through the ice or along the river during the summer. Most sheefish will bite anything (if they are biting) that is dropped through the ice, but there are times when certain colors are more appetizing than others. In went the chairs, and last but not least was our newly acquired ice hut. Most people in the Arctic don’t use ice huts or shacks. They take time to set up, even more so when you’re running and gunning from place to place looking for fish. But Lew and I wanted to give it a try, so we tied it down with the rest of the gear and started our snowmachines.


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The first time out on the ice with fishing gear is always special. It holds promise of what’s to come. The feeling of past experiences can overwhelm you, especially remembering how it feels to pull one of these big fish through the ice. There is nothing quite like it. That may sound a little over the top to some, but it’s true. Hooking into a big fish, guiding him up through the hole and then grabbing a gill for that final pull is one of my favorite Arctic things to do – always has been. Now, there are pieces of gear that are important, like a GPS. It’s an amazing piece of technology. Most people use them while hunting, flying, boating and everything else you can possibly imagine doing in the outdoors. They can save your life and get you home, but they can also lead you to fish; more specifically, to old fishing spots that we have marked throughout the region. Some spots are better than others, and the old GPS leads us to the best ones first. Believe it or not, some of these best spots are close to town. Over the years they have produced with little effort, oth-

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A scooper helps to remove slush and excess snow from the hole, making it easier to fish through and bring big catches up onto the ice. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

er than drilling a hole and dropping in a line. However, this early in March might be different, and it usually is. But like they say, you have to start somewhere. If nothing else, we had opportunity.

THE TRAIL WAS BUMPY and the ride out

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slow going. Previous storms had blown drifts along the marked trail and made the ride a bone-jarring experience. With Lew in front and me behind I watched as gear tightly bound to the sled bounced in every direction. There have been many times that we’ve a lost an item or two, had to stop and restrap and, in most cases, reorganize, but not this time. We were lucky. Out in the middle of it all we had miles of ice spreading in every direction. As we drove north the GPS finally said we had arrived. Our favorite spot was void of people, as well as signs of life, for that matter. In no time, we had the sled unloaded and two holes drilled into the ice. Drilling holes is a no-brainer. Find a spot and go; it’s that easy. Placement doesn’t matter either as long as the holes are apart, but not too far. We usually try and place them 10 to 12 feet from each other, which gives us plenty of elbowroom for chairs and gear. If we’re using a fish hut, as was the case for this day, they’ll be a bit closer. Ice fishing can be a funny thing sometimes. I’ve seen some holes that seem to be luckier than others. There have been occasions where one particular hole will produce fish after fish, while another mere feet away will yield zip. It happens all the time. Luck of the draw, I guess. On this trip, we wanted to use the


shack more for fun than for protection, even though that afternoon was supposed to bring another storm our way. Our new fish hut was the Taj Mahal of ice fishing huts, a double-insulated Eskimo model fresh out of the bag. Bright red, it stood out sharply against the never-ending white. These new huts are enormous, warm and well built. Big and spacious, if you wanted you could actually camp in one and fish for weeks if need be. It was nice!

Sheefish are partial to spoons, especially those in blue and silver, like the author’s ol’ reliable lure, but if one isn’t working, choose another until you find something that does. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

AFTER SETTLING IN, WE broke out the rods and lures. Choosing what to use is always fun and over the years we have developed a system of favorites. For a long time we only used niksiks, an Inupiaq word for fishing jig. They’re simple and work great. They’re made from either a piece of willow or wood, or if you want to get fancy, maybe out of a caribou rib or piece of antler. Each has a length of line, usually braided, tied to the end and wrapped tightly around the jig itself. The line is dropped into the water with a spoon and with a simple up and

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The anglers’ new hut helped create a great atmosphere, as well as shielded them from the elements. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

down jigging motion you’re fishing. It has only been recently that we’ve started using rods and reels. The sheefish in these waters are big and sometimes approach 40-plus

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pounds, so no ordinary set-up will do. Thick, sturdy rods with tough reels are called for, and a line that won’t break is required. We’ve found that fishing with a rod and reel is a lot of fun, cre-

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ating more of a feel for the fish itself and the challenge of getting it up and onto the ice. On this day Lew chose his old standby, a nikisk with his favorite silver spoon.


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On the other hand, I grabbed a rod and reel that was tipped with a shorter, blue silver spoon, a lure that had brought me luck many times before. The key to ice fishing in the Arctic is knowing your depth and how far to let the spoon sink towards the bottom. Plumbing the “catch zone” – that middle area where the current carries the lure just right – will yield more hits, more action and, in most cases, more fish. Getting a bite is always exciting. I knew we were in business when Lew hollered “Got one!” Hand over hand, Lew inched the line up, keeping it tight as he pulled on the weight below. Hooking a fish this big and not knowing what it looks like until it makes its appearance through the slush is exciting. You know it’s a fish, but until you see the big tarpon-like head peer up at you, you never really know what you have. I think this is what makes ice fishing so special and addicting. Lew’s fish, our first of the day, was big. Measuring 42 inches and weighing in the 25-plus-pound range, the fish was impressive. It also spurred us to action:

There’s something special about catching the first fish of the year – even more so if you’re using a traditional niksik, like Pagel did with this big sheefish. (PAUL D. ATKINS)

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Atkins says the species’ white meat is akin to halibut, but with bones. Cooked in a variety of ways, sheefish are one of the best eating fish in a state full of tasty fare. (PAUL D. ATKINS)


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As fast as we could get him unhooked, measured and take a few photos, we had our lines back in the water. One thing about ice fishing up here is that when they’re biting, you’ve got to capitalize on the moment and keep fishing. It wasn’t long before I had a hit. The Twin River rod twitched, bent in the middle and I knew I had hooked him well. It was a fight and a challenge getting him up, and at times I wondered if maybe I should’ve been using a niksik instead. Yet the rig held and a silver-grey fish came out of the hole easily. It was such a great feeling! Two fish back to back! We caught a couple more afterwards, but nothing as big as the first one. It was a success and a lot of fun. And as the snow began to fall again and another big storm blowing in, Lew and I made plans for our next Arctic fishing adventure. Same place, same time and, hopefully, same luck! 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.


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MOST MIGHTY R FROM ALASKA TO THE LOWER 48, NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE WATERWAYS ARE MAJESTIC PLACES TO FISH, HUNT, EXPLORE

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RIVERS

BY MARTHA NUDEL

T

he mighty Missouri. The mighty Mississippi. The mighty Yukon. The U.S. has a mighty lot of mighty rivers. The mainstems, or trunks, of 38 rivers in the United States are at least 500 miles long. They and other rivers bring clean drinking water, economic health, food for many native people, transportation, and a mighty lot of recreation – especially on national wildlife refuges. While not all of the nation’s legendary waterways are federally protected, this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is a great time to get onto a river to fish, hunt, boat or just see the greatness of America. Here’s a snapshot of some river recreation on America’s national wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

ALASKA

Paddlers navigate rapids on Alaska’s Sheenjek River, a National Wild and Scenic River. It lies within the Arctic and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges and is part of a vast maze of federally protected waterways across the United States. (CHRIS PALMER)

“In northwest Alaska, the rivers teem seasonally with fish of various kinds: salmon, sheefish, whitefish, northern pike, Dolly Varden,” says Susan Georgette, manager of Selawik National Wildlife Refuge. “I often tell people that living here is like seeing North America in its primordial state.” The 2.15-million-acre Selawik Refuge is on the Arctic Circle to the east of Kotzebue Sound and extends east to the headwaters of the Selawik River and the Continental Divide. The heart of the refuge is a vast complex of wetlands and lowland, rich habitat for wildlife. The refuge gives visitors a chance to explore and discover the nature of Alaska on their own. Here you might see moose or muskoxen. The Western Arctic caribou herd is the largest in Alaska and seasonally roams through the refuge. Spring brings birds to the Arctic to nest, including some Asiatic species rarely seen anywhere else in the United States. Fish some 22,000 ponds and two large river deltas for Arctic char, chum, whitefish and grayling and northern pike. Bringing in a 40- to 50-pound inconnu is not uncommon. “This state, and all its refuges, are so huge, yet there are very few roads,” says Heather Bartlett, acting deputy man-

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An Iñupiaq woman fillets northern pike along the Selawik River at Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, in Northwest Alaska. Much of the river is designated as wild and scenic. (DAN PRINCE/USFWS)

ager of Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which is bisected by the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers. “Because of this, rivers become the roads. People use them as primary travel corridors. In the summer, travel is by boat and raft. In the winter, people travel by snowmachine, skis and dog teams.” The Sheenjek is among the refuge’s major rivers. A remote 8.6-million-acre wetland complex nestled between the White and Brooks Mountain ranges, Yukon Flats Refuge is a challenging destination in any season. But oh, the rewards: chances to see Dall sheep, moose, bear, wolves, wolverines and caribou. You can fish on some 20,000 lakes, ponds and wetlands for northern pike, Chinook, coho and chum salmon, plus Dolly Varden, among other species.

GEORGIA “What makes the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge so unique is that you travel into the beating heart of two 112

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of the Southeast’s most pristine rivers – the Suwannee River and the St. Marys,” says refuge manager Michael Lusk. “Both are important for wildlife and people.” “For example, the Suwannee River serves as important habitat for the threatened Gulf sturgeon, while the St. Marys River provides habitat for the endangered Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. Both of these rivers, because they are so pristine, offer excellent fishing and boating.” A day or an overnight paddling trip through the Okefenokee is the experience of a lifetime. Alligators glide through tea-colored water. Herons and egrets wade through tall grasses and water lilies. Bears roam through hammocks and islands. The refuge has seven overnight shelters and three islands available for wildlife viewing and exploration in the swamp’s interior. You can hunt seasonally in three areas: The Suwannee Canal Recreation Area (Eastside), the Pocket

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(Westside) and the Cowhouse Unit (Northside). Depending on where you choose, you can hunt for deer, turkey and small game, or take your try at feral hog hunting.

UPPER MIDWEST The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, along 261 miles of what may be America’s most celebrated river, is a hub of outdoor recreation and a boon to the area’s economic vitality. Divided into four districts, the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River Refuge runs from the confluence of the Chippewa River in Wisconsin to near Rock Island in Illinois. Observation decks and canoe and bike trails are just some of the ways that visitors can view wildlife. Boating may offer the most intimate look at the river system. The refuge is known for its waterfowl hunting and has year-round fishing, including famed ice fishing. Marked canoe trails wind through the refuge’s marshes and backwater


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An aerial photo shows the Selawik flowing past oxbow lakes, cutoff meanders that are hallmarks of low-gradient river sections that also provide great fish and wildlife habitat. (STEVE HILLEBRAND/USFWS)

areas. The annual Great River Rumble (July 28-August 4) takes paddlers from Keosauqua, Iowa, to Hannibal, Missouri, down the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers. The route passes through Upper Mississippi River Refuge.

MARYLAND The Blackwater River and its marshes attract tens of thousands of waterfowl each winter along the Atlantic Flyway. “In the dead of winter, you will find wildlife watchers and waterfowl hunters alike attracted to the overwintering flocks,” says Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge manager Marcia Pradines.

Winter is hardly the only time to visit the refuge. The number of migratory songbirds peaks in late April and early May. Along with white-tailed deer fawns, usually twins, eaglets fledge from late May to the middle of June. Osprey have returned in the spring from their wintering grounds. Autumn colors peak in October and November brings tundra swans from Northwest Canada. You can bike several routes – some are perfect for novices, others for experienced cyclists – all on a loop route along the paved Wildlife Drive. You can hunt for deer, turkey and waterfowl on some areas of the refuge. Fishing and crabbing from boats are allowed seasonally.

WHERE TO LOOK

MASSACHUSETTS Say Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and people think Plum Island. The barrier beach island is just part of the refuge’s approximately 4,700 acres that include sandy beach and dune habitat, cranberry bog, maritime forest and the Great Marsh, the largest continuous salt marsh north of Long Island Sound. The refuge attracts hundreds of songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl. Spring and fall are favorite paddling seasons since migratory birds are plentiful and mosquitoes and horseflies are not. Waterfowl hunting is available in designated salt marsh areas of the refuge during state seasons, and the refuge offers some of the area’s finest surf fishing.

For more great water trails in the National Wildlife Refuge System, go to: fws.gov/refuges/observation/WaterTrails.html For more about rivers in the National Wildlife Refuge System, go to: fws.gov/refuges/features/rivers.html

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Randy Brown prepares to capture Dolly Varden in the Canning River during a radio-tagging project. The river flows along the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (KATRINA LIEBICH/USFWS)

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The Missouri River, at more than 2,400 miles, is the longest river in North America. People have depended on the river and its tributaries for sustenance and transportation for more than 12,000 years. Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge encompasses more than 17,000 acres of riverine habitat along the river and consists of 15 units, most of them along the lower Missouri River. What recreation it offers! Hunting opportunities abound: Deer, turkey, waterfowl, upland birds and small game. Scour lakes and ponds created and replenished by the Missouri River give you the chance to fish for crappie, bass catfish, carp and more throughout the year. See migratory birds in the fall and spring in these parts. Beaver, bobcat and other secretive wildlife travel along the shore and in the water, especially in early morning or late evening. Trails bring you to the perfect places to watch what the river reveals. Don’t forget to take photos!

Thousands of people each year, especially kayakers and canoeists, use the 9 miles of the Niobrara River that flow eastward across Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. Designated a National Scenic River, National Wilderness Area and a National Recreation Trail, this portion of the river brings people from around the world for relaxing float trips that can be completed in just a few hours. They find the deep canyon and river full of native vegetation and animals refreshing for the soul. They often drive the 3.5-mile Wildlife Drive to see bison, elk, deer and prairie dogs. In April and May, male sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie-chickens display on courting areas known as a lek.

ALASKA SPORTING JOURNAL

PENNSYLVANIA The 4.5-mile segment of Darby Creek at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum winds through the largest freshwater tidal marsh in Pennsylvania before flowing into the

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Delaware River. See migratory birds such as warblers, herons, egrets and sandpipers, as well as bald eagles, kingfishers and waterfowl. Enjoy great fishing along the way. Refuge waters are tidal and navigable only within two hours before and after high tide. Seasonal kayak tours let you see what a freshwater tidal marsh looks like from the vantage point of wading birds. You can see numerous points of interest from a canoe as you head from the launch site to the creek’s deep water lagoon.

TEXAS Within the heartland of Caddo culture, Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1994 to protect a remnant of the bottomland hardwood forest found along the Trinity River. The refuge’s cypress-studded lake and bottomland hardwood forest are important breeding, wintering and stopover habitat for wildlife. More than 275 species of birds live in or migrate through the bottomland


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forests and wetlands in eastern Texas, including some 100 species that breed here. Wood ducks spend their summers on the refuge, where they nest in the cavities of large cypress trees. See white-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcat and an estimated 400 types of butterflies and moths. You might get your hiking boots muddy, but you have several easy-totraverse trails to explore. Champion Lake is the largest for fishing. The refuge has a variety of hunts.

WYOMING “Rivers are the lifeblood of a landscape,” says Tom Koerner, manager of

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, speaking of the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado River. “In dry climates, like Wyoming’s, almost 80 percent of wildlife species need wetlands and rivers at some point in their life cycles.” In the shadow of the Wind River Mountain Range, Seedskadee Refuge and the Green River are vital for more than 250 species of resident and migrant wildlife. See birds in their bright breeding plumage as spring begins to melt the ice on the river. From mid-June through early September, sage grouse hens lead their young to the refuge’s wet meadows and riverine areas;

hummingbirds arrive in late June and stay into the fall. Kayaking is a popular way to see the refuge. Drift boats and canoes are also perfect for fishing and wildlife watching. Don’t forget to look for moose. ASJ Editor’s note: Martha Nudel is the chief of communications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Bill Carter shows off a sheefish he caught on the Selawik. There are endless fishing opportunities in Alaska’s national refuge rivers. (DAN PRINCE/USFWS)

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Northern pike, plentiful in many Interior Alaska waters, have no shortage of dining options and lure companies aim to match the hatch, per se, with new offerings. (MIKE LUNDE)

8 GREAT PIKE LURE LINES WITH SPRING NEAR, STOCK UP YOUR TACKLE BOX WITH THESE NORTHERN NAILERS BY MIKE LUNDE

N

orthern pike are one of the dominant predators roaming countless freshwater lakes and river systems throughout Alaska. Pike cruise long distances in pursuit of baitfish and helpless terrestrial critters. And the lures meant to mimic northerns’ meals have gone through breakthrough design changes over the past decade. Soft plastic molds, airbrush techniques, oversized blades, photo-quality baitfish finishes and other improvements have allowed tackle manufacturers to achieve the ultimate in realism with their offerings. The lures presented in this feature represent important seasonal predator-prey interactions. Here are some of the hottest northern pike lures to hit the market for the 2018 open-water season. Many of these companies are based in America’s heartland, where I grew up.

Minnesota-based Beaver Baits features lures handcrafted out of bucktail hair. (MIKE LUNDE)

BEAVER BAITS: BABY BEAVER, BEAVER XL AND THE RIVER RAT Northern pike are absolutely notorious for foraging on fourlegged terrestrial furballs such as muskrats, squirrels, rats, mice, and shrews. To simulate a muskrat-like offering, Minneapolis-based Beaver Baits (beaverbaits.com) formulated mulaksportingjournal.com | APRIL 2018

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tiple articulated baits handcrafted out of bucktail hair. Each body section is constructed around a base of .051inch wire and connected with heavy-duty split rings. A soft plastic beaver-style tail is at the tip. The Baby Beaver comes in three lengths: 9 inches (1.6 ounces), 12 inches (3.5 ounces), and 14½ inches (6 ounces). Once subjected to water, the weights increase marginally. The lure comes in multiple color combinations that include tullibee, skunk, firetiger, brown/ white, walleye, and ice cold perch. Custom colors are also available. Tandem Colorado blade attachments are available for increased movement. A recent floating version called the River Rat, a 12-inch bait composed of similar materials, is also available this May. Watch footage of the River Rat in action on YouTube.

Do you smell a rat? Pike certainly approve of rodents in the water in the form of an SPRO bait. (MIKE LUNDE)

SPRO: BBZ-50 RAT Although rats haven’t invaded Alaska too far beyond some ports, fan-casting large rodent lures over shallow vegetation is an adrenaline rush and simulates a common predator-prey interaction. SPRO, a tackle manufacturer out of Georgia (spro.com), recently released a 10-inch supersized hard plastic articulated rat lure called the BBZ-1 Rat 50. Designed as a floater, a slow-tomoderate-speed continuous retrieve brings the rat to life. Smaller models are available for tougher conditions. The body measures 5¼ inches, with a 5-inch hard plastic tail, and has a weight of 2¾ ounces. The lure comes with two 1/0 Gamakatsu 2X treble hooks. Effective color combinations include brown, white, grey ghost and morning dawn in purple/chartreuse.

Bucktailed lures are tackle-box staples of northern pike anglers, and author Mike Lunde likes this one from Musky Mayhem Tackle. (THORNE BROTHERS)

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MUSKY MAYHEM TACKLE: 10-9 BUCKTAIL Bucktails are a timeless classic in the tackle boxes of many northern pike fanatics and they have gone through innovative changes over the past decade. Musky Mayhem Tackle’s (muskymayhemtackle.com) version is composed of a Flashabou-skirted body, different-sized spinner blades and creates a unique acoustic vibration in the water column. The lure attracts pike in stained water. The two 7/0 Mustad 2X trebles provide tremendous hook-setting percentages. At 9½ inches long and 3 ounces, this in-line bucktail is ideal for power fishing applications because it creates a large profile when the Flashabou skirts pulsate in the water coupled with the spinner blades.

A custom bucktail pattern created by Musky Frenzy Lures features state-of-the-art material. (THORNE BROTHERS)

MUSKY FRENZY LURES: APACHE TRIPLE 10 In the world of bucktail applications for northern pike and muskies, multiple outsized blades are highly necessary to trigger nonaggressive fish into striking. The Musky Frenzy Lures (muskyfrenzy.com) Apache Triple 10 takes introductory baseline bucktail design light years further with a specialized option not seen in other bucktails. A custom 3-in-1 clevis system allows for synchronous triple-bladed spinning action from three No. 10 oversized Colorado blades. Material composition of the bucktail skirts is an evenly split combination of Flashabou and tinsel. The Triple 10 (length: 10 inches; weight: 3½ ounces) comes in multiple body and blade

Pike also are willing to gobble frog and toad patterns like the X-Toad from Lake X Lures. (MIKE LUNDE)


color combinations. Popular ones include blue/nickel, black/ green, crappie, white/nickel, firetiger, and lemonhead.

LAKE X LURES: X-TOAD Amphibians like frogs and toads have always been a common prey item for northerns in dense vegetation. Field-tested in the legendary pike waters of Wisconsin and Minnesota, the X-Toad is a large soft plastic that stirs up water, thanks to the commotion of a deadly frog kicking movement. Available in 8-inch and 12-inch sizes, each version comes in shallow and regular (deep) models. They also feature twin tails and fully come alive with aggressive twitch and stops of the rod tip. Weights vary depending on lure length and sink rate. The 8-inch shallow and deep models weigh 4.2 and 5 to 5½ ounces, respectively. The 12-inch shallow and deep models weigh 7.3 and 9 ounces. The X-Toad contains 4/0 VMC and 5/0 trebles.

SAVAGE GEAR: 3-D AND 4-D SERIES SWIMBAITS Based off the success of their 3-D series of in-line swimbaits, Savage Gear’s (savage-gear.com) 4-Ds include exclusive newer features not previously released in the 3-D series. The 4-D series perch and trout feature a redesigned internal harness that allows for thicker line diameters to be inserted through. Realistic 4-D photo prints are established in a new creation process with new molding techniques that allow for a

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lifelike appearance. The 4-D Perch and Trout are available in 6-, 8- and 10-inch versions and the following color combinations: albino, firetiger and perch. Prerigged wire tandem treble-hook versions are also available.

Savage Gear features some of the best pike swimbaits on the market. (MIKE LUNDE)

LIVINGSTON LURES: HEADHUNTER MAGNUM Crankbaits have been a staple for northern pike fishing throughout the Lower 48, as well as watersheds in Alaska. The Livingston Headhunter Magnum (livingstonlures. com) imitates common species of cisco and whitefish in Alaska. The Magnum version is a 10-inch double-jointed minnowbait that is characterized by a slow sink rate, which makes it ideal for targeting pike over shallow vegetated areas in backwater sloughs or weed flats in lakes. The inverted mouth allows for shallow retrieves in the water column. An internal rattling system along with


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turing a vibrant color system that improves visibility from a distance. This bait simulates escaping least ciscoes and round whitefish around weedbeds, river confluences and suspended structure over deep-water points in lakes. ERC recommends experimenting with pause lengths and length of downward snaps to bring the lure to life.

The Livingston Headhunter Magnum is a top crankbait option. (ROLLIE AND HELEN’S MUSKY SHOP)

electronic technology means that once contact points on the bottom of the lure are physically touched, a chirping and/or clicking sound is made. The 10-inch model weighs 5 ounces and achieves depths of 2 to 9 feet, depending on whether it’s cast or trolled. It’s available in different baitfish colors such as firetiger, sucker, cisco and shimmering shad.

ESOX RESEARCH CENTER: HELLHOUND Glider-style jerkbaits have been a highly underrated pike lure category to include in the seasonal arsenal. Each downward snap of the rod tip makes these lures exhibit an erratic walk-the-dog movement. Esox Research Center in Minnesota (esoxresearch.com) constructed a hardcore, tooth-proof hard plastic glider jerkbait in 6- and 10-inch versions. It’s also available in a Reflective Series line fea-

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Movement is the key variable in glider-style jerkbaits such as the ERC Hellhound. (THORNE BROTHERS)

PIKE SEASON BECKONS As daylight and temperatures increase, open-water fishing opportunities grow. Arming yourself with any of the above lures is a step in the right direction towards putting the odds in your favor at catching giant pike this summer on any of Alaska’s remote and roadside pike fisheries. ASJ


HAINES Canal Marine Co. 10 Front St (907) 766-2437 canalmarinecompany.com

KETCHIKAN Timber & Marine Supply, Inc. 2547 Tongass Ave (907) 225-6644 www.timberandmarine.com

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EXPLORETHEDALLES.COM 541-296-2231 130

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APRIL 2018 | aksportingjournal.com


When planning a fishing trip to Alaska, start with learning the run timing of the species you most want to pursue. Here, in late August, a plump Dolly Varden is ready for release. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

TIME YOUR TRAVELS BETTER PLAN ALASKA FISHING TRIPS AROUND SALMON RUNS, NOT YOUR SCHEDULE, FOR BEST SUCCESS BY SCOTT HAUGEN

I

t was terrible,” spouted the lady across the table from me. “The king salmon fishing was closed and people were everywhere,” she continued. We were at a sports show and she'd stopped by my booth to vent how disappointed she and her husband were with their first Alaskan fishing experience. I came to find out that they'd been on the Kenai Peninsula in August – after the king season had closed, just as it always does – and it was a pink salmon year. The sockeyes were also in, so touring anglers were plentiful. Oh, and they'd planned their dream trip to Alaska around their schedule – not around when the fish were at their peak – so they missed the window for catching that prized Kenai king. Surprisingly, I hear this a lot, but it’s an easy problem to avoid. Over a decade ago I released A Fly-

fisher’s Guide To Alaska, a book that I devoted nine straight months of writing to. In addition, several years of Alaska fishing experiences and months of research came together to create this comprehensive guidebook. For me, the most gratifying feedback comes when someone shares how they followed every word of the travel guide and found success. While I’ve received many happy reports over the years, perhaps the highest number of compliments I get are on sections dealing with run timing and gear picks. Knowing what gear to use for what species and when the fish will be running in specific regions and in what bodies of water helps plan a trip that ensures success. Since the Kenai Peninsula is the most fished region of the state by do-ityourself anglers – you can target trout, giant king salmon, and everything in between – here’s a look at when the run timings are best.

KENAI PENINSULA FLY FISHING GEAR LIST • One 4-5-weight rod for small trout and pink salmon. • One 6-, 7- or 8-weight rod for large trout, silver and red salmon. • One 9-weight or larger rod for kings. • Floating line, sinking line, shooting head line. • Strike indicators. • Tippet ranging from 0x to 6x, 20- to 30-pound tippet for kings. • Fly selection for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden: Muddlers, Sculpins, Glo-Bug, Iliamna Pinkies, Babine Special, Polar Shrimp, egg-sucking leech, Wooly Buggers nymphs, smolt patterns, flesh flies, beads, Caddis, Black Ant, gnats, stonefly. • Fly selection for silver, red and pink salmon: Zonkers, pink streamer, coho variations, Popsicle streamer, smolt imitation, Brassie, Teeny Nymph, Sparkle Shrimp, Pink Shrimp, Comet, Flash Fly, Polly Wogs. • Fly selection for king salmon: Popsicle streamers in purple, pink, chartreuse, silver or black tied on 5/0 to 7/0 hook, Glo-Bug tied on 4/0 to 7/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook fished below the strike indicator. -SH

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FIELD

Using parchment packets to seal in the moisture and flavor of salmon fillets is one of Tiffany Haugen’s favorite ways to cook Alaska coho, sockeye and Chinook. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)

PACKING IN THE SALMON FLAVOR BY TIFFANY HAUGEN

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pring is in the air and the rivers are calling. OK, so maybe salmon season is a ways off, but if you have some fish in the freezer or if you’re looking for fresh ideas this season, try this quick dinner recipe that’s easy to prepare indoors or out. It works on all salmon species, as well as steelhead and trout. Whether you have frozen or fresh fish, wrapping the ingredients in parchment paper guarantees a moist end result. Cooking in parchment steam-cooks ingredients, which seals in flavors while allowing for a complete customization of each packet. One of the biggest advantages to this fun method is that there is no cleanup. Simply toss the parchment packets after one use.

INGREDIENTS FOR EACH PACKET ¼ package ramen or chow mein noodles One 4-ounce salmon fillet, skin removed ¼ cup carrot ribbons ¼ cup bell pepper ribbons 132

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Ginger soy marinade (see recipe below) or a favorite Asian marinade 10-inch-by-10-inch square parchment paper or foil In a small bowl, soak ramen noodles two minutes in boiling-hot water. Place partially cooked noodles in the center of the parchment paper. Top noodles with vegetable ribbons. Place salmon on top of vegetables. Begin to fold parchment or foil around the noodle-salmon stack. Before sealing, top with 2 tablespoons of ginger soy marinade or marinade of choice. Fold securely and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until fish is no longer opaque and reaches an internal temperature of at least 135 degrees. Note: Several packets can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated up to two hours prior to cooking. Packets can also be assembled by guests using a “salad-bar-style” set-up. Write names on parchment paper in pencil before placing in the oven.

APRIL 2018 | aksportingjournal.com

GINGER SOY MARINADE ¼ cup soy sauce ¼ cup lime juice 1 tablespoon rice vinegar 1 tablespoon sesame seeds 2 teaspoons sugar 2 teaspoons minced ginger 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 teaspoon sesame oil In a small bowl, mix all ingredients until thoroughly combined. Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany’s popular book Cooking Seafood, send a check for $20 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489. This and other cookbooks can also be ordered at tiffanyhaugen.com. Tiffany is a full-time author and part of the online series, Cook With Cabela’s. And watch for her on The Sporting Chef and the Netflix series The Hunt.


ANCHORAGE Anchorage Yamaha Suzuki Marine 3919 Spenard Rd (907) 243-8343 www.anchorageyamaha.com

KODIAK Emerson Boat Works 816 East Marine Way (907) 486-0602 www.emersonboatworks.com

FAIRBANKS Northern Power Sports 1980 Van Horn Rd (907) 452-2762 www.northernpowersports.com

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FIELD If you want to experience tranquil, remote fishing in Alaska, the Kenai's Russian River is not the place to be in July. But if you don’t mind crowds, you can get into a lot of fish. (SCOTT HAUGEN) To find the best fishing on the peninsula, know the peak times of when the fish run and where you should go, but also how late they're available. The author caught this hefty silver on Halloween, one of his favorite times of year to be on the Kenai River. (SCOTT

DETAILED RUN TIMING FOR KENAI PENINSULA’S MAJOR SPORT FISHERIES (FRESHWATER) Location: Kenai River King salmon: First run from mid-May to early July; second run from early July to season’s end on July 31. Sockeye salmon: Mid-July to early August. Silver salmon: First run from late July to late August; second run from early Sept. through season’s end on November 30 (check for temporary closures). Pink salmon: July through September. Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden: Available in system year-round, with the best fishing from July to October. Location: Russian River Sockeye: First run from mid-June to mid-July; second run from mid-July to season’s end in late August. Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden: In system year-round, with best fishing from July to October. Location: Kasilof River Kings: From late May to end of season, July 31. Location: Anchor River Kings: From late May to late June, “weekends only.” Location: Deep Creek Silvers: Early August to mid-September. Location: Ninilchik River Steelhead: Mid-August to early November (catch and release) Rainbow trout and Dolly Varden: Best fishing from July to October. 134

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HAUGEN)

GENERAL RUN TIMING FOR THE KENAI PENINSULA’S FRESHWATER SPORT FISHERIES Species King salmon Sockeye salmon Silver salmon Pink salmon Steelhead Rainbow trout Dolly Varden Lake trout Northern pike Arctic grayling

Timing Early May to July Early May to August Mid-July to December Mid-July to mid-September Late July to December Year-round Year-round Year-round Year-round Year-round

Peak fishing June to July Mid-June to July August to October Early August (in even-numbered years) Late August to October May to December May to December May to December May to December July to October

KEEP IN MIND THAT emergency closures may happen at any time and seasons may change from year to year. Check the most recent fishing regs (adfg.alaska.gov) and keep abreast of any rule changes while you’re on the road. Half the fun of fishing in Alaska is planning the trip. So know what species you want to target and when you want to go. From there, study the run timings and know what gear you need to bring in order to find success. Once that’s all in place, get ready to enjoy the spectacles of what makes fishing in Alaska so incredible. ASJ Editor’s note: Signed copies of Scott Haugen’s popular book A Flyfisher’s Guide To Alaska, can be obtained by sending $35 (includes S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489. The 455-page work is one of the most complete Alaska travel guides ever written. It can also be ordered at scotthaugen.com.

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