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Hunting g guide g uide u ide “The voice of Interior Alaska since 1903�

Fall, 2013

Fairbanks, Alaska

Tim Mowry/News-Miner


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

A lasting chill Winter that wouldn’t end will impact hunters this year and in future years a result of the long winter that didn’t relent until the end of May. What effect the latest spring “I think we need to be prebreakup on record in Fairbanks pared and watching for that, in more than 100 years will particularly if we get an early have on game animals remains fall where we get a compressed to be seen, but chances are growing season,” said Fairgood there will be a ripple banks-area wildlife biologist effect that is felt not only this Don Young with the Alaska year but in years to come. Department of Fish and Game. While bird hunters might “That can have an effect on see fewer and smaller ducks, moose, caribou and sheep progeese and grouse this season ductivity next year.” because of a late nesting season Judging from surveys and lack of insects early in the recently conducted by state and spring, big game hunters could federal biologists in the Brooks see fewer Dall sheep, caribou and Alaska ranges, sheep popuand moose in years to come as lations definitely took a hit By TIM MOWRY

Eric Engman/News-Miner file photo

A mother mallard and her ducklings swim in the Chena River near the Peger Road boat launch behind Pioneer Park. because of the extended winter weather. State wildlife biologist Tony Hollis with ADFG in Fairbanks said the lamb crop in the Wood River area of the Alaska Range was the lowest this year that it’s ever been since biologists started doing surveys in 1983, which he attributed to the long winter. “I don’t have any other explanations other than that,” he said. Normally, the lamb-to-ewe ratio in the Alaska Range is 30

to 50 lambs per 100 cows. “Before this year our lowest lamb to ewe ratio was 18 lambs per 100 ewes,” Hollis said. “This year we had 11 lambs to 100 ewes. “It’s the lowest we’ve ever counted,” he said. Kumi Rattenbury, an ecologist for the National Park Service, saw the same thing in the eastern Brooks Range of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, only worse. Rattenbury, who did surveys in the mountains between Anaktuvuk

Pass and Galbraith Lake, said lamb production was “almost nothing.” “Our ratios are typically 30 to 50 lambs per 100 ewe-like sheep,” she said. “This year, I didn’t see any lambs.” There was a 50 percent decline in the overall population in her survey area as a result of high winter mortality, Rattenbury said, though it didn’t appear full-curl rams were part of that decline. Please see LEGACY, Page 3



Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013 might not be in good enough condition to reproduce. “If they go into winter in poor conContinued from Page 2 dition I’d expect pregnancy rates to be low next spring,” Rattenbury said. The decline was in lambs and “eweThe same thing could happen to like” animals, which includes ewes, moose and caribou, Young at ADFG yearlings and small rams up to onein Fairbanks said. quarter curl, she said. The peak of moose calving in game Rattenbury suspected that lamb management unit 20A was about a production would be low and winter mortality would be high as a result of week later than normal this year, which means calves will be slightly the long winter, but “I didn’t expect smaller going into the winter, Hollis it to be that bad,” she said. said. While hunters aren’t likely to see Biologists will be keeping a close a decline in the number of legal rams eye on calf-to-cow ratios this fall and this year, they likely will see a drop yearling-to-cow ratios next spring to in legal rams six to eight years from see if there was higher mortality than now, when lambs born this year will normal for moose calves this spring reach legal age or full curl. and summer, Young said. “You’ll potentially see fewer full“That’s something we have on the curl rams for about a three-year back of our minds that we’ll be lookperiod starting six years from now,” Rattenbury said. “Definitely for those ing at,” he said. Bird hunters — both waterfowl rams that would have been born this and game — likely will see fewer year.” birds to shoot at this fall because of Depending on what happens this the delayed spring. Birds nested later summer and fall, next year’s lamb this year as a result of the weather crop could also suffer as a result of and some birds probably skipped the the long winter, Rattenbury said. nesting season altogether because With nothing green to eat until well they weren’t in good enough condiinto June in some places, breedingtion to raise chicks, said Bryce Lake, age ewes got a late start on foraging, which could effect what kind of condi- a migratory bird biologist for the U.S. tion they are in going into the winter. Fish and Wildlife Service who works If there’s an early fall or winter, ewes in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife


Refuge. “They absolutely nested later,” Lake said. “Based on most studies done in North America, late nesting results in lower productivity.” That likely will mean fewer and small ducks, geese, cranes and grouse this season. Ducks need about 50 days from the time they hatch before they can fly real well, Lake said. “I would expect hunters might see less juvenile ducks in the bag and they might see juvenile ducks that aren’t yet able to fly during duck season, especially birds that nest later like scaup,” he said. Fairbanks grouse guru Jim McCann, author of “Upland Hunting In Alaska,” is interested to see what this year’s crop of grouse will be like given the late spring. McCann said he was photographing male ruffed grouse drumming on mounds of snow, not bare logs, this spring and he wonders what kind of effect all the snow had on grouse nesting success. “With all that snow around, it’s pretty hard just to find a place to put some chicks,” he said. “They have to have green vegetative matter to protect them from predators and they’ve got to have insects. “There wasn’t a lot of insects around, that’s what concerns me,” he said.

Moose herd in unit 20A faring well Drop in numbers means fewer antlerless hunts By TIM MOWRY Ten years and 6,000 moose after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began greatly liberalizing cow moose hunts in the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks, also known as game management unit 20A, biologists still haven’t found any real sign that the decrease in the population has increased productivity. “It could take a long time for us to get a measure of increase in productivity because the population was so high for so long,” said area biologist Don Young with ADFG in Fairbanks. “With a longlived animal like that, it takes a long time sometimes to see improvements.” Please see 20A, Page 4

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4 seems well in unit 20A. The number of moose has come down as a result of the antlerless hunts, as has the number Continued from Page 3 of hunters after ADFG began The good news, he said, is scaling back the hunts a few that biologists haven’t seen years ago and converted regisany further declines in protration permit hunts to drawductivity, such as twinning ing permit hunts. Hunters are rates, newborn calf weights harvesting just as many moose and age of calf-bearing cows as they always have in unit Biologists now estimate 20A and complaints about the moose population in unit crowding are down. 20A at about 12,000 moose. “We’ve been scaling back That’s down one-third from on the antlerless hunts 2004 when ADFG began because the population has wide-scale antlerless hunts to come down, but harvest rates reduce the population for fear have been fairly stable,” it was growing too big and Young said. “We’re still harcould “crash” in the event of vesting about 5 percent for a severe winter, which would bulls and about 1 1/2 percent have lasting impact on the for cows.” herd as it did in the early Last year, hunters har1970s. vested about 500 bulls and The antlerless hunts were about 175 cows in unit 20A. met with resistance from This year’s harvest goal is 100 many hunters who didn’t to 125 antlerless moose, which agree with the idea of shooting is what the harvest was in the cow and calf moose. The hunts late 1990s, Young said. also prompted complaints of The number of hunters overcrowding because nonhas also dropped by about local hunters flocked to unit one-third since the antlerless 20A in hopes of bagging a cow hunts were expanded in 2004. moose. “We were up around 1,800 Now, 10 years later, all and now we’re down to about


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

1,200,” he said. Even if biologists haven’t seen much sign of improvement in productivity as a result of the decline in moose numbers, Young said the antlerless hunts were a success in that they removed a lot of moose from the landscape and put them in hunters’ freezers. “We wouldn’t have utilized those moose” without the antlerless hunts, Young said. “I think now the population is healthier and in better shape.” While the department still gets resistance to antlerless hunts, during the past 10 years Young feels the more of the public has come to accept them as a management tool used by the department to regulate moose populations. “I think generally speaking, yes,” he said. “We still have a fair amount of resistance to the antlerless hunts but I think it’s at a lower level than what it was. “Part of reason for that is the cow hunts in (unit) 20A Submitted photo have been scaled way back,” Kalem Johnson, of Fairbanks, shot this 63-inch bull moose Young said. “I think as a on the last day of the 2012 season in game management result of that there’s less fear unit 20A. and less opposition.”



Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Survey says: Most hunters OK with cow moose hunts By TIM MOWRY No matter what, there are some hunters who will never endorse cow moose hunts. That was the conclusion of a recent University of Alaska Fairbanks survey of moose hunters and their attitudes toward antlerless moose hunts in game management units around Fairbanks. Thirteen percent of the 862 hunters who responded to the survey said antlerless hunts are “always unacceptable,” regardless of the circumstances, while 15 percent said the hunts were “always acceptable” and 72 percent responded “sometimes acceptable.” “We should note that most hunters who thought antlerless hunts were always unacceptable strongly disapproved antlerless hunt structures regardless of when, where or how they occurred,” wrote UAF assistant research professor Todd Brinkman, who authored the survey. The survey pretty much verified what Brinkman suspected — that some hunters will never support cow moose hunts. “Those folks who thought antlerless hunts are always unacceptable, no matter how you structured the hunt, were still saying this shouldn’t happen,” Brinkman said. “They stuck to their guns.” In an attempt to collect Sam Harrel/News-Miner file photo information on hunter attiA cow moose forages in water along Nordale Road. tudes toward antlerless moose hunts in the Interior, which have been a controversial topic since the Alaska Depart-

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ment of Fish and Game liberalized cow moose hunts in 2004, Brinkman conducted a survey of Alaska residents at least 18 years old who hunted moose in game management units 20A, 20B, and 20D. Those three units were selected because they have been the center of antlerless moose hunt conflict, Brinkman said. The survey was offered to 2,447 of the 9,166 Alaska residents who hunted in those three units in 2010 and 2011. A total of 862 hunters (35 percent) completed questionnaires. Most participants lived outside unit 20 (41 percent), followed by the Fairbanks North Star Borough (35 percent), Delta Junction and Fort Greely (13 percent), Cantwell to Nenana (9 percent) and Minto/Manley (2 percent). The average age of participants was 53, and the majority of respondents hunted in unit 20A (46 percent),

Please see COW, Page 6

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13 — Percent of the 862 hunters who responded to the survey who said antlerless hunts are “always unacceptable,” regardless of the circumstances 15 — Percent of hunters who said the hunts were “always acceptable” 72 — Percent of respondents who said such hunts are “sometimes acceptable”

followed by 20B (31 percent) and 20D (23 percent). Fifty-six percent of participating hunters successfully harvested a moose during 2010 or 2011, with 21 percent taking a cow and 35 percent taking a bull. The average number of days survey participants hunted moose was 5.7 days. All three groups of hunters overwhelmingly said the main reason they hunt moose is for the meat, though other factors such as spending time with family and friends, interacting with nature, tradition and recreation were also noted. The survey results didn’t surprise Brinkman. “I anticipated the vast majority of hunters would be acceptable to antlerless hunts under certain situations,” Brinkman said. The survey did show that hunters who are opposed to antlerless hunts distrust ADFG and are more likely to get information about moose population sizes through conversations with other hunters rather than ADFG data. “The dilemma that both moose managers and hunters will need to address is the hunter distrust of ADFG data used to direct decisions on antlerless hunts,” Brinkman wrote. “This disagreement appears to be one of the fundamental factors causing dissatisfaction among the group of hunters finding antlerless hunts always unacceptable.”

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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Interior caribou hunters have lots of options The opportunities to hunt caribou in northern Alaska aren’t quite as plentiful as the animals themselves, but Interior hunters have multiple choices. Whether it’s flying to the North Slope to hunt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, driving up the Dalton Highway and hiking off the road to hunt the Central Arctic Caribou Herd, taking a four-wheeler off the Steese or Taylor highways to hunt the Fortymile Caribou Herd or riding a horse in from the Alaska Highway to hunt the Macomb Caribou Herd, there are plenty of options. If you get skunked in the fall, you can wait until winter to snowmachine into the White Mountains National Recreation Area or the high country off the Steese and Taylor highways and Chena Hot Springs Road. You can wait until spring, too, and drive up the Dalton Highway and dog mush or ski 5 miles off the road to look for caribou. Here’s a look at what caribou herds around the Interior and northern Alaska are doing:

caribou, and biologists say the population is stable to slightly increasing. Biologists conduced a photocensus this summer, but results of that census will not be known until the caribou are counted this winter. No changes in hunting regulations this year. Bowhunters can hunt anywhere off the road while rifle hunters have to walk five miles off the road to shoot a caribou. Bag limit still is five caribou.

Delta Herd The herd is holding steady at 2,000 to 3,000 animals, but a large portion of the herd has been mixing with the Nelchina herd in unit 13 in recent years, making it difficult for biologists to get a good count. Hunting for the Delta herd is by drawing permit only, and 150 permits were issued this year. Hunting is pretty much restricted to flyin hunting given the remoteness of the herd. The average harvest is about 50 caribou per year.

Central Arctic Herd Please see CARIBOU, Page 7

Herd size is estimated at about 70,000


Continued from Page 5

The survey also showed that hunters opposed to antlerless hunts are not unhappy because they are going home empty-handed, Brinkman said. There was no difference in hunter success rates between the three groups. “That was one of the hypotheses, that people (opposed to antlerless hunts) are unhappy with how things are going because they haven’t been getting a moose,” he said. “Even if you strongly dislike antlerless hunts, you’re just as successful as anyone else.” Neither did the theory that hunters opposed to antlerless hunts are a bunch of grumpy, old Alaskans pan out. The survey found no difference in age between any of the three categories, though hunters always opposed to antlerless hunts were more likely to have hunted in Alaska for more than 20 years. All hunters who participat-

ed in the survey, even those opposed to antlerless hunts, agreed that antlerless hunts, if held, should be: • During September, October or November; • In areas with high moose numbers that aren’t close to communities; • By drawing or registration permit; • Closed to non-residents; • Limited to cows without calves; and • Initiated by moose population health and habitat condition. The study authors noted that ADFG “has been moving in a direction that aligns with the ideal structure of antlerless hunts” as defined by the survey. “The proportion of late season (after November) antlerless hunts has been reduced, and there is a trend toward a greater proportion of drawing hunts,” the authors wrote, adding that antlerless hunts have always been driven by moose population growth and habitat condition, according to ADFG data.


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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

CARIBOU Continued from Page 6

Fortymile Herd Herd size is still hovering around an estimated 50,000 animals and harvest quota for this year’s registration permit hunt is 1,000 caribou — 750 in the fall hunt and 250 in the winter hunt. A “hotspot” hunt may be held along the Steese Highway during the winter hunt if caribou gather along the Steese Highway again in large enough numbers that a registration hunt cannot be held because of the risk of over harvest.

Macomb Herd Herd south of Delta Junction has dropped from a historic high of about 1,500 animals a couple years ago to an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 currently, which is the secondhighest population estimate ever recorded. The harvest quota for this year’s registra-

of 5,500 animals, and drawing permit holders will only be able to harvest bulls. Last year, hunters harvested 4,430 Nelchina caribou. If you didn’t draw a subsistence or drawing permit to hunt the herd, you’re out of luck, as there is no general season hunt for the Nelchina herd. There are two subsistence hunts for the Nelchina herd, a Tier I registration hunt and a community harvest hunt, both of which had appliTim Mowry/News-Miner file photo cation periods in November A bull caribou browses on brush near Donnelly Dome along and December. There are four the Richardson Highway. drawing permit hunts, DC480483. There also is a federal 35,000 to 40,000, which is tion permit hunt is 70 bulls, subsistence hunt for those down dramatically from last which is the same as it was who qualify. last year. Hunt is walk-in only year’s estimate of 46,500. Biologist Becky Schwanke from Aug. 10-25, and hunters said the late spring delayed can use motorized vehicles the migration and resulted Aug. 26-27. Estimated at 168,000 aniin a high mortality rate mals last year, the herd is split for calves, many of which between Alaska and Canada drowned crossing rivers with many bulls in Canada, The estimated population of because they were born before but that may change by huntthe Nelchina herd dropped sig- the herd reached its calving ing season. grounds. nificantly from last year as a No changes in regulations Because of the reduction in from last year and best huntresult of high winter morality and poor calf survival because herd size, this year’s harvest ing in recent years has been quota of 2,500 caribou is less of the late spring. Biologists in the eastern portion of game than half of last year’s quota estimate the population at management unit 25A in

Porcupine Herd

Nelchina Herd

August and September.

Western Arctic Herd At approximately 325,000 animals, the Western Arctic herd is declining, but it still is probably the largest caribou herd in North America. Biologists completed a photocensus this summer that will be counted this winter. No changes in regulations since last year and the only option for local hunters is to fly in to hunt the herd. Fly-in pilots need to get mandatory pilot orientation before flying hunters/hunting in Unit 23.

White Mountains Herd Biologists estimate the herd at a stable 600 to 800, but the herd has been mixing with the Fortymile herd in recent years, which has led ADFG to include the White Mountains hunt with the Fortymile hunt. The average harvest is about 10 to 20 caribou per year, but that’s getting harder to assess because of the mixing with the Fortymile herd.



Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Cleanliness, timeliness paramount in meat care There are three basic rules to follow when butchering, handling and preserving meat, no matter what the animal: 1) Keep the meat as clean as possible; 2) keep the meat as cool as possible; 3) keep the meat as dry as possible. “It’s how the meat is taken care of more than anything else,” said big game guide Virgil Umphenour, who also owns Interior Alaska Fish Processors. The first step in assuring the best meat quality possible is getting a quick, clean kill. Ideally, you don’t want an animal to run off after you shoot it. Once an animal is down, it’s important to butcher it as quickly as possible so the meat can begin cooling. That means having the necessary tools (i.e. knives, game bags, tarps, etc.) with you so you don’t have to walk or drive back to camp to retrieve them. The quicker you remove the hide and get the front and hind quarters removed the better, said Dave Kelleyhouse, a former state wildlife biologist and big-game hunter who has butchered more than his share of moose. “It really helps taking that carcass

apart,” Kelleyhouse said. “By taking the hind quarters off and taking the front shoulders off, you’re cooling everything down.” Time is of the essence, Umphenour said. “If you butcher it immediately and hang it immediately, that’s the most important thing,” he said.

Keep it clean • Do not place the meat on dirt or sand. • Bring several tarps to put the meat on after it is removed from the animal. If you don’t have a tarp, lay some spruce boughs down or find some dry grass to set the meat on. • Peel the hide back as you skin the animal to avoid getting hair on the meat. • Tuck a tarp or game bag under the front and back quarters as you prepare to remove them and let them fall on that instead of the ground. • Use quality game bags. The heavy, cotton bags that resemble giant laundry bags are the best. Do not use the cheesecloth-type bags because they rip easily and are not big enough

to hold a moose quarter. • Try to keep game bags as clean and blood-free as possible. Blood attracts flies. • Rinse off any rumen, bile or urine that gets on the meat. • Take great care not to puncture any organs, such as the stomach, in the butchering process. You’ll know it if you puncture the stomach.

Keep it cool • Skin and disassemble the animal as soon as possible to begin the cooling process. • Once you have pieces in game bags, hang or place them in the shade. • Don’t bone meat out unless it is absolutely necessary. Boning out meat exposes more meat to the air, and it’s harder to keep the meat cool and dry with several pieces piled on top of each other in a game bag. • Hang the meat on a meat pole to get it off the ground and allow air to circulate. If you don’t have a meat pole, build a mat or bench branches or sticks to keep the meat off the ground. If you have a raft, lay sticks

across the raft and lay the meat on top of the sticks to get it off the floor of the raft. • Check and move meat at least once or twice daily, pulling the game bags up to avoid the bags from sticking to the meat and moving loose pieces of meat around. • Never store meat in plastic bags because that will cause the meat to overheat.

Keep it dry • Bring lots of tarps, both to use during the butchering process and to use as shades or shelters after you get back in camp. Keep a tarp over the meat at night even if it’s not raining to avoid condensation or dew from settling on the game bags. • Do not store meat on the floor of a raft for any reason; it will get wet and spoil. Construct some kind of frame that allows you to keep the meat off the floor and pack your gear in dry bags so it can be stored in the bottom of the raft in place of the meat. Please see MEAT, Page 11



Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Taking your best shot Tricks to sizing requires practice, patience moose antlers Spotting a 60-inch bull moose is enough to get any hunter’s heart and adrenaline pumping. That’s why it’s important to take a few breaths before pulling the trigger. “You want your pulse to be down,” said big game hunting guide Virgil Umphenour, who has seen plenty of moose, sheep and bear that have taken his breath away. “Before I crest a rise where I’m going to shoot a sheep, I stop and take a break so my pulse is down to normal and I’m not breathing hard.” The basic rule of thumb in shooting Alaska big game is that 300 yards is a long shot and not one to be taken lightly. “Three hundred yards in the field is a fairly long shot for an average hunter,” Umphenour said. Most hunters tend to overestimate shooting ranges, which is why Umphenour suggests using a laser range finders to judge shooting distances in the field. They are accurate to within a few yards and don’t add much weight to a pack. The most important factor when preparing to shoot a big game animal is to have a stable shooting position so you feel comfortable, Umphenour said. While many sheep hunters rely on bipods — two-legged stands attached to the rifle — to ensure accuracy, Umphenour prefers to use a backpack or a jacket on top of a rock for a gun rest. “I don’t like most of those

“You want your pulse to be down. Before I crest a rise where I’m going to shoot a sheep, I stop and take a break so my pulse is down to normal. ...” — Big game hunting guide Virgil Umphenour

(bipods),” he said. “I don’t want anything that attaches to the (rifle) barrel; every time you shoot a rifle, the barrel whips and vibrates. “If it attaches to the stock, it’s OK,” Umphenour said. Another thing Umphenour recommends hunters do is tape the ballistics of the ammunition you are shooting to the stock of their rifle. Tables in the back of most shooting manuals tell the amount a bullet will drop over distance, given the caliber and weight of the bullet. Probably the most important thing a hunter can do to ensure they are taking their best shot at an animal is to practice, practice and practice some more, Umphenour said. He advises hunters to sight in rifles at various distances to

know how they shoot at each. “I’d start out at 25 yards and shoot it at 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500,” he said. It helps to use life-size targets, too, whether you buy them or make your own out of cardboard. “Then you’ll know how big your target looks at various ranges in your scope,” he said. “It helps you estimate range, and it helps you figure out what your aiming point should be.” Hunters should also study the anatomy of the animal they are hunting. It’s important to know how many inches it is from the top of an animal’s back to its heart and lungs. “The place where I want (clients) to shoot moose is through both lungs, in back of the front feet in the middle of the moose,” he said. The lungs offer a bigger target than the heart or neck, Umphenour said. “The trouble with a neck shot is if you don’t hit the jugular or backbone there’s a good chance you’re not going to get that moose,” he said. “If you don’t hit a big artery or blood vessel, you’re not going to have enough blood to track it.” All bullets are not created equal, and hunters need to know the behavior of the bullets they are shooting, Umphenour said, which is why it’s important to practice with the same kind of bullets you will use in the field.

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Bob Boutang has one simple rule when it comes to determining if a bull moose has a 50-inch antler spread. “If I don’t think that moose is 55 inches, I don’t shoot it,” said Boutang, a former state wildlife trooper and hunting guide. The definition of a legal bull in many parts of the state, including the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks (assuming you don’t have an “any bull” tag), is one that has an antler spread of at least 50 inches or has a certain number of brow tines on one side, usually three or four. Most hunters prefer to count brow tines — points on the bottom palm of a moose’s antler — to ensure a moose is legal rather than judge antler size. That’s what Fairbanks area management biologist Don Young advises. Unless you’ve studied a lot of moose throughout the years, it’s a lot easier to count brow tines than it is to determine if a moose has a 50-inch antler spread, he said. “There’s a tendency for people who haven’t seen a lot of moose to think they’re bigger than they are,” Young said. “It’s pretty easy to get fooled. Antlers tend to shrink

when you get closer to the moose.” Guides refer to that phenomenon as “ground shrinkage,” joked Coke Wallace, a registered guide from Healy. That is, a moose’s antlers shrink as soon as it hits the ground. Wallace, who has studied hundreds of bull moose in 20 years of guiding, uses a moose’s ears to help figure out if it has a 50-inch antler spread. “I want to see 6 to 8 inches of air space between his ears and his antlers when his ears are laid out flat,” Wallace said. Wallace also studies the antler paddle on a bull moose to help judge size. “If that paddle doesn’t go to at least the mid-point on his shoulder when he’s walking, he’s probably not a (legal) moose,” Wallace said. Another simple trick is to envision holding a sheet of plywood over your head, Wallace said. “You need to be 2 inches bigger than a sheet of plywood,” he said. “It should be easy for carpenters.” Boutang said he uses a moose’s ears as rulers. Each ear is about 12 inches long, he said. “I use the ears as a measuring point,” he said.

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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Finding a legal ram

ANTLERS Continued from Page 9

Moose hunting guide Virgil Umphenour uses the distance between a moose’s eyes to judge antler size. It’s about 9 inches between a bull moose’s eyes, he said. “I look at the eyes,” Umphenour said. “That’s 9 inches. Then you go out on one side of it and multiply it by two.” He also examines how wide a moose’s body is and how much the antlers stick out on each side. Fairbanks Master Guide Pete Buist advises hunters to watch the Alaska Department of Fish and Game video “Is This Moose Legal?” The 40-minute video explains what brow tines, spikes and forks are, as well as providing 20 clips of bull moose in the field from different angles to demonstrate what is a legal moose and what isn’t. “Just watch the movie,” said Buist, who is not a fan of using distance between eyes or ear length to judge antlers. “You get to look at moose under the next best thing to field conditions.”


Submitted photo

Reese Marks, 12, and her father, Arnold Marks Jr., both of Tanana, pose with the 63 1/4-inch moose Reese shot Sept. 29 on the Nowitna River.

Counting barely visible growth rings on a Dall sheep ram’s horns while hiding behind a rock from 300 yards away was never an option for Virgil Umphenour back when he was guiding. “If the (sheep) isn’t broomed on both sides or obviously a full curl, I say the hell with it,” said Umphenour, a Master Guide from Fairbanks who now lets his son, Eric, handle the sheep hunting for Hunt Alaska, his guiding business. “You’re taking a chance if you count rings.” That’s pretty much the consensus in sheep hunting camps around Alaska. “I’m not a ring counter,” said Healy guide Coke Wallace, who operates in the central Alaska Range. “I would never shoot a sheep on rings. I’ve got too much at stake. “I’m looking for them to be broomed or a full, honest curl,” he said. Please see SHEEP, Page 11



Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Basics of moose calling

SHEEP Continued from Page 10

In nearly all parts of the state, a legal ram must: 1) Have horns that form a full curl, i.e. the tip of at least one horn has grown 360 degrees; or 2) Have the tips of both horns broken, or broomed; or 3) Be at least 8 years old. The only way to determine a sheep’s age by sight is to count growth rings, which can be very tricky, especially looking through a spotting scope sometimes as much as a mile away. Rams sometimes produce false rings that can trip a hunter up and the older a sheep is, the harder it is to count rings. “You can pass a sheep horn around to nine different guides and get nine different ages,” Umphenour said, summing up the dilemma in counting rings. The best way to judge a sheep is get on a level plane with the animal or slightly above it, Wallace said. “That way you’re going to err on bigger size, not smaller size,” he said. “If you’re looking at it from below, a sheep is going to look bigger than it is.” Once you’re on a level plane, then it’s simply a matter of getting a close look at the sheep’s horns through a spotting scope or binoculars and determining if the horns are a full curl. “I look for the horn to break the bridge of their nose to the top of the eyes,” Wallace said. Sheep in different parts of the state have different horns, too, Wallace noted. In the Alaska Range, Wallace said rams’ horns tend to flare out, making it difficult to judge. In other parts of the state, sheep have horns that grow closer to the face. “When they flare out it’s much harder,” Wallace said. “A lot of times the tips will lay out flat. You have to imagine what that would be like if it grew straight up.” Occasionally, Wallace said, you run into a sheep that is obviously legal. “There are some rams that I knew


Sam Harrel/News-Miner file photo

In nearly all parts of the state, a legal ram must: 1) Have horns that form a full curl, i.e. the tip of at least one horn has grown 360 degrees; or 2) Have the tips of both horns broken, or broomed; or 3) Be at least 8 years old. for sure were 10- or 11-year-old sheep because of the mass of them and the horn dropped below the jaw,” he said. “If (the horn) sweeps way below the jaw and doesn’t come up to a full curl, it’s an old sheep.”

In addition to a good spotting scope and binoculars, sheep hunters need a lot of patience, Umphenour said. “You might have to sit and watch a sheep for four or six hours until they get up and move,” he said.

You don’t have to be an expert moose caller to attract the attention of a lovesick bull. “At the right time of year, it doesn’t hardly make a difference what sound you make,” said retired Master Guide Pete Buist, of Fairbanks. “You can fart or burp or anything.” Hunters tell stories about bulls walking into camp as they are splitting fire wood or breaking sticks to start a fire. Retired state wildlife biologist Dave Kelleyhouse, an expert moose caller, was hunting on the Minto Flats several years ago when one of his partners’ snoring attracted a big bull into camp. Kelleyhouse figures he and his hunting partners have called in at least 150 bulls in the past 30 years. There are four basic calls hunters use to attract bull moose, depending on the time of season and the situation: • Scraping an antler on a tree or thrashing the brush in early September to imitate another bull in the area, which can evoke a response from a bull already there. • A pre-rut bull “gluck” in early September. • A “mu-wah” bull challenge in mid-September that alerts another bull accompanied by cows that there is a challenger in the area.

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will slow bacteria growth and help create a dark, outer crust that makes it harder for flies to lay • Keep meat covered with a tarp eggs on the meat. Let the meat dry at all times when it’s raining and check to make sure water is running before putting the game bags back on. off the tarps, not onto the meat. • Hang meat for a week to 10 • After hanging the meat, remove days before cutting it up, if possible. the game bags and spray the meat Hanging the meat promotes the with a citric acid/water mixture breakdown of muscle proteins and (2 ounces of citric acid per quart makes the meat more tender and of water) until the mixture begins flavorful. to run off the meat. The citric acid Continued from Page 8

Please see CALLING, Page 12


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013



Continued from Page 11

• A nasal, melodic “mo-oooah” cow call in early or mid September that starts high, goes low and ends high. Bulls in search of cows in heat often will respond. Bull moose don’t usually begin going into rut until the second week of September, which doesn’t leave you much time in areas where the season closes Sept. 15. “I’ve called them in as early as Sept. 5, but it’s usually after Sept. 10,” Kelleyhouse said. Cow calls can be used at any point in the season to draw in a bull. A little time spent calling from camp in the morning and evening can produce big results. It’s simply a matter of being patient and observant. “In the first part of the season, a cow call works best for me,” said big game guide Virgil Umphenour. Antler scrapes on brush and soft “glucks” work well to catch the attention and solicit a response from nearby bulls

Submitted photo

Will Howard, of Salcha, won the Salcha Fair Moose Calling Contest for the ninth time on June 30. early in the season, too. Bulls may either come in slowly or respond by antler scrapes of their own. If a bull responds but won’t come in, you must go to the bull, scraping lightly on brush as you approach, preferably from downwind. You also can reach up and break branches off as you go. When you stop raking and thrashing the trees, listen. “Give it a good five minutes,” Kelleyhouse said. “Pay attention to what’s going on. Listen for sticks breaking, antler rakes.”

Hunters who want to learn more about moose calling, can check out a video from the Department of Fish and Game called “Love, Thunder and Bull” by Wasilla guide Wayne Kubat. In the video, Kubat, who invented the moose calling megaphone called the Bull Magnet, demonstrates the different kinds of calls and then shows live footage from the field as both he and his guides call in moose for clients during successful hunts. Checking out the video requires a $20 deposit that is returned when you bring the video back.

If a bull responds, start raking the brush more aggressively. It’s possible a bull will respond to your call but will not move toward it. “That’s because he’s got cows with him,” Kelleyhouse said. At that point, start crashing through the brush and head straight for the bull, Kelleyhouse said. He also advised “glucking” as you walk while

at the same time raking brush. “I don’t try to be quiet,” Umphenour said. “They just think you’re another moose.” A bull challenge is most effective on big bulls in heavy rut. The call is similar to a slow “mu-wah” groan with the emphasis on the “wah” coming from your belly. It is usually issued three or four times in quick succession. Make sure you hear bulls in the area challenging each other before you use the challenge call so that you don’t scare any other bulls off, Kelleyhouse advised. A bull with cows will not usually leave his harem to come to you, so you must go to him, scraping and challenging. Any kind of call is best projected through a birch bark, cardboard or plastic megaphone. A call can carry up to a mile on a quiet evening. Cupping your hands around your mouth and plugging your nose will work, too. While effective calling may take practice, anybody can scrape a moose antler or shoulder blade against a bush and do a good imitation of a bull moose scraping his antlers on

a bush. If you don’t have an antler or shoulder blade, you can cut out the bottom of a plastic milk jug and use it. If you have a fiberglass stock on your rifle, you also can use that. Another possible way to draw in a bull is to imitate a cow urinating in a pond by dumping a can of water slowly into the water. Estrous cows urinate frequently, Kelleyhouse said, and you might catch the ear of a bull if he is nearby. Common calling mistakes include calling too much and calling too early. Calling a moose too early in the season can scare off smaller bulls, especially if you are using challenge calls. “If you’re a good enough caller, he’s going to think there’s a bigger, hard-antlered bull ready to fight, and he’s going to go running scared if he’s not in breeding condition yet,” Kelleyhouse said. Over-calling is another way to scare off moose that may be in the area. Give a series of grunts, rake some brush and wait five or 10 minutes, not 30 seconds.


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013


Creating that perfect trophy shot By TIM MOWRY While the meat in your freezer from a successful hunt will last only a year or two at the most, photographs from a hunt will last a lifetime and are a good way to preserve your hunt. Whether you’re snapping a photo of your child and his or her first moose or you’re photographing your partner with a 60-inch bull that represents a once-in-a-lifetime trophy, there are a few things to take into consideration. First of all, you don’t need an expensive camera. “It doesn’t take a fancy camera,” said Ken Whitten, a retired wildlife biologist, hunter and photographer. “You can do it all with a point-and-shoot that fits in your pocket.”

Submitted photo

Shannon Sonnenberg, of Fairbanks, shot this 63inch bull moose on the North Slope on Sept. 8. It was her first moose.

Please see PHOTOS, Page 14



Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Submitted photo

Duane Frampton, of Fairbanks, took this 67-inch bull Sept. 20 north of Dillingham.


Avoid shots with blood and guts

Continued from Page 13

Take your pictures before you start field dressing your animal and try to clean it up if it’s covered in blood. Use the cleanest side of the animal for your photo.

Big game guide Virgil Umphenour uses a 35mm waterproof Minolta to take pictures for his clients. “It’s automatic, it takes real good pictures and I don’t have to worry about it getting wet,” Umphenour said. If you do bring along a camera that’s not waterproof, stick it in a small dry bag that’s easy to get to. Here are some other tips for photographing trophies:

Supersize it Use wide-angle lenses to make the animal look bigger than it really is, especially with close-up shots. Crouch down next to the animal or kneel behind its antlers or horns for best effect.

Take in the scenery Try to include some background in photos to show what the area was like. Things like fall colors, mountains and rivers add to a picture.

Don’t be camera shy

and anything else that strikes your fancy. By the time you’re done you should have enough for a small photo album.

Include weapons Include your rifle or bow in the picture, whether it’s in your arms, leaning against the animal or situated in the antlers.

Take lots of pictures. There is more to a hunt than bagging an animal. Take pictures in camp, of the butchIf you’re using a digital ering process, packing out camera and you want to get a meat, loading rafts, boats or print made, take your photos planes, riding four-wheelers, floating or boating on the river at the highest resolution

High resolution helps

possible. “If you’re just sending emails, you don’t need resolution but if you’re making a print, you do,” Whitten said. “It’s real simple to reduce the resolution to send it over the Internet, but it’s hard to do it the other way around.”

No tongue If an animal’s tongue is sticking out, try putting it back in its mouth, though that’s sometimes easier than done. “Sometimes, it’s easiest just to cut the tongue out,” Umphenour said.


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Tips for keeping antlers, horns trophy ready Submitted photo

By TIM MOWRY Removing the antlers of a bull moose or caribou or the horns from a Dall sheep or mountain goat is the last thing most hunters do after a successful hunt. Those antlers or horns will be what provide lasting memories for many hunters, which is why it’s important to do it right. Taxidermist and hunter Rich Hamilton, owner of Brow Tine Taxidermy in North Pole, recommends leaving at least some of the eye socket on the skull plate that is removed. “Most of the forms we use when we mount an animal has part of the eye socket on there, so it helps to leave some on there to get a perfect alignment with the skull,” he said. Hamilton advises cutting from the back of the skull forward through the eye sockets before cutting down from the bridge of the nose. “It’s a lot easier and a lot more precise going from the back of the skull,” he said. Guide Virgil Umphenour, who removes racks from 60- and 70-inch

Jeff Johnson, of Fairbanks, was hoping to shoot a small bull moose this year but he ran into this 63inch bull on Sept. 4 and couldn’t resist.

moose on an annual basis, likes to leave a lot of skull plate attached to the antlers. “It gives the taxidermist more to work with and that way you don’t have to worry about them breaking in half,” Umphenour said. “They’re not going to bow in as much, either.” Hamilton uses a portable Wyo-

ming Saw to remove horns from sheep and a bow saw for moose antlers. “For moose, you need a little bigger saw,” he said. Umphenour uses a chain saw to remove antlers from moose he and his clients shoot. “It’s a heck of a lot faster (than a

bow saw),” he said. “But be careful you don’t saw through the teeth or that will dull your saw real bad.” Once the antlers are off, you need to trim out any remaining brain cavity, Hamilton said. It’s important to get all the meat, skin and hide off the skull as quick as possible. “The sooner you do it, the better off you are,” he said. “When it’s still green, it comes off easier and you don’t have any flies or bacteria forming on it.” While Umphenour salts the skull plate to dry it out when he’s done, Hamilton doesn’t recommend using salt on the skull plate unless all the meat and hair has been removed. “If there is any meat, hide or hair on there it dries it to the skull and it’s really hard to get it off,” he said. Removing the antlers and skull for a European mount takes more time and work. The entire skull and head must be skinned and the skull has to be boiled to remove all the meat. Caribou and mountain goats have more fragile skull plates than moose and sheep and require more care, Hamilton said.



Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Fall 2013

Hunting Guide 2013  

Guide to hunting moose, caribou, Dall sheep, bison and more in Interior Alaska.

Hunting Guide 2013  

Guide to hunting moose, caribou, Dall sheep, bison and more in Interior Alaska.