As reports trickle in, Bristol Bay’s fall moose hunt appears about average

Sep 20, 2017

By Tuesday, ADF&G had 137 moose recorded taken in 17B and 17C this fall, and six so far in 17A that closes after Wednesday. The eastside units have been a little less productive, but some good hunting opportunities are ahead in 9E that is open through Sept. 25.

Jenny Bennis and Willie Larson bagged this beauty hunting in western Bristol Bay in fall 2017.
Credit Willie Larson

KDLG: A stormy, wet moose hunt ended for most of Bristol Bay’s westside hunters after last light on Friday, Sept. 15.

“We are up to 137 moose reported,” ADF&G area wildlife management biologist Neil Barten said Tuesday. “That compares over the previous four years of about 166 total, so I think we’re probably going to be in that ballpark by the time everybody gets their reports in.”

Getting those reports in, he said, continues to be a problem.

“You know, it’s sad to say, some people don’t get them in within five days, they just sort of trickle in,” Barten said. All reports, whether a hunter was successful or not, are due 15 days after the hunt closes. Failing to report can result in lost hunting privileges for the next year.

After the opening salvo, when many hunters successfully bagged their prey along the banks of the Nushagak River and its tributaries, the effort and weather dropped off. Barten saw an uptick in success when the weather cleared up and cooled off about a week before the season ended. The final few days were a bit wet and breezy, challenging boaters and likely bedding down the bulls.

North of Togiak, the 17A hunt is open through the Sept. 20, and so far Barten is not sure what is going on out west.

“It’s very odd in that, reported up to this point, we only have six moose in the database. Generally by now we have a lot more,” he said, pointing out that the average over the last four years has been about 35 taken.

“Not sure what’s going on, if it’s late reporting, or it would have been a heck of a poor moose season over there, but that’s not what I’m hearing.”

Now that hunting is winding down, Barten is again flying surveys to continue ADF&G’s studies on the health and survival of cows and calves in western Bristol Bay’s habitat. Similar work between May and June found that about 65 percent of radio collared cows’ calves born this spring had already died.

Barten tracked down 15 of his collared cows Monday by helicopter. Just two had calves, and one of those had twins. He was a little shocked to find that four of the 15 adults were dead, too.

“We’re not always sure what kills them, in some case they’re under a bear pile, or we just find a collar all chewed up in the woods, but, yeah that’s kind of surprising to have four mortalities of adult cows at this stage, already.”

He was planning to fly Tuesday to find the remainder of the collared cows in the area and provide some data back by the end of the week.

From Port Alsworth down to Cold Bay, the eastside of Bristol Bay’s moose hunting had been off to a sluggish start prior to this week. Fish and Game only had about 30 moose on the books, but the productive areas in 9E (from a little south of Naknek to Port Moller) are open through the Sept. 25, and the conditions just improved a lot.

“The weather has just one over the top,” said ADF&G assistant area wildlife biologist Chris Peterson Tuesday morning. “It’s beautiful out there, great hunting weather, and we expect that we’ll get significant harvests over the next two days.”

The crisp, clear weather, which dropped below freezing Monday night and into Tuesday morning, often gets bulls more into their rut. That can make them more active for hunters trying to coax them in with calls and scratches.

Up till now, Peterson said local hunters have reported not having a lot of success in their usual spots, like up the Alagnak and Branch Rivers, and even Paul’s Creek just outside of King Salmon. She suggested the poor weather earlier this month had played a part.

“I think the moose are exhibiting a little different behavior than what people may have been used to seeing, and the moose have been in different areas.”

Hunters have not complained about the size or health of the bulls taken, she said.

“People are just real happy with the quality of the meat of the animal they harvested. It has been a good year for moose, in terms of nutrition and those sorts of things.”

The effort and harvest have both been down in the GMU 9s the past few years, Peterson said, with a recent average of about 60 bulls taken during the fall hunt. If the conditions hold, she suspects at least that many will be taken this year, or perhaps quite a few more.

The RM 272 moose hunt in 9C closes after Sept. 20, and the RM 271 and 281 hunts in 9E close after Sept. 25.

dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281