Just five days after it opened, the state of Alaska fall hunting season for Fortymile caribou in Zone 1, accessible from the Steese Highway and Chena Hot Springs road, and in Zone 4, the White Mountains, will close at 11:59 p.m. today.
A notice from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game states that the harvest in the first five days of the season is expected to meet the combined quota of 860 caribou in those zones. The state hunting season, which opened in all zones Aug. 11, is scheduled to remain open in Zones 2 and 3. The federal caribou hunt on federal lands is not affected by these changes.
According to ADF&G, caribou are “abundant” in Zone 2, located in roadless portions of Game Management Units 20B, 20D north of the Tanana River, and western Unit 20E, and “widely scattered” in Zone 3, the Taylor Highway area in a part of Unit 20E. ADF&G staff will be monitoring the hunt to minimize chances that the quota is exceeded in these zones.
At about 83,000 animals, the Fortymile Herd is the largest caribou herd in Interior Alaska. According to ADF&G Tok Area Management Biologist Jeff Gross, the expedient closure of Zones 1 and 4 has become a regular occurrence.
“We’ve had short seasons or early closures — under a week — for a number of years now on the Steese,” he said. “The herd’s continued to grow. It reached its low point in the mid-1970s, and it’s finally peaking out now.”
Gross said management of the herd has shifted from focusing on population growth to stabilization — and possibly even actively trying to slow growth.
“As time goes on, the percentage of the herd that we’re trying to harvest is going to be higher than what we’ve had in the past. We had it set at a lower level to encourage the growth of the herd for decades,” he said. “Now that we’re reaching peak-size of the herd, we’re going to try to hold it at a similar level or actually try to reduce it some.”
The annual Fortymile quota is 2,180 caribou, with 1,635 allocated to the fall hunt and 545 to the winter hunt. The fall quota of 1,635 is divided as follows: Zones 1 and 4 combined is 860, Zone 2 is 200 and Zone 3 is 575. The fall bag limit for residents is one caribou (either sex). The nonresident bag limit is one bull.
Caribou movements during fall are largely unpredictable, and seasons may be closed in other zones to keep the harvest within the harvest quota. Hunters are advised to call the Fortymile Caribou Hotline at 907-267-2310 before departing for the field to obtain the most current information on status of the hunt. Hunters are required to obtain the RC860 registration permit before hunting caribou in these areas.
The closures only apply to state caribou hunts in these areas. Hunters with questions about federal subsistence regulations should call 800-478-1456.
Successful hunters must report within three days of the kill in person at the ADF&G office in Tok, online at bit.ly/2MpstjF or by phone at 907-883-2971. Unsuccessful hunters must return their reports to the Tok office or online at bit.ly/2MpstjF by Oct. 15.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.