FAIRBANKS - Hunters hoping to bag a Fortymile caribou right next to the Steese Highway will need more than luck. They’ll also need speed dial.
With a bulk of the 50,000-animal Fortymile Caribou Herd located in close vicinity to the Steese Highway between Twelve Mile Summit and Central, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Tuesday announced changes to the winter Fortymile caribou hunt that will allow a few lucky hunters to shoot caribou along the road while the rest will have to travel at least 10 miles by snowmachine before shooting an animal.
Most of the Fortymile hunt, including Zone 3 along the Taylor Highway, will open Saturday as scheduled, but the portion of Zone 1 along the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks will remain closed because of the large number of caribou along the highway and the threat of an overharvest.
Instead, hunters will have to travel 10 to 20 miles off the highway by snowmachine or four-wheeler to access the area in Zone 1 that is open to hunting. That area is south of Crooked Creek Fork and south and east of the main stem of Birch Creek in game management unit 25C and south of the Chatanika River drainage in unit 20B.
However, some hunting will be allowed in the closed portion of Zone 1 next to the highway through a new, limited registration permit hunt (RC999) that allows up to 30 caribou to be taken along the road. To get on the list for those permits, hunters must call (907) 328-6124 or toll free at (855) 328-6124 beginning at 8 a.m. Monday. The first 100 people who call get put on the list.
“If it’s busy, they need to call back,” department spokeswoman Cathie Harms said. “Both numbers ring to the same phone with the same staff member answering the phone.”
Names will be listed in order of their call, and callers must provide their Alaska driver’s license and hunting license numbers.
The first 15 hunters on the list will receive permits to hunt in the closed area for one week starting Dec. 10, Harms said.
The new hunt was created by the Fortymile Caribou Herd Harvest Management Coalition and is a compromise for meat hunters who have complained about ADFG closing the hunt when caribou are readily available and those who complain about too many hunters along the road, Harms said. It was approved by the Alaska Board of Game in March. In past years, including 2011, the department has closed the hunt completely when caribou were present along the road system.
Following the first hunt period, additional permits will be issued until the 30-caribou harvest quota along the road has been met. The 30-caribou quota is included in the overall 150-caribou quota for the Steese Highway hunt.
The congregation of caribou along the road had state game managers worried about a potential roadside massacre if the hunt opened under normal conditions. Given the proximity of caribou to the road, hunters would have exceeded the 150-caribou quota in a matter of a few hours, Tok area biologist Jeff Gross said.
The remainder of the Fortymile hunt will open Saturday, including the rest of Zone 1 as described above, and Zones 2, 3 and 4. The Zone 3 hunt along the Taylor Highway has a harvest quota of 100 caribou while the quota for zones 2 and 4 is included in the Steese Highway quota of 150.
This year, all of Zone 3 along the Taylor Highway will be open. In past years, the southern part of Zone 3 was closed to prevent an overharvest of Nelchina caribou when the Nelchina Caribou Herd moved into the area.
While some Nelchina caribou are again scattered through southern Zone 3 this year, the Nelchina herd’s harvest quota has not been reached and the threat of overharvest to the Nelchina herd is reduced. Caribou taken in Zone 3 will be assigned to either the Fortymile or Nelchina herd quota based on the harvest location. Harvest of Nelchina caribou will not be counted towards the Fortymile quota.
There are caribou available off the Taylor Highway but they are “not as obvious as on the Steese Highway,” Harms said. With rough conditions because of lack of snow and temperatures expected to dip down close to 40 below this weekend in the Tok area, the department is not expecting a huge rush of hunters along the Taylor Highway, Harms said.
“It’s pretty miserable,” she said of the weather conditions.
Before leaving home, hunters are advised to call the Fortymile caribou hotline at (907) 267-2310 for updates about closed areas or other hunt changes. This hotline will be updated as new information becomes available.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.
Road hunting permits
For a chance to participate in a special hunt for Fortymile caribou along the Steese Highway, hunters must call (907) 328-6124 or toll free at (855) 328-6124 beginning at 8 a.m. on Monday to have their name added to a first-come, first-served list. The first 100 callers will have their names put on the list.