Bull moose

Department of the Interior photo

While a rainy and cool August was a disappointing end to summer for many Interior Alaska residents, there could be a silver lining: The weather may be good for moose hunting season.

That is according to a recent paper published by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The paper, “Quantifying the effects of environmental factors on moose harvest in Interior Alaska,” found that the most successful moose hunts occur when water levels are high and the weather is cool. UAF Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology Todd Brinkman, who was an author of the paper, explained that warm temperatures and low precipitation levels correlate to a decreased harvest of moose.

Moose, Brinkman said, are built for colder temperatures. The animals begin to experience heat stress in temperatures as low as 50 degrees. In response to warmer weather, moose often decrease activity, display nocturnal behavior and avoid open spaces. These behavioral shifts may make it harder for hunters to locate the animals, according to Brinkman.

A high water level correlates to an increase in moose harvests because hunters have an easier time reaching animals when rivers and sloughs are high. Moose typically inhabit swampy and marshy areas, so hunters often use boats to reach the animals.

“It’s all about access,” Brinkman said of the precipitation factor. “Lower-than-normal river levels may hinder or block watercraft access to popular moose hunting areas such as sloughs, lakes, and shallow tributaries of major rivers,” according to the paper. The implication is that, “... low water may reduce the area and number of moose available to hunters.”

For hunters, the biggest “take home” message of the paper, according to Brinkman, is that during high water years the peak daily harvest is 25% to 50% higher than during low water years. Of the two factors, water level, he said, has a larger impact on moose harvest than temperature does.

The paper, Brinkman believes, will become foundational as the climate continues to change and as well as weather pattern.

Another factor that researchers did not have the chance to delve into, Brinkman said, is the impact of leaf fall on hunting success. He explained that leaf fall typically occurs around the first hard frost. In warmer falls, leaf fall happens later, potentially well into moose hunting season. The timing of leaf fall could impact moose hunting because the leaves make it harder for hunters to spot the animals. This is particularly true if the animals are resting due to warm temperatures.

Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7544.