For some, August isn't just the beginning of the end of summer, it's the beginning of deer season. Dozens of hunters are now stalking the woods of Southeast Alaska as the deer hunting season officially begins today.
"A lot of people want to be out there the first day," said Raymond Coxe, owner of RAYCO Sales. "And a lot of people refuse to go out the first day because there's so many people out hunting."
Coxe said his sporting goods store has been busy selling ammunition, deer calls, licenses and other hunting accessories for the hunters eager to get a jump on the season.
"This is our busy time of the year," he said. "We've had them four deep in the store waiting on deer tags."
Due to several factors, including climate and bears, many deer hunters wait until later in the season to harvest deer. Deer tend to be up in the alpine areas earlier in the season, but are driven down to lower elevations as the snow begins to accumulate later in the season making them easier to hunt, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Wildlife Biologist Neil Barten.
"November (harvests) really goes up, and the reason it jumps up is hunters can get them down low, the bears are in bed, it kind of goes hand in hand," he said.
Jim Papoi, a land surveyor for the state Department of Transportation and an avid hunter, has been practicing at the rifle range and said he will be out hunting on opening day.
"To me it's a lot more fun going in the early part of the season because you get to hike up to the alpine and be above tree line," he said. "It's just a whole different place."
Papoi said he likes to spread his harvesting limit out over the season.
"I usually shoot a couple of deer up high in the alpine and then shoot a couple of deer down low."
For Game Management Unit 1C, which includes the Juneau area and runs from Cape Fanshaw to Skagway, there are two different limits on the number of deer allowed to be harvested by an individual.
On Douglas, Lincoln, Shelter and Sullivan islands four deer can be taken per hunter, while on the mainland, each hunter is allowed to take two. Many Juneau hunters boat over to Admiralty, which falls under Game Management Unit 4, where they can harvest four deer per season.
Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 14 only bucks can be taken, while between Sept. 15 and Dec. 31 any deer can be taken. Only bucks can be harvested on the mainland for the entire season. A hunting license for adults is $25, while children 15 and under do not need a hunting license. Harvest tickets are free and are available at local sporting goods stores.
Each spring ADF&G conducts deer pellet surveys that provide an index of what the deer population trends are in Southeast Alaska.
"Overall, the deer population is probably going to be pretty good," said Barten. "I'd say right now we have a heck of a lot of deer out there."
The surveys do not provide exact population numbers, said Barten, but they gives researchers a general idea. The numbers have been higher in the last several years than they were a decade ago, possibly because of the relatively mild winters over the last several years.
"Overall, the deer populations in Southeast are pretty much dictated by winter weather," Barten said.
Many people in Southeast hunt deer for sport but most do it for the meat, Coxe said.
"For a lot of families, four deers is not enough for a family, so we're giving away a lot of kids' tags," said Coxe. "For families who like deer, we have given a lot of tags to the ladies, as well as the kids. A lot of ladies are out there shooting too."
Papoi describes himself as "a total meat hunter."
"Hunting for deer is more a way of life than anything," he said. "It's not to go out and kill something. It's to go out and put some food on your table and live your heritage. People have been hunting forever, that's just the way it is. It's part of the food chain, and we're at the top of the food chain."
Some go out because they really enjoy deer hunting, Barten said.
"The meat is some of the best eating wild game there is, and that's probably their primary purpose, but they have fun while they're doing it," Barten said. "I'd certainly be lumped into that category."
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.