The rain is back, just in time for duck hunting season. Local waterfowl hunters experienced an unusually sunny and warm opening day Wednesday, but the latter part of the week provided ample opportunity to get down and dirty at the Mendenhall Wetland State Game Refuge.
"I love going out opening day," said Bruce Weyhrauch, a local state representative and avid duck hunter. "Squatting in the mucky marsh, waiting for a bird to fly over."
Weyhrauch, who began hunting as a teenager, said that due to the warm and sunny weather this summer the waterfowl season has snuck up on hunters. He went hunting on opening day, but didn't bag any birds.
"I'm not a very good shot," he said. "I'm the reason why they call it hunting and not killing ducks."
For the second consecutive year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is requiring permits for waterfowl hunting on the refuge. Neil Barten, area wildlife biologist for ADF&G, said the permit was put into place as a way to monitor how many hunters use the area, how many and which kind of waterfowl are harvested, ages of hunters, and to educate hunters on regulations.
"Our hope and goal is that every hunter that walks out there is a little more aware of the issues and concerns we have regarding safe hunting and respect, not only for other hunters on the refuge, but also for the homeowners who live adjacent to the refuge," he said.
Barten said every year they will get a handful of complaints from homeowners near the refuge about stray shotgun pellets raining down on their houses, so ADF&G has also used the permits as a way to address the issue.
"I think by most people, it is well received because they understand the sensitivity of the issue," said Barten. "This is a way for us to show that the duck hunting community is responsible."
The permits are free, said Barten, and are available at Rayco Sales, Western Auto Marine, and at the ADF&G regional office in Douglas. When signing up for a permit hunters are required to read over regulations as well as inspect a map to better understand the area, Barten said.
Drake Peterson, a member of the Board of Directors for Territorial Sportsmen, said he doesn't oppose the requirement of the permit and respects ADF&G's decision.
"The permit's just a way to help track the number of hunters out there, more than anything, and to help hunters be more responsible in their actions," he said. "Bottom line is the hunters are the ones out there who have to be the safe ones."
Of the 757 permits given out last season, Barten said only 367 holders submitted a permit report requested by ADF&G. This season ADF&G is requiring each and every person who receives a permit to submit a permit report or they could face a hefty fine and a possible loss of hunting privileges.
"Next year they might not be able to get any permits for brown bear, or any hunt requiring a permit. So if they don't return the permit report we have the option to cite them and they might not be able to get permits for next year," said Barten.
"Some of this information that we are collecting is going to be valuable for us here at Fish and Game," he said.
Another issue facing duck hunters this year is accretion rights, the gradual and imperceptible addition to a parcel of land by varying factors, and quiet title action, which changes ownership from state land into private ownership through a legal process. Barten said some state land that locals have hunted in the recent past is now private property due to quiet title action.
"If they see a no trespassing sign in an area where they have been hunting for 30 years, they need to respect that," he said. "If the community becomes aware of this issue ... hopefully we can come up with a plan to maintain the land for wildlife and wildlife habitat."
Peterson said several members of the Territorial Sportsmen went out to the wetlands on opening day to talk with hunters and make sure they are aware that some areas are now off limits.
"That was just one thing that we could do to help out," he said.
Regardless of the newly imposed regulations hunters will still be out there enjoying the area, said Peterson. He said he plans to get out to the refuge more this year with his 6-year-old black Labrador, Tracer, than he did last season.
"That refuge out there is such an asset to the town," he said. "Where else in the world can you go hunting five minutes from your door step?"
"I love ducks. I think they're beautiful, they're intelligent, they're hard working. It's everything in an animal I respect," said Weyhrauch.
"To be a duck hunter you have to be committed. ... It takes not only a lot of personal will, it takes stamina, it takes patience," he said.
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.