Elk hunters may have chance to bag November trophy

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2005

If you're looking for a shot at a once-in-a-lifetime elk hunting experience, November may be your month.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is considering an open registration elk hunt on Etolin and Zarembo islands next month. The open registration would be the first of its kind since the department began issuing permits through a drawing process in 1997.

There were three permit drawings this year: one in September for bow hunters and two rifle drawings in the first two weeks of October.

"After the drawing permits are completed and we have enough time to evaluate how many animals have been taken ... then if there are sufficient elk remaining within our harvest guidelines then we may proceed with the open registration hunt," said Rich Lowell, area wildlife management biologist for the Petersburg, Wrangell and Kake area.

Etolin and Zarembo islands, separated by Stikine Strait, are to the south of Kupreanof Island and east of Prince of Wales Island. The animals were first introduced to Etolin Island in 1987 when Alaska swapped mountain goats for elk with the state of Oregon. Since the 50 animals were introduced, the elk have been able to swim to and populate Zarembo Island and a number of other satellite islands, Lowell said.

Once the number of elk taken this year has been calculated ADF&G will decide which islands will have an open registration hunt, if any, he said.

"It's highly likely that Etolin Island will be open for a registration hunt," Lowell said.

If the open registration hunt is granted, the period will last from Nov. 1 until Nov. 30, unless the harvest goals have been achieved. There will be no limit on the number of permits, but each hunter has a harvest limit of one bull elk.

"The main thing about a registration permit is people either have to come in or apply over the phone for a permit," Lowell said. He said Juneau area hunters wanting to participate could apply at the ADF&G office on Douglas Island.

Lowell said the elk planting was one of two that worked in Alaska. Afognak Island near Kodiak Island has the other successful elk herd.

"It's been very popular with hunters in Southeast and statewide," he said.

The intent of ADF&G is to provide for a harvest and maintain the herd at or below carrying capacity, Lowell said.

"Between 1997 and 2004 a total of 503 hunters have harvested 93 bulls, including 67 off of Etolin and 26 off Zarembo with an overall success rate 18 percent," he said.

"Eighteen percent is not that bad. But it's such a logistically challenging hunt with the terrain and the weather that it is a challenging hunt."

"It's a tough hunt in anybody's book," Lowell said.

Although not an elk hunter himself, Lowell said he has been to the islands and knows just how difficult the terrain is.

"Etolin is rugged, densely forested habitat with no roads in the area that the elk are occupying," he said. "Zarembo has an extensive road system and has experienced logging activity but the elk numbers aren't as high there."

The elk are primarily on the southern end of Etolin Island, which makes access a bit difficult, Lowell said.

"You see people getting there by boat - I guess that would be the primary method - but they also use air charter services," he said.

If the open registration hunt proceeds in November as planned, Lowell said hunters should take extra precautions because of the possibility of dangerous weather.

"The weather conditions typically deteriorate that time of year and mariners in particular need to be careful," he said.

Because of the size of the islands, the rugged terrain, and the densely forested habitat, ADF&G is unable to get an accurate count of the number of elk in Southeast Alaska.

"We estimate approximately 300 elk on Etolin and 100 elk on Zarembo," Lowell said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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