FAIRBANKS - The results are in and it appears Interior moose hunters are not calf killers.
That's the message hunters sent to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in the first-year of a two-year experiment on the Tanana Flats in which the state issued permits to shoot six-month-old moose calves.
As of Tuesday, more than one-third of the almost 300 hunters who drew permits to hunt moose calves said they didn't hunt them. Some hunters even went so far as to include personal notes explaining why they didn't hunt.
"Save the calves," one hunter wrote.
As of Tuesday, Fish and Game had received 231 harvest reports from the 274 calf permits that were issued, said statistical technician Jackie Jensen. Only 32 hunters reported taking a calf.
The number of people who didn't hunt shocked wildlife biologist Don Young. When he proposed the calf hunts to the Game Board in March, Young figured that approximately 150 of the 300 hunters who drew permits would harvest calves.
But the hunt raised a ruckus in the hunting community. Many hunters were adamantly opposed to any kind of calf hunt and some went so far as to apply for permits in hopes they would draw one and not use it, similar to a tactic used by animal-rights activists in Alaska for several years.
"I think a lot more people applied for permits that never intended to hunt than we expected," said Young.
The state offered 300 calf permits and received 506 applications for eight different calf hunts. Six of the eight hunts were filled while the two most remote hunts had unfilled permits.
The reason behind the calf hunts was not necessarily a biological one as much as it was to placate hunters. The state instituted the calf hunts in an effort to make up for lost harvest due to antler restrictions that were imposed in Game Management Unit 20A this year to reduce the bull harvest. The calf hunts were designed to make up for fewer bulls being taken. Biologists were simply trying to live up to the maximum sustained yield principle spelled out in the Alaska constitution.
"The purpose of that hunt was to provide hunters an opportunity to get some moose meat," Young said.
About 3,000 calves are born each year in Unit 20A and only about half of those survive through their first winter. The rest are killed by wolves or starve to death, for the most part. The idea was to take some of those moose calves that would end up in the stomachs of wolves and put them in the stomachs of hunters.
"Even if we harvested 150 (calves) we felt like it would have no biological effect on the stability of the moose population," Young said.
Young didn't agree with the tactic hunters used of applying for permits with the intention of not using them.
"Even if they're opposed to the program I don't think that's fair to other hunters who would put those permits to use," he said.