With the end of the year drawing nearer by the day, time is dwindling for game hunters to go out and get their fill for the season.
Riley Woodford, editor of Alaska Department of Fish and Game publications, said there is a little less than a week left in deer and water fowl season. As far as this season's hunting results, Woodford said they can't quite tell what kind of year it's been yet, but that he knows the number of deer in the area is down.
"It's way too early to report any statistical things. The deer population is still down quite a bit from where they were five years ago because of the last two or three exceptionally snowy winters," he said. "So, the deer population in northern Southeast Alaska is low. Consequently, deer hunters have not done as well in the last year as they have in previous years."
This is a story echoed nearly all season, but with recent snowfall in the area, Woodford said now just might be a good time to head into the woods, one last time.
"There are certainly deer in localized areas, and people (have been) able to find areas that have good habitat (and) that can offer shelter for deer."
While the end of deer season is approaching quickly, Woodford said the trapping season is still going strong.
"Trapping is open for beaver, coyote, fox, lynx, marten, mink, muskrat, river otter, wolves and wolverines," he said. "This is the middle of trapping season for everything. Most fur-bearing trapping goes from around Dec. 1 to the middle of February."
If it's small game you're looking for, a few critters in particular may be a good bet - if you're willing to work for it.
"In Alaska, small game is pretty much ptarmigan, grouse and snowshoe hares, but we don't have great hunting for those in the Juneau area," he said. "There can be good ptarmigan hunting if you're willing to hike up into the mountains to do it."
Snowshoe hares, however, may be better than expected.
"There are a lot of anecdotal reports that this will be a good year for snowshoe hares. People are seeing a lot more tracks than we've heard of in past years," Woodford said. "But, there aren't a lot of people in Juneau that target snowshoe hares. Most people hunt grouse and ptarmigan in the spring and the fall."
Tips for deer hunters
Since the deer population has dropped in recent years, it may be more difficult to spot these animals. But, Woodford said, they've gotten their best reports from one place in particular.
"Southern Admiralty Island is probably the best bet, which is a trip," he said. "People that are willing to travel a little further down to southern Southeast Alaska, or at least the southern part of Admiralty, are seeing more deer."
Though the season may be close to its end, Woodford said he believes this is one of the best times to go hunting.
"In many ways, this is a really good time of year to go hunting because the leaves are off the trees, visibililty is good, and the deer are going to stand out against the snow instead of blending in against the vegetation and the ground," he said. "There are tracks, and if you wear white, you can be camouflaged while the deer aren't."
Not only is it easier to see the deer against the snowy backdrop, but they also are likely to congregate closer to sea level.
"They are coming down out of the higher and middle elevations down to lower elevations. In many ways, this is my favorite time to go hunting," he said. "It's past the rut, so, generally speaking, the bucks aren't as aggressive or as likely to come to calls, but there's an added advantage that they've probably gotten all the does pregnant that they are going to breed with. So, if you shoot a buck, you're not necessarily depleting the population because there will be a pregnant doe out there that will hopefully have a fawn in the spring."
Woodford said he feels it is important to not shoot does this winter, though it is not illegal to do so.
"We at Fish and Game are urging people not to shoot does. If people leave those does alone they will be the ones to help the population recover," he said. "We want them out there pregnant and having fawns next spring so the population can bounce back. If we get a few mild winters with good birth of young, we will see the deer population recover. That's the most important message."
He said there is a general four-deer limit, but it depends on the area. There is federal subsistence hunting that extends into January that has different regulations.
Generally speaking, Southeast Alaskans are allowed four deer on Douglas, Shelter and Sullivan Islands and two on the mainland this season. For detailed regulations, hunters can go to the ADF&G Web site at http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/.
• Matthew Tynan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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