Moose hunting season starts today. (Jillian Rogers)

Moose hunting season starts today. (Jillian Rogers)

Hunters packed up their guns and gear, and headed out Tuesday, the first day of moose-hunting season, hoping for a big bull to fill the freezer. The Haines area, also known as Game Management Unit 1D, allows Tier II permit hunting for moose.

Tier II permits are used to engage in subsistence hunts when permits cannot be provided to all eligible residents. Applications are scored based on income, years lived in the area, and other factors, to determine eligibility. Each year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issues about 250 permits in the Haines area. Hunters can apply for next year’s permit from Nov. 1 to mid-December this year. Of the permits issued, about 170 people actually hunted last year, according to Fish and Game. Hunters are required to turn in the report regardless if they hunt or not.

Area management biologist Stephanie Sell spoke to hunters last week at a meeting hosted by Fish and Game. The gathering focused on legal antler configurations. But Sell says, Haines hunters are usually the good guys when it comes to taking legal moose.

“I never really have a concern when it comes to Haines,” Sell says. “When you start getting into southern Southeast Alaska that’s when you start getting to the weirder and weirder antler configurations. Haines is one of those areas where you do have a lot influences from the Interior and from Canada as well so you have a couple of different subspecies of moose happening here so you do get those three-brow tiners and those larger bulls. Are they going to be huge like you would see in Fairbanks, like 70 inches wide? Probably not, but we did have a 62 and a quarter taken a few years ago.”

The goal of the talk, she says, was inform hunters about antler restrictions to avoid any non-legal moose being harvested. In Game Unit 1D, spike-forks, three brow-tine, and 50-inch racks are legal. The idea behind antler-restricted hunts is to preserve the prime breeding bulls while allowing hunters to take younger or older males.

“I think the main point is just to make sure that people take the time to watch the bull,” she says. “I’ve heard a lot of stories from hunters and they’re all super excited about how close they have get. They’re like ‘oh, I saw this bull’ chances are somebody down the road saw the same thing, and they’re comparing notes in a coffee shop. It’s always super fun and just the buzz of the moose hunting in Haines is something I really enjoy and I’m going to miss it a lot.”

Sell recently took over as the Fish and Game area wildlife biologist for Northern Southeast Alaska, with Carl Kotch stepping in as the assistant area biologist in Haines and Skagway.

At the meeting last week, the common thread throughout the discussion was, if in doubt, don’t shoot.

“We don’t want to take stuff like this away from people, but 50 is 50,” Sell told the hunters. “We will try to measure it, but I can’t stretch antlers to make them longer.”

Hunters and interested parties can get updates on the harvest at the Fish and Game office on the Haines Highway.

The moose population in the Haines area fluctuates from year to year, with upwards of 700 or so hanging around in the ‘60s. These days, Sell estimates between 250 and 300 moose in the Chilkat Valley. Last season, 20 legal and two sublegal moose were harvested.

Earlier this month, the Alaska State Troopers put out a statement reminding hunters to report any sublegal moose. Troopers acknowledged that mistakes happen, but when a sublegal moose is shot the hunter may be subject to criminal penalties. However, the penalty is reduced if the hunter self-reports. In most situations, Alaska Wildlife Troopers will recommend that fines be consistent with self-reporting cases in other areas of the state and the illegal take be resolved as a violation instead of a criminal offense.

Troopers say that in the last two years, the most prevalent cases are sublegal antlers and horns as well as waste cases.

They say it will always be worse for the hunter if they leave the animal to waste. If hunters are caught and convicted of wasting a big game animal, the mandatory minimum fine is $2,500 and seven days in jail. Additionally, hunters typically lose their equipment such as rifles, ATVs, boats and airplanes used in the hunt.

Salvaged meat, hide, antlers, or horns will be seized as according to Alaska law, animals taken unlawfully are the property of the state. The meat is usually donated to a charitable organization but may be kept as evidence. Hides, horns, or antlers will also be retained by Troopers.

The season began Tuesday and goes until Oct. 7.