Stuart DeWitt was the first Unit 1D hunter to turn in a moose to Fish and Game. (Picture by Tina Turnbull)

Stuart DeWitt was the first Unit 1D hunter to turn in a moose to Fish and Game. (Picture by Tina Turnbull)

This year’s Haines subsistence moose hunt was the fastest harvest in recent memory. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Wednesday, declaring that the season would close Thursday (Sept.22) at midnight. That means the hunt that usually extends about three weeks is wrapping up after just eight days.

Fish and Game biologist Carl Koch was not expecting this.

“It is pretty amazing, pretty surprising how fast this year went,” he said.

Koch took over management of the Unit 1D moose hunt last year. And that was an unusual hunt itself. The harvest went quickly, and Koch closed the season after about two weeks. It was the first time the Haines moose hunt had closed early in about 20 years. Then, this season happened.

“It’s basically twice as fast as last year, over in a week. A lot of moose taken very quickly.”

Hunters have three days to turn their moose in, so this season’s numbers aren’t final. But as of Wednesday afternoon, 25 moose had been taken. The management goal for the hunt is between 20 and 25 bulls, so Koch decided Wednesday to close the season early.

He’s not sure why things went so quickly. It could be the weather or that hunters are getting out earlier.

“It’s certainly possible that there’s more moose out there but we’ve had poor survey conditions in the past several years and with the last survey having 18 bulls per 100 cows, we have to be conservative.”

The ideal bull-to-cow ratio is 25 to 100. Fish and Game conducts an aerial moose survey of the Chilkat Valley each winter. The past couple years’ weather conditions meant biologists weren’t able to conduct the flying surveys until many bulls had shed their antlers, which led to less reliable information.

“We’re really hoping for better weather conditions so we can get a good survey in preferably in November, before they start dropping antlers.”

In the 2015 survey, biologists counted 183 moose, which is just under the ten-year average. One bright spot in the survey was the percentage of calves, which tallied in at sixteen.

Koch says you can only tell so much from aerial surveys. Studying the moose with VHF collars would be better, but it’s more expensive.

“Right now when we fly a survey we’re obtaining what we call minimum counts. In other words, we don’t know how many moose we’re not seeing. We only know how many we saw during the survey. But it would be nice to have collared animals and get a sense of how many moose we aren’t seeing.”

Koch says for now, they’ve got to work with the somewhat limited information they have.

He says the rapid harvest this year and last doesn’t mean Fish and Game will change the length of the season or management goals.

“I don’t want to go rushing to any hasty decisions. We always have this option of an emergency order, which we’ve exercised in the last two years. And we could get years with mild weather where we go back to the more typical year. Some seasons we’ve had less than 20 bulls in the entire three-week season.”

Fish and Game allows for 250 moose hunting permits in Unit 1D. Legal moose are determined based on their antler configuration.

The 25 taken as of Wednesday afternoon include five spike/fork, 15 three-brow tine, two 50-plus inch, and two sublegal. Wildlife troopers also found evidence of a moose that was killed but not checked in to Fish and Game, which is illegal. Koch says troopers are hoping for the public’s help with that case.

“They’re investigating an incident involving a moose that was shot on opening day between noon and 2 p.m. near the base of Cat Hill.”

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact troopers at 766-2533.

Koch says there’s a chance the number of moose harvested will exceed Fish and Game’s management goal. But overall, he’s happy with the season.

“I think the community got a lot of meat. So we’re pretty excited about it.”