The smoke doesn't seem to be bothering caribou hunters along the Taylor Highway east of Fairbanks.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will close the Fortymile caribou hunt in Game Management Unit 20E along the Taylor Highway at midnight Friday because state game managers expect hunters to reach the harvest quota of 320 caribou by then.
"The smoke has been heavy but hunters have been successful," said management coordinator Roy Nowlin at Fish and Game in Fairbanks.
As of Wednesday, hunters had reported taking just over 200 caribou in the state hunt.
"We expect by midnight Friday we're going to be there or pretty darn close," Nowlin said of the 320-caribou quota. "We've got a substantial number of animals close to the road."
The harvest of caribou along the Taylor Highway has been "pretty steady" since the season opened Aug. 10, Nowlin said.
Game managers didn't want to take a chance by leaving the hunt open over the weekend, he said.
At approximately 40,000 animals, the Fortymile herd is the largest caribou herd in the Interior and has been the focus of a major recovery plan for the past 10 years.
The Taylor Highway hunt is one of three fall Fortymile hunts. The other two hunts, one off the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks and one in the upper reaches of the Salcha, Chena and Goodpaster rivers, remain open. The season closes Sept. 20 or when the quota is reached in any of the three hunts.
Hunting along the Steese Highway in Game Management Unit 25C has been "real slow," Nowlin said. Only about five caribou have been taken off the Steese, said Nowlin. The quota for the Steese Highway hunt is 240 caribou.
Hunting has also been slow in units 20B and 20D, which is primarily a fly-in hunt. The quota for that hunt is 90 caribou.
The state has issued approximately 1,500 registration permits for the three Fortymile hunts.
The closure along the Taylor Highway does not affect federal subsistence hunts. Hunters with questions about federal subsistence regulations should call (800) 478-1456.
While the smoke hasn't necessarily affected hunters, it has confounded biologists trying to track the herd by airplane, said Nowlin. The department was able to get a plane up on Wednesday for the first time in about a week and confirmed what biologists suspected--that there were a large number of caribou not far from the Taylor Highway.
"It's been tough to fly," Nowlin said.
Hunters who harvest a caribou must report the kill in person, on the Internet (hunt.alaska.gov/) or by phone to the Fish and Game office in Tok (883-2971). Hunters who report by phone must also mail in their permit reports or drop them off in Tok within seven days of the kill.
For updates on the other two state hunts, call the Fortymile caribou hot line at 267-2310.
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7587.