The bad news for hunters is that the Fortymile Caribou Herd never got close to the Steese Highway this fall. The good news is that means more caribou for the winter hunt.
The fall hunt for Fortymile caribou off the Steese Highway ends today and the reported harvest as of Wednesday was only 51 caribou. The quota for the Steese Highway hunt was 230 caribou.
The surplus caribou not taken this fall will be added to the quota for the winter hunt, which is normally 210 caribou.
"We may be looking at a quota for the winter hunt of close to 400," said wildlife biologist Jeff Gross with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Tok
The remaining two fall Fortymile hunts--one along the Taylor Highway and a remote hunt in the headwaters of the Salcha, Goodpaster and Chena rivers--were closed earlier when hunters reached or approached the respective quotas.
As of Wednesday, the total harvest for the three fall Fortymile hunts stood at 462, almost 180 shy of the fall harvest quota of 640.
The harvest along the Taylor Highway was a reported 307 caribou, just below the 320 quota, while the reported harvest in the remote hunt was reported at 104, a little over the quota of 90.
While the herd did make a move toward the Taylor Highway, prompting an emergency closure for that hunt, the herd never approached the Steese Highway in any substantial numbers from the time the season opened on Aug. 10.
For the most part, the herd remained concentrated in the middle of its range, miles from either road.
One recent trend that continued in this year's hunt was an increase in the number of caribou taken by hunters using boats to access hunting areas on the upper Goodpaster and Salcha rivers, as well as the East Fork of the Chena River to a small extent. About half the caribou taken in the remote hunt were harvested by hunters using boats of some sort.
"People with airboats are able to get up those rivers," said Gross, adding that boaters are also finding caribou on Birch Creek. "We're seeing a lot more boat traffic now than we did three or four years ago."
That will likely be something that is discussed this fall when the state and local advisory committees meet this fall to hammer out a new harvest plan for the herd, he said.
The winter hunt will begin on Dec. 1 and the harvest will be split up between the Steese and Taylor highways. The bulk of the quota will go to the area where the caribou are accessible to hunters, Gross said.