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Tanana Flats Cow Moose Hunt Raises Legitimate Concerns in Alaska
Tom Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / October 7, 2005

The "antlerless" moose hunt on the Tanana Flats sure does have hunter types riled up.

And for good reason.

The state has allowed a harvest of almost 1,000 "antlerless" moose in Game Management Unit 20A south of Fairbanks in the past two years and, judging from some of the e-mails I have received and conversations I have had, there are some hunters and armchair biologists who are getting a little antsy about the whole thing.

The term "antlerless" is the politically correct term for "cow," because that's what we're talking about here. It's a cow hunt. While it's legal to shoot calves, and the Department of Fish and Game actually encourages it, the vast majority of hunters who picked up permits for the hunt didn't have their sights set on shooting a calf.

The hunting of cow moose in Alaska has always been a tender topic. Many hunters simply oppose killing cows for ethical and moral reasons, regardless of the biological argument for doing so. You don't beat your wife, you don't insult the bartender and you don't shoot cow moose.

Not all hunters feel that way, mind you, based on the fact that almost 4,500 hunters registered for permits to shoot a cow or calf moose in Unit 20A.

The bottom line is that people who shoot cows have one goal in mind: filling the freezer. The fact that Fish and Game for the past two years has encouraged them to do so makes hunters feel as if they are actually performing some kind of public service to the state.

Whether or not that's the case, however, remains to be seen.

Many hunters, myself included, have a hard time grasping the concept of killing more moose to make more moose. Sit me down, walk me through it, show me the biological indicators, pie charts and models. Even after all that, it just doesn't seem right.

It's hard to argue with numbers and percentages and so far that's what biologists have used to justify the killing of almost 1,000 "antlerless" moose in unit 20A. Bull-to-cow ratios. Weights of newborn calves. Reproductivity rates. Data is the politically correct term, I believe.

But data doesn't take into consideration the observations of hunters, the ones who are actually on the ground looking for moose rather than flying around in an airplane using a radio transmitter to find them. When hunters don't find moose, especially cow moose, they start to wonder what's going on?

Some hunters are concerned the cow hunt will wipe out, if it hasn't already, the moose populations along the Rex and Ferry trails between Nenana and Healy. Those are the two main access routes for hunters on four-wheelers and other ATVs.

Last year, the Rex Trail was rumored to be littered with gut pile after gut pile. This year, though, the rumor is that not many cows were taken off the Rex Trail. If there are no cows in an area, there won't be any bulls, either.

Other hunters don't buy the state's assertion that much of Unit 20A is overbrowsed because moose densities are too high.

Still other hunters question the high quotas the state attached to the hunt the past two years--600 last year and 800 this year.

As for me, I'm not saying that the Unit 20A cow hunt is good or bad, or that it is right or wrong, but I do question taking such a large number of cow moose from a few concentrated areas. The answer to that question won't be available for a few years, when the impact of the last two years begins to surface.

Wildlife biologists should be allowed to manage the state's game; that's what we pay them to do. Alaskans, meanwhile, should be able to trust the judgment of those wildlife biologists. That's easier said than done when you don't come home with a moose--cow, calf or bull.

It will be interesting to see what transpires next year.

Will the state propose another big hunt after it does its November surveys and declares there are still too many moose in Unit 20A?

Will local fish and game advisory committees, which for the most part have supported the cow hunt thus far, get nervous and rise up in opposition this time around?

Will Mother Nature decide its time to bury us with a few bad winters and wipe out the Tanana Flats moose population, as was the case the last time the state allowed large cow harvests on the Flats in the early 1970s?

There are a lot of full freezers out there as a result of the Unit 20A cow hunt, to be sure, but there are also a growing number of skeptical hunters who are questioning the logic and biology behind the hunt.

Like a pack of wolves circling a cow and her calf as they wallow in deep snow, they are lurking, waiting for their chance to pounce and say "I told you so" and spend the next 20 years bashing biologists. To this day, there are still old-timers around who will bend your ear about the mistakes made 30 years ago.

The hope here is the cow hunt doesn't turn into a witch hunt.

News-Miner outdoors editor Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or tmowry@newsminer.com .

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