Hunters in airboats on the upper Salcha River will get a shot at more caribou this year while road hunters on the Steese and Taylor highways won't be allotted as many caribou as in past years, according to a new harvest plan adopted by the Alaska Board of Game last month.
The Game Board adopted a new five-year harvest plan for the Fortymile herd at its March meeting. The new plan contains a few changes, the biggest of which is an adjustment to the percentage of harvest allotted to each of the three hunt areas during the fall hunt.
According to the new plan, 45 percent of the fall harvest will be allotted to the Taylor Highway hunt, 30 percent will go to the Steese Highway hunt and the remaining 25 percent will be dedicated to the roadless hunt on the upper Salcha and Goodpaster rivers. The percentages in the previous harvest plan were 50, 35 and 15, respectively.
The new harvest plan will have a fixed quota of 850 caribou for the next six years or until the herd reaches the 50,000 mark, at which time the harvest will be bumped up to 1,000. The quota is split between fall and winter hunts, with a quota of 640 for the fall and 210 for the winter.
Based on the new percentages, this year's harvest quotas for the three fall hunts will be 288 caribou for the Taylor Highway hunt; 192 for the Steese Highway hunt; and 160 for the roadless hunt.
The 850 quota should provide ample hunting opportunity while at the same time provide adequate protection of the herd until it reaches 50,000.
The increased percentage for the roadless hunt was due mainly to an increase in harvest by airboaters on the upper Salcha River, according to Gross.
"Over the last four years we've gone from an average harvest of a dozen to the mid 50s (on the upper Salcha River)," he said. "That's pretty significant."
Airboats, made specifically for low-water conditions, can access areas that riverboats can't and word evidently has gotten out among airboaters about caribou hunting opportunities on the upper Salcha River, judging from harvest reports, said Gross.
The winter Fortymile caribou hunt ended March 31 and hunters failed to reach the harvest quota of 378 caribou, which was increased from 210 to include caribou not taken in the fall hunt. Hunters reported a harvest of 258 caribou in the winter hunt, practically all of which were taken off the Taylor Highway. Hunters took only one or two caribou off the Steese Highway, said Gross.
"This is the fewest number of animals taken off the Steese Highway for several years," he said.
Typically, the herd moves east toward the Steese Highway in the fall and hangs around for a month or two before moving back east. This year the herd didn't move as far to the west as it usually does and never really approached the Steese Highway for the fall or winter hunts.
While a portion of the herd was accessible off the Taylor Highway north of Chicken near Boundary throughout most of the winter, it required a long drive out the Taylor Highway and a snowmachine to find them. But hunters who expended the effort to get there enjoyed good success, said Gross.
"Most everybody that went up there came back with caribou," he said.
News-Miner outdoors editor Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or firstname.lastname@example.org .