Fairbanks -- Even though hunters have harvested almost 2,000 antlerless moose in Game Management Unit 20A south of Fairbanks over the past three seasons, the population is still too high and state game managers say hunters will likely get another shot at putting a cow or calf in the freezer this fall.
The 2006-07 antlerless moose hunt in Unit 20A closed Feb. 28, and the preliminary reported harvest is 551 cow and calf moose, according to state wildlife biologist Don Young, who oversees the hunt for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.
While that number fell short of the 700 quota set in Fairbanks by the Department of Fish and Game, the harvest should help slow the growth of the moose population in Unit 20A.
State wildlife biologists say there are still too many moose in Unit 20A. The population was estimated at 15,300 following surveys in November, and the state's management objective is 10,000 to 12,000.
Based on those numbers, Young anticipates another large antlerless hunt this fall.
"Looking at where we are with our November estimate, and where we are in terms of our population objective, and the fact we had a relatively mild winter, I feel real comfortable saying we're going to be having a liberal hunt next year," said Young. "Without looking at the numbers more closely, right now we'll probably have another target of about 600 antlerless moose."
This year's hunt marked the third straight year the department has allowed a sizable harvest of antlerless moose in Unit 20A.
In 2005, hunters harvested about 700 moose during the hunt.
The first year of the hunt, in 2004, the harvest was estimated at 600 antlerless moose. The bulk of the harvest -- approximately 90 percent -- are cow moose.
The purpose of the antlerless hunts, according to biologists, is to reduce the moose population in Unit 20A, which will prevent a massive die-off in the event of a bad winter and increase the herd's productivity in the long run. The population prior to the antlerless hunts was estimated at 17,000.
"We're bringing it down fairly slowly," Young said. "It looks to me like the population has been declining 2 to 3 percent a year."
Even with the high harvests the last few years, the density of moose in some areas is still too high for the habitat to support, Young said.
This year's harvest was smaller than the previous two years but there are reasons for that, Young said.
The hunt is split into seven different zones, each of which has a different quota based on moose density.
Harvest quotas in some accessible areas aren't as high as they were the previous two years, said Young.
One of the most accessible areas, Zone 3 around Healy, was converted to an archery-only hunt this year, which would have cut down on hunter success. In addition, there wasn't enough snow until late in the winter to get to remote areas by snowmachine, Young said.
The areas hardest to reach have the highest moose densities.
Zone 5 is the most inaccessible of the seven zones and had a quota of 225 moose.
Hunters were able to take only 104 moose in Zone 5 this year, Young said.
"That's three times what we got the last couple years," he said.
To track the effects the hunts are having on the population, biologists are continuing to do browse surveys in the unit to assess the food supply and how much of it is being used.
Biologists also monitor twinning rates of radio-collared cows to gauge the health and productivity of the population. High twinning rates are an indication that moose are flourishing.
"That's our best indicator," Young said of twinning rates.
Biologists will also weigh newborn calves this year.
It may take another year or two before biologists begin to see the effects of the hunt.
After issuing more than 5,000 permits each of the first two years of the hunt, the state issued only about 3,700 permits for the 2006-07 hunt.
The drop in permits was probably due a couple of reasons, said Young.
The season in Zone 2, south of the Tanana River, was closed Sept. 24 this year after being open until Dec. 10 the previous year, he said.
Zone 3, the archery-only hunt this season, was one of the most populated areas the previous two years, according to Young.
The state also went to a limited registration hunt in Zone 1 around Nenana, issuing only 20 permits to hunters on a first-come, first-served basis.