The Alaska Board of Game on Tuesday gave bow hunters more incentive to make the long drive up the Dalton Highway.
In response to a proposal by a pair of Fairbanks archers, the state game board upped the early season bag limit for caribou inside the Dalton Highway Management Corridor north of the Brooks Range from one bull to two.
The new bag limit will take effect July 1 north of 244 Mile on the Dalton Highway in game management unit 26B.
The game board's action came on day five of an 11-day meeting in Fairbanks to consider changes to hunting and trapping regulations in the Interior. The meeting started on Friday and is scheduled to run through Monday. On Tuesday, the board dealt with proposals in northeast Alaska and the McGrath area.
Despite the 400-mile drive north, the Dalton Highway hunt is popular because it is one of the few road-accessible caribou hunts in Alaska that doesn't require a special permit, though bow hunters must pass a shooting test to be eligible for the hunt.
Bow hunters are allowed to shoot caribou within five miles of the road while rifle hunters must hike at least five miles from the road before shooting an animal. However, bow hunters are allowed only one bull caribou inside the corridor under current regulations while rifle hunters are allowed two.
Biologically there is no reason why the bag limit shouldn't be raised, area management biologist Beth Lenart told the board. The last population estimate for the Central Arctic Caribou Herd was 32,000 in 2002 and the herd appears to be growing, Lenart said.
Hunters harvest a total of 700 to 800 caribou from the herd each year, which is below the current harvest objective, Lenart said. Bow hunters harvest only about 200 caribou a year, she said.
"Even if the harvest is higher, right now we're harvesting less than 3 percent of the herd," Lenart said. "A higher harvest won't hurt the herd biologically."
Fish and Game doesn't have statistics on how many bow hunters use the Dalton Highway Management Corridor, but Lenart doesn't think the liberalized bag limit will increase harvest significantly.
"If there's a bunch of caribou running through, hunters maybe have the ability to take two but they have to think about processing that meat," she said. "In July and August it can still be pretty warm, so you've got to think about that."
The Game board also lengthened the brown bear season in unit 26B at the request of the Department of Fish and Game to open Aug. 25 instead of Sept. 1. The department proposed the longer season because the population can sustain a higher harvest, Lenart said.
Opening the season for a week at the end of August will give caribou and sheep hunters who are already in the field a chance to shoot a grizzly bear if they see one, assuming they have a grizzly bear tag.
"That's when caribou and sheep hunters are out there," said Lenart.
In other action, the board:
* Reconsidered a proposal that it rejected on Monday to open the sheep hunting season in the Interior two days earlier for residents than non-residents.
The board amended and passed a proposal to open the season two days later for non-residents than residents. Beginning in next year, the non-resident sheep season in all Interior game management units will open Aug. 12 instead of Aug. 10. The exceptions are the Tok Management Area and Delta Controlled Use Area, where the non-resident season will still open Aug. 10.
On Monday, the board rejected a proposal that would have opened the season for residents two days early and added five days to the end of the season for residents.
The board voted to wait until 2009 to make the regulation effective because guides already have non-resident clients booked for the upcoming hunting season, department spokeswoman Cathie Harms said.
"The board felt like it really wanted to do something for residents and give them an advantage without harming non-residents too badly," she said.
* Deferred a proposal to re-authorize the current predator control plan in unit 19A to the spring 2009 meeting because the current plan doesn't expire until the end of June 2009.