Deer season is underway on the island of Kodiak, and with it comes the need for adjustments and a heightened sense of awareness both for hunters and others who are sharing the outdoors to hike or camp.
On both the road system and other areas, there are no weapons restrictions through Oct. 31. The period limits hunters to bucks only. Hunters on the road system are allowed to harvest only one deer.
Nate Svoboda, Kodiak area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said while the state doesn’t track overall deer population, it has recovered since the harsh winter of 2019.
“Anecdotally it is better than last year and much more improved since the year before,” Svoboda said. “The winter of 2019 was pretty harsh, and we lost quite a few deer that year. Last year they recovered quite a bit and even better this year.”
Svoboda said it’s still early in the season to tell how many hunters will be out, but in normal years an average of between 3,000 and 6,000 hunters harvest between 2,000 and 7,000 deer. The numbers were less in 2020 due to COVID travel restrictions and a reduced deer population.
Between 35% and 45% of hunters live in Kodiak, about 45% to 50% of hunters are Alaskan residents from outside Kodiak, and approximately 10% of hunters come from outside the state.
“The number of hunters changes significantly, and it fluctuates based upon conditions such as deer population,” Svoboda said. “In 2019 we knew when the deer population crashed the following year was very low.”
He said people are likely to pay attention to online hunting forums, and the information posted there determines the level of interest.
Svoboda said the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has noticed a higher-than-usual number of hunters seeking licenses for all hunts, not just deer, this year.
“There seems to be an uptick in the hunters this year, and I think a lot of it is due to people being tired of being cooped up,” Svoboda said. “People are starting to get out, so there are a lot more hunters on the landscape in general.”
From Nov. 1 to Nov. 15, hunters on the road system are allowed to harvest another deer of any gender, but are restricted to using a bow, crossbow or muzzleloader firearm only. Nov. 16 to Dec. 31 is restricted to hunters aged 10 to 17 who can harvest one deer of any gender using a bow, crossbow or muzzleloader. Svoboda said hunters under 18 need to have completed a basic hunter education safety course for any hunt.
Hunters in the backcountry may harvest three total for the entire season. They are limited to bucks only through Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, the harvest is open to any sex.
At any time during deer season, hunters also need to follow certain guidelines.
In all hunts limited to one sex, evidence of sex must remain naturally attached to the meat, or antlers must remain naturally attached to the entire carcass, with or without viscera. Harvest tickets must also be validated in sequential order, and unused tickets must be carried during the hunt.
Deer hunting comes with a price tag — literally speaking. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a fee schedule for both residents and nonresidents.
All resident hunters must purchase a $45 annual hunting license (or $5 for low income residents). Harvest tags are also required, but they are free for all residents.
Nonresidential fee schedules range from $160 for an annual hunting permit to $405 for annual hunting and trapping permits. Nonresident foreign hunters must pay $630 for an annual hunting license.
Discounts are available for nonresident active duty military stationed in Alaska at $45.
Nonresidents also need to purchase big game locking harvest tags for deer. Nonresidents must pay $300 for a locking tag. Nonresident military service members don’t have to pay for tags.
Nonresident foreigners pay $400 for locking tags and must be accompanied by a qualified guide as required by Alaska state law.
For more information on general Alaska Department of Fish and Game hunting regulations and Kodiak’s deer season, visit https://bit.ly/3hq7739.
BE SAFE AND BEAR AWARE
Safety counts when it comes to hunting.
“We recommend that you go in groups because it’s not a good idea to hunt by yourself,” Svoboda said. People should also provide an agenda to a close contact or family member, including the hunting location, time of departure and estimated time of return.
“We also encourage people to bring electric fences into the field and some sort of communications device such as a [remote GPS device] that they can send out an emergency notification,” Svoboda said.
Svoboda cautions hunters that they aren’t the only ones stalking deer. Kodiak’s natural hunters will be lying in wait as well.
Svoboda said bears may be in the area where a hunter takes down a deer or any other game.
“Once they shoot an elk or deer and when approaching it, hunters should just assume that a bear is there,” Svoboda said. “Being aware and making noise is a good thing to do.”
Svoboda said that bears have a complex sense of smell, estimated to be at least seven times that of a bloodhound, or 2,100 times that of a human.
He advised that if a hunter sees a bear nearby or if a bear has found the downed animal first, hunters should chock it up as a loss.
“Don’t try to drive the bear away or fight it if it tries to claim your deer,” Svoboda said.
Svoboda also recommended hunters should have a plan when they harvest a deer.
“Hunters should have a handle on the deer they bag while in the field,” he said. They should carry it back to their camp or a vehicle before processing it. If it needs to be processed in the field, hunters should quarter it and place it in their bags as quickly as possible.
Dragging the game isn’t recommended at all, Svoboda said, especially in the backcountry.
“Dragging deer is where we have the most human-bear conflicts in the field in the backcountry,” Svoboda said.