Category Archives: Featured Content

Kodiak A Hostile Setting For Senate Candidate

Sen. Mark Begich (D) Photo by Wikimedia U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan (R) Photo by Wikimedia

(left) Sen. Mark Begich (D);  (right) Senate candidate Dan Sullivan (R)

You knew this would be full of theatrics. U.S. Senate candidates Mark Begich, the incumbent Democrat, and his Republican challenger, former state attorney general Dan Sullivan, debated Alaska’s fisheries’ issues in Kodiak on Wednesday night.

Begich has made friends of fishermen throughout Alaska for his views, which include opposition to the Pebble Mine project, plus vowing to strengthen the state’s fishing industry. So it was rather obvious who was going to enjoy the homecourt advantage in Kodiak.

The Republican candidate, Sullivan, appears to be the choice to unseat Begich in the Nov. 4 election if those numbers hold. But Begich had his support on Wednesday, and it probably didn’t help Sullivan’s cause as the building’s villain after reports surfaced he tried to avoid the fisheries debate before agreeing to attend.

From the Associated Press:

It was a friendly audience for Begich, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries, and Coast Guard and entered the debate with the endorsement of fishing organizations such as the United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. At one point, Begich, wearing a gold salmon pin on his lapel, said he wouldn’t mind answering some of the questions that were being directed solely to Sullivan.

“Well, Senator Begich, we’ve heard a lot from you, but we really haven’t had an opportunity to question Mr. Sullivan,” one of the questioners, fish industry writer Laine Welch, said before asking Sullivan another question.

During the debate, Sullivan was asked about his brother’s fish business. He said his brother is a wholesaler who buys farm-raised fish as well as fish from Alaska. Sullivan said he is against genetically modified fish, known as “Frankenfish,” a position Begich also holds.

Sullivan said he has never supported the Pebble Mine, a massive gold-and-copper prospect near the headwaters of a world-premier salmon fishery in southwest Alaska. But he said he supports having a process in place for projects like that to be vetted.

Sullivan has said the controversial project should be allowed to go through the permitting process. He and others, including Murkowski and state officials, worry the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will veto the project before it has gone to permitting.

Begich — to applause — called the project the wrong mine in the wrong place.

When Begich said he planned to hold a committee hearing to discuss concerns about Canadian mines and their impacts on Alaska, Sullivan said hearings and letters don’t get the job done.

“Face-to-face contact, face-to-face diplomacy, that’s what you make an impact on,” Sullivan said.

It should be an interesting Election Day in Alaska.



USFWS Considers Elimination Of Invasive Caribou

Photo by Kristine Sowl, USFWS

Photo by Kristine Sowl, USFWS

There’s no room at the inn for caribou. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is considering its options to help contain a herd of caribou that has found its way to an uninhabited island on U.S. Federal land in the Aleutians.

From the Associated Press:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say caribou swim from Adak Island, where they were introduced to provide sport hunting for military personnel, to uninhabited Kagalaska Island, part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The agency proposes to keep a new herd from forming by killing caribou on Kagalaska with refuge staff, volunteers or contractors, starting next year.

Five caribou were shot in 2012 and up to 15 more may be on the island. Kagalaska is a wilderness area and caribou would alter it, said refuge manager Steve Delehanty.

“Things that belong out there ought to stay out there as much as possible,” he said by phone from his office in Homer. “Things that don’t belong out there ought to not be out there, as much as possible.”

Caribou would target the island’s lichen beds, trample other vegetation and create trails, he said.

“None of it is natural,” Delehanty said.

Adak is a 283-square mile island 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage. The military built an airfield on the island during World War II and it was used as a Naval Air Station until 1997.

The nearest native caribou are 500 miles away. At the request of military officials, caribou were introduced to the island in 1958 to give personnel opportunities for recreational hunting.

When the island housed 1,000 to 6,000 people, sport hunting kept the herd to 200 to 400 animals. After the base closed, by 2012, the herd had grown to an estimated 2,700 animals. Their only predators are people, and hunters can shoot cows year-round.

Dropped: Project Alaska 2.0 Returns

Casey and Chris Keefer will use their survival skills again in the Sportsman Channel's Dropped: Alaska 2.0, which returns with new episodes on Friday at 8. (SPORTSMAN CHANNEL)

Casey and Chris Keefer will use their survival skills again in the Sportsman Channel’s Dropped: Alaska 2.0, which returns with new episodes on Friday at 8. (SPORTSMAN CHANNEL)

Brothers Chris and Casey Keefer love “roughing it,” and the Sportsman Channel’s series, Dropped: Project Alaska 2.0 provides a sneak peak into their world of survival in the most remote places.

The show’s season premiere is Friday at 8 p.m. on the Sportsman Channel. Here’s a release with all the details:

Award-Winning Series “Dropped: Project Alaska 2.0” Returns to Sportsman Channel, October 2 at 8 p.m. ET/PT 

NEW BERLIN, WI (September 29, 2014) Chris and Casey Keefer can’t get enough of being dropped in remote places with little food, little direction and only one goal: survive by hunting. They were first “dropped” in Alaska in 2011 and made television history by floating on a remote river for 28 days. Now, they are dropped again into Alaska’s backcountry in the Sportsman Channel original series – Dropped: Project Alaska 2.0 presented by Buck Knives. This version has them once again pitting their skills as hunters, woodsmen and anglers against an unforgiving landscape. Produced by Rusted Rooster Media, the original series will premiere exclusively on Sportsman Channel, the leader in outdoor TV for American sportsmen and women, on Thursday, October 2 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Catch a sneak peek of the show by visiting 

The Keefers’ new Alaskan adventure began by traveling 80 river miles to their extraction spot while carrying only 100 pounds of gear each in their backpacks. They had no provisions – all their gear was for catching or killing their food and then preparing it. They are once again floating downriver to land that hasn’t been hunted for more than a decade due to predation.

Chris Keefer scouts in Alaska. (SPORTSMAN CHANNEL)

Chris Keefer scouts in Alaska. (SPORTSMAN CHANNEL)

“Dropped has proven to be a very exciting and adventure-filled program that Sportsman Channel viewers can’t get enough of,” said Graig Hale, vice president of business development for Sportsman Channel. “The Keefer brothers are entertaining, extreme adventurists who are also skilled outdoorsmen. The combination makes for a great television program.”

“The first two series of Dropped earned phenomenal coverage from both a survivor angle and hunting angle,” said Casey Keefer. “Our fans couldn’t get enough of seeing us suffer. We have to get our bodies – and minds – in serious shape before attempting these treks. It is a true test of stamina, grit and brotherly love.” 

Just like in the past, they make their way through perilous and game-rich country while attempting to call in or spot and stalk caribou, moose and black bear. The brothers also get more than they bargain for with charging grizzlies. 

“The grizzly encounters happen more than once and it is intense,” said Chris Keefer. “It is difficult to describe the rush of thoughts and emotions in that moment when it is just me, my brother and a cameraman literally stuck on the water in a floating raft with a sow whose only goal is to protect her family.” 

Learn more about Dropped: Project Alaska 2.0 at and on Twitter at  Use the hashtag #BeAlive 

To find Sportsman Channel in your area click here.

About Sportsman Channel: Launched in 2003, Sportsman Channel/Sportsman HD is the only television and digital media company fully devoted to honoring a lifestyle that is celebrated by millions of Americans. The leader in outdoor television, Sportsman Channel delivers entertaining and informative programming that embraces outdoor adventure, hunting and fishing, and reveals it through unique, surprising and authentic storytelling. Sportsman Channel embraces the attitude of “Red, Wild & Blue America” – where the American Spirit and Great Outdoors are celebrated in equal measure. The network also is dedicated to promoting our nation’s military heroes and veterans, as well as providing a voice for conservation throughout the United States. Sportsman Channel reaches more than 36 million U.S. television households. Stay connected to Sportsman Channel online at; Facebook, (; Twitter ( and and YouTube ( 

Helping To Prevent Human-Caused Wildfires



It hasn’t been a good summer for wildfires in the West.  So many fires are triggered by human-created reasons like burning cigarettes, so companies such as Green Smart Living/GEO are attempting to help prevent such issues by eliminating the combustible cigarettes. Here’s a release that will coincide with National Fire Prevention Week, which is Oct. 7-13:

GEO To Help Support National Fire Prevention Week

SALT LAKE CITY – Each and every summer, we all hear news stories of wildfires reeking havoc to our nation’s forests. To make these matters even worse, up to 90 percent of all wildfires in the U.S. are caused by humans.

While some of these fires can be contributed to unattended campsites, or a variety of other natural causes, many of these fires are caused by discarded cigarette butts. GEO (, a leader in creating a conscious living and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional combustible cigarettes, understands that this issue needs to be addressed.

By helping to eliminate the traditional combustible cigarette, they focus on helping reduce the amount of fires that plague our national forests, and even our own communities. “In one year alone, 900 people were killed, and 2,500 people were injured just because of fires started from cigarettes. If that wasn’t enough, the toll of human and property damage in these fires totaled 6 billion dollars. All of this simply because of reckless and careless smoking.” Stated GEO CEO Adrian Chiaramonte. This is one of the main reasons that GEO wanted to help.
In an effort to help support this worthy cause, GEO will be donating 5 percent of online sales to a local wildfire organization during National Fire Prevention Week. With this donation, the hope is that everyone will learn about the dangers of wildfires, and how preventing them can benefit us all.

GEO recently emerged as one of the leading environmentally friendly rechargeable e-cigarettes in the industry, and is creating a solution to the problems of the smoking industry though its GEO recyclable e-cig products.

Many people do not realize the environmental toll that it takes just to produce cigarettes, or the total damage that is done by improperly discarding the cigarette waste.

By helping people realize that small actions can make a big impact on our planet, we can help people live a bit more responsibly. This in turn helps everyone live in a place that is a bit greener, cleaner, and more sustainable.




Solving Alaska’s Chinook Decline



Laine Welch, one of Alaska’s go-to reporters for fish-related news, weighed in on the concern about Alaska’s struggling Chinook salmon population. 


From Welch’s report in the Anchorage Daily News/Alaska Dispatch:

“It’s not the freshwater production of the juvenile Chinook that is the reason this decline is occurring; it’s being driven by poor marine survival,” said Ed Jones, the lead for the initiative and sport fish coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

 “We don’t know why but once these juvenile Chinook salmon are entering the ocean they are not surviving at the rates they once did,” Jones added.“And at the same, we also are seeing younger and smaller Chinook returning to spawn, and this obviously results in smaller fish being caught.”

 At each river system, the Chinook team is estimating how many young fish are going to the ocean, refining estimates of how many older fish are returning to spawn, and tracking the marine catches.

 “That’s an effort to estimate the harvests of these 12 indicator stocks in detail,” he explained. “So we’re going to implement tagging programs on the juveniles, and as they go out to the ocean they’ll be marked with an adipose fin clip. We also will include a tiny coded wire tag in their heads, and those will be sent to the Juneau lab where we can tell when and where those fish were released.With those three components we can do full stock reconstruction.”

Jones said his primary focus is on the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers because of the importance of Chinook salmon to subsistence users.

“A major part of this initiative is to make sure we can help those folks fish when there’s fish around and pull the reins back when they are not around. But we need to gather the information that allows us to do that accurately each and every year. We are trying to learn from the users and gather information on historical harvests, what the people know and what they’ve learned for centuries. We’ll feed that information into our stock assessment program,” he said.

Chinook salmon spend up to five years in the ocean, and production goes through up and down cycles. A few years ago, West Coast and British Columbia stocks were said to be doomed, but they have rebounded and are at record numbers in some cases. Jones believes that’s what will also occur in Alaska.

“The take-home message is that productivity cycles, and unfortunately in Alaska right now, we are at the low end of that cycle,” he said. “We are experiencing a tough time right now, but it will turn around so don’t lose hope.”

Teen’s 335-pound Halibut Holds Up To Win Derby




The youngster beat out the old fishing veterans. Recently, Idaho teenager Jackson Hobbs, 16, took the lead in the Homer Halibut Jackpot Derby with a 335-pounder.

Hobbs, who was visiting Alaska from his Idaho home, had his big fish hold up to win the derby and its $10,000 prize, plus a bonus for total tickets sold that should as much as double that base award.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

Hobbs had reason to be nervous. He said his grandfather, Tim, had already called a couple times before Tuesday to jokingly tell him someone had caught a bigger fish.

 “He’s kind of a joker,” said Hobbs, who lives in Franklin, Idaho.

 The derby officially ended Monday night at 9 p.m. For catching the largest halibut, Hobbs will win $10,000 plus 50 cents for each derby ticket sold, according to Jim Lavrakas with the Homer Chamber of Commerce. The exact figure won’t be announced until Monday, when final ticket sales are calculated. However, Lavrakas said Hobbs’ haul will likely be similar to the $21,281 taken home last year by Bellevue, Washington, angler Gene Jones.

Hobbs’ big fish had to withstand a big challenge when another whopper was brought in just three days before the derby’s end. Luckily for the teen, Randall Chadwick’s barn door weighed 301 pounds – a monster flatfish to be sure, but still 34 pounds short of Hobbs’ derby winner.

“That was a scare, but I knew 335 would be tough to beat,” Lavrakas said Tuesday from Homer.

Good for you, Jackson!




New Regulations Should Make Goose Hunters Happy

Alaska geese at the Yukon National Wildlife Refuge. (MELISSA GABRIELSON/USFWS)

Alaska geese at the Yukon National Wildlife Refuge. (MELISSA GABRIELSON/USFWS)


From the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

Waterfowl Regulations for 2014 Include Good News for Goose Hunters

(Statewide) — Alaska goose hunters will be allowed larger bag limits this season, depending upon where in the state they hunt and what goose species they pursue, thanks to changes in the 2014-2015 migratory bird hunting regulations.

Canada geese (including cackling geese) and white-fronted geese – previously managed together under “dark goose” regulations – are now split into separate categories, allowing hunters to take limits of each species. For example, in the Gulf Coast Zone where dark goose limits last season were a combined four birds per day, hunters this year can harvest four Canada geese and four white-fronted geese per day.

Other changes to this year’s migratory bird hunting regulations include:

  • Increased bag limits for white-fronted geese in western Alaska’s Game Management Unit 18. Hunters there will be allowed eight whited-fronted geese per day and 24 in possession
  • Canada goose hunters in GMUs 6B, 6C, and on Hinchinbrook and Hawkins Islands in GMU 6D will not need registration permits this year. Registration permits are still needed to hunt Canada geese on Middleton Island.
  • A change to the definition of “edible meat” affects hunters who take swans, geese (including brant) and sandhill cranes. For these species, hunters must salvage the meat of the breast, legs and thighs (femur, tibiotarsus, and fibula). Salvage requirements for ducks and snipe have not changed.

Separate Canada goose and white-fronted goose regulations will allow additional harvest of white-fronted geese while maintaining traditional Canada goose hunting opportunities. Alaska hunters will benefit from this change which is primarily intended to increase the harvest of white-fronted geese in the Lower 48. The Pacific population of white-fronted geese has been increasing over the last 30 years, is well above the population objective, and has led to increased complaints of agricultural damage on wintering and staging areas.

Dusky Canada goose populations in the Copper River Delta and eastern Prince William Sound have increased from a low of 6,700 in 2009 to more than 15,000 in 2014. The three-year average population index used for management purposes is 13,700 birds. As a result, the registration permit program for Canada geese has been canceled in GMUs 6B, 6C, and on Hinchinbrook and Hawkins Islands in GMU 6D. The daily bag limit for Canada geese, including cackling geese, is four birds with possession limits of eight.

The Alaska Board of Game moved to expand the definition of “edible meat” with regard to swans, geese and cranes at the statewide meeting in March. The revision was reached in response to public proposals and testimony.

Waterfowl hunting seasons open on September 1 in many parts of the state and hard copies of the 2014-2015 Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations Summary booklet will be available soon at Alaska Department of Fish and Game offices and outdoor sports retailers. The new regulations are currently available online at:

Licenses and Alaska state duck stamps can be purchased online at: .

Diving With Emily Riedel of Bering Sea Gold



Discovery Channel’s hit show Bering Sea Gold has seen gold dredger Emily Riedel endure lots of difficulties when it comes to diving.

In this sneak peak of the upcoming Bering Sea Gold: Under The Ice episode (Friday at 9 p.m. on Discovery), The Champagne Kiss-Off, Emily will once again get a chance to conquer her demons in the water:

Here’s the transcript of my interview with Emily from our February issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

CHRIS COCOLES When you were younger, maybe dreaming of being an opera star, could you ever have possibly believed you’d someday be a star of a popular television show dredging for gold? How in the world did this happen?
EMILY RIEDEL [Laughs] Not even a little bit, even remotely close. The person who convinced me to come to Nome, Zeke, I remember hearing he was in Nome dredging for gold. And I was at school at the time. And I thought ‘Wow! That’s completely insane.’ But I went up there after I graduated (from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts). I wanted to put together some funds to go to graduate school abroad. And honestly I had no idea. I was at the airport and got this phone call. ‘The Discovery Channel is wanting to come and talk to people about being on a reality show about gold mining in Nome.’ And I just thought that’s never going to happen. What on earth?
And it’s so funny because, growing up in Alaska and seeing so many reality TV shows coming out of it, I was kind of judgmental about that. I had that Alaskan snobbery a little bit about reality television. But I couldn’t even dream of (being on a show).

CC Did you have any experiences or interest growing up around the gold dredging industry? Did your dad do any of that?
ER My dad was as new to this as I was. I was apathetic to gold. I knew that it was interesting and knew that it was pretty. I just never imagined I’d develop the relationship with it that I did. It was a love cultivated from mining it and love cultivated from the search for it. But before that I was pretty indifferent. But I know that a lot of people went up to Alaska and died for it.

CC So I would guess your first love was always singing and performing?
ER Yes. My mom was an incredible singer and performer, and in Homer, where I grew up, there was an incredible hub for the arts, and there were opportunities I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been in Alaska. And it remains a very powerful passion, of course.

CC Did you do a lot of fishing or hunting like so many other Alaskans?
ER Sure. It’s such a big part of peoples’ lives who live in Alaska. I kind of had hippie parents and I did a lot of fishing, thank God. I know my way around a salmon actually with no problem. I didn’t do a lot of hunting. But fishing? Yes.

CC Skipping ahead a little b it during your time on BERING SEA GOLD, were you apprehensive about purchasing your own dredge and captaining it in such a male-driven industry?
ER The point where I decided to move on and have my own dredge, I really wanted to do my own thing. I worked with a couple people but it didn’t work out. But I ventured onto my own, it was really because I had no other choice. The only way it was going to work out if I did my own thing. But I really wasn’t thinking about ‘Oh, I’m a woman, and I’m going to try to be the only female captain.’ But this was the task that was before me. It’s an enormous task and I need to make it work. Otherwise, I can’t keep coming back here. I’m very honest with myself and with my skills and abilities. I knew I wasn’t an engineer, I’m not a mechanical genius. But I’m loving this career; I love the premise of gold mining and the entrepreneurial aspect; the fact that it implies so much freedom to harvest your own money off the ocean floor. That’s highly moving to me.
But my modus operandi was I need to make to make this work. I think I can make this work. If this is going to happen, it’s going to me that’s making this happen. It was never a case of ‘Oh sh*t, I’m intimidated by this.’ This needs to happen, and I need to do it.

CC So it has to make you feel pretty good that you’re doing it now with, do you think, some success so far?
ER In the previous season, you had the feeling that ‘Well, that didn’t go well again.’ And I think it was a feeling of that would have made decent TV off of failing of trying to be a successful gold miner. And that was obviously a huge missing part of my experience up there. But without giving away too many spoilers, I can say that (this season) I was able to walk away in a different spirit than what I had before, once you’re able to make some progress in gold mining. It was mostly orchestrated by me going on by myself and finding a good crew. My spirits about gold mining changed completely.

CC Is too far off base for me to suggest opera singing has always been a passion for you, but dredging for gold is more an obsession?
ER [Laughs] I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about it that way: the passion vs. the obsession. I think for opera I have nothing but respect for the profession. It’s a very difficult thing. I went through four years of schooling to train my voice, and I have a lot more training to accomplish. Opera is something that I knew was decent, and I knew that I could become more decent. Gold mining, you don’t know if you’re EVER going to have a payday. You don’t know if you’re going to hit the honey hole, or if you’re going to just continue wandering over the Bering Sea wishing that you can find gold. I guess it is an obsession, with the possibility of both failure success. Both are these living possibilities that you have to fight with every day.
Sometimes you have success and it’s great, and then you go two weeks and see nothing. And there are the highs and the lows and the endorphin rushes that you get. Gold is just a fickle mistress. I’m married to opera, and gold is my mistress. And the mistress is always kind of more enticing.

CC But if you had your choice right now, maybe you’d rather be singing in a warm opera house somewhere? Because I’ve watched clips of your singing and you have a beautiful voice. But then there’s the allure of doing your thing and looking for gold. Are both of those an equal rush?
ER For me, singing is purely pleasurable and joyful. But I’ll level with you: I almost quit the show before last mining season. The summer season was such a disaster; we lost a good friend (castmate and dredge deckhand John Bunce committed suicide) and everything kind of fell apart. I was trying to be honest with myself and thinking I’m not cut out for this and was thinking about walking away and putting all my attention into opera. And I went back for ice hunting (she appeared on the winter-themed spinoff, BERING SEA GOLD: UNDER THE ICE) and all of the challenges opened up for me again: How hard it is, the problems you have to overcome, and I couldn’t quit. I cannot leave until I have so much gold it’s disgusting [laughs]. The challenges never stop. So I guess I’m addicted to it. A lot of perfectly normal people want to go to Nome and go gold mining. It just messes with your head and you become this crazy person. You see a little bit of it and you need more; it’s like heroin.

CC Are there days when you are freezing in Nome, Alaska and think, ‘I just want to go somewhere warm?’
ER [Laughs with a pause] The short answer is yes. You’re almost schizophrenic to all the phases that you go through every day when you’re in Nome. There are moments when you’re triumphant and think,
‘I’m never going to stop doing this; I’m going to be a gold miner until the very end.’ But there are other days when you want to find a beach. There are always fluctuating emotions.

CC I hope this doesn’t sound too much like a job interview question, but where does Emily Riedel see herself in 10 years?
ER [Laughs] I think about that a lot. I still want to have a career in opera, and I’ve spent three birthdays in Nome. I’ve been single for three years and I’ll probably be single for another three years. It’s Nome. But what I want out of Nome, is to (find) a lot of gold in the next couple of years and beyond. I want to have a singing career. What I want in 10 years is to be content. If those things have to happen to be it, then so be it.

CC I’m sure everyone asks you about your relationship with Zeke and to reminisce about it. But I’d be curious to know how your life has changed for the better or for the worse because of all that.
ER I can say with absolute confidence that my life has changed for the better now that Zeke is no longer in it. However, it’s a tragedy because I’m estranged from him and his entire family. And our families have been friends for our entire lives. My dad and his dad were friends in high school. And now there’s a very broken relationship that will never be recovered. And it’s unfortunate. But that’s the way it is.

CC You spent some time living in a tiny and cold, waterfront shack in Nome. Tell us some good and bad memories of that experience.
ER [Laughs] I’m so fond of it. That will always remain dear to me. One of the best memories for me is when I settled in there and started a fire. I’m in this wooden shack, and I looked out onto the ocean and it was just me, alone on a beach in Nome surrounded by tundra. Any Alaskan knows that feeling. I can’t even explain it. And, of course, the worst memory is probably waking up with frost on my blankets. Then it was kind of like ‘Oh crap, I wish I could be warm right now.’

Casting And Blasting The Interior

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Note: The following story appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal
By Dennis Musgraves
Alaska announces a “last call” for migrating salmon every season near summer’s end. Inevitably, the fish stop entering fresh water. It’s annoying for many sport fishermen, including this self-diagnosed fishaholic.
I am among a group of relentless anglers who pursue salmon until the unwelcome finale, and September normally marks my last chance to break out my rod and reel. As nature’s clock ticks down to closing time I begin thinking about additional outdoor activities to help fill the impending void.
Developing a condition which I refer to as “bird brain” during this transitional period is not uncommon. The seasonal changes and dwindling opportunities chasing wild salmon invoke a desire in me to experience adventures found in Alaska with upland bird hunting.
The thrill of flushing grouse and the challenge of shooting them in flight are compulsive and consuming. Aside from plotting dates for a final bent rod with a salmon, I simply can’t keep my thoughts away from wingshooting in the fall.
Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Casting and blasting 
Fortunately, a window of opportunity exists between September and October, when Interior Alaska outdoorsmen can find good bird hunting and salmon fishing in the day. Unlike hunting for big game, I can accomplish a grouse hunt in a few hours, harvest a meal, and have the enjoyment of being in the outdoors with a shooting sport. Such a combo satisfies both outdoor afflictions in a simple day trip. A special “cast and blast” trip is achieved for me and a good friend, Jeff Beyer.
Small game hunting opportunities in Alaska are plentiful. Nearly every region has good populations of upland bird species, which include three species of ptarmigan and four types of grouse.
Sharp-tailed grouse are exclusively found in the central portion of the state, specifically in the interior valleys and foothills of Alaska’s Game Management Unit (GMU) 20. Sharp-tails thrive in the vicinity of Delta Junction because of an ideal supporting habitat.
Grouse options 
The grouse are medium- to large-size birds with an almost chicken-like appearance. Spotted colors of brown and white cover their feathers. Their distinct short-pointed tail feathers allow for an easy identification in the field. Male birds display bright yellow-colored, eyebrow-like bands (called combs) above each eye.
The pointy-tailed game birds can be found in low-lying areas of muskeg, brushlands and near shrub-spruce treelines located along the Richardson Highway and Alaska Highway. Sharpies will also favorite recently burned out areas and agricultural plots. The agricultural areas located east of Delta Junction host plentiful numbers of birds, but most of the area is private property.
My approach to hunting these tasty game birds is not complex. Public hunting areas in GMU 20D can be accessed by several unimproved roads and trails that lead off from the highways. I normally trailer my ATV so I can ride farther away from the road before stalking the dirt trails, low grass-brush line or wood line, trying to flush or spot birds perched directly atop spruce trees.
The fertile grouse hunting grounds are in close proximity to Delta Clearwater River. A short drive of less than 15 miles from either highway system allows easy access to the state recreational site and boat launch. The distance is perfect for a combo hunting and fishing trip during the short fall season.
Coho final run                
Delta Clearwater River happens to host the largest congregation of returning coho, or silver, salmon from the Yukon River drainage. Coho begin entering the DCW in September, which coincides with the sharp-tails presence in the area brushlands. The fish have traveled over 1,000 miles from the ocean up the mighty Yukon River and through the silt-laden Tanana River before reaching the final tributary. The salmon are no longer mint bright silver. Their sides are now colored a vibrant brick red and male fish display large pronounced black kypes.
Although these salmon do not have the typical appearance of saltwater-caught table fare, fish are often harvested by locals. Since the flesh is firm and acceptable for consumption, it’s not uncommon to see a limit on a stringer near the campground. Current fishing regulations allow anglers to retain three coho per day from Delta Clearwater.
Coho fishing on this river system is normally a catch-and-release event for me (although I have harvested fish in the past for a meal on the grill or so I can put a wood smoker to them). Some anglers may thumb their nose at the outward appearance; however, I am no salmon snob. I find the Clearwater coho taste just fine and actually hold a certain majestic look in their spawning phase coloration.
The blushed salmon can be caught using a 6-7 weight fly rod by drifting streamers and leech patterns in the current close to the bottom. The fishery provides an excellent amount of action for anglers at varying skill levels. Having a boat will enable anglers to find deep holes that hold large groups of salmon. But access by boat is not required in order to achieve success; casting from the riverbank or wading in the current near the state campground will also produce hookups with passing fish.
Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Combining two loves 
The idea of a “blast and cast” was co-conspired between Jeff and me a couple years ago. We found ourselves in a dilemma over planning a quick one-day outing, which had to be relatively close to our homes in the Tanana Valley. Deliberations seemed to be in a deadlock with Jeff wanting to get his jet boat wet for coho and my ideas leaning towards feeling the recoil of a shotgun on a sharp-tail shoot. Our discussion was inclusive, and did not take long for an obvious question to arise. “Why not do both?” we concluded. Merging both events would be doubling the fun. So it was decided to make a go for feathers and fish in one day.
We planned on dividing the day equally to allow appropriate time for each activity. Bird hunting would be first, in the early morning when sharp-tails seem to be most active. Setting a four-hour cutoff time for bird hunting ensured good time management and allowed sufficient amount of remaining sunlight in the day to make the switch for fly fishing coho during the late afternoon.
I prefer to carry a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, using 2¾-inch shells in a number 6 shot count. Choosing a firearm for grouse hunting varies between hunters and is a personal choice.
Most use lighter shotguns in 20 or 28 gauges. Some grouse hunters choose to target the grouse with a .22-caliber rifle since it helps prevent numerous pellets in the meat and allows for increased precision while making a distant shot.
Locating game birds is not difficult if they are present. Most of the time you can find them perched like a Christmas tree ornament on the top of spruce trees, or in a small covey just shy of a tall grass line along a dirt trail. Unlike their close relatives, docile spruce grouse, the birds spook quickly and flush easily when within range of a good shot.
Last year Jeff and I were able to kick up several large coveys of birds, harvesting a total of five between us in fewer than three hours of hunting.
Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Photo by Dennis Musgraves

Onto the salmon 
The intermission between acts is short. Moving down the road and dropping a boat into the Clearwater takes only minutes. The fishing is neither technical nor difficult. Catching coho has an almost consistent predictable conclusion in September. Locating groups of bold red-colored salmon swimming in the clear-running river can be done with little effort. It’s not the challenge of finding and catching the fish that draws me; it’s the ability to catch oodles of fish.
Fly fishermen will find fish very responsive, almost automatic with any type of bright-colored streamer. I prefer drifting a purple Egg-sucking Leech close to the river bottom. Fishermen casting hardware will find large spinners also work very well using a slow-and-low retrieve method. In addition, resident Arctic grayling are among the salmon and found in good numbers.
During peak timing of the salmon run, catching and releasing a dozen fish in one hour is representative for most anglers.
Fishing typically ends because of dropping daytime temperatures and  diminishing light. It’s cold enough on some days is to lock up fishing reels and smother line guides with ice. Moisture dripping off the fly line or fishing line from repeated casting accumulates quickly and hardens like concrete. The frustrating frozen water in the line guides prevents casting and requires constant cleaning to keep the spaces open to allow fishing line to pass through.
But at the end of the day, the pesky cold is easily overlooked in the entire scheme of a completed blast-and-cast outing. The productive salmon waters and generous numbers of grouse found in this game management unit keep me coming back for the combo event every season.
The experience leaves me satisfied yet exhausted at the end of a day, providing a short-term escape and temporary relief to my outdoor addiction urges. Even better is the opportunity for friends to share time in the field and on an open river once more before the harsh winter arrives.
I also really appreciate tasty bacon-wrapped sharp-tail grouse breast fresh off the grill.  ASJ
Editor’s note: Author Dennis Musgraves sportfishes all over Alaska 100-plus days of the year and is a member of the “Alaskan Salmon Slayers.” Read more about them at