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Coho Fishing 101 In Alaska

The following press release and and videos are courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish, recently produced two educational videos, How to Fish for Delta Clearwater River Coho Salmon and Slip Bobber Fishing for Coho Salmon.

These informative videos explore two different techniques for fishing coho (silver) salmon. How to Fish for Delta Clearwater River Coho Salmon shows the use of single-hook artificial lure or fly and was filmed on the Delta Clearwater River near Delta Junction. Slip Bobber Fishing for Coho Salmon outlines the use of a slip bobber and was filmed on Campbell Creek in Anchorage.

The videos will most benefit those who have never, or rarely, gone fishing for coho salmon, however, seasoned anglers may also learn a new trick or two.

Get started on becoming a coho salmon angler today by watching the videos at:

Slip Bobber Fishing for Coho Salmon www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX1UCQx9bJE&t=7s

How to Fish for Delta Clearwater River Coho Salmon:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX1UCQx9bJE&t=7s

 

 

Vancouver, B.C. Angler Wins Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby

Ashley Camp’s Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby-winning fish, a 221.4-pounder. (Homer Chamber of Commerce)

The following press release is courtesy of the Homer Chamber of Commerce: 

Saturday the 33rd Annual Jackpot Halibut Derby came to a close, the winning fish was caught by Ashley Camp from Vancouver, British Columbia, with a 221.4 pound and 76-inch halibut.  The fish was caught with Midnight Sun Charters and Captain Brian Nollar on the Belle Ile.

Prizes for the Jackpot Fish, Released Fish, Kids Prize, Captains’ Prize, Top Seller and Just for the Halibut will be drawn on Thursday, September 20th at 3pm.  The prize ceremony will be live streamed on Facebook (@jackpothalibutderby).

U.S./Canada Come To Terms On Salmon Harvest Agreement

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

The Pacific Salmon Commission has announced the conclusion of negotiations between the United States and Canada on the Pacific Salmon Treaty, resulting in a new 10-year harvest agreement.

A diverse group of 59 Alaskans spent more than three years negotiating for the best deal possible for Alaska while ensuring conservation and sustainable access to our valuable shared North Pacific salmon fisheries.

Under the agreement, every participating jurisdiction accepted a reduction in the number of fish that can be harvested, unlike recent treaties in which Alaska bore the majority of the burden. Alaska sustains a 7.5 percent reduction, compared to a 12.5 percent reduction for Canada, and reductions ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent for Oregon and Washington.

“I regret the reduction of even one salmon available to Alaskans for harvest. However, this treaty agreement protects the health and sustainability of our salmon stocks and guarantees Alaska’s ability to directly manage our fisheries without federal interference,” Governor Bill Walker said. “I met with fishing groups that opposed this treaty and carried their message back to D C in a meeting with the Secretary of Commerce to explore the option of a one-year delay. That did not prove feasible. I realize some fishery groups are unhappy with this outcome, but I commend Commissioner Swanton and his team of industry and fishery negotiators for their tireless effort to get the best deal possible for Alaska.”

“For the first time since the Treaty was originally negotiated in 1985, Alaska’s diverse treaty team unanimously approved the final deal,” Pacific Salmon Commissioner Charles Swanton said. “It speaks volumes that salmon subsistence users, seafood industry leaders, commercial fishermen, and recreational representatives all ended up endorsing this deal.”

As a result of these negotiations, when abundance increases, harvests will increase proportionally. New accountability provisions advocated by the Alaska treaty team enact limits on the number of fish available for harvest relative to how many salmon return that year: this “Calendar Year Exploitation Rates” approach improves upon previous standards and will lead to more accountability for all parties.

Slight Decrease In Alaska Duck Breeding As 2018 Season Nears

Yukon-Delta National Wildlife Refuge ducks photo by Melissa Gabrielson/USFWS

Ducks Unlimited released its 2018 waterfowl forecast Friday morning, and Alaskan duck numbers have been on a bit of a downswing. Here’s a snippet of the report:

Farther north, in the Western Boreal Forest of northern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories, the abundance of breeding ducks was down 13 percent from last year’s estimate but remained 33 percent above the long-term average. In Alaska and the Yukon, breeding ducks decreased 15 percent and were 9 percent below the long-term average.

DU Canada biologist Jamie Kenyon reports that wetland conditions were generally favorable for breeding waterfowl across much of the Western Boreal Forest.  “After a dry spring, it was very wet in the northern prairie provinces and southern territories, with up to double the average summer precipitation. The Northwest Territories had record-breaking rainfall in June, resulting in full ponds and fast-flowing rivers. Ponds in the Yukon are full too, and many broods of a variety of species have been observed,” Kenyon says. …

According to the USFWS, spring weather and habitat conditions were mixed for Pacific Flyway goose populations. An early spring thaw in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and southwest Alaska provided favorable conditions for breeding cackling geese, white-fronted geese, emperor geese, and Pacific brant, while a delayed spring thaw in northern Alaska and the western Canadian Arctic may have negatively impacted breeding success among lesser snow geese, Ross’s geese, and other species in those areas. 

Most duck seasons in Alaska either have just started or will soon be open. Check out the Alaska Department of Fish and Game waterfowl regulations guide for more specific information.

Prince William Sound Sport, Subsistence Shrimp Season Will Close On Sept. 15

Photo by Scott Haugen.

 

(Anchorage) – The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) would like to remind anglers the 2018 Prince William Sound sport and subsistence shrimp season closes by regulation at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, September 15, 2018.

All Prince William Sound shrimp permits must be returned no later than October 15, 2018. Reporting is mandatory whether an angler used the permit or not. The prompt return of all permits is necessary to manage this popular fishery. Online harvest reporting is preferred. However, shrimp permits can be folded and put in an envelope and mailed, or personally delivered to the ADF&G Anchorage office, if permit holders are unable to enter harvest data online.

If you have questions regarding the Prince William Sound shrimp fishery, please contact Jay Baumer at (907) 267-2265 or Brittany Blain at (907) 267-2186 in Anchorage. For additional information, please contact the Sport Fish Information Center at (907) 267-2218.

EPA Awards Emissions Funding For Alaska Tribal Conference

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: 

(Seattle – September 12, 2018) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $1.6 million to three Northwest and Alaska tribal entities to reduce harmful diesel air emissions by replacing older diesel engines and generators. In Washington, the Lummi and Tulalip Tribes will receive funds, and in Alaska, the Tanana Chiefs Conference will receive funds.

“Clean diesel technologies not only improve air quality in Indian Country, but advance innovation and support jobs,” said Chris Hladick, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. “These projects will significantly reduce harmful emissions and protect public health in tribal communities.”

Project information and local contacts:

Tanana Chiefs Conference – EPA award of $497,354, with total project cost of $748,812 –  Replacement of seven stationary diesel generators in two Alaskan Villages; three generators in Beaver Village and four generators in Stevens Village.  Contact: Dave Messier, Project Manager 907-452-8251 x- 3479

Lummi Tribe – EPA award of $781,909, with total project cost of $1,064,030 – Marine Engine Replacement Project – Marine Engine Replacement Project on 11 diesel engines, on 11 marine fishing vessels used for salmon, halibut, crab, and shrimp fishing throughout the year. Contact: Sean Lawrence, Project Manager – 360-312-2158

Tulalip Tribe – EPA award of $392,100, with total project cost of $537,945 – Marine Engine Replacement Project of eight diesel engines on eight marine fishing vessels used for gillnet and shellfish fisheries throughout the year. Contact: Jason Gobin, Project Manager 360-716-4596.

EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act helps reduce harmful emissions by funding engine replacements and promoting idle reduction and retrofit technologies to clean up a variety of older diesel engines. DERA projects reduce emissions and lower exposure risk to diesel combustion byproducts such as unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

DERA grants are administered by EPA’s West Coast Collaborative, a clean air public-private partnership comprised of EPA’s Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest Regions. Nationwide since 2008, the DERA program has awarded funds to over 690, including 26 tribal projects. Many of these projects fund cleaner diesel engines that operate in economically disadvantaged communities where residents suffer from higher-than-average instances of asthma, heart and lung disease.

#  #  #

For more about EPA’s Tribal DERA program: https://www.epa.gov/cleandiesel/clean-diesel-tribal-grants

 

Alaska Duck Hunters Find Woolly Mammoth Tusk

You never know what you might find while on a hunt. Case in point: The duck hunters who found a giant woolly mammoth tusk. The Anchorage Daily News has some details:

Justin Schultze and a cousin were duck hunting near the Northwest Alaska village of Shishmaref when a log sticking from a cliff caught his eye.

Except it wasn’t a log.

“It was shiny,” he said.

So he and a friend started digging through the clay-like soil with their hands, and kept digging, for half an hour until they could yank it from the earth.

They’d discovered a full woolly mammoth tusk, as big as a tree branch, arcing gracefully like a giant letter C. They later weighed it on a meat scale, at 177 pounds, it’s length measuring 12 feet.

That’s quite the discovery, guys!

Congrats To The Young Winner Of The Valdez Silver Derby

I’ve been on vacation so apologies for not posting this sooner, but congratulations are in order for 8-year-old wunderkind Axsel Hutchinson for his win in the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby. 

Here’s the release from Valdez Fish Derbies: 

VALDEZ, Alaska – Just one day after catching a 17.28 pound silver salmon in Valdez, Aksel Hutchinson was thinking about what he would do with $10,000. Hutchinson knew the 1st place prize was $10,000 and he had big plans if he stayed in the lead. He said he would buy a fishing reel, tickets to Texas and California as well as a hunting scope. This past Sunday, Hutchinson’s dream of winning came true when the derby ended and his fish remained #1 on the leaderboard.

In an interview this Monday, Aksel had revised his plans for the money to include buying a motorhome, a laser sight dart gun, ATV and possibly a kayak. Whether his money holds out to do all those things is yet to be determined, but it is pretty much a guarantee that Hutchinson is going to keep on fishing. When he talks about fishing he lights up and becomes very animated. “It’s just getting away from all the excitement and loudness and everything. That’s what fishing is all about” Hutchinson said.

 

Daniel Schneider of Anchorage took 2nd place in the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby with the 16.64 pound silver salmon he caught August 4th aboard the Sea Duck. Schneider’s 2nd place finish netted him $3,000. Leslie West of Provo, Utah reeled in a 16.48 pound silver salmon on August 11th to win the Women’s Silver Salmon Derby and held onto 3rd place. West’s 3rd place finish earned her a $1,500 cash prize. The final Big Prize Friday was won by Brett Adair of Rosehill, Kansas who reeled in a 14.32 pound silver salmon on August 31st from shore.

Patricia Johnson had never been halibut fishing before coming to Valdez but even after winning the $10,000 1st place prize in the Valdez Halibut Derby she knew she was coming back. “I’m going to be an angler now”, said Johnson. “This was totally exciting. I will be back here to fish”.

 

Patricia Johnson’s winning Halibut was caught aboard the Harvester and the Captain of that boat, Buddy Scott of Fairbanks, won the $500 Captains prize and also the ticket seller’s prize of $500. In the Silver Salmon Derby, it was Dave Towne that won the Captains Prize. The seller of the winning Silver Salmon Derby ticket was Greg Kern of Fish Central. He won a $500 ticket sellers prize.

In the Valdez Fish Derbies, everyone who purchases a daily ticket is entered to win $5,000 cash at the end of the season. Those purchasing season tickets have five entries in the $5,000 drawing. At the end of the season, all the entries are put into a barrel and a winning ticket is chosen. This year Kylie Bouchet of Wasilla was the winner. Next year’s dates, as well as pictures and information about the 2017 winners, can be found atwww.valdezfishderbies.com.

Halibut Derby – Overall Leaders

1st        Patricia Johnson          Clovis, CA                  285.8 lbs.         July 26 Harvester
2nd        Doug Cranor               Valdez, AK                 239.0 lbs.         June 23            Redhead
3rd        Russell Young             Fairbanks, AK              226.0 lbs.        June 23            Dan Orion

Silver Derby – Overall Leaders

1st        Aksel Hutchinson       Valdez, AK                 17.28 lbs.        Aug 11            Amanda Rose
2nd        Daniel Schneider         Anchorage, AK           16.64 lbs.         Aug 4              Sea Duck
3rd        Leslie West                 Provo, UT                  16.48 lbs.         Aug 11            Sea Duck

For more information on the Valdez Derbies, visit: www.valdezfishderbies.com

Are Abundant Pink Salmon Hampering Other Fish, Seabirds?

Photos by Katrina Mueller/USFWS (above; pink salmon and Dr. Greg Ruggerone (below; sockeye salmon) 

 

The following appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal: 

BY CHRIS COCOLES 

Though the smallest of salmon species, pinks appear to be taking an outsized bite of the available forage in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, and that’s affecting more prized stocks – even seabirds – according to a building body of research. 

Some experts have concluded that the huge numbers of humpies in the saltwater – as many as 500 million to 600 million in some recent odd years – are impacting both the survival and growth rate of sockeye returning to Bristol Bay, the world’s last great untouched salmon habitat. 

“Over the years we’ve published a lot of studies on this, especially the relationship between pink salmon and sockeye salmon,” says Seattle-based biologist Dr. Greg Ruggerone of Natural Resources Consultants (nrccorp.com). Ruggerone has been studying Alaskan waters for just about 40 years, working for the University of Washington along the way. 

“Back in 2003, we published what I think was a key paper looking at how pink salmon impact sockeye growth and we documented this in part by using the pink salmon’s biennial or alternating year pattern of abundance. You can see the pink salmon’s effect on the growth of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon scales and by analyzing the length at age of returning adult sockeye.

“We looked at annual sockeye scale growth at sea back to the 1950s and discovered a very strong alternating year pattern of growth during the sockeye’s second and third years at sea. In odd-numbered years the pinks are very, very abundant in the North Pacific and the Bering Sea, and sockeye growth is greatly reduced. And in even years it’s just the opposite: there are relatively few pink salmon (around), and the growth is much better.”  

The primary pink salmon stocks that interact with Bristol Bay sockeye are those from Russia, especially eastern Kamchatka, though sockeye have a broad distribution at sea and probably interact with other pink salmon, too.

Female pink salmon photo by Katrina Mueller/USFWS

ONE OF THE MAJOR factors in the connection between pink and sockeye salmon is their diet, which is very similar on the high seas. A key source of food is zooplankton, tiny aquatic creatures that drift along in the saltwater. Since pinks are the most prolific species of Pacific salmon – comprising nearly 70 percent of all five species in the North Pacific – it becomes a numbers game for the available food options among reds and humpies. Are pinks crowding the buffet line and grabbing all the good stuff before the sockeye can fill their plates?

“Pink salmon do not directly interfere with foraging sockeye; rather they eat the same types of food, and pink salmon are exceptionally abundant compared with sockeye,” Ruggerone says. “And pink salmon grow fast, spend only one year in the ocean, and then come back at a fairly large size.”

A 2018 publication by Sonia Batten, Ruggerone and Ivonne Ortiz provides substantial new data showing the impact of pink salmon on zooplankton abundance in the southern Bering Sea, where many Bristol Bay sockeye feed. This study provides three lines of evidence for this impact, which had been previously described in less detail by Japanese scientists 20 years ago.   

“Zooplankton are very important to both species. But as the pinks and sockeye grow, like in their second year at sea for both species, they will eat much bigger prey. If you look at the diet data that (salmon scientist) Nancy Davis collected in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, both sockeye and pinks are eating a lot of the same food – a lot of fish and squid in addition to the zooplankton as they get older,” Ruggerone says. “As sockeye and pinks get older and bigger, they’ll eat bigger prey such as fish and squid that Chinook also like to eat.”

Ruggerone thinks that the exceptionally high abundance of pink salmon and the large quantity of prey consumed by them, as reflected in their high growth rate, makes pink salmon the dominant salmon competitor in the North Pacific. 

“One way to look at that is they are growing so fast. They enter the ocean with little or no rearing in freshwater as a tiny fry,” he says. “They spend one winter and then come back the next August or so at a pretty big size. So in other words, their growth rate is probably faster than the growth rate at sea of other species of salmon.”

While pinks outnumber their Chinook and sockeye counterparts in the North Pacific, they are not only not as big but are less desirable for sport anglers and foodies who have made wild salmon such a coveted delicacy. 

So in some ways, pinks might be considered villains among their more celebrated salmonid cousins. 

One of several papers Ruggerone has co-authored in his career studying Alaskan and West Coast salmon was a 2005 entry on pinks’ places as the most dominant species in the North Pacific.

“It’s not that they’re beating up on sockeye salmon or Chinook salmon. They’re just so abundant and growing up so rapidly, they have to eat lots of food. They scarf up a lot of the food like the zooplankton,” he says. “They may be the a bit lower on the trophic food chain compared to, say, Chinook salmon, but they impact Chinook in two different ways; one being simply that pinks are feeding on zooplankton, the building block for all squid and forage fishes that Chinook like to eat. And then as the pinks get older in their second year in the ocean, we see more diet overlap with species like Chinook.”

Dr. Greg Ruggerone

ONE MAJOR QUESTION THAT biologists are continually researching is whether pinks affect not only the growth rate but the survival rate of sockeye originating from Bristol Bay and other regions. In 2015, Ruggerone teamed with Canadian biologist Brendan Connors on a paper that looked at sockeye and pink salmon interaction from the state of Washington all the way up the coast to Southeast Alaska. 

The study found that British Columbia’s Fraser River had similar patterns to what’s gone on in the Bering Sea.

“We found that the size and age of sockeye salmon has been reduced during years of high pink salmon abundance. The survival of 35 populations declined consistently with pink salmon abundance,” he says. “We also incorporated oceanographic variables such as sea surface temperature. And also, there was a delay in sockeye maturation when competing with higher abundances of pink salmon, which is what you would expect; a reduction in growth can lead to a delay in maturation of salmon.”  

Consistent with these patterns, Ruggerone and colleagues also documented how pink salmon have influenced forecast error of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon since 1968. ASJ

PINKS’ EFFECT ON MIGRATING SEABIRDS

Like his colleague Greg Ruggerone, biologist Dr. Alan Springer, research professor of marine sciences emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has done his own research on how pink salmon are affecting sea life off the Alaskan coast. Springer’s work has an ornithological twist in relation to pinks. 

“My research has been looking for an apparent effect of pink salmon on seabirds,” he says. “We have found very strong evidence that, just as with other species of salmon, pinks negatively affect aspects of the breeding biology (such as laying date, number of eggs laid, productivity) of several species of seabirds nesting in the Bering Sea,” 

Among the birds most impacted include black-legged kittiwakes, red-legged kittiwakes, tufted puffins and horned puffins. 

“We have just published a paper where we present evidence that pinks also negatively affect short-tailed shearwaters,” Springer adds. “These birds nest in Australia and Tasmania, and spend the rest of the year (their winter, our summer) primarily in the Bering Sea. Not only are the birds affected, but so too are indigenous residents there who depend upon the shearwaters for traditional lifestyles, and the very ecology of the islands where the birds nest because of the role they play in soil aeration and fertilization that affect plant communities.” CC 

 

Island Hopping For A Bull

Photos by Bixler and Krystin McClure

The following appears in the September issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY KRYSTIN AND BIXLER MCCLURE 

Abe, we aren’t going to make it,” I told the transporter I had hired for this coveted Nunivak Island muskox hunt. 

We were stuck in Bethel, and after spending the night listing to the wind whistle against the B&B we were staying in, I knew the hunt was hopeless. It was raining, snowing, foggy, and turbulent along the entire Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta.

“Well,” Abe David said after a pregnant pause, “come back in March.”

“I don’t think that Grandma wants to have our little guy for another night,” I replied. “I guess last night was pretty miserable for her.”

“Bring him,” Abe said. “My wife Mona can watch him.”

I had pretty much written the hunt off at that point as we boarded the plane back to Anchorage, despite Abe’s efforts to convince me otherwise. The hardest part of a Nunivak Island muskox hunt is simply getting there, and the cruel Alaskan weather seemed to be trying to prevent every village flight from leaving Bethel that weekend.

We returned home and I lamented my decision. I hate giving up on hunts, especially dream ones like muskox, as it takes an average of 25 years to draw a tag for the species.

But as February came to a close and March rolled around, I started to take Abe’s words to heart. The weather started to improve in Bethel and in Mekoryuk, on Nunivak.

“I think we should try again over my birthday weekend,” I told Bixler.

“What about Lynx?” he said, noting the pushback from his mom as we discussed the idea of leaving Lynx with her for a few days.

“Let’s just bring him,” I replied. “He’ll love it.”

Bixler texted Abe to avoid the delay from the bush cellphone network and Abe booked us over my birthday weekend. 

 

WE HAD HARDLY UNPACKED when we headed back to the Anchorage airport, this time with our toddler in tow. Unlike our first flight over, everything ran smoothly. Our plane was on time and the weather was pleasantly sunny in Bethel, with a fresh layer of snow.

We landed in Bethel and checked in. To our surprise, all of our tubs and gun case were immediately loaded onto a Caravan bound for Mekoryuk. Lynx enjoyed running around the tiny terminal in Bethel and making friends with kids of all ages. A little boy came up to me and jokingly asked if he could take Lynx back to his village and teach him Yupik.

We were a little late but landed in Mekoryuk, the only village on Nunivak, a volcanic island in the Bering Sea. The island is completely treeless and fresh snow covered the gentle slopes. The runway was the only feature on the landscape and appeared tiny on the vast island.

We taxied to the turnaround and a procession of people started to unload the plane and greet the passengers. Bixler, Lynx and I met Abe and Mona David, who have lived on Mekoryuk their entire lives. They immediately fell in love with Lynx and arranged for Lynx and I to catch a ride with the quiet village public safety officer while Bixler hopped on the snowmachine. 

The short drive led us to the David’s house. Abe and Mona showed us to our room and brought out toys for Lynx. Their daughter came by to drop off their grandson on her way to work and soon he and Lynx were playing with the Davids’ variety of kid’s toys.

While the two played, Abe and I talked about the hunt and where to go. As a transporter, he can’t guide me to a location, so we talked about routes around the island. 

During our discussion, Mona prepared a delicious meal. The hospitality of the Davids was wonderful and we happily enjoyed our evening in their household.

 

THE NEXT MORNING, THE fog had rolled in over Mekoryuk and Abe suggested we wait until it broke. Lynx played with David’s older grandson while we waited. Almost immediately, the sunshine rolled through the front window and Abe wasted no time in getting us going.

Bixler and I jumped on Abe’s two-seat Bearcat. I waved one last goodbye to Lynx – he started to cry – and soon we sped off from the village. We navigated the drainages and treeless hills along the deep blue Bering Sea. We stopped at one point to take a break near a cinder cone, a good vantagepoint along the expanse of Nunivak.

“This is like snowmachining on the moon,” I told Bixler. We watched foxes run around in the distance, feeding on remnants of muskox harvested by the villagers and hunters like us.

We went clear across to the south end of the island and skirted frozen sand dunes dotted with the occasional buoy washed ashore by the ferocious Bering Sea storms. I was in such awe of the landscape that I didn’t spot the muskoxen off in the distance. I felt the snowmachine lurch to a stop as Bixler spotted some muskoxen relatively nearby.

I readied my rifle and pursued the animals on foot. At first, we were positioned upwind and they ran, surprisingly fast for an animal that looks like they lumber along the tundra. 

I ran around to the downwind side and crouched down behind a tussock and inched closer on my knees, cocking my rifle and extending the bipod. The muskoxen were huddled together, their defense mechanism against predators. Immediately I identified all three as bulls and noted that I would simply shoot the first one that stepped away from the herd. 

As soon as one stepped out, I fired the shot. I saw the muskox lurch from the impact and all three began running. The one I hit faltered and reset to brace for a second shot. The second shot was perfect and the animal dropped. 

Bixler and I yelped with joy as Abe joined us from afar and we gathered for an array of pictures. The horns and horn boss were very pronounced; this was a large bull. I stood for a moment staring at this creature straight from the Ice Age as Bixler began to ready the knives for field dressing the muskox.

“Happy birthday, honey,” he said as we started to part the long hair to skin the animal. 

“Thanks!” I replied excitedly. “This is the best present ever.”

FIELD-DRESSING THE MUSKOX took longer than expected. The skin was so thick that the first shot had hardly penetrated the hide, but the second was right through the lung. Bixler and I bagged the quarters, tenderloins, backstraps, ribs, plus the odds and ends. We saved the heart and some of the bones for the locals. The skull and hide was tightly wrapped in a tarp and would go into a bag for the flight home.

We packed the entire animal on the sled trailer and then used the satellite phone to call Mona to say we were on our way. Abe explained that we would go over the middle of the island to home. We sped off up the gentle slope, running into the other two muskoxen on the way home. 

Abe stopped to show us a giant crater left over from the island’s volcanic beginnings. The sun was setting and the pure white horizon was slowly being replaced with hues of blue. We pressed onward and finally returned to Mekoryuk at about 10:30 p.m. under bright stars on a moonless night. 

Lynx was happy to see me. He had had a stellar day meeting the rest of the Davids’ grandkids and others from the village. Mona greeted me with a purple birthday cake – the only color they could find at the store – and a huge meal. We were all exhausted but happy about the successful hunt and great company.

I put Lynx to bed and Bixler and I stood outside in the cold deboning the meat to fit them into the tubs. In total, the muskox produced a little more than 350 pounds of deboned (minus the ribs) meat. The hide/skull combination weighed in at 164 pounds and had to be air freighted back to Anchorage. The bones went to local residents.

Packed and ready to go, we waited for our plane out of Mekoryuk. I tried to compare my muskox to the one on Abe’s wall, but he never really told me much about what a big muskox versus a little one was during our conversation about the hunt. 

I had told him in the beginning that I wasn’t big on trophy hunting and was happy with anything, but he insisted we should get a big one.

The plane signaled over the village VHF that it was inbound and we all were whisked to the airport. We loaded up the meat and hide onto the Caravan and said our goodbyes to the Davids, who were wondering when we would return. I went to thank Abe for his transporter services and hospitality and the last thing he said came as a surprise:

“That was a big one.” ASJ

Editor’s note: Krystin and Bixler McClure own and operate Seward Ocean Excursions, which offers boat-based adventures on the Kenai Peninsula. For more, call (907) 599-0499 or go to sewardoceanexcursions.com.

 Sidebar: IF YOU GO 

 

Congratulations! You are one of the lucky few to draw the Nunivak Island muskox tag. 

I happened to talk on the phone with a winner who had called Abe to inquire about the same hunt we made. I told him it would be expensive and daunting, but he should do it. 

The following offers some advice and lessons learned from our experience to turn a hunt of a lifetime from a headache into pure joy. I still tell people that nothing will ever top this muskox hunt; it was the best birthday present a sportswoman could want.

This hunt is expensive. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will send you a letter with your tag saying the cost is around $10,000 for a hunt with just a transporter. They are right. We spared no expense in making this hunt work for us between the refundable tickets, checked baggage, freight, taxidermy and transporter fees. Be prepared to spend a little to make this all work.

Hire a transporter. This hunt can be done unguided/untransported for residents, but ADFG (and we) highly recommend hiring a transporter. Nunivak Island is owned by a Native corporation and going unguided or transported may cause some tension among the residents of Mekoryuk. There are no hotels on Mekoryuk and coming back to a warm house and nice meal is a great way to end a hunt, not to mention getting to meet amazing people.

Get refundable plane tickets and be flexible. Winter weather in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta can be hard on flights, so make sure you build some flexibility into your schedule in case you plan on spending a few nights in Bethel or can’t get out of Mekoryuk. The only airline that flies to Mekoryuk, Ravn, is very aware of the tight schedule most muskox hunters are on and will work with you to change flights.

Know your animal! ADFG has a great slideshow on muskox identification and I encourage hunters to take a peek at it. The easiest way to identify a cow versus bull muskox is by the boss – the base of each horn. When the animals are on the move, you better be sure you can spot the bull among the cows.

Enjoy a slice of village life. We had heard that one of the biggest complaints of this hunt was the accommodations. Most of those people apparently are used to staying in five-star hunting lodges with lavish meals and all else that goes with it. 

For this hunt, you will stay with your transporter/guide, so come with an open mind, empty stomach, and enjoy the hospitality, good food and a glimpse of life in one of Alaska’s remote villages. KM