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How Bears Might React To Hunts Outside Alaska

Photo by Paul Atkins

Interesting piece in the Jackson Hole (Wyoming) News and Guide about the impact of hypothetical grizzly bear hunting in Wyoming as potential new regulations are considered in that state and others regarding potential hunting seasons for grizzlies.

Reporter Mike Koshmrl had this to say about Alaska’s bear hunting numbers compared to the Lower 48:

Biologist Rick Sinnott, who spent a career managing wildlife and overseeing grizzly hunts in Alaska, said bear behavior might change, but not overnight.

At the rate of grizzly hunting that’s likely in store for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, any change in how bears use the landscape and interact with people will likely be imperceptible, he said.

“People who are alive now shouldn’t expect to see much difference before they die,” Sinnott said.

He has seen firsthand that intensive grizzly bear hunting can influence the species’ behavior. He pointed to bruins in and around Denali National Park, where they’re protected within park boundaries but actively hunted along the periphery.

“Inside you see grizzly bears about every trip,” Sinnott said. “Sometimes you can see five or 10 on a daylong trip. On the other side you never see them. They don’t make themselves as obvious.

“They say it’s not because they’re shot at and they realize it,” he said. “They’re just not that cognizant. I think it’s more of an evolutionary thing. Hunters tend to shoot the ones that are less wary.”

Nothing bears will fear

In Alaska, hunting for grizzlies and their coastal brown bear cousins is big business. In one recent year highlighted on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website, hunters killed 1,900 of the estimated 30,000 brown bears statewide.

The number of Alaskan bruins that fell to hunter gunfire that year is therefore about equal to the entire population of grizzlies in the Lower 48. Hunting south of the border is anticipated to be much lighter. Just 17 animals out of about 700, for example, would have been available for hunting in the Yellowstone region’s core had Wyoming, Montana and Idaho pursued grizzly hunts this year.

The numbers reflect on how many brown bears are in Alaska and what a fascinating ecosystem occurs there.

Board Of Fisheries Accepting Fishing Regulations’ Proposals

Kuskokwim River photo by Cabin On The Road/Wikimedia

 

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

The Alaska Board of Fisheries (board) is issuing its 2018/2019 Call for Proposals seeking proposals for changes in the subsistence, personal use, sport, guided sport, and commercial fishing regulations for the Bristol Bay finfish, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim finfish, Alaska Peninsula-Aleutian Islands-Chignik finfish, and Statewide finfish general provisions. The board may also accept subsistence related proposals from other regions if they meet criteria identified in 5 AAC 96.916(a).

The deadline for proposals is April 10, 2018.

Proposals may be submitted online, email, mail or fax at:
Online: www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov
Email: dfg.bof.comments@alaska.gov (Adobe PDF documents only)
Mail: ADF&G, Boards Support Section
P.O. Box 115526
Juneau, AK 99811-5526
Fax: (907) 465-6094
Proposals must be received by Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at the Boards Support Section office in Juneau. Postmark is NOT sufficient for timely receipt.

The Board of Fisheries proposal form, including the online proposal form, is available at the Boards Support website, http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.forms. Proposal forms are also available at any Boards Support office. Proposals must be submitted on the current approved form. Any additional information provided with the form, such as tables, Internet web links, or charts, will not be included in the proposal book.

The completed proposal form must contain a contact telephone number and address. Email addresses are appreciated. Please print or type the individual’s or organization’s name as appropriate.

Responsive proposals received by the proposal deadline will be considered by the Board of Fisheries during the October 2018 through March 2019 meeting schedule.

Board Of Fisheries: Changes To Copper, Susitna River Fisheries

Wikimedia photo of Copper River 

 

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fisha and Game’s Board of Fisheries:

During the December 1–5 Board of Fisheries meeting in Valdez, the board considered 11 proposals that would change subsistence, personal use, or sport fishing regulations within the Upper Copper River and Upper Susitna River drainages. The board adopted four proposals that will affect fishing regulations within the Upper Copper River and Upper Susitna River drainages.

The board adopted one proposal to amend the Copper River Subsistence Salmon Fisheries Management Plan to establish, in regulation, a set season for the state subsistence fishery in the Batzulnetas Area of the Copper River that requires no annual action by the commissioner to open and close. Previously, this fishery was required to be opened annually by emergency order. The season set in regulation is identical to the one previously established annually by emergency order.

A proposal was adopted that repealed language in the Copper River Personal Use Dip Net Salmon Fishery Management Plan requiring the automatic reduction in maximum harvest level for the Chitina Subdistrict personal use dip net fishery from 100,000–150,000 salmon to 50,000 salmon, when the Copper River District commercial drift gillnet fishery is closed for 13 or more consecutive days.

The board adopted two department proposals specific to the area sport fisheries. The first simplified Gulkana River drainage regulations by replacing seasonal closures of the sockeye salmon fisheries in Paxson and Summit lakes and Gunn Creek with complete closures. The second allowed for the use of bait and treble hooks in the flowing waters of the Upper Susitna River drainage with the exception of the Tyone River drainage.

These regulations will take effect with the release of the 2018 Sport Fishing Regulations Summary. To find a preliminary summary of all board actions please check the Alaska Board of Fisheries website at:
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo.

Town Hall Meeting Discussing Pebble Mine

Photo by KTUU.

Anchorage TV station KTUU was on the scene on Wednesday when a town hall meeting in Anchorage discussed the Pebble Mine  (here’s some video too).

Here’s more from reporter Kalinda Kindle on the meeting that included opponents of the mine. The CEO of Pebble Parternship, Tom Collier, who announced a smaller-scale version of the mining plan in the fall, showed up also as an observer:

The revised plan includes shrinking the mine’s size by 56-percent and adding environmental safeguards, like eliminating the cyanide plant, according to Pebble Limited Partnership.

“It’s exactly what we have been talking about the past few weeks in terms of a smaller project and one that is much more environmentally sensitive.” Tom Collier, CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership said.

Opponents dug into what they warn are Pebble Mine’s problems.

“The material is the worst it could possibly be, the location is the greatest challenge you can come up with and the size is beyond our imagination,” Rick Halford, former Senate President said.

Halford said the mine could lead to devastating outcomes.

“You end up with powdered sulfur that is now reactive and that is what acid mine drain is based on. It dissolves all the minerals in the water column, it is very dangerous, it is proven worldwide to be a disaster for fisheries.” Halford said.

 

 

Halibut Catch Rate Expected To Drop

Photo by Bjorn Dihle

The Anchorage Daily News (the paper returned to its old name after it was known as the Alaska Dispatch News ) reports on concerning news for commercial halibut fishing in 2018. 

Here’s the ADN‘s Laine Welch:

After announcements of a massive drop in cod stocks, the industry learned last week that Pacific halibut catches are likely to drop by 20 percent next year, and the declines could continue for several years.

That could bring the coastwide catch for 2018, meaning from Oregon to British Columbia to the Bering Sea, to about 31 million pounds.

Scientists at the International Pacific Halibut Commission interim meeting in Seattle revealed that survey results showed halibut numbers were down 23 percent from last summer, and the total biomass (weight) dropped 10 percent. The surveys are done each year from May through September at nearly 1,500 stations from Oregon to the far reaches of the Bering Sea.

While the Pacific halibut catches have ticked up slightly over the past three years, indications of a fall back have been noted, said IPHC senior scientist Ian Stewart.

 The biggest drop stems from a lack of younger fish entering the halibut fishery. Stewart said the 9- to 18-year-old year classes that have been sustaining the recent halibut fishery are not being followed up by younger fish.

Study Depicts How Hypoxia Affects Fish

 

Really interesting report from the U.S. Forest Service (see the above video) on the effects of hypoxia  on fish.

Here’s the USFS with more on the condition that occurs when living creatures don’t receive proper amounts of oxygen:

You’ve probably heard of-or even seen-the massive die-offs of fish that sometimes occur in lakes and coastal areas worldwide.

But do you know what one major cause of fish die-offs is?

Hypoxia:

Extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen in water.

When water is hypoxic, the low amount of oxygen can severely damage, and even kill, hundreds to thousands of fish at once.

Fish die-offs that result from hypoxic conditions are well-documented in warm, coastal waters such as the Gulf of Mexico. But similar events can occur globally in both marine and freshwater.

For decades, scientists in southeast Alaska have observed significant die-offs of salmon in rivers before the fish were able to spawn. Some scientists suspected that hypoxia was the culprit behind these events, but it wasn’t obvious what would cause hypoxic conditions in Alaskan streams in the first place.

That’s because hypoxia is most frequently observed in warm water with lots of algae and rapidly decomposing organic matter-very different from the conditions in cold, clear, Alaskan streams where salmon spawn.

Ecologist Christopher Sergeant of the National Park Service set out to investigate if hypoxic events were to blame for salmon die-offs in Alaskan streams and, if so, what caused the hypoxia.

He teamed up with research fish biologist Ryan Bellmore of the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station, graduate student Casey McConnell of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and associate professor of aquatic ecology and conservation Jonathan Mooreof Simon Fraser University to investigate these questions.

A central focus of their study was to determine if the dense populations of salmon themselves significantly contributed to the formation of hypoxic conditions.

The researchers used dissolved oxygen probes to measure and record data in the Indian Riverand Sawmill Creek of southeastern Alaska. This resulted in a valuable, high-frequency, long-term data series on seasonal hypoxic conditions. They also measured water temperature, river flow, and did periodic visual counts of salmon.

The scientists defined the hypoxic threshold in this study as 7 mg oxygen per liter, Alaska’s minimum level of dissolved oxygen in streams with salmon. Previous studies found that salmon demonstrated poor swimming performance and delayed migration below this level.

By measuring dissolved oxygen, the scientists recorded four hypoxic events between 2010 and 2015 that lasted for very different lengths of time (1.5 hours to 37 days). Two of these events resulted in documented salmon die-offs.

River flow levels and salmon densities in southeast Alaska are both influenced by changes in climate and direct human intervention. River flows are expected to decrease in the future as climate patterns shift the balance of precipitation and snow melt. In addition, humans directly increase pressure on river ecosystems by diverting water for a variety of purposes and artificially increasing salmon spawning densities through hatchery strays.

Together, these factors point to the likelihood of more hypoxic events in the future. More hypoxic events could increase die-offs of spawning salmon and other fish in these streams, including cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden.

“Hypoxia is another mechanism by which a changing climate may influence salmon,” says PNW Research Station’s Ryan Bellmore who coauthored the study. “Additional research is needed to understand which populations may be most at risk.”

Going forward, hypoxia poses an invisible, but very real, threat to spawning salmon populations. However, the observations and results of this research provide the kind of information that fisheries managers need to properly manage salmon populations in the future.

You can read the full report here.

 

 

Nat Geo On Weighing Bristol Bay Salmon Vs. Its Copper

Exploration drill rig at the prospective site of the Pebble Mine. (ALASKA TREKKER/WIKIMEDIA)

Great story on the National Geographic website published earlier this month about the ongoing Pebble Mine salmon vs. precious minerals fight in the Bristol Bay area.

Here’s Nat Geo’s Julia Rosen (the whole read is worth your time):

Pebble does have its supporters, including Graedel. The US is currently a net importer of the minerals that would be mined at Pebble, he says. If we choose not to develop it, he says, “then I think that means we are saying that we would like those sorts of mines to be developed somewhere else, probably where the controls would be less stringent than they would be if a mine were developed in the US.” Graedel would like to see the mine opened, but with the strongest possible protections in place.

Seal is less certain. Mines are unique, he says, because “you are kind of stuck with building it wherever you find the ore deposit, and they are very rare, globally speaking.” But that often brings mines in conflict with other valuable resources, like world-class fisheries, he says. “The question is, can we have both?” At Pebble, Seal says, the answer requires carefully analyzing the environmental impacts of the mine’s proposal — and potential alternatives — which won’t be possible until Pebble formalizes its plan. “I don’t know what the right answer is at this point,” Seal says.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Resource Development Council for Alaska last month, Pebble CEO Tom Collier announced preliminary plans for what he said would be a smaller, safer mine. Collier said that the company had made numerous changes in response to concerns, including abandoning the use of cyanide to recover a portion of the gold and building a sturdier tailings dam.

Collier also announced that the mine would scale back dramatically, targeting just a fraction of the deposit. The new plan calls for a 5.4-square-mile footprint, down from an estimated 13 square miles, and requires just one of three proposed tailings facilities, limiting its impact to a single tributary of one of nine major rivers that drain into Bristol Bay. (The company has decided not to pursue dry stacking, because it would increase the mine’s footprint, according to a spokesperson.)

But the mine’s opponents remain unconvinced. According to the EPA’s 2014 assessment, which formed the basis for its restrictions, even a small mine would have significant and irreversible impacts on wetlands, rivers, and fish, says Heimer of the NRDC. And she suspects that the new plan is just a foot in the door—a first step toward exploiting the larger potential of the deposit, which Pebble’s backers continue to tout to investors.

Any day now, the EPA will announce whether or not it will lift its restrictions. Pebble will have 30 months to submit an application for a permit and begin seeking regulatory approval—but the fight won’t be over. Alaska voters are pushing a ballot initiative that would require the state department of fish and game to grant permits for any project that could affect salmon habitat. And the mine has amassed many high-profile critics over the years. Dozens of jewelers — including Tiffany and Co. — have signed a pledge not to buy gold from Pebble.

 

 

ADFG Sets Meeting To Discuss Invasive Pike In Soldotna-Area Lakes

Photo by Mike Lunde

 

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

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) invites you to attend a public meeting about a proposed project to remove invasive northern pike from a cluster of lakes in the Tote Road area south of Soldotna. The ADF&G project biologist, the area sport fishery manager, and the regional invasive species specialist will be in attendance. Informative presentations and information exploring the possibilities and past practices of removing northern pike will be provided and ADF&G staff will be present to answer questions.

Where: The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located near mile 1.0 Ski Hill Road, Soldotna, Alaska.

When: Monday, December 11, 2017, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

What: Learn details on ADF&G’s proposal to remove invasive northern pike from lakes in the Tote Road area including plans to stock wild native fish following the removal. This meeting will also provide you an opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions. Your thoughts and ideas are important and will be considered as project planning is refined. If you wish to attend this meeting but are unable to, a second meeting will be held at a later date.

For more information, please call (907) 262-9368 or contact via email Area Sport Fish Manager Brian Marston: brian.marston@alaska.gov; Assistant Area Sport Fish Manager Jason Pawluk: jason.pawluk@alaska.gov; or Tote Road Lakes Project Leader Robert Massengill robert.massengill@alaska.gov.

A Polar Bear Hunting Adventure To Remember

 

Happy Thanksgiving from Alaska Sporting Journal! It’s probably cold or wet (or both where you are this holiday). So bundle up and enjoy this tale from yesteryear on an Air Force veteran’s memory of polar bear hunting in Alaska (available in the November issue of ASJ):

BY CONRAD JUNGMANN JR. 

In March 1963, memorable and life-changing events were unfolding across the globe. Martin Luther King Jr. was campaigning in Birmingham; the Beatles were releasing their debut album; still eight months before his fateful trip to Dallas, President John F. Kennedy was peacefully meeting with Central American leaders in Costa Rica. 

In Alaska, Cold War tension nearly went “hot” several times as U.S. and Russian military planes infringed on each other’s airspace. And at headquarters for the Alaska Air Command, Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Col. George T. Boone and his hunting partner Bill were busy packing for a once-in-a-lifetime polar bear hunt.

“I had just finished my MBA at Northwestern and, at first, I did not want to go up there, but it turned out to be one of my favorite assignments,” recalls Boone, now 84, who arrived at Elmendorf in 1961 as base chief of transportation. He would eventually serve 26 years in the military.

“Hunting and fishing became our passion. Together, Bill and I bought a Stinson aircraft with a 190-horsepower engine to give us access to good hunting and fishing areas. We hunted moose, bear, sheep, caribou and goats. Hunting polar bear was something we always talked about doing,” he says.

But there is nothing easy about hunting the Arctic giants – or at least was up to 1972, when sport hunting was banned. Access to polar bears is greatly affected by shifting ice conditions and unpredictable, sometimes violent weather. To add to the complexity, polar bears are wanderers. Sometimes travelling in pairs – but mostly alone – they move constantly with the northern ice flows and traverse hundreds of miles at a time in a continual quest for food. 

The best time to hunt them is in the late fall and early spring, when the bears are concentrated where seals are abundant – near marginal ice edges and pressure ridges. Even though recreational hunting using aircraft was common from 1951 to 1972, very few had success on their own.

“We had been up in the Nome and Teller Mission area looking around and quickly realized that there was a lot we did not know about polar bear hunting,” Boone says with a laugh. “Everything was white as hell for as far as the eye could see, and our compass was useless that far north. To navigate, you just about always had to follow a coastline or a river. We nearly always carried two 5-gallon cans of gas – just to be sure. Our aircraft also had a built-in survival kit that could keep you going for a week or two in case of an emergency. Most people have no concept just how hostile it is up there.”

Terry Debruyne/USFWS

 

IN 1963, 20 TROPHY-HUNTING polar bear pilot and guide teams were operating in Alaska; three of them used the Teller Mission as base camp. Most airplane hunting targeted the Chukchi-Bering Sea bear population, which was shared by the United States and the then-Soviet Union, which banned polar bear hunting in 1957. Kotzebue was the major hunting hub in Alaska, but guides were also working out of Point Barrow, Point Hope, Wainwright and Teller. 

Regardless of where they started, polar bear hunters had to go a considerable distance out across the ice sheet before getting a chance at a bear. According to historic Alaska Department of Fish and Game records, average distances in miles that bears were killed from shore by airplane hunters at primary hunting bases included 118 from Kotzebue, 86 from Point Hope, 87 from Teller, and 54 from Barrow.

“After we found a guide outfit that we trusted, we flew to Nome and met him and his partner at the North Star Hotel,” remembers Boone, although he could not recall the guide’s name. “From there we flew in their two aircraft north to the Teller Mission, where the guide had rented us a couple of cabins for the night. Being in the military, I had government-issued Arctic clothing – everything from mukluks to world-class parkas – and even insulated underwear. Even with all that on I remember it was still cold – very, very cold.”

Today, as it was 55 years ago, Teller remains a remote and treeless Inupiat Eskimo village nestled on the lower spit that extends north into Port Clarence Bay on the Seward Peninsula. 

The 60 or so families that make up the permanent resident population rely on subsistence hunting and fishing to survive. Harvesting whales, walrus, seals and polar bear is something their ancestors have been doing for as far back as anyone can remember. Polar bears, or Nanuuq as they call them, are significantly important, both spiritually and culturally, to this indigenous community.

“The guide and his assistant really seemed to know their work – no fooling around, all business,” Boone recalls. “They thought we would find bears far from shore where the ice was moving, so at daybreak the next morning, I got in one of the Piper Super Cubs with the main guide and Bill got in the second aircraft with the other.”

Common procedure in those days for hunting the northern ice sheet was to use two ski-equipped light planes flying together. One would land and create a runway on the ice before radioing to the second that it was safe to touch down. 

On long flights, like some of the ones from Kotzebue to beyond the International Dateline, one aircraft would simply fly cover for the other and perhaps carry extra gasoline. More frequently, both aircraft would carry gas reserves and each would transport a guide and hunter.

“We followed the frozen coastline north because it was the only way to navigate,” Boone says. “As soon as we made it to Tin City (radar station), we veered east out over the ice sheet to search for open water. Eventually, we crossed over the Diomede Islands, and it started to look very promising for bears.”

TWENTY-FIVE MILES FROM the mainland and in the middle of the Bering Sea, the two isolated Diomede Islands symbolize the official boundary between the United States and Russia. The eastern one, Little Diomede, contains a village of about 80 people living in roughly 30 clustered dwellings on a steep hill on the western coast. 

One of the world’s largest walrus populations migrates through each spring, and its harvest is so important to the community that they have adjusted their school schedule to accommodate it. A steep grade from the shoreline rising 100 feet in elevation levels off to a flat plateau on top of the 3-square-mile hard and cold granite rock.

Two and a half miles to the west, Big Diomede marked the beginning of what was the Soviet Union and is today the Russian Federation. After World War II, the native population was forced off the island so it could accommodate a military base. That base was fully staffed when Col. Boone and his hunting party flew past it in 1963. Both islands are thought to be one of the last exposed portions of the Bering Land Bridge. Together they form the southernmost boundary of the Chukchi Sea and the beginning of good polar bear hunting.

Most guides in those days would fly 200 or 300 feet off the ground, searching for bear tracks in the snow. Once found, guides would judge whether the animal that made the track was of trophy size. If so, and if snow and light conditions were good, the track was followed until the bear was found.

“Close to some open water where the ice shelf had broken off we spotted some nice bears hunting along the open water,” says Boone. “We were a long way out and in Russian territory. My guide picked out a landing spot behind some big ice chunks about a quarter mile from the bears. It looked smooth from the air but it wasn’t. The ice was very rough under the snow. After we stopped, we stamped out a runway with our snowshoes so Bill and his guide could safely land. It was very cold work. After we were all together we started working our way towards the bears.”

 

POLAR BEARS HAVE NO natural enemies, and it’s easy to see why when considering that mature males weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds and are 8 to 10 feet in length. The largest can weigh more than 1,600 pounds. Big bears mean big appetites, and ringed seals, walrus and beluga whale are the bear’s main sources of food. 

“They’re not scared of a damn thing,” says Boone, who was about to find out from really close up. 

“The ice was pretty broken up and there were plenty of blocks 5 to 8 feet high, so it was easy to traverse through the area without being seen by the bears. After what seemed like forever, the two bears suddenly appeared about 100 yards in front of us, 20 yards apart. We got as near to them as possible and then made our shots. I took a shot with my Winchester Model 70 in .300 H&H and thought I hit him, but he came toward us rather than run away. I took a second shot and dropped him for good. Bill always used a .30-06 for everything we hunted and he and his guide kept working through the ice pack. About a half-hour later, he too got his bear. Bill got the smaller of the two bears. His was about 5 or 6 inches shorter than mine.”

The colonel grins when telling this story. His bear was just 2 inches short of 10 feet.

 

DURING THIS PERIOD, POLAR bear hunters were required to report kills to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, although many subsistence hunters did not. According to the 1963 official “estimated” harvest report, only 138 polar bears were taken from the Chukchi-Bering Sea population that year. Just 188 were harvested statewide. So this was a unique experience for Boone. 

“The guides then really went to work, with us helping. They did not mess around. They had all the necessary equipment in their backpacks – knives and saws,” Boone says. “In no time, we had the pelts removed with the skull still in place, all rolled up and back at the aircraft.”

“We had to sit on top of the bear hides on the way back to Teller. Daylight was just about gone when we got there, but our work was done. I always regretted that I had no pictures of the hunt, but the guides probably wouldn’t have messed around with cameras anyway.”

 When the hunting party arrived back in Teller, Native Alaskans removed the fat with traditional crescent-shaped ulu knives and delicately skinned the feet and mouth. 

“The Natives seemed to know what to do. They cleaned up the hides, scraped the fat off, and prepared everything for the trip back to Nome,” Boone says. “The next day we flew back and shipped the hides to Jonas Brothers Taxidermy in Anchorage to be made into museum-quality rugs.”

Today, polar bears in Alaska are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts. They’re managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the Alaska Nanuuq Commission. 

A limited subsistence harvest is still permitted, but sport hunting is prohibited. All aerial hunting has also been banned in Alaska since 1972. Today, the worldwide population of polar bear is estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000.

The days of polar bear hunting are mostly over, but for Boone, it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. 

“There is no doubt that the polar bear hunt was my greatest hunt in Alaska. I would have extended my stay for another year, but the 9.3 earthquake of 1964 put an end to that plan,” Boone says. “After that, my wife said it was time to leave Alaska.” ASJ

 Editor’s note: Conrad Jungmann Jr. was introduced to Col. Boone after he purchased the polar bear rug described in this epic hunt. A lifelong outdoorsman, adventurer and writer, he lives in the Seattle area with his wife and three children. Conrad just finished writing his first novel, Edge of Redfish Lake, a mystery-thriller set in the commercial salmon fisheries of 1980s Alaska.

Sidebar

COL. BOONE’S AIR FORCE ODYSSEY

George T. Boone began civilian flight training in April 1953 and purchased his first aircraft the same month. He received his civilian pilot’s license in October 1953. He began U.S. Air Force pilot training in September 1954 and was awarded his wings as a single-engine jet pilot in August 1955. 

His military career covered 26 years, during which time he piloted single-engine jet and reciprocating-engine aircraft, multi-engine jet and -reciprocating-engine aircraft, single-engine float and ski-equipped aircraft, plus aircraft with combinations of jet and reciprocating engines.

 In 1972 Boone was the USAF test pilot on the Boeing 747 and Douglas DC-10 experimental tanker program. Following his Air Force retirement in 1980, he managed Illini Airport and Flight Service in Urbana, Illinois. In June 1982, he became the director of Monroe County Airport and concurrently served as a pilot for Indiana University and Great West Insurance Company. 

Boone has been an active pilot for 60 years and currently owns and operates a Cessna 170B. He has logged over 6,000 hours as a civilian pilot and was an USAF Command Pilot, and in July 2013 the FAA gave him the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for over 60 years of accident-free piloting. CJ 

A Kilcher Family Thanksgiving

Whether it’s enjoying a pumpkin pie for dessert or Atz Lee preparing a wild game dish, the Kilchers of Alaska: The Last Frontier make Thanksgiving a special family holiday. (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

 

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

BY CHRIS COCOLES 

By the time Nov. 23 rolls around and we celebrate Thanksgiving, grocery stores will have been pilfered by the masses and their cavalcade of carts, coupons and checkstand lines four and five deep. 

It’s a quick process that usually means supermarket runs a day or two before the holiday, and then it’s over save for the cleanup and the multiple meals the leftovers will provide. 

But how does a homesteading family like the Kilchers of Alaska: The Last Frontier give thanks? It’s a traditional meal that’s planned and harvested months in advance. 

The Discovery Channel series usually treats viewers to a Thanksgiving-themed episode, which is held at someone’s homestead (or in one instance, at the family’s revered and hallowed “barn” originally built by patriarch Yule Kilcher).

Not surprisingly, Thanksgiving with these folks doesn’t include store-bought turkey or instant mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie. 

In an earlier season episode, the menu included food caught, grown or shot by the family, highlighted by the turkey raised by Eve and Eivin, Atz Lee’s black bear shepherd’s pie, Jane’s silver salmon dip, and a beef dish from Otto’s beloved but aging cow. 

“I think (the stories) make it really fun, and it makes everyone stop for a moment and it serves as kind of a blessing before the meal,” says Atz’s brother Otto Kilcher. “It’s about giving honor to not only to whoever cooked it but for that one critter that may have lost its life to give us our bounty. It’s really an important tradition for me.”

We chatted with Otto and his wife Charlotte Kilcher for an inside look of how the Kilchers roll on Turkey Day. 

(Discovery Channel)

Chris Cocoles Thanksgiving is important for my family and me – my dad always hosts his brothers and their families – but I get the sense that it’s sacred for the Kilchers and how much planning it takes.

Charlotte Kilcher I get what you mean. We’ll do different focuses for the (Thanksgiving episodes) each year, but really it could almost be the same. We do grow a lot if not all of our food. For us, if you’re going to have a turkey for Thanksgiving, you’re going to have to think about that in the spring. Or for your vegetable garden you have to be planting the seeds. It’s such a long-term preparation compared to if you’re just going to go to the store. You’re working through the whole year for that wonderful family meal.

Otto Kilcher Our family is so scattered, and Thanksgiving is one of the times of the year when we do get together. It is sort of a time when almost all of us are together, compared to just a few here and a few there. It’s a celebration of all the projects you’ve done … I think we just take that moment to appreciate where our food came from, and sometimes we hear some pretty crazy stories. 

CC Otto, what are some of your early memories of Thanksgiving with your mom and dad?

OK Of course, our Thanksgiving dinners growing up were in the family cabin, which isn’t allowed to be on television because of the family’s personal reasons, but the barn (next to the cabin), we lived in that barn for quite a few years. And there, also, was a place where we all could get together. The meals were more than just the usual fare. It was a time when you could eat that goose you’ve been saving all year. You’d eat that special cut of moose meat or maybe somebody got a sheep. The meat was special and usually the bread was baked special. It was the best (food you had). And boy did we look forward to that. 

CC What kind of cooks were your parents, Yule and Ruth?

OK My mom was an absolute excellent cook. She hardly ever used a recipe and did everything in her head. And really I learned about cooking from her skills. Dad was pretty much a meat, potatoes and stew guy. And later on, after Mom was gone, he was sometimes awesome and sometimes awful. He came up with some of the best and some of the worst stuff for dinner. But he loved to bake his own bread – the nettle bread. But he was one of those meat-and-potatoes cooks. 

CK He was really good (making) sourdough. 

CC Do you have a holiday dish that you prepared or harvested that brings back a Thanksgiving memory?

OK Probably for us it would be some kind of yam or potato dish because Charlotte is a vegetarian, so it wouldn’t be furry or feathered. 

CK I do eat fish, and usually at the family Thanksgivings there’s a turkey or some kind of fowl, and usually we’ll have some kind of salmon and I’ll eat that. But usually I’ll bring a vegetable dish and our Thanksgivings are always potluck. That way no one has to take the responsibility of cooking everything for that many people. 

OK If it’s our house and Charlotte cooks a big vegetable dish, I’ll save a prime rib of some old cow or some choice cut of meat. On Thanksgiving at our house, no one will ever go home hungry. 

Charlotte (left) and Otto KIlcher are looking forward to the family’s usual Thanksgiving gathering on Thursday. (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

CC And your menus run the full gamut. One year’s episode I saw Atz Lee made some shepherd’s pie from black bear and a brown bear stew. 

OK He could have that bear (laughs). I don’t really eat a lot of bear. There’s not very much that I won’t eat, but I don’t like bear. 

CC Have you eaten some moose and caribou Thanksgiving dishes also?

OK Oh, boy, there’s almost nothing better than a real succulent moose roast. That would be my choice. But for me, I don’t really feel a need to shoot a moose; I love seeing them around, so Charlotte’s rubbed off me on a little bit in that regard.

CK And we’re not really as big of hunters as others are in our family. But on our Thanksgiving table we’ll usually have other types of game besides the meat from what we get from Otto’s cattle.

CC And I saw a previous episode when Otto got very emotional after you made the decision to take the meat from one of your older cows that was with you for a long time but was near the end. What was that like for you? I got kind of choked up when I saw it. 

OK It was hard but you came to the realization that this cow would suffer (had it stayed alive through the winter), and you feel thankful and appreciative. I feel that you’ve almost done this animal a favor. It’s ironic because we’re talking about Thanksgiving. But a good way to say it is, it ain’t easy. 

CC I live in a big city and grew up in a big city, so grocery stores become a necessity to get our holiday dinners. But you must take so much pride that you can grow and harvest what you put on your Thanksgiving meal. 

CK Yes, I think that’s a very satisfying feeling that we do that year-round, but definitely when you have Thanksgiving and you’re thinking about being thankful and thinking about the food and how it got onto the table. And that adds so much to it when you’re able to have that lifestyle and be so close to the food that you’ve raised. There’s something about the experience of collecting that food. 

OK And I have to say also that we’re all so busy all year and everyone is doing his or her own thing. But a real big thing to be thankful for, our food is a symbol of people taking their time and not being too busy to come over. To some degree, Thanksgiving probably does symbolize that – hey, let’s stop and for everyone to put any little arguments aside. 

The Kilchers’ work hard mantra will pay off when they enjoy their harvesting at the table during the holidays. (DISCOVERY CHANNEL)

CC As parents, do you two and Atz and Bonnie get emotional when you see your kids and grandkids all together for the holidays?

CK Definitely. I think we’re so grateful to have our kids living nearby and our grandkids are right next door and that we can share much more than just one or two holidays. We can celebrate life with them. 

CC Is (daughter-in-law) Eve [see sidebar] the best cook in the family?

CK She probably has earned the name as the family cook. But I have to admit, there are a lot of good cooks in the family [laughs], but Eve definitely has a flair for it. She takes such pride in the ingredients that she uses and in preparing all her own food. She’s very dedicated to the homesteader life. She’s an amazing gardener.

CC Do you appreciate that so many of the Kilcher kids have embraced the homesteading way of life and choose to live near their parents?

OK Absolutely. Charlotte and I have four boys between us and we feel so blessed that we have them among us. We all like to be around each other. I know I can’t imagine a better blessing than that.

CK I’m super proud of my kids and the fact that they are living this life with us. Some of them are really dedicated homesteaders, and all of them really appreciate their roots and that they grew up this way. They could still apply that no matter where they went and the knowledge that they gained. 

CC Any sneak preview to what you’ll bringing to this year’s Thanksgiving dinner?

CK Probably a vegetable dish [laughs]. And Eivin and Eve, every year they raise two turkeys and name one of them Christmas and the other Thanksgiving. So I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a turkey from those guys. 

CC And I guess given the bounty of what’s available, the menu is always a grab bag and full of surprises. 

CK For sure, people bring stuff each year. I feel like I’m in a bit of a rut with what I bring. And I’m probably the most in the rut. But although you can’t grow yams in Alaska, I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving without yams. So I’m always the one bringing yams.  

OK You know, for me, I’m always good for a big cotton-pickin’ roast. ASJ

Editor’s note: New episodes of Alaska: The Last Frontier air on Sundays at 9 p.m. (check your local listings). For more, go to discovery.com/tv-shows/alaska-the-last-frontier. Follow on Twitter (@AlaskaTLF) and like at facebook.com/AlaskaTLF.

Sidebar: YOU’LL GO CRAZY FOR EVE’S CORNBREAD STUFFING

From the book Homestead Kitchen

Otto and Charlotte Kilcher’s daughter-in-law Eve (Alaska Sporting Journal, November 2016), married to their son Eivin, has taken her cooking skills to the publishing world with a cookbook, Homestead Cooking (available at most retail outlets, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.).

“She really knows the local plants and makes good use of all the local spices and seasonings,” Otto Kilcher says of Eve. “Especially compared to me; I’m just a meat-and-potatoes-with-salt-and-pepper kind of a guy.”

The following recipe is reprinted with permission from Homestead Cooking, published by Penguin Group LLC:

CORNBREAD STUFFING

Makes about 10 cups, enough to stuff a large turkey

3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus more for the baking dish

Four celery stalks, finely diced

Two garlic cloves, minced

Four carrots, finely diced

2 cups finely diced onion

One recipe of whole wheat cornbread (see below)

Four fresh sage leaves, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

½ cup dried sour cherries

½ cup pine nuts

1½ to 2 cups homemade vegetable or chicken stock

 Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-14-inch ceramic or glass baking dish.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the celery, garlic, carrots, and onion and cook until they are tender, about 10 minutes.

Crumble the cornbread into a very large bowl. Add the sautéed vegetable mixture, sage, thyme, rosemary, parsley, cherries, and pine nuts and mix well. Add the stock and stir together to make a moist mixture. Spread the stuffing in the prepared dish. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, stirring once after 15 minutes. 

 

WHOLE WHEAT CORNBREAD

Serves six

4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, plus more for the baking dish

? cup plus 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour

½ cup organic fine cornmeal

1 tablespoon baking powder, sifted

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup fresh, canned, or thawed frozen corn kernels

½ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

Two large eggs

½ cup sour cream

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. With butter, generously grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish or 9-inch cast-iron skillet.

In a large bowl, mix together ? cup of the whole wheat flour, the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. 

In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour and whisk until the roux begins to smell nutty and has a nice light brown color, about three minutes. Add the corn and cream. Whisk until the mixture thickens; this should take only a couple of minutes. Mix in the honey and remove from the heat. Let cool slightly.

Add the creamed corn mixture, eggs, and sour cream to the bowl with the flour and stir the ingredients well to combine without overmixing.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

RECIPE NOTES: You can also bake the bread in a loaf pan, but you’ll want to increase the baking time by 15 to 20 minutes. For a little added sweetness, a homemade honey or maple butter is the perfect topping for this cornbread. 

A word to the wise: It’s a good idea to double this recipe, because you’ll surely want to consume one loaf fresh out of the oven, leaving nothing to serve later. ASJ