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Extreme Alaska Christmas Hunting

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BY PAUL D. ATKINS
You hear a lot about extreme hunting, but really, what is it? How is it defined? Is hunting a bear more extreme than, say, hunting moose?
There are many hunting situations that could be called extreme. Whether you are crawling through the long grass somewhere in Africa (more on that next month in Alaska Sporting Journal) or braving the cold temperatures of the Arctic tundra, you have to be prepared. Sometimes the urge to hunt overpowers our senses, and we leave caution to the wind. And there are those times when you go when you probably should have stayed home. Extreme is held in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes.

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LIVING WHERE I DO – above the Arctic Circle, where hunting season literally last 365 days of the year – puts me in a lot of extreme situations. I remember a few years ago when the spring Dall sheep season for subsistence hunting opened. February in the Arctic can be brutal, with temperatures registering unbelievable readings on the thermometer and making going outside hazardous to your health.

Traveling 100 miles on a snowmachine can feel like a death march, but the urge to hunt sheep and hopefully get the chance to wrap your hands around a full-curl animal overpowers any thought of danger. Then again, it’s not exactly wise wisdom.

It was cold  – 25 below zero to be exact – the morning when we decided to go, but we were going anyway. We selectively packed our gear, secured it to our sleds and left the comforts of town. The forecast called for the temperature to climb to zero, which is very comfortable for climbing mountains in search of white sheep. However, when we reached the halfway point the temperature dropped 10 degrees.

We pushed forward anyway, finally reaching the mountains just as darkness set over the river. Frozen to the bone, we finally decided on a suitable place to set up our camp, which consisted of an Arctic Oven tent, a wood stove and two Wiggy-brand sleeping bags.

Many people wonder how you could survive in these extreme conditions, but it’s possible. It all starts with the right equipment. If you want to hunt and survive in such conditions, you must be prepared. The Arctic Oven tent, which is made by Alaska Tent and Tarp, is a true wonder in itself, working in all conditions and easy to set up. It also comes with a wood stove that fits easily inside, providing warmth even in the coldest weather. I know it did that night, given the fact that we were dressed head to toe in beaver fur and had two of the best sleeping bags known to man.

This sheep hunt was a true test of the extreme, especially when we awoke the next morning to an unbelievable temperature of 47 below! We did not want to leave the warmth of the tent but did anyway, only to find our machines frozen to the point of not starting.

We knew then that we would have to wait until late in the afternoon if we planned to go looking for sheep at all. The sun is funny thing up here: even the slightest change in temperature will do wonders, especially when it clears the trees, providing the warmth needed to pull on what once was a frozen crankcase.

The sun finally did its thing and we were on our way to the base of the mountain to find our quarry. We saw one shootable ram that afternoon and were able to take him. After quickly congratulating ourselves, we headed back to the tent as fast as possible, thankful for the extra wood we had decided to cut during the day.

Not wanting to push it we left the next morning, and in all my years living here I was never so glad to get back home. After peeling off layers of frozen fleece I was still cold for a week.

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THE COLDEST, DARKEST MONTHS don’t hold a monopoly on extreme conditions. A muskox hunt near Nome proved that. It was mid-March and temps were above zero, actually quite comfortable for that time of the year.

The conditions looked great for taking a bull with a bow, and we spotted several groups throughout the area. One in particular was located in a shallow saddle that was accessible on foot after our approach. I grabbed my bow and headed to the top of a hill.

By the time we got there the weather did a 180-degree turn and a blizzard blew in. We had whiteout conditions with very limited visibility, making it a chore just to stand upright.

The bow became worthless and I traded it for the rifle my buddy was carrying. It had a subpar scope and seeing through it was almost impossible. Ice and fog had built up on both ends and I had to constantly wipe it clean. Again, extreme hunting requires quality gear, and when it’s not proven or belongs to somebody else it becomes even more difficult.

Finally, the bull I wanted appeared in the scope and I felt the recoil of the rifle and saw the bull fall. It was about a 250-yard shot, but by the time we got to him he had vanished. We desperately looked, but he was simply gone.

The weather worsened and we debated on leaving before it got really serious. I didn’t want to leave a wounded animal and knew that we had to keep searching. Back and forth we retraced the shot, and as the weather worsened I noticed a big lump in the snow. At first I thought it was a rock, but after closer inspection and a couple of kicks in the snow my bull appeared.

The snow had completely covered him by the time we got there. Getting him out of there was a different story. The snowmachines and sled we were using were not up to the task, especially when it came to a 1,000-pound muskox.

We had to leave him, but luckily I had my satellite phone with me and could call for help once we got back to camp. A sat phone is an expensive piece of gear, but when you hunt in the extreme it’s a must.

Also, a good reliable and functional GPS that you know how to use needs to have a place in your pack, no matter what the conditions are. Both will save your life and give you peace of mind on any adventure. I’m just glad I had both or there’s no telling what might have happened. We were fortunate to get the muskox back home the next day.

As usual, I was never so glad to see my family.

Deer hunting can also be a tough matchup with the extreme. Whether you are hunting mule deer in Montana, whitetails in Kansas or blacktails on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, all scenarios can result in death for hunters.

Long before I could afford a GPS, I was hunting deer on the south end of Kodiak. Most hunts are conducted from a big boat, where each day you take a skiff to shore and then hunt from there.

Bears are legendary there, and the worst thing that can happen is to get caught after dark because you can’t find the rendezvous point. Having a couple of deer strapped to your back makes it even worse. Luckily, we weren’t far off and it was a clear evening, which allowed us to see the boat. Scared in the extreme with nothing to rely on is a whole different story than having some form of technology.

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SO HOW EXTREME IS hunting today compared to 10, 20 or even 30 years ago? We still go to the same places, for the most part. We still pursue the same big game and we still hunt in all kinds of conditions.

Or has the climate made it more difficult to get things done? Is it drier, colder, warmer? Are there more roads? Can we go further than we did before? Most hunters will probably have different answers to all these questions, but if there’s a sure thing in all this, it’s that the men and women who ventured out years ago were true outdoors masters. I wonder sometimes how those legends of the past did it, especially when factoring in the presence of bears.

I love bear hunting and have hunted the spring grizzly season in Alaska for the last 20 years. Each one is as exciting as the last, giving wonder to what the early days of April bring. Cutting a track from a fresh-out-of-the-den bear is truly special, and seeing a big boar cruising the white tundra can be an incredible sight. But the hunt itself can be very extreme.

I don’t really believe in global warming, but something is happening. Each year is different, even though the ocean ice seems to be just as thick as the year before. A few years ago we were hunting a drainage in the western Brooks Range. I glassed what I thought was a very big bear about a mile off. However, in order to get to a place to stalk the bear we had to ride our snowmachines to the base of a hill.

The only way to do this was follow a frozen creek for about a mile and then hopefully get off and make the stalk. As I eased along on the slick ice trying to get across, I felt a crack and before I could even hit the throttle I was going under.

As I sank, I scrambled over the top of the cowling and was able to get out. All you could see was the front of my snowmachine sticking out of the ice. Luckily, I was with friends and we pulled it out.

Once we were on solid ground the machine miraculously started! We continued the hunt but never saw the bear again. It was truly extreme and very wet.

I’ve also had some extreme moose hunts. Again, success was due to primarily having the right equipment. One such investment is an inflatable raft. Moose hunting always involves water, and to find the big bulls it usually means getting wet.

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A good friend of mine shot a tremendous moose a few years ago. We actually had two caribou down and were in the process of getting them cut apart when we saw, in the distance, a big old massive bull walking straight towards us. We quickly waded a creek, crossed some swampy tundra and found ourselves peaking through some sparse willows. The bull passed within 100 yards and Garrett let him have it.

So, here we were with two caribou and a 62-inch bull moose down within 50 yards of each other, and it was almost dark. We quickly took a few photos, removed the guts and peeled back the skin. It was a lot of work, but with a good set of knives and reliable headlamps we got it done. The problem now was the fact we were 2 miles from camp in some of the most bear-infested country in the Northwest Arctic and we were covered in blood. Was this suicidal or extreme?

We didn’t see any bears on the way back but noticed some awfully big tracks. The next morning, we inflated the raft and pulled it upriver closest to where the moose and caribou were. After eight exhausting, half-mile-long trips each, we had the meat, horns and gear back at the raft. The sight of us loaded down with meat and antlers coming down that river had to be something else.

I’ve taken other extreme moose. Sometimes it’s happened in the most willow-choked tundra imaginable, where mosquitoes are so thick that you can’t see in front of you. And it’s also happened in deep, cold snow that makes you want to crawl inside the moose to keep warm while field-dressing it.

All these experiences were extreme, but I would do them all over again and again. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an author and outdoor writer from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on big game hunting and fishing throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. Paul is a monthly contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.

Obama Orders Ban Of Arctic Drilling

President Obama during his 2015 tour of Alaska. (U.S. GOVERNMENT)

President Obama during his 2015 tour of Alaska. (U.S. GOVERNMENT)

As President Obama prepares to pass the torch to Donald Trump, the soon-to-be former POTUS announced he’s prohbiting oil and gas drilling in the Alaskan Arctic.

The Alaska Dispatch News weighed in on the announcement and the impact on President-elect Trump’s agenda:

The Obama administration’s announcement came in conjunction with an announcement by the Canadian government that it would bar oil and gas licensing for all offshore Arctic waters there, though the Canadian decision will be reviewed every five years.

There will be no such built-in review of the Obama administration decision, however. Using the authority granted to the president by the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Land Act, Obama will “withdraw” from potential oil and gas leasing 125 million acres of the Arctic Ocean. That includes all of the Chukchi Sea and the majority of the Beaufort Sea.

“The risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited,” Obama said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Obama is using executive authority that allows him to “withdraw” sections of offshore waters from oil and gas leasing, exploration and development, for a specific period or indefinitely.

President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to undo much of Obama’s regulatory agenda and pursue increased U.S. oil and gas production. But it’s unclear whether or how he could undo Tuesday’s measure.

All About Eve

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Photos courtesy of the Discovery Channel

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

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BY CHRIS COCOLES

It’s become one of the most commonplace scenes when an earthquake strikes: TV footage of grocery store shelves tipping over and sending bottles of food and drink smashing onto the floor and creating one hell of a cleanup on Aisle 4.

Just imagine if it was your personal, locally sourced food – what you worked an entire season to cultivate, jar and store to get your family through winter – literally crashing into pieces.

Eve Kilcher had to endure the disappointment of a massive Alaskan earthquake wiping out dozens of jars of food she labored to produce in her off-the-grid garden. It was one of the captivating moments of the Season 6 premiere for the Kilcher family of Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier, which was challenged by last January’s 7.1 quake that rattled through the family’s Southcentral Alaska homes.

“The earthquake brought a lot of awareness to us,” Eve says of her husband, Eivin Kilcher, and their kids, Findlay and Sparrow Rose. “‘Oh my god, all my glass jars are just a mess in my root cellar.’“

What irked the affable Eve was how she’d stacked the items too close to each other, leaving them vulnerable to the many potential pratfalls homesteaders face in the wild country of Alaska.

“Not the best plan; let’s make it to where there’s not a possibility that we don’t lose all of our food storage,” she says with a wry laugh during a recent phone interview. “Spreading things out and not keeping them in one place is always a good idea whenever possible.”

But it’s the rustic, turn-back-the-clock lifestyle that Eve and Eivin, his father Otto and stepmom Charlotte Kilcher, uncle Atz, cousin Atz Lee (Alaska Sporting Journal, January 2014) and others, have chosen for themselves. (The family’s most famous member, singer Jewel, visits this season; see sidebar on page 28.) The cameras might paint a certain picture that viewers have about the Kilchers, but it’s clear that Eve would be raising her kids this way with or without an audience getting a sneak peek into her journey.

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Chris Cocoles First and foremost, I grew up in Northern California and experienced my share of rough earthquakes. How did the Kilchers handle the Alaska quake on Jan. 24?

Eve Kilcher Well, I think it was a wakeup call for everyone in this area, just because we haven’t had an earthquake that big in a very long time. So it’s just that constant reminder of the elements and the powers that be that we have no control over. And all we can do is just be as prepared as possible. But in all honesty, I’m so glad to not be in a city. It sounds a lot scarier to be there in an earthquake, and a little more dangerous [laughs]. We have open spaces and we can get out of our house fast enough.

 CC I see your point. I’d always envisioned myself being in the middle of downtown San Francisco or some other big city when the “Big One” hit.

EK That sounds horrifying. But I think in a way we’re more mentally prepared for the unpredictably of the elements because of what we live in from day to day. Growing up on the water and getting caught in storms, because storms pick up here so quickly – the weather is changeable by the second. We are aware of that at all points in time, so we have a slight advantage there. It’s that kind of awareness leading to always being ready for anything because there is so much out of our control. All you can do is be as prepared as possible.

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CC It was so heartbreaking to see all of your meticulous cultivation of food literally shattered in the cellar.

EK I sometime should figure out the amount of hours and labor that goes into one jar [laughs], because if you paid me a decent wage, how much would one jar of food be worth? It’s probably some ungodly amount of money [laughs]. I don’t think about value of food as much as we should. And I guess that’s why organic, free-range food is that much more expensive. Someday, I’ve got to figure out that number; it must be jaw-dropping.

 CC One thing about Alaskans is the resilience that the residents have. How much have you been tested mentally and physically living up there?

EK Yeah, I think I have, but I’d have to say it’s a different resiliency and different hardship than (people in other) places. I think about people who live in inner-city slums. I don’t know my resiliency in that scenario. I think I might not be very resilient and not sure how I would cope with that intensity. I have resiliency out in the wilderness; I have skills, I have knowledge having grown up here. [Eve lived on a homestead not far from her current property in the area around Homer on the Kenai Peninsula.] I have the skills and abilities to make me more resilient in this environment.

But I think about other environments and I can’t say if I’d have the mental resiliency and wherewithal living in places where’s there no nature and in some places where people are dying all the time. I don’t know; I feel like I’m so lucky, and in a way this is the easier way that we’re doing. Because I feel like nature is the ultimate healing force. But what makes everything OK at the end of the day is having a lot of family support around. And that’s also something that a lot of people don’t have. 

We are trying to live in a family-based culture, and in actuality it’s a lot easier. I don’t know how parents raise kids without grandparents. I have an arsenal of grandparents because of remarriages, and luckily all the remarriages are with wonderful and amazing people. It’s funny: People think we have it so hard and we’re in need of such resiliency, but I actually think it’s harder if I moved to a big city, had to work a 9-to-5 job and never saw my kids. And my hat’s off to people in that situation. I don’t think I have it that hard. I’ve told Eivin that I feel like a queen in a castle in the most beautiful kingdom in all the world. There are hardships and we do work hard, but I think it’s all relative.

 CC In the season premiere, you talked about your kids and how it’s changed you. What specifically did change when first Findlay and then Sparrow Rose came into yours and Eivin’s lives?

EK I think it’s made me try to simplify my life. Nurturing children and trying to nurture all the plants and animals I have has proven to be exceedingly challenging and stressful and difficult. And trying to take on what we used to take on has definitely become more difficult. Whenever Eivin has to be gone (hunting or fishing), it’s so hard on me, and so I think I’ve tried to simplify.

But it’s also driven home for me how important it is to continue to do what we’re doing for our children. The only way that I truly know my children are living healthy and eating healthy is (by growing food on) the land that I cultivate and I know is healthy. Even though sometimes I think it would be so much easier to move into town and not grow anything, I wouldn’t be aware of my food and where it came from. Even when it says organic – that’s great and it’s better – you still don’t know where it came from and it still can be full of pesticides from the farm next door. It’s driven home the importance of continuing this lifestyle even though it’s very hard. I grow an insane amount of vegetables – way more than we need – but I’ve toned it down a lot compared to what we used to do. I used to make a living selling produce and now I don’t. Now it’s more about, In what ways can I give more energy to my children and get them involved too when they get older?

CC I’m sure when you’re growing then picking the fresh vegetables from your garden, it’s a lot of sore muscles afterwards, but does it make you feel good that you’re going to be raising your kids this way of life?

EK Even if my kids don’t decide to live this way and make different choices, I just feel good knowing that they will have the skills to come back to this if they ever choose to do so. And it’s a set of skills that’s being lost.

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CC How much did you hunt and fish growing up on your homestead?

EK I did not ever hunt growing up. The first time I ever went hunting was with Eivin when we went deer hunting in (a previous Alaska: The Last Frontier season), and that was really the first time, although once I went rabbit hunting right here on the homestead and I was equally as bad then. I’d have to say that once I started having kids, my desire to go hunting has lessened greatly. I feel like I’m in a nurturing mode and not so much a killing mode, although I know I had to slaughter all of my chickens for meat and I was crying. But it’s one of those things where I can do it; I can process all these chickens and get them in the freezer because I need to do it. But there’s also the idea of, do I need to go hunting? No. I’m more (comfortable) looking for the mushrooms and the berries, and I’m not as serious about shooting the deer because I have a husband who’s going to bring home the bacon for me and I don’t need to worry about it.

CC There are so many shows about the “Alaskan lifestyle” out there. Do you hope yours has provided a positive if realistic view on how Alaskans live?

EK That is definitely my hope, because there are a lot of these shows that are – um – less than classy. They show a different angle of Alaska. All of it is real and true to some extent. But this is our angle and feel like it’s what gets me through the filming, which can be challenging at times. And it’s not something that I imagined or really wanted in my life. I’ve accepted it for what it is, and what drives me to do it is that we will inspire people to do what they can to live a better lifestyle for them and their children, but also for our environment. And also I hope it has them thinking about things a little bit more and thinking outside the box, doing what they can to think about where their food comes from. If you’re from the city, you’re not just going to live off the land, (but you can) question where your food comes from. Can you buy it locally? Can you go visit a farm on the outskirts of your city and see what they’re doing? Can you support a local farmer and help them out? It’s the people who say “We dug up our yard and planted a garden” that really inspire me and make me keep doing this, because I have to feel this is positive or it doesn’t feel worth it to me.

Eve and Eivin have also authored their own cookbook.

Eve and Eivin have also authored their own cookbook.

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CC On the subject of food, you and Eivin just released a cookbook, Homestead Kitchen. We talked about how important it is for you and your family to eat organically. Is that what inspired you to write the cookbook, and how much does it mean to you to share the bounty of what’s in your backyard?

EK It is important to me to eat organically, but just as important to eat locally. Knowing where your food comes from and how it was raised or grown is one of the important messages we are trying to portray. It isn’t about a stamp that says organic; it is about quality and sustainability that goes beyond organic. This book was inspired by wanting to share our ethos on food and bring people’s attention to the origins of the food we put in in our bodies. It makes a huge difference in overall health of the individual and the earth. We cannot grow, forage or hunt everything we enjoy eating, but we try to do as much as we can ourselves or from our community.

CC Is there a personal-favorite Alaska-inspired dish in the book, something that you, Eivin and the kids have enjoyed and has sentimental meaning for you?

EK Many of the recipes in here are sentimental and well-loved by our family because they all have memories and stories tied to them. Bone-broth soup is a staple for us and is what our kids are raised on. It has so many of the vitamins and minerals you need that are very bioavailable. It also represents using all of the animal right down to the bone. Almost every time we sit down and eat this soup, Findlay pipes up with questions about this deer we are eating: “Where did it come from?” “How did it die?” “Did Mommy or Daddy shoot it?” “Was it a boy or a girl?” This inevitably inspires Eivin or I to tell the story of how it came to our table and how thankful we are to have it to eat. Of course, we tell Findlay the more soup he eats, the stronger he will become and the sooner he will be able to go hunting with us. Thus, his bowl is drained in minutes!

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 CC Have you and Eivin ever thought about the idea of doing something else with your lives? Not necessarily completely change it up and relocate to Chicago or another major city, but rather just a more gradual change in lifestyle?

EK [Laughs] At this point in time, this is the life we want. We’re really happy here, happy raising our family here. I don’t think we’d ever move to a city, as neither one of us would be happy. If, for some reason, we had some goal that required us to be in a city for a short term for something like if I wanted to go back to school, maybe we’d consider it. I’d probably try for it not to happen (in a place like) L.A.; that wouldn’t make me very happy. But Eivin and I have traveled a lot to other countries – he mostly in Asia and me a lot in Central and South America – and we talk a lot about when the kids are older and kind of more teenaged, we’d like to take them to a Third World country and work in orphanages to help other people who are less fortunate. We just would want to give them some perspective just to get them out of their zone. But I think I mostly look forward to just growing old here together, living in this beautiful place while we’re young.

Who knows what life will bring? ASJ

Editor’s note: You can purchase Eve and Eivin Kilcher’s cookbook at various outlets, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target and Walmart. Like her at facebook.com/kilcher.eve. New episodes of Alaska: The Last Frontier are shown on Sundays on the Discovery Channel (check your local listings). Go to discovery.com/tv-shows/alaska-the-last-frontier.

Jewel and her dad, Atz Kilcher, reunited this season.

Jewel and her dad, Atz Kilcher, reunited this season.

JEWEL SHINES AGAIN 

While the Kilchers’ old-school way of life has made them a TV draw on Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier, patriarchs Atz and Otto and their children and in-laws aren’t the family’s most recognizable faces. 

That would be the singer Jewel Kilcher, who hit it so big she’s universally known just by her first name. And why not? She’s a four-time Grammy Award nominee, sold 30 million albums – her debut album, Pieces of You, went platinum 12 times over – and countless TV appearances. 

But while she left her family’s Alaska off-the-grid lifestyle to chase and achieve stardom, Jewel has always remained connected to the show. She and dad Atz teamed up to croon the theme song, 

Now 42, Jewel is coming home this season on the show that chronicles her family’s experiences in The Last Frontier. Discovery briefly teased Jewel’s homecoming – she made her first appearance on Nov. 27 – with the Kilcher clan.

“After a decade away making music and starting a family of her own,” a season preview says, “the prodigal daughter returns.”

“I grew up working cattle with my dad,” she says in a trailer touting the new season. “I’m just really glad to be back.”  

The reunion was also met with enthusiasm from her family members. 

“It’s always awesome to have Jewel back in town, and it doesn’t happen very often. I don’t even remember the last time she was back here,” says Eve Kilcher, married to Jewel’s first cousin, Eivin. “We go and visit her when she’s at her place in Colorado.”

Jewel’s son Kase – with her ex-husband, professional rodeo cowboy Ty Murray – is a few years older than Eve’s and Eivin’s son Findlay, but besides the obvious family ties, parenthood has brought the group closer. 

“I adore Jewel. We get along in so many ways, as mothers, as health nuts, as foodies,” Eve says. “I feel like she’s been a great help in a lot of ways, and I know we were really excited, and it was so good to get the kids together. She’s just a really amazing person.”

“She’s very down to earth. She can glam it up if she needs to, because that’s part of the industry, but that’s not her M.O. She’s just a naturally beautiful woman. But the way she was raised was very down to earth. Those are her roots, always.” CC

The Quest For An Iced Lake Trout

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

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BY DENNIS MUSGRAVES 

Shuffling across the snow-covered ice in the early-morning darkness had us feeling confident about our arrival time.

The overloaded sled we dragged behind us slid smoothly across the frozen surface, doing little to slow our quick pace. We were determined to reach a spot on the lake, set up and begin the pursuit for lake trout before sunrise broke over the horizon.

Shawn Johnson and I were up early on another outing for lake trout on the ice. We both knew from our past experience that getting out before daybreak would allow us a good opportunity to catch a prized laker, since fish seemingly become most active during the transition periods of the rising and setting sun.   

After arriving at our previously selected area, we punched through the thick surface of the ice-covered lake with a power auger, set up a portable thermal shelter and turned on a propane heater to warm the inside. Three 10-inch holes situated side by side, with about 2 feet between each hole, allowed Shawn and I to fish on the ends and place a transducer from a flasher unit in the middle.

Before the heat built up in the fishing hut, we had already dropped our plastic tube jigs down into the depths and eagerly began watching the screen of our Vexilar sonar situated between us. The specialized ice fishing sonar device allowed us to see everything that moved in the water column below us, including our lures.

We worked in unison watching the vertical depth trying to attract fish. It took about 45 minutes for the first sign of life to mark on the screen. A glowing orange mark appearing near 80 feet on the monitor, about 20 feet under Shawn’s lure.

Our reaction was immediate and simultaneous, alerting each other with the same words, ”There’s a fish!”

Since Shawn was the closest, he released the spool catch on his reel,  quickly lowered down to the mark and began short jigging motions to try and entice the fish to bite.

It did not take much action in the tentacles of the plastic tube for the light on the screen to react and charge. The light on the screen turned bright red, which told us that the fish was directly under the transducer and sizing up Shawn’s offering.

“He’s right on you!” I shouted out, just before the strike came. Shawn quickly raised up on his stout heavy-action ice fishing rod to set the hook as he felt the fish slam his bait. His rod doubled over, bowing and flexing from the resistance of the fish.

The battle had begun and our early-morning start was paying off. As he held on tight to the bouncing
fishing rod, he looked at me with a wide smile. 

“I think it’s a lake trout,” he said.

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CHASING LAKE TROUT DURING Alaska’s winter season can test even the most seasoned ice angler’s patience. The moments of glory are infrequent, and hoisting fish after fish is uncommon since the cheetahs of cold water can seemingly be the most elusive fish species to catch during winter in the 49th state. 

If you’re up for an ice fishing challenge, lake trout certainly can test your resolve and resiliency. Contributing factors making Alaska’s lakers tough to catch include a limited number of accessible roadside locations where the fish are present, low reproduction, slow growth rates, and the fact that Alaska does not currently have the species included in the sport fishery hatchery or sportfish stocking plan.

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I have learned how to increase my odds ice fishing for lake trout in Alaska by following a few simple rules:

OBTAIN BATHYMETRIC CHARTS  

A bathymetric chart is an underwater version of a topographical map. They allow fishermen to have a visual reference for structure, shape and depth of a lake bottom.

This information can be used to locate likely places where lake trout can be found. ADFG has many bathymetric charts of roadside lakes in Alaska available to the public. I like using the charts as a historical reference, chronicling locations where I catch fish, and marking the chart for future outings so I can return to productive areas.

USE A FLASHER 

Modern-day fishing electronics is the number one tool that will assist you in the deep-water hunt for lake trout. A flasher unit will allow you to see fish swimming under you and give you instant feedback on how fish react to your presentation. 

Additional advantages include having accurate water depth, and being able to know what the water depth is before you even drill a hole (since units can send a signal through the ice). Although the devices can appear to be overwhelming for a first time user, they are very easy to operate and mastering the concept of using one is not difficult.

STAY MOBILE 

If you’re failing to mark fish with your flasher or the action is limited, you need to be on the move. A change in depth in a new location can be all the difference in locating active fish. Lake trout are the wildcats of the deep, and unlike suspending species like northern pike, lake trout are constantly moving in search of food. 

Since ice fishing is vertical fishing, covering a body of water is much more difficult rather open-water tactics when trolling or horizontal casting. Vertical jigging can only cover the column from the surface; more often it will take several moves in order to find fish.

FILL YOUR FUNNEL 

The best thing any angler can do to catch more lake trout is to go fishing more often. Filling your funnel with more ice fishing outings will eventually bring you a payout. The cliché is never more true in this instance: “You can’t catch any fish unless you go fishing.” Make sure you get your fishing line wet, and do it often.

 Applying any of these suggested recommendations in your own approach or adding modern tools to your equipment arsenal won’t guarantee hooking up with a lake trout, but it will certainly increase your odds. All it takes is one fish to the surface in order to fully grasp and understand the addiction for pursuing lake trout in winter.

I am not ashamed to admit that most of my trips end without a single fish hooked up, which I am fine with. It only makes the lake trout I do catch through the ice much more glorious. ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on Dennis Musgraves’ fishing memories in the Last Frontier, check out alaskansalmonslayers.com.

Buffs And Bears All Alone On Kodiak

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

BY RANDY KING

It would have been an idyllic place to camp, I figured, if not for the Kodiak brown bear tracks in the sand. They dwarfed my size 11 boot by nearly 5 inches.

Whatever bruin it belonged to was huge, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I was here on a mission: shoot a blacktail off Kodiak Island’s road system while hunting solo. And I wasn’t about to let a real-life monster scare me.

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THE GROUND WAS FROST-COVERED this past late September as I made my way off the tarmac at the airport terminal. Kodiak holds a certain mystique for those of us from the Lower 48. Make no mistake: I am a seasoned outdoorsman; that said, there’s something about an island with only 70 miles of highway and which features resident bears the size of Volkswagens that made it more extreme than my usual Idaho hunting grounds.

I arrived on a Thursday morning with only three days to hunt and was a nervous wreck. An advance guard, consisting of my father and uncle, was supposed to have already been on the island for three days. My hope was that they would have cased the joint by now and had some valuable tips about how to hunt Kodiak. Problem was, they’d canceled on the adventure a week out.

At some point my stubbornness kicked in and I tossed my good judgment to the wind. To hell with it; I am hunting Kodiak alone.

My plans had to adapt to this new reality. No longer was I trekking into the hills with a backpack and a bear fence to camp among the stars. Instead, I was sleeping in the front seat of a rented Chevy Silverado. I had to condense my entire adventure into one suitcase, a cooler and backpack.

BLACKTAILS ON KODIAK are divided into different types: road system deer and nonroad system deer. That classification is important for two reasons. First, it dictates the number and type of deer a hunter is allowed to shoot. From the road system a hunter is allowed doe or buck and multiple tags per year. But on the road system, hunters are only allowed one buck tag per year.

Because of the road system’s proximity to the island’s population center, namely the town of Kodiak, and ease of access, it needs to be hunted differently than other parts of Kodiak. Basically, the road system is hunted harder than other areas on the island. When planning a Kodiak road system hunt, take that into account. If it is an easily accessed location, people are already hunting it, which is not unlike the Lower 48.

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DAY 1: THE LONG WALK

At about 11 a.m., I started my blacktail hunt. I had picked the end of the road, literally, as my starting point. True story: Kodiak has a commercial satellite launch pad. Near it I ran into a maintenance guy named Derek. Being a social fellow I asked him what he thought of my hunting plans.

“Heading into that area sounds like a great idea,” he said. “No one ever really goes back there since it’s such a pain to get to. That said, since there is so little traffic, watch out for bears down low.”

Near the launch pad is a place called Barry Lagoon and I parked near there. Pack loaded with the necessities (a satellite phone is a must), I began my walk to the Sacramento River, about 4 miles away, according to my map, and a two-hour walk, I figured.

In my research, I’d found a map that noted a trail parallel to the beach headed right to the river. I set out to find the trail, bust butt and scope some country.

No matter how much time I spend on hunting forums or stare at Google Earth, actually arriving at a hunting location and seeing the territory is gut-wrenching. The peaks are taller, the hills steeper and what you thought was an afternoon jaunt is more like a death trek through impenetrable devil’s club. Basically, a new hunting spot is never what you think it will be. This was exactly the case on Kodiak.

To be clear, there is no trail to the Sacramento River. There is a beach and high tide, lots of brown bear tracks and no trail. Four and a half hours later I set foot into the valley that holds the river. I had seen exactly one doe in my travels.

I cut across what I thought would be the happy hunting grounds without seeing so much as a turd from my quarry. That is, until I came close to the river itself. There, I heard the distinct sound of a deer crashing through brush, and when I rounded a section of alders I caught sight of a nice track in the sand that was so fresh the edges were still getting wet when I arrived.

I had a feeling it was a buck – no fawn tracks with it, and it was alone – so I followed the track onto the river bottom (the Sacramento is nothing like its Lower 48 counterpart, more like a small creek, honestly).

Soon I was walking the sandy gravel bars down the middle of the river. A salmon darted from a small pool in front of me. The edges of the river bottom slowly closed around me, the alder getting thicker and thicker. I tracked the deer for a few hundred yards downstream this way.

When I heard the splash about 40 yards in front of me I was hopeful, briefly, that it was a deer. It wasn’t. Instead, I was graced with a Kodiak brown bear, ungracefully trying to climb a riverbank and falling back into the water. I about soiled my pants since I literally had nowhere to run: The alders were so thick on either side of the creek I would have been lunch before I cleared them. So I did the only thing I could think of: I racked a round into my .270 and yelled, “Hey, bear!” Drenched, the bear shook like a dog and sauntered off into the brush, headed upstream but disappeared in mere footsteps.

After a brief “thank you” prayer and a change of undershorts, I continued downriver, figuring the upriver was now claimed property of Yogi.

I could hear the ocean at this point and knew I was close to being in open country. I only had one direction to go, and this time I was much more diligent and focused. Only about 200 yards downstream I saw a second bear crossing the river. He was calmly walking from one side to the other when he noticed me and stood up on two legs. I was running out of shorts at this point. Luckily, this bear wanted nothing to do with me; it turned tail and ran.

It became clear that I needed to get off the riverbed badly. I found a bend that opened into conifers and climbed my way out. I followed the sound of the ocean to the mouth of the river.

When I arrived I quickly found out why the bears were there. Silver salmon by the dozens were running upstream. Basically, I had been walking down the middle of the bears’ food source. No one has ever called me smart, and this instance solidified that argument.

I fished briefly and unsuccessfully for the silvers. Across the river from me was a herd of feral bison feeding and not really caring that I was there. A bald eagle came down and grabbed a salmon. This was why I was in Alaska, deer or no deer.

When out scouting new country it is always best to set a firm “turnaround” time. While seeing new country is cool, getting back to camp safely is even better. My time had come, so I began to head down the beach back to my U-Haul. It was on the beach that I encountered perhaps the most dangerous situation yet. It was a set of bear tracks. Smaller than others I had seen, they were also paralleled by two additional sets of even smaller tracks. A sow and two cubs had passed this direction. Luckily, I had missed them.

On the way out I stopped and glassed the peaks from the beach. At the very top, just like I had been warned, were deer. I could make out antlers on one, but he was miles off, completely off limits until morning. I picked a landmark, a large tree on a cliff face, as my goal for the morning. A red fox came out of a hollow log a few feet from me, sniffed the air and wandered off. I just smiled and stared. I now had a plan.

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DAY TWO: DEER SPOTTED

It was still very dark when I awoke in the cab of my truck. The sleeping part was easy, the waking part was not. Frost covered the ground as I packed my bag and ate a cold breakfast. I had my location picked out and I made a straight shot for it.

As the sun rose off the ocean, I climbed and climbed in the wet grass and weaved my way through alders and marshy meadows on my way to the chosen tree. I caught site of five blacktail does on my way up. No matter how hard I tried I could not make them magically grow horns. 

It would not be easy for me. Articles I’d read online often noted that Kodiak was not for the out of shape – it would test you to your limits. They were right.

It was 11 a.m. before I reached my tree, which the deer apparently liked as well. Sign was thick and I smelled musk. I knew I was close but had not spotted anything for an hour. I felt defeated as I sat on a cliff edge to glass and eat a snack. This was supposed to be the happy hunting grounds.

Then, nature provided just enough to keep me motivated. A doe and two fawns were feeding away from me when my stank wafted over to them. Three heads snapped back in my direction. Tails went into the air and I heard the momma snort. I watched as she led them from one high pass to the next in mere moments.

I smiled and shouldered my pack. The odds of seeing a buck were starting to stack in my favor. I climbed past the cliff faces to a small saddle between peaks and I found myself sitting in a patch of barren dirt that was either a buffalo bed or a bear bed. I told myself it was a buffalo bed.

From this point I glassed the spines of rocks and shrubs that lined the north side of the peak. I spotted a doe, then another, and then … holy crap – horns! Instantly, my binoculars started to shake uncontrollably in my hands. I was short of breath and tried not to laugh out loud. I’m 35 years old and was getting buck fever like a 12-year-old. It was awesome.

I positioned my pack frame and tried to steady myself for the shot. The forked buck was at about 200 yards. With the shaking continuing I needed to calm the hell down, so I dropped off from the buffalo bed and used a small ridgeline for cover to cut 100 yards off the shot. That little bit of stalking and exertion leveled me off. Back on the ridgeline I lay down, put the crosshairs behind his shoulder and let lead fly.

The buck crumpled and thankfully slid into a bush. Blacktail down! Time to go to work.

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The hillside was so steep that when I tried to gut the buck I could not keep him from sliding down the hill. Eventually, I tied his horns off on a small tree, used the heel of my boots to dig footholds in the grass and started the evisceration process. I kept an active eye over my shoulder for bears. I’d heard the rumors that gunshots sound like dinner bells to Kodiak bruins and wanted no more of those in my life. Quartered and in my pack, I had to now get him off the hill.

I sat down on the slick grass, set the pack on my lap and placed my gun on top of it. I crossed my legs and began to slide down the mountain. I went for nearly 500 yards on the dewy grass, with only one rock finding solid placement on butt-cheek.

I slid into a different ravine with a small stream. At the bottom I found an opening in the river bed and ate lunch. 

For the first time in my life I actually muttered to myself, “God, I hope I don’t see any salmon.” ASJ

Editor’s note: Idaho resident, author and chef Randy King also writes regularly for ASJ’s brother magazine, Northwest Sportsman. For more on Randy, check out chefrandyking.com.

KICK UP YOUR GROUND VENISON MEAT

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Like most big game hunters, I am faced with the “grind” problem regularly. I have, on good years, a lot of ground meat and a family that will only eat so many tacos and bowls of spaghetti. To solve this problem, I often opt for meat pucks, also known as meatballs. This is my Thai-style red curry meatballs recipe, with white rice, green beans and basil. For more recipes on wild game visit my website, chefrandyking.com.

MEATBALLS

1 pound ground venison

Four garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 inch ginger, peeled and

  finely chopped

Handful of Thai basil, chopped

1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional – it 

  really stinks but offers up great flavor)

½ small red onion

1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste

Two eggs

½ cup panko or breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper

CURRY SAUCE AND GREEN BEANS

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 red onion, chopped

1 inch ginger, peeled and minced

Two garlic cloves, minced

½ pound green beans, sliced into

   2-inch sections

One can coconut milk

¼ cup Thai red curry paste

Salt and pepper

3 cups jasmine rice, cooked and hot

Thai basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients listed for the meatballs together in a medium-sized bowl. Place 1-ounce meatballs on a tin foil-lined cookie sheet about an inch apart from one another. Bake meatballs for 20 minutes or until they reach 135 degrees on the inside.

While the meatballs are cooking, add the sesame oil to a medium-sized sauté pan. Heat on medium for two minutes, add the red onion and cook until soft. Next, add the ginger and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the green beans, coconut milk and red curry paste. Bring all to a boil. Taste and adjust as needed with salt, pepper or maybe even more curry paste. When it boils and the paste is incorporated, the sauce is done.

Serve meatballs on a bed of white rice, topped with the curry and green beans. Garnish with Thai basil. RK  

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SIX THINGS I LEARNED

1) A whole Sitka blacktail fits in a hotel mini fridge, FYI.

2) If you line a hotel ironing board with towels and plastic wrap, you can make a decent cutting board for deboning a deer.

3) The area I hunted is overrun with feral bison, which are ranched on the island. It’s both cool and a little scary since they are roughly the same size/color as a brown bear. When you see one in the distance, it makes your gut drop until you realize it’s just a super-deadly bison capable of stomping you into a puddle. But, hey, it’s not a bear, which would only slurp your remains out of said puddle.

4) Unlike Idaho and most of the Lower 48, you can keep Dolly Varden here. They are delish on your plate.

5) Don’t think you can build a cooking fire easily with driftwood. The island is so wet that not much that is openly exposed to the sky will burn.

6) In a cooler, my buck weighed in at 49½ pounds. Keep that in mind for planning purposes. RK

Kodiak NWR Manager Retires After 34 Years

Anne Mariie LaRosa (middle) retired afrer 34 years as the manager for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS)

Anne Mariie LaRosa (middle) retired afrer 34 years as the manager for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS)

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska: 

Anne Marie LaRosa, Manager at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, will retire in early December after 34 years of public service with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

LaRosa’s career in resource management and conservation has traversed some of America’s most iconic public lands, from the rich wildlife of the Florida Everglades to the unique and fragile ecosystems of Hawaii. Of all the amazing places she has worked, she feels a special connection with Alaska’s wild landscapes and is thankful for her time on Kodiak. “What a beautiful and remarkable place Kodiak is: the richness of the marine ecosystem never fails to amaze me, or the wonder of seeing a Kodiak brown bear sow with her cubs.”  

As she prepares to leave the management of nearly two million acres of wildlife refuge, LaRosa recognizes that a changing climate poses future challenges for Kodiak’s fish and wildlife. She also feels hopeful. “In my experience, islands are special places and the people who choose island life are resilient and resourceful.  And that brings me confidence that people will continue to work together for the future of wildlife.”

LaRosa especially enjoyed working with dedicated citizens and partners on the successful “Rebuild the Bear” team led by the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust to replace a crumbling community statue. She notes that the tremendous effort has been “typical of Kodiak’s pulling-together spirit.”  She thanks the island communities for all of their support of Kodiak Refuge, and especially for joining in the celebration of the Refuge’s 75th anniversary this year.

Anne Marie LaRosa will say aloha to one island and head to another, joining her son and husband at their home in Hawaii. She looks forward to spending more time with family, but knows that a piece of her heart will always belong in Alaska.

Current Deputy Manager Tevis Underwood will fill LaRosa’s position as Acting Manager for the next few months until a new manager is hired. The Underwood family moved from Dillingham to Kodiak in 2014, excited to join the community after hearing many great things from former residents. Underwood has over 26 years of experience in Alaska as a Fisheries Biologist and Deputy Refuge Manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

 

Tongass NF Plan Amendment Provides Balance For Logging, Conservation

Photo by Mary Stensvold/U.S. Forest Service

Photo by Mary Stensvold/U.S. Forest Service

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service:

KETCHIKAN, Alaska – M. Earl Stewart, the Forest Supervisor for the Tongass National Forest, Alaska Region, has signed the final Record of Decision (ROD) for the amended Tongass National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Tongass Forest Plan). The Final ROD documents the Forest Supervisor’s rationale for approving the Tongass Forest Plan Amendment. The Tongass Forest Plan Amendment will become effective in 30 days.

The Tongass Forest Plan Amendment focuses on accelerating the transition from old-growth timber harvest to young-growth while maintaining opportunities for a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska. The amended plan will support more sustainable and diverse local economies by stabilizing timber supply, minimizing social conflict about the harvest of old growth trees, and maintaining wildlife habitat. The amended plan also contributes to sustainable and diverse local economies by promoting renewable energy development.

“Through years of community collaboration efforts, the Tongass has sought a resolution to long-standing conflicts regarding timber management,” said Earl Stewart, Tongass Forest Supervisor. “This amendment is the culmination of those collaborative efforts, and it is aligned with the unanimous recommendations of the Tongass Advisory Committee (TAC).”

The amended plan reflects the unanimous recommendations of the TAC to the Forest Service. The TAC included 15 members who represented a broad and diverse range of viewpoints and expertise. They were from geographically diverse communities in Alaska and the western U.S. and included representatives of state and local government, Alaska Native Corporations, the timber industry, the environmental community and the general public.

Consistent with one of the TAC’s recommendations, the plan amendment embraces an adaptive management strategy, and includes commitments to complete an ongoing young growth inventory with the State of Alaska, monitor actual timber harvest levels compared to projected levels, review the effects of harvesting young growth in priority areas, review the effectiveness of the plan at five and ten years, and adjust management as needed.

The plan amendment has a narrow focus and maintains the Tongass Conservation Strategy.  Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River Designations from the 2008 Forest Plan did not change. The final ROD does not propose rulemaking to modify the 2001 Roadless Rule application to the Tongass National Forest.

The amended plan and ROD are the culmination of a comprehensive public involvement process that sought, and carefully considered, input from the public, youth, local, state and federal agencies, federally recognized tribes, as well as previous decades of collaborative efforts. They are also consistent with a 2013 Memorandum from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who directed consideration of an amendment to the Tongass Forest Plan to promote a transition to young-growth management.

After publication of the draft amendment, public meetings and federal subsistence hearings that were held in nine communities across Southeast Alaska, approximately 165,000 public comments were received on the proposed amended plan and DEIS. Tribal organizations and corporations were engaged and consulted in the planning process, as were local youth from Ketchikan High School.

Following review and written response to issues raised in eligible objections, the final ROD is now published.  The amended Forest Plan will become effective 30 days from publication.

To view the Tongass Forest Plan Amendment, Final EIS, and Final Record of Decision visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/R10/Tongass/PlanAmend.

 

Porcupine Caribou Herd Board Discuss Board Discuss Status

USFWS photo

USFWS photo

The following press release is courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska:

The International Porcupine Caribou Board (Board) recently held its annual meeting, which began in Fairbanks, Alaska on November 30 and ended in Venetie, Alaska, on December 1. The Board conducted its regular business in Fairbanks and then headed to Venetie for a special public session with local community members and distinguished officials from the Native Village of Venetie.

The Board shared with the community the latest scientific findings related to the status of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and received comments and questions from village residents and officials regarding the importance of conserving the herd. The attendees in Venetie expressed their appreciation for the Board’s visit and its cooperation on this shared international resource. During the regular session, the Board recognized the need to improve its outreach and communication efforts and set a spring 2017 timeframe to finalize a five-year report of the Board’s work accomplished since the Board was reconstituted in 2011.

The Board was pleased to learn that a recent upgrade by the State of Alaska to the photo-censusing technique for monitoring caribou will provide an improved and more cost-effective assessment of the herd’s abundance. The Board also supported the ongoing efforts of the Porcupine Caribou Technical Committee to better understand the health and distribution of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which includes monitoring and reporting of herd movements and health using GPS radio-collars. The Government of Canada spoke to the generally declining state of other caribou herds in Canada’s north and expressed concern that the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which is currently in an abundant state, might be at risk of a similar decline if threats to the herd aren’t recognized and managed accordingly.

Canada also spoke to its own Porcupine Caribou Harvest Management Plan, which is maturing into an effective model for cooperative management of the herd in Canada. Mitch Ellis, Alaska Chief of Refuges of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and incoming Board Co-chair for the U.S., welcomed the opportunity to work closely with partners in Canada for the long-term sustainability, use and conservation of the Porcupine Caribou 2 Herd. Mr. Ellis told attendees at the meeting in Venetie of the Board’s intention to directly involve native users, and include visits to villages throughout the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s range, during future meetings.

“Given the observed declines in abundance of Canadian Arctic caribou herds, which share a biology and landscape with our sister U.S. herds, we need to be cautious about activities that might impact the well-being of Arctic caribou herds” said Barry Smith, Regional Director, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, and Canadian Co-chair of the Board. “The Board is very conscious of the importance of these herds for northern communities, and particularly for our Indigenous users. We must become as knowledgeable as possible about the factors impacting Arctic caribou, including the Porcupine Caribou Herd”.

The Porcupine Caribou Herd is one of the largest herds of migratory caribou in North America, last estimated in 2013 to consist of about 197,000 caribou. It roams over approximately 250,000 km2 or 96,526 mi2 of Northern Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. These caribou are the primary traditional resource of the Gwich’in Alaska Native people, who have built their communities around the caribou’s migration patterns. The animals are also an important traditional resource for other native peoples, including the Inupiat, Inuvialuit, Hän, and Northern Tutchone.

The objectives of the Board are to conserve the Porcupine Caribou Herd and its habitat through international cooperation and coordination, to ensure opportunities for customary and traditional uses, to enable users of Porcupine Caribou to participate in the international coordination of the conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and to encourage cooperation and communication among governments, users of Porcupine Caribou and others to achieve these objectives. The Board will meet next by teleconference/videoconference in April, 2017.

Preview Our ATLF Feature And Sunday’s Super-Sized Episode

 

Above is a sneak peek at Sunday’s “Two-hour mega episode” of Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier.

 

Discovery Channel

Photo by Discovery Channel

 We’re featuring the show in our December issue and had a nice chat with Eve Kilcher (above), who lives on a homestead with her husband Eivin, their children, Findlay and Sparrow Rose, and the family dog, Tonsai. We’ll post the full story next week, but here’s a preview of our conversation, when Eve talked about the new cookbook, Homestead Kitchen,  she and Eivin have written:

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CC On the subject of food, you and Eivin just released a cookbook, Homestead Kitchen. We talked about how important it is for you and your family to eat organically. Is that what inspired you to write the cookbook, and how much does it mean to you to share the bounty of what’s in your backyard?

EK It is important to me to eat organically, but just as important to eat locally. Knowing where your food comes from and how it was raised or grown is one of the important messages we are trying to portray. It isn’t about a stamp that says organic; it is about quality and sustainability that goes beyond organic. This book was inspired by wanting to share our ethos on food and bring people’s attention to the origins of the food we put in in our bodies. It makes a huge difference in overall health of the individual and the earth. We cannot grow, forage or hunt everything we enjoy eating, but we try to do as much as we can ourselves or from our community. 

CC Is there a personal-favorite Alaska-inspired dish in the book, something that you, Eivin and the kids have enjoyed and has sentimental meaning for you? 

EK Many of the recipes in here are sentimental and well-loved by our family because they all have memories and stories tied to them. Bone-broth soup is a staple for us and is what our kids are raised on. It has so many of the vitamins and minerals you need that are very bioavailable. It also represents using all of the animal right down to the bone. Almost every time we sit down and eat this soup, Findlay pipes up with questions about this deer we are eating: “Where did it come from?” “How did it die?” “Did Mommy or Daddy shoot it?” “Was it a boy or a girl?” This inevitably inspires Eivin or I to tell the story of how it came to our table and how thankful we are to have it to eat. Of course, we tell Findlay the more soup he eats, the stronger he will become and the sooner he will be able to go hunting with us. Thus, his bowl is drained in minutes!

 

 

 

Youngest Artists Ever In USFWS Migratory Bird Calendar

Cover shot from USFWS Alaska Migratory Birds Calendar

Cover shot from USFWS Alaska Migratory Birds Calendar

 

A few months ago we wrote about a fascinating documentary, The Million Dollar Duckwhich chronicled artists’ quest to win the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Federal Duck Stamp art contest. The USFWS Alaska division released its contest-winning artwork for the 2017 Alaska Migratory Bird Calendar, and the winners were among the youngest ever. Who knows? Perhaps these kids will someday be vying to paint the Million Dollar Duck.

Here’s the USFWS release and congrats to all those entered their artwork:

There aren’t many regional art contests that can boast about being around for 31 years and have 1,100 kids from 58 rural Alaska towns and villages submitting their work, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) popular Migratory Bird Calendar art contest has done all of these things this year.

Dillingham fifth grader Ellie Hink and Kobuk kindergartener Reggie Wood were this year’s grand prize winners and are among the youngest ever. After being judged in their local areas, the top winners were entered for statewide level judging where competition was tough. Twelve posters and 12 pieces of literature were chosen to be published in the 2017 calendar. Ellie and Reggie’s work will grace the cover.

Each year a theme is chosen by a team from the USFWS and students from around rural Alaska learn all about the theme in their classes then write literature and create posters to illustrate it. This year’s theme was “Working Together to Save Migratory Bird” and migratory birds of every size, color and type were well represented, nesting, flying, diving; the kids imagined it all.

Designed to educate rural Alaskans about Alaska’s migratory bird populations and how residents can participate in helping with bird management, every month of the calendar contains messages about migratory bird conservation along with the children’s art. The calendar is distributed free to over 100 villages in rural Alaska and hangs in offices and kitchens for entire families to learn about migratory bird populations. Calendars are available at your local school and from your nearest National Wildlife Refuge.

For the full list of 2017 statewide and local contest winners and information on the 2018 migratory bird calendar contest, visit:  http://bit.ly/2fv34EN.

This sought-after calendar shows how partnerships between government and non-government organizations, Friends’ groups, school teachers, and the kids, creates a valuable and long-standing teaching tool to conserve wildlife for future generations.

 See other literature and artwork submissions on Flickr at http://bit.ly/2gDiPHi.