05 September 2013

The Hunting Trip

By Matt

The hunting trip went well. We saw 4 moose and 3 caribou, but the moose were all cows (female, so we couldn't hunt them right now) and neither of us had caribou tags (so we couldn't hunt them). We also saw 5 bald eagles, 2 loons, and hundreds of salmon. There were quite a lot of bear tracks around, but luckily, we didn't come across the bear(s). Don't worry, we had 3 guns between the two of us.

Bears are not endangered in Alaska. They have hunting seasons and regulations just like moose, caribou, sheep, etc. For instance: Paxson Lake (where the cabin is) is in state game unit 13B. In addition to the moose hunt for 20 days, and the caribou hunt that is limited to people who live in that area permanently, a licensed hunter can take one brown bear (grizzly) per year, with no special tag and no closed season. In 13B, you can take 3 black bears per year, but you need to have a black bear tag, which only costs $5 for residents (probably a lot more for non-residents). There are probably hundreds of sub-zones for hunting across the state, and they all have their own rules, so you just have to look it all up before you go out to a new area. In terms of self-defense, if a bear is threatening you, or going to attack you or put you in danger, you should do what you have to do to protect yourself. Many people carry bear spray (high 'octane' pepper spray) to keep bears away. Many other people carry a high caliber handgun at all times. Many carry both. If you kill a bear in self defense (or any other animal that is putting you in danger) and you have a hunting license and the proper tags, you must skin it, process the meat, or whatever else is involved in regular hunting, depending on the animal. Then you get to keep the pelt, skull, antlers, meat, and whatever you want. If you don't have the proper paperwork, you still have to do all of the regular things, but you don't get to keep any of it. If it is meat that is good for eating, it goes to a soup kitchen, but you still have to process it all. So, as long as it is in self defense, you won't get in trouble, but you don't get to reap the benefits if you don't have the proper paperwork, to keep people from poaching and saying they were threatened. 

This year, I only have a hunting license and a moose tag, but before I go out again, I am going to get a black bear tag and caribou tag. There are no grizzly tags. That way, I can have much more flexibility wherever I go. That's not to say that I WANT to find a bear, but if I do, I'd like to be able to keep some part of it...maybe its pelt. 

It rained most of the time we were out actually hiking around the hills looking for moose, but at least it didn't rain while we were launching the boat, or going back to the truck to go home. That would have been worse. All in all, it was a fun trip, but it wasn't exactly "relaxing" so, being back at work this week, I feel a little like I missed the weekend. 

I didn't take many photos, but here are a few (I'll spare you the dead, rotting salmon on the shore):

One of the clearer bear tracks on the beach. It is most likely a grizzly, because you can see claw marks in front of the pads. Black bears don't usually have their claws out when they walk. It was about 5 inches from the back to the claws. 

The boat on the shore opposite the cabin. This was where the bear tracks were. There was also evidence that someone had camped here this summer. 

The view to the north. You can't see much of the mountains because of the clouds, but they are there. 

The view across the lake from the boat in picture 2. You can see a few cabins dotting the hill. Those are a few miles north of Rosalie's family's cabin. To give you some idea about the shape of the lake, it is about 1 mile wide (west to east) and about 10 miles long (north to south). The inlet is in the north, and the outlet is in the south. Many of the cabins are accessible by road, but her family's is only accessible by boat in the summer, or snow machine (snow mobile) in the winter. I suppose you could hike the 1/4 mile through the woods and tussocks, but there is no trail at all. Tussocks are small grassy/mossy humps on the ground. They are hard to walk over, because its like going up and down steps all the time. They are often found in low, marshy areas too. This makes stepping on them feel like sponges. In my experience, if you don't have rubber boots, you have to hop on top of these in low areas to keep out of the water, but even in those areas, you still sink into each tussock about 8 inches. Its hard to explain. I'll take a picture next time I come across some. 

In the winter, the lake will be frozen. It has taken me a long time to get comfortable with this idea, but the ice will hold much more than a snow machine. People drive 3/4 ton trucks across rivers and lakes, because there is 3 feet of solid ice on top of them. So it is always easier to travel across a lake or river on a snow machine than anywhere else. It is perfectly flat too. 

A low bush blueberry plant! These are toward the end of their season, but are still good to eat. They are all over the lake. Even as we were hiking around tracking moose, we could just bend down and swipe some and pop them in your mouth. They are much more tart that your average blueberry in the lower 48. They are very good for baking. The red berries in the top left corner are (I think) low bush cranberries. I didn't eat any of them, because I don't love cranberries. (Also, I wouldn't eat them unless I was sure what they are). There aren't many berries in Alaska that are poisonous, but there are many that taste really bitter. 

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