By Lee Leschper
Friday is the real Christmas in Alaska. Friday is the annual announcement of this year’s draw hunt winners from Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
For a few thousand hunters, it’s the beginning of a year of planning, preparation and excitement leading up to a fall hunt. For the rest of us, it’s … not.
Results are expected about noon, Friday, Feb. 16, posted at this ADF&G site:
Each fall the state holds a drawing for many of the most desirable hunts for the coming year, for both residents and non-residents. The drawing applications close Dec. 15 and winners are announced in late February—considered the second Christmas by most Alaskans, who plan their whole year around what and where they’ll hunt the coming fall.
That’s why there were more than quarter million applications for the lotter each year—277,941 in 2016. You can apply up to six times for a single hunt, which does skews the number, but also gives you a sense of the competition. The draw hunt supplement including history and past draw success for each hunt and is available online at:
For the price of a license, plus a $5 or $10 application fee, you can roll the dice for a chance at the hunt of a lifetime.
There’s been spirited debate since statehood about how many tags should be allocated to non-residents hunters. The state constitution spells out resource management as required for the benefit of Alaska citizens, but leaves it to the Board of Game to decide how those resources including wildlife should be allocated and reserved for residents versus non-residents.
Historically the split has varied from species to species but has been close to 66/33 favoring residents. At the November Board of Game meeting in Anchorage, several proposals would have limited the number of non-resident tags available, some as low as 10 percent of the total.
The Alaska Board of Game process allows any citizen can submit a proposal on wildlife management and policies for the BOG’s consideration. The recent meeting considered everything from protecting feral house cats to banning domestic sheep as protection for wildlife sheep from disease to outlawing the use of cell phones while hunting.
The BOG after long debate decided that the current system was working and didn’t need more rigid limits on non-residents.
The success ratio for guided non-resident hunters is generally much higher than unguided resident hunters, for a variety of reasons—guide experience, gear and focus in particular. There are resident hunters who could give any guide lessons, but there are also lots of casual resident hunters who hunt when and if their job allows, by default lowering their success.
To be clear, there are tons of great hunting options in Alaska that don’t require a draw permit. But there are no bad draw hunts, hence we keep trying.
There are some simple things you can do to improve your odds of drawing.
For the most desirable hunts, like Delta bison and Chugach Dall sheep, know you’ve got lots of competition and less than one percent chance of drawing.
You can apply up to six times for a specific hunt, which obviously improves your odds at least incrementally.
Be very sure you’ve followed the exact letter of the law on the application process.
In the draw supplement you’ll see exact draw results from last year, including how many applications were submitted and how many permits were awarded, plus the percentage of applications filled.
Among the lottery options are hunts that treat residents and non-residents equally and requirement just a lot of luck to get drawn and the willingness to work hard. The Delta bison hunt is one option open to non-residents that doesn’t require a guide. It draws a huge number of applicants but is a relatively high-success hunt for the lucky hunters who draw, with a lot of the herd on private land but accessible thanks to landowners who don’t mind seeing a few less bison eating their crops.
Another is the rugged hunt for Roosevelt elk on Raspberry and Afognak Islands, near Kodiak. These transplanted elk grow huge in the steep dark timber of these satellite islands of Kodiak. It’s a great do-it-yourself hunt combined with the abundant black tailed deer on the island, plus a chance to see huge brown bears that hopefully aren’t carrying off your game. It’s a hard hunt just to find a bull, and an even bigger task to carry out 600 pounds of elk.
Which is why many drawn tags are never used—because the winners suddenly realize how hard the hunt they just won will be.
Perhaps the hardest part, for new hunters in Alaska, is understanding the logistic, legal and ethical challenge of getting a big game animal off a sheer mountain top or back out of several miles of treacherous muskeg. Places where neither truck nor 4-wheeler nor even bush plane can go.
Packing out a quartered caribou is a single trip for an experienced packer.
A 1400-pound bull moose, with individual quarters weighing perhaps 175 pounds each, is something quite very different. That’s where an experience and well-equipped guide earns his keep. That includes having the wisdom to keep a client from shooting an animal where it is difficult or impossible to retrieve.
This is particularly true with the mountain sheep and goats, who are legendary for appearing for a shot perched on a precipice above a sheer thousand-foot drop. It’s both unethical and illegal to shoot such a wonderful animal knowing it’s going to be hard or impossible to retrieve.
Those who apply for a hunt they’ll likely never take are always among us. But most of us apply for a lot of hunts and let luck decide where we focus the next year’s hunt. I’ve been lucky to draw a tag several years always led to a memorable hunt and an animal in the freezer.
I even hit the lottery myself one year with a fall Kodiak brown bear tag. It just happened that the hunt period fell exactly the same week my son was getting married down in Texas, so the son and new daughter-in-law won over the bear. That is the one tag that got away. Maybe I’ll draw it again one day!
But the final reward is not that tag, or the trophy animal that it offers. It’s the excuse to again get into the wild country of Alaska, far and high, to chase a great animal and stretch the limits of our adventures.
That’s like winning the lottery every time.
Good luck Friday.