Results 1 to 10 of 10

Thread: Is Kotzebue Caribou Hunting on the Ropes?

  1. #1
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 1999
    Location
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Posts
    5,767

    Default Is Kotzebue Caribou Hunting on the Ropes?

    I've been holding off posting this, but I think it would be of interest, so here goes.

    Like all caribou herds pretty much everywhere, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd (WACH) is in a state of flux in just about every way possible. Migration routes seem to be fairly similar to what we've seen in the past, but the timing of the southern fall migration has changed dramatically, and numbers are spiraling down. One of my hunting parties was on a caribou drop camp in GMU 23 last fall and didn't even see a single animal. The report I received was that one well-known charter up there had around 20 parties in the field and only two of them shot anything- and both animals were cows. The caribou just didn't show up until much later, after freeze-up came and the hunters were gone. According to the best estimates I've heard, the herd is down to around 230,000 animals (from close to 500,000 a few years ago). I believe this still makes the WACH the largest herd in the state, but the timing issue is significant, and may cause some hunters to redirect their efforts farther upstream in the migration route- perhaps to the north of the Brooks Range (or at least up into the mountains where some of those bachelor groups of bulls can be found).

    Anybody have any thoughts on this? I don't think my information is flawed, but anything is possible...

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

  2. #2
    Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    Southcentral Alaska
    Posts
    567

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    Anybody have any thoughts on this? I don't think my information is flawed, but anything is possible.
    I think that when all the studying is done biologists will be able to describe the WACH as being in a classic predator/prey cycle, similar to what we see with hares and Lynx/Fox in south-central. We have scientifically rigorous Caribou counts, but only have anecdotal evidence of increased prey numbers in the region. It would be interesting to see a dedicated effort to get some idea of wolf and bear populations in the area, and then track those populations as the caribou populations bottom out and rebound over the next 50 years.

  3. #3
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 1999
    Location
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Posts
    5,767

    Default

    I'd also be interested to see what's happening with forage quality up there. You don't hear a lot about that. I first hunted the WACH close to 30 years ago and saw plenty of bears around, but no more than you hear about these days. I realize that's not scientifically definitive, but I still wonder about range depletion.

    Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

  4. #4
    Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    Southcentral Alaska
    Posts
    567

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    I'd also be interested to see what's happening with forage quality up there. You don't hear a lot about that. I first hunted the WACH close to 30 years ago and saw plenty of bears around, but no more than you hear about these days. I realize that's not scientifically definitive, but I still wonder about range depletion.

    Mike
    It sounds like in some areas sedges are overtaking more traditional tundra, but the animals are still fat and healthy. If forage was affecting such a dramatic population drop you would expect to see more signs of starvation. There have been some instances of the migration being disrupted by development, but that is thought to have a significant impact on subsistence harvest, but not a significant impact on herd health.

    It's kind of a great mystery at this point. I don't think that there is any consensus that predation is the major issue. That's just my ignorant idea. I really hope we keep paying attention long term and learn something.

  5. #5
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Gakona Ak
    Posts
    1,493

    Default

    Well I have a dog in this race so here my 2 cents and lets always keep in mind that my view is slanted because I work out of Kotz.

    In the past 5 years we have seen the migration patterns are very unreliable. I always start off when I speak with clients by telling the wrmer falls have caused serious disruptions in the migration and is affecting the quality of the hunt. Last year we only had 2 groups who got skunked. One was due to an illness which requires a early extraction resulting in a 3 day hunt. The other was a group who could only hunt early and paid the price.

    We push our clients not to start hunts before Sept 13/14ish because it is to warm and the Bou are just not coming over as early as they use to. We have also pushed our end dates into October without last hunt out 10/7 last year. Our later hunting groups have to deal with colder weather but they are seeing much better hunting. Some folks feel that this may push the bulls into the run and end up with stinky meat issues. This has not been my experience.

    We are no doubt seeing the WACH boy numbers coming down. How will this end up? No idea. I assure all of you I will not push hunts on clients unless there is a good chance of bagging respectable bou.

    Walt
    Northwest Alaska Back Country Outfitters
    Unit 23/Kotzebue
    Drop Camps and Float hunts
    Booking 2016 now
    907-259-4290

    Pic 1 is an October 5th hunt 2014
    Attached Images Attached Images

  6. #6
    Member polardds's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Wasilla
    Posts
    802

    Default

    Just hope what happened to the Mulchatna heard does not happen to the WACH!!!

  7. #7
    Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Gakona Ak
    Posts
    1,493

    Default

    Naaaaaa.

    Wach Caribou are better looking! Also keep in mind the Mulchatna Herd was much smaller than WACH. At its peak the Mulchatna Herd was under 200,000 animals (96/97) and WACH is over 340,000 this year and with an easy winter we hopefully will see a bump in numbers over 2013/2014. The drop is alarming and points to a crash but only time will tell. WACH is still by far the most productive herd in the state.

    Walt
    Northwest Alaska Back Country Outfitters
    Unit 23/Kotzebue
    Drop Camps and Float hunts
    Booking 2016 now
    907-259-4290
    Attached Images Attached Images

  8. #8

    Default

    Well, the topic is "Kotzebue" oriented, but the herd is accessible from Fairbanks and Bettles also, to name just two hubs.

    I agree that there has been a consistent change in migratory timing behavior, where it might be safely suggested that Kotz area access has shown a decline in success overall until after mid september. But, while the herd is currently in a downward total population trend, the survivors are still behaving status qou except for staying in their summer habitat longer than they did 15 years ago. Perhaps this is suspect or perhaps the herd's genetic orientation knows population numbers are declining and therefore more abundant forage becomes available to the main survivors...therefore they move slower through favored summer habitat. Warmer summers and dryer weather may be factors too, but they have been experiencing these ebbs and flows for hundreds of centuries without our knowledge...it's what they do.

    So, while we struggle to understand the mysteries of this animal, we still find ourselves interested in finding the right spot at the right time.

    While Kotz access may not be advisable in August and early september, the herd can still be found by searching farther to the north and east of Howard Pass in GMU 26A. Yes, numbers are fewer, but success is still possible in August if you couple key location for access with good placement at the right time of year.

    Range quality is still favorable to a growing herd, despite some encroaching sedges and deciduous vegetation farther north. But when you consider the region and its historic evolution of vegetation and forage types...caribou in that region have a genetic memory of how to survive in all types of habitat. Maybe we just haven't been made aware of all the major players in the evolution of this species north and south of the Brooks Range.

    They're caribou, we just need to wait and learn how they continue to exist in their world around our presence.

    lb

  9. #9
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 1999
    Location
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Posts
    5,767

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Gulkana Rafting View Post
    Well I have a dog in this race so here my 2 cents and lets always keep in mind that my view is slanted because I work out of Kotz.

    In the past 5 years we have seen the migration patterns are very unreliable. I always start off when I speak with clients by telling the wrmer falls have caused serious disruptions in the migration and is affecting the quality of the hunt. Last year we only had 2 groups who got skunked. One was due to an illness which requires a early extraction resulting in a 3 day hunt. The other was a group who could only hunt early and paid the price.

    We push our clients not to start hunts before Sept 13/14ish because it is to warm and the Bou are just not coming over as early as they use to. We have also pushed our end dates into October without last hunt out 10/7 last year. Our later hunting groups have to deal with colder weather but they are seeing much better hunting. Some folks feel that this may push the bulls into the run and end up with stinky meat issues. This has not been my experience.

    We are no doubt seeing the WACH boy numbers coming down. How will this end up? No idea. I assure all of you I will not push hunts on clients unless there is a good chance of bagging respectable bou.

    Walt
    Northwest Alaska Back Country Outfitters
    Unit 23/Kotzebue
    Drop Camps and Float hunts
    Booking 2016 now
    907-259-4290

    Pic 1 is an October 5th hunt 2014
    Glad to hear it, Walt! So it's a timing issue at this point. I do get a little apprehensive about hunting up that way after the end of September, and your photo of the slushy river reminds me of a Noatak hunt several years back, when the river was a giant slurpee, with ice shelved out from both banks. We couldn't get the boats launched, for fear we would not be able to get back to the bank. Also I am concerned about that pre-rut scenario with the meat.

    Guess we'll keep OTZ on the list!

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

  10. #10
    Member GDinAK's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    Kodiak
    Posts
    232

    Default

    I have hunted out of Kotz for caribou 8 out of the last 9 years. When we first started going we would plan a week long hunt that was generally planned to start around Labor Day weekend. We have hunted the last six years out of the same camp and have had a great time. That said for the last five or six years we have been going later and later trying to find caribou and time the migration, this year was the last week in September. As far as success we use to be able to pick and choose our caribou, every year we would have an opportunity to tag out, even if though we usually choose to just take one or two each. 3 out of the last 4 years we have seen no caribou, no fresh sign and know that no caribou were taken out of camp before or after we left. Again, we have a great camp and go to the same spot so we are not chasing them down or moving north however, we hunt pretty hard and I will often put on 20-25 miles a week just enjoying the country but, the caribou are simply not using that same migration path, with the same frequency, during the same time of year as they use to. Although I have been only going to this camp for the last nine years some of my hunting partners have been going there for thirty years and I will just say that at that location, the hunting or should I say harvesting has declined drastically. It is beautiful country, I look forward to going there every year and I cannot wait for things to turn around but these are not the glory days at that location. For what it is worth when I talk to locals or when I am visiting with other hunters at the airport I hear the similar reports. The airport terminal/frieght carriers use to be full of racks and meat from successful hunters now there are still some but not, like 8-9 years ago.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •