Hunting for Mulchatna caribou is closed on both state and federal lands. Game managers hope that the closure will help the herd grow after years of decline.
Caribou hunting usually picks up during the first months of the year as rivers and lakes freeze solid, and snowmachine trails open to hunting grounds along the Kuskokwim River and Bristol Bay region. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Phillip Perry says that his office recently received reports of caribou being harvested out of season. Managers want to spread the word that the hunt for the Mulchatna caribou, usually open this time of year, is closed this season to preserve the herd.
State biologists estimate 13,500 caribou remain in the Mulchatna herd based off aerial surveys conducted last summer. That number is half of what the population was five years ago in 2016, when biologists estimate the herd reached 27,000 caribou. State managers want to grow the herd to between 30,000 to 80,000 caribou to maintain a healthy population that can withstand regular harvest.
Perry said that biologists do not know why the herd has dropped to such low numbers. State managers have worked to expand the dwindling herd since 2011 by increasing wolf removal in calving areas. In 2019, managers decreased the bag limit from two caribou to one and closed the season two months early.
Usually the caribou hunting season is open August through March. But this season, the hunt only ran from Aug. 1 to Sept. 20, with permitted hunters limited to one bull caribou.