Wednesday marked the official opening of deer season, and wildlife biologists say that after last winter’s harsh conditions there will be less deer on the island than in past years.
“We’re guessing that we lost about 25 to 30 percent of our deer population,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist John Crye said. “It was a harsh winter with record snow and cold.”
Crye said the northern side of Kodiak and the west side of Afognak were the hardest hit.
“There still should be good hunting on the east side of Afognak and the south end of Kodiak Island,” Crye said.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game determined which locations were hit hardest by flying around the island, conducting a deer mortality survey, and gathering information from bear guides and other people who were out in the spring.
Next year the department could have a better idea of how winter affects the deer population if a pilot study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turns out to provide an effective method to count deer.
The department spent time in May conducting an aerial survey to assess deer abundance on the south end of the island.
They used a distance sampling approach to estimate the number of deer they were seeing, and to estimate the number of deer that were missing based on how far away the deer were and how big of a group they were in.
“The goal was to determine the feasibility of approach to open habitats on Kodiak,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist McCrea Cobb. “Ideally we’ll apply the method to these areas, and hopefully next year have a better idea of what populations will do.”
Cobb said the department is still in the process of analyzing the data and assembling a model, but expects to have results in the next month. The results will tell whether or not that approach could work for counting deer on that part of the island.
“Part of the larger goal is really determining changes in abundance so we can give a better idea of what effects weather has on populations,” Cobb said.
Fish and Game said there aren’t any changes to the hunts this year, but the reporting system has changed. Hunters will have to fill out a new harvest report card at the end of the season. They can do it online or pick up a paper copy at the Fish and Game building.