2 big reasons drove us to prioritize a Kodiak Island trip in 2017.
First, Alaskan hunting license and permit fees were scheduled to double on January 1, 2017, after riding at a bargain basement level for many years. You could buy a moose tag for $400!! I paid more than that for a pronghorn tag in Wyoming last year. Ha! At the coarsest level, given what other states charge for licenses, I think the license/permit fee increase was entirely justified. Beyond this simplistic reasoning, natural resource management is frequently one of the most under-funded of state (or federal for that matter!) agencies. Hunting and fishing licenses (+ excise taxes on sporting goods purchases through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts) are the lion’s share of each state agency’s budget. Admittedly I’m biased given my line of work, but as much as sportsmen and the general public entrust these resources to agency management, keeping them well-funded and operating at full tilt is something I wholeheartedly support. Alaska’s responsibilities constitute a unique position of managing game resources for use in more than just the traditional recreational sense, subsistence use is also a huge driver of their management. Lastly, anytime I’m in a wild place set aside in part or wholly by and for taxpayers, I for at least those few moments have no objections whatsoever to the taxes I pay Uncle Sam. Things can be both expensive and a bargain at the same time – I would argue that the vast majority of license/permit fees for non-residents fall in this category. (For residents, I would argue that the vast majority of states miserably undervalue wildlife resources by the nominal license/permit fees levied – but this is perhaps another issue for another day).
The second big reason is the current string of mild winters experienced by the Alaskan Archipelago. Kodiak Island has enjoyed 4 consecutive warmer winters with low frozen precipitation totals. The last big kill in 2011-2012 knocked numbers way back, but the herd has recovered quickly and the older age classes have a substantial number of mature bucks cruising the island. Herds are once again teetering on the over-abundant side and condition indices (fat thickness) were lower going into this winter. Even with “normal” conditions, it’s likely that a few of the weaker deer won’t make it but things don’t look to be headed towards a massive and indiscriminate winter kill. Buying our license and tags at the 2016 rates necessitated we gamble on the severity of the 2016-2017 winter, but I’m not too worried about it as I’ve an alternative plan hatched that could be implemented in case of emergency. Chuck Adams talks of an early season hunt where he could glass 300 deer in a single afternoon in the high country. While I don’t expect (or want) numbers like that, the Kodiak deer herd is strong and providing hunters with an exceptional hunting experience.