By Tim Mowry
Published Thursday, January 8, 2009
FAIRBANKS — It’s amazing what some Alaskans will do to get a moose, even if it means camping out overnight at 40 degrees below zero just to be able to get a permit to try.
That’s what more than three dozen hunters did Tuesday night at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on College Road in order to get one of 36 permits the state issued on a first-come, first-serve basis to kill a cow or bull moose in the Minto Flats Management Area just north of town in the next two months.
The fact that Fairbanks is locked in its worst cold snap in at least a decade didn’t seem to phase the 40 or so hunters who were looking to put some moose meat in the freezer.
The line for permits began forming at noon Tuesday, almost 24 hours before permits were scheduled to be issued at 10 a.m. Wednesday. By Wednesday morning, the scene in the back parking lot resembled a small community.
There were seven tents of assorted sizes and colors set up in a row behind the building, three of which were equipped with propane heaters or wood stoves that sent smoke billowing from small chimneys sticking out the top.
A line of folding camp chairs were set up in an L around the corner of the building, some of which had heaters attached to propane tanks sitting next to them to keep the occupants warm.
Hunters dressed in just about every kind of arctic clothing you can imagine were standing in line, stomping their feet in an attempt to keep their blood circulating.
They wore parkas with fur ruffs, insulated Carhartt coveralls, neoprene facemasks, bunny boots, mukluks and mittens stuffed with chemical handwarmers.
Gary Chamberlain, a 60-year-old Fairbanks retiree with a big, bushy mustache, showed up at noon on Tuesday to set up his orange Arctic Oven Tent. He was No. 2 in line and his friend, who didn’t want to be identified, held the No. 1 spot.
Dressed in a big parka with a fur ruff that hid most of his face, insulated bibs, heavy mittens and bunny boots, Chamberlain said it wasn’t as bad as it looked, in large part because of the tent he had set up.
“It’s got a vented propane heater so it’s 70 degrees in there,” Chamberlain said, unzipping the door to prove it as a blast of warm air escaped.
Some hunters, like Sally Rafson and Erik Salitan, though, didn’t have the luxury of a heated tent to stay warm. They showed up at 4 p.m. Wednesday to get a spot in line.
The two friends from Fairbanks dressed for the cold and took turns warming up in Salitan’s small pickup truck, which they left running all night long.
“It was great,” said Rafson, exchanging a high five with Salitan.
Salitan, a 24-year-old registered hunting guide, agreed.
“We met a lot of crazy people,” he said. “We had fun. We had a good time.”
Why would hunters go to such extremes to get a permit for the Minto Flats hunt?
“I want to shoot a moose,” Rafson, a 26-year-old substitute teacher, said when asked why she was doing it. “I need some meat.”
And as far as meat hunts go, the Minto Flats winter hunt is a good one, assuming you have a snowmachine or know someone who does so you can get there. Hunters can kill a calf, cow or bull moose and they have from Saturday to Feb. 28 to do it.
Last year, the state issued a total of 97 permits for the Minto Flats winter hunt and of the 76 recipients who reported hunting, 44 killed a moose, a success rate of 58 percent, according to Fairbanks assistant area biologist Tom Seaton.
As Chamberlain put it, “It’s an easy hunt.”
This year, the state issued 91 permits for the Minto Flats winter hunt — 36 in Fairbanks, 33 in Minto and 22 in Nenana. The permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis because the hunt is designated a subsistence hunt and can’t be distributed by a lottery drawing, according to Fairbanks area biologist Don Young, who drove to Minto to issue permits on Wednesday.
The demand for permits is so high and the number of moose allotted for the hunt is low enough that game managers can’t make it a general hunt, he said.
“We can’t go with an unlimited number of permits because of conservation concerns so what we’re left with is a limited registration hunt,” Young said.
The department also issues permits for a fall hunt. Like the winter hunt, a line typically forms a day or two in advance for those permits, too, Young said. The fact that hunters are willing to stand in line overnight at 40 below shows how popular the hunt is, he said.
“It does amaze me,” Young said of what hunters will go through to get a permit.
To be eligible for a permit, hunters must be Alaska residents, have a current hunting license and can’t have killed a moose since July 1.
This is the third year in a row that Dave Hyland of Fairbanks has camped out to get a Minto Flats permit.
“This has become a tradition,” he said of waiting in line to get a permit. “You run across the same folks, drink coffee and tell hunting stories.”
Hyland bagged a cow moose each of the last two years and is hoping to do so again this year. Standing in line to get a permit is the hardest part of the hunt, he said.
“This is half the hunt,” said the 48-year-old Hyland, co-owner of Goldstream Water.
His business partner hunts in the fall while Hyland holds down the fort at work. Hyland said he prefers hunting in the winter, anyway.
“You don’t have the leaves,” he said. “You don’t have the bugs.”
Both cows he has harvested have had plenty of fat and were good eating, he said.
“They were excellent,” he said.
The cold weather didn’t bother Hyland, who was No. 9 in line. Like Chamberlain, he spent the night inside a cozy, propane-heated Arctic Oven Tent that he set up.
“It was toasty,” Hyland said of his sanctuary. “We had to turn the heaters down.”
Toughing it out
Doug Harvey showed up at 11 p.m. Tuesday to get the 30th spot in line. He pitched a tent and used a big kerosene heater to keep it warm through the night
By Wednesday morning, he had abandoned the tent and was standing in line next to the heater, which was still burning.
“This thing has been running about 12 hours on one gallon of kerosene,” he said.
Wearing a heavy parka, neoprene face mask, Sorel boots, insulated pants, mittens and sheep-skinned lined musher’s hat, Harvey was dressed for the cold.
“This is kind of like a fitness test,” Harvey, a 48-year-old corrections officer at Fairbanks Correctional Center, said of spending the night out at 40 below. “If you can survive the wait to get a permit then you’re good to hunt.”
Harvey waited in line to get a permit last year, too, but he didn’t get a moose.
“We went out there, and after about three hours my partner wanted to go home to his kids,” said Harvey, who added that he won’t be taking the same hunting partner this season.
Father and daughter
Archie Wollmann was standing in line with his 9-year-old daughter, Emma, who was bundled up from head to toe in an oversized parka, insulated pants, bunny boots, mittens and a down facemask. She was by far the youngest person in line.
“It was her idea. That’s why we’re here,” said the elder Wollmann, explaining their presence in line. “She wanted to know what it was like to sleep outside.”
They arrived at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday and spent about half their time standing in line and sleeping in their truck.
For the most part it was fun, Emma said through her facemask. Her dad enjoyed the experience, too, although he admitted it got a little cold at times. The camaraderie shared by the hunters standing in line helped pass the time, he said.
“That’s half the fun, getting around and visiting,” he said. “I was surprised. There was no carousing or anything. Everybody was civilized. It’s nothing you couldn’t bring a kid to. Everyone just sits around and tells hunting stories.”
It will all be worth it if they get a moose, Archie Wollmann said. He bagged a cow moose in last year’s hunt after standing in line to get a permit and is hoping to do the same this year.
Wollmann plans to take his 11-year-old daughter, Kelsea, on the hunt.
“The deal was (Emma) got to come with me on this and Kelsea is going to go hunting,” said Archie Wollmann, a 41-year-old civilian radar technician at Eielson Air Force Base.
The hunt, which requires a snowmachine trip to the Minto Flats, isn’t as easy as people think, he said.
“It’s a tough hunt,” Wollmann said. “It’s an overnight deal, and you could easily be camping out at 50 below. Last year, we got real lucky. The coldest night we had was 20 below and the temperature plummeted to 40 below when we got out.”
Ian Carpenter had the unfortunate luck of being number 37 in line. He arrived at about 6 a.m. Wednesday, about three hours too late to get a spot in the first 36.
“I’m hoping someone in one of those tents asphyxiated in one,” joked Carpenter, a 35-year-old carpenter. “I’m hoping something goes wrong for somebody.”
Chamberlain’s only beef about standing in line was that the Department of Fish and Game shut off the headbolt heaters in the parking lot so people could not plug in their vehicles overnight instead of keeping them running.
“Having all these vehicles staying out here all night long spewing stuff into the air, it’s rough on the vehicles and it’s rough on the environment,” he said. “What would it do to Fish and Game’s budget to keep them on for one night?”