Small game in Alaska includes hares, grouse and ptarmigan. Small game can provide excellent hunting opportunities, especially in years when these species are abundant.
Hunting small game can be relatively simple, with minimal equipment. Some hunters like to work with a hunting dog, but it’s not necessary. Small game hunting tends to be much more casual than hunting deer, moose or other big game – a small game hunter can take to the field with a shotgun or .22 rifle and the basic gear for an afternoon hike. For this reason, grouse, hares and ptarmigan offer a good introduction to hunting for beginners.
Medium game in Alaska includes Lynx, wolverine and wolf - These species require an experienced hunter. It is the pelts hunters prize with these animals and they are usually hunted by trapping. However, they can make for a great challenge in a rifle hunt & are sometimes included with other big game hunts. Keep in mind a wolf can weigh 100+ lbs.
Guides / Outfitters
Guides / Outfitters provide alot of knowledge, equipment and transportation you will need in the field. They can help you with permits / licenses, tags, accommodations and transporting your trophy. They know how to preserve your trophy while in the field. Most importantly, they know the area and the species your seeking to ensure you have a safe, rewarding and successful hunting experience.
Even if you know Alaska and have hunted the same area and / or species before, we strongly suggest that you enlist a licensed guide / outfitter for either trapping or hunting of any species. Alaska weather can change on a dime - a dry wash for example can become a raging river. Getting lost and predators are another concern. It is also a BAD idea to go hunting alone.
A nonresident who hunts brown/grizzly bear, Dall sheep, or mountain goat must be personally accompanied by a licensed guide OR by an Alaska resident over 19 years of age who is related.
Nonresident Aliens: (A person who is not a citizen of the United States and whose permanent home is not in the USA) A nonresident alien must be personally accompanied by a licensed guide to hunt ANY big game animal, including black bear, brown/grizzly bear, bison, caribou, Dall sheep, deer, elk, moose, mountain goat, muskox, wolf* and wolverine.
Brief Overview of Small - Medium Game Regulations
The current Alaska hunting regulations cover harvest limits, seasons and general hunting restrictions. One of the most common hunting violations in Alaska is committed by small game hunters – shooting grouse from the road. Hunters are not allowed to shoot on, from or across the drivable surface of a road or highway.
Regulations are available free at Fish and Game offices and most sporting goods stores. They are also available online.
Read the general hunting restrictions section, this applies to all hunters. Read the section on small game which details harvest limits and seasons. Alaska is divided into 26 game management units, or GMUs. Find the unit where you plan to hunt. Alaska’s small game bag limits are generous compared to most states, but they differ from region to region and GMU to GMU. Some units are divided into subunits, and seasons and bag limits may vary within these.
Grouse bag limits range from five birds per day in some areas to 15 in others. Ptarmigan limits are even more generous. In most areas, the seasons run from late summer until early spring.
It is legal to hunt hares year-round in many parts of Alaska. In Southeast and coastal Southcentral, the season runs through the winter, extending from late summer to mid-spring.
Small - Medium Game Hunting Tips
Camouflage is important to small game survival – it’s possible to look right at an animal and not see it. Study pictures of game in books and make the most of wildlife watching opportunities. Most hunters are also avid wildlife watchers. Watching wildlife during the off-season is one of the best things a beginning hunter can do. Developing a keen eye for game animals in the field, and learning their habits, is critical for a hunter.
The search image is a mental picture of the shape, size and color of the quarry. Ideally, the search image can be just a part of the animal, since animals are often partially obscured by brush. Hares may be white against snow, but there’s some contrast to look for – the dark beady eye or the black rim of the ear.
It’s also important to be sensitive to motion. As mammalian predators, we are keyed into movement, and movement gives animals away. Because they are well camouflaged, grouse, ptarmigan and hares will often freeze in place rather than run. Move slowly, stop periodically and listen. It’s also helpful to change your point of view, crouch down and look at the ground level. You’re not looking through as much brush that way.
Hunting with a partner provides an extra set of eyes and ears, and improves your chances of finding game. Hunters moving in parallel have a better chance of flushing game. Specific patches of cover can be worked strategically with the help of a partner.
If hares or birds are in a patch of brush, one hunter can be ‘the dog,’ and move into the brush and flush them out to the waiting hunter. The location of the hunter in the brush must be clear at all times. Some hunters tie a bit of orange flagging tape to the gun barrel and raise it periodically. You can even talk while you’re doing it, since the idea is to flush the game.
Hunters moving parallel through the forest should stay 25 to 100 feet apart, depending on the density of the brush. In promising habitat, hunters can move in an alternating stop and go pattern, with one hunter walking slowly while the other stops to watch. Game animals often focus on the moving hunter and overlook the still hunter.
Cleaning Small Game
Game should be cleaned as soon as possible after it has been shot. It is important for the body heat to escape and for meat to cool. A clean, sharp knife is your main tool, and latex gloves are handy.
You are legally required to salvage the breast meat from game birds. For small birds such as ptarmigan, the breast is most of the meat on the bird.
To remove the breast meat from game birds such as ptarmigan and ruffed grouse, slit or tear the skin down the middle of the breast. Tear the skin loose from the entire breast. The two breasts are separated by the keel of the breastbone. Slip the blade of a sharp knife under the breast meat and work it forward. When you hit the front – the wishbone – follow the wishbone right on down and peel the meat off. It’s also possible to simply pry the breast meat out with your thumbs. There is no need to gut the bird. To take the drumsticks, peel the skin and feathers off the legs. Cut the feet off, then cut the legs off at the hips. Rinse the meat off.
There is a trick to cleaning spruce grouse that is probably best demonstrated. It is possible to lay the bird on the ground with its wings spread, step on the wings, then grab the legs and pull. The legs and breasts come off, and the guts stay with the wings.
Blue grouse are about twice the size of ruffed grouse and most hunters prepare these birds like chickens. Rather than take just the breasts and thighs, they’ll pull the organs out and take the entire bird home.
Some people prefer plucking the feathers off game birds rather than skinning. Leaving the skin on the bird helps keep the meat moist and tender, but plucking is a chore.
In all cases, be sure to trim away any badly shot up areas, and remove any shot pellets. Some folks soak the meat in salt water for three hours in the refrigerator, as the salt water helps draw out the blood and any feathers that the shot has pushed into the meat.
Small Game - Gear Checklist
* Bows, Firearms, Cartridge, and Ammunition for Hunting Alaska:
The rifle you bring hunting should be one with which you are comfortable. many hunters have been convinced that a .300, .338, .375, or .416 magnum is needed for personal protection and to take large Alaska game. This is simply not true.
1.Rifle/handgun: State regulations require that rifles and handguns must fire a 200-grain or larger bullet, which retains at least 2000 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards. A .30-06 with a 220-grain bullet is about the minimal weapon that meets this specification. Please do not bring your favorite firearm and expect to use it if it does not meet the above criteria.
2.Muzzleloader: Muzzle-loading rifles must be .54 caliber or larger, or at least .45 caliber with a 250-grain or larger elongated slug. Further, for safety reasons, those hunting with muzzleloaders must also have within easy reach a smokeless powder rifle meeting the centerfire rifle requirements listed above.
3.Bow: Longbows, recurve bows, or compound bows are permitted, but they must have a peak draw weight of 50 pounds or more. Arrows must be at least 20 inches in overall length, and tipped with unbarbed, fixed or replaceable-blade type broadheads. Arrow and broadhead together must weigh at least 300 grains total weight. As with hunters using muzzleloaders, ADF&G strongly recommends that bowhunters have a rifle close at hand.
* If you are planning on packing out moose meat, caribou meat, or a brown bear hide weighing hundreds of pounds, you can carry a 9- to 11-pound rifle including scope. A rifle of this weight in .300 or .338 magnum can be mastered with a lot of practice.
SUMMERY: You can’t go wrong with a stainless steel bolt-action rifle chambered for a standard cartridge that you are comfortable with and can shoot accurately, loaded with a high quality bullet.