XXIII. ALASKAN GAME (Historic Information)

With material wealth, easy transportation, and improved fire-arms, civilized man has exploited the large game of the world during the past half century so mercilessly and persistently that many species are practically extinct. Among American game may be mentioned the buffalo on land, the sea-otter and the sea-lion on the ocean.

Devastation among the sea game of Alaskan waters has been enormous in amount and frightful in its results. Elliott states that in the seventy years prior to the cession of Alaska there were annually killed in its waters 10,000 walrus, which were the principal means of subsistence and of life of from seven to eight thousand natives. In forty years the whalers have practically annihilated the animal in Alaskan seas; the products, for the past ten years scarcely exceeding $10,000 annually, are now ended. There were shipped out of Alaska twenty walrus hides in 1906 and nineteen in 1907.

Of the effect on the natives of walrus exploitation J. N. Cobb, Assistant Agent Alaskan Fisheries, reports:

The white hunters rarely make use of anything but the two long curved tusks, which average about five pounds to the pair. If time permits, the flesh is boiled and the oil saved.

To many of the Esquimaux, especially on the Arctic shore, the walrus is almost a necessity of life, and the devastation wrought among the herds by the whalers has been, and is yet, the cause of fearful suffering and of death to many of the natives. The flesh is food for the men and dogs; the oil is used for food, for heating, and lighting; the skin makes a cover for the large skin boats; the intestines make water-proof clothing.

The commercial exploitation of other aquatic game, although not so destructive in its outcome, has been fatally successful. From 1881 to 1890, the average annual number of sea-otter caught was 4,784; in 1905, 61; in 1906, 28; and in 1907, 16 only. In similar periods the land-otter decreased from an annual average of 2,730 to 1,889, 1,709, and 1,393 respectively. The beaver from the catch of 6,094 annually fell off to 1,935 in 1905, 1,536 in 1906, and 1,159 in 1907.

The vast area of Alaska, its enormous number of large game, the difficulty of cross-country travel, and the expense of time and effort to hunt such game have been the principal factors in its past preservation.

It would require a volume by itself to consider game conditions in their general aspects, so that brief allusions are here made to the more important species only. These consist of bears, caribou, deer, moose, mountain goats, and mountain sheep.


Of the thirteen kinds of Alaskan bears recognized by scientists, the general public practically know only four general types: the brown bears, the grizzlies, the black bears, and the polar bears.

The belief that polar bears are numerous in Alaska is not justified by facts. They are very rarely found in the Bering Sea region, and are infrequent even on the Arctic coast, where they confine themselves largely to the polar pack, except when hibernating or when with young.

The grizzlies are of two varieties, whose habits are similar to those of the grizzlies of the United States. The Kenai grizzly has his habitat on the peninsula for which he is named, while the interior species is found most frequently in the Endicott, Nuzotin, and Alaskan Ranges, usually near the upper limit of timber.

Black bears roam over all Alaska south and east of the Yukon and Kuskokwim tundras. They are not of excessive size, though the largest of twelve, killed on the Alaskan Peninsula, had an unstretched skin seven feet nine and a half inches long. Quite shy, and their color frequently harmonizing with their environment, they are often located with difficulty. While the coast bears are mostly black in color, those of the interior are not infrequently of the cinnamon variety. Perhaps the most interesting species of this group is the so-called blue or glacier bear of the St. Elias Alps, which is very rarely seen and imperfectly known.

The most numerous and important group is that of the brown bears, which from their size and ferocity are widely known. They are the largest carnivorous animals in the world, being approached in size only by the polar bear and by their Kamchatkan relatives. Apparently the largest Kodiak bearskins known are of a Kidder variety, ten feet, and of a Dall variety, ten feet two inches; there is, however, a stretched skin measuring thirteen feet.

The brown bear ranges almost exclusively in the coast region, and is found from extreme southern Alaska to the Alaska Peninsula and on islands adjacent thereto. They are not only terrifying from their size and great strength, but are, occasionally at least, dangerous to traveller as well as to hunter. They are great and skilful salmon fishers, though vegetarians and carnivorous when the salmon season is past.

The brown bears are divided by scientists into the following species: Kodiak bear, on Kodiak, the Dall and the Kidder bears, on Alaska Peninsula; Yakut at bear, in St. Elias region; Sitka bear, on Baranof Island; and Admiralty bear, on Admiralty Island.


The caribou of Alaska are the only ones now found in the United States. Their habitat is the reindeer-moss regions; largely the tundras and barren mountain ridges. Wherever man comes in numbers the unsuspicious caribou are speedily exterminated or driven away, for they are gregarious, are not keen-sighted, and display scant sagacity in eluding hunters. They keep to the open country and rarely enter timber, so that they are readily found and easily slaughtered. They suffer less from the antler-trophy hunters than from the meat hunters who supply mining camps and prospectors.

Mr. W. U. Osgood, in his excellent "Game Resources of Alaska," from which many of these data are drawn, says of their migrations.

Caribou Hunter Returning with Game.

The great herds in the fall of the year perform a more or less regular movement in the nature of a migration, and within certain limits their course of travel and times of arrival at given points are well known. The best known of the large herds is the one which collects along the watershed between the Yukon and Tanana rivers. This herd still numbers from 1,000 to 3,000 or more animals, although levied upon annually by hunters from Fortymile, Eagle, Circle, and the mining towns on the Tanana River. Herds, perhaps equally large, range the little-known Arctic slope along the Endicott Mountains.

While hunters usually divide caribou into two general classes, woodland and barren-ground, scientists recognize three species: the Arctic, ranging in northern Alaska; the Grant, on Alaska Peninsula; and the Stone, on Kenai Peninsula.

Alaska Moose

Possibly the giant moose is the most interesting of the large game, for it is not only the largest land animal in America, but is also the largest member of the deer family in the world. The moose is of enormous size, and its weight sometimes exceeds 1,600 pounds. The average spread of their magnificent antlers is over five feet from tip to tip; there are many recorded spreads exceeding six feet, with a maximum example of six feet nine inches.

As is shown by the map on the next page, their range practically covers timbered Alaska, except in the south-east. They are found in quite large numbers in the Yukon Valley, between Circle and Eagle, but are especially numerous on Kenai Peninsula, where favorable environment produces specimens of a size unequalled elsewhere.


The only Alaskan variety, the Sitkan deer, is exceedingly abundant in southeastern Alaska, where it inhabits the Alexander Archipelago (see preceding text map) and the adjacent mainland from the boundary north to Juneau. Slaughtered by the thousand in past years, the Sitkan deer now bids fair to hold its own under recent game laws.


Mountain Goats

This unique animal is rather of the chamois or antelope type than of the goat family. It has long, pure white hair, and the horns of both sexes are small, (from seven to ten inches in length), recurved, and blackish. Its range (see map in Chapter XXII) is almost entirely confined to the coast slopes of the mainland mountains, from Portland Canal north to the western spurs of the Chugach Mountains.

Osgood, in his interesting description, writes.

It lives almost entirely high altitudes, frequenting steep cliffs, rock-walled canons, and summits of an even more forbidding nature than those traversed by mountain sheep. To approach a mountain goat successfully is more a feat of mountaineering than of crafty hunting. To get above a white goat is in most cases to get to the ultimate heights.

Mountain Sheep

The pure white Dall variety is the only mountain sheep of Alaska. Especially a mountaineer, the white sheep is only absent from mountains in the vicinity of permanent settlements, whether white or native, and from the Alaska Peninsula and coastal fronts of the Alaskan range.

Of the hunt of the mountain sheep Osgood relates:

They are keen of vision and, unlike most game animals, depend little upon scent for warning of danger; but in spite of this it is no easy task to approach one of these alert, far-sighted animals on an open mountainside. To those physically equipped for it, hunting mountain sheep is unquestionably one of the greatest sports, and Alaska is one of the best fields for it in the world. To the inspiring and exhilarating joys of mountaineering are added the uncertainties and excitements of the chase.


Of Alaska as a hunting ground Radclyffe writes:

From a sportsman's point of view the country is still a paradise, for big game of various kinds still abounds, and owing to the stringent game laws passed by the United States it appears to be well protected for many years to come.

Of his five months of hunting in western Alaska, Colonel Caine says:

The inducement was the fact that there was one of the finest natural hunting grounds in the world, and one not yet shot out. Was not the Kodiak huge bear the biggest of his species on earth, bar the polar bear? Was not the Alaska moose a veritable giant, with a spread of antlers averaging twelve inches more than his cousins of Canada? And further, was there not the white Alaskan sheep, the most graceful and beautiful of the big-horn family, though not the largest? Besides there were caribou, walrus, seals, sea-lions, wolves, and wolverines.

The preservation of Alaskan game has always been recognized as a subject of great public importance. As elsewhere stated Congress, in 1869, established the Pribilof reservation for the protection of the fur-seal, and at intervals, too long it must be said, action has been secured to preserve other game. How great was the moral necessity of similar Congressional legislation appears in the brief allusions made in this chapter to the passing of the walrus.

A comprehensive law for the protection of game was passed in 1902, and regulations thereof were made in 1903 as to caribou, walrus, waterfowl, trophies, etc. The effect was practically nil as to walrus, and ineffective in many other ways.

The establishment of the great forest reserves in Alaska was beneficial, directly as well as indirectly, to game preservation, as, under Forest Regulations, No. 84, forest officials are charged to co-operate in the "enforcement of local laws for the protection of game."

A great advance was made in the law of May 11, 1908, which divided Alaska into two game districts, one north and one south of latitude 62°, with special seasons for each; establishing a non-resident hunting license, with fees of 850 for citizens of the United States and $100 for aliens, and resident and non-resident shipping licenses, ranging from $5 to $150, authorizing the governor to issue licenses, appoint wardens, establish regulations for the registration of guides, and fix the rates for licensing guides and the rates of compensation for guiding. (Stat. 60th Cong., 102.)

Under the law, game animals include deer, moose, caribou, mountain sheep, mountain goats, brown bear, sea-lions, and walrus; game waterfowl comprise ducks, brant, geese, swans, grouse, ptarmigan, and shore birds.

The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to modify regulations according to necessities, and even to prohibit killing entirely for a period not exceeding two years. There are rigid regulations as to licenses, killing, sales, and exports. The salient features are as follows:

Licenses are granted by the governor, expire December 31; the cost to a non-resident is $50, to an alien $100. Each license has coupons authorizing the shipment of two moose (if killed north of 62°), four deer, three caribou (except from Kenai Peninsula until 1912), three mountain sheep, three goats, and three brown bear.

Close Seasons.

North of latitude 62°:

Moose, caribou, sheep ... Dec. 11 Aug. 1.

South of latitude 62°;

Deer ........ June 1 Dec. 15.

Mountain goat..... Feb. 2-Apr. 1.

Moose, caribou (see exception), sheep..... Jan. 1 Aug. 20.

Brown bear...... July 2 Oct. 1.

Grouse, ptarmigan, shore birds, waterfowl..... Mar. 2 Sept. 1.

Exception: Caribou on the Kenai-Peninsula. To .... Aug. 20, 1912.

Game animals or birds may be killed at any time for food or clothing by native Indians or Esquimaux, or by miners or explorers in need of food, but game so killed cannot be shipped or sold.

Export of Game Prohibited. - Deer, moose, caribou, sheep, goat, bear, or hides of these animals; wild birds, except eagles, or any parts thereof.

Exceptions. Specimens may be exported under restrictions imposed by the Secretary of Agriculture, and trophies of big game under licenses issued by the governor. Not more than one general ($40) license and two special ($150) moose licenses issued to one person in one year. Each shipper must file with customs office at port of shipment an affidavit that he has not violated the game law, that the trophy to be shipped has not been bought or purchased, has not been sold, and is not shipped for purpose of sale; that he is the owner of the trophy, and, in case of moose, whether the animal from which it was taken was killed north or south of latitude 62°.

Limits for Capture of Game. Two moose, three each of caribou, sheep, and brown bears a season; twenty-five grouse, ptarmigan, shore birds, or waterfowl a day.

Guides. They must be either American citizens or natives of Alaska, and have a certificate from the governor, who fixes their fees. The employment of a registered guide is obligatory on all hunting on Kenai Peninsula.

The reservations recently made for the protection of game birds and animals are mentioned in Chapter VI. By their establishment the United States has finally come to recognize officially that as a hunting region Alaska is scarcely surpassed on the western hemisphere, and that its vast game resources should be so conserved as to yield a material income for many generations.

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