JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
With fishing season in Alaska coming to an end, many Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson residents will soon take to the backcountry to fill the gap in outdoor recreation, and the freezer, during this year’s hunting season.
The Alaska wilderness has the potential to offer a unique set of experiences and challenges not found anywhere else in the world, but it comes with a significant cost if not taken seriously.
If you don't already have your hunter certification, check out the online Hunter Safety Courses.
In Alaska, it is required for hunters born after January 1, 1986, and who intend to hunt in Units 7, 13–15, and 20.
“Regardless of where you intend to hunt though, we recommend getting your Hunter Safety Course Certification,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jon Reed, a 673 Air Base Wing safety office occupational safety technician. “Always double-check the requirements to be sure you are in compliance though.”
If you happen to choose hunting as your outdoor activity, there are some things you can consider ahead of time to help you have a safe and memorable experience.
“The number one thing to take into consideration when hunting or hiking is checking the weather constantly,” said James Wendland, chief wildlife conservation officer for JBER. “You have to prepare for everything this time of year. Depending on the altitude you are visiting, you could encounter rain, snow and sun all in the same day. Match your clothing to the weather conditions and the amount of time you plan to be exposed to the elements. It doesn’t matter how physically fit, prepared or experienced you are, things happen.”
While dressing in layers and preparing for drastic swings in temperature and conditions is important, so is ensuring you have the proper gear. Make sure you and your children wear blaze orange to help identify your location to other hunters.
It’s not uncommon to meet individuals new to Alaska, who may not have experienced such extreme weather and terrain conditions who end up making some very risky choices, Wendland said.
“‘Tombstone courage’ describes what some individuals may feel when they think they are experienced in an activity they are about to partake in,” said Mark Sledge, senior conservation officer for JBER. “This courage gives them a false sense of security when it comes to exploring Alaska.”
Wendland and Sledge recalled an individual who went bird hunting on the back side of the base. He followed the safety rules he was used to and thought he was prepared. Although he had prepared for the weather conditions that morning, the weather changed rapidly, exposing him to conditions he wasn’t prepared for and putting him at risk of hypothermia. He was rescued, but the situation could’ve resulted in severe consequences.
Even though technological advances in hunting arms, equipment and techniques have been made, there is still risk when venturing into the backcountry in search of game animals with firearms.
Beginning hunters and seasonal shooters alike can ensure an enjoyable trip into the wild by adhering to the following basic rules of gun safety. Always assume the gun is loaded; make sure of your target and only point at what you intend to shoot. When walking, keep the muzzle pointed at the ground and your finger off the trigger. Keep the barrel free of debris and only climb a stand, hop a fence or cross a ditch with an unloaded firearm.
“Guns aren’t your only hazard in the wilderness,” Reed said. “Make sure your structure or tree stand is in good repair and capable of supporting you. Use a safety harness to avoid falls.”
Use caution when operating all-terrain vehicles— especially over steep terrain—and wear all required safety equipment.
In addition to personal protective equipment, Wendland strongly recommends carrying a dry bag with changes of clothes, GPS and maps, emergency food, waterproof fire starters, a water filtration device, and a small first aid kit stocked with a blood-clotting agent and a tourniquet.
“You have to make sure your equipment is tested prior to leaving; just because they are in good working order now doesn’t mean they will stay that way,” Wendland said. “There are some places in Alaska you won’t get a signal on anything, including satellites, so it’s very necessary to have a back-up plan.”
Sledge also recommends individuals planning a trip consider a personal locating beacon with two-way communication. These are available for rent at the Outdoor Recreation Center.
“Learning the skill of map and compass reading is very necessary here,” Sledge said. “Paper maps can be obtained through the Public Lands Office located in Anchorage as an alternative plan to electronic equipment.”
In addition to equipment, Wendland suggests traveling in groups of two or three. Whether it’s your first time in the wilderness or you’re a seasoned adventurer, there is safety in numbers. Children should never hunt alone, and no one should hunt without notifying an additional adult about where they are going and when they plan to return.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game website advises leaving a trip plan with a trusted individual who knows the area you’re visiting and the plan for return, so they can alert authorities if you fail to return.
Hunting regulations differ depending on what area of Alaska you’re visiting. Being unaware of the rules will not be excused as the ADF&G provides guidance via their website and printed regulation booklets which include numbers to call for clarification. Violating those regulations can lead to legal ramifications which could include confiscation of equipment, loss of privileges and hefty fines.
“Common mistakes are taking the wrong kind of animal,” said Sledge. “What I mean by that is know the state rules for the area you are hunting. One example is each hunting area of the state may have a different size requirement for taking a bull moose- spike or fork, three brow tines or four. Educate yourself on the requirements. Examples of brow tines are in the state hunting regulations. The top reason for common mistakes is failure to educate yourself on the legal hunt requirements for the area.”
Ethical hunting practices, in combination with safe judgement and educated decision-making, can lead to an enjoyable and memorable experience in the field.
For those new to the sport or with little experience hunting in Alaska, the Outdoor Adventure Program also offers free classes taught by experienced instructors about basic survival essentials and best practices. Classes include cold weather safety, moose and caribou processing, and an introduction into winter hiking and camping.
The OAP preparation and safety classes are open to all active-duty, retirees, Department of Defense civilians, National Guard and Reserve employees and dependents. Registration is required for most classes.
For more information about these classes or programs offered, visit http://www.jberlife.com/fun/outdoor-recreation/ or call 552-3812.
“Mother Nature doesn’t play,” Wendland said. “Having a plan and being prepared can mean the difference between an amazing experience and a potentially life-threatening situation.”
For additional information on available equipment rentals and safety classes, visit http://www.jberlife.com/fun/outdoor-recreation/.
For additional resources visit:
Air Force Safety Center https://cs2.eis.af.mil/sites/10178/Pages/Fall%20Safety/Hunting-Safety.aspx
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service https://www.fws.gov/hunting/
Alaska Department of Fish and Game http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=hunting.main
Hunter Safety Course https://www.hunter-ed.com/
JBER Wildlife https://jber.isportsman.net/Wildlife.aspx Phone: 907-552-8609