The abundance of deer like this one in Petersburg are not indicative of the overall population on Mitkof Island. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

The deer hunt on Mitkof Island continues until the end of the month. State surveys in recent years have shown a major increase in the deer population around Petersburg. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

The bag limit for deer hunting near Petersburg are among the most restricted in the region because of low deer numbers.

To help track the local population, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has documented deer pellets on Mitkof Island, and Lindenburg Peninsula and Portage Bay on Kupreanof Island. In addition, since 2013, the state has been doing aerial alpine surveys in late July and early August.

Biologists fly the areas and count all the deer they see. And the numbers of deer they’ve seen in the last four years has tripled.

Rich Lowell is the Area Management Biologist for Fish and Game.

“So that part looks pretty good,” Lowell said. “We’re really optimistic about this survey alpine technique.”

Lowell says there are two reasons why they could be seeing a population increase with deer.

“One, we’ve had three mild winters in a row and obviously that helps with deer survival through the winter,” Lowell said. “And over the last three years we’ve encouraged trappers to step up their wolf trapping efforts and so that has reduced predation on deer as well.”

But is seeing more deer in the alpine representative of the population as a whole? That gets a little tricky.

“Not all deer are seasonally migratory,” Lowell said. “Some stay at low elevation, others move up to the alpine in the summer and drop back down. And so we don’t know what proportion of the population is migratory or non-migratory. And so there is a lot of research work to be done there.”

Managers are trying to standardize the surveys as much as possible. They fly each area five times at the same time of day—the last two hours of daylight—and preferably during similar weather conditions.

Another way to track the local deer population is through harvest data. Last year there were increases in the harvests for Mitkof, Kupreanof, and Zarembo Islands.

“If you make more deer and you have more deer out there then people are going to harvest more deer,” Lowell said. “And so the trend looks promising.”

When you add the aerial surveys and the harvest number to anecdotal reports from hunters the outlook is good, says Lowell. But any change to bag limits would have to wait until the Board of Game meets in January of 2019.

“The other thing is we want to make sure that this population is headed in the right direction and increasing enough that we’re prepared to liberalize the season length or the bag limit,” Lowell said.

The deer hunt near Mitkof and part of Kupreanof closest to Petersburg closes on October 31. It continues on Zarembo, western Kupreanof and other parts of the region.