A buck grazes in on a mountaintop on the Lindenberg Peninsula of Kupreanof Island near Petersburg. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Alaska’s Board of Game Tuesday approved a longer deer season near Petersburg. The board amended a proposal to extend the deer hunt two weeks into November but agreed to offer more hunting opportunity in October.

The Sitka black tail deer season on the islands near Petersburg is two weeks long in late October, with a one buck bag limit. Local hunters have been seeking to extend that time. Petersburg resident Steve Burrell proposed an addition 16 days of hunting in November.

“It’s more hunting opportunity for the local residents,” Burrell said. “It’s a two week season. And I don’t believe there’s anywhere in Southeast that has a two-week season except for Petersburg.”

Deer hunting on Mitkof Island was closed in the 70s and 80s after the deer population crashed. It reopened in 1991 with the two week season. In 2013 the board voted to shorten the Lindenberg season, reduce the bag limit from two bucks to one buck and close that area to non-resident deer hunting. That was also over concerns with dropping deer numbers.

Local resident Ed Wood opposed a longer local season. “Because of the size of the local population of hunters here, designated hunters, proxies, and the easy road access for much of the area, I have very real concerns about the potential for over-harvesting if the board implements a blanket season extension of an additional two weeks,” Wood said. He suggested an antler restricted hunt if the season were to be lengthened.

Comment from local hunters was also split on the topic. Some wanted the longer season in an area easier to reach by vehicle and boat. Others thought the deer populations could not support an increased harvest. Petersburg’s advisory committee supported the longer season but the vote was split.

Hunters on Mitkof, Woewodski and Butterworth islands have averaged 71 bucks a year the last three years and 46 on Lindenberg. Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff cautioned that doubling the deer harvest in the area may not be sustainable. But they noted signs of deer populations increasing in recent years with milder winters. Another factor is likely an increased effort to trap wolves in the area.

Board member Larry Van Daele of Kodiak summed up his conflicted views on the extension. “My initial thoughts are that this is a very conservative season and it probably has had some effect on allowing the deer populations to what appears to be recovering,” Van Daele said. “And we could probably liberalize but I’m really mulling over in my head, concerned about opening it up during the rut especially with the idea of the federal subsistence season matching that and allowing a lot more than one buck. I mean if it was just one buck I’d say no problem. But that idea of opening it up further may be a little bit too much too fast.”

The federal designated hunter program allows someone to hunt on behalf of someone else and essentially avoid the one buck bag limit. Concerns about that program’s abuse played into the shortening of the Lindenberg season six years ago.

The proposals initially sought to extend the season until November 15. Board members were wary about adding two weeks in November around the peak of the mating season when deer are easier to hunt. Instead they voted to offer more opportunity for earlier hunting, setting the season from October 1st to November 7th.

“I think that by allowing liberalization of going into a week of the rut will allow people to get more deer and utilize the resource the way it is now,” Van Daele said. “Extending the season to October 1st won’t be as good a time period but it will allow people more time to hunt and one of the things we saw in the department’s presentation was it takes a while to get a deer in this country.”

Board members Tom Lamal of Fairbanks and Ted Spraker of Soldotna were against changing to those season dates away from the original proposal but that amendment passed. The season extension then passed unanimously. The change covers Mitkof, Woewodski and Butterworth islands along with the Lindenberg Penninsula of Kupreanof Island.

(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure the author of this article hunts deer in this area.)