Somewhere in the Flats: So far I have gutted over 50 ducks in an afternoon, and plucked and singed many more. In the smokehouse there's meat still to be cut up from a moose brought in yesterday, as well as dry meat curing.
As we took care of the ducks, we heard the single crack of a rifle. With no other shots following, we knew that after we finished with the ducks, we'd be cutting up another moose. Sure enough, 20 minutes after we heard the shot, nephew was back for chainsaw, tarps, rope and extra hands to help bring the moose in. In the past week, six other moose have been cut and distributed.
All of this is the result of hard work by three hunters - men who are feeding their extended family, which includes their wives and children, a number of related elders, and four single women (both with and without kids), including myself.
This is subsistence hunting - where getting sufficient food for the winter takes precedence over anything else. The men do the hunting, the women are in camp or the village - cutting and smoking or freezing meat, plucking, singeing and gutting ducks, geese and the occasional swan or crane.
One can hear the righteous cries from particular segments of the population: unfair, poaching, wasteful and so on. Many of those who would condemn the number of moose and ducks taken would be the first in line to declare that, with rising energy costs and escalating diet-related disease in Alaska Native populations, a return to subsistence should be encouraged and promoted.
Fact is, very few Alaska Natives have left the subsistence way. Another fact is current ADF&G regulations do not allow for lawful subsistence hunting, at least in the Interior.
The bag limit for ducks is 30 in possession, and for moose, its one/hunter. Sure, a hunter can hunt proxy, but only if the person is over 65 and/or disabled. Single women under 65, regardless of ability, have to go out and hunt if they want to eat moose. How practical is that?
Speaking for myself, I certainly can wield a gun, and I probably could hit something as large as a moose, but it wouldn't be pretty, it wouldn't be clean, and it would likely waste a fair amount of meat. Furthermore, most women and quite a few men aren't strong enough to handle a dead moose on their own.
It makes more sense, and it is more humane and respectful of the animal to send experienced hunters out. The kill is likely to be cleaner with fewer chances of a lost but dying animal, and the chances of spoilage are reduced because the animal will be field dressed faster. Finally, even with the addition of store-bought food, one moose and 30 ducks doesn't feed a hunter's family, let alone his relatives that depend on him.
As for wasteful, this week I counted several boned-out rib cages, backbones and rumps in the local dumpsters. The heads, minus their racks, are left in the field by non-Native hunters. In contrast, Natives value and consume all of the moose, including the organs, stomach and head.
And as far as unfair goes, well, it is hardly fair that strong, accomplished hunters that provide for their families should be called unlawful. It's way past time for real subsistence hunting to be legalized here in Alaska.
Just something I contemplated as I ate boiled moose rump cooked over camp fire.