Wolf photo by Brian Hay

Wolf photo by Brian Hay

2020 hunting season review and wildlife update: Part I

This is Part I of a three-part series by F.J. Hurtak, looking at the issues of the 2020 hunting and wildlife management seasons, which will appear in the Cranbrook Townsman over the next issues

F.J. Hurtak

I think everyone would agree that the summer and the ensuing hunting season, which is now over for all species but for predators, was one of the craziest and wildest ever. The woods, the hiking trails, the campgrounds, and the rivers and lakes, were busier perhaps than they have ever been in the past due to COVID 19, and so many people out of work.

If there’s a positive to come out of all the mayhem the pandemic has created,it did give people much more time to spend in the great outdoors and reinforced why those of us who live in the Kootenays are so very fortunate, because our access to crown lands and waters is so readily and easily available to us all, compared to those living in the big cities.

The sporting goods and outdoor shops I surveyed this year all said they had a tremendous Fall in terms of sales and that completely falls in line with people having increased recreation opportunities due to the unprecedented circumstances.

At the beginning of the hunting season, the weather was great for camping, but not that great for hunting, especially for elk. Temperatures in the 30 degree Celsius range were commonplace the first month of the season, and a few days after the rifle season began, the hot, dry weather was combined with heavy smoke from forest fires in the U.S. and locally, and there were times it was difficult to see even 75 yards, at least in the areas I was hunting in.

The bright sun was almost totally obscured by the smoke creating a spooky orange haze across the landscape. It reminded me at times, of a scene from the old war movie “Apocalypse Now.”

As a result of this, the elk sequestered themselves in dense heavy cover and would still bugle, but getting them to come in where you could get a good look at them was very difficult. The bulls would give us 15-20 minutes of action in the morning and again just before dark and that was it. It was not really an option to go in after them considering the cover and terrain.

I have never experienced anything like that for such extended periods of time. The heat and the smoke seemed to almost totally put them off, and considering the conditions, it shouldn’t really have been that much of a surprise, I guess.

Later on, I did check with several other hunters I know, to find out if they experienced the same phenomenon in their favourite spots, and most said that they had.

The smoke in particular though, was not a major factor in all of the valleys, and there were some nice animals taken in the early part of the season, (especially sheep) but the ones that were, had to be hauled out of the bush as quickly as possible to avoid meat spoilage. And the further a person was into the backcountry, the tougher it became to get the task completed successfully.

When the weather started cooling down around the first week of October, it appears success rates returned to normal levels for most species for awhile.Then as a result of the mid- October snow in the mountains, I was told there was a surge in the number of bull elk harvested in the last few days of the season especially in areas like the Elk Valley. After the elk season was over, the controversial 10 day general open season on antlerless whitetail deer began and some of the butcher shops were turning away business about a week into it, because they were full to capacity. This year the season was shortened to ten days, down from 20 days the previous year.

This was done to reduce harvest levels and to move the season so it did not conflict with the elk season. Many hunters felt that this hunt should have been abandoned altogether by the Ministry, but despite a 4000 signature petition to stop it, and efforts from Kootenay MLA Tom Shypitka asking the government for a 2 year moratorium on does and fawns, the powers that be, stuck with their original plan of a shortened season. One of the criticisms of that plan was that it had the potential of concentrating a large amount of people into a narrow window of just ten days, and over-harvest could still be a major issue. One of the butchers did tell me though that in his shop, the number of the hunters from outside the region during that period had dropped from previous years, and that was backed up by a conversation I had with one of the CO’s who said the same .

I also chatted with local taxidermist Phil Giesbrecht at Apex Wildlife Art in Cranbrook. Taxidermists get a good mix of people coming into their shops which include, hunters, trappers, and guides. He said, “All taxidermists I know of, were extremely busy, because local hunters in particular, put in a lot more time and effort this year. The Covid 19 factor was a big part of that. We didn’t get many elk or mule deer in, but got more sheep, mountain goats, and bears in than what I have seen in past years, and we got some really nice whitetail bucks in this year as well.”On whitetails, his theory was, that because doe numbers are so low now in many parts of our region, as a result of years of long general open seasons , that bucks have to move a lot more than ever before during the rut, searching for does. This makes them much more vulnerable to hunters and increases success rates. He did specify that in his opinion, that this phenomenon could not continue for the long term.

At the end of the rifle season, I contacted a few of the butcher shops to see where they were in terms of OVERALL harvest numbers for the year and was told by the ones I talked to that the numbers compared very close to their 2019 totals. Another butcher also made it a point to tell me that the overall size and weight of most of the animals brought into his shop has been on a downward spiral for the past few years. That would signify that the age class of animals being harvested is gradually diminishing, and may well be a red flag for Managers to consider for future seasons.

One of theother questions I asked the outdoor stores and taxidermist I interviewed was: “What is the number one topic of discussion, brought up by customers, that you and your staff commonly discuss with them, other than product?”The answer that quite often dominated the conversations was“Wildlife Management”. Many indicated in no uncertain terms that they wanted much better management than what we have been getting and that something needs to be done soon before it’s far too late to rectify. That nicely brings us to the next part of this review. See next week in the Townsman.