The 2015 hunting season is now in the books, and as I normally do I contacted some of the butcher shops in our region to get an overview of harvest levels and some observations to see how this past year compared to recent previous years. For the most part, the 2015 season seemed to be quite normal in terms of harvest levels compared to last year.
Some experienced increases on certain species and some, slight decreases, depending on individual businesses.
Of interest, one butcher told me that the body size and antlers on bull elk seemed to be smaller this year compared to past seasons. His theory was that the very dry conditions this spring and summer contributed to lesser growth. He may well be correct in that observation, because drought-like conditions have been proven to have an adverse effect on wildlife populations. However, he also related to me that he did get a few bigger than normal mule deer bucks brought into his shop this season. Now that the Ministry has finally abandoned that controversial “any buck” season which they had a few years ago, the age class structure for mule deer has probably increased slightly, so it would make complete sense that butcher shops would perhaps see a few more mature bucks being harvested this season.
The butcher shops I chatted with, on average, experienced a small increase in white tail doe harvest this year as well, and pretty much the same number of LEH moose and spike forks were harvested as in the previous couple of years. Big horn sheep harvest numbers didn’t appear to change too much either this year. Butcher shops on average, also reported a very minimal harvest of whitetail deer during the late bow season (Dec1-20th).
I also contacted the Southern Guide Outfitters Association to see what kind of success rates they had in the 2015 season. This industry in general, usually harvests only animals near the end of life cycle, because its clientele don’t normally come to the Kootenays to hunt does, cow/calf elk, or small bucks, etc.
That being said though, guide-outfitters are an excellent barometer of what we have out there as far as overall game populations are concerned, because they are out in the woods observing wildlife for just about every day of the season. Many of the outfitters reportedly struggled again this year which really isn’t surprising. Game populations are down dramatically in the Kootenays compared to what we had 30-40 years ago. Ask any group of veteran outdoorsmen or women, who have hunted big game in this part of the country for the aforementioned number of years and I am certain that the valuable anecdotal evidence they provide will be enough to convince the greatest of skeptics that we have some very serious problems when it comes to wildlife numbers in this region.
Moose are in major trouble in some management units; elk numbers have seen major reductions especially in the Trench and some historic high country locations; mule deer have been in decline for many years now; and big horn sheep numbers which were estimated to be around 6,000 in the 1950s are now below 2,100 in the Kootenay district. Mountain Goat populations have also dropped over 30 per cent in some management units.
Therefore, in reference again to the Guiding industry, if you make make your living in pursuit of “trophy-type” animals in the Kootenays, you have likely experienced a rough patch these past few years. It is fair to assume that if the resource is limited, success rates will be in the same category.
The immediate future is not bright for the industry from what I can see, or for us as resident hunters, because moose, mule deer, big horn sheep and goats in particular, are species that traditionally recover from declines — very slowly.
I did an article this past fall in this publication, entitled “The Vanishing Serengeti,” which I received many comments on, and it reflected my beliefs as to why I think wildlife populations have dropped so drastically in this region, and I put forth some potential solutions as well. I don’t have the space to repeat what the relatively lengthy article covered,, but I will say, that in a nutshell, the problem is complex and involves a wide variety of things including far better predator management than what we have seen in the past, and better management in general from the province, with more decisions based on factual evidence, rather than rulings based on political correctness which we see far too often from the bureaucrats in Victoria.
It is interesting to note that the Land Capability Analysis report conducted by the Canada Land Inventory stated at one time that: “The most outstanding characteristic of the East Kootenay is its capability to support large populations of big game. In this regard the region is unique in North America and ranks highly on a global scale.” I truly hope that some day in the future those words will be a reality once more.
Hunting regulation changes 2016/17
There are a number of hunting regulation changes on the table for the 2016/17 season that hunters need to be aware of. I contacted Tara Szkorupa, a wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Branch at the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources in Cranbrook. I asked Tara to put together her top changes proposed for next season. Here is Tara’s Top Five list:
1. Reduce White-tailed Deer Antlerless Bag Limit to one
2. Amend Regulations to Remove Female Cougar Quota
3. Add compulsory Inspection requirements for multiple species
4. Replace General Open Season elk hunts with Limited Entry Hunt for youth/seniors in Creston area
5. Increase Wolf bag limit from two to three
Rationale and more information is available on the engagement website: http://apps.nrs.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/.
Deer Translocation project:
Sometime later on this winter, the communities of Cranbrook, Elkford, Kimberley and Invermere will join together in a pilot project to live-capture and relocate up to 80 mule deer back into their natural environment.
This pilot project will have the eyes of the province focused on the East Kootenay, as desire has been expressed by many, to find a non-lethal option to reduce deer populations in urban centres.
Twenty of the deer will be fitted with GPS radio collars and others with identifiable ear tags.
All the deer will be female.
Biologists will be able to determine movement and survival rates to see if the deer will return to their home communities over time, and also provide the much needed answer to the question of: “How will urban deer actually respond and cope with a variety of different predators in the wild?”
Also, it will be very interesting to find out once and for all, how urban deer themselves will respond to actually being trapped and transported.
A much needed and valuable project such as this one involves numerous partnerships, funding, and most of all ,cooperation from all sectors. Kudos to everyone involved.
2016 Wildlife Calendar:
I hope by this time you have already sent in your donation to the Kootenay Wildlife Heritage fund for the 2016 wildlife calendar which you received in the mail. The calendar is a joint venture of the Heritage Fund, Nature Trust of B.C., the B.C. Conservation Foundation, and Canadian Forest Products Ltd.
This year, they have released a second “Babes in the Woods”, edition, after the 2010 calendar of the same name was so popular. It features the young of many of our favourite wildlife species and the photography is again, second to none. Photos by Larry Tooze, Brian Varty and Brian Hay, all local photographers, will make you smile every single time you change the month.
All donations to the Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund are tax deductible, so in the end you get a lot of enjoyment for a very low actual cost.
Hunting Film Festival:
The Back Country Hunters and Anglers (B.C. Chapter) will be hosting their 2nd Annual Hunting Film Tour and Fundraiser at the Key City Theatre on February 27. Their first one in May of 2015 was very successful and it was a fun filled event for the whole family. This year will be no exception I’m sure, with the social, free hors d’oeuvres, and raffles commencing at 5:30 p.m. Films start at 7 p.m. They also have a wide array of door prizes again this year as well. I attended myself last year, and just about every second person I chatted with went home with something. Tickets are only $20 all inclusive and available at the Key City Theatre Box office, by phone at 250-426-7006, or online at www.keycitytheatre.com Tickets can also be purchased from Mountain Man Outdoors on Baker Street in Cranbrook.
I want to conclude by saying that I hope you and yours have a safe and happy 2016. Thank you as well for your continued support and encouragement to maintain a fall/early winter column for hunters and fishermen in this publication. It’s much appreciated. Hope to see you in the field or on the lake.
F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books “Elk Hunting in the Kootenays” and “Hunting the Antlered Big game of the Kootenays” ,available at elected retailers in B.C. and Alberta. All profits go to land for wildlife or habitat restoration in the Kootenays.