Hunting Forecast 2013: BC

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BC received a lot of snow this past winter. However, whether that was an issue for game animals depends on where you look. In the north half of the province, there was lots of snow and it lingered well into spring; in fact, the northeast part of BC broke snowfall records. In the southern half of the province, there also was a lot of snow, but mostly at high elevation. The winter ranges on low elevations of the major river valleys were largely spared. So, while the past winter was severe, across the south of the province game animals survived fairly well.

 

Elk

There has seldom been a better time to be a BC elk hunter. Natural population expansion and successful transplants have increased the elk numbers and new seasons have increased elk hunting opportunities. Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast are producing record-book Roosevelt elk bulls each year, while Rocky Mountain elk continue to do well in the south and east parts of the province. In the Peace and Kootenay Regions, elk hunting is still very good. In areas where the objective has been to manage agriculture conflicts, elk numbers are reduced.

 

Moose

There are serious concerns about moose numbers in the north/central parts of the province. The steepest declines appear to be in the Cariboo and Omineca Regions, where recent surveys found moose populations down by as much as 50 per cent over the past in some management units. On the plus side, though, most of these surveys found adequate calf ratios and bull ratios within provincial targets. In addition, the moose densities were very high, especially around Prince George, so that the current numbers would be consistent with healthy moose populations elsewhere in North America.

In the southern regions, moose numbers are stable or increasing, although there are still some areas with low bull ratios.

The provincial picture for moose is complex and there may be some adjustments to hunting seasons as each region manages the challenges in their area.

 

Mule deer

The north of BC is near the northern limit of the range for this species, and hunters have to expect that there will be years when winter takes a toll. Such is the case this year, particularly in the Peace country where numbers are down big time. There is also a concern about wolf predation on Vancouver Island and parts of the interior. In the Kootenays, concerns about low buck ratios may generate tighter mule deer hunting regulations. However, in the south/central interior, mule deer numbers are healthy and stable and hunters have had very good success. In 2012, Kamloops-area hunters harvested the highest number of mule deer in many years.

 

Whitetail deer

Similar to mule deer, winter was hard on this species in the central and northeast parts of the province. Elsewhere, however, whitetails continue to thrive and support good harvests. The general open season for antlerless deer does not seem to have significantly impacted the populations and hunters should expect as good a season as any recently. The Kootenays are particularly promising.

 

Mountain goat

This is, again, a complicated picture. In the northwest, where most of the mountain goats live, these animals seem to have survived winter fine and numbers are stable. The increasing ATV use in alpine areas is beginning to be a management issue, but has not yet translated to restrictions on hunting. Goat numbers are down in the centre of the province, with the reasons not yet established. On the upside, goat hunters in the Peace will see new opportunities to take advantage of higher populations.

 

Black bears

In basically every corner of the province, black bear numbers are healthy, seasons and bag limits are generous, but the species continues to be underutilized. Hunters are missing a great opportunity.

 

Wolf

“No shortage of wolves” was a common report from the regional biologists. Hunters have been increasingly taking an interest in the species, but the harvest is not keeping pace with the opportunities. These animals are most common in the three northern regions, but the wolf populations are reportedly up in the north Thompson, Shuswap and Cariboo areas where predation is suspected as a cause of the decline in moose and deer numbers. No species license is required.

 

Cougar

The numbers of this species appear to be up all across the south of the province. In fact, we may be in a “period of high abundance” for the species. In the Kootenay Region, for example, 2012 saw the highest hunter harvest in almost 20 years. Hunter success varies significantly with snow conditions.

 

Upland game birds

This could actually be a good year for grouse, at least in the south. Chick survival is very much weather dependent and spring conditions in 2013 were actually pretty good for a change, both warm and dry. This is part of the formula for improved grouse numbers. Most areas are starting from low populations from last year, though, so this is likely not a bonanza year, but certainly better prospects than some past years and worth getting out with a shotgun. The outlook is also pretty good for some of the non-native birds, like turkeys in the east Kootenay and chukar in the Thompson River valley.

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