Hunting Forecast 2014: Alberta

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I know, I know, we Canadians get enough winter during the winter season, and don’t really want to talk about it during the nicer months of the year. However, the severity of the past winters is a prime driver of game numbers, particularly deer, so for western sportsmen and women it is important to review the conditions in the cold, dark months of last year in order to understand what the coming hunting season will bring.

Not surprisingly, a good hunting season depends in large part on high numbers of game animals. Heavy snow, crusty snow, extreme cold or a delayed spring can each affect the winter survival of game animals and thus the numbers available in the coming hunting seasons. In fact, it can take several mild winters to erase the negative effects of one severe winter.

 

Overview

Wildlife managers assess game populations each spring and adjust hunting seasons to balance numbers and hunting opportunity. For the coming seasons, although there are encouraging reports on game ungulates from all provinces, there also have been some declines. Hunters may want to expand their hunts to include plentiful but less popular game, like black bears and waterfowl.

For parts of western Canada, the winter of 2013/2014 exhibited all of the negative aspects that can influence game numbers. One bad winter is bad enough, but actually, for much of western Canada, three of the past four winters have been a challenge for game animal survival, particularly deer.

Black bears are found across western Canada and are under-harvested by hunters pretty much everywhere. Winter has little impact on bear numbers; they escape the worst of the snow and cold by holing up for most of the winter months.

For waterfowl hunters, lots of snow also means lots of melt water, thus full duck nesting ponds, good hatches of ducklings and lots of whistling wings in the fall. Across western Canada, geese populations may never have been higher.

So for 2014, here is a closer look at the hunting prospects for the coming season, province by province and species by species.

Alberta

For southern Alberta, there were a few areas with significant snow, but generally the past winter was not abnormal. However, the north half of the province saw a nasty winter and then a delayed spring – not a good combination for man or beast. In spite of the winter, the hunting prospects are far from bleak. Thanks to significant game inventories recently, Provincial Wildlife Biologist Rob Corrigan and his colleagues have more confidence in the game population estimates and seasons will be adjusted in accordance with the new data.

 

Moose

This species is well adapted to handle an Alberta winter and Corrigan did not have particular concerns with moose numbers anywhere in the province. Additional good news includes no significant reports of winter ticks, so no major changes are planned and moose hunters should have as good a season as any recently.

 

Elk

The past winters do not seem to have seriously harmed elk numbers either; in fact, there will be a number of new or extended elk hunts this fall. In the farmlands of the northwest and in the Parkland WMUs, there will be new elk hunt opportunities designed to “keep a handle” on the elk/agriculture conflicts. Elk hunters will also see new opportunities and expanded seasons around CFB Suffield. All in all, a great elk hunting forecast.

 

Mule deer

In the south part of the province, particularly in the Prairie WMUs, mule deer came through the past winter just fine. Further north, though, there have been a series of unkind winters and mule deer numbers are down, particularly in the northern Parkland and Boreal WMUs. Hunters will have a challenge to cut their mule deer tag in these areas this fall. The restrictions on archery hunts (draw only) for mule deer, introduced last year, will continue.

 

White-tailed deer

Hunters have seen deer numbers decline over the past few seasons, and this past winter will not have improved that picture. Corrigan said that deer numbers are down pretty much everywhere, but most notably in the Boreal fringe areas. The supplemental antlerless whitetail opportunity will be closed in the most impacted WMUs. The situation is not totally bleak, though, because deer numbers had been very high for much of the province. So even with this population decline, there are still animals to hunt, and the species has the capacity to rebound quickly with favourable weather next year.

 

Pronghorn antelope

Unfortunately for hunters, the pronghorn hunt was closed following the bad winter of 2010/2011. The good news is that the past winter was relatively soft in the south part of the province and pronghorn numbers have started to recover. At time of writing, though, the pronghorn surveys had not been completed so details on the 2014 population status and hunting opportunities were not available.

 

Bighorn sheep

This species is doing well in its restricted range near the Rocky Mountains. An interesting note is that early in 2014 a dead Alberta ram was found that will likely be a new world record when scored. Hunters will see a new opportunity this fall for non-trophy bighorns.

 

Bison

More good hunting news: the bison hunt in the northwest part of the province, near High Level, will be re-opened. These are big, tough animals and even with the nasty winter they experienced, numbers are up and calf production is sufficient to re-open the hunt with a modest number of draws available this fall.

 

Black bear

Bears hibernate and miss most of the challenges of a winter. They are found across the province, but their numbers are particularly robust in the Foothills and southern Boreal WMUs. Hunter interest has not kept pace with the opportunities, so those hunters with a bear tag will have good numbers of bears to hunt and little competition. Hunters should be aware of the regulations on baiting bears and where a second bear tag is available.

 

Upland game birds

Population surveys for grouse are now infrequent, so there is no formal inventory to report. However, for the south, winter survival of adult birds will have been good and a dry and mild spring will improve bird numbers for the fall. Pheasants continue to provide an exciting hunt, thanks to releases of many thousands of birds each year across the south. In the northern half of the province, winter and spring conditions were not favourable for upland bird production. The upside of a heavy snow pack is increased soil moisture during the growing season, which will mean brushier ground cover and reduced predation on eggs and chicks. So, the picture for 2014 is not totally bleak, but bird hunters should not expect to take a bag limit every hunting trip.

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