Hunting Forecast 2014: British Columbia

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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.

British Columbia

This was a strange winter in much of the province; some areas saw record-breaking amounts of snow, but other areas experienced record low snow packs. Across the centre and north, mid-season mild weather, even rain, and then freezing nights created a thick crust on the snow. Crusty snow inhibits the movements of animals like deer, whose sharp hooves punch through, but favours predators like wolves and coyotes, which can run on top of the hard snow. These conditions, followed by a delayed spring, were a challenge for ungulate survival and some will not have made it. The southern interior was spared the worst of this weather, so the forecast for BC hunters is mixed.

 

Moose

There continues to be concerns over moose numbers in the central part of the province. In fact, what is likely the most extensive moose population study in North America is currently underway. Information from radio collars deployed on 200 moose in five separate study areas, between Kamloops and Prince George, will shed light on these animals’ movements and mortalities and hopefully generate recommendations that will recover their numbers. In the Peace, Thompson, Okanagan and Kootenay regions, moose numbers are stable or increasing. However, burgeoning road access, especially in the south, is becoming a management issue and there will be some season changes to manage for low bull-to-cow ratios. It is likely that the provincial moose harvest will be down this fall.

 

Elk

There are few worries about elk anywhere in BC; their numbers are stable or increasing basically throughout the province. On Vancouver Island and lower mainland regions, elk numbers are up and new opportunities are available this fall, thanks to an aggressive translocation program. Elk numbers are also up through much of the south and central parts of the province. In the agriculture conflict areas of the Kootenays, Peace and Robson Valley, liberal hunting seasons are bringing elk populations to management targets, so there may be some reductions in authorizations. However, overall, BC hunters can expect as good an elk-hunting season as any recently.

 

Mule deer

Mule deer numbers in the north half of the province are generally down, thanks to poor winter carryover. In the southwest and Vancouver Island, blacktailed deer numbers are stable, which is encouraging because harvest has been up recently. Across the south, hunters report fewer deer and especially fewer bucks. A recovery plan for the Kootenay region will see the general open season restricted to four-point bucks only.

 

White-tailed deer

White-tailed deer continue to provide excellent hunting opportunities from Kamloops south. The general open season for antlerless deer does not seem to have impacted the overall population. Further north, though, back-to-back bad winters have taken a toll on this species. Hunters will have to tailor their expectations to the deer population conditions where they hunt.

 

Mountain goat

This species is not doing well in the south part of the province. Numbers in the Kootenays are down by as much as 25 per cent. Parts of Kamloops region have seen even more drastic declines. In the Peace and Skeena regions, though, goat numbers appear to be up and hunting in these areas should be excellent.

 

Black bear

Every regional wildlife biologist had a version of the same story for this species – high numbers of bears and generous seasons, but limited hunter interest. However, considering the challenges for deer hunters his fall, this may be the year to think about tagging a bear.

 

Upland game birds

In a province with as variable a climate and geography as BC, it is difficult to generalize on hunting prospects. This is particularly true for upland game birds because there are few formal surveys, so biologists rely on harvest trends and anecdotal reports. None of this information points to an issue with upland bird numbers for this fall. The best bets this year seem to be Peace region for sharptails, Kootenay region for ruffed grouse and turkeys, Caribou region for blue grouse and Kamloops region for chukars. Municipal firearms restrictions and habitat loss means that pheasant hunting has all but disappeared in BC, except for private hunting clubs.

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