Hunting Forecast 2014: Manitoba

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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.

 

Manitoba

Ken Rebizant, the provincial game manager, reported that the past winter was pretty hard on Manitoba: long, cold and snowy. Even a normal Manitoba winter can be a challenge for wildlife, and three of the past four winters have been harder than normal. This sequence will have had an impact on some game numbers; hunting prospects for the coming season are mixed.

 

White-tailed deer

There is no way to sugar coat it, Manitoba’s deer numbers are down. The series of tough winters have taken a toll. Rebizant and his colleagues will be reviewing the deer season structure this year, recognizing this new reality, and deer hunters will see season changes, fewer opportunities and reduced success. There are still deer to be hunted, even areas with decent numbers, but to tag a deer most hunters will have to plan to hunt a bit harder and a bit longer this fall.

 

Moose

Moose are better adapted than deer to heavy snow and severe cold, and can handle most Manitoba winters. In the northern forests, moose populations are stable and hunters can expect similar success as in the past few years. Similarly, moose numbers in the pockets of suitable habitat in the southern farmlands are stable or even up a bit.

However, all is not well everywhere for Manitoba moose. Numbers are down in the western uplands (Porcupine Hills and Duck Mountains) and a number of game management areas have been partly or completely closed. The moose population recovery strategy includes hunting and access management restrictions, which appears to be working. While none of these areas are to be re-opened this fall, the good news is that the moose population decline appears to have been reversed and hunting will be re-introduced as the numbers rebound.

 

Elk

There are no immediate concerns with elk numbers anywhere in the province. Wherever found, such as Duck Mountains, the Interlake area and Spruce Woods, elk numbers are stable. No season changes are planned and hunters can expect as good a hunt as in any recent years, which is to say – really good. There has been a concern for bovine tuberculosis around Riding Mountain and hunters had been required to submit game samples for testing. The good news is that there has not been a positive TB sample in deer since 2009 or in elk since 2011. However, continued vigilance is important so hunters are to continue to submit samples of elk and deer taken in the Riding Mountain area.

 

Caribou

For those hunters who venture to the very north of the province, the hunting prospects for caribou are really good. The herds have returned to Manitoba after a temporary westward shift in distribution. So, caribou populations are back, seasons are generous and hunter success is high – all the factors of great hunting forecast.

 

Black bears

This is also a very bright spot for Manitoba hunters. Rebizant said that bear populations are healthy, hunter participation is low, hunter success is high and there are big bears “everywhere.” This should be the year for hunters to have a bear tag in their pack, particularly deer hunters.

 

Wolf

Wolf hunting is increasing in popularity with Manitoba hunters. Wolf numbers are stable to increasing, the seasons are long and there is no tag required. Some hunters have found coyote hunting techniques, such as game calls, to be effective at drawing wolves into shooting range. A new opportunity is the opening of GMA 23 and 23A for wolf hunting this fall.

 

Upland game birds

After what is one of the worst winters ever, it is likely that there was an impact on game bird numbers. Even the native species might have had some trouble. A warm and dry spring will help with chick survival and the recruitment of juvenile birds, but it does not look like full bag limits of any grouse or partridge will be easily shot this fall. On a positive note, ruffed grouse appear to be at the bottom of their population cycle and numbers should be coming back.

Turkey hunting, though, looks quite promising. Last year saw a good hatch of chicks and that means more young males this year. The spring hunt sees a harvest of 500 to 600 turkeys and 50 per cent hunter success. This should be a good bet, even with the bad winter.

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