2010 to 2011 may have been great for some winter sports, for coming hunting
prospects, the past winter was anything but great.
For game populations, winter is a bottleneck and the narrowness of that
bottleneck is determined by the severity of the winter. Canadian wildlife is
used to cold weather, but when combined with prolonged deep snow, survival can
be challenging for these animals and winter mortality increases. All across the
West this year, unfortunately, the snow lay deep through January, February,
March and even well into April. Most wildlife biologists expect that this
extended winter will cause some mortality of the species we like to hunt.
Of course not all the game animals died and there were areas across the West
where winter was not severe. So hunters need not despair, but we will have to
accept that the coming hunting season will be more challenging than most and our
harvest is likely to be down. Deer numbers appear to have been more affected
than the populations of the larger ungulates like elk and moose. Bears, of
course, slept through the whole thing and are generally under harvested across
the West, so this might be the right year for every hunter to have a bear tag in
his hunt pack.
There are even some upsides to the heavy winter snowpack. The extra moisture
filled the prairie duck ponds, replenished depleted soil moisture and promoted
the succulent growth of browse shrubs, which means healthy game animals come
Taking a closer look, province by province and species by species, here are
comments from Provincial game biologists on what western Canadian sportsmen can
expect in the coming hunting season.
“A winter that was long and cold with lots of snow,” was the simple summary
from Ken Rebizant of Manitoba’s Wildlife and Ecosystem Protection Branch. This
is not great news for hunters in a province that has seen several tough winters
recently. The soggy spring that followed, though, was great for waterfowl and
actually not bad for big game animals.
Rebizant was very positive about elk survival and hunting prospects for the
fall. Elk numbers are stable or slightly up, with good reports from the
Interlake, Duck Mountain and Spruce Woods areas. There is still active
management for bovine tuberculosis in Riding Mountain National Park, but that
elk population too, is on target. Hunters can expect as good an elk season in
2011 as any in recent years.
Unfortunately, winter will have taken a toll on this species and hunting
regulations will be tightened in response. The second deer licence will be
removed from the Interlake and southeast Game Hunting Areas this fall to match
the existing one deer bag limit in the south west of the province. However,
licenses for a second and even third deer will continue to be available in
The hunting season for moose will stay open for most of the Province, but
there are population concerns in specific areas, notably Duck Mountain and GMA
26 south east of Lake Winnipeg. Hunters may see fewer opportunities and some
hunting closures as Rebizant and his colleagues work to rebuild these moose
A thorough inventory over the past two years found that caribou numbers were
down, but still in huge herds across the north of the province. Caribou hunters
had typically enjoyed very high success, although that too declined last year.
The reduced hunter success is likely due, in part, to a change in the
traditional distribution of these animals, many of which moved west, even into
northern Saskatchewan. Manitoba hunters hope that that is
not a permanent shift in caribou range.
This species manages to avoid the worst of winter by hibernating. Rebizant
reports that bear numbers are high and hunting prospects are excellent. Manitoba
black bears average about 400 pounds, but trophy boars may reach 800 pounds.
Hunting wolves is catching on in Manitoba. Hunters are taking an interest in
this species and the harvest has increased in the past few years. Wolf numbers
are stable or increasing and hunting opportunities will also increase, with new
areas open this fall and a two-wolf bag limit in certain areas. There is a
research project in Duck Mountain and GMA 26 designed to assess the impact of
wolf predation on moose, for which hunters are requested to submit biological
Upland Game Birds
There was a good harvest last fall of forest grouse species (spruce and
ruffed grouse) in Manitoba, which suggests that we are somewhere near the top of
a population cycle. Hunters should expect as many birds this fall, although a
cool spring did not encourage chick survival. Farmland game birds (Hungarian
partridge and sharptailed grouse) were at surprisingly high numbers last year
and that is promising for this fall. Wild turkeys too, continue to provide very
exciting hunting. Their numbers are down slightly, due to some wet springs, but
hunter success is still better than 50 per cent and there will be a new season
for youth hunters, for one week before the season opens for adult hunters.
Chronic Wasting Disease
Rebizant wants to remind hunters that Chronic Wasting Disease is still a
potential issue in the Manitoba. Fortunately the disease has not yet been
reported in the Province, but with CWD reports from North Dakota and Minnesota
as well as Saskatchewan the disease is all around. The policy for Manitoba has
been amended to read:
“It is illegal to bring into Manitoba a cervid that has been killed in
another province or state without first removing the head, hide, hooves, mammary
glands, internal organs, and spinal column, and leaving these parts in the place
of origin. Antlers and connecting bone plate that has been detached from the
remainder of the skull and has had all hide and other tissue removed, may be
bought in, provided the bone plate and antler bases are treated with a solution
of not less than two percent (2%) chlorine. Raw capes and hides that have been
detached from the animals and sealed in a waterproof container that ensures that
no fluids, tissue or hair can escape may be brought in provided that they are
delivered, within five (5) days of entry, to taxidermist or a licensed facility
for chemical processing into a tanned product.”
Many Saskatchewan hunters are in for a shock this fall. Some hunting
opportunities will be reduced and in some cases closed. A nasty winter followed
by a nasty spring caused above average winter mortality, according to big game
manager Brad Tokaruk. The worst hit areas of the Province were along the east
and southern borders and the regulation changes are needed to deal with
depressed game numbers, particularly of deer and antelope. So, for some hunts,
hunters will have to scale back their expectations this fall and be prepared to
hunt a bit harder. However, even with this caution, the hunting forecast has
There is good news for Saskatchewan moose hunters for this fall. Moose
numbers are up again in the farmlands zones and there will be 4 new hunts opened
for 2011. The north east of the Province (WMZ 56 to 59), which is traditionally
a good moose producing area, was hit particularly hard by winter and some moose
may have succumbed. Elsewhere in the province moose numbers appear to be stable
and hunting should be as good as last year.
This species also appears to have weathered the past winter well, with the
possible exception of those the east central area of the province where snow was
particularly deep and long lasting. No reductions in draws are planned yet and,
in fact, there will be two new hunts open this fall, again in the agriculture
zones (WMZ 21 and 52). Moose Mountain Provincial Park (WMZ 33) continues to be
the top choice for elk hunters, particularly those interested in a non-trophy
Saskatchewan will be closed to pronghorn hunting for 2011. Large numbers of
these animals migrated from Saskatchewan south into Montana, but encountered
severe winter there as well. Many did not make it through. Closing the hunt is a
significant step to have to take, and a real shame after several years of
increasing pronghorn numbers and increasing hunter opportunity. The only
positive thing to say about this situation is that the species has shown that
the population can rebound.
Mule deer were severely affected by last winter, especially along the US
border, an area which had until now had been a high producing area for this
species. For 2011, hunters will see quota reductions and fewer opportunities for
both antlerless and either sex licenses in most of the Province. The west
central part of the province around Swift Current was less affected by winter
and will likely be the best choice for mule deer hunters this fall.
Tokaruk reported that his office received many reports of stressed, starving
or dead deer from all parts of the province last winter. He suspects that there
will have been significant losses and as a result, there are significant changes
to hunting regulations. The resident antlerless white-tailed seasons will be
closed for most of the Province. The best choice for whitetail hunters will
likely be the western border between North Battleford and Meadow Lake. There are
also changes to the regulations for Canadian resident white-tailed deer hunts
and hunters should check the Hunters and Trappers guide on the Ministry website
Although the past winter was long and cold, bears slept through it all. They
awoke to find very well watered habitat and lush new vegetation. Hunter interest
in bears has waned over the past few years, but with deer numbers down, this
might be the year for sportsmen to include a bear tag in their wallet when
heading to the field this fall or next spring. The most productive area for bear
hunters is along the southern edge of the provincial forest.
Upland Game Birds
Cool spring weather can be hard on the chicks of some upland birds and so
hunters may end up with smaller numbers in the bag this fall. In the forest,
prospects for ruffed grouse are expected to be modestly better than last year,
which was better than the year before, so that is positive news. However, the
upland birds of the prairies: sharp-tailed grouse, Hungarian partridge and
pheasant likely found the past winter and spring to have been a challenge.
Populations of these birds are expected to be down, especially in the southern
and eastern areas of the Province.
The Provincial big game biologist Rob Corrigan described the past winter for
much of Alberta as “difficult,” although the east central areas were spared some
of the worst of winter weather. Deer and antelope populations were impacted more
that other big game species.
Alberta moose hunters have reason to be happy. This species is built for
Canadian winters and the population, which had benefited from a previous mild
winter, will have maintained numbers through the most recent winter. Even moose
winter ticks cooperated by being scarce this past year. So hunters should expect
as good a moose season as any recently.
This species weathered the past winter almost as well as moose and no
significant regulation changes are planned. In the Peace country, there were
more reports of crop depredation because the snow pack forced the animals into
the farmland, but there were no records of winter mortality. Late season elk
hunts will continue in the agriculture areas. Prairie elk numbers are up,
especially from Wainwright south through Suffield to the Cyprus Hills. So,
Alberta elk hunters too can expect a very good season this fall.
Winter took a toll on this species. There are reports of winter mortality
from many parts of the province, including the Peace Country, Medicine Hat area
and Edmonton to Swan Hills. Corrigan says that the season dates will be the same
as last year, but there will be fewer permits available. Chronic Wasting Disease
continues to be an issue in mule deer with 20 new cases recorded last year.
There was also a significant expansion of the range of the disease in 2010, into
WMU 152 in the Red River valley and the first positive report from the North
Saskatchewan River valley. The only encouraging note for mule deer hunters is
that the deer numbers had been strong until this year, so there will still be
some decent hunting to be had.
White-tails too, will have suffered some winter mortality and there will be a
reduction in the number of antlerless deer tags available in 11 WMUs. On the
plus side, though, the deer population had been very healthy, in fact above the
provincial population target. So, while there are some localized concerns,
there are still lots of whitetails out there.
At the time of writing, the 2011 pronghorn counts had not been done, but the
preliminary reports were of fewer animals around, due to winter kill. No season
closures are currently planned, but there will likely be fewer permits available
In Alberta, the population of black bears is robust, or healthy, or however
you want to say it, there are lots of bears out in the bush. To encourage more
participation, hunters will have lengthened seasons in both the coming fall and
in the spring of 2012.
Corrigan reported that there has been a dramatic increase in both the number
and the range of cougars in the province, so there will be a significant
increase in cat hunting opportunities.
Upland Game Birds
The prospects for upland bird hunting depend a lot on a warm and dry
spring. Regardless, the potential is there for good nesting success this year
because the melting snow will recharge the soil moisture and promote dense
vegetation, and thus good nesting cover. Bird hunters will find new opportunities this
fall, with more standardized season dates, earlier opening day for bow hunting
and more Sunday hunting.
The winter of 2010/11 was long, but not uniformly severe across the province.
The northern and eastern parts of the province saw the worst of winter but in
the southern interior and the south coast, while there were record snow
accumulations in high elevations, snow in the lower elevations was about
BC is now on a two year hunting regulation cycle and with 2011 being an “off”
year, hunters will not see any significant regulation changes this fall.
Right across the north of BC, there continues to be some concerns about moose
numbers. This is not an emergency, but moose hunting in the northern Regions
will likely be “less than excellent” this fall. From Prince George south,
though, moose numbers are stable or increasing. Extensive logging in response to
mountain pine beetle attack is improving moose habitat, but the high bull
harvest that followed the burgeoning road access caused managers to reduce the
length of the open season for Regions 3 and 8.
The hunting prospects for elk in BC could not get much better. This species
is doing well in all the traditional areas, especially the agriculture zones of
the Kootenays and Peace country, but is also expanding into new areas on
Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, Omineca and Okanagan, which often results in
new LEH opportunities.
The prospects for mule deer this fall will depend a great deal on where you
choose to hunt. For the northern half of the province, snow lay very heavy on
the deer winter range last winter and deer numbers will have suffered,
particularly the young animals. The same may be true for parts of the
Kootenays. For the central and southern interior, though, the high snow
accumulation was mostly at the high elevations, not on the winter ranges and
deer survival should be excellent. Meanwhile, predation is suspected as the
cause of low mule deer numbers for some areas of the Lower Mainland Region.
Most reports suggest that the past winter was less hard on this species than
for mule deer. So, considering the high numbers of deer across their range, this
is good news for hunters. These deer are most common in the east of the
province, especially near the agriculture areas of the Kootenays and Peace.
However, this species has been expanding its range steadily westward into the
Similkameen, Nicola and Thompson drainages and into the Nechako. The province
wide general open season for antlerless whitetails
introduced last year will continue.
There was not a lot of updated information this year, but thinhorn sheep
numbers across the north appear to be stable. Regulation changes in the Skeena
Region significantly increased the resident hunter harvest of thinhorns in 2010
and should do so again this year. For bighorn sheep, the news is mixed, with no
significant trends or planned regulation changes. Kamloops Region bighorns are
doing well. Cariboo Region bighorns continue to do poorly. Kootenay Region
bighorns numbers are stable, while Okanagan sheep have a mixed report, some
herds up, some down.
The comments are similar from every regional biologist in BC when it comes to
black bears in their respective Regions — lots of animals and limited hunter
There are no open seasons for grizzlies in BC, but many opportunities for
limited entry hunts (LEH) some with very attractive odds. The worst that any
biologist had to say about grizzlies in their respective region was stable, but
most thought the bear populations were increasing. An issue in some areas is the
harvest of female bears, which not only impacts the productivity of the bear
population, but also impacts the number of LEH authorizations available in
Across the southern parts of the Province wolf numbers are up and, actually,
so are hunter interest and harvest. However, by far the highest harvests of
wolves come from the three Northern Regions (6, 7A, 7B).
It seems that 2011 is likely to be one of those (fortunately) rare years when
there just are no good hunting prospects to report for upland birds in BC. Low
numbers, a long winter, a cool and wet spring have all combined to produce one
of the most consistent and least positive bird hunting forecasts for BC in a
long time. Diligence or experience will certainly pay off with birds in the bag,
but achieving bag limits on any upland bird species will likely be uncommon this
Waterfowling in the West 2011
While big game animal and upland bird populations are down a bit, waterfowl
numbers are up more than a bit, in fact, for some species, 2011 promises to be a
banner year. Across the West, Canada geese are at near record numbers and are
creating issues in towns and agriculture areas, but this is great news for goose
hunters. Similarly, snow goose numbers, already very high, continue to grow
despite the harvest of over a million birds a year from the central flyway. On
BC’s Fraser delta, snow geese continue to arrive in record numbers and have
expanded their range from the delta well up into the farmland of the Fraser
For prairie duck hunters too the news is good because the extra water from
the massive amount of winter snow has topped up the wetlands and the habitat for
breeding ducks is excellent. All of these reports suggest that waterfowl
hunters, pretty much anywhere in Western Canada, will have excellent sport this