The hunt in 2014

FJ Hurtak looks back on the predominant issues of the hunting season just past.

  • Dec. 31, 2014 7:00 p.m.
FJ Hurtak is seeing more than 50 per cent fewer whitetail than he was five years ago.

FJ Hurtak is seeing more than 50 per cent fewer whitetail than he was five years ago.

F.J. Hurtak

Well, the 2014 hunting season is now in the books. Certainly in terms of success rates it all seemed to depend on who I talked to. Basically, a “feast or famine” type of year on elk, anyway.

The butcher shops I chatted with told me that elk numbers harvested this year were pretty much the same as the year before. I found that a bit surprising considering the fact that there was no GOS (general open season) on cows and calf elk this year in most areas, with the exception being in the Elk Valley. One would then naturally assume that more bulls were harvested to maintain the previous year’s numbers.

However, several of the outfitters in our region had one of their worst years on record and some die-hard elk hunters I know expressed a similar sentiment. Obviously, there were many successful hunters as well, so what it came down to in 2014 was location, location, location, as the real estate folks like to say.

And, perhaps for a variety of different reasons elk may be changing their traditional habits, locales, and migratory patterns as the years go by.

Still on the subject of elk, I heard some very negative comments about the private ranch elk hunts in the trench, and the fact that some were charging people to access their property for the right to hunt. Some thought that might be illegal, and some also said that large numbers of elk were killed this year on quite a number of ranches.

I checked with our local FLNR office to see if I could get some information to either verify or squelch the rumours. What they told me was this: They talked with most of the landowners after the hunt, and there were about five cow/calf elk killed on the four properties enrolled in the hunt. The land owners ARE legally able to charge hunters for access, as they can for any other hunt.

The hunts were not LEH (limited entry hunt) but GOS hunts, but because of the small areas and short time frame, there were not a lot of hunters. The butcher shops in Cranbrook and Kimberley verified to me that only a few cow/calves were brought in to be processed.

The rationale the Ministry provided me for allowing these type of hunts was as follows: “The private land cow/calf GOS was intended to maintain hunting and hazing pressure on private lands with high crop depredation. Although the elk population has declined overall in the Trench, some private land properties still have high levels of crop depredation. Small private land zones allow targeted management at a fine scale, with minimal impacts to the overall elk population. The GOS was only offered to landowners that continue to have very high crop depredation levels.”

Mule deer, whitetail, and moose harvest numbers this past season seem to compare to previous years’ numbers as well. Right now though, I want to make my thoughts known on the GOS open doe season in October on whitetails.

I personally believe that this season must be stopped to avoid serious long term damage to future whitetail populations. I keep a diary of my personal sightings on whitetails during the rutting season in November and have done so for the last 15 years. The last two years in particular have been dismal and I am seeing over 50 per cent less of what I was seeing five years ago. The age class structure of bucks in the system is nothing short of pathetic as is the buck to doe ratio which is now less than five bucks per 100 does in areas that I hunt.

I won’t argue that a few years ago we were blessed with a surplus of does in our whitetail population but that situation no longer exists. I think what wildlife managers should recognize is that by keeping these liberal seasons in place, the impact is far greater than what they might imagine. For every female killed, we are actually killing three deer, one of which will be a buck.

The other thing is, that provincial hunters gravitate to where there is the most opportunity and where they can carry the most tags. The impact to wildlife populations is huge. One butcher shop told me that they had over 200 does brought in to them alone during the GOS in October, mostly from hunters outside our region.

In August of 2014 I took these concerns to a meeting of stakeholders which was held in Cranbrook at the Ministry office. The purpose of the meeting was to learn about, and offer comments on the new five year elk management plan and the five year plan for whitetail deer as well. I was told in no uncertain terms by the biologists present at this meeting, that the GOS on whitetail does in October was supported by the BCWF and the EKWA. Since that time I have asked many a hunter what they think on this issue, and frankly I can’t find very many who agree with continuing with these wide open doe seasons.

So if you are a member of either organization and you agree with what I am saying please contact your executive and make your feelings known. After all, one of the very good reasons to belong to any club is to make certain you have a say in what they are supporting. If they have given your opinions consideration already, regardless of which side you are on regarding this issue then that’s a good thing.


Odds and Ends

I hope you have received your beautiful Land for Wildlife Calendar in the mail and sent in your donation to the Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund. The photography this year is again spectacular, featuring the work of Brian Hay, Larry Tooze and Brian Varty. The calendars are a joint venture of the Nature Trust of B.C., The Kootenay Wildlife Heritage Fund, The BC Wildlife Federation, The BC Conservation Foundation and Tech Coal Limited.

Kudos have to go out this year to Nikita Dalke and the rest of her Extreme Huntress competitors for introducing the sport of hunting to thousands of women in North America and proving unequivocally that hunting is NOT mostly just for men. Way to go ladies — well done. By the way you can watch episodes of the Extreme Huntress at.

Accolades also to Sgt. Darrel Robinson of the RCMP who freed an elk which had recently become tangled in a wire fence near Kimberley. It would have suffered a long and painful death. His deed received province-wide recognition and rightfully so. It can be dangerous when you are working with wild animals in distress. I don’t know Darrel personally, but I’d be willing to bet that he has a great respect for animals in general for taking the time to release the animal unharmed back into the wild.

That concludes this year’s articles, and I want to thank all of the people who read this column on a regular basis for their continued encouragement and support to maintain it — it’s much appreciated.  I want to take this time to wish all of you a wonderful, safe and happy 2015. Hope to see you in the field or on the water. Straight shooting and tight lines in the meantime.


FJ Hurtak is the author of the books Elk Hunting in the Kootenays, and Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays, available at selected retailers in B.C. and Alberta. All profits from the books go to acquire land for wildlife or to habitat restoration.