A mule deer buck in the rut: Photo by Larry Tooze

A mule deer buck in the rut: Photo by Larry Tooze

Summing up the 2016 hunting season

The 2016 hunting season is now in the books and it will go down as another pretty average year, compared to the last couple of seasons.

F.J. Hurtak

The 2016 hunting season is now in the books and it will go down as another pretty average year, compared to the last couple of seasons.

The butcher shops I surveyed showed a bit of an increase in business — or slight decrease in some cases — but nothing really out of the ordinary. Some did mention that they thought the antlered animals that were brought in were slightly smaller than in previous years.

The guide-outfitters in this region had another slow season according to the report I received. As they traditionally harvest only animals in the later stages of their life cycle that makes sense, because the age class structure on some ungulate populations is very poor in our region, and elk, mule deer, moose, and even whitetail populations are far below levels from just 10 years ago.

Most importantly, if we have much more snow and frigid temperatures over the next four to six weeks it could be a complete disaster for our wildlife populations and quick action will be necessary to protect an already in decline resource.

As an example, in Saskatchewan a couple of years ago, the provincial government responded to a really bad winter by cutting their season in half as a conservation measure. We are all hoping that won’t happen here of course, but thus far, snow at lower elevations was much higher than normal through December and early January, with many areas receiving twice as much snow as normal.

One of the other major factors influencing hunter success numbers this past year was also the weather. We had a bit of snow in October in some locales, but that was soon erased by weeks of consistent rain, and high river levels, followed by unusually high temperatures for the first ten days or so of November.

I spent a full week in the high country in that time frame hunting mule deer, and just about every day I had temperatures in the 14-17 Celsius range by mid-afternoon. It was wonderfully pleasant, and pure joy just to be out there, but movement patterns were dramatically affected by the unseasonably warm weather and the deer were very hard to locate.

I didn’t see many bucks or does, but managed to see the biggest mule deer buck I have ever seen in the East Kootenay in 40 years of hunting. This buck had a 28-30 inch spread and high, dark, heavy antlers. He was following a doe when he exited some heavy cover, and paid me absolutely no attention whatsoever, even though he could plainly see me less than 15 yards away. A massive body and swollen neck indicated he was clearly fully into the rut. What a sight to behold for any hunter, as he represented a once in a lifetime trophy.

I didn’t kill the deer, because as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get those three points on each side to materialize into four. Nevertheless, it was an honour and privilege to even see a deer of that calibre in the wild and it’s my greatest memory of the 2016 season despite having harvested a nice bull elk a few weeks earlier.

Odds and Ends for 2017

There has been a lot of concern raised over the new high elk fences in the Wycliffe area near Cranbrook. Some are saying the eight foot high fence is causing dramatic changes in elk movement patterns, and the fence is preventing the elk from reaching the open grassland area, and forcing the animals to cross the highway at problematic locations. This of course has caused an increased mortality rate from highway collisions in this critical wildlife corridor. From what I heard, there were at least five elk killed there just over the Christmas break, and then there is the increased risk for motorists as well. Hitting an elk can cause serious injuries or even death.

Recent studies show that 3,000 vehicles travel Highway 95A between Cranbrook and Kimberley every day so the increase in carnage should be no surprise.

There seemed to be no formal investigation before the fences were erected, as to how the fences would impact ungulates. Provincial tax dollars were used to pay for these fences, and when a group of hunters asked the question at a wildlife meeting last year, as to what government agency would allow this to occur, with what appears to be little or no transparency, the answer was B.C. Agriculture.

I think the general public deserves an explanation and an investigation into this issue needs to be conducted by the appropriate sources.

Recently, long time government biologist, Doug Martin retired after over 40 years of service. Doug started as a summer student in 1974 in the Ray Demarchi (head wildlife biologist-Norm Ringstead -Fisheries Biologist) era.

Doug was hired on full time in 1981. His first job was in the Flathead trying to improve logging practices. His good work in the Flathead led to major changes in the way that logging plans were developed in mountainous terrain. He was habitat Protection Biologist for many years and he held the post of Senior Ecosystem Specialist for the Ministry up until his retirement last week. Just about 70 of his friends and colleagues gathered at the Cranbrook Golf club on January 14 to give Doug a big send off. I was an invited guest for that event and Irene Teske and many others have to be commended for organizing a really fun night for all who attended.

I certainly didn’t always agree with Doug on some issues over his tenure, but I always respected his passion, opinions, and knowledge on habitat and eco-systems here in the East Kootenay. Happy retirement, Doug!

On Feb. 25, the BC Chapter of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers will be hosting their third annual Hunting Film Festival at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook. This years event is called “Ridgeline Redemption” and features some outstanding hunting films. This is indeed a family event, and the lineup of door prizes and raffle items is second to none. Last year just about every second person it seemed, not only was treated to some great films, but went away with some sort of door prize. Tickets are only $20 for adults and $10 each for youth. Tickets are available right now at the Key City Theatre box office, or call 250-426-7006 or you can get your tickets on line at www.keycitytheatre.com

Here’s a heads up for all hunters and wildlife enthusiasts and an event you will not want to miss especially with an election just around the corner. That same BC Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers will be spearheading a movement to initiate a public forum on wildlife management. It’s tentatively scheduled for early March. Details are sketchy at the time of this writing, but I am told it will involve several other outdoor related groups and organizations, guest speakers, and will be free to the general public. Proper Wildlife management is a very complex subject and involves much more than just managing ungulate populations. It includes managing predators, habitat restoration, noxious weed control, proper funding and resources, access management and much much more. It’s fair to say that the province would receive a C- grade, for the job they have done over the past 20 years or so. I think it’s a fantastic idea to show the government, either Liberal or NDP on May 10, that we need a complete change in direction for wildlife management in this province, and that, that same wildlife management for British Columbia has to be made a priority, not an afterthought as it’s been in the past.

More on this for you when details are finalized. Stay tuned …

F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books ‘Elk Hunting in the Kootenays’, and ‘Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays’, All profits have been donated to land for wildlife or habitat restoration in the Kootenays.