DISASTROUS WINTER ON GAME (December 21/15)

There are only a few words to describe the effect the weather last winter had on wildlife – not so good, perhaps even disastrous

Not good when it comes to deer, not so good for pheasants; and possibly not so good for ruffed grouse as well, as time will tell when the hunting season wraps up and harvest tallies are eventually made.

On deer, I heard early that road kills were down across the province, which isn’t a good sign.  A road kill count is one of the “tools” record keepers and statisticians at the Natural Resources wildlife division use to estimate the deer population.  Natural Resources say high deer numbers often result in high road kills, while low road kills generally indicating low numbers of deer.

Even more troubling are the reports of winter deer kills coming in from various sources (woods workers, hikers, trappers and hunters, for example) which indicate many deer starved to death last winter due to deep snows.  I’ve had reports of people finding as many as eight or more deer carcasses in the spring after the snow melted.

There are too many stories floating around of deer die offs last winter to pass them off as fiction.  I’ve asked for verification of this from the Wildlife Division and was told by Natural Resources biologist Peter MacDonald that there were the normal reports on deer losses as is typical of any year. As is also typical, the reports were inconsistent, some areas reporting few deer losses, others the opposite.

However, MacDonald said last winter was harder than normal on deer.  “The deep snows staying on through March and April were a factor.” he said.  “Due to this we lost fawns, yearlings and bucks that would’ve been in poor condition due to rutting.”

The examination of road kill deer this past summer indicates that some 50 percent were at starvation levels, MacDonald said.  Deer weakened by lack of food are more likely to become roadside statistics.

All being said, there definitely was a negative effect on deer by last winter’s severe weather.  How much is yet to be seen.  While all hunting statistics aren’t in yet, MacDonald estimates there could be a 20 percent decline in the deer harvest.  On the positive side, MacDonald noted that in the past three years deer numbers have been increasing.

On pheasants, I hunt some of the best coverts in Nova Scotia and while there were tiny pockets of plenty in places, it’s my estimation that overall, last winter was extremely hard on these birds.  In Kings County, the area where most of the provincial harvest is taken, some of the prime coverts are absolutely barren.  I’ve been hunting pheasants for more than 50 years and I can’t recall a season as bad as this for finding birds.  I know most of the good coverts in Kings County and I’m speaking from experience when I say there are few pheasants in them.  Even more disturbing is the lack hens, which appear to be fewer in number than male birds.

If pheasant numbers are down drastically (and I expect they will be once harvest estimates are made) perhaps Natural Resources look at reducing the bag limit and shortening the season. Pheasants could reach an all time low, especially if the upcoming winter is as bad as the last, and action isn’t taken on lessening hunter impact.

I hope Natural Resources will take a serious look at making adjustments but I’m not expecting much.  Look at what happened with Hungarian partridge.  The hunting season on Huns was closed only when it became obvious few birds were left in the province.  Natural Resources mismanaged the Hun situation; let’s hope they don’t do the same with pheasants.   This magnificent game bird deserves better.

SUNDAY HUNTING – PROS AND CONS (December 1/15)

Reading all the information floating around out there pro and con on Sunday hunting, I found a remark made by a long time hunter and outfitter that really strikes home:  “To me,” the hunter said, “it (Sunday hunting) does not come out as a conservation effort.”

Now, opening for only two Sundays during the hunting season may not negatively affect wildlife populations but does it make sense.  Is it a good move when it comes to game conservation to add extra days to the hunting season, especially this hunting season when, according to recent reports, the deer population appears to be in trouble?

Also, by opening Sundays for hunting the Department of Natural Resources appears to be catering to a minority group, big game and small game hunters, and this isn’t a good move either.  In addition, the Department likely is fostering more anti hunting sentiments than now exists by opening the woods and fields on a traditional day of quiet and rest.

Let’s look at this “catering to minorities” to determine if it really is the case.  In 2014 the population of Nova Scotia was estimated to be 921,727.  The number of general deer licenses purchased in 2014 was 26,781, and the senior general deer license sales 11,667 for a total of 38,448. In other words less than one percent of Nova Scotians hunt deer and if Sunday hunting was implemented solely for them then it was a classic case of a tiny tail wagging a really big dog.  Even when you add in the number of small game hunters in the province, about 25,000 according to Natural Resources, Sunday hunting still favours a minority. Keep in mind also that those 11,667 senior hunters who purchased a license would have six days a week to hunt and normally wouldn’t need Sundays.

Anyway, the question is, why cater to this minority, this tiny segment of the population since as suggested, it may be an anti-conservation move to allow Sunday hunting and it definitely adds more tarnish to the hunter’s public image.   Further, the record keepers and statisticians at the Natural Resources wildlife division prepared a “public consultation report” on Sunday hunting which can be found on their website.  Some 21,118 people responded to an online questionnaire – Are you in favour of lifting the ban on Sunday hunting? – and 53.8 percent said no.  It may be a cynical observation but I bet all of the 46.2 percent of the respondents who said yes are hunters.

On my own I did a telephone survey of farmers in Kings County, an area where there is heavy duty pheasant and waterfowl hunting on agricultural land.  All of the farmers I contacted were against opening Sunday for hunting, dead set against it, in fact.  As one major landowner succinctly expressed it, “Hunters are a burden (to us) now, why give them more opportunities to hunt on our land.”

With so many people firmly against Sunday hunting, and with the potential of Sunday hunting to harm the hunter’s image, why did the Department of Natural Resources decide to go ahead with it anyway?  Perhaps one of the reasons can be found in the Department’s mission statement.  One of the Department’s goals reads the statement, is to “provide equitable opportunities for Nova Scotians to use and share the benefits afforded by wildlife species.”  In defense of its decision to allow Sunday hunting the government also said that this “strikes a balance that reflects and respects the wishes and needs of people on both sides of the issue.”

In other words, the minority that wanted Sunday hunting got it; to appease the majority opposed to it, only two Sundays were opened for hunting. Until this year, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were the only provinces with no Sunday hunting.  This may also have been factored into the government’s decision.  Note, however, that in provinces where Sunday hunting has been a fact for nearly a decade, most people still appear to be vehemently opposed to it.