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Monthly Archives: October 2014

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I just returned from a trip to Alberta; did, in no particular order, a bit of hunting, photography, dog training and visiting. It was a good time.

It had been a wet year on the Canadian prairies.There was more water lying around than I’ve seen in the 30+ years I’ve headed west on a regular basis. My destination is south-eastern Alberta, an area known as the Palliser Triangle, an arid piece of the province dominated by cattle ranches with some grain growing. Cattle need a lot of land per animal out there, and in places the ground is literally carpeted with prickly pear cactus. It was so wet this year that the grasses had successfully chocked out some of the cactus, the first time I’d notice that type of vegetative interaction occur.

So, in a relative sense, it was lush. There was lots of cover and the birds and animals were able to keep hidden much more than usual. Still, I saw antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose (it’s strange to see moose in cactus country), coyotes (lots), pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, gray or Hungarian partridge, a variety of ducks and geese, hundreds of magpies, a shrike and several other small birds and mammals.

Pheasants – always at the top of the list when bird hunting in Alberta – appeared to be up from our previous hunt two years ago, but weren’t at the levels we encountered a few years back.  As a group, we managed to harvest a few, but I only shot one. I missed a couple and the others I saw while driving for photos or looking after Neva on a lead (so I had no gun). Neva the Diva didn’t have much trouble getting on pheasants and next time I should be able to spend more time hunting and less time training. It’s a lot of fun to hunt upland with dogs and they are almost a necessity for retrieval of downed birds that can be wounded or just plain hard to find in thick cover.

The pheasants on our hunting grounds are wild birds (although pheasants are not native to North America). In Ontario and even in parts of Alberta, the vast majority of pheasants are birds that were raised in captivity and released for the specific purpose of being hunted. I like that they were wild where I go. They are smart and wily, and after a few days of hunting very difficult to get close enough for a shot, with or without the aid of dogs. And it’s not like they are everywhere – pheasants prefer a mix of agricultural crops and natural cover, so once one is away from the river bottoms, there aren’t many pheasants. Hunting pressure is concentrated during the first week of the season (which is a month and a half long) and then trails off fairly dramatically.

Over the next while, I’ll provide updates on my impression of the population status of the other game species we encountered, as well as a few other observations and anecdotes.

 

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Despite almost record numbers of ducks in the prairies, there are few in my neck of the woods in northwestern Ontario. Drew Myers, however, reports good numbers of ducks in the Dryden area, which is more agricultural than Kenora and in general, has deeper, more productive soils. Kenora has good duck numbers in some years, usually when there is a bountiful wild rice crop on Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg and English River systems. High water levels ruined that prospect, though. I suspect the marshlands in the Dryden area are of a somewhat different, vegetative mix than around Kenora.

There are a lot of geese around, however. Mostly local Canada geese, although I have seen some northern ‘cacklers’ as well as a few flocks of snows and blues passing through. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do much hunting for them, but that’s another story.

Years ago, the only Canada geese one ever saw in much of northern Ontario were high-flying migrants. Like elsewhere in the continent, though, goose populations have surged, and I don’t think I’m wrong in suggesting there is far more biomass of goose in the area now than duck. Numbers aren’t growing as rapidly as they were a decade ago, but do still seem to be on the increase. One has to wonder how long this growth in the goose population will last.

There are many reasons for the explosion in goose numbers. With respect to Canada’s, I think their adaptation to living in and among humans has been a major contributor to their growth. By seeking out habitats near homes and cottages (where the geese in this photo were), as well as parks and urban lawnscapes, Canada geese can live, breed and migrate with little to fear from human hunters. In many areas, they’ve become a pest, and are disparagingly referred to by some as ‘flying or sky rats’.

Personally, I like the geese, and wish them well, even if I do hope to bag a few soon. They are very tasty.