New Moose Regs Proposed


Ontario has finally said what it intends to do, at least with respect to hunting, about declining moose populations in Ontario. But not until 2016. Seven years ago (2008) the headline for the May 24 issue of the Lake of the Woods Enterprise was “Calf draw is option to boost moose numbers'”. Since then, not much was done, except to continue to reduce adult tags in some WMU’s, and make it somewhat more difficult for hunters to transfer tags amongst one another. At that time, about 9,500 moose were harvested – since then, the annual harvest of moose by licensed hunters has declined to about 6,000 moose.

So finally, something is being proposed to be done. But it’s not a calf draw, where numbers of calf tags available would be limited. Instead, what’s being proposed over much of northern Ontario is to delay the opening date of the moose season for adults by a week, and the calf season until the Saturday closest to Oct. 22, and then have it open (calf moose hunting) for only two weeks. After the closure of the calf season, only adults could be harvest until the end of the season, which will stay the same (generally ending on Dec. 15).

Rather than controlling the calf hunt directly, like adult moose are (everyone who buys a moose licence can shoot a calf moose; adult moose can only be killed if one has a tag, which are limited and need to be applied to through a draw system), the government is choosing to use an indirect approach; basically, shortening the season, and moving the calendar dates so southern Ontario hunters can’t make the trek north to hunt moose, including calves, then continue to hunt calf moose during the remainder of the season closer to home. Opening of the adult moose season later is meant to virtually eliminate the possibility of gun hunters calling in bull moose, as the rut will be well over by the time the season opens.

Personally, I don’t like the proposed changes. Eliminating the opportunity to try and call in a bull moose takes away one of the most exciting and enjoyable moose hunts there is. And I don’t think delaying the opening date will actually accomplish the goal (reduced bull kill).

There’s a couple of reasons for that, which includes invoking the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Delaying the start of the hunt by a week is going to increase the number of hunters in the woods during the opening week. Right now, many hunters choose to hunt the 2nd week of the season, just to avoid the crowds. Many hunters will be reticent to do that now, because it greatly increases the risk of having to deal with bad weather (snow and freeze-up) and for many, it means the end of the moose hunt will be concurrent with the start of the deer hunt. No ‘time-off’ between hunts, which many hunters need because of family or other commitments.

With more hunters in the woods for the opening of the season and with almost 100% leaf-fall making moose more visible, I think the proposed change in seasons may actually result in an increase in adult moose hunter success rates. Plus, when adult moose can be hunted, but calf moose hunting is not permitted, there’s likely to be an increase in the number of orphaned calf moose (cows shot, but not their calf). These calves are for the most part, doomed. Without their cow, a calf moose has little chance of surviving the winter and predation by wolves.

I also do not believe that gun hunters harvesting bull moose that respond to a call during the present hunt season is an issue. Data shows the average breeding dates in North America range from about Sept. 28th to Oct. 12, which suggests that in most years, most moose would have been bred by the time the gun season opens (Saturday closest to Oct. 8th).

Further, adult moose tags are limited in number, so the total kill by licensed hunters can be, and is, controlled.

As an example, in WMU 7A, where moose numbers have collapsed from a high of close to 1,400 to almost zero, there was only one (1!!) bull tag available in 2014. In WMU 7B, where the latest population estimate was around 300 moose, only 10 bull tags were available in 2014. In these and many other WMU’s, delaying the opening of the season will do nothing to increase the moose population. It will, however, make the hunting experience more unpleasant.

Also it is of note that no changes are proposed in the regulations for the archery hunt. The archery hunt generally runs from around Sept. 20th to the opening of the gun hunt, which means many if not most of the bull moose taken by archers are killed before they have had a chance to breed.

Finally, indirectly trying to control the calf kill is unlikely to work, and if it does, gains will be limited. Most calves are killed during the first two weeks of the hunt now; logic suggests reducing the season to two weeks will see little in the way of a harvest reduction. I’m of the opinion that in WMU’s where moose populations are below some agreed upon level, hunting should be limited to bulls only, and the allowable harvest would be small. And except, maybe, in areas where moose populations are very robust, the calf moose harvest needs to have direct controls. I’m of the opinion that the wide-open, everyone can harvest a calf moose hunt, is a management experiment that has failed.

There are a number of other issues that need to be addressed to improve moose numbers, most of all how to manage/accommodate/negotiate rights based hunting so everyone benefits (including the moose), and how to manage habitat and predation, which unlike many other factors, can actually be influenced by human action. I’ll provide comments on those issues on another day.

If you’re a moose hunter, or have an interest in moose, have a peek at the ebr posting. I’ve provided the link, below. And if you have comments, be sure to let the government know. Last date for comments is March 09.

EBR Registry Number:   012-3413
Amendment to regulations under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act for moose hunting in northern Ontario
Ministry of Natural Resources
Date Proposal loaded to the Registry:
February 06, 2015

  1. Sam Menard said:

    My comments on the EBR pretty much mirror many of yours. I was disappointed with the approach, especially since these 2 changes don’t come into effect until 2016. It seems that MNRF took the easiest and cheapest route by choosing to manage hunters. More can be done. I would like to see mandatory reporting and changes to the draw to the effect that it would be a combination point system and random draw e.g. 20% awarded randomly and the remainder awarded on a point system. The predator aspect could be addressed by minimum trapping quotas on wolves and re-instating the spring bear hunt. Additionally, improvements are needed to the way that our forests are managed, including the use of prescribed fire for wildlife management. I also agree with your comment about rights-bearing hunting. It’s pretty tough managing a provincial resource having all of the users at the table.

    MNRF could have gained some credibility last year by undertaking some research. Seems to me that they are letting other agencies do the heavy lifting. If Ontario studied moose like deer are studied in the US, we would have a better handle on what is going on. Sorry for the rant.


  2. I agree managing hunters is the easiest and cheapest route to manage moose; it’s also one of the most effective. Other stuff has to be done, that’s true, but given this reg change is under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, it can’t address rights based harvesting or aspects of habitat management.
    Trapping quotas on wolves is something I’ve often thought of, and when I was with MNR explored; trappers themselves were very, very opposed to this, making it another headache for the government. Most trappers simply do not want to trap wolves, mostly because it’s a lot of trouble to do so, as wolves require a lot of effort to catch and are no fun to skin (plus many are worthless due to mange).
    I was one of the authors of MNR(F)’s Stand and Site Guide, which includes the Forest Management Guidelines for moose habitat management (which I led). In my next post, I’ll dwell on that and provide some insights as to what’s going on with that in Ontario.
    Rights based harvesting is an issue that goes to the heart of our Constitution. I think the Constitution is flawed, and will need to be amended before we find satisfaction as to how to manage people and their use of wildlife in this country. It’s another topic I will explore from time to time, but I can’t get too worked up about it because if I do, I’ll go mad.

  3. Some great perspectives guys. A lot can be learned from looking at game management in other states and provinces. Rights based harvesting needs to be talked about and issues addressed. In this day and age hunting without limits to seasons and numbers taken with modern equipment is ridiculous. I would also love to see northern residents have the ability to hunt wolves and coyotes under the small game license again as well as restore the spring bear hunt completely. Preference Point system is by far the fairest system and the best system to manage hunters. You can tweak the PP system to include different groups of hunters, groups, and management objectives. Anyway, I posted some links to your blog at OTB.

  4. I hunt Alberta on a regular basis and they use the preference point system. It works well there, in part because they have lots of game and a multiple of species. And, like you say, they tweak the system so almost everyone can find a hunt they like. I really, really don’t like the approach Ontario seems to want to take, that being trying to reduce hunter success rates by making the gun hunt less pleasant (and not touch the bow hunt). And still get everyone to pay full-up for a tag. It’s all about the money. Personally, I’d much rather not be able to hunt moose every year than be able to, but under circumstances I don’t like (no calling; more crowding, risk of early freeze-up). I stopped deer hunting in southern Saskatchewan because they made it too miserable for me – the deer hunt in many southern hunting units for non-residents there now runs from Nov 25 -30. Weather is often terrible then and driving can be treacherous. It wasn’t worth risking life and limb to get there and back. Plus, like moose here in Ontario, deer are way down in southern SK. So they wanted to reduce hunter numbers by making it unpleasant – it worked!

  5. Chris Derouard said:

    I believe that the changes are a step in the right direction. In areas that the population is at a dangerous level the season should be closed entirely to allow a chance of sustaining the population
    Shorting the calf season will not have an issue with predation. Cow moose will be shot with or without these changes. The calfs will either survive or not. Pushing the season back will actually help with this due to the fact that the cows will be safe for at least one more week.
    A bull only system would be best with a short early season and then re open for a winter hunt. The seasons in ontario are some of the longest in the country. So quit crying about losing a week.

    • Well, I don’t think the changes go in the right direction. No one is proposing closing the season, which you say should be done. In fact, most of what you suggest should be done isn’t going to happen, at least it’s not being proposed. They are proposing delaying opening by one week. I’d prefer a season that closes several weeks sooner (that would make it much shorter), but lets us camp during nicer weather, and have a chance to call in a bull. Why should only archery hunters get to hunt in the rut? I agree with you in that I don’t think we should be shooting cows with or without calves, and I don’t think we should be shooting calves either, in those WMU’s where the population is way down. In WMU 7B, the moose harvest since around 2010 has been less than 10 moose – in 2009 and 2010, though, deer hunters reported seeing over 5000 wolves! So predation is definitely a problem.

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