Moose Tags Down . . . again

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The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) recently released the number of moose tags that will be available to licensed hunters for the 2016 provincial hunt. To no one’s surprise, tags were once again reduced from the number available the previous year. Moose populations just keep declining.

This fall there will be a total of 8,389 gun tags and 2,368 bow hunting tags available. However, in 11 Wildlife Management Units (WMU’s) the gun tags available are actually a combined quota of gun and bow tags, so some portion of those 603 ‘gun’ tags will actually be allocated to archers.

In the WMU I’ve been applying for and hunting in the past several years, the 6 bull and 6 cow tags available to residents only in 2015 were reduced to . . . . 1 bull tag. Last year Lil and I had one of those 6 bull tags and did harvest a young bull. For the sake of comparison and to show just how much the moose population has declined: back in 2001, there were in WMU 6; 165 bull gun tags, 70 gun cow tags, 10 archery bull tags, 5 archery cow tags AND an allocation of bull and cow tags to the tourism industry.

This year I’m going to hunt moose in Manitoba. I can buy a tag over the counter; no draw. It’s a fly-in hunt I’ve done once before.

Things look grim for the future of Ontario’s moose and its moose hunters.

Some of the reasons for my grim prognosis are as follows:

  • Despite reducing the ‘calf season’ (the time during the moose hunting season when calves can be harvested) to two weeks over much of the province (the season otherwise is up to 10 weeks long), there is no quota on calf tags except in 4 WMU’s – out of almost 70 WMU’s where moose hunting is permitted. When moose numbers are so low in so many WMU’s (1 bull tag in WMU 6!!!), I think calf harvests should be tightly controlled and in some WMU’s, eliminated.
  • Similarly, more than 6,000 cow tags will be available, or roughly ½ of the available moose tags. Again, it doesn’t make sense to be killing cows in WMU’s where the moose population has been in a precipitous decline.
  • Even worse, hunters can shoot a cow accompanied by a calf (or calves) outside the calf season, orphaning the calves. If wolves are present (almost a guarantee), this is simply a wolf feeding exercise.
  • Gun hunts have been delayed so they now start well after the rutting season is over. However, archery hunts still occur right during the rut. When Ontario’s moose were previously in trouble back in the 1970’s and 80’s, Ontario hired moose biologists to examine the situation (including the world-renowned moose biologist Dr. Tony Bubenik), and they recommended there should be very, very limited harvest of prime bull moose until after the peak of the rut. And back then, that’s what was done. However, over time, there has been increasing pressure to have archery hunts during the peak of the rut and the MNRF has acquiesced. This year, there are over 800 archery bull tags (archery tags ad some portion of the gun/archery tag quota), which to me does not seem right.
  • Killing prime bulls before they have had a chance to breed means more breeding is done by sub-prime bulls. Sub-prime bulls are poor lovers and may not successfully liaise with a cow during the major estrus in late September, but are bred well into October and even November. That means calves will be born over a longer period of time the following spring, which results in higher rates of predation by wolves and bears who learn how to find newborn calves.
  • Wolf numbers remain high (eventually they will fall; with few moose and deer available there isn’t much to eat anymore) and the way wolves are managed remains problematic (see my post “Missing the Mark”).
  • There is no control over the number of moose (or virtually any wild animal or fish) harvested by Aboriginals and Métis. Canada’s flawed constitution has institutionalized racism and the lawyers and courts who are there to uphold laws and rail against other forms of racism are twisting themselves into pretzels to ensure Aboriginals and Métis have the ‘right’ to fish and hunt with no seasons, no limits and essentially no regulatory framework at all. This is not going to end well.

Ultimately, Ontario residents could see moose hunting regulations for licensed hunters in the not-too-distant future not unlike those in place in the US state of Minnesota. In Minnesota, moose tags are tightly controlled and if and when you are drawn, that’s it. It’s a once in a lifetime hunt.

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