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 with Rob Miskosky

Too Much Bull for One Zone?

We were early, quite early in fact, but it was for good reason; we wanted to beat the rush that was sure to come. At least we expected a rush and thus blaze orange had been donned. Sure enough, the rush came.

My just-turned 15-year-old son Dakota, good friend Pierre Frigon and I were already well into the cutline when the first of three trucks roared by on the road behind us. Parking beside our truck, the unloading of their quads began.

Dakota was hunting under the authority of a moose partner licence, as I wanted him to fill my tag. He’d been upgraded to a new gun and scope and this would be his first chance at a moose. Pierre was along to chase deer but he wanted to hang with us for a while to see how Dakota would make out. Previous scouting missions suggested we had a good chance at an early bull but we’d need some luck with other hunters nearby.

And it didn’t take too long before we were under the radar of three bulls, each staring at us in the too dark of morning—it wasn’t legal light yet. We watched them from a mere 50 metres, waiting patiently for legal time to arrive. And then the three bulls slowly disappeared into the thick of the willows to our left. Light (and hunters) were gathering fast and it was decided I would take a short walk left to see if I could see the bulls, perhaps getting Dakota into a shooting position before the competition arrived. I hadn’t gone more than 10-feet when I heard Pierre bellow out a bull call and the retort of Dakota’s rifle. Another bull had appeared from their right and Pierre’s call had stopped him briefly on the cutline some 100 metres out. Dakota’s hurried offhand shot was low and the bull fled back into the willows.

In short order hunters in blaze orange quadded by, nodding as they passed us. We watched as they picked different cutlines to park on up ahead and to the left of us. They too had moose tags. There was little use in carrying on further, our interrupted hunt would now reverse and we would be the interlopers if we continued ahead.

After a long search for signs of a hit moose, we turned around and headed back to our truck, our hunt over before it barely began.

Luck was definitely not on our side and Dakota was dejected he’d missed his first chance at a bull moose, but a new gun, scope, dad not beside him and a hurried shot had transpired against him. We encouraged him that he still had time as it was just opening day.

280 bull tags and 270 calf tags were given during the draw for WMU 510, quadruple the average number. Many hunters feel their hunting experience was compromised and future hunting plans waylaid because of the inordinate number of tags issued.
Revert back a month earlier and I was on the phone with Rob Corrigan, Provincial Big Game Specialist, Game and Priorities Species, essentially the man who takes recommendations from our provincial biologists and coordinates the harvest goals for each of Alberta’s Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) through draws and regulations. And here I was trying to give back my successful moose draw for WMU 510. I didn’t want it, especially after discovering a whopping 550 moose tags had been given out for the zone that included 280 bull draws and 270 calf draws. I was astounded that the number of licences had been nearly quadrupled and knew that the resulting season would consist of a hunter on every corner with a moose tag in hand.

“I questioned the numbers at first too,” Rob had said. “But the wildlife survey suggests there are a lot of moose in the zone.”

WMU 510 last saw an aerial moose survey back in 2001/02 and the population estimate came in at 1245 moose of which 17 bulls and 53 calves were attributed to every 100 cows counted, giving a moose density of 0.35 moose/km2.

Eight years later, proper management (meaning cows are off limits and harvest goals are modest) had put WMU 510’s moose population at an estimated 3036 moose, or 0.72 moose/km2 according to the 2009/10 aerial moose survey conducted by area biologist Kristina Norstrom.

Consensus among hunters who know the zone well, however, has the estimate high, but models are models, surveys are surveys, and estimates are exactly that—estimates. Many, including myself, question the need for such a drastic population reduction in a single year. It appears several considerations, including hunter pressure, which results in a less than pleasant hunting experience, and hunter plans, were not fully accounted for. Several hunting groups have complained their entire group had been drawn and now their priorities and draw plans have been derailed for several years. In my circle alone, four tags were given of which none of us, based on previous years, should have been successful in the draw.

“How many of those moose hunters also have double supplemental tags in their back pocket?” quipped hunter Ken Colwill. “There were more deer killed in this zone last year (1011 white-tailed deer) than any other in the entire province. Add in the moose from this year, and we won’t have much left next year.”

Chalk this one up for me to poor use of the ‘999’ allowance when putting in my draws, because clearly not all factors are taken into consideration when harvest goals are set. 

Fast forward to November 19th and I’ll be back in 510 looking to attach my moose tag to a bull. Hunter numbers should be diminished by then; at least that’s my hope. Unfortunately, I’m a died-in-the-wool deer hunter and moose have always been secondary and without thought or purpose—“see bull moose, shoot bull moose” has always been my motto and over the years it has worked. I don’t recall ever wasting a moose draw but now that possibility is a real one. And because moose hunting is getting in the way of my whitetail chasing, slobber-nose has become secondary, but that blaze orange toque will remain a priority for the rest of this season, at least when I’m in WMU 510.

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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