Deer hunters in Manitoba will have less to target in 2014, thanks to a change in the annual provincial hunting guide.
Hunting for white-tailed deer has been limited to antlered bucks (antlers four inches or higher) this hunting season, according to the Manitoba Hunting Guide put out by the Conservation department earlier this year. The bag limit on a general deer licence is one buck per hunter -- and under no circumstances can a doe be hunted when the hunting season gets underway this fall.
That could spell tough times and long waits for hunters in Manitoba.
"This is a big deal but it is being put in place for conservation reasons," said Paul Turenne, executive director of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association. "And that's fine -- fair enough. A lot of our members and resident hunters have been saying for the last year or two that the population seems to be down overall. There are pockets where the numbers are still pretty good and other places where it's not as good, and that's a bit of a concern.
"It's not like we're at the edge of a cliff or anything like that. It's still fine. I think this change was made just in terms of being a smart manager with regards to the numbers."
The coldest winter in 116 years caused a 30 to 40 per cent mortality rate of white-tailed deer in the province, according to Ken Rebizant, big game manager for Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. A combination of exposure and a lack of food has dropped the population down to between 80,000 and 100,000.
"When snow depths are more than 45 centimetres, it impedes the movement of white-tailed deer. If that lasts more than nine weeks, it's really hard on them," he said.
"This is a natural phenomenon in Manitoba. We can expect to have a bad winter every so often and significant winter mortality. It's just unfortunate that we've had two in a row."
The good news, he said, is white-tailed deer have a high reproductive rate. A single doe gives birth to an average of 2.5 fawns per year.
Rebizant said he considered cancelling deer hunting season altogether but felt the situation wasn't bad enough to warrant such drastic action.
"If we have another couple of bad winters we might have to go to extremes like that," he said.
While some hunters may not like the new limitation to bucks only, Turenne said most understand the need to refresh the province's white-tail deer population.
"There's always an acceptance among the hunting and fishing community to do something when something needs to be done," Turenne said. "Everyone readily accepts that because we all want the deer to be there for as long as possible.
"We agree with the need to do something."
The other significant change to the hunting guide sees the reduction of party hunting to two people from four for the 2014 season.
If one hunter heads out in the bush solo and shoots a deer, he or she then has their licence limit.
Party hunting builds on that premise, essentially allowing two people to hunt on one person's tag.
For example, two hunters decide to go out into the bush together, giving them a bag limit of two. If one hunter kills a buck on the first day, the two hunters can continue to hunt for a second deer -- regardless who nabbed the first animal.
"There are special provisions, like the distance between the two hunters is set at a limit, so that if (two hunters) go out and each shoots a deer on the second day, then they're not over the limit," Turenne said.
On top of this two-person party restriction, foreign resident party hunting -- non-Canadian hunters who visit Manitoba -- has been shelved for this season. International hunters are only allowed one deer per licence; once they bag and tag one in Manitoba, they have to stop.
Turenne said while this provision would seem like a direct hit to the hunting tourism business, it won't really be a big blow to his members. The hunters who come up to Manitoba from the United States to hunt want to shoot their own deer, not just be a part of the hunting group, he added.
-- with files from Geoff Kirbyson