In this July photo, a white-tailed deer leaps over a fence along a grid road southwest of Brandon. With Manitoba deer population estimates remaining between 150,000 to 160,000 — down from an historic peak of 250,000 in 1995 — most hunters in the province will once again only have a single tag to fill for the 2013 season.
For the second straight year, most hunters in the province will only have a single tag to fill for the 2013 deer-hunting season as white-tailed deer numbers remain low.
"The deer population is down from historical numbers," said Brian Ogilvie, a regional enforcement officer for Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship in Brandon.
The severe and lengthy winter of 2010-11 is to blame for a significant amount of the reduction in population, wiping out an estimated 40 per cent of deer that year. Subsequent milder winters have helped to restabilize the population to what Ogilvie calls the "new normal."
Population estimates remain between 150,000 to 160,000 across the province, according to Manitoba Conservation’s website, down from an historic peak of about 250,000 deer in 1995 and in contrast to a low of 60,000 in 1974.
Last year, nearly 30,000 general deer tags were issued, up approximately 2,000 over the 2011-12 hunting season.
While general tags have increased, secondary tags, which are only available in select game hunting areas (GHAs), have dropped by approximately 4,000 in two years.
Couple that with the restriction that inhibits the purchase of a tag in archery, muzzleloader and rifle seasons and that means 15,500 less deer were harvested last year compared to three years ago.
In previous years, hunters could get licences for all three seasons in most GHAs, and could also get second and third licences, meaning some hunters had up to five tags.
One major exception is the GHAs located directly west of Riding Mountain National Park, where hunters are still eligible for multiple licences in an effort to curb chronic wasting disease.
However, in those areas, all hunters must submit the complete head, upper neck, lungs and trachea of the deer to a conservation drop-off depot within 48 hours for testing of the disease.
Ogilvie said although there are less deer being harvested in the province, the department will remain diligent in ensuring hunters are following the rules.
From April 2012 to March 2013, Ogilvie said conservation officers in the Western region — 12 offices consisting of 25 officers and two supervisors that stretches from the Saskatchewan border to the west, the United States border to the south, as far north as Mafeking and east to the edge of Lake Manitoba — handed out a substantial number of tickets for illegal hunting.
In total, 19 charges for carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle and two charges of hunting from a provincial road were laid with each charge carrying a $490 fine.
Six charges of harvesting an animal illegally and two charges of hunting from a vehicle were also doled out — charges that carry a $1,300 fine and two-year suspension.
Another area of concern is hunters illegally trespassing and hunting on land without permission, with 15 people busted for doing just that.
Ogilvie said, unlike some other jurisdictions, landowners don’t need to post no-trespassing signs in Manitoba for hunters to be on the grounds illegally.
"It’s considered trespassing until you have permission," Ogilvie said, adding the fine is $490. "Hunters have to respect the rights of the landowner. Hunter ethics means you talk to the landowner, you get permission and you understand if he wants vehicles or just walking or any other special conditions before you go on that land."
The reduced deer population has also had an impact on many rural areas, as hunters who used to travel from the United States or other provinces are staying away from Manitoba.
"We don’t see as many tourists anymore because our deer numbers aren’t as strong as they were in the past," Ogilvie said, adding the hunters who continue to travel to the province tend to have a connection with the area.
"When deer numbers are strong, the southwest part of the province is a popular destination for deer hunting."
COMPLEX WILDLIFE ACT CASES
Provincial conservation officers issue hundreds of fines each year under the Wildlife Act.
While the department has a near 100 per cent conviction rate for some offences, other more complex charges can take several years before they are concluded in the court system.
Here is a look at some of the more complex charges that recently yielded results:
•In July, two hunters pleaded guilty to hunting at night with lights in an incident that dated back to August 2011 near Carberry.
Natural resource officers observed the truck shining a bright light through the sunroof onto an adjacent field in an attempt to stop deer in their tracks. The truck the two hunters were riding in had also been reported, but it was later learned one of the suspect’s girlfriends lent them the vehicle.
Both hunters pleaded guilty. One was fined $1,250, the other $474. The truck was confiscated.
• Last month, one year after conservation officers searched and seized 78 kilograms of fish fillets, $775 in cash, detailed records and related items from a barbershop in Winnipeg, the owner of the shop pleaded guilty to several charges.
He was fined $2,600 for the illegal sale of fish and the $775 was forfeited as proceeds of crime.
• Charges are pending against a hunter for shooting a moose in a closed area less than three weeks ago in eastern Manitoba.
The area was closed to moose hunting in January 2012 to ensure a sustainable population. Closures apply to all hunters, including aboriginal rights-based hunters.
The moose was seized and the meat was taken to a nearby First Nations community for distribution to elders.
» Brandon Sun
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 8, 2013