Moose in NL are “simply gone” and we hunters should be worried
This column is an opinion of Gord Follett, former editor of Athletes from Newfoundland. For more information about Opinion Department of CBCPlease take a look… FAQ.
Through conversations with local hunters, as well as my own experiences over the years, there has been no doubt that moose numbers in Area 36, the South Shore, are significantly lower than they used to be.
I also knew that 1,300 licenses a year was far too many to sustain even remotely a healthy population in this scenic southern part of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula.
Despite this, I listed Moose Management Area (MMA) 36 as my top pick in the 2021 Big Game bid, primarily because it was relatively close to home and I could take “day trips” if I wasn’t on our first four days successful was adventure.
“It’s not going to be that easy to get your moose anymore,” friends from Trepassey, Biscay Bay and St. Shott’s had warned me. One of those who warned me was my good friend Cliff Doran from Trepassey, an amateur photographer who just a few years earlier sent me new photos of moose in his area every other day from July to October.
“They’re gone, mate; I’ll let you know,” he informed me when I messaged him on June 21 to inform him of my “Boloney” (bulls only) license. “I’ve noticed that the population has been declining bit by bit up here for the last seven or eight years,” he added.
OK, so I was willing to work for this one. No big deal. Spending an extra week or so in one of my favorite places in the province wouldn’t be too difficult right now, would it?
But 25 days without firing a shot was a bit damn much! I finally finished it more than a month before the end of the season, although it felt kind of odd to me that I wasn’t trying to squeeze dozens of roasts, packs of ground beef and sausages in my freezer at the time.
I’d like to point out that the number of Southern Shore licenses issued for the upcoming season has dropped to 1,100, but it’s still not enough.
Area 36 — which I’m most familiar with — is just one of several examples of declining elk populations in Newfoundland, and while I’ve written at least a dozen articles about population issues in many MMAs over the past decade, it’s ‘only’ when I did before After about a week saw the provincial government licensing for the 2023 season, I decided to write another one.
In a nutshell: 27,575 licenses in total for the 2023 season is far too many to be issued in these low-volume years. That’s a meager 90 fewer licenses than last year, when many were hoping for a cut of at least a few thousand. But it’s a cut nonetheless, the second since Derrick Bragg became Secretary of State for Fisheries, Forestry and Aquaculture.
Last year we welcomed a cut of 659 licenses compared to an increase of 369 in 2021-22 when Elvis Loveless was at the helm. Looking at other wildlife initiatives in recent years, Bragg seems better suited to this department than most ministers before him.
The message I’m relaying here – from speaking to literally hundreds of hunters each year about various MMAs, along with my own experiences – is that the numbers aren’t what some think they are and that we need more drastic reductions in the need license grants.
Are there some areas with relatively healthy populations? Absolutely. I see and hear from them fairly regularly. Would some hunters tell us that they usually see a lot of moose in their area or that they always get their animal within the first few days of a trip? Most certainly.
Would you and others suggest I wasn’t “so lazy, get off the truck and go deeper into the woods?” Oh yeah, I’ve heard that before.
But while I may not be able to do 10-12 hour hikes over moors and badlands, through bush and forest like I used to, I still cover a good chunk of ground on foot and by quad bike.
Before I slowed down a bit physically, I knew a few places every year where I could see moose — be it Southern Shore, Salmonier, Gambo, Northwest Gander — without having to play Rambo to find them.
Where are these animals today? Where are the moose that we usually saw in the first days of hunting? For example, where are the once rich elk of the Bonavista Peninsula? Friends in this area have been telling me for almost a decade that “they just aren’t around anymore”.
Salmonier (MMA 33) and St. John’s (MMA 35) are prime examples. They each had 2021 “success” rates of — get that now — 32.5 percent! That’s not a success rate; it’s closer to a disaster status!
Going through a small stack of yearly hunt guides I recently discovered at home, I jotted down the yearly success rates of all MMAs together and found the results quite interesting. A few guides were missing from my files, and note that published results are always from two seasons prior. For example, the current 2023-24 guide gives overall success rates from the 2021 season:
2008-09: 74 percent.
2010-11: 72.5 percent.
2011-12: 71 percent.
2012-13: 69.4 percent.
2013-14: 65.4 percent.
2014-15: 64 percent.
2015-16: 62.3 percent.
2016-17: 61.3 percent.
2019-20: 59 percent.
2021-22: 57.5 percent.
The numbers clearly don’t lie: either we have a population problem here or our hunting skills are getting worse every year.
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