Our annual province-by-province survey of big-game populations promises an exciting season for Canadian hunters
This past January was very mild in the N.W.T., but February and March were colder and more like the old normal. Overall, though, the climate is warming, and for cold-adapted species of the North, that increasingly brings challenges such as crusty snow from thaw-refreeze cycles, and more parasites and diseases. The North also now regularly sees longer summers and temperatures above 30°C, leading to heat stress and more biting insects.
The bear-hunting prospects for this year are excellent, with seasons and areas open for black, grizzly and polar bears. The territory’s black bears are doing well, and the other two species are closely monitored.
In the Bison Control Area south of Great Slave Lake, bison numbers have been reduced to control the spread of disease. Elsewhere, though the herds are increasing slowly and the hunting is expected to be very good. In fact, a bison tag almost comes with a guarantee of success for the determined hunter.
Caribou hunters may be disappointed this season. There are concerns about many herds and the situation changes rapidly, so hunters need to stay up to date with the regulations. Some herds are open only to hunters with Indigenous harvesting rights, and a no-hunting zone about the size of New Brunswick protects the Bathurst herd; its boundaries are updated weekly as the animals move around. Mountain caribou are doing well in the Mackenzie Mountains, meanwhile, but land access from outside the territory is currently closed due to COVID-19. As a result, hunters can only fly in.
In response to the decrease in caribou opportunities, hunting pressure on moose has increased. In some of the more easily accessed areas, numbers have declined, but there’s no concern for the species. Hunters who venture away from the roads should do well.
Similar to moose, muskox have been experiencing an increase in hunter attention as caribou-hunting success declines. The prospects for this season are mixed. On the northern islands, an increase in parasites and disease caused a steep population decline in the past, but that seems to have stabilized and the numbers are beginning to recover. On the mainland, muskox populations are increasing, moving south and dispersing, so hunters are likely to see more of these animals. Accordingly, there are new opportunities for both residents and non-residents to hunt muskox in southern N.W.T.