Thursday, December 7, 2017

Vicious Winters, Wolves, and a Come-back

Deep snow with sleet laden branches
The part of Saskatchewan that I love to hunt in is recovering from several brutal winters coupled with a Timber Wolf over-population. Deep snow, extreme cold, and wolf packs numbering in the twenties turned what was a hunting paradise into a hunting desert.

We used to scoff at white tailed bucks under 150 inches; considered it bizarre if we saw no elk, and expected to shoot at least one moose every season. Well, it's amazing what severe winters and wolves can accomplish; the forests were virtually emptied of game.

After the first severe winter the wolf population increased and local farmers began to suffer depredation of cattle for the first time ever, some losing several dozen or more head. The deer population was cut down by at least 80% and any cow elk we saw were dry.   The moose seemed to do fine the first severe winter, perhaps due to the fact that the wolves had lots of deer and elk calves to feast on.

The following winter more or less finished off all but a handful of deer, and drastically reduced the elk and moose populations. But, it also wiped out the wolves. By winter's end there was hardly a wolf to be found ... where we used to see wolves every few days and tracks everywhere, you can now find none. I have read several sources that claim that when wolves run out of game, especially in the winter, they cannibalize each other. I have no idea if this is true, but it makes sense. No wolf pack is going to go long without food before tempers flare, fights break out, and the losers become lunch.

This past year, 3 winters later, marked the beginning of the deer and elk come-back. Deer were plentiful, but mostly yearlings or two year olds, and the elk herds are creeping up to their old standard, with every cow trailing a calf. Large bull elk are not common yet, but in a couple of years we should begin to see decent mature bulls and even a few wall-hangers. Moose numbers though, are still way down.

Long Body; Small Antlers
Needless to say, I entered the season with low expectations. My son and I hunted elk in September and managed to bag two bulls; one spike and one large bodied, but small antlered 5x5. Moose though, turned out to be elusive, for the second year in a row. The sheer lack of sign was actually startling because not that long ago we took it for granted that we would be dining on moose all winter long.

My deer hunt consisted mainly of having a good time snooping around in the woods and bagging a small buck for the freezer.

So far the 2017-2018 winter is mild, and I look forward to better opportunities in 2018.  It's always a sad day when I clean up the 35 Whelen and put it away in the safe.

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