Hunting is a popular activity for many people in Pictou County and this season looks like it will be a good one.
The archery and muzzleloader season for deer has been open for some time now and the small game season opened the first of October. The Nova Scotia rifle season for whitetail deer opens the last Friday of October and I know many Pictou County hunters are looking forward to spending some time in the woods. They won’t be alone, as whitetail deer are the most popular big game species in Nova Scotia.
Eastern Canada is at the northern range for whitetails and their numbers are controlled to a significant degree by both weather and the amount and quality of habitat and food. I know many hunters are wondering if the easy winters of the past two years will impact deer numbers this fall. The low snowfall amounts would have made for easy travel, improved survival and should increase deer numbers in the province. While weather plays an important role in deer survival other factors, such as predation by coyotes, black bears and domestic dogs, along with illegal hunting, also play a major role.
To get an overview of how wildlife populations are doing in Pictou County, I recently checked harvest reports for big and small game on the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry website. The site has results both by county, and for the rest of the province. I first looked at the reported deer harvest for 2017 and found 9,109 deer were harvested in the province and Pictou County accounted for 655 of them. This was an increase from 546 in 2016. The provincial harvest increased from 8,337 in 2016. Licence sales also increased with 47,201 big game licences sold, up from 45,836 the previous year. Hunter success rate was 17.9 percent, up from 16.5 in 2016. As someone who recently started hunting with a muzzleloader I was interested to see that archery and muzzleloader licences increased in the province from 10,748 in 2016 to a high of 12,351 last season.
From previous discussions I’ve had with lands and forestry wildlife managers I knew the tough winter we experienced in 2014-2015 had a significant impact on the number of young deer that survived the winter and resulted in a reduced number of older deer in the population. They told me this reduction in the deer herd would be felt for a number of years.
Wildlife staff collect a lot of data in order to assess the status of deer in the province. One source of data is road kill. Deer picked up on the highway during the winter are examined for bone marrow content and does are checked for the number of fawns they were carrying. Nova Scotia is at the northern edge of the whitetail’s range so severe weather can have a significant impact on deer numbers, and condition, from year to year. By measuring bone marrow fat content they have a good idea how the herd is doing. In 2015 the results indicated that almost half the herd, 49 per cent, were stressed nutritionally. Fortunately the most recent data revealed only 4.2 per cent of the deer examined were stressed. Road-killed does had an average of 1.47 fawns per adult doe, a number which wildlife managers consider to be representative of a healthy herd. Taken together, the results indicate a healthy deer herd now, and in the future.
Bear harvest was also up in Pictou County last year with 42 animals harvested.
I get a lot of enjoyment from spending time in the woods chasing partridge and rabbits so I was pleased to see the ruffed grouse harvest for Pictou County was up to 3,604 birds in 2017 while 1,480 snowshoe hares were reported.
Some of the data wildlife managers use for managing wildlife comes from hunter’s report which makes it important to report your harvest at the end of the season. I hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable hunting season.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.