Tuesday 6 August 2019

First Hunting Trip and Gear List Part 2: Hunting Essentials

It's summer and we're all looking forward to the upcoming fall hunting season.  Last summer I wrote the first part of a guide for hunting-curious people or new hunters who might be accompanying an experienced hunter into the woods for the first time.  Click here to take a look and read Part 1: Looking After Yourself.

For Part 2, we'll assume you now have a PAL (Possession and Acquisition Licence, ie. gun licence), have taken your CORE course (Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education), and have all the basic skills and equipment from Part 1.


So, you've been invited along on a multi-day hunt where the plan is to set up a base camp with wall tents and trailers and strike out daily from there.  What do you need to know and what do you need to bring?

The goal of it all is to have a good time and be invited back.  On the show MeatEater, they call not being invited back OTC, or "Out of The Club".  There are lots of reasons you may become OTC.  Here's some tips on how to avoid that.

Things to Know


Committing to the Trip


If you're like most of us, you have limited days of vacation per year that you can spend on a hunting trip.  By committing to a trip, it's not just you relying on others, but they are also counting on you.  They may not have invited someone else in favour of taking you. They may have prepared or made special arrangements on your behalf.  They may be counting on your help to deal with logistics.  While flaking out may seem like it's not a big deal to our generation, for a group trip like a hunting trip, flaking can result in serious bad blood.

If you are going to agree to go on a hunting trip with someone then you need to be onboard 100%.  That means you need to prepare for the trip adequately, perhaps physically training, learning about the area and perhaps also procuring the right gear.

Spots, Locations, Campsites are Closely Guarded Secrets


The saying "loose lips sink ships" applies to hunting as much as anything.  People and groups guard their spots, locations, and campsite as precious secrets to prevent them from becoming overrun with other hunters.  Finding a good spot to hunt and camp can take years of scouting and trial and error.  If you are being invited to join then the expectation is that you will hold the group's locations secret.  Posting on social media or even telling a close friend the location of a hunt is crossing a line and totally uncool.  Personally, if I am told of a spot, or invited to join a group, I don't even like to say what management unit it is in and I will certainly never take someone there. In fact, if I am going to go hunting with someone, I'll avoid going anywhere near spots that I was shown or told about. 

When I am telling someone about a hunting success and use a vague term like "South of Vanderhoof" some people are very good at effortlessly and casually inserting pointed questions about where exactly and how far along the road with phrases like "Oh yeah, past ####" expecting you'll say yes or no.

If you are "in the club" and have been let in on some prime hunting spots then it is your job to keep those spots a secret, not just for you, but for the group.  I made the mistake of telling people who were camping in the same rec site as our group where I was successful with my first deer and for the next 3 days they hunted my spot.  It was a lesson I learned the hard way and won't make again.

Carpooling and Cargo

Before planning your trip with the group, you should find out who is riding with who and how much space you have for your gear.  If you are sharing a ride with someone it is good to find out early how much space you have for your gear.

Sleeping Arrangements

No one will have any fun if they don't get a good night's sleep.  It's really important to know where you'll be sleeping.  Do you have to bring your own tent? Do you need a cot? Can you just get away with a sleeping bag?  Pro Tip: Bring earplugs, either for yourself or for your tent-mates!

Trip Preparation and Packing

Different groups do things differently.  You may be expected to bring pre-prepared meals to share.  You may have to look after yourself.  You may do a group shopping and have to cook from time to time.  You may have to help pack group equipment.  Ask questions and pull your weight, and then some, if you want to be invited back. Pro Tip: Prepare a tasty dish or dinner for the group.  Everyone likes a good cook!

Know the Current Rules

A few years ago while hanging around the campfire a debate broke out about bag limits, regional vs. provincial, for deer.  There were as many opinions about the rules as there were people around the campfire.  As the newbie of the group, I was pretty sure I had the most recent knowledge from my CORE course the previous year, but rather than make an fool of myself I decided to go get the regulations and read them aloud for the group.  After that, more than a few people were surprised at the current rules.

Rules change from year to year.  Most recently, one of the changes was the rules about evidence of sex and species for deer and ungulates.  Each time the regulations are printed, the changes are highlighted in bold green text, but nevertheless, people often miss the rule changes.  Ignorance of a rule change is not an excuse in the eyes of a conservation officer, so don't put your group-mates in a difficult position by making a mistake because you aren't aware of the current rules.

Meat Sharing

Every group has different practices and traditions when it comes to sharing meat.  Don't expect to keep all of your own meat nor share in anyone else's.  It can lead to a lot of bad feelings if there is a misunderstanding about if/how meat will be shared. It's best to ask the question and sort out any confusion before the trip, or at the very least, before an animal is hanging back at camp.

Cost Sharing

A hunting trip costs money.  It might be fuel, butchering fees, camp consumables, motels on the way, or any number of things.  Make sure you contribute your share, especially if your host is providing a lot of the camping gear.  If you have an opportunity to cover the cost of the wear and tear on a host's gear, you'll certainly endear yourself to them and the group.

Gear Coordination


 It's a good idea not to assume that everything is being provided for you.  Ask your group-mates if there is gear that you could bring for the group to use.  It's kind of funny when you show up and everyone has an axe for chopping wood when obviously the group could have shared a couple.  It's frustrating when everyone assumed someone would bring an axe, so no one has one.  Talk with your group about these kinds of things and offer to bring things you have or procure items if you can afford it.

Camp Chores are Not Optional

Well, they are optional if you don't want to be invited back again.  Camp chores involve everything from cutting firewood, preparing meals, cleaning up, doing dishes, fueling vehicles, and much more.  Every group has different traditions and expectations.  If you don't step up, ask how you can help, and volunteer to do more than your share, don't expect to be invited back.

Know the Area

Don't expect to be shown the best spots to go.  If you are lucky the group might point you in the right direction.  If you really want to do your part, use Google Earth to scout the area ahead of time and have an idea of where you want to hunt.  Be sure to communicate your intentions to go and hunt an area each day with the rest of the group so that you're not hunting someone else's area and they know where you are for safety.

Also, it is very important for your own safety to know the lay of the land.  It is a good idea to know which way to hike to find a landmark like a road or creek which will bring you to safety if you get lost.  No one wants to have to perform a search and rescue for the newbie.

Know the Animals 

Be sure to have a solid understanding of your quarry, its habits and the best hunting tactics.  No one likes someone who expects to be hand-held the whole time.

If you are going after an animal that is best hunted with the help of calling, YouTube is great!  I learned how to moose call from YouTube and learned how to use my elk calls from a DVD. MeatEater is also a great source of tips and tricks.  It isn't hard to learn to call and it is impressive if you show up with mad calling skills.

Knowing the animals includes knowing how to field dress and skin the animals in preparation for transport home.  Be aware that there are as many ways to do this as there are people on earth.  Expect experienced people to have strong opinions about the best way to field dress, quarter, and skin game.  Go with the flow and accept advice, but ultimately, with a little practice and advice from YouTube, you'll be better than many of the people you encounter in the bush and likely others in your group.

Dylan from EatWild has put together great videos for field skills such as field dressing and meat care which can be easy accessed through the EatWild app.  I strongly suggest downloading it or signing up for one of his courses.

Also, if you want your butcher to like you, you'll want to do a very good job cleaning every last hair and piece of dirt and debris from the carcass long before it gets to them.  I recommend spending the time on the day you get the animal to make it perfect.  After it is hung and cleaned, use game bags to keep birds, bugs, and tree bark from dirtying your hard won meat.  Obviously watch the temperature and keep the meat cool and in the shade.  If you're worried about your meat, get it to a cooler or butcher ASAP.

Know How to Be Uncomfortable

Steven Rinella says hunting teaches you how to be uncomfortable.  It is often cold, rainy, hot, or tiring to go hunting.  No one wants to deal with your discomfort, so as prepared as possible to cope with discomfort without complaining.  Better yet, be as prepared as possible to minimize your discomfort. Pro Tip: Use Moleskin well before you get a blister.  If you feel rubbing or a hot spot on your foot, stop and deal with it right away!

Keep Your Spirits Up

Everyone who goes hunting wants to be successful in harvesting an animal.  It's only natural to suffer a decline in moral when things don't go to plan. However, that's no excuse for moral to drop so low that it ruins the trip.  The best advice I ever received was to go out into the woods with the mindset that you're there to practice and improve the many skills of hunting, and that just seeing an animal, let alone shooting one, is just a bonus.

It's better to see success in improving your ability to climb a ridge quietly, keeping the wind in your face, glassing, or remaining patiently still, than focus on whether or not you saw an animal or sign. If you improve your abilities as a hunter the animals will end up in front of you eventually.

Nevertheless, after days of not seeing animals, there are times when you need to take your mind off your quarry to get a fresh perspective and renew your resolve to hunt hard.  This is when it's great to have a .22 LR along with you so that you can go after some grouse that you may have seen while driving to a trailhead.  Alternatively, you might spend a morning fishing as a change of pace.  Often, the high tempo reward of a side hunt, or some good fishing, can lift the spirits of even the most frustrated hunter. 

Nail the Social Game


It may seem obvious, but being fun to hang out with is part of the experience of a group trip.  No one likes a complainer or a braggart.  No one likes a know-it-all or someone overly opinionated. It's annoying when someone over-indulges in booze or other substances and makes the evening around the campfire less enjoyable for others.  Be yourself, but make sure to be the best version of you. When in doubt, showing humility and holding back a little is better than talking big and being obnoxious. 

Be Present; Leave the Phone Alone

Most people go hunting to get away from it all, catch up with old friends, make new ones, and experience nature.  There is nothing more annoying than someone who spends more time on their phone than hanging out with the group around the campfire.  If your significant other is needy, tell them that you'll be out of cell phone coverage and turn your phone off.  Short of a death in the family, don't expect the group to go home early just because your significant other is getting lonely.  You're there for the experience, so experience it.

Be Ready to Hunt

It kind of goes without saying, but make sure you have the required licence and tags, physical fitness, and expect to get up very early, spend the whole day hiking or hunting, possibly alone, and have a mental plan of what to do when you see a legal animal.  Make sure you are ready to hunt, both mentally and physically.

Things to Bring




While it may seem obvious, people often forget to get their tags.  With the current rules, you need ALL OF YOUR TAGS FROM THE CURRENT SEASON, EVEN CANCELLED ONES, NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE HUNTING!

There is nothing more annoying than someone wanting to stop on the way to pick up a tag or worse yet "shoot on your yag".  Don't be that guy or gal who inconveniences people with an unnecessary stop along the way to get tags you should have bought weeks or months ago, or worst of all, makes everyone uncomfortable with a request that is illegal. 

Firearm or Bow

Be sure you have firearm or bow that you know inside out, backwards and forwards, and in your sleep.  You should be so well practiced that if you see a legal animal that is within range and not moving, it shouldn't be a question whether or not you can take it.  Come prepared with an abundance of practice.

Choosing a rifle is not easy.  Check out the post about choosing a rifle.  I am sure choosing a bow is even more challenging, but I don't have any experience with that.


It is both illegal and unethical to point your rifle at something until you are certain it is a legal animal to hunt.  It is critical that you have decent binoculars to identify game.  A 10x magnification is more than adequate.  I strongly suggest you choose something with a good warranty.  Also, it is a good idea to get a binocular harness to keep your binos close at hand and reduce the pull on your neck.  I use Vortex Diamondback 10x and an Alps Outdoorz bino harness.
Vortex Diamondback 10x42mm, $350 Cabelas.ca

Alps Outdoorz Bino Harness $70 amazon.ca

Sleep System

A "Sleep System" is a fancy term for sleeping bag and mattress.  If you aren't sleeping well you'll have a miserable hunt.  It is far better to be too warm than too be cold.  If you are sleeping in a wall tent or trailer, it is a good idea to assume that the heat will die out during the night.  If there is a wood stove and a guy over 50, then you are likely to have someone who will feed the stove throughout the night when they get up to pee, but don't count on it.

If you are going hunting in the fall or winter, you can expect sub-zero temperatures.  The rating of a sleeping bag is typically 10 degrees C colder than is comfortable.  If you expect it to be - 5 C, you'll want a -15C bag to really feel comfortable. If you are doing backpack hunting, a low temperature sleeping bag that is light weight can be very expensive, but if you have the luxury of space in a truck for a large and heavy bag, it is not very expensive to get a -30C bag for wall tent/trailer hunting.

It is important to also point out that there are a lot of strong opinions about down vs. synthetic sleeping bags.  Generally down is more expensive and lighter than synthetic, but the downside with down is that it loses its insulative properties when it gets wet or packs down.  Down relies on "loft" which is a fancy term for fluffiness.  Moisture immediately eliminates loft, while even normal use slowly decreases it as the down packs together more tightly until you can put it in the dryer to fluff it back up.  Synthetic bags are heavier and bulkier, but keep you warm even when moist and don't suffer from a loss of loft.  

Pro Tip: If you have the space, bring an extra sleeping bag.  A spare sleeping bag doesn't have to be special or even very good, but I have been on several trips where after a day or two you find out that one of your friends is really cold at night and sleeping poorly.  Lending them a second bag to double up with will make you a friend for life.  On the other hand, if you need it for some reason then it's there.

-29C Ascend Whammy from Cabelas $180. Better for backpacking.  Takes up less room, but more restrictive while sleeping.

-29C Outfitter XLFrom Cabelas $230.Great when space is no issue.  Lots of room to sprawl out.

If you are in a trailer, it is likely that you'll have a mattress provided. In a wall tent you'll likely need a cot and perhaps a mattress.  It is actually more important to have good insulation on your mattress than above you.  As a mattress and sleeping bag compresses it loses its insulative properties.  It is actually the air which trapped by fluff that provides the insulation.  It is just as important to have a good mattress as it is to have a good bag.  If you are sleeping in a cot or on the ground, get the highest R-value mattress you can find.  R values from 4 to 6 are for below freezing.

Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad $100, R4.4
Cabelas Outfitter XL Cot $150


It is not a bad idea for beginners to bring a couple radios and give one to your closest hunting buddy.  Have a protocol such as that you'll turn it on after dark if one of you hasn't come back to camp or if you hear a shot.  Some waterproof radios for under $100 will serve you well.

Bear Spray

You may think that your rifle is the best bear defence there is.  Studies suggest bear spray can be as much as three times more effective in deterring a charging grizzly than a firearm (over 90% effective vs. around 30%).  Think about it.  Let's say that you have maybe 4 or 5 rounds in your rifle and a grizzly comes out of nowhere charging at you.  First, you have to decide if you are trying to kill the bear or scare it off with the noise.  If you feel like you have the time to scare it off, then you're using up both time and one of the rounds.  When a grizzly charged my father in law, the first shot made it charge faster.

Then, if you deciding to attempt to kill the bear, you need to aim and fatally shoot the bear.  Bears often don't charge in a straight line and in all likelihood, you have time for one, maybe two shots.  How confident are you that you will hit it in the central nervous system (brain or spine) and drop it in its tracks?  Even a heart or lung shot will still give the bear several minutes of life to maul you.   That is why the research suggests it is much less successful than bear spray.  Last of all, even if you are successful, you now need to report yourself to the conservation officers and prove your life was in danger to justify your actions in self defence.  All that said, if you make the decision that trying to kill a charging bear is your only option then keep shooting until you finish the job.

From the recent bear safety presentation at a BHA Region 2 Pint night, we were told that once the bear is down, don't approach it.  Check yourself for injuries, reload your rifle, compose yourself, take photos of the area and write down what happened and why you were justified in self defence.  Only after you are confident that the bear has expired, should you consider approaching the bear.  Follow the latest regulations for what to do if you have shot an animal in self defence or by accident.  If it says to field dress the animal and preserve the hide and meat, do so, and report the incident to a conservation officer in accordance with the rules.  An investigation will likely follow and they will likely look for holes in your story as part of a reason why you may be lying.  If you have acted in self defence and documented what happened it is less likely that you will face prosecution for unlawfully killing an animal.

Bear spray, on the other hand, is only useful if sprayed as a fog or cloud between you and a charging bear. Check out this video from Parks Canada for guidance for how to use bear spray.  Make sure it is easily accessible in a holster on either your hip or front backpack straps.  Bear spray will not help you if it is inside your pack or in a difficult to reach pocket.  If a bear charges, you will have scarce seconds to react, so you will want it within reach.  One nice thing with bear spray is that you don't have to be as accurate with the bear spray since it makes a cloud of deterrence between you and the bear.  You're more likely to be able to put the fog in between you and the bear than you are likely to fatally hit the bear with a bullet. 


Snacks, Food, Booze and Supplies

Everyone has to eat, drink and answer the call of nature.  Generally speaking, eating and drinking is a social event back at a hunting camp.  People tell stories, exaggerate (lie haha!), and tease each other to pass the time around a campfire.  Whether or not you drink, many of the other people will be drinking and so it's a good idea to have your own beverages or snacks along for the evenings.  Snacks also play a significant role in keeping up the moral when you are away from camp, cold, wet, tired, or just feeling down from seeing no animals.

Make sure you always have a toilet roll and Wet Ones in your pack and around camp when nature calls.  Trust me, Wet Ones are just friggin' magic for spending time in the bush without a shower.


There are some things you can do to really help your chances of getting invited back.

Camp Skills


If you know how to chop wood and make fire and you take initiative in the mornings and evenings to get the fire going and have split wood on hand for the campfire and stoves you'll be very valuable to have around.

If you know how to use a chainsaw that can also be a valuable skill to share the load of gathering wood.



Some people think that "If you can't tie knots, just tie lots,".   As a former sailing instructor, that makes me sick to my stomach.  There are only two knots anyone really needs to know to get by.  Everyone should know how to tie a Bowline (pronounced boh-lin) and the Half Hitch. With these two knots you can set up a game pole, hoist game, and lash down or haul anything.

Vehicle skills

If you are using ATVs, trucks, snowmobiles, horses, or boats, it is great if you have experience in the operation and finesse the various modes of transport.  It is a great idea if you know how to drive in snow and ice, while towing a trailer, in poor conditions, using a manual transmission, operation of outboards and inboards, and possibly even how to ride a horse.  Knowing your way around the various modes of transport can come in very handy.


Being able to operate and maintain generators can come in very handy.


Being able to whip together a fantastic meal from limited ingredients and improvisation skills will endear you to most groups. 

Saturday 20 July 2019

Gear I Can and Can't Live Without

Everyone has gear that they love and gear that didn't live up to expectation.  Sometimes it can be quite costly to figure out what gear works for you.  Over the last 5 years I've tried to build my kit with a budget in mind and there are certainly some great scores and some things which have been disappointing.

Can't Live Without

Obviously my boots and rifle are critical, so here are some of the unsung heroes that I can't live without.

Under Armour UA Enduro Pants

These pants are semi-waterproof and incredibly durable.  I struggled a lot in the beginning with finding pants which didn't limit flexibility in the crotch and knees.  These pants are quite good for the price ($90).  I do plan to upgrade one more time and spend whatever money I need to get durable and flexible pants when I find the right ones, but for now these are definitely an 8.5/10 and way better than any other paint I have tried.

Saxx Long Leg Underwear

If you have muscular or thick thighs like I have, chafing is a serious concern.  Saxx long leg underwear are a life saver, and best of all, they are Canadian.

Wet Ones


No question, the best thing to ever happen to shitting in the woods.  Honestly, I might be cleaner when I am hunting.

Can Live Without


ALPS Outdoorz Crossfire 


This is really hard because I like ALPS Outdoorz products, but this pack has been disappointing if I'm honest. First, the top corners of the pack wore through within one season where the wire of the frame pushes them out.   I wish I could say I used it hard, but it happened from being put down on the grown and picked up a few times.   Second, this pack is just too small.  The frame pushes the bag so far off your back and that really eats up all of the internal space of the bag.  This bag can barely fit a sweater in addition to some essentials like TP and Wet Ones.  If I have to take a layer off I am almost always strapping it to the outside of this pack, where it can get wet.  In the store, this pack looked good and had so many features I liked.  It's too bad, but I'll be replacing it for sure.

Currently I am struggling with two options.  Option 1 is to get the Cabela's  2500 cubic inch bow and rifle pack to use for my day pack.  Option 2 is buying a top end backpack hunting pack and using it for both backpack hunts and as a day pack. 

Cabelas MT50 Pants

When I bought these pants I wanted Gore-Tex pants but didn't want to spend a ton of money.  These pants seemed like a good compromise.  They aren't terrible, but they have poor flexibility in the knees and crotch and I just find myself getting tired whenever I am hiking in these pants.  The worst part about these pants is the lack of fly.  It is such a hassle whenever you have to take a leak.  Definitely replacing these with better, more flexible, pants which have a fly.

Primos Trigger Sticks Tall

The concept is great, but they are lacking some key features and quality.  I bought the bipod version and it became clear in the field that the collapsed length is too long.  If you strap them to your pack they are either hitting branches above your head or clattering on your legs as you walk.

Next, the leg spread doesn't lock.  I have had it several times when the handle suddenly starts to tilt over and almost lets my rifle fall off.  You have to steady these too much for them to be good for steadying a shot.  Lastly, they seized up after a few years.  I took them apart and found that they had rusted inside where the mechanism allows the legs to telescope.  I ended up just taking off the yoke and adapting it to use with my much more compact spotting scope tripod so that I could use it as a shooting rest when I am not glassing.

When I looked at the new generation the overall weight is much heavier than a lightweight spotting scope tripod and the length of the bipod version is still just as long.

Saturday 13 July 2019

FRPA Engagement Responses

 The deadline is July 15th, 2019 at 4pm, so there isn't much time left to respond.  Here are my responses to the questions.  These answers have been informed by the conservation organizations I am a member of, the podcasts I listen to and my firsthand experiences in the backcountry.

How should the Province identify opportunities and priorities for adapting forest management to a changing climate, such as mitigating the effects of beetle infestations, drought and fire?


The Province should seek input from provincial biologists on how to manage forests for climate change.  The primary goal should be to maintain native biodiversity in both plant and animal species in the many climates and ecosystems of BC.  Second to that, maintaining forests with natural biodiversity for usage by both recreational users and industry should be balanced with the long term effects of climate change to ensure sustainability of plant and animal populations.  

What factors should be considered in the planning of forest operations to reduce the risks of wildfire around your community?


The mono-culture of pine trees by the forestry sector by spraying glyphosate and excessively eliminating fire from the landscape has had a catastrophic impact on the risk of wildfires across BC.  The mono-culture of only planting one type of fast growing tree has increased the fire risk which is naturally mitigated by biodiversity and leads to a the compounding effect of pine beetle kill.  Ultimately, when forests are managed as a large farm for the forestry sector, blights and disasters such as fire will have an increased impacted on both communities and the forest itself.  The best thing to reduce the risk of wildfires is to manage forests for natural biodiversity.  Forests go through a natural cycle of recovery after fire or deforestation, where grasses first, deciduous second, and finally coniferous trees reclaim the landscape.  Failing to replant a natural collection of plants and trees in favour of pine cultivation is detrimental.

A vital step in landscape-level planning is understanding what is important to the public. Based on what is important to you or your community, what information on the condition of resource values such as species-at-risk habitat do you think is necessary to support the planning process?


 The most important thing for me, my family, and my community is maintaining healthy and thriving habitat for wildlife and fish populations for the purpose of hunting and fishing.  For me and my community, hunting and fishing plays a central role in our lives.  It allows us to put organic, natural, healthy and ethically sourced food on the table and allows us to enjoy BC's natural beauty.  It is distressing to see the gradual loss of hunting and fishing opportunities as forestry sector and other resource sector jobs damage the environment with no accountability or enforcement or requirement for meaningful restoration and habitat recovery.  Jobs in rural BC are obviously very important as well, and the solution is not to simply halt forestry or create protected areas which the public has limited access to.  It is critical to balance both the jobs of rural BC with how imperative it is to protect, maintain, and enhance habitat to recover and increase wildlife populations.  This can be done with careful planning and the inclusion of provincial biologists in protecting and ensuring recourse activities have a net positive impact on habitat and wildlife populations through using increased fees paid by the resource sector to be directed back into wildlife management.  It is critical that provincial biologists and conservation officers have the funding and enforcement powers needed to manage habitat and wildlife for long term sustainability and growth.  The resource sector and healthy wildlife populations are not inherently opposing priorities.  Many jurisdictions in the United States have thriving and growing populations of game species as a result of habitat restoration and protection paid for by fees from the resource sector and excise taxes on outdoor recreation equipment.  It is not impossible to have your cake and eat it too in the area of enhancing wildlife populations and allowing sustainable resource sector jobs.

How would you like to be involved in the planning process?


I would like to be involved by having a single location online where I can sign up for notifications and read about planned activities in BC forests.  Also, it should be incumbent on anyone wishing to be involved in the planning process to prove their legitimacy as a stakeholder.  It is my deep concern that foreign funded organizations play an illegitimate role in shaping policy in forest and wildlife management.  The UK cosmetics company LUSH spends huge amounts of money funding anti-hunting organizations masquerading as environmental groups and mobilizes well-meaning but uninformed urbanites who have never and will never venture into the woods to support their anti-meat agenda, while the American forestry company Weyerhaeuser pretends to be advocating for jobs when really they are looking at profits.  Neither group is a legitimate stakeholder in how BC forests and wildlife should be managed.  The people who live, spend time, and make a living in the regions where the planning is taking place are the only legitimate stakeholders.  Please consult First Nations, hunters and anglers, outdoor recreation groups, and local residents of the region where the planning is taking place.

Resource roads are a valuable asset in the province as they provide access for the forest industry, ranchers, other resource users, and the public for commercial and recreation purposes. Yet, these same road networks are costly to maintain and have potential negative impacts on wildlife, water quality and fish habitat. What values do you believe are important to consider when planning new roads, road use and maintenance, and deactivation in your area?


 Roads have a scientifically proven impact on habitat, fish, and wildlife.  Numerous scientific papers confirm this.  Deactivation by simply pulling culverts has a negligible impact on mitigating their impact on ecosystems.  Reforesting roads is required to restore and recover habitat.  Obviously, a balanced approach is required to allow access for both industry and the public without unnecessarily or irreversibly harming wildlife and fish populations.  This is where scientific monitoring by provincial biologists and conservation officers should inform decision making on road deactivation and reforestation.  Wildlife and fish populations are the canary in the coal mine to inform decision making about the level road deactivation and reforesting that is required.  If wildlife or fish populations are declining, then deactivation and reforesting is more urgent.  If populations are sustainable or growing, then road density can be maintained.  Ultimately, we need to manage our forests for the long term health of BC plant and animal species.

How can the Province improve transparency and timelines of information regarding proposed operational and landscape-level objectives, plans and results?


It is critical that the government publish, in an easy to read format, at a central location online, objectives, plans and results of landscape-level planning.  It is also critical that objectives be measurable and meaningful with sufficient resources to monitor and enforce.  For decades we have seen the slow decline in fish and wildlife populations which indicates that the process is clearly failing, yet there is no transparency and even less accountability.  It should be mandated that having a net-positive impact on habitat, fish and wildlife populations, and biodiversity be a condition of resource sector operations which is planned for and monitored by provincial biologists and enforced by conservation officers and police.  


What information will help inform your feedback on plans that may impact you, your community or your business (e.g., maps of cutblocks and roads planned in your area, hydrological assessments, wildlife habitat areas or recreation opportunities, etc)?


Detailed maps, reports from biologists on native biodiversity, fish, and wildlife populations, and the criticality of the habitat, as well as a detailed plan of how the habitat impacts will be reversed  or restored following the resource sector operations or how they will be offset or mitigated would greatly help inform feedback on the impacts of planned resource extraction.

What additional values should be considered in FRPA that will allow us to manage forest and range practices in a better way?


 The values of hunter and angler conservationists should be considered in the FRPA.  Hunter and angler conservationists want to ensure fish and wildlife populations thrive in BC.  It is easy to assume this is simply because we want to hunt or hook these animals and fish.  While we do enjoy hunting and fishing, and enjoy the food it puts on the table, the main reason every hunter and angler I have ever met wants to ensure healthy and abundant fish and wildlife populations in BC is because when you spend weeks or months in the woods, quietly learning about the habitat and animals of BC, you gain an unparalleled love for the beauty and preciousness of nature.  The nature of BC is one of a kind and once it is gone, it may never come back. Healthy and thriving fish and wildlife populations mean that there is a healthy ecosystem with native biodiversity.  We are the custodians of this great natural beauty which can sustain us through hunting and fishing, recreation, and also industrial activities if they are managed carefully for long term sustainability.  Hunter and angler conservationists don't see nature as something to be exploited for profit or tamed for agriculture, but rather appreciate the richness of it simply remaining wild.  There are many countries in the would which have lost their native species hundreds of years ago to the ignorance or greed of development and there are many poor countries today that are trading their natural heritage for socioeconomic development.  BC stands at a crossroads where we can either become like Europe, which has lost most of its biodiversity, or make a serious stand and invest in protecting and restoring forests, fish, and wildlife populations so that we can still call ourselves Beautiful British Columbia for generations to come.


In what ways should the province strengthen government oversight and industry accountability regarding forest and range activities to better address the challenges of climate change and the interests of all British Columbians?


The province should strengthen oversight and industry accountability by funding forest, wildlife and habitat management to levels comparable to jurisdictions which are succeeding in maintaining healthy fish and wildlife populations.  This means roughly a ten times increase in funding.  The increase in funding can come from fees levied on resource extraction and forestry, excise taxes on outdoor recreation equipment, fees for tourism sector groups such as ski hills and whale watching, increased fees on hunting and fishing licences. With adequate funding, provincial biologists would have the resources to monitor the health of forests, streams, and wildlife, participate in planning of resource sector activities, monitor impacts, and recovery efforts, and work with conservation officers to enforce and maintain accountability.  Right now, provincial biologists and conservation officers barely have the funding required to monitor the free-fall declines in certain fish and wildlife populations, but do not have the resources to prevent, or reverse the trend.  Fish and wildlife managers across north America have proven they know how to use science to restore and maintain healthy wildlife populations if they have the resources and enforcement powers to do so.  We must use the best science and adequate funding to manage the effects of climate change so that we can maintain healthy wilderness in BC.

Friday 12 July 2019

Alert: Have your say on Forest Practices in BC in 3 easy steps!

Alert: Have your say on Forest Practices in BC in 3 easy steps!
The government wants to hear from British Columbians about how forests should be managed in BC.  Other environmental and industry groups will certainly be making their voices heard.  This is your opportunity to ensure that lots of hunters and anglers are part of the conversation.  Every comment counts! We need you! The deadline is July 15, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. so don't wait!

What to do:
1) Read the Discussion Paper to learn about the issues.
2) Click on the online feedback form to have your say!
3) Last, take 1 minute to send this form letter to the minister in charge, Doug Donaldson.  Enter your address, postal code, and country on the left and click GO.  Follow the instructions and customize the letter if you have more to add.  Then all you have to do is click SEND.  If you want to write your own letter then you can send it to engagefrpa@gov.bc.ca.
... and you're DONE! That was easy!!!!

If you want a little guidance on what the BCBHA thinks about these issues, here is a cheat sheet.
Region 2 BCBHA Cheat Sheet:
  • "Landscape level management" could be a good thing.
  • Set limits on the combined impact of forestry, mining, oil and gas, roads, etc. on habitat
  • Include measurable objectives to restore habitat and wildlife populations.
  • Enforce the limits and recovery objectives! There are lots of smart scientists and conservation officers who know how to restore habitat and increase wildlife populations.
  • Leave it better than you found it! It shouldn't matter if you are a forestry company, snowmobiler, or hiker.  It should be the law that you leave the backcountry better than you found it.
  • Let's work together on climate change. Everyone needs a voice at the table to make sure our precious backcountry is still around for the next generation.
If you are interested in the detailed and nuanced BCBHA official position, here is some additional reading which may help inform your response. 

The Official BCBHA Position
BCBHA supports changes to FRPA proposed in the provincial Discussion Paper that will improve conservation and environmental stewardship. In particular, BCBHA wants to see FRPA improvement include the following key points:
  • Revise FRPA to provide clear, enforceable legislation that guides landscape level management for forests and grasslands. 
  • Include measurable objectives for the management of cumulative effects from industry, forestry, recreation and development
  • Landscape level management requires integration between FRPA and other legislation and ministries. Wildlife, habitat, and access management need to be incorporated into landscape level planning.
  • Require resource and recreation users to have net-positive impact on biodiversity, water quality and critical wildlife habitat.
  • Improve collaboration in planning by developing stakeholder groups that meet with government officials and industry.

Join BCBHA in commenting on the FPRA Improvement Initiative. Public feedback will be collected by the provincial government until July 15, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. Participate by completing the online feedback form.  BCBHA has detailed our thoughts on how FRPA should be improved in this comment guide to help you answer the questions. Or, if you are short on time, send this letter to Minister Donaldson letting him know you support the improvement of FRPA for the benefit of ecosystems and wildlife.

Yours in conservation,

Thursday 11 July 2019

Choosing Your First Hunting Rifle

There is so much information on the internet about rifles that trying to choose your first one can seem like a very daunting task.  Much of what can be found out there has either a sales pitch or falls into the category of people arguing over irrelevant nuance.  Before I bought my first rifle, I waded through countless forums and articles trying to find some insight into what to choose.  Then I went to Reliable Gun in Vancouver and Nick helped me choose my first rifle back in 2013.  I had such a good, no pressure, non-intimidating first experience there that it has become my go-to place for all things hunting and shooting.  Shane, Nick, and the rest of the staff consistently make me feel welcomed and are very patient with my questions.


Here, I'll try to summarize it all and separate fact from fiction.  For this article, we'll assume you've taken the firearms safety course and have a basic familiarity with calibres and types of actions.

What are you hunting?


Most articles on this topic will tell you that different cartridges are best for different animals.  In short, that's crap.

For hunting in BC, there are small game rifles, big game rifles, and shotguns.  If you're going after small game such as rabbits, grouse or squirrels, then you should probably consider a .22 LR or other small, low recoil cartridge.  If you are going after waterfowl or upland birds, then a 12 gauge shotgun  with a 3" or 3 1/2" shells with a 26" to 30" barrel and changeable chokes will suite you well.  However, for hunting big game, meaning from deer to bison, you'll need a big game rifle.

For big game, there are really two approaches to take.  The first is choosing a rifle which can do it all, and the second is to choose the best rifle for a particular animal.  If you are budget constrained like me, then the first approach is likely best.

Choosing a do-it-all hunting rifle is not as hard as some would lead you to believe, but it does come with a few potential drawbacks.  A do-it-all rifle will come at the cost of being slightly more powerful than is required for smaller "big game animals" like deer.  This means that a poorly placed shot might result in more meat damage than might have been avoided with a smaller calibre.

A second potential drawback of a do-it-all is the increased recoil which could dissuade you from practicing at the range as much as you should or worse yet, could cause you to develop an accuracy robbing flinch.  Generally, most people can shoot a few boxes of ammo in a practice session through rifles up to 300 WIN MAG.  Beyond that, many people find the recoil too punishing with larger cartridges and consciously or subconsciously prefer not to shoot more than a couple rounds.  Having a firearm you dislike firing means you won't practice enough to be able to take ethical shots at animals. That said, the do-it-all cartridges are great and most people find them to be more than adequate for hunting any big game on the continent.

The do-it-all cartridges include 270 WIN, 7mm REM MAG, .308 WIN, .30-06 Springfield, 300 WIN MAG and many others in between.  All of these cartridges are capable of sending a 150 grain (grain is a measure of weight) bullet down range with plenty of speed and power for most game in BC.  The one exception being bison, where hunting rules mandate a 175 grain bullet with has retained at least 2000 ft-lbs of energy after flying 100m.  That rules out the 270 WIN, and limits the choices for ammo for a 7mm REM MAG, so if you are serious about bison then you'll need at least a .308 WIN or larger.

There are many other cartridges in and around the size of those I've listed, but they are less common which means that if you need to run out and get a box of ammo at the local sporting store in a remote corner of BC, you may be out of luck. For cartridges smaller than 270 WIN, most people start to consider them a deer only round.  For cartridges larger than a 300 WIN MAG the recoil becomes more and more punishing meaning people are less likely to practice and might develop a flinch, while they provide little to no benefit to hunting. 

If you are wondering about the difference between the do-it-all cartridges the answer is nothing.  Well, not nothing, but very little.  The animal doesn't know the difference.  It is a complete myth that any one of them is more or less accurate than another.  The larger ones have more recoil and the ones that send the bullet out of the barrel faster shoot a little flatter.  If you want the best accuracy, get the best rifle and optics you can afford, try a bunch of different brands and types of ammo, and practice a ton.  Shot placement is far more important to ethically shooting an animal than what bullet you choose or rifle you buy.

If you really twisted my arm, I would say it's a 3-way tie between .308 WIN, .30-06 Springfield, and 300 WIN MAG. 



Generally, you can get a good rifle from $600 to $1400 and comparable optics in the same range.  You should generally budget about as much for optics as for the rifle itself.  Anything below about $600 is likely inadequate and you'll come to regret your purchase when it doesn't perform or you outgrow it.

Also, consider the cost of practice. Most do-it-all rifles cost about the same amount to shoot and a lot of that comes down to the brand and type of bullet you choose.  If you want to get in some additional inexpensive practice, consider getting a .22 LR to practice the basic.  Ultimately, you'll still need to practice a lot with your hunting rifle so you develop the skill and muscle memory to take ethical shots at game.



Bolt action rifles are simple and by far the most common for hunting.  There are certainly semi-automatic hunting rifles, but they are typically heavier and more expensive.  I would stick to bolt action for a first hunting rifle.



For a hunting rifle, remember, you'll be carrying this rifle all day, up and down hills, and may even have to hold for an offhand shot for several minutes without moving.  Many manufacturers make light weight rifles and they are very much worth considering, even at a slightly increased cost.


Stainless or Blued

If you are hunting in BC, you are likely to face changing weather, sudden storms, and moisture.  Many people have blued rifles which they have used in all weather conditions for years, but if neglected and left wet they can be susceptible to rust.  I prefer stainless for that peace of mind, never having to worry about moisture damaging my rifle.  Nowadays, you can get stainless rifles which are coloured black if you dislike the colour of a silver barrel.  Stainless also costs slightly more on average, but again, I think it's worth it.

Browning X-Bolt with stainless barrel and composite stock ~$1350 CAD

Browning X-Bolt with blued barrel and wood stock ~$1100 CAD


Detachable Magazine

In Canada it is illegal to have a loaded firearm in or on a vehicle, therefore, all rounds need to be removed from the firearm when in a car or on an ATV.  While we all want that picturesque experience where we hiked, stalked, and succeeded in getting an animal, it can easily happen that you see a legal animal while driving to and from the trailhead.  I have watched people fumble trying to load a round into their rifle's internal magazine and regret not having a detachable magazine when they miss an opportunity at game.  A detachable magazine is very much worth it.

Detachable magazine


Wood or Synthetic Stock

Mostly a matter of style preference, synthetic stocks are less susceptible to neglect than wood.  If you're like me, I prefer the look and love the durability of a synthetic stock, but to each their own.



Honestly, you get what you pay for.  Don't expect a $400 rifle to perform like a $1200 rifle, and the same goes for optics.  Personally, I really like Browning, Tikka, and Weatherby.  The best thing to do is handle the rifles at the gun store.  Feel the bolt cycle, dry fire it to see if you like the trigger, inspect it closely for defects and overall quality.  I went into the store thinking I wanted to buy a Remington 700, but much preferred everything about the Browning once I had it in my hands. 



As a rule of thumb, you should spend half your budget on the rifle and half on the optics.  That's a pretty rough rule of thumb.  Generally, you get what you pay for with optics.  The low end optics won't hold their zero, leading to inaccuracy, and the high end optics will give you excellent clarity in the sight picture.  In the vast middle ground there are many good manufacturers.  Most people who hunt opt for a 3-9 times magnification scope. Generally that provides a good balance between field of view and zoom. Objective lens size makes little difference other than weight, so consider a smaller diameter lens.  These days, many manufacturers are offering unlimited warranties, but some others aren't, so consider that some time in the future you may drop your rifle and damage the scope.

Next there is reticle style.  Z-Plex reticles are zeroed at a point (usually 100m or 200m) where anywhere between you and that zero range the bullet's arc is within a couple inches of the centre, so for hunting that's good enough.  BDC stands for Bullet Drop Compensator reticle which gives you marks for approximately how far your bullet has dropped at different ranges beyond where you zero'ed it.  The zero point for a BDC is often 100 yards and the marks below are approximately how far your bullet will drop beyond that distance for a specific type and weight of bullet.  If you want to use a BDC reticle then make sure it matches your firearm's cartridge. MIL dot or MOA reticles use miliradians (MIL) or minutes of angle (MOA) marks to let adjust your aim based on what you have calculated for how far your bullet will drop due to gravity or how far it will drift due to the wind.

Beyond about 200m, wind and the arc of the bullet due to gravity start to make a difference that is significant enough to mean you could easily miss or wound an animal if you don't know what you're doing.  It is arrogant foolishness to shoot at an animal further away than you have practiced shooting. 

For a beginner, a Z-plex is more than adequate, a BDC if matched for your rifle is good if you want to practice out to 400m, and an angular measurement reticle (MOA or MIL) is great if you want to really put in the time at the range to perfect your shooting and learn the science of ballistics. 



Often overlooked, rings connect your scope to the rifle.  If they are poor quality then your accuracy will suffer.  Don't cheap out on rings.



I like having a bipod,  It means I have more options to rest my rifle and get the best accuracy.  As a side benefit, when nature calls, you can put your rifle down on the ground without it getting dirty.  As an alternative to bipods, people shoot off their packs or camera/spotting scope tripods or shooting sticks.  Bipods are heavy, but I think a good quality Harris bipod is worth it.


Carry Straps

Honestly, I rarely use my strap, but many people swear by them.  I usually ready carry my rifle or cradle it in my crossed arms.  If I am with someone then I might strap it to my backpack during a long hike or climb.  The strap I bought is too wide and while you might think it spreads the load, I just find that it slides off my shoulder.  Ideally, my next strap will be narrower and sit nicely between my backpack strap and neck rather than span that distance and slide off.



Choose a rifle you like and one you will practice with at the range.  Most people will not practice nearly enough with their rifles to maintain or improve their skills.  Most of the decision making comes down to personal preference.  Generally, for a good first rifle you should expect to spend between $800 and $1200 for the rifle and between $600 to $1000 for optics.  I would pick a Tikka or Browning in either .308 WIN, or .30-06 Springfield, with a stainless barrel and synthetic stock and a 3-9x scope with a good warranty.

After getting the rifle, go to the range with as many different boxes of ammo as you can afford.  Pick different bullet weights, types, brands, and price points.  Set up a targets at 100m and shoot 4 bullet groups of each type of bullet, letting your rifle cool between groups.  You'll find what ammo your rifle likes best.  Then, just practice practice practice.

Wednesday 15 May 2019

Paper: Saving Endangered Species Using Adaptive Management

Vancouver Hunter: I was recently listening to the Rookie Hunter Podcast whose guest was Jesse Zeman of the BCWF.  They were discussing caribou recovery and the recent controversy around some of the specific measures such as predator management and ungulate population reduction.  Jesse mentioned a paper on the subject and was kind enough to email me the link.  I strongly suggest everyone read it.


Scientific management of habitat, wildlife, and fish is the only way we can hope to preserve and restore species like caribou or steelhead in BC.  Science means objective facts, truth, and results. Science is not an opinion. Science doesn't care if you are an anti-hunter, a hunter, or have some other agenda. If we are to have any hope of gaining and maintaining public support to protect what we value so dearly then we need to uphold science-based management as an impartial decision maker on behalf fish and wildlife, even when it may be contrary to our short-term interests. 

For caribou to recover they need high quality habitat.  That means lichen bearing trees which are hundreds of years old, minimal harassment from humans on snowmobiles and ATV, and natural levels of predation.  Currently, logging has diminished food supplies and left many roads in its wake.  Humans and predators use these roads to gain access to caribou in their habitat.  Also, as a consequence of logging, moose and white-tailed deer populations have increased which in turn leads to an increase in predator numbers.  The increased predator numbers and their improved access to caribou is a serious one-two punch to population numbers.  If we want to protect caribou numbers while the habitat recovers, then we need a sustained predator management effort which includes both heavy culling and a reduction of their other food sources in critical caribou areas. 

Ultimately, the question we need to ask ourselves is are we willing to do what it takes for our children and grandchildren to have threatened species like caribou and steelhead remain in BC.  We may need to give up some access roads, we may take a hit on our forestry or fishing sectors, we may have to cull some ungulates and predators.  Is it worth it?  Is that something we want?  I say yes.


Saving endangered species using adaptive management

Robert Serrouya, Dale R. Seip, Dave Hervieux, Bruce N. McLellan, R. Scott McNay, Robin Steenweg, Doug C. Heard, Mark Hebblewhite, Michael Gillingham, and Stan Boutin
PNAS March 26, 2019 116 (13) 6181-6186; first published March 11, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1816923116

    Edited by James A. Estes, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, and approved February 6, 2019 (received for review October 2, 2018)


A replicated management experiment was conducted across >90,000 km2 to test recovery options for woodland caribou, a species that was functionally extirpated from the contiguous United States in March 2018. Recovery options were reductions of predators, reductions of overabundant prey, translocations, and creating fenced refuges from predators. Population growth was strongest where multiple recovery options were applied simultaneously. This adaptive management study was one of the largest predator-prey manipulations ever conducted and provided positive results for this endangered North American ungulate.


Adaptive management is a powerful means of learning about complex ecosystems, but is rarely used for recovering endangered species. Here, we demonstrate how it can benefit woodland caribou, which became the first large mammal extirpated from the contiguous United States in recent history. The continental scale of forest alteration and extended time needed for forest recovery means that relying only on habitat protection and restoration will likely fail. Therefore, population management is also needed as an emergency measure to avoid further extirpation. Reductions of predators and overabundant prey, translocations, and creating safe havens have been applied in a design covering >90,000 km2. Combinations of treatments that increased multiple vital rates produced the highest population growth. Moreover, the degree of ecosystem alteration did not influence this pattern. By coordinating recovery involving scientists, governments, and First Nations, treatments were applied across vast scales to benefit this iconic species.
The late Graeme Caughley emphasized that naturally rare yet broadly distributed species are the most challenging to conserve (1). These organisms will overlap with many other valuable natural resources, creating the potential for substantial socioeconomic conflict. Such large-landscape species also encompass many ecological scales, inherently leading to increased uncertainty (2). Scientists have increasingly called for management experiments to help resolve such uncertainty (3), but the challenge has been to apply treatments at sufficiently broad scales of space and time to include relevant ecosystem processes. This approach is referred to as adaptive management and is predicated on creating lasting partnerships between scientists and resource managers to test alternative hypotheses using contrasting policies (46).
Adaptive management was initially intended to guide the sustainable consumption of natural resources, such as fisheries or wood fiber (4). But can this method be successfully applied to recovering endangered species? Many have argued that it can, but examples are rare (7, 8). We highlight this approach using perhaps the greatest terrestrial conservation challenge in North America: recovering woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). These animals live across 3 million km2 from Alaska to Newfoundland, and their critical habitat overlaps petroleum deposits and forest stands worth billions of dollars (9). Caribou are also a key umbrella species for boreal biodiversity, and their range covers one of the largest carbon stores on the planet—the boreal forest (10). Most populations are in decline and extirpation is ongoing (11, 12), setting the stage for an unparalleled conflict between conservation and natural-resource economies (9). With three barren females remaining in the only population south of the 49th parallel, caribou are the first large-mammal extirpation in recent history from the contiguous United States (13).
The complexity of this problem is the result of broad alterations to ecosystem dynamics across three trophic levels: vegetation, herbivores, and carnivores (14, 15) (Fig. 1). Even under pristine conditions, caribou are less fecund than deer (Odocoileus virginianus) or moose (Alces alces) (16) and can be more vulnerable once encountered by predators (17). Yet, in human-altered systems, the creation of productive, early seral forests buoy primary prey numbers such as moose and deer (18, 19). Thence, predator numbers are maintained by the more numerous moose and deer (20, 21), creating a decoupling between predator numbers and caribou. Consequently, caribou can decline to extinction while predators are maintained by generalist herbivores (14, 22). This process is referred to as apparent competition (23) and affects many threatened taxa (24), especially as climate and land-use change facilitate the spread of generalist prey. In the well-known case of California’s Channel Island fox (Urocyon littoralis), invasive feral pigs (Sus scrofa) subsidized predatory golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), causing declines in this endangered fox (25, 26). Recovery was achieved by the simultaneous reduction of pigs and eagles. In that case, the subsidy of overabundant prey could be reversed relatively quickly. For woodland caribou, however, subsidies of prey will last for decades because of long-term changes to forest age distributions (Fig. 1). Therefore, the classic solution of protecting remaining critical habitat (27) will not save most caribou populations because of the time needed to recover old forests and the continental scale of disturbance (28). In such cases, population management is needed until protection and recovery of habitat overcome the legacy of industrial development. Population-based recovery measures include direct predator reductions (29), prey reductions that lead to fewer predators (30, 31), animal translocations, and the creation of short-term safe havens from predators (predator-proof fences, i.e., maternal pens). Reducing predators can produce immediate benefits (29, 3234) but can be unpopular because it is a proximate, short-term solution (35). Reducing subsidized prey is one trophic level closer to the ultimate cause, and safe havens are small (<10 ha) fenced areas that exclude predators and protect caribou during the calving season.
Here we contrast management experiments designed to reduce uncertainty about how to conserve endangered caribou. The primary hypothesis was that population declines could be reversed by removing the proximate limiting factor, excessive predation, because broad-scale ecosystem restoration would take decades to achieve. We included early seral forest (36) as a covariate to test the alternate hypothesis that the degree of ecosystem alteration would influence population response (27, 37). This design essentially contrasts the proximate limiting factor of predation with the ultimate factor of ecosystem alteration. We also qualitatively evaluated how the intensity of treatments and population size affected recovery. The population treatments covered large areas (3,000–8,500 km2) and included predator removal (wolves; n = 6), subsidized-prey reduction (n = 4), predator removal plus safe havens (n = 1), and translocations of caribou (n = 1). These were compared with six untreated, control populations. Our synthesis revealed three conclusions that credibly inform recovery for caribou and other endangered species. First, an adaptive management framework, with control populations, was critical to determining if population growth increased following a specific treatment. Second, a treatment had to be applied intensively to produce a measurable effect. Third, applying two treatments simultaneously produced an additive effect on caribou population growth.


We compared the population growth rate (λ) of 12 caribou populations before and after a treatment as well as 6 adjacent populations used as experimental controls. Before treatments, 16 of 18 populations were in decline (λ < 1; Fig. 2). After treatments began, 8 of 12 treated populations showed λ increases of 0.04–0.28, and 6 of these 8 achieved stable or increasing λ (λ ≥ 1). None of the control populations had positive population growth during treatments. The most pronounced increase occurred within the Klinse-Za (KZA) population (λ = 0.86–1.14), where the combination of wolf removal plus maternal penning resulted in a near-doubling of population size, from 36 to 67 animals between 2013 and 2018 (SI Appendix, Table S1). The adjacent control populations, Graham (GRA) and Wolverine (WOL), continued to decline at λ = 0.65 and 0.86 (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2.
Population growth rates (λ; 1 = stability) before and after treatments were initiated, with controls matched by a similar time period (SI Appendix, Table S1). Solid arrows indicate λ > 1. Population values apply to the beginning of treatment. Black outlines show woodland caribou range boundaries. (Inset) current (gray) and historic (dashed line) distribution in the contiguous United States and Canada. ALP, À la Pêche; CON, Columbia North; COS, Columbia South; FBQ, Frisby Queest; GRA, Graham; GRH, Groundhog; HAS, Hart South; KSI, Kennedy Siding; KZA, Klinse-Za; LSM, Little Smoky; PAR, Parsnip; PUS, Purcells South; QUI, Quintette; RPC, Redrock–Prairie Creek; SCE, Scott East; SSE, South Selkirks; WGS, Wells Gray South; WOL, Wolverine.

An ANCOVA revealed that the effect of treatment (five levels; Table 1) explained 44.2% of the variation in change to λ (Δλ), with positive effects for wolf reduction and wolf reduction + penning. Percentage alteration of forest cover explained only 4.2% of the variation in Δλ (SI Appendix, Fig. S1 and Table S2). The ANCOVA with both treatment and forest alteration was less parsimonious and explained less variation (ΔAICc = 4.68, R2 = 0.42; see SI Appendix, Table S3) than the effect of treatment alone. Six of the treated populations numbered <50 animals at the start of a treatment, and only one of these (KZA) achieved positive population growth (λ = 1.14) when subjected to two treatments simultaneously. Only two of the larger treated populations (>50 animals) did not achieve an increased λ following treatments: Parsnip (PAR) and À la Pêche (ALP). Both had low intensity of management applied (SI Appendix, Table S1). In PAR, moose were reduced by 40% compared with Columbia North (CON), where moose were reduced by >80% and λ increased by 0.064–1.02. In ALP, wolf reduction was applied only to the winter range during the first eight years of treatment and λ did not increase. The treatment was then expanded to the entire range for three years and λ increased from 0.92 to 1.10 (SI Appendix, Table S1). The US/Canada transboundary South Selkirks (SSE) population was small (n = 18) when wolf removal was initiated and expanded only to the Canadian portion of the range (Fig. 2); the population declined from 18 to 3 barren females as of March 2018. In summary, caribou λ did not respond in the three herds with low treatment intensity (SSE, PAR, and ALP), but when ALP transitioned from low to high intensity, λ increased from 0.92 to 1.10. Finally, the translocation of 20 animals to Purcells South (PUS) in 2012 did not improve λ, with only 4 remaining animals in March 2018.
Table 1.
Analysis of covariance explaining change in λ (Δλ) based on treatments for woodland caribou


By focusing on the ultimate recovery metric, caribou population growth, we demonstrated clear benefits of an adaptive management framework applied to endangered species over an enormous landscape. Reducing one limiting factor improved λ, but the greatest increase occurred when two limiting factors were reduced simultaneously. The implementation of wolf reductions followed by penning within KZA illustrates the iterative nature of adaptive management. Given that penning is designed to increase recruitment and wolf reduction increases adult survival, implementing both achieved the highest λ. And critically, pairing populations experiencing treatments with controls that received no similar recovery actions strengthened our inferences.
Intensity of treatment, both numerically and spatially, was a key factor in detecting a population response. In all three instances where treatment intensity was limited, no caribou response was observed. These results follow previous studies suggesting that predation rates should not change linearly with prey density, partially because of density-dependent processes (31, 38, 39). Indeed, caribou in both the PAR moose reduction and the associated Hart South (HAS) control continued to decline, likely because moose were reduced by only 40%. Similarly, when wolves were reduced over just a portion of ALP and SSE, caribou λ did not improve. But when the treatment was adaptively expanded to the entire range of ALP, λ increased substantially. Conclusions from these actions are becoming clear—half measures erode public confidence when the outcome is unlikely to achieve recovery. Resources should be directed strategically and toward recovery treatments of sufficient intensity to achieve results. Finally, as with many translocations (40), moving 20 caribou to PUS was unsuccessful because most of these animals were shortly killed by predators (41), driving home Caughley’s primary message of first removing agents of decline before attempting such actions (1).
The appeal of adaptive management lies with the simple logic of using management actions to test a hypothesis and, if possible, to test alternate hypotheses with contrasting policies (4, 6). These actions should follow detailed modeling of the system to help minimize risks of unintended consequences (3, 31, 42) but also to refute or validate conceptual models of ecosystem dynamics. For example, previous theory suggested caution when removing subsidized prey because of demographic time lags of predators and depensatory predation that can exacerbate declines of rare prey (31, 38). An empirical example occurred within our system when deer populations crashed in 1997 and cougars (Puma concolor) switched to eating caribou (see ref. 31). This information must be adaptively incorporated into recovery plans, but can create imbalances in study designs and implementation. In our case, the lack of replication for some treatments—for example, translocations—may weaken inferences. However, when considered in light of independent studies indicating that animal translocations often fail (40), even with caribou (43), inferences are consistent. Similarly, the combination of treatments (penning and wolf reduction in KZA) can make it challenging to definitively conclude which treatment was strongest. Indeed, balanced and replicated factorial experiments are a laudable goal, but we agree with Krebs’ (44) synthesis of Caughley’s perspective on uncertainty in conservation (1): “Several suspected agents of decline may have to be removed at once… It is better to save the species than to achieve scientific purity.” We hope this approach will encourage others to pursue a priori planned designs or retrospective approaches to adaptive management. Nonetheless, social and logistical barriers to implementation are immense, primarily due to real or perceived impacts on human values (4). Consequently, according to Westgate et al. (7), only 1% of studies that have attempted adaptive management report any response metrics. The plight of woodland caribou has likely reduced these barriers, enabling partnerships across political jurisdictions, among academics, First Nations, managers, industry, and conservationists (45).
The global spread of generalist species through habitat modification and climate change (46) will continue to exacerbate the endangerment and extirpation of species via complex ecological mechanisms such as apparent competition. In many cases, recovery will involve the reduction of expanding prey or abundant native predators. Although six caribou populations grew within highly disturbed landscapes, intensive management was required to achieve this outcome. Support for direct predator reduction is likely to wane (35) unless the ultimate cause of decline, habitat alteration, is addressed. In the case of caribou, like many other endangered species, anthropogenic alterations of forested ecosystems are the ultimate cause of declines. Habitat protection for caribou varies considerably across jurisdictions, but is greatest within the Southern Mountain ecotype, where 22,000 km2 of remaining old forest have been protected from forest cutting in legal land reserves (47). This protection has resulted in 5 of 18 caribou ranges in this study having similar or higher levels of forest gain than forest loss (36) (SI Appendix, Table S1). In such areas, the degree of intensive population management needed to recover caribou is expected to diminish over time. However, in areas where habitat loss exceeds habitat recovery, intensive population treatments will have to be ongoing until there is a change in how natural resources are valued.


Our study included 18 caribou populations in Alberta, British Columbia, and Idaho, of which 12 were subjected to government-led management actions (hereafter referred to as treatments in an adaptive management context) and 6 were controls. We chose only 6 control populations to be conservative in matching ecological conditions as closely as possible to the treatment populations. However, almost all caribou populations in western Canada were rapidly declining; for example, during the same period, populations in Alberta were declining at a mean rate of −8% per year (48). The 12 treated populations in our study were subjected to four recovery actions; (i) predator reductions, (ii) prey reductions, (iii) translocation, and/or (iv) maternal penning (Fig. 2).
Although controversial in many conservation settings, there is a long history of predator (and prey) reduction to recover endangered species (34, 49), from removing feral goats (Capra spp.), to recover endangered island fauna (50), to removal of golden eagles on the Channel Islands, to recover the endangered Channel Island fox (25). Population reduction of wolves, however, is especially controversial given their heightened conservation status in the United States, and important trophic role (51). Nonetheless, wolves are nowhere near endangered or threatened in Canada and are widely distributed there, and conservative population estimates are >14,000 wolves in just Alberta and British Columbia (52). Field studies confirm that wolves are a leading cause of mortality and are the proximate cause of caribou declines (14, 22, 32, 5356). Moreover, federal and provincial policies and legislation explicitly list predator and prey reduction as a required recovery action, along with habitat recovery, to recover endangered woodland caribou under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (37, 57, 58). Finally, predator removal was coordinated by provincial agencies usually via helicopter shooting [similar to the removal of feral goats on Galapagos, for example (50)] under the authority of the respective provincial wildlife Acts (59). Prey reductions were conducted through licensed hunting of moose by sport hunters, also through the authority of provincial wildlife acts and policies. Thus, despite the ethical issues surrounding removal of vertebrates (wolves, moose) to recover caribou (60), methods were permitted and enabled by federal and provincial legislation and policies. No university personnel were involved in planning or conducting predator reductions, thus obviating the need for university animal care review or approvals (see ref. 60). Similarly, caribou translocations in British Columbia were conducted exclusively by government staff supervised by the provincial wildlife veterinarian.
Caribou populations were monitored for responses to treatments between 2004 and 2018, whereas pretreatment monitoring dated back to 1994 (SI Appendix, Table S1). The 18 populations spanned four recognized caribou ecotypes: boreal, northern mountain, central mountain, and southern mountain (61). Boreal are classified by COSEWIC [Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (62)] as threatened (n = 1 population); northern (n = 2), as of special concern; central (n = 6) and southern (n = 9), as endangered (61). Despite variation in their listed status, the bulk of our populations were endangered; thus, we use the term endangered to refer to the status of caribou throughout. Our response metric was the finite rate of population change (λ) (63) or, more specifically, the change in λ (Δλ) before and after treatments. There are two approaches to estimating λ of caribou populations depending on behavioral and habitat differences among ecotypes. The first approach is to estimate population growth rate using aerial surveys in areas where aerial sightability is high (64). In these cases, λ was calculated as λaerial = (Nt/N0)(1/t) (63). The second uses survival of radio-collared animals and population-level recruitment rates to estimate λ using a simple unstructured population model, the recruitment-mortality equation (65): λRM = S/(1 − R), where S is annual survival of adult females and R is recruitment.
For populations in British Columbia (n = 15), there are three ecotypes of woodland caribou (central, southern, and northern), and aerial survey methods differ slightly due to ecological differences. For the southern mountain ecotype (n = 9), survey estimates have been validated with 153 radio-collared animals. When snow depth exceeds 300 cm (3) in the upper subalpine, where the caribou dwell during late winter surveys, sightability is greater than 90%. Surveys were conducted only under such conditions, making population estimation straightforward. For the other six populations in British Columbia (central and northern ecotypes), mark-resight (54) with radio-marked caribou was used to correct population sizes, or all individuals were marked or identified through camera traps (66). Populations in Alberta (n = 3) are difficult to aerially survey because caribou live in dense coniferous forest, so population trend and associated uncertainty were estimated based on λRM (48), using the adjustment of ref. 67 to account for the delayed age at first reproduction of caribou. DeCesare et al. (67) showed that the λRM equation is algebraically identical to a Leftokvich stage matrix with three stages and thus provides identical results, but λRM is the convention used for monitoring woodland caribou. Although population estimates were not available in Alberta, minimum caribou observed indicated that all three populations had >50 animals at the start of treatments (57). Calibration and validation of the two approaches to estimating λ have been extensive (64, 67, 68). Serrouya et al. (64) compared λ for populations where both data sources (λaerial and λRM) were available, and found the correlation to be 0.78. This suggests that both metrics were comparable and that any biases within a population would be minimal over time because the same method (λaerial or λRM) was always used for each population. Additional details on the reliability of λ estimates presented in previously published studies can be found in the SI Appendix.
Like many ecosystem management cases (32), the intensity of treatments varied across areas. For example, neither prey nor predator reductions were ever 100%. In the SSE population, wolf removal occurred only on the Canadian portion of the range (Fig. 2). For the ALP population, treatment occurred on the winter range from 2007 to 2014 and then expanded to the winter and summer range from 2015 to 2017 (SI Appendix, Table S1). To index the intensity of treatment, we reported the number of wolves per 1,000 km2 removed per year; for moose, we reported the percentage reduction from the peak population size. The CON population also had a maternal penning trial that began in 2014, although this was a pilot study that was designed not to affect λ but to test the concept on a low number of animals (<20% of females). To isolate the effect of the moose reduction treatment, and to avoid a confound caused by maternal penning for caribou, comparisons in the Revelstoke (REV) study area (SI Appendix, Table S1) were ended in 2013 for the treated populations—CON, Columbia South (COS), Frisby-Queest (FBQ)—and the adjacent control populations (WGS and GRH). Isolating the effect of the moose reduction was important because this recovery tool had not been used before (30) in the context of apparent competition (unlike wolf reductions, which have been applied more frequently in this and other studies). Similarly, localized winter feeding of caribou occurred in the Kennedy Siding (KSI) population from 2014 to 2018, but was not formally considered a treatment. Results indicated no effect on λ, but some improvement to body condition was noted (66).
It was not just treatments that varied between populations, as the ultimate cause of population declines is habitat alteration (37, 58). We used an index of habitat alteration from remotely sensed forest loss data derived from Landsat (36) to control for the ultimate driver of caribou population trends: habitat alteration. The covariate was the proportion disturbed (early seral forest caused primarily by logging or petroleum development; ref. 36) within a population range, which was converted using the logit link. The proportion of early seral forest was included to test the hypothesis that less altered areas were more likely to have increased λ as a result of a treatment. Previous analyses showed that more early seral forests predicted lower caribou recruitment, as revealed in a national meta-analysis spanning 35 populations in the federal recovery strategy (37) and supported by theory and empirical studies across Canada. To contextualize the length of time that population treatments would be required, habitat alteration was also stratified by forest loss and forest gain based on the definition of ref. 36.
We conducted an ANCOVA to test our hypotheses by explaining Δλ as a result of recovery treatments and the proportion disturbed in each caribou range, with nontreatment (control) populations set as the intercept. For statistical analyses, λ was converted to the instantaneous rate of increase (r), λ = er (63), because r is centered on 0 and normally distributed. The dependent variable was the log response ratio, Δr, defined as ln (λafter) − ln (λbefore)—that is, the difference in population growth rates before vs. after treatments. Population size and treatment intensity were estimated quantitatively as described earlier, but were treated as qualitative factors for three reasons: (i) limited degrees of freedom are inherent in large-scale studies, (ii) population size was not available for the three herds in Alberta, and (iii) we did not have a common currency among treatment types to quantify intensity. All statistics were performed in R using the base lm package (69).


C. Gray, M. Dickie, and K. Benesh helped with data extraction and GIS analyses; and L. DeGroot conducted the SSE surveys. The West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations were instrumental in implementing treatments for KZA. Funding was provided by the Alberta and British Columbia provincial governments, Idaho Fish and Game, and Parks Canada for the caribou surveys we conducted. M.H. acknowledges funding from NASA through the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) (Grant NNX15AW71A).


  • Author contributions: R. Serrouya, D.R.S., B.N.M., D.C.H., M.G., and S.B. designed research; R. Serrouya, D.R.S., D.H., B.N.M., R.S.M., and D.C.H. performed research; R. Serrouya and M.H. analyzed data; and R. Serrouya, D.R.S., D.H., B.N.M., R.S.M., R. Steenweg, D.C.H., M.H., M.G., and S.B. wrote the paper.
  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.
  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
  • This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1816923116/-/DCSupplemental.


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