Are harvests, abundance ratings accurate?

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Outdoors column by Ed Coleman

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The booklet you receive with your hunting licence contains, among other things, a small game report card. In the report card is a box where hunters can estimate game abundance. The estimates run from one to four, or low to very high. 

The hunter estimates of game abundance are interesting, but I wonder how accurate they are. For example, what if only the hunters who had good grouse, pheasant and rabbit seasons sent in their estimates? Wouldn’t the estimates but skewered and misleading, or at least inaccurate?

Keeping this possibility in mind, let’s look at some of the harvest estimates the Natural Resources Wildlife Division make up every year.  Take pheasants, for example. In the 2010 season, Natural Resources estimates that the provincial harvest was just over 6,000 birds; in the 2011 season, the estimated harvest was 3,100.

In Kings County, where much of the provincial harvest comes from, hunters bagged an estimated 2,888 pheasants in 2010; in the 2011 season, the estimated harvest was 1,209.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to see the estimated pheasant harvest in 2011 dropped over 50 per cent in Kings County and nearly 50 per cent across the province. I have to agree with this estimate, by the way. In all the coverts I’ve hunted for years, I found pheasant numbers well down in 2011 when compared with the 2010 season. Other hunters told me their season was like mine, so I have no doubt this is an accurate estimate of last season’s harvest.

So with this in mind, how did hunters rank the abundance of pheasants the last two seasons? Looking at Kings County, in 2010 the hunter estimate of abundance was 1.97, meaning hunters believed pheasant numbers were low to medium. In the 2011 season, the estimate was 2.25 (!), up, in other words, over the previous season and getting close to being a high estimate of pheasant numbers. And this in a season when the Wildlife Division estimated there was a drastic drop of around 50 per cent in the harvest.

Keeping in mind that one equals low numbers, two equals medium numbers, three equals high numbers and four equals very high game numbers, let’s look at harvests of small game, other than pheasants.

    In the 2010 season, the estimated provincial harvest of ruffed grouse was 25,954 birds; in 2011, there was an increase in harvest, an estimated 27,982 birds. Hunters ranked the abundance of grouse at 1.21 in 2010 and 1.40 in 2011. 

On hares, the estimated 2010 harvest was 46,607, dropping to 37,364 in the 2011 season. The abundance estimate for these seasons was 1.08 and 1.07.

It looks like hunters were close to being right on their abundance estimates when it came to grouse and hares. On pheasants, it was another story.  There’s no way pheasants were abundant during the 2011 season, despite what the hunter estimate was. The Wildlife Division’s harvest estimates indicate otherwise.

It could be that not enough hunters are returning their report cards to get an accurate assessment of harvests and game abundance. Or when it comes to pheasants, maybe only successful hunters send their cards in every year. There could be some embellishments going on as well. Some hunters don’t like to report they had a bad season.

But I’m being cynical here, aren’t I?

Organizations: Natural Resources Wildlife Division

Geographic location: Kings

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