Alberta bucks trend when it comes to hunting

Longtime hunter Jamil Gotmy isn't surprised when he hears more Albertans are taking up hunting than anywhere else in Canada or the U.S.

Province is one of very few places in North America seeing upward trend in number of hunters

Alberta hunter Darcy Palmer and son Chase celebrate after a pheasant hunt. (Submitted by Darcy Palmer)

Longtime hunter Jamil Gotmy isn't surprised when he hears more Albertans are taking up hunting than anywhere else in Canada or the U.S.

"You can be right in Calgary, in the Calgary bow zone, and have access to moose, elk, deer hunting, literally five minutes from my house," the 45-year-old said. "The opportunity is huge."

Ten minutes further takes him to waterfowl and upland game bird areas. He's also surrounded by local pheasant release sites.

"An hour west you can be in sheep country, or two hours east and you're in antelope (and) pronghorn country," Gotmy said. "It's a sportsman's paradise." 

Interest in hunting has grown steadily in Alberta over the past two decades.

While the number of licences issued in the province peaked in 2015, Albertans are still buying up licences. Almost 120,000 hunting licenses were purchased in 2019.

That's nearly 15,000 more than in 2010 and close to 35,000 more than in 2005.

Alberta Environment and Parks confirmed the province is the only jurisdiction in North America where hunting participation has seen a long-term upwards trend. 

Jamil Gotmy and his son Kadyn, four years old at the time, on a turkey hunt. (Submitted by Jamil Gotmy)

There is also a difference in the hunting experience in Alberta and the U.S., Gotmy said.

In Montana, landowners aren't as friendly to requests to hunt on their land, he said, and public forests are heavily hunted compared to Alberta's public lands.

"It's not like here where we can get out sometimes and not see somebody for days," he said.

Environment and Parks minister Jason Nixon, a hunter himself, credits the popularity of hunting in the province to partner agencies like the Alberta Conservation Association and the Alberta Hunter Education and Instructor Association.

"I think that's why our highest participation age of hunters are between 25 and 46 now," he said. "And interestingly enough, the fastest growing segment in the province of Alberta hunters are women." 

Nixon said hunting and angling communities are critical for environmental management, aiding conservation efforts and maintaining herd sizes.

Gotmy's hunting dog Rex pointing at a local pheasant release site with the towering Rocky Mountains in the distance. (Submitted by Jamil Gotmy)

Having Alberta's massive backyard and what Nixon describes as a "world class" draw system also helps.

"We have access to an abundance of species that many provinces and states are very jealous of," he said. "We're the only province, or jurisdiction I'm aware of, that has both bighorn sheep and pronghorn."

The government also offers incentives for seniors and youth to get involved and stay involved in hunting.

"For less than $20, Alberta youth can hunt whitetail in our province and game birds," Nixon said. "We've also made it attractive to seniors to continue to participate in hunting by providing seniors' discounts."

The province's approach is attracting some attention south of the border.

In a recent article published by MeatEater, a hunting lifestyle company, outdoor writer Jordan Sillars said the declining number of hunters in North America is becoming a major concern for the industry.

This was the focus of a trade show earlier this year, Sillars writes. He suggests Alberta's strategies could be a possible solution for other jurisdictions.

"This is kind of the holy grail that provinces and states are trying to find is, 'How do we increase our hunting participation?'" Sillars told CBC News.

"The fact that Alberta had seen a pretty big spike in the last 10 years was really interesting."

Palmer hunts for elk in the Calgary bow zone. (Submitted by Jamil Gotmy)

He found the province employs a half dozen strategies.

"That's one of the big takeaways for me, is that there's no silver bullet to fix this problem," he said.

"It's really a kind of multifaceted solution that requires cooperation from hunters, from landowners, from state and provincial officials, from conservation organizations."

Other jurisdictions are noticing what Alberta is doing and starting to use similar approaches, he said.

"I think that as states and provinces continue to adopt these kinds of initiatives, these kinds of policies, those numbers could grow," he said.

Still, Sillars, who makes his home in Texas but has also lived in Virginia and Alberta, admits this province has an advantage when it comes to its varied topography and species.

That's no secret to Gotmy and hunting pal Darcy Palmer who return to the hunt each year, even if they're not always successful. 

"It's really not about the harvest so much as it is watching the landscape, the animals, your dogs running, hanging out with friends," said Gotmy.

"Every so often if we get lucky and we take a big game animal, well then there's food on the table."