Alberta bans spears in big game hunting

Starting with the 2018 hunting season, spears will no longer be allowed for hunting big game in Alberta.

Updated hunting regulations 'ensure big game animals are not subjected to unnecessary suffering'

U.S. hunter Josh Bowmar poses with a bear he killed with a spear in August 2016. (YouTube)

Alberta's NDP government is banning the use of spears for hunting big game animals.

New hunting regulations announced Wednesday prohibit the use of spears and spear-throwing tools like atlatls — a type of stick hunters use to throw a dart or short spear at prey. The new rules also introduce new standards for ammunition.

"These changes will discourage reckless actions and ensure big game animals are not subjected to unnecessary suffering," reads a statement from the province. 

Starting with the 2018 hunting season, only rifles, shotguns and conventional archery gear will be legal for hunting big game animals including deer, elk, moose and bear. 

Big game hunters will also be required to use a minimum .24-calibre buckshot "to ensure a quick and effective kill." 

Those caught breaking the rules under Alberta's Wildlife Act could face up to $50,000 in fines or be sentenced to a year in jail.

"Modernizing our hunting regulations will ensure safety and prevent game from experiencing undue suffering," said Environment Minister Shannon Phillips in a statement.
Bowmar celebrates after killing the bear in Alberta. (YouTube)

The new regulations had been promised since August 2016, after a video surfaced online showing an American hunter throwing a spear at a black bear in northern Alberta and then cheering to celebrate his kill.

People around the world reacted angrily to the video. Some called the use of a spear barbaric. The controversy triggered a storm of angry letters to the province.

'I think that they're misinformed'

Ponoka atlatl and spear hunter Robert Edwards calls the ban a mistake. 

"I think that they're misinformed," said the longtime hunter who lives in Ponoka.

Edwards is part of the Alberta primitive skills society, one that promotes the use of primitive weaponry as well as bush craft, primitive living, and wilderness survival.

He says he uses the atlatl, a two-metre dart propelled by an arm-length throwing board, to provide for his family of six. 

"To make a knee-jerk reaction to remove the use of spears and atlatls in Alberta is a foolish move. It's going to set the platform to eliminate or ban other uses of primitive weaponry for example bow and arrows, and stone arrow points.

Edwards says there's nothing wrong with the video showing U.S. hunter Josh Bowmar posing with a bear that he killed with a spear in August 2016. 

"I have no problem with it. I think he did a fast, clean, efficient kill."

Small number of hunters affected

The number of hunters in the province who use spears or atlatls is very small according to outfitters.

Ryk Visscher began bow hunting over 40 years ago. He takes out more than 100 hunters each year for the last 30 to hunt moose and bears through central and northern Alberta.

In that time, he's never guided anyone wanting to use an atlatl or spear. 

"There's 100,000-plus hunters in Alberta and so what percentage would 10 be of 100,000 if that even?" Visscher said.

"I mean there's probably more people running around trying to kill things with a rock — hopefully not — because that's illegal now too. 

Pierce Krawetz, president of the Sarcee Fish and Game Association in Calgary, says spear hunting is incredibly difficult and takes "a very honed set of skills."

"We haven't had any contact with members who say it affects them because we don't really think we have any even in the province."

Alberta Environment and Parks said more than 3,900 responses from the public helped shape the new regulations. The new rules won't interfere with the rights of Indigenous hunters to practise traditional hunting methods, the province said.  

About 118,000 people hunt big game in the province each year. More than 90 per cent of them are Alberta residents.

The vast majority use firearms, with about 18 per cent getting a bow-hunting licence.