Manitoba

Night hunting practice of spotlighting has 'got to end,' says Manitoba Wildlife Federation

Too many Manitoba big-game hunters are putting the lives of people and livestock at risk by hunting with bright lights at night, says the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, which wants the government to ban the practice altogether.

Group says this fall has been the worst season when it comes to reported cases

The Manitoba Wildlife Federation's NightWatch campaign, which was launched in 2015, calls on the provincial government to ban spotlighting and work with hunters to create a new hunting policy that is safe and sustainable. (CBC)

Too many Manitoba big-game hunters are putting the lives of people and livestock at risk by hunting at night, says the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, which wants the government to ban the practice altogether.

The federation says this fall has been one of the worst yet for "spotlighting," a hunting practice that involves shining bright lights into the eyes of animals at night, with farmers and rural property owners across the province reporting numerous cases of people hunting on or near their properties when it's dark.

"There's really terror there," Rob Olson, the federation's managing director, said in an interview Wednesday.

"Some of these areas where there's a lot of big game around farms, some of these land owners are getting spotlighted multiple times per night. So they're in a constant state of fear and worry and concern, and it's not OK. It's got to end."

In spotlighting, a hunter shines a powerful and focused artificial light into the eyes of animals such as moose, elk and deer, causing the prey to stop moving and therefore making it easier for them to be killed.

Olson said spotlighting raises a number of safety issues, with farmers fearing that hunters may trespass onto their properties at night and accidentally shoot at cattle, other farm animals, barns, houses and even people.

"You can't be sure at night of what's behind your target, and so that makes it really an unsafe practice and probably the biggest problem that we have with it," he said.

Hunting by spotlighting has also been responsible for an unprecedented decline in Manitoba's moose population, he said.

As well, it's illegal to hunt from a vehicle on a provincial road. Spotlighting hunters often take aim from a vehicle parked along roads, highways and trails, said Olson​.

Issue highlighted by recent death

Nighttime hunting made headlines recently with the death of 24-year-old Dylan Hapa of the Sioux Valley First Nation, who was shot while hunting in the woods northwest of Brandon, Man., on Sept. 27.

As well, a 35-year-old man from Fort Alexander, Man., was killed in a nighttime hunting incident on Crown land north of Powerview, Man., in January 2010.

"There's been fatalities and there's been lots of close calls, so it's super-dangerous," Olson said.

"The other side of it is rural residents, cattle producers, farmers, where the spotlighting often happens around their properties, they live in a constant state of fear. They're in their farmhouse at night, they're hearing shots in the dark and some [are] wondering, 'Where are those bullets going?'"

Earlier this year, the wildlife federation shared the story of ranchers Victor and Doreen Sliworsky, who were sleeping in their home near Winnipegosis, Man., one night in September 2015 when a rifle bullet tore through their bedroom, missing Doreen's head by half a metre.

Spotlighting is legal for Indigenous hunters on Crown lands or on private land where they have the right of access, but Olson said many Indigenous hunters the federation has consulted oppose the practice.

He added that the federation does not have a problem with Indigenous hunters in remote communities who hunt traditionally at night, in the moonlight.

Olson said the federation has been talking with Indigenous hunters along the east side of Lake Winnipeg about declining moose populations as well as issues such as spotlighting.

"What I'm sort of learning in … the dialogue is that maybe there's a place for Indigenous nighttime traditions in remote areas — maybe calling moose by moonlight," he said

"So that's a dialogue that we really need the government to step in now and have that dialogue and really actively and sincerely work with First Nations to come up with reasonable solutions."

As part of its NightWatch campaign, which was launched last year, the wildlife federation is calling on the provincial government to ban spotlighting and work with hunters to create a new hunting policy that is safe and sustainable.

"We can't have bullets going into farm houses, we can't have dead cows, we can't have trampled crops, cut fences. Like, that has to stop," Olson said.

Olson said the new Progressive Conservative government has committed to banning unsafe hunting practices, including spotlighting, and conservation officers have told the federation in September they've noticed instructions to step up enforcement efforts.

He said in addition to a ban, he also wants a greater government investment in conservation officers and rural law enforcement.

now