Six small game species are currently managed and hunted in Newfoundland and Labrador: snowshoe hare, Arctic hare (hunted in Labrador only), willow ptarmigan, rock ptarmigan, ruffed grouse and spruce grouse. Up to 35,000 people in the province participate in small game hunting, by snaring and shooting with or without dogs. Small game harvesting is an important recreational and subsistence activity for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. As an example, in years of peak snowshoe hare abundance, approximately 600,000 to 1,500,000 hares have been harvested.
Small game populations are naturally cyclic. This means there are regular cycles (about nine to 11 years) of population highs and lows. Population cycles are tied to various factors including predator/prey relationships, food supply and disease. Small game population cycles also appear to occur independently of hunting pressure, happening across the entire range of a species, not just in heavily hunted areas. Hares, ptarmigan and grouse have very high reproductive rates, as do most small game species. As a result, populations that have reached low levels can quickly increase in number. High reproductive rates also result in an annual surplus of young animals that may die from predation, starvation, disease, and/or parasites. A managed small game hunt provides the opportunity to harvest this surplus, thereby acting as a substitute for natural mortality factors.
There are different small game management zones for hares, ptarmigan and grouse in Newfoundland and Labrador. Within these zones, small game populations are managed by the timing and length of the hunting season and in most cases, by bag and possession limits. Hunting seasons are set for the fall of the year, when small game species are no longer breeding and most of the young have reached adult size. In Labrador, small game hunting continues through the winter.
The Wildlife Division determines the status of the province's small game populations primarily through trend data obtained from hunter license returns. Trend information does not provide direct information on population numbers, but it indicates whether populations are increasing, decreasing or stable. Hunter returns also enable us to determine hunter effort and success, the species being hunted, and the hunting methods used.
Information on small game species is also obtained through population and habitat surveys. Anecdotal information from area Conservation Officers, hunters and the general public also serves as an indicator of how small game populations are doing.
The Wildlife Division develops an annual small game management plan for Newfoundland and Labrador prior to the hunting seasons. The plan is developed to ensure our small game resources are being wisely used. It is based on hunter trend information from previous years, input from Conservation Officers and other staff of the Department of Natural Resources, input from non-governmental organizations, and from the general public.
The Small Game Management Plan covers issues related to hunting seasons, bag and possession limits, boundaries and other specific recommendations made by staff and the public. Final approval of the Management Plan comes from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Information regarding small game hunting is then made available to the public through the annual Hunting and Trapping Guide. (16 MB). Download a brochure on Ptarmigan Biology, Management and Harvest Strategies in Newfoundland and Labrador.
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