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Navigating Alberta's hunting regulations and best practices

While some condemn American spear hunter, one Alberta man shares story of his own hunt

Robert Edwards of Ponoka used an ancient dart-throwing device called an atlatl to hunt this deer. The province says it will ban the use of weapons such as spears and atlatls in big game hunts.

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Robert Edwards of Ponoka used an ancient dart-throwing device called an atlatl to hunt this deer. The province says it will ban the use of weapons such as spears and atlatls in big game hunts.

An American hunter who killed a bear with a spear and posted the video online is generating plenty of controversy – not just for his choice of weapon but also for baiting the animal.
 
U.S. hunter Josh Bowmar used a hand-thrown spear to kill a black bear during a hunting trip to Northern Alberta this spring.
 
Casey Maguire, a band council member with the Siksika Nation, said Bowmar wasn't really hunting because he baited the animal.
 
“When you hunt you have to earn your kill,” he said.
 
When Maguire hunts traditionally with other band members, they don’t wear camouflage. They use traditional methods, such as masking their scent from the animals with wood smoke.
 
“When you’re native – it’s natural – you know how to read the land. You know how to work the land,” he said.
 
Baiting of bears is legal under Alberta hunting laws, but also highly restricted according to Miles Grove, superintendent of operations with Fish and Wildlife enforcement branch.
 
“Its only allowed in certain parts of the province, and that’s where grizzly bears are absent – so boreal forests,” said Grove.
 
He said hunters are required to put up signs warning others that bait has been left out. They are also required to put their names on the signs.
 
While some like Maguire believe using bait is unsportsmanlike, Grove said it does have a purpose.
 
“It’s an effective way for the hunter to view the bear for some time,” he said. “They’re able to be a little more selective.”
 
Wayne Lowry, president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, said baiting black bears is about the only way to successfully hunt the animals.
 
“Just because they’re so elusive in the deep woods,” he said. “They’re hard to find.”
 
Lowry is fine with the baiting, but is happy to see the province planning to ban the practice of hunting with spears. He has concerns about amateurs wounding animals.
 
He said his organization and others in the province were trying to get ahead of the rising popularity of spear hunting in the US and Africa.
 
“There hasn’t been a desire by Albertans to hunt by those means. It’s not like we’re giving up anything because it’s not something we’ve been doing.”

Hunting with spears not unheard of in Alberta

Although hunting using a spear is not common in Alberta, American hunter Josh Bowmar was not the first to use an unconventional weapon to legally take down big game.
 
Robert Edwards, founder of the Alberta Primitive Skills Society, successfully hunted a deer using an atlatl in 2012.
 
An atlatl is a short stick that allows a hunter to launch a dart by hand with extra leverage.
 
The dart he used was six feet long and 5/8ths of an inch thick.
 
“The biggest argument is that they’re inhumane and barbaric and primitive,” said Edwards. “I don’t buy that argument at all.”
 
He said he launched his dart from about eight yards and the animal travelled about 30 yards before dying.
 
“My deer expired a lot more quickly with an atlatl and a dart than with any bow I’ve ever seen or used,” he said.
 
Edwards is not the only person in Alberta using the devices.
 
“There’s not a huge community – I personally know roughly 100 folks that are out using them,” he said.
 
Edwards’ primitive skills society brings together enthusiasts of so-called primitive arts, such as flint knapping (making stone arrowheads). They’re holding their annual meet-up this weekend near Sundre.
 
While he has been interested in primitive hunting for 25 years, he said the deer is the only big game animal he ever successfully hunted. He said he didn’t feel safe being out amongst hunters with rifles.
 
“(Atlati) are only lawful to use during general hunting season – so you’re out hunting with people who are out shooting with rifles. It’s kind of nerve wracking.”

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