Mysteries abound in moose country, particularly in the Monte hills between Monte Lake and Kamloops.
After moose hunting in the area for the past 25 years, Otto Duczak was baffled by mysterious events of the past two seasons.
The first curiosity was a mature bull moose shorn of its antlers, apparently one of several, or so the rumour went. The theory was that this was a government conservation technique to protect mature bull moose from hunters.
"I called the ministry because I had my scope on one of those moose," Duczak said. He didn't pull the trigger because, without antlers, it appeared to be a cow moose.
When he was told of the rack-cutting practice by another hunter, Duczak was irate, mystified and somewhat amused. He branded them "transvestite moose." And he threatened to sue the Ministry of Environment.
"It's expensive," he reasoned. "You're paying for that meat if you can get it."
Duczak is not a young man. Like many hunters his age, he prefers to use his truck as a vantage point, driving the backroads for signs of moose rather than taking to the woods on foot.
This season, adding to the antler-less bull moose mystery, he found that many of the roads in wildlife management unit 3-20 had been "deactivated." Road deactivation is a common practice in forestry once cutting and reforestation are complete. Bridges and culverts are removed to limit vehicular access for a variety of reasons, one of them being wildlife management.
What Duczak encountered this season, though, was deactivation on steroids: "This year, right in the middle of moose season, they brought in a big machine and chewed up the road."
His frustration level grew when he contacted government officials to find answers. There seemed to be a list of excuses, one to satisfy every concern — replanting, mountain pine beetle, First Nations, a guide-outfitter operation.
"Alls I want is the truth," he said. "I can't get the truth, just lies.
"They're making us spend all this money, and when it comes down to hunting season, we're getting shafted. It's a bureaucratic game. I honestly think they think the public is stupider than they are."
As it turns out, the antler-less bull moose and the ripped-up roads are related, so here it is, the full Monte, from Ministry of Environment wildlife biologist Chris Procter.
First, the mystery moose. Procter said he was glad to lay that one to rest. It is far more than myth, though.
There is a low ratio of bulls to cows in that area. The ministry set an open-season limit of four bulls and a limited-entry hunt of two bulls. The area is braided by backroads, particularly after pine-beetle salvage logging, Procter noted.
"We have huge levels of access, a high hunting presence and there's not much left over for a limited entry hunt," he said.
With the hunting pressure, the ministry was researching winter moose habitat last year. They fitted one moose with a radio collar after tranquilizing it. The narcotic used to tranquilize a 600-kilogram bull moose is powerful enough to cause problems if that moose is bagged.
"We wouldn't want hunters consuming the moose after we captured it; this moose probably would have been left by hunters."
The moose would have regrown antlers this year, but that solitary moose gave rise to a stampede of rumours.
"I hear rumours floating around that we sawed antlers off 30 or 40 last year and this year. Somebody told somebody about one moose and there's this rumour that it's to reduce the bull harvest."
Abundant road access gave rise to over-hunting, so B.C. Timber Sales worked with the Ministry of Environment, Tk'emlups First Nation and local guide/outfitters, produced an access-management plan with the aim of enhancing moose habitat. In August, there were 14 spur roads deactivated. No further work is expected until 2016.
"We're not saying you can't go up there," Procter said. "There are still plenty of roads available and you can go on foot."
The good news is that the bull to cow ratio is on the rise in the one local area where numbers were too low.