EDMONTON – Alberta does not expect to make good on a promise to ban what it has called the archaic practice of spear-hunting until at least next fall as it considers rule changes that could include prohibiting other methods of taking big game.
The government made the pledge in August 2016 after an online video surfaced 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.
Matt Besko, director of wildlife policy for Alberta Environment, said the province is looking at updating regulations that already spell out rules for standard hunting weapons such as firearms and bows, but say nothing about other methods.
“It is not just about spears,” Besko said. “When we looked at our legislation, there are other potential inhumane or unethical methods that could be used.
“The legislation would refer to firearms and archery equipment as the only permitted weapons to be used to harvest game species in Alberta. All other methods would be prohibited.”
Some other non-standard hunting methods include the atlatl, a kind of stick a hunter can use to throw a dart or a short spear at prey.
Using rocks to kill game or running an animal to the point of exhaustion or death could be prohibited under changes.
Besko said Alberta began surveying the public about non-standard hunting methods in 2014.
There was already opposition to the use of spears before the government received a storm of angry letters, emails and social media comments about the 2016 bear video.
“The large majority of respondents to that survey disagreed with the use of those so-called non-standard weapons, including spears,” he said.
“There is a segment of the hunting community — and it is a very small component — that actually use spears and atlatls.”
The government has been getting some pushback.
Earlier this year, the Alberta Fish and Game Association approved a motion that called on the province to maintain legal spear and atlatl hunting.
Martin Sharren, the association’s vice-president, said there aren’t a lot of people who use spears, but the organization is wary of hunting restrictions.
“It is another hunting opportunity that if it gets taken away, it gets taken away,” he said.
Brent Watson, president of the Alberta Bowhunters Association, said his members have different views on spear-hunting and clear rules are needed to ensure that animals are hunted humanely.
Besko said no final decisions have been made and the government could include hunting rule changes as part of a broader update to Alberta’s Wildlife Act.
Draft proposals are to be presented to the government within a year.
“The earliest that a decision could be made would be for the fall of 2018 and that is if all things would align in terms of the external review process.”
Josh Bowmar, the hunter who killed the bear with the spear, was not charged after the province determined that he had legally harvested the animal.