Understand your legal responsibilities before hunting in Alberta

Understand your legal responsibilities before hunting in Alberta

By Greg Dunn

Hunting is an integral part of Alberta’s heritage and way of life.

However, the laws governing this activity can be confusing, especially to those new to the sport. The uninitiated may take down a prohibited animal or be found hunting in a non-designated area. Both actions could result in charges.

Moreover, hunting charges are generally known as “strict liability” offences, meaning they are easily prosecuted and the Crown is not always required to prove the requisite mens rea (the guilty mind) as they would in a criminal case. Hunting infractions can result in significant fines, a suspension of your hunting privileges and the seizure of personal property, such as your vehicle and rifle. In some cases, an individual can face imprisonment.

Before heading out in pursuit of game, hunters must know the provincial regulations and abide by them.

As Todd Loewen, Minister of Forestry and Parks states, “There’s nothing better than being able to visit Alberta forests, prairies, and mountains in search of the animal of choice. We are truly blessed to have the opportunity to put game on the table and possibly bragging rights with a mature animal, for so many species, right here in Alberta.”

He adds that hunters contribute to “outdoor recreation and sustainability – values essential to Albertan culture … I urge hunters to remember the importance of responsible hunting practices and the role that each of you plays in the management of our wildlife resource.”

Rules must be followed

Alberta’s General Regulations sets out an exhaustive list of rules for hunters. It starts by noting that “convictions for certain offences will result in the suspension of all recreational hunting licences for a period of one to three years, and may result in a suspension for as long as five or more years. This is in addition to the assessment of a fine, an order and/or imprisonment.”

It then lists 17 general rules. All are important but there are some key regulations. For example, it is unlawful to:

  • obtain a recreational hunting licence if your hunting privileges have been suspended in Alberta or elsewhere;
  • harass, injure or kill any wildlife with a vehicle, aircraft or boat;
  • hunt any wildlife with or from an aircraft or use drones to spot animals;
  • carry a loaded firearm (live ammunition in breech, chamber or magazine);
  • discharge a weapon within 183 metres (200 yards) of any occupied building;
  • cause a projectile from a firearm to pass along or across provincial highways or any road that is paved, oiled, graded or regularly maintained;
  • hunt while impaired by alcohol or drugs;
  • discharge a firearm between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise;
  • hunt wildlife on occupied land without the consent of the owner or occupant; and
  • hunt with a firearm if you are under 18 and not accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or by an adult who has the written permission of the parent or legal guardian.

Section five of the Regulations deals with the equipment used while hunting. It outlaws:

  • arrows equipped with explosive heads;
  • automatic weapons;
  • shotguns of a gauge greater than 10;
  • any device designed to deaden the sound of a firearm;
  • recorded wildlife calls or sounds, or an electronically operated calling device, except when hunting migratory game birds or using electronic calls to hunt crows, magpies, coyotes, red foxes and wolves;
  • any pistol or revolver unless you are a licensed trapper who is dispatching an animal caught in a trap.
  • using live wildlife as bait;
  • a swivel set or spring gun; or
  • a poisonous substance or an immobilizing drug.

Hunting big game

Big game in Alberta includes moose, black and grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, white-tailed and mule deer, three-and-six-point elk, antelope and caribou. The regulations note that it is unlawful to hunt these animals with any weapon other than:

  • a bow or crossbow, and arrow or bolt, that are lawful for hunting big game;
  • a rifle and ammunition that are lawful for hunting big game;
  • a muzzle-loading firearm .44 calibre or greater; or
  • a shotgun and ammunition that are lawful for hunting big game.

There are detailed instructions in the Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations about tagging the carcasses of these animals. For example, with trophy sheep or goats, one tag must be put through the nostril and, as soon as the skin is removed from the skull, one tag around the lower bone of the eye socket leaving the horns and eye intact.

It is illegal to discharge a weapon at a big game animal while it is swimming or along or across a highway or road.

It is also illegal to hunt:

  • a black bear under the age of one year;
  • a female black bear accompanied by a cub under the age of one year;
  • a female cougar accompanied by a kitten with spotted fur; or
  • a cougar kitten with spotted fur.

Hunters are reminded that when big game or game birds are taken for butchering or other related processing services, there are requirements for the business to keep a record of the animal. This includes recording the date, the name and address of the person who delivered the wildlife, the name and address of the person who killed the animal and their wildlife certificate number or wildlife identification number.

Hunting on occupied, private and public land

Do not hunt on privately owned lands without permission. As the Regulations note, this “generates anti-hunting sentiment among landowners and results in the prosecution of more than 200 hunters each year. Hunters should leave gates as they find them, avoid damaging facilities or property, avoid disturbing livestock and establish friendly relations with landholders.”

When it comes to public land and parks, it is the hunter’s responsibility to know and abide by access conditions in these areas. While foot access is generally accepted on public land, hunters should be aware that:

  • Off-highway vehicle (OHV) access is prohibited in most provincial parks and provincial recreation areas.
  • Off-highway vehicle access may be limited or prohibited within counties, municipal districts or within special public land management areas such as Public Land Use Zones (PLUZs).
  • Some PLUZs have designated OHV trail networks. In these areas, hunters are required to operate OHVs only on designated trails, even when retrieving game.

According to Hunting in Alberta Provincial Parks and Protected Areas, Alberta’s Parks Division provides hunting opportunities on over 85 per cent of the land base managed as a provincial park or protected area. In protected areas where hunting is allowed some activities are restricted to protect sensitive areas and species or to address public safety or wildlife management issues.

Hunting is prohibited in Alberta’s ecological reserves and its three wilderness areas, Ghost River, Siffleur and White Goat. According to the Alberta Wilderness Association, these areas “preserve and protect natural heritage where visitors are provided opportunities for non-consumptive, nature-based outdoor recreation.”

Hunting is also banned in most provincial parks and provincial recreation areas, with exceptions. For example, hunting is permitted in Castle Provincial Park, there are elk seasons in Cypress Hills Provincial Park and game birds can be shot over water in Winagami Lake Provincial Park.

Contact us for assistance

The lawyers at Dunn & Associates don’t just defend hunters, we are hunters. We have field experience and have defended hunters, taxidermists, importers and guides. If you have been charged with any offence under the Wildlife Act or the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, give our criminal lawyers a call. Most cases never make it to trial and we have obtained favourable outcomes in many cases by negotiating with the Crown or finding issues with the evidence.

If you are charged with a wildlife offence don’t plead guilty. Contact us for a free consultation.