Alberta offers more than 5 million acres of public hunting
Alberta's diverse and plentiful wetland habitat fosters a strong waterfowl population.
Thousands of ducks and geese swirled over the pea field in an attempt to join the frenzy of fowl on the ground for an evening meal. The sight was breathtaking. My buddies and I had set up across the road on a 10-acre wetland with a dozen floating decoys bobbing in front of us. We used the natural vegetation to hide, and when the birds decided it was time for a drink, there was a steady stream of birds popped back and forth between our wetland and the pea field.
The shooting was nothing short of spectacular, and we filled our bag with mallards and pintails, and then added a few specklebellies and snow geese to round out the action. Interestingly, our hunt took place on a conservation property, open to anyone who would like to hunt. I've never seen anyone else hunt the spot, and it is reflective of the types of opportunities that still exist throughout Alberta.
Alberta is paradise for an avid waterfowl hunter. A vast array of habitat types support large numbers of nesting and migrating ducks and geese. From large boreal wetlands to critical staging lakes and marshland to the cattail ponds and prairie sloughs, Alberta has it all. Mallards might be the most-popular species to pursue, but gunning for canvasbacks, redheads, gadwalls, teal, wigeon and a host of arctic geese and locally raised Canadas is simply outstanding.
The most populous of Canada's three Prairie Provinces, Alberta covers about the same land area as Texas, with 661,848 square kilometers (255,541 square miles), and has a population of 3.7 million people. It is relatively young in North American terms, having become a province on Sept. 1, 1905, which helps explain the frontier mentality that still exists.
Being tied to the British Monarchy, Canada refers to government-owned lands as "crown land" or "public lands," of which it has many vast tracts. Similar to state-owned lands or Forest Service Lands, they are managed for a number of industrial, agricultural, recreational and conservation values. About 60 percent of Alberta is crown land, which includes large areas of boreal forest in the north and key holdings of native grasslands in the south.
Before Alberta became a province, grazing leases were created to help divide and eliminate conflicts amongst free-range grazers that operated in the west. About 5,700 grazing leases cover 5 million acres, or 5 percent, of Alberta's public lands, primarily in settled portions of the southern reaches of the province. These leases are only one of several forms of agricultural dispositions of Alberta's public lands, yet they account for nearly 10 percent of all agricultural land in Alberta. Individual lease sizes generally range from a section of 640 acres in central Alberta to almost three sections, or 1,920 acres, in southern Alberta grasslands. A significant amount of lease land features incredible areas of wetland, which equates to great waterfowling.
The 5 million acres of public land under agricultural lease are accessible to hunters, so if you wish to hunt on agricultural public land, go to the Government of Alberta Web site, Public Lands Division, click on Recreation on Agricultural Public Land (srd.alberta.ca/RecreationPublicUse/RecreationOnAgriculturalPublicLand.aspx) and explore the interactive map. You will find every lease in Alberta, with a list of conditions for access and information on any restrictions. It is a pretty good system that opens up millions of acres for hunting with maps, driving instructions and more.
Private Conservation and Access Guide
In the past two decades, conservation organizations in Alberta have secured significant amounts of critical and productive habitat. The Alberta Fish and Game Association, Alberta Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Nature Conservancy of Canada have successful land acquisition programs that often work collectively to be more effective on the ground.
The AFGA and ACA have conservation mandates, but also recognize the importance of providing access for recreational hunting. As these organizations became more successful in acquiring lands, they started publishing Discover Alberta's Wild Side — Guide to Outdoor Adventure to share their acquired information with hunters. The guide -- which is also available online -- is updated every year, and the 2010-2011 issue is double the size of the original guide, packed with maps, photos, directions and information on wildlife species likely to be encountered on each property.
This year's guide includes ACA and AFGA properties, as well as those from DUC, with a total of 701 conservation sites, including the newly posted 302 projects from DUC. More than 400,000 listed acres are waiting to be explored. The hunt described earlier took place on one of these properties.
Navigating the Guide
Separated into 12 grids, the guide identifies each conservation site by a number on the map that corresponds to written information provided within the guide. For each site, details on habitat and wildlife, restrictions to access or activities, partners involved and the legal land location are listed.
Save time when planning your trip by visiting the Web site at ab-conservation.com. Click on Discover Alberta's Wild Side — Guide to Outdoor Adventure and search each conservation site. You can pinpoint locations using Google Maps, read property profiles and download driving directions.
Nature Conservancy Properties
The Nature Conservancy of Canada's mission is to conserve and care for the diversity of plants, animals and the lands and water we all depend on. Since 1962, the NCC has conserved more than 2 million acres across Canada. In Alberta, NCC has preserved more than 178,000 acres through land donation, purchase and conservation easements.
Many sportsmen might not know that on many of NCC's 200-plus properties in Alberta, public access for hiking, fishing and hunting is permitted with prior approval. On NCC-owned properties, signs located at main access locations and perimeter signs at the four corners of the property indicate access conditions, and NCC's contact number and Web site are included on the main property sign. Although access on NCC properties is limited to foot access only, and there are properties that have restrictions, key habitat parcels throughout the prairie, parkland and foothills means waterfowlers will be amazed at the opportunities.
If you are interested in accessing an NCC-owned property, call (877) 262-1253. NCC staff will provide with you with an Access Waiver Form to complete, sign and return. You will need to carry the permission letter, which you receive back from NCC, when using the property. In 2011-2012, NCC plans to i
nclude their properties in the Discover Alberta's Wild Side — Guide to Outdoor Adventure, which will then provide details for close to 1,000 conservation sites.
Alberta residents are blessed with incredible hunting access, but with no restrictions on non-resident hunters, opportunities exist for all hunters wanting to explore new ground.
With more than 5 million acres of crown lands and close to 600,000 acres of land secured through conservation organizations, more hunting is available than a waterfowl hunter could ever explore. With only 17,000 licensed waterfowl hunters in the province, plenty of wetlands offer unused hunting space.
Truth be known, most Alberta waterfowlers prefer to hunt on private land and target birds on agricultural fields, and accessing private lands is as simple as knocking on a landowner's door and asking for permission.
Alberta appears to be the last frontier still waiting to be explored. If you seek a dynamic waterfowling experience, the western prairie of Canada is waiting for you.
Brad Fenson is a wildlife habitat specialist from Edmonton, Alberta.