Bow Hunting
In Nova Scotia

Sitting in the quiet open space of the lush forest, I wonder how I will react when my opportunity arises. For the next several days, I am afforded the same thought while wondering through the woods of the Chignecto Forest Management Area outside Parsboro, the only haven for bow hunters in Nova Scotia. This was my first bow hunt and, as I was to discover, far from my last.

It is now eighteen years later as I look back upon those days, with a fondness for the sport of bow hunting I could not have imagined. Each season that passed has brought new respect for the game hunted and for the method that I have the privilege to enjoy. Not every bow hunter is afforded the opportunities that are enjoyed in Nova Scotia. Long gone are the days of sitting around the campfires wondering if bow hunters will be accepted as hunters in Nova Scotia. Much has changed over the years in this province including the way bow hunting is viewed.

Bow hunting took a turn in Nova Scotia around 1969 when Chignecto opened for bow hunting only. More people joined the ranks of the little known sport to take advantage of the Chignecto hunt where you could wear full camouflage clothing and not compete with rifle hunting. Many had the preconceived idea that fencing surrounded this area and therefore, the deer inside were plentiful and tame. It is well known that this area of the province does not have excellent deer habitat keeping herds in check year around with large snowfall amounts and short summers. Chignecto encompasses approximately eighty-five square miles of forest that was, until recent years, harvested in minimal amounts.

At that time there were few game laws governing bow hunting without a reliable voice to attain gains for those who persisted in the sport. If your bow registered a minimum of forty pounds within your draw length, your broadheads weighed at least one hundred grains cutting a diameter of at least one-inch and not barbed, you could legally bow hunt. Hunting with a bow was only allowed during the general open season under the same regulations as gun hunters. Late in 1978 a small assembly of thirteen dedicated and concerned bow hunters decided to do something about it. They forged ahead to form a legal voice named by them as the Bowhunters Association of Nova Scotia (BANS).

Since its conception, bow hunting in this province has changed for the benefit of all that persist in hunting game with a bow. At the forefront in decision making for BANS was, and continues to be, conservation and hunter safety. One of the first objectives for this organization was to improve the safety course taken by bow hunters. At that time this consisted of nothing more than hitting three out of five arrows at a two foot square target and answering a few basic survival and safety questions. Clearly, this was not acceptable. New arrivals to the sport would not have the opportunity to learn proper methods of bow hunting, sharpening broadheads (the disposable blade types were not widely available then), learn laws regarding bow hunting and correct tree stand safety guidelines (a popular method used for hunting deer among bow hunters).

In consultation with BANS, the Department of Lands and Forests (now the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources ) searched for a reliable course to cover the information needed and written material to accompany it. After a short time a group that originated in the USA, named the National Bowhunter Education Foundation (I.B.E.F.), was contacted to see if their course was up to par. Not only was the course found to surpass the requirements, it was accepted internationally by several other countries.

Nova Scotia adopted the International Bowhunter Education Program (I.B.E.P.) in 1979 and remained the only province in Canada where the course was mandatory until New Brunswick required it in 1995. Some members of BANS became the first instructors to teach this program in Nova Scotia and at present all Nova Scotia I.B.E.P. instructors (Note: This link is broken and a new link will be added when provided) remain BANS members. In order to bow hunt in Nova Scotia it is compulsory to show proof of passing the I.B.E.P. course.

With an excellent bow hunter safety program now in place, the Bowhunters Association moved ahead to let bow hunters province-wide know of its existence and purpose. The provincial voice began correspondence with the D.N.R. on issues directly related to bow hunting. Failing to have a large enough membership to have an impact, another avenue to increase members opened in 1985 with the first annual BANS Bang-Up Shoot held in Pleasant Valley outside Brookfield Nova Scotia. This shoot brought bow hunters from across the province to enjoy some bow hunting events and relate common problems to find solutions for them. During the late 1980s, BANS opted to have archery clubs run the shoots to increase involvement from the bow hunting groups. The annual shoot continues today and is the largest outdoor bow hunter event in the province.

With BANS awareness and membership growing into the later 1980s, the organization joined the Nova Scotia Wildlife Federation (N.S.W.F.). Nova Scotia D.N.R. relies heavily on the N.S.W.F. for input on issues concerning conservation, wildlife, land use and related items within Nova Scotia. This allowed all of the N.S.W.F. group members to have a voice regarding conservation issues province wide and in joining, proved to be very fruitful for the bow hunters. The N.S.W.F. changed its' name to the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters (N.S.F.A.H.) in the latter part of 1998 due to confusion regarding other organizations with 'wildlife federation' in their title.

The mid 80s allowed a 'two deer' season due to high herd counts and would be the first time bow hunters had a bow only season for deer. This season was after the close of the general open season in December but opened up the opportunity for bow hunters to make new gains. In the late 1980s, BANS gained a one-week bow season before the general open deer hunt in exchange for the post bow period. By 1997 this bow season expanded through the efforts of BANS to run from the third Saturday in September to the day before the general open season and included again, the one week in December after the close of the general open season. In order to hunt the pre or post seasons, a hunter must first obtain a bow stamp from a vendor and attach it to their hunting license.

Being allowed to wear camouflage in Chignecto was a great enhancement to bow hunting but outside this area, the bow hunter fell under the same provincial guidelines as a rifle hunter. BANS attacked this issue in the mid 1980s and made some small headway when D.N.R. allowed a bow hunter to wear camouflage-orange during the early bow season. Around the early 1990s, BANS fought and gained the advantage for bowhunters to wear full camouflage while in a ground blind or tree stand. It is still required to wear hunter / camouflage orange to the blinds or stands during the early bow season.

BANS approached D.N.R. regarding zones for the province to help improve the deer herd management. Many discussions followed, as there were rumors D.N.R. had already began moving in this very direction. Several user groups raised the issue at N.S.W.F. conventions and finally in 1998, usable zones were put into place. Nova Scotia D.N.R. now had a more efficient way to control the deer herds.

Camouflage clothing was noticeable everywhere within hunting groups but was now seen where ever there was a bow hunter. The association's struggle led to the allowance of any bear hunter to wear full camouflage in a tree stand/ground blind during the open bear season when not overlapping the early few days of the general open deer season. Bow hunters had become a group of respected individuals within the province and had aided along the way, many other organizations with their gains.

About 1994, Nova Scotia required bow hunters to encase their bows while in or on a motorized vehicle, something bow hunters were not accustomed to, lumping bows into the same group as gun hunters once again. With some knowledgeable people regarding bow hunting now within D.N.R., this regulation was revamped some three years later and excluded bows during legal hunting hours.

In 1998 another issue was resolved, through BANS, concerning bow encasement. Bow cases, for the most part, are cumbersome and therefore it was unrealistic to head into a stand or blind before legal hours carrying an encased bow. A regulation was then passed allowing a hunter to carry a bow in game habitat, before or after legal hours, as long as it is encased or has a lock attached which renders the bow inoperable.

BANS was now ready to take a large step and open up a door to help the youth that wished to hunt. With long debates and support from the N.S.W.F. and D.N.R. in 1998, BANS had achieved the privilege for youths to hunt small game at twelve years of age instead of fourteen. With this, BANS hoped to lower the average age of hunters in Nova Scotia and keep it falling by involving the youth at an earlier age.

The year 2000 began with yet another gain for bowhunters in Nova Scotia. Since its inception, the bow season for hunting deer in Chignecto was only allowed during the general open season for hunting white-tail. For the first time, due to B.A.N.S.' direct input and persistence, Chignecto was opened to bowhunters during the special season for bow hunting deer. A bowhunter was now allowed to hunt for any game in Chignecto for which there was a legal season provided they had a valid bowhunter certificate, a valid license for that season, legal bowhunting equipment and that season was open.

Many issues are still ahead for the Bowhunters Association of Nova Scotia however, they have proved to be a strong voice concerning conservation topics gaining much needed support from many other groups over the years. There were over 2400 bow licenses issued in 1997, over 2500 in 1998 and more than 2700 in 1999 to hunters who make use of the bow to harvest game. These numbers only indicate bowhunters who buy the bow stamp required for the special bow season; not all active bowhunters. When all bow hunters become B.A.N.S. members, the struggle will become easier to attain newly set goals and retain those already achieved.

One item eludes most hunters, bow or other, and that is the fight to keep our traditional methods of hunting and fishing alive in Nova Scotia for future generations to enjoy. As always, we must find a way to support the things we enjoy and believe in before they are lost forever. You need only to look at gun legislation and spring bear hunting in Ontario to see the efforts of opposing groups.

Ensure that you always check game laws with the local D.N.R. of any area you wish to hunt or fish. The items mentioned in this article are summarized and therefore, are only a guide and may not reflect current laws in Nova Scotia.

copyright R.J. Coolen