Context . Wildlife managers frequently use regulations to alter the preferred hunting strategies and outcomes of hunters. However, hunters can respond to changing social and resource conditions resulting from regulations in ways that can surprise wildlife managers.
Aims . The specific research questions were (1) how does the availability of licences (tags) required to harvest adult moose (Alces alces) relate to the success of hunters at filling these tags and (2) how do hunting pressure and the density of calf moose relate to the harvest rate of the calf population.
Methods . Information about hunters, harvest-related outcomes and moose abundance were estimated from social surveys and aerial inventories in 46 wildlife management units (WMUs) in northern Ontario, Canada. An information-theoretic approach was used to select regression models that predicted the average annual filling rate of tags for adult moose and for the average annual proportion of calf population harvested by hunters in the WMUs.
Key results . Tag filling rates were negatively and strongly associated with the availability of tags to hunters in the WMUs. The proportion of calf population harvested was positively related to hunting pressure and negatively related to the density of calf populations in the WMUs.
Conclusions . As tags became more scarce, hunters appeared to become more skilled at harvesting adult moose. As calf density declined, hunters harvested larger proportions of the population, indicating a possible inverse density-dependent relationship between abundance and harvest.
Implications . Understanding hunters and their actions and role within a larger social-ecological system are critical for helping to reduce the uncertainty of implementing regulations for managing wildlife. Without having this understanding, it is easy for managers to become trapped in situations where the intent of management actions is undermined by the abilities of hunters who respond to both changing social and resource conditions.