The Province of Alberta is in Western Canada on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. Called the “Sunshine Province” by some and “Texas of the North” by others, Alberta features mountains, foothills, prairies, desert badlands and sweeping evergreen forests. As the country’s fourth largest province, Alberta covers 255,500 square miles (411,187 sq km). It is bordered on the west by British Columbia, Saskatchewan on the east and Northwest Territories to the north. The US State of Montana creates the southern boundary. The northern half of the province is boreal forest, transitioning to aspen parklands in the center and giving way to prairies in the south. On the west are the foothills that climb up to the Canadian Rockies. There the Red Deer River springs and flows first northeast then to the southeast flanked by the deep canyons of the badlands, as it crosses over to the prairies and farmlands.
The boreal region to the north features great forests of mixed coniferous and deciduous woods, including spruce, pine, larch, poplar and birch. The forests are broken up by many lakes, rivers and muskegs. In the far northeast, holes in the exposed Canadian Shield of Precambrian rock create numerous clear lakes.
The parkland area morphs from the mixed boreal forests of the north to a combination of grasslands and meadows between stands of poplar. As the name implies, the region has the look and feel of a park. Good rainfall and rich black soils also make it a great agricultural region.
Moving south and east, the prairie country is a ranching and farming region characterized by treeless grasslands, sagebrush plains and croplands. Only the river valleys and coulees have sufficient water to support cottonwoods and other deciduous trees.
The foothill country to the west features forests of spruce, pine and poplar. Patches of grasslands create a combination of habitat. The foothills progress in elevation until they come to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, which stretch along the western border of Alberta. The mountain region is home to coniferous forests of spruce, fir and pine. Scree slopes and rocky ledges provide challenging hunting. From the area’s alpine meadows, year-round snow fields and glaciers are visible. Jasper, Banff and Waterton Lakes national parks are located in this area.
These five ecosystems offer more than a dozen big game species (not all open to nonresident aliens) and as many upland birds and waterfowl species. Alberta provides hunting opportunities in spring, fall and winter. Sportsmen can enjoy pack-in mountain adventures on horseback or on foot, waterfowling from popup blinds, spotting and stalking, or waiting in elevated blinds overlooking a bait. Hunters may use rifles or bows. Conditions can range from the brutal cold associated with snow mobiles and snowshoes to cool breezes requiring windbreaking jackets and leather gloves. Alberta’s diversity of hunting opportunities has something for every hunter.
Largest City: Calgary
Conservation Department: Alberta Environment and Parks
Licenses and Regulations: My Wild Alberta
Outfitter Association: All hunting operators and guides in Alberta are legally required to be members of the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society (APOS). When booking a hunt in Alberta, first check with APOS to ensure the operator you are considering is a legally registered hunting outfitter and guide.
Big Game Species
Wood bison range freely in northern Alberta’s boreal region and may be hunted anywhere outside of Wood Buffalo National Park and the Bison Protection Area. Depending on the season, bison are found in wet meadows or muskeg, savannah-like shrublands and dry grasslands. Because wetlands compose so much of this region, a large part of the bison range is accessible only in winter or spring when the ground is frozen. Hunting is in forested areas under rigorous conditions created by the terrain and weather. Hunters search for fresh tracks in snow using snowmobiles. Once a track is found, the hunting continues on snowshoes. This is one of the most challenging hunts of North America.
- Black Bear
Alberta is well-known for its color phase black bears. In fact, almost half of the black bears there are a color other than black, such as cinnamon, red or blond. Black bears are found in most of Alberta’s open forests, but especially in the boreal region of the north and the western foothills and mountains. Most bear hunting is done from stands over bait; however, hunters who prefer spot-and-stalk methods will find opportunities in the river valleys and the outskirts of wheat and oat fields in the farmlands. Spring hunts take place from April to mid-June, targeting bears emerging from hibernation to feed on the newly growing grass. Fall hunts are late August through November when bears are eating all day to fatten up before winter. Alberta’s abundant bear populations allow for a generous two-bear limit.
This species of canid is found throughout Alberta, but especially on the prairies, parklands and foothills. While they can be hunted all year on private land and October through February on public land, the best time to hunt them is during the cold winter months when their pelts are primed. Many hunters choose to add a coyote onto hunts for other game, but for those who want to target these predators, the Alberta Professional Outfitters Association recommends hunting them after big game hunting closes at the end of November and no other hunters are afield. There are no limits on coyotes.
From the boreal wetlands of northern Alberta, through the aspen parklands, to the agricultural regions in the southern reaches, moose are present wherever they find lakes, streams and other water sources near cover. Typical habitat includes muskeg, brushy meadows and small aspen groves or evergreen stands. Alberta’s moose are of the Canada moose variety, except for those in southwestern Alberta, which SCI classifies as Shiras moose. Hunting is from September to November, with the rut running from late September to early October. A variety of hunting areas allow hunters to choose from wilderness hunts to hunts around farmlands. The hunting techniques depend on what region a hunter selects. In remote wilderness areas closed to motorized vehicles, hunters access moose country by floatplane, canoe/boat, or horseback and use wall tent camps as base. In others they can use all-terrain vehicles. In some areas, hunting is by done by gliding a canoe down waterways and along lakes, calling and spotting for bull moose. In the agricultural areas, they may use stands, sometimes over a mineral lick. During the rut, hunters call moose within range. After the rut, they look for moose sign and track the animal, sometimes in snow.
- Mountain Lion/Cougar
Mountain lions are generally found where there is sufficient prey (mostly deer and elk) and cover. They inhabit forested foothills, mountains and interior plateaus. Hunting mountain lions in Alberta means following tracks in fresh snow with hounds. These hunts take place in the rolling foothills and Canadian Rockies on the western border of the province. The season runs December through February.
- Mule Deer
Mule deer are hunted throughout the province from August to November, with the rut occurring from early to mid-November through the end of the season. They are most abundant in the southern and western sections of Alberta and are more plentiful than whitetails in the mountain areas. But the two species overlap ranges in many areas. Spot-and-stalk hunting is particularly well suited to the prairie, parkland, foothill and mountain regions. For those who prefer stand hunting, this technique is used in the forested areas of the foothills and boreal forests.
Southeastern Alberta’s prairie region is the most northern range of the pronghorn. The prairies offer 40,000 square miles (64,374 sq km) of dry grasslands, brushlands and semi-deserts where hunters must stalk pronghorn using only the contours of the land for cover. This kind of country requires lots of long-distance glassing from trucks and in areas offering natural cover that will hide any movements from the pronghorn’s keen eyesight. Once a hunter spies the right buck, careful stalking on foot, on hands and knees and by belly-crawling is required to get within shooting distance. Expect wind and shots at least 300 yards (271.32 m) out. Good optics, a range finder and a bi-pod are must haves for this hunt. The archery season opens in September with the rut, lending itself to hunting with decoys for shots of 40 – 50 yards (36 – 46 m). Ground blinds near water can work as well. Hunting closes at the end of October.
- Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
The world record bighorn sheep is from Alberta, accompanied by numerous other record book rams. These hunts typically run 14 days and take place in the alpine regions of western Alberta on the grass-covered slopes and foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Hunters must be in excellent physical shape to ride and climb in this rugged country. Expect many hours on horseback riding to camp and to find sheep. Backpack hunts are also possible. Sheep hunting requires mental toughness and a positive attitude to deal with the tough conditions, long hunting days, physical discomforts and the loss of hunting days due to weather. Camps are either remote tent camps or spike camps. Due to the distances and elevations, hunters must not only have excellent shooting skills, but they must be intimately familiar with the performance of their firearm and ammunition at all distances and shooting angles. Top-quality optics is important, as sheep hunting requires many hours of glassing for sheep at long distances. Sheep hunting season runs from September through November with the rut from November to December. Later season hunts are more likely to see inclement weather, but wind, rain and snow should be expected at any time of the season.
- Rocky Mountain Elk
Elk have expanded their range in Alberta in recent years spreading from the mountains and foothills in the west into the parklands and northern boreal areas of the province. They found in areas of mixed woodlands and open grassland at forest edges and in mountain meadows. Hunting season opens in August and runs through November, with a few hunt zones open into February. The seasons open with archery hunting first, although there are two archery-only zones open to bow hunters throughout the season. Hunts in the early season and during the rut (September to October) involve the use of cow calls and bugling to lure bulls focused on collecting and protecting their harems. Post-rut, the bulls form bachelor groups and spot-and-stalk hunting in feeding areas is the most common tactic. Bulls hang back in the dark timber during the day, venturing to feeding areas early and late in the day. In November, the elk migrate from the mountains, down to the foothills. Mountain and foothill hunts are typically on horseback, while hunts in the boreal and parkland regions involved trucks, all-terrain vehicles and foot power. Late-season hunts, especially in the mountains, can be extremely cold and require pack boots and layered warm clothes. Nonresident hunters are limited to taking six-point bulls and better.
- Whitetail Deer
Historically found in the prairies, parklands and southern boreal forests, Alberta whitetails are pushing into west into the foothills and mountains and northward into the boreal forests. It is Alberta’s most abundant ungulate. In the prairie region of the south, whitetails are found in all the typical places, such as river bottoms, edges of sloughs and other patches of cover. In central Alberta’s aspen parkland, deer have plenty of aspen forest for cover and vast areas of agriculture for feed. In the foothills to the northwest and in the transition areas before the boreal forest, deer find cover in the spruce and aspens near the most northern agricultural areas. Depending on where you hunt and the time of year, hunting may be done from ground blinds and stands, spot and stalk, still-hunting on foot, and by driving deer through the bush. The season runs from August to November with the rut from mid-November to the end of the season.
Alberta wolves have been hunted mostly as targets of opportunity during a hunt for another species, but various operators now offer hunts specifically for this canine. Most hunts are from blinds overlooking a bait, but during the mating season (from late February to early March) it is possible to call wolves. It is also possible to lure them using a predator call. These are big animals, often tipping the scales at 120 pounds (54.43 kg). They are found in the boreal forest, foothill and mountain regions, and there is no limit on the number of wolves a hunter may take. Although wolves are not endangered in Alberta, a CITES permit is required to export the trophy. Wolves may be hunted from the opening of big game season to the end of spring bear, but winter hunts are best for fully furred pelts.
- Blue Grouse
Found in the foothill and mountain regions of western Alberta. Seasons run from early September to mid-January.
- Ruffed Grouse
Lives in the mixed woods and deciduous forests across Alberta. In the north along the edges of the boreal forest, hunters may take daily limits during peak cycle years. Also found in central Alberta’s Peace Country. Although the prairies of the south are mostly treeless, ruffed grouse are found in woodlots and coulees where trees grow. On the western side of the province they are found in the foothills and mountains. Depending on the hunt unit, the season runs from early September to mid-January.
- Sharp-tailed Grouse
Found throughout Alberta in brush and aspen groves. In the parklands, they inhabit edges of forest clearings near grain fields, wooded and grassy areas, plus the edges of the boreal forest in the north. In southern Alberta, sharptails are so abundant in the prairie region that many hunters take a daily limit. Hunters have the best chance here of also taking Hungarian partridge and pheasant on the same day. The season runs the month of October.
- Spruce Grouse
Found in the coniferous forests of northern Alberta’s boreal region and on the western side in the foothills and Rocky Mountains. Depending on the unit, the season runs from early September to mid-January.
- Hungarian Partridge (Gray Partridge)
Most abundant in the prairies, where numerous outfitters offer hunting for them with bird dogs. Hunters have the best chance of also taking pheasant and sharp-tailed grouse here too on the same day. Hungarian partridges also live in the parklands of central Alberta and on the western side of the province in the foothills and mountains. The season runs from early September to mid-January.
The southern prairie region is Alberta’s pheasant capitol. But while this game bird is abundant in the agricultural areas of southeastern Alberta’s prairies, it is also found in good numbers around the farmlands of central Alberta’s parkland region. For those who also want Hungarian partridge and sharp-tailed grouse, the prairie region offers the best chance of taking them with pheasant on the same day. Seasons depend on hunting units, but they are generally early September to mid-January and mid-October to late November.
These birds spend the summer in the western alpine zone along the spine of the Canadian Rocky Mountains or just below the timberline of northern Jasper National Park and Willmore Wilderness Park. In the winter they move to lower valleys. The season is September to mid-January.
Alberta is covered by the Central Flyway and partially by the Pacific Flyway, and thus sees large numbers of migrating ducks and geese. Central Alberta’s Peace Country, named for the river that flows through the area, is famous for its fine waterfowl hunting. But duck and goose hunting is available from the northern parklands down through the southern prairie potholes. More than a dozen varieties of ducks and geese stage or fly through Alberta on their way south.
- Parklands Region: Peace Country is the first staging area for Canada geese and numerous species of ducks migrating south for the winter. This area is a large swath of parkland bordered by mixed forest, but also containing lakes and wetlands as well as the Peace River. Waterfowl fly in by the thousands from September through October. Fields of barley, peas and wheat provide the food sources these birds need before continuing south. When the season opens, the migration is already in full swing with tremendous flights of mallards between flights of Canada geese, snow and white-fronted (speckle-belly) geese. Hunters can take all three species of geese on one hunt here. Mallards stage in the potholes, flying to and from the fields to feed each day. A dozen other species of ducks eventually join them. The wetlands provide early season teal hunting, and the many lakes and ponds offer opportunities for diver ducks, such as canvas backs, redheads and scaup (bluebills). The season runs into December. Spring hunts for snow geese are also available here.
- Prairie Region: For waterfowl hunting later in the season, the prairies of southern Alberta are the perfect option. Southwest Alberta attracts millions of wintering waterfowl. Thousands of acres of staging water and warm water springs bring continuous waves of mallards and pintails in addition to Canada geese. Hunting for divers and dabblers is available from early September until freeze up, which typically happens by early November. Field shooting for Canada geese continues, with the migrations coming until late December, even after many shallow wetlands have frozen over.
- Foothill and Mountain Regions: The foothills and mountain regions along the western border have some excellent but very localized duck and goose shooting along their eastern boundaries near the farmlands. Late in the season, the rivers, reservoirs and warm springs of southwest provide refuge for tens of thousands wintering mallards.
Found in agricultural areas, wetlands and all bodies of water from the northern parklands in central Alberta to the prairies in the south and the western foothills and mountain areas. Season runs from September into December.
- Canada Geese
Stage in the boreal and Peace Country areas before moving southwards over the prairies and into the northern United States. Resident populations winter in southern Alberta. Season is from early September into December.
- Ross' Geese
Stage in northern and central Alberta and migrate through the province. Very liberal daily bag limits due to a burgeoning population. Fall season runs from early September into December; spring season opens mid-March and runs until mid-June.
- Snow Geese
Stage in Peace Country to migrate through Alberta. They are found in shallow wetlands, lakes and fields. Fall season opens in early September and runs into December. Spring season is mid-March to mid-June. Like Ross’ geese, snow geese populations are sufficient to allow very liberal daily limits and no possession limits.
- White-fronted Geese (Speckle Bellies)
Stage in Peace Country to migrate through the province. Found in croplands, fields, open areas and shallow marshes. Season opens in early September and runs into December.