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  • Wildfires & Wildlife

    Posted by Jeremy Ayotte | Apr 15, 2019 | Stories Wildfires are devastating for everyone and everything caught in their wake, wildlife included. But it’s not all doom and gloom; there is a silver lining to that smoky sky. The forests that we live in and around are maintained by fire. Strange as it may sound to many, fires are natural in these systems. They have always burned, and they will likely continue to burn every ten to one-hundred years, depending on local conditions. This pattern of fire frequency and intensity is called the fire regime. The fire regime is written into the growth rings and scars on trees. Looking back through this historic record, we see patterns that have remained unchanged over long periods of time. The human response to these patterns however, has changed drastically in the modern age. Fire prevention and suppression policy via the iconic Smokey Bear campaign began in the 1930s and was in full force after 1945. Consequently, many dry conifer forests in southern B.C. missed several critically important fire cycles. As we have learned (the hard way) time and again, when it comes to complex, interconnected ecological relationships, when you change one variable, you are likely to impact another. In many cases with less than ideal, and unexpected outcomes. Suppressing natural forest fires evolved from the practical need to protect valuable property, ranch lands, and people. For anyone who has experienced loss from fire first hand, suppressing fire is not something to question. Or is it? Perhaps some fires, in some places, should burn. Fire ecologists tell us that the blanket fire suppression policies used in the past have created negative outcomes that actually outweigh the benefits of suppression. Complete fire suppression leaves forests with dead trees, dry branches, and aging trees prone to disease. This is all prime ignition material for small spot fires to spread, converge, and become massive burns. In the summer of 2017, the monstrous Nazko Complex fire started as a series of smaller fires west of Quesnel. When they merged into one giant wildfire, the fire covered over 432,000 hectares, making up more than a third of the total 1.2 million hectares of B.C. that burnt in 2017. Fire experts now fear that the suppression policies launched decades ago unwittingly created the intense conditions that now feed the fierce wildfires we are dealing with today. The regular occurrence of fire reduces the amount of fuel that builds up in our forests, and is also a catalyst for increased biodiversity and a healthier ecosystem. Controlled or prescribed fires remove crowded forest canopies and consume dense conifer stands, allowing sunlight to hit the forest floor and germinate grasses and forbs favoured by animals like elk and mule deer. Controlled fires also boost production of berry bushes favoured by birds and bears alike. The standing dead trees that remain after a fire become homes for songbirds occupying the cavities that woodpeckers have excavated searching for insects. Managed properly, the destructive nature of fire can be an effective habitat and wildlife management tool. These are tangible benefits that outweigh the costs, enough so that policies have transformed from fire suppression to fire management. We now see fire as necessary; we are prescribing fire and truly fighting fire with fire. The change of policy from fire suppression to fire management is a classic paradigm shift, a fundamental change in approach and underlying assumptions. We seem to have arrived at a new way of thinking about the role of fire on the landscape. But in truth, it’s not so new. Fire was an integral part of how indigenous communities “managed” habitat in B.C. long before contact with Europeans. Indigenous burning practices have been used for thousands of years as a way of manipulating plant communities. Thick forests offer little to the hunter or gatherer, and narrow trails near homes can be dangerous, providing concealment to enemies and predators. Routine burning of hunting grounds by indigenous communities across B.C. led to B.C.’s Chief Game Biologist James Hatter in 1961 referring to the indigenous people as “the province’s first game managers” in view of their use of prescribed fire to improve wildlife habitat. Although the evidence is fragmentary, with the arrival of Europeans and the development of settlements, the frequency of fires likely increased dramatically, and correlated with this increase in fire, there was an increase in many wildlife populations. Consider the remarkable southward expansion of moose from northeastern B.C. to the coast and into southern B.C. between 1900 and 1945. Similarly in the East Kootenays, the widespread fires of the 1930s appeared to boost the abundance of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and bighorn sheep through the 1940s and 50s. Ironically, these accidental fires in the first half of the century likely created the most abundant ungulate populations in B.C. history. This historical perspective is important when considering the current state of many wildlife populations in southern B.C. Wildlife species targeted for modern prescribed burning are primarily elk, mule deer, wild sheep, and white-tailed deer. The management goal is typically to enhance these animal populations by reconditioning and rejuvenating winter ranges. Fire is a critical tool in achieving these goals, and in ensuring these wildlife species continue to survive in an ecosystem increasingly impacted by human expansion and consumption. In southern B.C. we have lost much of our viable wildlife habitat to urban development, farming, and mineral exploration. Wildlife managers today are faced with increased bureaucracy when planning prescribed fire to enhance wildlife habitat and populations. But, as noted above, the fire regime won’t wait for bureaucracy to run its course. It never has, and never will. The past two summers were long, hot, and stressful for many of us, and climate research suggests that it is reasonable to expect that our forests will see more fire. How we adapt to this increased presence of fire has to evolve beyond simply relying on fire suppression. We have to think hard about how much fire we can live with. We also have to think hard about the information we come across as it relates to wildlife and the ecosystems that support them. Especially when that information isn’t backed by a historical perspective, experience in the field, or science. In many cases, our human-centric views of what’s good or bad for wildlife are far too narrow minded. We can rest assured that, from a wildlife perspective, there will be good things to come out of the fires that we’ve experienced over the past few years. If we truly care about wildlife and the habitat they need to prosper, we must acknowledge there is a silver lining to a summer of smoky skies. About Jeremy Ayotte, MSc A registered professional biologist, Jeremy has spent 20 years working across the province as a natural systems scientist in both federal and provincial government positions. For the past 5 years, he has operated a small consulting company out of Salmon Arm, B.C.

  • An Obsession with Quality

    Posted by Mark Perrier | Apr 15, 2019 | Hunting, Recipes, Stories It was dawn, early September 2017, high in the British Columbia alpine when my journey into the world of hunting began in a truly tangible fashion. I was hunting by myself, living out of a backpack, miles from the nearest road, and I had just killed my first deer. It was a beautiful mule deer, his hide still lustrous in its golden summer coat. This experience marked the culmination of a long journey rooted in food-based memories that could be traced back to my childhood growing up in small town B.C. Although my family did not hunt themselves, wild game was common table fare. Hunting is a way of life in rural B.C. to this day. Back then, moose burgers, elk chili, and black bear sausages weren’t strange, in fact, they were the norm. The hunting stories told around the dinner table, along with the depth of flavor found in these wild meats made a lasting impression on my young mind. I started out hunting smaller quarry such as rabbits, eventually accompanying family friends on hunts for larger animals like deer and elk. Although I never personally killed an animal, the memories of others doing so are still vivid. The rich, musky smell of a mule deer taken on a typically cold and dreary November day. Blood-stained hands and the satisfying ache of my nearly frozen body when the work of butchering it in the field was complete. I understood where my food came from, even if I took it for granted at the time. Fast forward to today. Two decades spent in world-class kitchens, both in Canada and Europe, with a three-year stint as a professional butcher has shaped my perspective around food. I’m the Chef Proprietor of two high profile Vancouver restaurants, and one café. I’m obsessed with using only the highest quality local and seasonal ingredients. Heritage breed animals and produce raised and grown by farmers I have a personal relationship. Wild seafood caught by local fishermen. Wild mushrooms, herbs, and greens foraged from B.C.’s backcountry. My knowledge of the industrial food system propelled me in my search for the cleanest, healthiest and most ethically sourced protein to feed my growing family. The answer was clear: hunting for wild game. The taking of an animal’s life by my own hands became the next logical step in my evolution as a chef. And I am not alone in this sentiment. Accepting complete responsibility for the entire process—start to finish—has led to a deep appreciation for the animal and the value of its life. A strange mixture of elation, gratitude, relief, reverence and sadness accompany each successful hunt. This is a common, albeit poorly shared, thread amongst many hunters. I have been blessed with much success as a hunter and can say with pride that for the past two years, our family has only eaten wild meat. The deep satisfaction that comes from setting a venison roast down in front of your family or friends cannot be overstated. Living in Vancouver means that the bulk of the people I interact with have little if any, experience with or connection to any form of hunting. This, of course, leads to a misunderstanding of what’s involved, and why someone would want to do it in the first place. As hunters, we’ve done a poor job of sharing—and showing—the many reasons hunting remains an important part of many people’s lifestyles. To be fair, hunting is an extremely complex subject that doesn’t lend itself well to today’s short attention spans, but that shouldn’t stop any of us, hunters and non-hunters alike, from engaging in dialogue so we can better understand each other’s perspectives. I may be biased but, in my opinion, there is no better way to begin that dialogue than over a meal. The stomach is a powerful tool in connecting people’s hearts and minds. Gathering to eat, laugh, and share stories connects us to our shared ancestry as hunter-gatherers. A history that until relatively recently, took place around the warmth, protection, and promise of a full belly that came from wild meat cooking on an open campfire. If you’re a hunter and reading this, I encourage you to go out of your way to invite non-hunters to a meal of wild game. If you’re a non-hunter seek out these opportunities and take advantage of them when they arise, you won’t be disappointed. In closing, I’d love to share a recipe for when company is coming over on short notice and you need something that is a quick and easy crowd-pleaser. It’s based on the classic French dish Steak au poivre. I’ve used Rocky Mountain Goat, but a loin or rib steak from any type of ungulate will work perfectly. The spiciness of the peppercorns is the perfect foil for the deep flavour of game meat. As with most wild meat cooking, the key is to not overcook. Don’t let the fancy name put you off. This is dead simple and delicious. ROCKY MOUNTAIN GOAT STEAK AU POIVRE (Serves 2) 4 loin steaks Rocky Mountain Goat (can substitute bison or beef) cut 1 inch thick (carefully cleaned of any connective tissue and brought out of fridge 1 hour before cooking) 1 tsp each of black, white, pink and green peppercorns 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1 tablespoon oil ¼ cup brandy ¼ cup meat stock (made from wild game bones if you have them. Substitute beef or chicken stock if needed) 1 tablespoon red currant jelly ¼ cup whipping cream Splash red wine vinegar Salt to taste Season the steaks to taste with salt. Combine and coarsely grind the peppercorns, setting aside a large pinch for the final seasoning of the sauce. Spread the remaining peppercorns on a plate. Press the steaks into the peppercorns ensuring they are evenly coated. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy frying pan. Pan fry the steaks over medium-high heat, roughly 1 minute per side for medium rare. Remove the steaks and rest in a warm spot while you prepare the sauce. Add brandy to the pan and flambe to burn off the alcohol. Scrape and shake the pan to deglaze any of the goodness that has attached itself. Add the stock and jelly, reducing it quickly over high heat to a syrupy consistency. Stir in the cream and continue to reduce till the sauce coats the back of a spoon nicely. Add a splash of vinegar to balance out the sweetness of the jelly and season to taste with salt. Pour the sauce directly over the warm steaks. Serve with your favorite sides. Smashed potatoes or root vegetables with loads of butter and sautéed wild mushrooms go especially well. About Mark Perrier Mark Perrier is the Chef Proprietor of Osteria Savio Volpe, Pepino’s Spaghetti House, and Café La Tana. You can follow his adventures on Instagram @thechefwhohunts.

  • From Vegan to Hunter

    Posted by Karl Blattmann | Apr 15, 2019 | Hunting, Stories I was once vegan, and now fill my freezers with meat from my hunts. When people hear that I once made my own tofu, and now proudly hang what most non-hunters would call trophies throughout my house, they are usually dumbfounded. You, my dear reader, are likely having a similar reaction. In this article, I hope to show you that my former and current lifestyles are far less contradictory than you might presume. Further, I will posit that despite the many differences between my former peers and my current lifestyle, the time has come for those of us who profess to care deeply for the flora and fauna of this planet to band together on our common ground, rather than emphasizing and disputing the morals and ethics of our seemingly opposite world views. It is important to note that these are my own personal views and not those of any organization or group with which I am associated. On the face of it, a hunter could not possess a more contrasting set of values than with the vegan. Vegans and hunters are viewed as irreconcilably opposed. What could they have to learn from one another? Before dissecting the nuances, let me begin with the story of the evolution of my ethics. It came to a head while I was a typical university student: naive, passionate, and idealistic. When I first learned of the medical animal testing occurring on my campus, I was shocked. How could they do that here? Was I somehow complicit in it? At the time, the Internet was a pretty new thing, but I managed to do some research and learn more about animal testing. I found my way to the website for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Within a couple of days of watching slaughterhouse footage and covert behind-the-scenes filming of battery hens and broiler chickens, I tried my first week of vegetarian living. During that week, I learned more about large scale animal agriculture, or at least what PETA thought of it, and the environmental impact of industrial meat production, something to which I had been previously ignorant. Before long, I decided that a vegan lifestyle was what my personal ethics likely demanded. But what were my ethics? Growing up shielded from the harsh realities of life such as poverty, hunger, or humanity’s tendency to prey upon itself, I was filled with idealism, but also with horror when I encountered a hard truth about life: things will die, and my very existence comes at a cost to the Earth. I thought I was a person who cared deeply for the environment but learned I was complicit in many activities that were in fact, harming it. My reaction was to radically and suddenly change my life to reduce my personal impact. This was a significant time for me when I sought to bring my actions in-line with how I thought the world should be. Going with the flow was easy, but I wanted to take more responsibility for my actions. If I was unwilling to kill those animals, and would not condone the industry that produces the meat, I was reluctant to consume them. When I confronted the supply chain of my food, I came to see two main problems: industrial meat production had no genuine consideration for the welfare of the millions and billions of creatures it consumed annually, and our planet was beginning to suffer under the weight of so many mouths to feed. It was my first experience with cognitive dissonance: I could not reconcile what I believed with my personal actions. And so, I became vegan. It was a trying time for me, and for those around me who had to listen to my constant proselytizing. Naturally, various inconsistencies between my stated position (veganism) and my actions (“But what about your leather belt?”) arose, and as a younger person, these were difficult to reconcile. Touché. This all transpired in Victoria, British Columbia, a town where a person can grow vegetables 10 months per year and which is close (in Canadian terms) to the agricultural areas of British Columbia, California and Mexico. It is safe to say that Victoria is known for the idealism of its university students. A couple of years later I moved to Whitehorse, Yukon, a northern town far, far away from the agricultural fields that supply so much of Canada with its vegetables and fruit. My vegan life began to come apart at the seams. My nutrition was showing cracks as my iron levels were low, and I began to look unhealthy. Here, the environmental case for a meatless diet was less intuitive: beyond beets, carrots and cabbage, there was not much commercial agriculture in the Yukon. Almost everything we could buy at the grocery store came from a far-off land. It was in the Yukon that the second landmark moment of cognitive dissonance occurred. I was eating dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house. More accurately, I was not eating dinner. My uncle had harvested a moose, and spaghetti with moose meatballs was on the menu. But vegans do not eat moose. So, I had organic lettuce with some other low-calorie, high-impact greenery from far away. As I write this 15 years later, I can still feel the scaffolding of my ethics tremble and groan as this new information shook my reality. Their plates were graced by a huge animal harvested by a team of friends, butchered and fed to the family, grown of this very land where we lived. And then there was mine: lettuce cajoled into being by an industrial machine, organic or not, shipped thousands of miles by truck, and somehow kept “alive” long enough to be consumed. In the days and weeks that followed, I could not reconcile what I had seen and felt. Ultimately, I left veganism behind as I saw it to be an incomplete set of ethics that made some sense to me in an urban world separated from the natural world, but overall failed to accommodate my new northern reality. Veganism was no longer what I needed. Fast-forwarding a decade or so, I found myself back in the Yukon, living in a small aboriginal village. I was no longer a vegan, and there were no vegans to be seen. These were people who live as their ancestors had: harvesting moose, trapping and fishing. One of my first experiences in this place was to help a trapper skin wolves. It was a new experience and was consistent with my values of aspiring to live from what the local forests could provide, and with my nostalgia for the old ways. The idealism of my youth was alive and kicking, but it was expanding to accommodate a decade of life experience. I had travelled the world and seen how different people live different stories. It was not long before I witnessed my first moose harvest and felt, in my bones, the dichotomy we hunters know so well and articulate so poorly. Since that time, I have harvested moose, bear, sheep, caribou, bison, goat, coyote and wolf. My bride wore a coyote pelt to our wedding, and I have a surprising amount of horn (what some might call trophies) on the walls of our small house. We have three freezers. My young daughter has been nourished from the bounty of the Yukon since her conception and grows strong from moose and sheep meat, and even some carefully prepared grizzly and black bear sausage. My meat grinder and butchering knives are among my most prized possessions. Every day of the week, I eat what this land provides. I buy local vegetables, grow a modest garden in our backyard, and pass by the meat coolers at the grocery store without pause. I spend my money lower on the food chain, acquiring much of my nutrition indirectly via the meat of ungulates that feed off the grasses, lichens and willows of the Yukon. Hunters nowadays consistently deliver the message that “to be a hunter is to be a conservationist,” as the reality that hunter-led clubs and organizations contribute massive sums of money, energy and volunteer time to the stewardship of wildlife and their habitats has gone under-reported for far too long. With our passion seen increasingly like an anachronism, an old habit from a time and place long ago, and with hunter numbers declining and the average age steadily rising, the future of hunting in modern society is unclear. I do not disagree with the conservation messaging. However, I believe that the traditional hunter-as-conservationist approach does not go far enough given the environmental realities of the 21st century. Vegans and many hard-core environmentalists are concerned for the welfare of individual animals and for the environment. Broadly speaking, they condemn industrial animal husbandry as cruel with severely negative environmental impacts. Water consumption and pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and impacts to wildlife all make their list of concerns, and frankly, these are not up for debate. Countless analyses of the impacts of animal agriculture-based diets show definitively that the impacts are much, much higher than a vegetarian diet. We hunters should not ignore these facts simply because they are espoused by vegans and environmentalists. Many hunters will claim to agree that the environment, broadly speaking, is worth protecting. Yet when we look closely, the actual lifestyles of modern hunters may differ little from everyone else. We fly, consume, consume, consume, and participate fully in the modern economy that is largely ignorant to its full environmental burden. Those who hunt, do so for as many reasons as there are hunters. There are many who speak to the health benefits of “the best protein on the planet” and appreciate “knowing where our food comes from,” and they are on the same track as I am, even if they do not do their best to eat as a vegetarian in restaurants or purchase as a vegetarian at the grocery store. Despite what you may see or read on social media, most hunters truly do possess a grave concern for the wellbeing of the animal populations they hunt, as well as a broader concern for the wild spaces and ecosystems that sustain their quarry. Hunters have been stewards of the land and their prey since the beginning of time in ways that no vegan can lay claim to. We bring an intimacy with the landscape that no “outdoor enthusiast” can photograph or fathom. In turn, my former peers in the vegan and environmental community should not ignore these facts either. This planet needs every advocate and requires a transformation of society that no singular contingent, organization or belief system can bring about. For this reason, finding our common interests is more important than getting hung up on any specific moral disagreement. If the outcome is net positive for wildlife, their specific habitats, and more broadly the environment, morals and ethics should play second fiddle to what we all profess to be striving for. I frequently have people laugh as they tell me how much I have changed, and what a difference it is to go from being vegan to a hunter. It is true, a cursory look at my story israther comical. But I see it differently. In my university years, I attempted to live in-line with my ethics and values, to take responsibility for what I did and ate. I am proud of the courage I summoned to stand apart and live a conscious life. While I now see the world with more nuance and humility, and frankly less militancy, I have the same fundamental ethics. I care about the Earth and do my best to avoid supporting industries I believe are killing it. I will be the first to admit that I do not have all the answers and that my own hypocrisy is substantial. However, now is not the time for blame, or failure to act, simply because the way forward is uncertain. Just as my ethics have evolved to closer match my reality, I believe that the modern hunter should also evolve. 1Campfire is proof positive that I am not alone in these sentiments. As circumstances change, so do norms and ethics. If we are true conservationists, we should find common ground with all those who can help us to make a better future. But, that open mindedness must flow both ways. I believe that now is a time for all of us, hunters and non-hunters alike, to revive and expand our tradition of stewardship in the interests of future generations, and the ecosystems that support healthy wildlife populations. This must occur through constructive dialogue, through good examples of stewardship and conservation, and through whatever media we can use, such as this platform, social media, or film. Just as an individual can benefit from exposure to the inner workings of others through fiction, or the small-towner can benefit from that first vacation to Europe, non-hunters will grow through their understanding of the stories hunters tell. Equally, we hunters must remain open to the truths these other groups can share with us. While we may disagree on the path to the desired outcome, hunters and environmentalists all wish to see the land rich with wildlife. This is a common belief worth acknowledging and celebrating. Regardless of our differences, this Blue Planet of ours begs that hunters and non-hunters alike unite in the development and practice of a modern ethic that faces the harsh truths of our time. About Karl Blattman If you read this in full, there isn’t much more to say about Karl. But, if you’d like to put a face to this story. Check out this short video featuring Karl and his ethical journey exploring his consumption habits (scroll to second video).

  • Our Basic Instincts

    Posted by Nicole Qualtieri | Apr 15, 2019 | Stories I am a hunter. This is true. I am also a backpacker, a hiker, an angler, a horsewoman. I played soccer and lacrosse for nearly a lifetime, so perhaps I’m still an athlete. I’m a writer by trade, a hobby photographer, a voracious reader, an animal lover, a curious observer of the natural world. I am all of these things and more. And, somewhere in the fray of my mired identity, the word “hunter” became a part of my reality. It wasn’t until I killed and processed my own deer in the fall of 2017 that I felt ready to call myself a hunter. I did this by myself. It seemed to me that was how I’d become a hunter. To take full responsibility, to carry the load, to give myself over to the moment of life, death, and that strange and twisted place in between. And to do it alone. When I packed my deer off that ridge, I felt the weight of its body on my back and I knew that I had become a hunter. And that I likely hadn’t been a hunter before that moment. Not in any earned and understood way. Being a hunter is an identity that is easily obsessed over. For many of my friends, the identity of “hunter” is at the core of their being. It’s the beating of their heart, and the word that follows their name in every conversation This obsession creates an insular language, a community of hunters, a tribe of people as old as the human existence on this planet. They are ancient in their obsession. They are primal in their pursuit of this identity. I see this passion in my friends and I’m envious that they can love and hold something so closely to them. But there are also strange tribalisms that I can’t get behind. Death is no easy chore for me. It is not a celebratory moment, but a sacred one. I don’t want to kill, but I accept it as a part of the bargain of life. And measurements hold little glory for me. Perhaps I am the one who is unevolved, but I’ve never found much meaning in horns and antlers besides legalities. I’m not certain I ever will. For me, hunting wasn’t tribal, traditional, or familial. It was simply the next step in my evolution as an outdoorswoman. My desire to hunt grew from spending time in the wilderness alone, to better know myself and my own intentions. And in that knowing, I came to an understanding that I wanted to learn how to hunt, to get closer to the landscape, and to understand the cycle of life and death in a more intimate way. I sensed something primordial in my bones. I was moved to explore it. Circumstance and serendipity led me into hunting in ways I couldn’t have imagined. My education has been expansive and diverse after five years in the professional world of hunting media. But my experiences in the woods have been deeply personal. I intend to keep them that way. And thinking on this and my experiences as a newer hunter, I’m convinced that this so-called divide between hunters and the recreation community doesn’t exist. Not really. We humans are lovers of dichotomies, and if we’re for something, the only obvious reality is that others are against it. We live within this complex of persecution because we’re told it exists. But our human commonality, across every existence, across every tribe, across every nation and people, at some point has depended on hunting for life, for sustenance, for warmth, for clothing, and even for our homes. We are bonded ancestrally by the hunt. We act on these instincts daily, though we don’t recognize them. We yearn in the same way as the tribal hunters do, yet for different outcomes. For me, I went on the hunt for knowledge and came away desiring the act of the hunt. For many of my friends, the hunt is a grand personal challenge, rife with success and failure and physical suffering. For you, perhaps you’re embarking on a hunt to better understand how someone, anyone can decide to kill another living being. It’s a good and honest question. But perhaps you’re on the hunt for other answers. There are plenty of other great questions to ask. We each have our ways of making meaning. For me, I’m a hunter, because I have hunted. And, whether you want me to or not, I recognize the hunter in you. Welcome to the table. The food is good and wild, and you are welcome here. About Nicole Qualtieri Nicole Qualtieri is the Hunt + Fish Editor for GearJunkie. She’s an outdoorswoman, an advocate for wildlife and wild places, and a writer by trade. In the warmer months, you can find her on a little brown horse in the Montana hills with a border collie named Butch trailing behind. She can be found on Instagram @nkqualtieri.

  • Harmony

    Posted by NolanOsborne | Apr 15, 2019 | Stories I can still recall the countless hours sitting in the hardwoods. The same type of forest I had spent much of my youth in. Mountain biking, snowshoeing, hiking. Fort building, xc skiing, wrestling my brothers through the leaves in the fall. But those hours of sitting patiently, and waiting, were different. I wasn’t just passing through. I was really taking it in. I was hunting. Hunting was unique from my other outdoor activities. It filled a void that I never knew existed. It spoke to me in a way I couldn’t articulate or define. It changed my life. That first hunt, over a decade ago now, is fresh in my mind like it was yesterday. As I write this, my nose wrinkles at the memory of the decaying leaves and cold, stagnant water of the nearby swamp. My eldest maternal uncle, my mentor, had chosen a spot for my vigil where a cedar swamp met the hardwoods. “Sit here and don’t go anywhere, I will be back for you in a few hours.” he told me, quietly, in the pre-dawn darkness. And so I sat. On an upside-down five-gallon pail, with a piece of foam on top for a seat. I remember, as clear as the stream babbling through the cedars, the world waking up around me. The birds announced sunrise, their chirping, warbling song carried through the trees. Listening to those same old trees groan and creak in the wind. The golden morning light casting rays through their branches. A snowy owl, silent as though it existed in a vacuum, wove its way through the cedar boughs to take rest on one lazily draped over the creek. I didn’t see any deer that day. Not even the flicker of an ear through the branches — a glimpse one often catches in those thick forests. And there were many more days that would follow in similar fashion, void of the visual presence of deer. Regardless, the hooks had been set, and deep. I felt drawn to hunting in an inexplicable way. As the years passed, I gained experience and tried my hand at hunting species other than deer, as they continued to elude me. My mind began to revolve around the seasons. Winters were spent chasing snowshoe hare in the pines, spring meant hunting wild turkeys. Summer was a time to prepare stands or blinds for the fall. Repair old tattered fiberglass canoes, and patch holes in my waders. Fall, however, was a special time held in the highest reverence. When the flocks of mallards and Canadian geese left their summer breeding grounds in Hudson Bay to make the long migration south to the Gulf of Mexico for winter. When the deer began their ritual mating dance, flitting through the hardwoods and cedars like tawny coloured ghosts. During this period in my early 20’s, I was able to achieve a reasonable level of success in hunting ducks and geese. Sharing that success was one of the many joys of hunting. Though he was never a hunter, my father and I spent many a late Saturday morning attempting variations of wild game brunch. He was a lover of food and sort of rogue-chef in his own right. We found that duck hearts braised in duck fat with sautéed onions and garlic was a hard combination to beat. I cherished these moments with my father. In fact, it was hunting that opened up the world of cooking to me. Sure, I knew how to cook prior to hunting. Though admittedly it was rather simple and void of any deep consideration. Up until I began to hunt, meat was something that you bought — cut, cleaned, wrapped up in plastic — ready for your consumption. Of course, I was aware of its origins, as one of my uncles had a farm, and I grew up on the outskirts of a large rural zone in Southern Ontario. Even so, the majority of us are raised in a world where it is far too easy to consume meat without any connection to its origins. I enjoyed the entirety of the process. The preparation before hunting season, the act of hunting itself. The cleaning and processing of the ducks, geese, and rabbits I came home with. And finally, the meals that those animals became. I began to expand on my cooking abilities, and with that came an added sense of satisfaction. I can assure you that something entirely different takes place in you when you serve wild game to friends and family at the dinner table. I became comfortable plucking, gutting, cleaning and cooking wildfowl in a variety of different ways. But, I had yet to kill a deer. Deer were another matter in more ways than one. It took me four years of hunting deer to be “successful”. To finally kill a deer. In part due to the lack of hunt-able public land around me and my own inability to harvest one, but for me, deer hunting became pedestalized in a sense. Admittedly, it brought about questions. The philosophical sort, that once posed, often linger in the corners of your mind. What if, when I finally saw a deer that was “legal” to shoot, I could not pull the trigger? What would it mean if, after spending so many hours over the years dedicating myself to this craft, I could not carry out the final act? Or perhaps, I could do it. It couldn’t be that much different than a rabbit or duck could it? But what about cleaning the deer? Could I do that? Would I be disgusted? After all, it is another mammal I would be cutting open. What about the blood? Would I be sick? My mind was intoxicated with this peculiar cocktail of curiosity, doubt, fear, and existential wonder. I wrestled constantly with these questions before I had no choice but to face these questions tangibly. When that day came, however, my questions and doubts were quelled in a way that would impact my life moving forward. I found out that I was not only capable of hunting, killing, cutting open, and breaking down a deer into cuts of meat recognized in grocery store aisles — but that it felt natural. Strange, yet comforting, and oh so natural. As if millions of years of knowledge had awakened. The primordial spirit within you stirs, breathing life into your being. I realized that this wasn’t a simple something that I could do, like kick a field goal or hold my breath for two minutes. It was something that I evolved to do, part of my own history and DNA. When hunters talk about respect for the animal, respect for the wilderness, the harmony of the dichotomy is often lost on the uninitiated. They wonder, how it is possible to respect, cherish, and work to protect life, and at the same time, take it? I understand. I have questioned these things myself. Hunting has opened my eyes to a deep understanding of the natural world. Of life cycles, growth and death, and seasonal patterns in the landscape. But perhaps more importantly, it opened my eyes to the power of food. The importance of taking responsibility for the meat we consume. Taking responsibility for the meat we waste. There is a harmony that comes with serving a mouth-watering dish of wild game to curious friends. Friends who know nothing of hunting or the fruits of its labour. Harmony in knowing that you were responsible for the entire process — from field to table, as the now trendy saying goes. Field to table is not just a trend. It was and, for some, still is a way of life. It reshaped the way I saw meat in the grocery store. How I valued and cherished the wild game that I had in the freezer, or served to others. When it’s your last roast or steak from an animal you personally killed and hiked out of the backcountry, every morsel is worth ten times its “market price”. That first deer was a giant shift in mindset, the ending of the preface in my story as opposed to the final chapter. Truthfully, my uncle’s tutelage in the culture and heritage of hunting has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. It has enabled me the privilege of community. It has taught me the difference between persistence and perseverance, and when the application of either is appropriate. It has trained my patience and attention to detail. Perhaps the most important gift, however, is the gift of life and the understanding that we are, in fact, a part of the natural world – and, as imperfect as it may seem, there is harmony in that participation. About Nolan Osborne Nolan Osborne is a hunting guide, writer, and lover of mountains. Raised in eastern Canada, and now residing in British Columbia, Nolan can be found packing horses, hiking, hunting, or ski-touring depending on the season.

  • An Honest Invitation

    Posted by Jared Fraiser | Apr 17, 2019 | Stories When it comes to the outdoors, I am ridiculously privileged. I come from a family that put a premium on outdoor experiences. I was only a few months old when my parents drilled a makeshift crib (aka hole) into lake ice so I could be propped up and wrapped in my baby blankets, while they tended to the ice fishing rods being set off by walleye pickerel. My dad is capable of catching fish in puddles formed in parking lots by passing rainstorms and finding wild game in a forest made of a single tree. Allegedly. For those who have witnessed my seemingly larger-than-life modern day Daniel Boone of a father pursue wild meat, it’s not that far from the truth. I’ve seen the man do things with a rod and gun that border on the mystical—and I begrudgingly felt that way even when we didn’t get along. But, behind the privileges are practical, real-world life experiences. Before being allowed to hunt, my folks spent countless hours teaching me how to shoot my bow in our backyard. They taught me how to take every morsel of meat off a deer, grouse, squirrel, muskrat, beaver, walleye, pike, lake trout, and pan-fish. Not to mention, how to take care of the meat. I can still remember learning how to cook wild game while standing on a chair next to my mom at the stove in our kitchen. In fact, eating something other than wild game was very rare in our household. By the age of 10, I had been taught how to: Reload rifle and shotgun ammunition (aka recycle the spent ammunition). Make fishing poles, tie basic flies, cast lead sinkers and jigs and carve and wire tackle. Identify and track animals on bare ground. Survive nights alone in the woods without a tent, including fire building without matches or a lighter. Find my way out to safety in almost any terrain or weather. Identify wild and edible (or toxic) plants and mushrooms – even in winter. Hunt, kill, break down and eat almost anything. Though I work hard to hide my upbringing from an—at times—toxic online hunting culture, I am the exact representation of the kind of person that gives new or aspiring hunters a bad case of impostor syndrome. I want to be clear, I am NOT bragging about these skills. I’m really friggin’ lucky. The skills we each possess come in part from the lives we’ve been either lucky or unlucky to be born into. With a roll of the dice, I could just as easily have skills built around skateboarding, video games… or more statistically likely, tucking a drunk parent into bed at night. I’m a married-white-hetero-cisgender dude living in Montana with a house full of antlers and hides and a freezer full of meat from animals that I killed. I do not see this as a sin against humanity or questionable morality, but as a physical representation of the privileges of an upbringing that many people cannot relate to. I’m embarrassed it took me so long to realize the cushy position I sat in as it relates to outdoor experiences. It wasn’t until I started teaching outdoor education in the Midwest in my early 20s that it hit home. We had a school group come from downtown Milwaukee, a mere half-hour away from our location, for a few days of outdoor classes. The first night, I took that very socially and racially diverse group of teens and adults to the lake to go through our constellation identification class. As soon as the flashlights went off, several began to laugh loudly and holler, completely out of control. I, a young guy who thought leadership came from being the loudest and most machismo, wanted to get a handle on my group. I yelled for them to be quiet and threatened cancelling the class if they didn’t. They went silent immediately. And then I heard the sniffles. They were coming from the adults as much as the kids. Only one person, in that group of 200 or so human beings standing on that beach, had ever seen the stars before. Me. And then I was sniffling, as my cultural paradigm and world view fell apart. Privileged indeed. Again, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about social or financial privilege. I don’t come from money, nor am I made from it. I grew up very poor in fact. Now, I run a wildlife conservation group that focuses on inspiring people and organizations to give both their time and dollars to wildlife. We’re not talking Wall Street here folks. But I’ve had the opportunity to choose my life path and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I also acknowledge that most people of the world do not get that choice. What I am talking about, is the privilege that someone like me, raised in the outdoors, often takes for granted. The privilege of experience. Of mentorship. And a fundamental—some might call it spiritual—connection to the outdoors that can be difficult to explain, especially to those who have yet to receive the opportunities I have. So… If you feel like an outdoors outsider… If you empathize with that group of star-gazing students and adults… If you have yet to see a sunrise explode in a palette of colours you didn’t even know was possible… If you feel like an imposter for even considering becoming a hunter… I want to welcome you. As a hunting culture, we have utterly sucked at inviting aspiringly curious or new hunters into the fold. I mean, really, really, REALLY sucked at it. This last year, I gave a talk to a group of about 500 hunting business leaders at a summit. Prior to going up, I found out that my assigned table companions were employees and owners from a couple successful outdoor gear companies. As someone who works to encourage individuals and businesses to give back to the future of hunting and angling by giving to fish and wildlife conservation, this seemed ideal. I gave my conservation and inclusivity sermon, encouraging these business leaders to bring new hunters into the fold, then went back to my seat. “Why the f*** should I take someone out?!” one of the business owners bellowed at me. Taken a bit off guard, and still trying to figure out which fork I was supposed to start with, I mustered a robust and well-thought-out response of, “Huh?” “Why should I take someone out to MY spots with MY gear to hunt MY animals that I have worked hard to get for ME and MY FAMILY?” he salvoed. “Because it’s the right thing to do for the future of hunting and wildlife conservation?” my savage whit retorted at roughly the same volume as a moth landing on a cotton ball. He stood up, shook his head and left the table – dropping his napkin on his chair with a surprising level of pomp for a guy with BBQ sauce on his chin. One of his employees leaned over and whispered, “Sorry, guys like him just don’t get it.” And herein lies the failure of the hunting community. We tend to deal with our own culture problems with the same intensity as a passive parent. Historically, we have not done a good job handling the bullies or the loud-mouthed blockheads that won’t accept the changes happening around them. The ones who want everything for themselves and could care less how their actions impact anyone outside of their immediate circle. Next generation be damned. This is changing. People are banding together to combat the issue. Entire organizations are stepping up to be beacons of inclusivity in the hunting world. One example is Artemis Sportswomen, a project launched by the nearly century-old National Wildlife Federation. They are focused entirely on getting women out hunting and fishing and engaged in conservation work. It’s ran by women, for women. Local archery clubs are starting separate youth and adult novice training courses and many rod & gun clubs have started free training days. Judgmental looks not included. Our (2% for Conservation’s) role in the industry has allowed us to step into meetings with outdoor businesses to talk about new customer demographics and recruitment. Hunting gear companies have nothing to sell if no one hunts… and old white dudes can’t carry them through the next 20 years, much less the next 50 because, you guessed it, they’re too damn old. In the last 200 years, there has never been a better time to dip your toe into the hunting world: Local archery and shooting clubs are recruiting and training new hunters. Organizations are starting “new hunter” initiatives to help people harvest their own wild meat. Businesses are starting to sell “entry-level” hunting and fishing gear again… not just the high-end stuff for the most extreme conditions. People like Hank Shaw are producing media about hunting and gathering for every skill level. Perhaps most importantly, the abusive and exclusionary elements of the old guard of hunting are being kicked out and replaced with inclusive ideals. They are finally being treated as they should have always been: a minority of the hunting and angling community acting poorly with no right to represent the rest of us. I want to welcome you to all that a hunting-life can offer. Although you may not understand it—yet—it is the most natural thing you can do. Your entire being is built for it and without it, you are missing something. Ever wonder why so many humans can throw a ball so accurately at a moving object? We didn’t evolve those skills for sport. It was to hunt. Please join us. You belong “out here” too. About Jared Fraiser Jared is the Executive Director of 2% for Conservation, a non-profit organization that certifies businesses and individuals committed to giving at least 1% of their time and at least 1% of their money to conservation efforts that ensure the future existence of fish and wildlife.

  • Bear Meat is Better Than You Think – Try This Recipe Today!

    Posted by Curtis Adams | Apr 19, 2019 | Recipes Is there a more contentious game meat than bear? The modern stigma that surrounds the consumption of this well documented staple (historically speaking) of many Northern Hemisphere diets—Canada, USA, Russia, and many Scandinavian countries to name a few—is awash in hyperbole and misinformation. “They’re full of worms!” “You’ll get trichinosis!” “They taste like rotting fish!” “You feed that to your kids!” The truth is, like any meat, the edibility, flavor and palatability of bear meat will be highly dependent on the environment it came from, the handling practices of the meat itself, and of course, how it’s prepared. If people were to put the same effort into researching the culinary history of bear meat as they do posting their disgust and outrage about it on social media, they might be surprised by its prevalence and acceptance around the world. Siberian bear pelmeni (dumplings), Slovenian bear goulash, Finnish canned bear (basically bear Spam) …I could go on. I even found an article on The Atlantic website titled Bear: A Meat Worth Trying. To be clear, there are precautions that need to be taken in terms of trichinosis and not all bears will taste the same. But a quick online search for the CDC or Mayo Clinic trichinosisprevention guidelines will keep you safe. But the same applies for chicken and pork you buy at the grocery store. As for taste, it’s not complicated. A deer (or cow) that lives on a diet of corn, soybeans, acorns and alfalfa is going to taste very different from a different deer (or cow) that lives on free-range grasses and forbs. It follows that a mountain or forest dwelling bear that lives off the typically omnivorous and seasonal diet of grasses, forbs, berries, deer/moose/elk calves, small mammals like marmots, and carrion will most likely make for great table fare. A bear that feeds heavily on dead and decaying migrating salmon, may not. I am good friends with numerous chefs that hunt and many have come to love black bear meat for its versatility, and frankly, availability. Black bears are plentiful across much of North America and represent a quality source of organic protein when taken from the appropriate habitats at the appropriate time of year and handled with care (like any meat). When working on this article, I reached out to one these chef buddies of mine and asked, out of curiosity, what his favourite bear recipe was, hoping he’d provide an example of the versatility of bear meat. He didn’t bat an eye: bear curry. Having tried his bear curry recipe before, I wasn’t surprised. My entire family loved this dish. So, below you’ll find his recipe and instructions for preparing this meal, and to be clear, bear is not necessary. You can substitute the bear for lamb, bison, beef or any wild game for that matter. The best cuts to use would be a braising cut like neck or shoulder. *Recipe and Photos Credit Connor Gabbott Photo By: Connor Gabbott Tasty Bear Curry Recipe Ingredients: 1” Diced bear meat 3.5lbs Vegetable oil as needed Onions 2 (medium size) Garlic cloves 6 Ginger One 4-inch piece Thai bird chilies 2 (based on personal preference) Bay leaves, dry 2 Curry powder 2 Tablespoons Cumin powder 1 Tablespoon Turmeric powder 2 Teaspoons Low sodium chicken stock 2 Liters Diced tomatoes 1 can (400ml) Sour cream ¼ cup (don’t buy the light version) Salt 2 Tablespoons (personal preference, could be 2-3 tablespoons) Water As needed Preparation: In a large heavy bottom pot, heat up a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat until the oil spits and pops when you put a piece of meat in. Once the oil is hot, scatter a single layer of diced bear meat over the bottom of the pot and allow it cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes or until the meat is brown on one side. See the picture below showing how much meat goes in the pot at one time and the amount of browning you want on the meat. Flip the meat over and brown the other side. Adjust the heat if necessary so that the meat is slowly browning and not burning. Take the meat out of the pot and repeat the browning steps with the rest of the meat in batches. When you remove the meat place it into a strainer so that the excess oil has a chance to fall off. Wipe the excess oil out of the pot with a paper towel or if the pot is burnt on the bottom wash the pot Place a couple more tablespoons of fresh vegetable oil into your clean pot and put it back on medium heat. When the oil is hot again, put your chopped onions into the pot and cook while stirring them until the edges start to brown. About 5-10 minutes depending on the heat. See the picture below for what to look for. Add in your chopped ginger, garlic, bay leaves and chilies and cook while stirring for 2 minutes. Add in the spices and stir for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock and the bear (or other) meat to the pot, turn the heat to high and bring it to a simmer. Take a minute to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pot so these don’t burn as the curry cooks. Simmer the curry for 2½ – 3 hours or until the meat is tender when you eat it. If the meat becomes exposed as the sauce reduces, add some water to keep the meat covered the entire time Once the meat is tender, add in the can of diced tomatoes and simmer for another 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix in the salt and the sour cream until it dissolves. Taste the curry and adjust the salt and spices to your taste. The finished curry should look like the picture below. About Curtis Adams Curtis is a jack of all trades and master of none. He is a freelance writer, film maker and avid outdoorsman that calls B.C. home, and is a sought-after ghost writer in the cooking, branding, and business community. He doesn’t use social media.

  • Born to Hunt

    Posted by Curtis Adams | Jun 5, 2019 | Hunting, Stories If you’re a road runner, triathlete or trail runner, you’ve likely read or know someone that’s read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Even if you’re not an endurance junkie, it’s a fascinating story about human potential and worth checking out. Although there’s no question McDougall took creative liberties in telling the story, he brought to light some fascinating information that, in my opinion, didn’t get the attention it deserved. As the book title suggests, he makes the case that humans were born to run. That we don’t need fancy shoes, shorts, shirts, energy gels, or anything superfluous to run farther or for longer durations than most would think possible. It’s an alluring theory, and one based on some compelling scientific evidence. Anthropological data supports the fact we’ve been foraging, scavenging, and hunting for a minimum of 2.6 million years. Initially we likely would have scavenged and foraged more than we hunted. However, we have archeological evidence that shows our human ancestors were consuming large animals like wildebeest and kudu 1.9 million years ago. This was before we had conceived of weapons like bows or even rudimentary spears. “How did we manage to kill these animals without any tools or weapons? We ran them to death.” How did we manage to kill these animals without any tools or weapons? We ran them to death. Literally. Or at least that’s one of the leading theories amongst the anthropological and evolutionary biology communities. Drawing on the work and of many highly regarded researchers, in Born to RunMcDougall suggests that, because of numerous physical characteristics still present in our bodies today, early humans were uniquely specialized and highly capable long-distance runners. Better in fact than any other mammal on the planet. So, in the absence of the power and killing ability of a big cat, or the intelligence to build tools like a spear, we learned we could outlast just about any animal and run them to exhaustion. Once fully exhausted, we simply walked up to the animal, and with a rock and a swift knock to the head, we had meat. This is called persistence hunting. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a rabbit hole worth descending. “McDougall’s widely embraced conclusion was that our ability to run long distances was central to human evolution.” McDougall’s widely embraced conclusion was that our ability to run long distances was central to human evolution. Running allowed us to eat more meat and, because of that, our brains grew, we got smarter, and evolved to where we are today. But, here’s where it gets interesting. One of the researchers behind this theory, and one often quoted in McDougall’s book, is Dr. Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University, an evolutionary biologist. He not only believes that our unique physical characteristics and capabilities were crucial to our success as a species but that our abilities as hunters and gatherers, as much as runners, produced significant advancements in our cognitive abilities as well. In his book The Story of the Human Body he writes: “Today few people know much about the animals and plants that live around them, but such knowledge used to be vital. Hunter-gatherers eat as many as a hundred different plant species, and their livelihoods depend on knowing in which season particular plants are available, where to find them in a large and complex landscape, and how to process them for consumption. Hunting poses even greater cognitive challenges, especially for weak, slow hominins. Animals hide from predators, and since archaic humans couldn’t overpower their prey, early hunters had to rely on a combination of athleticism, wits, and naturalist know-how. A hunter has to predict how prey species behave in different conditions in order to find them, to get close enough to kill them, and then to track them when wounded. To some extent, hunters use inductive skills to find and follow animals, using clues such as footprints, spoor, and other sights and smells. But tracking an animal requires deductive logic, forming hypotheses about what a pursued animal is likely to do and then interpreting clues to test predictions. The skills used to track an animal may underlie the origins of scientific thinking.” In plain English, Dr. Lieberman is suggesting that hunting especially was such a taxing cognitive test that it was instrumental in the development of our brains, intellect, and therefore survival and expansion as a species. So, although it’s easy to find information and research that definitively links the consumption of meat to the advancement of our brainpower, it appears that the activity(hunting) that led to that meat consumption was equally critical to our cognitive development. The point being, McDougall popularized the evolutionary basis for our ability to run long distances. But to me, the more important question is, why did we bother running in the first place? We were hungry. Running alone costs the body a lot of energy. These days, it’s perfectly normal to run for the sake of burning energy. In ancestral times, this was not the case. Everything we burned had to be replaced via foraging, scavenging, or hunting. Otherwise we’d eventually die of starvation. Every minute of energy output had to be weighed against the potential reward for doing so. At some point in human history, we realized that the sustenance we were foraging didn’t sustain our energy stores the same as the meat we were scavenging. But, that scavenged meat was opportunistic. We didn’t have full control over that energy source. So, we took control and started hunting. Unsuccessfully at first, but we eventually got damned good at it. In summary, what I’m trying to point out here is that we weren’t just born to run. The physical characteristics that allowed our ancestors to successfully persistence hunt were and still are unique to the human species. But we needed a good reason to expend that energy and test those physical abilities to their limit. And that was to hunt. So, when you hear someone from the hunting community say, “We all come from hunters”, that’s not because they want everyone to start hunting. Nor is it to suggest that everything we humans once did should therefore be acceptable. Our history books are full of examples of past behaviors that should never be repeated. What they are saying—whether they realize it or not—is that a lot of compelling evidence suggests that who we are today is deeply rooted in our hunting ancestry. And, as much as modern life couldn’t be more different than the hunter-gatherer lifestyles of early hominins, it’s hard to look anywhere in the health or fitness realm without seeing some reference to paleo, ancestral, natural, organic, or free range. For many people, those terms resonate, and for good reason. But is it such a stretch to suggest hunting should be an equally respected part of that same discussion? If you look at the evidence and history of our species, it’s tough to dismiss the importance of hunting.

  • From City Boy to Hunter

    Posted by Matthew Hosford | Jun 5, 2019 | Hunting, Stories I tried controlling my breath as I quickly positioned the tripod between two rocks. My eyes strained as I focused the camera on the herd. It was midday and we were already six hours into our stalk. We had spooked them once, sending them three kilometres deeper into the alpine valley. If we did it again, they were likely going up and over the saddle, potentially adding days and hard kilometres to our hunt. It was difficult to identify the largest ram amongst the herd, three of which were legal. Looking through the LCD screen, Greg described the position of the leader and I locked the camera on the bedded Dall sheep. And then, we waited. “This was my first big game hunt” – Matthew Hosford The silence was intense as we lay frozen in our positions under the beating sun. In those quiet moments waiting for the sheep to rise, I reflected how lucky I was to have had this opportunity. This was my first big game hunt. I had been hired by Greg McHale to help film and write for two hunts for his show “Greg McHale’s Wild Yukon”. Due to my preconceived reservations on hunting, I could have easily passed on this opportunity. But I had decided to go in with an open mind and form my own opinion of hunting rather than from sensationalized news stories. I was also keen for an adventure and I knew Greg would be the guy to make that happen. Grueling, but rewarding. I grew up in a suburb of Vancouver, BC. My parents introduced me and my brothers to the outdoors at a young age. We went camping, took week-long canoe trips, and were enrolled in outdoor programs. By the time I was a high school senior, I was hooked and the outdoors have been a big part of my identity ever since. Reflecting on my connection to the outdoors, I think it is the sense adventure that I enjoy the most — the process from start to finish, overcoming adversity and the unexpected surprises. My father was an avid fisherman but never hunted. He had been in the Rhodesian Civil War as a young man and I think that experience had turned him off guns for good. In fact, not a single person I knew hunted, so I was never exposed to it. My only knowledge of hunting was given in the form of movies and sensationalized news stories — mostly involving poaching. In short, my idea of hunting was a bunch of rednecks driving ATV’s and shooting anything in the bush that moved. I did, however, understand that game meat was far better (ethically and in quality) than what we get from the industrialized meat industry. Nevertheless, my concept of hunting was focused on a small part of the hunting spectrum and it all leaned towards the negative. “…my concept of hunting was focused on a small part of the hunting spectrum and it all leaned towards the negative.” I first met Greg at his home in Carcross, Yukon. I had reached out to him to be a part of a trail running piece I was writing. I had heard about Greg through the running community, and his impressive racing accomplishments, and I had seen his name on many race lists and records in the Yukon. Greg accepted the request and invited me to his place to come along for a run. I had anticipated a comfortable jog where I could interview him and take some photos. But from the get-go, the pace was full tilt and I could barely keep up let alone breathe easily enough to ask questions. I did get that interview, but I also got a sneak peek into how an elite athlete trains compared to myself. I humbly considered myself an above average athlete before that outing. Two months after that interview, Greg rang me up. He asked if I was interested in coming on a few hunts with him. I hesitated to say yes. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be associated with a hunting show and feared potential negative backlash from friends and family. But, I was genuinely interested to see what mountain hunting was like and to educate myself about his way of life. After some back and forth, I said yes. Don’t tip the boat. The hunt began with a few hours of driving followed by a long boat ride. We would stop every so often to glass the steep mountains for Dall sheep. It was a relaxing start to the trip but as I looked at the steep, u-shaped valley walls, I knew that we were in for a brutal climb. Greg found the hanging valley he’d been looking for and turned the boat towards the shore. We dumped our gear and assembled our packs; filled with camping gear, clothes and 10 days-worth of food. Add in film and hunting gear and we were each burdened with 60 lbs on our backs. The weight was an unwelcome feeling and quickly erased any notions of that relaxing week. “I didn’t sign up for a spa vacation”, I reminded myself as we headed out. With cameras rolling, David (the show’s videographer and editor) and I captured our ascent up the valley. The progress was slow and the bush was thick. When we were in the forest, we sunk into the spongy moss as if walking on beach sand. When we reached the brush, we fought through branches which grabbed our legs and threw us off balance. After an agonizing four hours of bushwhacking, we finally broke through the treeline and entered the alpine meadow. The views were spectacular and the rock faces at the end of the valley looked like great sheep country. The incline flattened out and grass made for easier walking. The swarm of mosquitoes made sure our breaks were short but we needed to glass frequently to ensure we weren’t missing any sheep. Camp for the night. Another four hours of filming, glassing and hiking and we found ourselves high in the valley where the terrain consisted of one massive boulder field. Light was fading fast. We talked about finding a place to camp for the night when Greg spotted something at the head of the valley. Sure enough, there was a herd of sheep about four kilometres away. At that distance and in this light, we didn’t have a chance of reaching them. Besides, it was July 31st. A day before the Dall sheep season even opened. If Greg was anything, he was determined. He made damn well sure that he’d be in sheep country the minute the season opened to give him every opportunity of getting his ram. We watched the herd for an hour until they bedded down for the night before retreating to find our own spot. We found a small sandy beach at the edge of a glacier-fed alpine lake. Not a bad spot to set up for the night. By early August, the days are already getting shorter but in the Yukon, that means there’s still twilight until midnight. While Greg and Dave moved around camp full of energy and preparing food, I felt broken. My legs were buckled, my hip bruised and my toes were swollen after eight long hours and close to 3,000 vertical feet of climbing through thick bush. “The first day is always the hardest” I told myself, unconvincingly. “…my hip bruised and my toes were swollen after eight long hours and close to 3,000 vertical feet of climbing through thick bush. “The first day is always the hardest” I told myself, unconvincingly. “ I tucked into my dehydrated meal of macaroni and cheese and watched the pastel sunset colours fade behind the mountains. I went to bed that night excited about the day ahead but I was equally concerned if I’d be able to keep up with Greg and Dave. I thought I was in good shape. I’d run a 50-mile race only 3 weeks earlier and I had run a 120-mile race a year earlier. I knew what pain felt like and knew how to push through it. Maybe I had underestimated Greg. I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy walk in the forest but I hadn’t anticipated being pushed to my physical limit. This mountain hunting was no joke and it had only just begun. The next morning, still blurry eyed, I glanced at my watch as I reached down to fill my bottle in the glacial fed stream. It was 6:30 AM. Greg was waiting, 100-metres ahead but I feared this would be the only water stop for a few hours and I wasn’t going to pass it up. We huddled up and Greg told us the game plan; we’d head up a narrow, steep chute and then cut over on a bench until we were perched right above the herd. Greg said “It’s go time boys”, turned, and darted towards the chute. His pace was almost at a jog, hopping from one car-sized boulder to the next. The boulders shifted and turned as we scaled them. In this terrain, a broken finger would mean a painful few days until the hospital. A broken leg or ankle would mean waiting 24 to 48 hours for Search and Rescue to come and lift you out. The margin of error out here is razor thin. Greg moved effortlessly, sidestepping calamity with each boulder; eerily similar to the way I had watched the sheep move the day before. It was intense physical exertion. All I could do was put my head down and try to keep Greg from getting too far ahead. I was huffing and puffing which complicated capturing steady film whenever Greg paused to observe his surroundings. After an hour of blitzing up the chute and slithering around boulders, we found ourselves 200-yards above the herd. We counted eleven bedded sheep, three of which were legal. Greg pointed to his target and I readied the tripod to capture whatever ensued next. While it is not a law, it is considered good hunting etiquette to wait for a bedded ram to rise to its feet before shooting. When on its feet, it has a fighting chance. Shooting the ram the moment that it rises seems like a bit of a loophole in my opinion, but whatever your view is on this practice, Greg was a strong proponent of being a good sport. Over the past two days, Greg and Dave had educated me on how elusive and skittish Dall sheep could be. These animals spend their lives in entirety from birth to death on the sides of steep mountains. They know what animals move inside their realm. They know which ones are benign and which ones want to kill them. They can associate every smell, sight and sound to something that they understand in their biome and they react accordingly. Anything that does not fit into this calculated understanding of their world, such as the sight, sound and odor of a human will raise major alarm bells. On top of this skittishness, Dall sheep have incredible eyes which can detect movement at impressive distances. Anything reflective such as sunglasses and hiking poles will alert a vigilant sheep of something unnatural. When approaching a herd you need to be cognizant of wind direction. Standing upwind of a sheep will send odors of your team and your gear towards them. Unfamiliar odors are enough to put every sheep in the herd on edge or worse they may just decide to play it safe and leave. To top it off, you the hunter, will have to navigate steep, rocky terrain just to get in range of them and you need to do so in a timely manner. While rock falls are natural sounds in the mountains, persistent rock falls and clanging gear will not go unnoticed. Needless to say, Dall sheep are mountain specialists and stalking them requires specialized tactics. “Needless to say, Dall sheep are mountain specialists and stalking them requires specialized tactics.” And so I sat in silence, with my heart racing waiting for something to happen. It was a bit of hurry up and wait. One young ram got up to stretch its legs. I placed my camouflaged glove on the trigger to refocus on the ram. At that moment a young ram took notice. I froze in place, watching the ram through the LCD screen. Within seconds other members were staring up towards us. Whatever it was, whether my hand, arm or the glare from the camera lens or scope, it was enough for them to know it was bad news and they took off up the valley. I followed the herd with the lens and watched as they covered 3-kilometres in a matter of minutes. They eventually stopped at the head of the valley wall as if understanding they had been flanked. They had now pinned themselves up against a sheer cliff and were staring back in our direction trying to ascertain what we were. We slowly scrambled around boulders to our gear and debriefed on what had happened. We were too close and there was too much movement. We sat in the shade and ate in silence. I felt guilty for having given up our position. I had just added hours to the hunt and now the herd was at risk of leaving the valley, which could jeopardize the trip completely. In position. After an hour, we were at the base of the mountain and could now make our way up the valley with the luxury of being sheltered by a lateral moraine rock wall. Another 45 minutes later and we were sitting 250-yards directly across the narrow valley from them. We crawled into position. With the adrenaline flowing, I fumbled the camera into position while Greg set his scope on the target. It was a bit of deja vu, the familiar hurry up and wait. It was still early and the herd’s position had given us a second chance. If we could just get off this mountain without spooking the herd and sneak over to them, we could find ourselves within 200-yards. Up here, these herds may have never seen a human before and therefore don’t necessarily associate us with danger. We wanted to keep it that way so we limited our exposure by crawling around boulders as we made our way down the mountain. We sat there motionless under the hot sun waiting for the resting ram to get up. Mountain hunting requires a mix of both endurance and patience and to be successful you need to know when to move and when to stop. I was just beginning to worry that my camera battery would need replacing when the herd began to stand up. They knew something was up. We had a slight tailwind, which perhaps gave away our presence. The big ram finally rose to its feet and Greg whispered: “Here we go, are you guys rolling?”. “Good to go” we replied. I stared up at the LCD screen and watched the ram knowing that these were the last moments of his long, free life. I hoped for a good shot and a quick kill. Greg whispered: “Here we go, are you guys rolling?”. “Good to go” we replied. The shot rang out, echoing across the valley. The herd bolted towards the saddle. The ram had been hit but it was unclear where. I watched it stumble backwards from the impact but then frozen in position it looked up towards us. Greg reloaded his rifle and rang out another shot. This time the ram moved again, but only 10 yards before collapsing on a large flat boulder. The ram was down, motionless on the rock while the rest of his herd looked back to try and make sense of what had happened. Back behind the rocks, we were congratulating the team and Greg on a job well done. Greg was visibly energetic, letting out some bottled up emotion after a long physical and mental day of stalking. It felt good to have reached this point. But the trip was only half complete. It was already midday and we still had to clean the animal and make it back to camp 6-kilometres down the valley. We packed up our gear and waited for the herd to leave the valley before approaching the ram. We were still trying to avoid associating humans with danger. Cleaning the ram and taking the cape was an experience in itself. Watching Greg articulately cut up the animal and remove its cape was mesmerizing. Within two hours, I had witnessed a living animal be sectioned into recognizable cuts of meat until there was nothing left but bones and organs. Another untouched, pristine valley. As Greg finished packing up the meat and cape, I sat on a boulder overlooking the valley, sipping from a flask of whisky that I’d brought to celebrate the hunt. Retreating glaciers covered the headwalls and the meltwater fed the lake and river below. In that moment it dawned on me that if this was anywhere else in the world, this would be a national park with hiking trails, roads and hordes of tourists. But up here in the remote north, it’s just another untouched, pristine valley. I prefer it this way. At that moment, the beauty of mountain hunting had sunk in. It pushes you off the trails and into country that so few get to see. That includes the vast majority of those in the outdoor community who limit their outdoor experience to the confines of hiking trails in parkland. As someone who used to work in mineral exploration, I’ve had my fair share of bushwhacking and have felt the rewards of finding your own trail. This experience reminded me of all the amazing places (particularly in the Yukon) that have no access but are stunning. It reminded me that it is worth the effort to reach these remote corners — No pain no gain. With all the meat in our game bags, we headed down the valley, crossed the glacier, and hopped along the boulder field back to camp. The thin glacier was a beautiful turquoise blue with many carved out streams and rivers running through it. A true paradise. It was midnight by the time we rolled into camp. The light was gone and our headlamps were on. We submerged the game bags in the lake to keep cool overnight and went to make some much-needed dinner. Dehydrated chili under a billion stars. Life could be worse. The next day, we ate breakfast and broke down camp early to catch our boat which would be waiting down the valley. Our packs were heavier than when we came in but that’s the way a successful hunt is supposed to be. And besides, bushwhacking downhill is a hell of a lot easier than going up! We were able to link up with a game trail as we left the alpine and descended into the boreal forest. I felt a great deal of gratitude as we came down the valley. I was thankful for the opportunity to experience what mountain hunting is like. Physically, I had been humbled. I had no idea how demanding the hunt would be. The combination of bushwhacking, heavy packs and steep terrain had pushed me to my limits. I was now a better athlete for it. I was also grateful to be exposed to the mental aspect of hunting. There was so much more to mountain hunting that I had never considered; most of it resonated deeply. I connected to the fine balance between mental and physical exertion and the link to our more ancestral roots of eat or be eaten. I can see why Greg, a former professional endurance athlete is so passionate about this style of hunting and why he’s trying to showcase it to the world. We finally reached the lakeshore and felt the full force of the midday sun. There are not many days up north when you feel the hot burn of the sun so we embraced it. Between us and the rendezvous spot was sandy shoreline, a swamp and a river crossing. Too lazy to care about wet boots and knowing that we wouldn’t need them once we reached the boat, we waded through the river and marched into the swamp with boots and all. The crew was already waiting when we arrived and they welcomed us with cold beers and sandwiches. We travelled back with beaming smiles all around. We had a week to rest and reorganize before the next hunt. I couldn’t wait to get back out. This experience left me contemplating the different types of hunters out there and realized there are many different reasons why people hunt. Sure, there are a small group of assholes who hunt illegally or show no regard for animals or the bush. But you can find assholes everywhere. “Sure, there are a small group of assholes who hunt illegally or show no regard for animals or the bush. But you can find assholes everywhere.” You have subsistence hunters who literally hunt so they can feed their family or subsidize their grocery bill. You have hunters who go out for their annual hunting trip with their friends and family to camp and get an animal, creating lifelong memories. Some hunters drive around on ATVs and Argos on back roads until they find their game. And then you have mountain hunting. A genre of hunting where only your two legs can help you. A hunt where in order to succeed, you must understand the animals, know the mountains and be willing to push yourself from before dawn to well after dusk. It’s a world where you truly only get what you give. I joined Greg’s show wanting to gain a first-hand perspective of hunting. I knew that I would be pushed out there and wanted an adventure. What I had not anticipated, was coming off the mountain no longer a city boy, but a converted hunter.

  • Bridge the Gap

    Posted by Emory R. Wanger | Jun 21, 2019 | Hiking, Hunting, Stories I’ve been told time and again I’ll never bridge the gap between the backcountry hunter and the long distance thru-hiker. It baffles me as to why we go out of our way not to interact with one another when there is a vast pool of knowledge waiting to be tapped into, often just an arm’s length away. You might agree that the backcountry hunter could never relate to thru-hikers, and vice versa, but I challenge that sentiment. Those who venture into the backcountry laden with backpacks have everything in common. Most obviously, a shared love and admiration for wild places free from the distractions of modern life. “You might agree that the backcountry hunter could never relate to thru-hikers, and vice versa, but I challenge that sentiment.” As a long-time hunter, the idea of hiking miles into the backcountry without the excitement of chasing wild game seemed like a waste of time. Backpacking just to backpack didn’t appear to be much of an adventure until I learned of these freak-like thru-hikers who backpack thousands of miles in a single summer. I’d previously seen them along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and couldn’t help but notice they looked no different than the homeless guy standing on the corner downtown asking for my change. It turns out that after hiking for five months straight, you tend to look a little rough around the edges. Did I say hiking for five months straight? Fact: it happens a lot and these thru-hikers do it incredibly well. And so, my research into why and how this happens began. How could anyone hike over 2,000 miles (sometimes 3,000) in a single, sustained outing?! As I researched this subculture, I found myself oddly attracted to the world of thru-hiking. To the point where, in April of 2017, I stepped off from the Mexican border in California with my feet pointed north along the PCT. Destination: Canada. I wanted to find out for myself how someone could cover up to 25 miles per day for weeks on end, through some of the most incredible wilderness in the United States. “How could anyone hike over 2,000 miles (sometimes 3,000) in a single, sustained outing?! “ I remember going into my thru-hike thinking I had it all figured out. I knew how to backpack from my days of hunting and had a well-laid plan. But, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” And boy, did I get punched in the mouth by the PCT. Over, and over, and over again until I learned my lessons — far too many to list here. As I made my way north, and with each passing 100-mile stretch, I began to learn how to backpack efficiently. Something I thought I already knew how to do. By the time I reached the Canadian border in September, backpacking had become a subconscious activity, almost like driving a car. I felt far more capable in the wilderness and my confidence soared. My focus shifted to what mattered most in the backcountry — the backcountry itself. I shed many of my inefficient backpack hunter habits and replaced them with techniques thru-hikers have been using for years. It’s amazing what you can learn when you step outside your echo chamber. “ I shed many of my inefficient backpack hunter habits and replaced them with techniques thru-hikers have been using for years. It’s amazing what you can learn when you step outside your echo chamber.” But I also benefited from my experience as a backpack hunter. Because backpack hunters are trying to come back heavier than when they leave the trailhead, I knew a thing or two about carrying loads. This served me well when, after a few weeks on the trail, my ultralight backpack was killing my neck and shoulders, causing headaches. My knowledge of how backpacks are meant to support loads (while hunting) made me realize that the pack I was using wasn’t working for me. Instead of accepting my fate and being miserable for the next 1,500 miles, I swapped backpacks for one that was better suited to carrying more weight. It worked. What I had learned from wearing a hunting backpack helped me address the issue I was having with an ultralight thru-hiking pack. For the remainder of my journey, I was comfortable and happy while I watched others struggle with their crazy-ultralight, weigh-nothing (aka often-do-nothing) backpacks. I’ve now been on both sides of the fence. I’ve experienced that uncomfortable moment leaving the trailhead toting a rifle next to a perfect little family heading out for a weekend getaway. I’ve also been that tree-hugging, hippy-looking thru-hiker that stumbles upon a father and son out bear hunting along the PCT right after a successful harvest. The look I received from them was awkward and tense to say the least. I’m sure they expected me to begin stomping my feet asking how they could live with themselves after taking the life of an animal in such a beautiful place. But when I asked how they were doing, how the hunt was treating them, and found common ground, they lowered their defenses and saw me for who I was. We were out there for the same reasons: to escape the distractions of modern life and witness something that can only be seen when you push yourself miles into the backcountry. I found a way to personally bridge the gap between the world of hunting and long-distance backpacking. These two worlds, that seemingly have nothing to do with one another on the surface, synchronize beautifully once one sets aside their biases and sees the other person for who they are. A real, live person that heeds the call of the wild, albeit differently. “These two worlds, that seemingly have nothing to do with one another on the surface, synchronize beautifully once one sets aside their biases and sees the other person for who they are.” The skills I learned while backpack hunting prepared me for the Pacific Crest Trail, and my time spent on the PCT has since served me well in my hunting pursuits. Had I not taken the time to learn about thru-hiking, I never would have learned how to refine my approach to backpack hunting. Had I not had previous experience backpack hunting, I would have spent my journey up the PCT in a significant amount of pain. There’s a lesson here folks. Hunters have an opportunity to build bridges by reaching out and learning from other backcountry communities. But, the same can be said in reverse. Hunters have an opportunity to build bridges by reaching out and learning from other backcountry communities. But, the same can be said in reverse. This summer, I encourage you to find a long-distance trail near your home, camp near it, and question passing hikers on how and what they’re doing. Give them a cold beer, a bag of chips, or a ride to town and you’ll likely find yourself in one of the most brilliant conversations and in the company of a fellow lover of the backcountry. I believe you’ll find that the similarities far outweigh the differences. Let’s build some bridges. For more from Emory, check out, a phenomenal cross-community resource for all matters backpacking.

  • A recipe for Nordic Wild Mushroom Soup

    Posted by Brandi Hansen | Oct 12, 2019 | Foraging, Recipes Foraging for mushrooms is a great way to spend an afternoon and what could be better than a delicious soup that celebrates the different varieties you’ve collected at the end of the day? 1 cup Chanterelles 1 cup Morels 1 cup Oyster Mushroom 1 cup Lobster Mushroom 1 cup Elm 2 litres bone broth 2 cans organic coconut cream 5 tsp natural butter Sprinkle of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg 1/4 organic honey 1 cup sherry 6 cloves garlic roasted Sprinkle of smoked alder salt Black truffle oil to taste Brandi Hansen submitted this recipe and photos and she says, “Adding cold smoked grouse is tasty as well!”

  • Trout and Clam Chowder Soup – A delicious take on a classic dish

    Posted by Mandy Starnes | Feb 3, 2020 | Recipes A big “thank you” goes out to Mandy for sharing this recipe with us. She recommends giving this a go when you have leftover trout from a fish fry! 900ml chicken broth 1 bottle of clam juice 1 & 1/2 cups of water 1 can of baby clams 1-2 cooked, and deboned trout 3 medium potatoes cut into small cubes or thinly sliced. 1 cup frozen corn kernels 3/4 cup chopped green onions or leeks 1 tsp poultry seasoning 2 tsp chicken oxo 1/2 tsp paprika 2 tsp black pepper 1-2 tsp of parsley 4 strips of bacon, cubed and fried crispy. 2 cups cream or milk Pour broth, clam juice, and water into a large pot. Add the clams, trout, potatoes, and corn. Bring to a boil; then add the bacon, leeks or onions and spices. Add the creamo, or milk, depending on your preference. Bring to a boil again, and let simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the potato slices are soft.

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