“How do you turn animals into meat?” and “What do I need to do to learn how to hunt?” asked my non-hunting friends more in the last nine months than I recall ever before. There was a time in the spring when it was challenging to find fresh chicken in the grocery store cooler for several weeks. Slaughterhouse shutdowns impacted beef and pork supply and people were thinking about food security maybe for the first time ever. Some started thinking about their independence and learning to hunt.
The how-to question came from two groups of folks: target shooters and health-conscious friends that had been served something wild-harvested as guests at our dining room table. Firearms enthusiasts who were already familiar with shooting sports were asking what it would take to go the next step. Regular folks with no experience with firearms or hunting became interested in the steps required to acquire their own wild-harvested protein and were asking questions.
Tagging that first big game animal is challenging. The second the photo is snapped, the reality of dealing with a heap of dead animal hammers home like an emotional avalanche. Once that first successful shot finds the kill zone, the hard work starts. That moment and how well the ones that follow proceed are critical in hunter recruitment. The results of hunting are messy. Game doesn’t come in plastic film and squeaky Styrofoam. It is sometimes smelly and always bloody. The point is, few people get to be proficient hunters solely on their own. Some of the oldest demographic of hunters grew up carrying a rifle to school and hunted on the walk home. They grew up hunting. Fathers, uncles and extended family gathered annually for a fall big game hunt. For them, learning how to hunt was a slam-dunk because it was what everyone did then. Those days are long gone, and gone with them is the built-in hunter education and ready mentors. What happens now when new people want to hunt but are three generations deep in a line of non-hunting city dwellers?
Meeting A Mentor
Alex Dufour doesn’t have a truck and his girlfriend would not be happy to find a dead deer in the back of her SUV. He’s a long way from Quebec, where he grew up hunting birds. Alex needed to meet someone to take him hunting, someone willing to guide him through the process of accessing land, finding an animal, killing, gutting, skinning, hanging and cutting the deer. But long before that, that someone needed to guide him through the application process and agree to take Alex to a personal honey hole where there likely were deer, somewhere that someone had been before, had scouted and had success. On the way home from the field, Matt, my oldest son, called to tell me Alex got his first deer. After hanging the carcass in the cool garage for a week, Alex helped wrap and label 25 kilograms of whitetail steaks, roasts, minute steak and hand-cut shanks for osso buco. We put seven kilograms of trim away, so he can join the family sausage day sometime in February. I can’t help getting excited cutting dry-aged venison, customizing each cut to how Alex wants it. We made the steaks thick, and the roasts the perfect size for two with some leftovers. Each new cut of venison had me describing how to prepare it, what sides it best went with. Each time I described another method for a particular cut of meat, Alex asked if he could have the recipe. He had met a meet hunter.
These days, if you want to hunt, you really have to want to hunt. There are many steps. Taking training and passing the exam for the possession and acquisition license, waiting for the mail, completing the C.O.R.E. training (Conservation Outdoor Recreation Education), saving the money to buy a firearm, learning the skill of shooting, finding a place to access hunting, finding and taking an animal. The desire to hunt has to be more than the resistance – there is resistance at every step. Only the determined get to hunt. Sometimes encouragement from meet hunters is exactly what is required to overcome the resistance.
It’s A Family Problem
Jesse Zeman, BCWF Director of Fish and Wildlife Restoration, explains the problem of reduced hunting numbers we see today is partly due to changes made back in the mid-1980s when British Columbia was in a recession. C.O.R.E. training was privatized and removed as an option from the high school curriculum. That year, the cost of hunting licenses doubled. The following year, C.O.R.E. grads reduced from 12,000 to 1,800. Now, most folks take C.O.R.E. online. Zeman’s analysis of active hunters shows that most hunters come from families who hunt. If you hunt, most likely your father, mother, grandparents and aunts and uncles hunted. The challenge for people who want to hunt without the family network is they miss out on built-in mentoring support. It is tough to learn to hunt on your own. Experienced hunters need to step up.
“The challenge is that we have a whole bunch of new people who want to get into hunting, but they don’t have mentors. The problem is not that people don’t want to get into hunting, it’s that they don’t have a route that is relatively easy or successful in getting into hunting. If you want to learn how to hunt, you have to complete the (C.O.R.E.) course, buy the rifle, buy all the gear and go out without even knowing if you like it. The gap is getting people up to speed on how to hunt. It’s too much to ask of someone who doesn’t hunt and doesn’t know hunting to take the course and go out hunting on their own,” said Zeman.
Solution: Meet Hunters
Brian Cummings has been teaching C.O.R.E. and mentoring hunters for 30 years. He thinks that C.O.R.E. should be delivered in person in a situation where instructors can guide new hunters with expanded information and encouragement. He thinks that computers used for hunting are best reserved for scouting in advance.
“That computer is your best friend once you’ve left me. Use your computer to your advantage, with applications like Google Earth 3-D. Access is the toughest thing to learn. Good hunting spots change. You need to keep it fresh,” said Cummings.
Cummings finds more pleasure in seeing his students’ past and present success in the field.
“2020 was my best year ever, and I never touched a trigger,” he said. (See the photos of past students of Cummings and their trophies.)
Be A Meet Hunter
Cummings is a great example of a meet hunter. He makes it clear to his students that he is available to coach and advise at any time. Every one of us experienced hunters needs to be a meet hunter. We need to reach out and talk with new hunters and people who want to take up the practice of hunting. We need to be willing to take new folks out to our favourite spots, to share our knowledge, to be willing to do the work to help the new hunters stay in the game. We need to demonstrate how to make landowner contact for access, how to use the tools we do to find and gain access to hunt public land. (It’s worth noting that 95 per cent of British Columbia is Crown land.) We need to be generous with encouragement and careful with advice.
Once connected, new hunters need support. They need help with sorting through rifle (or bow) options, selecting cartridges and choosing scope and binoculars. They will need advice on backpacks and hunting clothes. It helped me immensely to understand why experienced hunters made the choices they did. Hunters who have deep field experience are well-positioned to guide new ones. Use that position to help new hunters.
Of course, hunting isn’t just about hunting. It’s about valued relationships and making deep connections with people. It’s about sharing experiences and helping each other out along the trail. Every time I share a moment afield with both new and experienced hunters, I learn something about them, about me, about the game, about hunting. New hunters question why we do things the way we do. Sometimes they have great new approaches that nudge us out of our comfortable ruts to find a better way to approach whatever we are tackling. Hunters share of themselves and meet hunters go out of their way to make connections to further our sport one hunter at a time.
New Hunters Meet With Success By Meeting Experienced Hunters
Alex said the toughest part of the process was cutting the meat.
“Next time, I’ll cut, and you can show me,” Alex said.
Watching Alex heft a 25-kilogram bag of carefully wrapped, hand-labelled packages made me happy to have helped another hunter into the game. That collection of pretty packages will provide a year’s worth the delicious venison bragging rights, and he was ready to go hunting again.
I called Alex last week to check on how the venison tasted and asked what his girlfriend thought of his new venison. “She loves it and she wants me to go again,” he said.
It sounds to me that Alex will stay in the game. And that’s what meet hunting is all about.
How To Go From Zero To Meat in The Freezer
Qualify for possession and acquisition license, which is a federal requirement to possess a firearm.
Complete the Conservation Outdoor Recreation Education (C.O.R.E.) online or with a personal instructor.
Register for BCeID and apply for licenses and limited hunting permits.
Find a mentor you click with, someone who can help you along the trail to successful big game hunting. (Joining your local fish and game club is a good first step toward finding a mentor.)
Acquire a hunting license.
Find a place to hunt.
Become proficient with your firearm (or bow).
Hopefully, meet with success.
Fill your freezer and brag up your mentor.
Enjoy the immense pleasure of providing delicious game for yourself and your family.
Check out www.eatwild.ca, subscribe to their podcast and read their blog to get solid advice on everything from what rifle to consider to how to track wounded game and how to field dress an animal to how to make venison tourtière.
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