Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Few Observations About Squamish

As the alarm buzzed in my room at 4am last Tuesday morning, I had a brief flashback to turkey season.  That was, after all, the last time I’d been up at such an hour.  But this was not turkey season, and this was not hunting related.  I was preparing to catch a flight to Vancouver, and a few hours later I was chasing the dawn westward at 800 kilometers per hour and 11,000 meters in the sky.  Later I’d hop in a rental car and climb Highway 99 into the mountains as I made my way to the town of Squamish BC.

After the soul-crippling experience of driving through metropolitan Vancouver, I broke out of the concrete and glass jungle and began ascending the winding road to Squamish.  Here’s what I learned while I was there.

Squamish is Beautiful
Yep, no bones about it.  It’s a lovely little town.  Situated in just a very nice little spot on an inlet and surrounded by peaks on three sides (including the looming Mount Garibaldi) and the ocean on the other Squamish is as picturesque as can be.  On my first day there it was beautiful, the second it rained, the third it was beautiful, and on the last it rained.  Apparently that’s how Squamish works.

Squamish is Full of Nice People
I did not meet a single negative or unpleasant person in my whole tenure there.  The server at the Timberwolf Restaurant where I ate most meals, Vicki I believe, was as ebullient a person as I’ve ever met, but without a hint of insincerity.  The staff of the office that I was working out of had nothing but positive energy and advice for me: where I ought to eat, where I ought to go running, and where I should buy a home when I inevitably decided that I was going to move to Squamish.

People in Squamish Didn’t Seem to Care for Hunting
Squamish is billed as the “outdoor recreation capital of Canada” however in that definition I believe they are speaking of skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and fly-fishing.  I got some clucked tongues and that “you’re so misguided” look of disapproval from the locals when I had the temerity to group myself (as a hunter) in with the rest of the outdoor recreationalists.  No arguments or debates, just a benignly assured stance (at least from those I spoke with, which I understand is far from the majority) that hiking was fine, hiking with a gun, not so fine.  Fair enough, because it is still a very pretty town and I don’t mind that people don’t always like hunting.

I Really Shouldn’t be Driving in Squamish (or anywhere else in BC for that matter)
As I said, it was raining on my last day there. A day coincidentally that I was required (if I was to catch my flight) to drive down the sea-side lane of the winding Sea to Sky highway (or in this case Sky to Sea?) in a west-coast downpour accompanied by gale force winds.  The speed limit down the mountainside was in the areas of 80 km/h but really only locals should be doing that; I’m far too incompetent and fearful of careening off the side of a mountain.   My apologies to the line of traffic that this reluctant (but legitimately impressed) tourist was responsible for.

While writing this on the return flight to Toronto (chasing nightfall this time) I realized that there were other observations I had made about Squamish…for example, while on a leisurely jog I noted that even though I was at elevation and the air was thinner, I was unfortunately not.  Or that the bear track I saw on the trail was connected to a bear paw somewhere that was much different than the deliciously addictive treat that I give on occasion to my two-year old son.  And so on with labored and not very funny observations.  I also noticed that the man next to me was my exact double, just fifteen years older.  Weird things sometimes happen on flights and I’m pretty sure he noticed it too.

As for Squamish, well…the client may even have me back, so if they do I promise that I’ll be right back on this laptop during the flight home noting all the other ways this charming little town surrounded by wilderness has beguiled me.  And if I win a lottery between now and then, I may even make it my permanent home (if Squamish would have me, that is.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Safety First...

While driving into my real job yesterday, I was listening to the radio (as I am wont to do) and a filler section devoted to listener e-mails came on.  Now normally I tune this out and go about my merry task of driving, but yesterday an e-mail from a hunter was read on air, and it both caught my attention and prompted me to write this post.

The particular e-mailing listener was, as I said, a hunter and they just wanted the station to air a public service announcement from them (or PSA as those slick radio-types call it), presumably on behalf of hunters everywhere.  The gist of the message was that hikers, dog walkers, equestrian enthusiasts, cyclists, and all other members of the non-hunting public should exercise caution this autumn while enjoying recreational activities in the public and privately owned forests of Ontario, since it is hunting season for wild turkeys and deer respectively across a number of WMUs in this province.  It also bemoaned the fact that although deer hunters (specifically those with firearms) are required to wear the aptly named hunter (or, blaze) orange clothing, members of the public (whose safety, based on the message delivered jointly by this e-mail and the radio DJ, is somehow compromised by a hunting season) were not required to wear blaze orange.

Now this is not an attack post, and I am not trolling on the individual (whose name I can’t even recall) or the radio station (whose name I won’t mention).  But I do take issue with the way this was presented, and yes, I am aware that a full tutorial on hunting safety would not hope to fit within the tight, 90 second timeline of this piece of metaphorical radio flotsam (or the confines of this blog post), and yes I do agree in spirit with the aim of the hunter in question…after all public knowledge is better than public ignorance.  However, a rude consequence of this very simplistic, diluted, line of thought as it was presented is this: it basically served to notify a non-hunting public in Ontario (and I use that term with some accuracy since the majority of the population does not hunt) that some hunter believes that there is a very real chance that hunters may potentially shoot recreational users of forests if the public does not take precautions, which is a patently absurd conclusion.

Again since I agree with the spirit of the dialogue, but disagree with the scope of the presentation of it,  I’d like to add the following logical addendum and anecdotes to hopefully clarify some myths about hunter safety for anyone in the public who may stumble across happy little piece of cyberspace.  I know in the Mission Statement I alluded to the point that I wouldn’t be preachy and didactic in this blog, but I do feel (almost obsessively) fierce about safe hunting and gun safety collectively so my apologies in advance if I get to a bit of sermonizing.   It is in my upbringing as a hunter to be radically safe; my father as well as my uncles, all who served as my mentors in hunting were also safety fanatics.  For years my brother, my cousins, and myself were all rebuffed for getting too excited as tag-along youngsters and straying too close for comfort to the man with the gun.  It seems almost as if I spent my first half-decade of hunting with my dad trailing five feet behind him, as he would not tolerate horsing around or running ahead when a gun was involved.  I vividly remember, and have no shame in relating to you dear reader, one such episode when my brother and I followed along with my Dad on a varmint-control mission shooting groundhogs (or more accurately woodchucks) on some land that an adjacent farmer had.  Groundhogs, as you know, can wreak havoc on farmland, pockmarking it with their burrows and inflicting damage on machinery and livestock alike.  After shooting each groundhog, we would march out to ensure that it was in fact dead, and if it was we’d turn it over on its back so that the vultures would come and do the cleanup.  The farmers were grateful for the help in controlling nature’s little miner, and more often than not Dad connected with the high velocity shells fired from his Remington .222.  I recall marching up to one deceased groundhog that had been head shot; it happens and it’s not pretty, but it is one of the organic realities of hunting.  I may have been ten or eleven years old, and all Dad said was (and I’m roughly quoting) “That’s what happens when something gets shot and that’s why you want to be careful around guns and never point one at anything that you don’t intend to kill.”  I was not traumatized or mentally damaged by this; likewise I didn’t have nightmares or think it was cool to see an living thing’s head exploded.  But it did teach a valuable lesson that (obviously) holds true to this day, and that was that a gun is designed to kill, and it does that very well.  So respect them, be extremely careful with them, and don’t play around with them.  We also learned that guns are not for making you feel tough or important, they weren’t toys, and they were for hunting or target use only.

But enough sermonizing (see, I’m sorry) and back to the point of all this.

The first thing that the e-mail and the radio station DJ failed to acknowledge is perhaps the most important point of all.  While it is imminently true that the public should be aware when there are men and women with guns, crossbows, and arrows in the forest, it is the sole and final responsibility of the operator of that firearm to not shoot at anything that they are not 100% sure (literally) is the game animal they wish to harvest.  To paraphrase a current hunting companion, you can’t reel in a bullet…or to put it another way, if you pull the trigger what happens next is all on you.  There should be no logical reason at all for any debate whatsoever on this point.  I contend that without question no hikers, cyclists, etc would ever be shot by any hunter who abides fully by this ethos.  The “adrenalin sometimes gets the best of us” argument is totally invalid, as is the overall premise of mistaken identity.  I suppose if you wanted to reduce this statement to its most absurd common denominator one could argue that a non-hunter clothed entirely like a deer or bear or turkey or whatever else could be hunted may stand a chance of getting shot and the hunter may in this respect be blameless, but only in that ridiculous and highly unlikely case would I be apt to agree with you.  And this is not a case of pride going before a fall, because even hilariously unskilled hunters such as I ought to be able to tell the difference between a deer and a jogger.  Be aware of the target, what’s beyond it, and make sure that you don’t squeeze the trigger if there’s one iota of doubt about what you are shooting at.  Period, full stop.

Secondly, and in the same vein of the above point, I fear some hunters do not truly respect the capabilities of their firearms.  Sure, I’m pretty certain that we all know that guns can kill, after all that’s kind of the point of using one while hunting.  But I think a lot of hunters fall into both relying on their mechanical safety too much and not practicing good muzzle control.  Now this is where I hear all sorts of excuses that I patiently nod in agreement with, but really there’s no excuse.  I turkey hunted a couple of years ago with a guy who, while handing me his weapon over a fence line that we were crossing, actually pointed the business end of his shotgun squarely at my chest from point blank range; when I said something along the lines of “point your barrel to the side or straight up” he snorted and simply replied “It’s not loaded”.  These, by the way, are rumoured to be Terry Kath’s last words.  Coincidentally, I no longer turkey hunt with that individual.  I guess if they read this they’ll know why.  The old refrain of my two most important gun safety commandments, ‘treat every gun as though it were loaded’ and ‘only point a gun at what you intend to shoot’ seem to get constantly trampled under people rushing, being over confident, forgetful, overly excitable, or downright arrogant in the belief that certain guidelines of safety and common sense do not apply to them.  I’ve heard other stories of (and been present for one) terrifying near-misses that while somewhat benign in an “all’s well that ends well” or “no harm, no foul” kind of sense could easily have bypassed that step and taken the fast lane straight to tragic if not for the grace of a few inches.  The point I’m making here is that the concept of a “hunting accident” is at best a palliative euphemism for an injury or death caused by ignorance of rules and the absence of basic common sense.  At worst it is an outright myth.

There are reams of reference material outlining the core values of gun and hunter safety, as well as too many cautionary tales outlining the ways that people meet their untimely end while hunting, but overall hunting is a safe pastime (maybe too safe…if someone died every weekend while hunting, people might take hunting and firearm safety a bit more seriously…but now I’m just being ridiculously cynical).  Complacency, a belief that the individual knows better than the rules, and sometimes just plain old boneheadedness (not a word, I know…but apt) sometimes win the day and these become the stereotypes that we as a group, the overwhelmingly vast majority of whom are safe handlers of weapons, have to battle.

So as we head towards the peak of hunting activity here in Ontario (and by logical extension, the rest of North America) let us all as hunters be safe.  If you’re already a safety fanatic, try to educate those around you about it.  Set a good example and lead by it so that the public learns and sees that hunting is a safe thing to do for every person who could be involved.  Remember, no animal is worth your life or the life of another person, civilian or hunter.  If you’re safe there will always be other days to get out afield.  If you aren’t safe, well, then you can’t be too sure, can you?

Saturday, October 15, 2011


I got into a heated debate the other day with someone about the concept of "underrated ".

We were discussing underrated drummers and the person in question asserted that Neil Peart was the most underrated drummer of all time.  Now this is patently ridiculous, since Neil Peart is underrated only in comparison say, John Bonham or Keith Moon, insofar as drummers go.  Some drummers who are actually underrated, I argued, were Stewart Copeland or John Densmore, or other guys you've never heard of who are absolutely sick, tehcnically gifted drummers who just toil away behind the kit and don't get tricky nicknames.

But as usual, a conversation not related to hunting is being applied to hunting.

Maybe it is the dirty, windy, rainy, cold weather in this part of Ontario that's got me itching to chase some ducks, or the fact that deer season is rapidly approaching, or that my family and friends are moose hunting and I'm secretly envious of them all.  Whatever it is, I've been thinking about the underrated aspects of hunting and how great they are.  Some of them are becoming casualties of the modern approach to hunting, others (like moustaches) are experiencing a renaissance that is both interesting and disconcerting.  So here's a list of some of the things that don't get the respect or attention they deserve.

Pass-Shooting Waterfowl

Perhaps it is the focus on all the paraphenalia that must be sold to waterfowl hunters these days, or maybe it is a symptom of our sedentary, "everything should be easy" approach to modern life, but nobody gives pass-shooting any respect.  I don't want to get more angry emails from waterfowlers so I will admit that ultra-realistic decoys, layout blinds, and breakthroughs in camouflage have made waterfowling more accesible, successful, and has arguably, with severely reduced ranges becoming the norm (don't believe me?  Find one outfitter that doesn't boast shooting inside of 20 yards) cut down on crippled and lost birds.  But reduced ranges and super-fast shotgun loads has also basically killed the arts of wingshooting, especially pass shooting.  There used to be a mathematical precision, a feel, a sweet spot to shotgunning ducks and geese.  Now, you almost don't even have to bother with leading the birds...this has been a boon to myself and others who are terrible wingshooters, but its still kind of sad.  I also contend, with no evidence other than empirical observation, that the decline in shooting ability has actually increased sky-busting.  Shooter confidence is sky-high, and it leads to shooting at birds that are exactly that.  The older generation can just plain old shoot, and I attribute that to pass-shooting practice.

Walking In

A sound that I have almost become deaf to (because it has become so prevalent) is the distant hum of an ATV.  Once again, I'm not some reactionary traditionalist.  ATVs are great when you've got a moose, bear, or deer down in some godforsaken swamp or cedar thicket that is as impenetrable as a Vietnam jungle.  But for many they have become the default means of getting into their spots, which is too bad.  There's so much that goes unappreciated when tearing through the bush on four wheels; things that the hunter who hikes in gets to see and hear.  I like an extra couple minutes of sleep as much as the next hunter but a still, early morning walk into a dimly lit forest is an experience worth getting up for.  Hearing the metallic 'snick-snick' of rifle cartridges sliding into place, stopping to listen for a deer with your breath hanging heavy around your head on a crisply frosted morning, and exposing the forest around you to the narrow-eyed peregrinations of a hunter stalking their prey all speed past in a blur on an ATV.  Not to mention the damage to fresh sign and the pastoral tranquility of the hunt that the ATV wreaks.  So this season, put some miles on...your boots.

Eating over a Fire

There was a time, so the deer camp elders say, when the hunting stock from which I am derived would have an outdoor fire on almost every suitable day of deer season (and even on a few unsuitable days) and toast some bread and meat on a split stick in the middle of the day before retiring for a brief nap under a tree.  I get the impression that my great-uncles, grandfather, and other deer hunters that preceded me hunted all day long and only returned to camp for dinner and sleep.  Keep in mind that these are deer camp recollections so their veracity is debatable at best, but it seems to me that lunch starts earlier and earlier every year we go deer hunting, and although we've done it once or twice in my deer-hunting career, we don't often pack in a lunch and have an impromptu early November cookout.  The times we've done it have been exceptional; building the fire up, whittling down a long, forked twig, using an old stump as a cutting board/prep table, squatting next to a fire with a sandwich balanced in the 'hot-zone' over some glowing coals, leaning against a tree, fallen log, or maybe the above-mentioned stump and savoring a toasty treat.  All memories to cherish.  I vote we do it more often.


I covet my cousin's GPS.  There's one on my Christmas list this year.  But I also get a smug sense of satisfaction from navigating my way through the woods with a compass.  Sure it isn't orienteering by the sun (I'm just simply not that hardcore) but picking out a landmark, navigating to it, and then picking out another landmark and doing it again as a means of getting to a destination has me at least under some semi-delusions that I have some skills as a woodsman.  And I like that feeling.  Still a new Garmin would be pretty kick-ass.

Gas Lanterns

It is nice to have a deer camp that is fully wired and generator compatible.  We can play CDs, charge batteries for digital cameras, power a water heater, and run a ceiling fan that keeps the heat from the woodstoves (and the reek of a dozen unwashed men) circulating through the camp.  But late in the evening, when hunters tired out from bushwhacking start to slip off to bed and the generator is switched off, some of us stay up, sip brews, and tell lies to each other.  Our constant companion is the hiss of a Coleman lantern.  My dad brings one of the old "pump" models and the sadly departed Frank Sweet had an even older one that was pitted, rusty, and absolutely effective at casting light and a modicum of close-quarters heat.  I think old Franko's lantern had also seen a few hairy trips by sailboat around Georgian Bay and the Great Lakes, and with those gas lights hissing away the log walls breathed ambience.  Many a laugh and a story has floated over the tops of those old Colemans.  They are also the sole source of light in the early deer camp mornings (since we all see little point in running the generator for that short a time) or when the generator breaks down, which has in reality only happened once.  There's a new, battery operated Coleman in camp, which is fine because it acheives the same functional purpose as its fuel-driven predecessor, but it is found to be sorely lacking in what it adds to that nebulous and ill-defined concept of "camp-feel".

There's so much more about hunting that is underrated.  Living alone in the forest.  Turning a tree into firewood.  Getting soaked to the bone and suffering martyr-like for the opportunity to take a turkey, duck, or deer.  I'm sure I'll find the time to write more about it soon.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Taboo of the Day: Being a Jerk

My thanks to the internet at large for giving me a seemingly endless well of bad behaviour and boorish opinions on which to base these Taboo of the Day posts.  Yes, I fully understand the irony of writing an internet blog and using it as an outlet to make light of the opinions expressed on the internet.  Moving on.

So I happen to have an account on a certain multi-billion dollar social network site, which is a trait that I have that in common with a few billion people.  On this site, there is a group which I have elected to become a member of, and this group's purpose is to bring hunters together to talk about things, share photos and stories, and generally serve as a sounding board for hunters in Ontario.  As usual, cyberspace (if people even call it that anymore) seems to give some people the confidence to say basically anything they want.  Again...irony.

In Ontario, we have a recently enacted addition to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.  The link to it is here.  Basically, no deer parts or products containing any parts of a deer (including urine, gland oils, etc) can be used as a deer attractant.  Like it or not, its the law.  I for one don't particularly care as I've never used attractants heavily (or really at all) and their use in my circle of hunting friends is limited at best.  I'm not a wildlife biologist, nor do I aspire to be one even on an amateur basis, so when "the law" says don't do it, I don't do it.

I won't name the group or the individual in question (that would be bad form) but basically, another member was quite vocal in the fact that they intended to intentionally subvert the above law, primarily because they did not agree with the law's intent or execution.  Which is where this Taboo of the Day comes in.

I said my piece in the forum, because that's what it is for, but something about the exchange stuck in craw.  The person in question had a variety of excuses (which is precisely what they were) including absolute certainty that they would not get caught, a variety of disparaging things to say about the Ministry of Natural Resources and the enforcement practices of Ontario's Conservation Officers, and a very real belief that their approach was in the best interest of hunters at large (since in their opinion all laws regulating hunting are the product of a weak governmental system and intrusion by the boogieman of 'anti-hunting' and therefore are to, via extrapolation, be opposed).  It is important to note that the individual in question had no support in the forum and every other post (as of today) was on the 'legal' side of the argument. 

But this raises a topic that I think needs discussion.

Does opposition philosophically or otherwise to a law, as they pertain to hunting, mean that one should be able to not comply with them.  If you're a rational person, I think you'd probably say that the answer is "no".  When it comes to hunting, the law is the law, like it or not.

Some examples?  Sure.

I think that the gun control law in Canada is misguided.  But I sure as hell registered every gun I have.

I think that waterfowl seasons are too short.  But once the calendar turns and the season closes, I'm not out there still gunning.

Even though I don't moose hunt I can say after reviewing it that the moose tag system in Ontario is in need of some overhauling, but I think it best that if you don't have a tag for a bull moose, you don't shoot a bull moose.

I'm usually not this narrow in my thinking but like I said when it comes to the rules I feel that they have to be followed.  And here's why.

I've already gotten a lot of emails (some that were quite personal) since starting this blog from those who feel it is perfectly fine to infringe on game laws provided that they aren't caught, and they think that my efforts to promote lawful hunting is some sort of infringement on their natural rights.  I'd go so far as to call some of it hate mail.  That's fine.

To flog a dead horse, I'll reiterate something from a few Taboo of the Day posts, a statement that while obvious to me, has caused me no end of controversy in my inbox.  Modern hunting is no longer a right.  I'm sorry. 

The reasons are numerous and certainly fodder for another post, but the bottom line is that we as a group hunt as a privilege in this the 21st century.  Very, very few of us rely on wild game for subsistence, and while we as a group certainly do inject millions of dollars into conservation and habitat conservation (facts that we should all be exceedingly proud of) our image is the most important thing we have.  Pig-headedly acting outside the legislation is one of the worst things (outside of outright poaching) that we can do as a group.

To put it simply we cannot pick and choose the laws we want to obey.  Because even though we act individually, we are judged all together.  If you want to have a smooth go of it, play by the rules.  I have no sympathy (or time, or even a liking for) those who do it otherwise, because they cost us all.  They cost us opportunities to hunt, they cost us landowner permission, and they cost us all the hard work we put in trying to show the non-hunting public the positive side of the pastime we all love so much.  Maybe I'm just a hopeless optimist, but being a self-important, stubborn jerk in the face of any law or whatever else that you feel does not fit within your worldview of what hunting is or should be (like opinions such as these expressed here for example) only serves to damage what generations ahead of us worked to build, which is a sustainable, respected tradition.  There are plenty of those out there who would disparage hunting, we don't need those within our own ranks to help them out.

But by saying all this, have I become the self-important, stubborn jerk that I so disdain?  Maybe.  I guess it depends on your perspective.  An interesting thing I've learned in my life is that you can almost never change a person's mind; so if you're nodding in agreement with my opinions, odds are you already felt the same way I do.  If you're so enraged with me that you're contemplating all sorts of verbal abuse and hate mail, I imagine that you started out this post with that mindset.  Which is okay, because I can take it.  What I can't take is the acts of the few denying me and the many patriots of hunting the enjoyment of the thing we love.

So please, when you make that choice of what side of any hunting law you are going to live on, worry a little less about a fine, or getting caught, or coming up with justifications for why what you do is okay, and worry about the future of hunting at large.  Because it sounds cliche I know, but is a deer or one more goose or whatever it is you're chasing, or your own righteous opinions about what is right and wrong in the woods worth hanging a bad name on all of us?

If stating things like that makes me the enemy of the hunting community, maybe I've got this whole thing ass-backwards.  I don't make the rules, I just follow them.