Hunting in Canada – Looking Back on 2019 and Forward to 2020

by Jan 7, 2020Hunt/Fish

A Look Back at 2019

2019 was, without doubt, one of my most exciting years of hunting. From action packed spring turkeys, to a super hot elk archery season, a fulfilling late season for white-tailed deer to epic flocks of ducks and geese it seems each year is more fun filled that the previous. My most memorable days afield though were helping other hunters with their first-time hunting experiences – first turkey, first ducks and first deer. I have four freezers layered with all manner of wild meat and wild edibles. It’s such a satisfying feeling knowing there is no meat crisis this winter. Wild food and wild memories are big parts of what hunting is about for me.

As I scan the 2019 landscape in Canada, I recognize there are some serious conservation concerns with public land, fish and wildlife resulting from the undervaluing of our nation’s natural capital. Yet at the same time, I see hunters from all parts of the country at the forefront advocating for better management of public resources.

Over the last 5 years, it seems Canada’s hunting community has risen to tackle the modern conservation and social challenges facing our hunting lifestyles and the challenges facing fish, wildlife and habitat. Going into 2020, I am very optimistic about the future of hunting in Canada largely because of the die-hard effort of a lot of hunters and wildlife organizations. There are challenges but there are also unprecedented opportunities for hunters and anglers in this country. As you have probably heard before, we are living in the good ol’ days.

The hunting community in Canada is reinventing itself. I sense we are in the midst of a changing of the guard, so to speak. More and more young hunters are leading the charge by stepping up as ambassadors for hunting and as leaders of hunting conservation organizations. For years grumpy old people were heard mumbling, “Why are there no young people at these meetings?” Well, young energetic, intelligent and entrepreneurial women and men have stepped up for the future of hunting in Canada. As one example, I see the growth of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) in Canada and how they are attracting and shaping a younger demographic to take up the cause of advocating for Canada’s public lands.

The BHA movement is a North American movement, and Canada’s membership is rapidly increasing due mainly to the younger demographic taking control of their future. It’s the next generation’s turn to take over and they mean business.

Another younger, go-getter cohort in British Columbia has stepped in and revitalized the Wild Sheep Society of BC. This organization and its leaders are actively putting hunter dollars on the ground for the future of wild sheep in the province. My hat is off to these young women and men hunter conservationists and their passion for all things wild sheep.

The 1Campfire initiative is another fantastic new forum designed to connect Canadian hunters and non-hunters in a conversation about wild food, hunting and wild places. This sort of progressive public dialogue has been long overdue in Canada. Kudos to the creators, supporters and champions of 1Campfire.

The Guide Outfitters Association of BC also launched a new initiative called Who Cares [about wildlife]? Who Cares is series of short video vignettes that are also designed to help foster a more respectful dialogue between the hunting and non-hunting communities.

The long-standing Fish and Game Federations that have represented hunters, anglers and trappers in Canada’s provinces and territories are still working as hard as ever to engage governments in conservation issues that are important to Canadians. Some of these federations are nearly as old as Canada but the issues are new and modern.

In 2019, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) hosted a conference on Chronic Wasting Disease where it brought together North America’s leading experts on the disease. Afterwards, OFAH formed a coalition called Canadians Concerned About CWD (CCAC). The CCAC is dedicated to pushing governments to create meaningful actions that will protect wildlife from CWD. These initiatives have started to make a difference because in late in 2019, Ontario passed new legislation to help in the fight against CWD.

OFAH, with support from hunting, trapping, fishing, sport shooting and habitat conservation organizations across Canada, released a study in 2019 that spelled out the economic benefits of hunting, fishing, trapping and sport shooting in Canada. The report showed that there are 5.7 million hunters, anglers, trappers and sport shooters in Canada. That is about 17% of Canada’s population! This crowd of passionate Canadians spend almost $19 billion per year on their outdoor and shooting lifestyles, create over 100,000 jobs and contributed over $6 billion in federal and provincial taxes.

Those are some big numbers that will get attention if everyone keeps these facts in front of their elected officials in 2020. So do your part and spend (more) money on hunting, fishing, trapping and sport shooting! Canada now needs excise taxes on ammunition, firearms and sporting equipment that go directly back into the conservation of public lands, fish and wildlife and development of modern shooting ranges.

OFAH is a 100,000+ member strong organization in Canada and a leader in the business of running a provincial hunting and fishing federation. Keep up the great work OFAH! You inspire us all!

Even though some Canadian prairie region hunters think invasive wild pigs are the best thing to happen in Canadian hunting, the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF) doesn’t think so. The SWF has taken a strong leadership role is pushing governments to take stronger action to control the threat of wild pigs on Canada’s native flora and fauna. Invasive wild pigs are poised to occupy 1 million square kilometers of Canada in 2020. Invasive pig numbers are exponentially exploding, and hunting will never be a viable management tool to prevent catastrophic damage to native ecosystems and wildlife.

Hunters always want something to hunt, but I admire how the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation works toward maintaining the ecological integrity of our nation’s public lands instead of endorsing a “Hog Hunting Gone Wild” approach to hunting in Canada’s prairie region.

The BC Wildlife Federation hosted the Selective Fishing Forum in 2019 that brought experts in fisheries and salmon biology together to show Canadians how selective salmon fishing methods can protect declining salmon and steelhead populations on the Pacific coast. The BCWF has put a lot of energy into pushing government to fix BC’s troubled salmon and steelhead runs in the Fraser River. To the BCWF, I say, keep pounding away in 2020.

I could go on and on with more shining examples in each province and territory that exemplifies leadership by the hunting and angling community. There are great things happening from the Yukon to the Atlantic thanks to hunters and anglers. Even prior to Canada becoming a country, hunters, anglers and trappers have been there fighting for conservation. The tradition continues.

2019 was also a great year for all the wildlife law enforcement agencies across Canada that are protecting Canada’s fish, wildlife and habitats. More and more citizens are getting involved in reporting poachers especially those that post evidence of their crimes on social media.

Moose poaching charges were upheld in a Newfoundland court in late 2019 as a result of “Operation Meat Bag” that saw 6 individuals charged, jail time issued, $108,000 in fines levied and lifetime hunting bans imposed. The verdict might be one of the most punitive decisions handed out to poachers by a judge in Canada.

In BC, the Conservation Officer Service went on the offense with a province-wide campaign that clamped down on careless property owners whose non-secure food attractants created habituated bears in and around communities. Despite hunters often being criticized, these perpetrators against the BC Wildlife Act are the real reason why so many bears are needlessly destroyed every year in BC. The leading focus of bear conservation in BC is eliminating the causes of bears being habituated to humans not eliminating bear hunting or imposing more constraints on Conservation Officers.

Canadians have always been frustrated and, at times, outraged at how lightly poachers and wildlife offenders are treated by the courts. However, Ontario has dramatically increased its fine structure for fishing and hunting violations, so 2020 is looking like it may be the start of an era where wildlife criminals get more of what they deserve. A big thanks to Canada’s Conservation and Wildlife Officers and their agencies, as well as the courts, for putting wildlife criminals on notice.

Looking Forward to 2020

So, what about your hunting and conservation goals for 2020?

The New Year is time to reflect and it is a time to look forward. When looking forward to 2020, here are some important personal hunting and conservation goals that you should consider:

1. Go to a new place to hunt or try some new form of hunting in 2020. Procrastinating will come back to haunt you later in life. Above all, hunting must be fun, so if you have something on the backburner that you have always dreamed about, put it on the front burner this year and go for it.

2. Make waterfowl hunting an option. Waterfowl populations in North America are generally trending upward, yet waterfowl hunters in Canada are on the decline. Wetland and waterfowl conservation need support from hunters. This means 2020 would be a great time to start hunting ducks and geese, supporting Ducks Unlimited Canada and putting little flying beef steaks on your table.

3. Join an organization that is actively involved in protecting public lands, protecting hunting and fishing opportunities and advocating for sound management of fish, wildlife and habitat. Check out our article from last year for ideas on how to build yourself a hunting and conservation investment portfolio.

4. If you aren’t a hunter right now but are interested in getting your own wild food, make 2020 the year you become a hunter. Check out our article on how to get into hunting. You know you want to. Being a hunter-gatherer is in your DNA.

5. If you retired from hunting but want to get back into the game, then make 2020 the year you come out of retirement. Even if you just do a bit of grouse hunting or something easy, get a hunting license and get back into the woods where you belong. Simply having a hunting license and spending a few days in the field goes a long way in helping protect the future of hunting. As Canadian hunter and conservation speaker Shane Mahoney once said, “When hunters become to few, we will become irrelevant.” Check out our article from 2020 about coming out of hunting retirement.

6. Become more comfortable and proficient with cooking wild game in ways that you haven’t tried before. Break out of the same-old same-old and create some new wild meals. Check out this Classic Elk Hunter’s Schnitzel recipe and give it a try.

7. Host a wild game dinner for friends who are not hunters. Letting people know what hunting is about and how amazing wild game can be when cooked in gourmet style can go a long way toward promoting a positive image of hunters and hunting.

8. Work at getting in shape. If it wears on you that you always leave getting in shape for hunting season until August, then let’s change that. The best time to make a positive and beneficial change in your health is right now! If you love hunting like I do, then general all-around healthy living and fitness will allow you to hunt the way you want to as you get older. It will also help you achieve the hunting goals you set for yourself this year.

9. Educate yourself about the issues affecting hunting, fishing and conservation in Canada. Learn everything you can about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The most powerful hunter conservationist is an informed one. Read our article on what it means to be a hunter conservationist.

10. Keep a positive mental attitude about everything to do with hunting, fishing and conservation. A positive attitude will inspire others to care about the future of hunting and conservation and motivate them to get involved too.

All and all, I am excited about what 2020 will bring for hunting in Canada. I’m excited about the way hunters are rising to face modern social and conservation challenges. I am equally stoked about how hunters are taking ownership of the narrative about who hunters are and what hunting in Canada is about.
Keep up the great work everyone.

If you check off one thing on the list above, you will make a great contribution to the future of hunting in Canada in 2020.

Cover Image Copyright © Neil / Adobe Stock

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