Category Archives: hunting regulations

The Only Thing I Like Poached are my Eggs Benedict, or Why Are We Destroying Ourselves?

It broke across my social media feed on the afternoon of September 15th:

“Sportsman Channel Suspends Hunting Show Amid Federal Poaching Allegations”

I swear I got an instant headache.

Apparently, The Syndicate, a show hosted by one Clark W. Dixon of Mississippi was alleged to have been party to over two dozen illegal acts of poaching in Alaska, some of which were later edited to appear as law-abiding hunts and were subsequently shown on the program.  The full release that I received can be found here and the Sportsman Channel’s response can be found here.

This is not the first time this has happened in the hunting industry, and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last time.

I have no affiliation with any of the parties involved, so I only know what I’ve researched.  The production companies have commented, and the Sportsman Channel has commented.  To date, I can’t find any comments or on the record statements made by the alleged perpetrators of the illegal acts, but I don’t particularly care at this point, because there is always some form of excuse or admission of guilt bracketed by a ‘misunderstanding’, or whatever, and it makes me weary.

Sigh.  Can I just go hunting with my friends now and not have to worry about crap like this?

No, I can’t because I have a real problem with this ‘celebrity hunter, body-count, above-the-law, hero-shot’ mentality and what it does to hunting in the public perception.

The problem here is two-fold.  Of primary importance is that the non-hunting public holds these acts as their standard of what they deem hunting to be.  They presume that if a ‘professional’ hunter is poaching and hunting unethically, then all the non-professionals must be doing it too.  This is of course an incorrect stereotype of the most egregious variety, but it is a pretty natural response.  I’ve heard many hunters make the same manner of stereotype about ‘anti-hunters’ or ‘vegetarians’ or ‘environmentalists’ or anyone else that may for some reason oppose hunting.  For the irony-impaired, it is pretty hypocritical.  Still, it happens and the hunting community already has a big enough image challenge on their collective hands without public figures in their own fraternity buggering things up.  You can get all self-righteous and say “Screw the public! Hunting is my right!” but that does not help and in reality is not really a true statement anyways.

If it were your right, you would not have to buy game licenses and be subject to hunting regulations.

So instead, every time this happens that a hunting ‘celebrity’ is found on the wrong side of the state, provincial, or federal game laws (I’m looking at you Jeff Foiles, Ted Nugent, and William Spann just to name high profile cases in the last five years or so) everyday hunters have to bear the burden of public opinion and we are forced into either defending our own actions which for the most part should be pretty clean, or we have to come up with clumsy and ineffective rationalizations and explanations.  Just Google “professional hunter poaching” and the scores of articles you will find is extremely depressing.

So to the professionals and celebrities that keep screwing up, thanks for making us regular guys who just want to hit the woods and wetlands have to work harder to keep doing what we love.  Trust me it is harder for us since we are without thousands of dollars in production values up our sleeves, and we typically do not have a team of outfitters and production companies and various sponsors backing us.

But secondarily, and of a more insidious manner, is that this brings the ‘support a fellow hunter argument’ out.  This mentality embraces a fallacy so grand that it borders on the comical, and it severely runs the risk of ‘normalizing’ breaches of hunting regulations.  I refused to weigh in on the whole ‘Cecil-mania’ of last month or so because primarily, to my eye, that simply did not involve hunting, it was poaching out and out from all accounts and it was more or less the matter of a private transaction that was on the face of it, grossly illegal.  That it became a public matter occurred in due course, but it did not start out that way, and in fact it was nearly a month after the actual poaching of the lion before the media picked it up.  It also falls well outside my bailiwick in that I have no real ties to African Safari hunting, or really trophy-hunting in general.  Much has been written on it by others more knowledgeable in the field than I about this whole sloppy mess, so I’m just going to more or less leave it alone.

But where all that nonsense in Zimbabwe dovetails nicely with the argument I’m making above is that many, particularly the most vocal, in the hunting industry felt that the Cecil issue when it occurred, as well as the current “celebrity-hunter-caught-poaching” scenario I’m referencing here should somehow be excused and that the greater hunting community at large should ‘show support’ to the perpetrators in some rally of common-cause-collectivism among sportsmen and women everywhere.

Well, to use a cliché, that dog won’t hunt.

Because, at the risk of being unpopular (which has not stopped me before) the dentist who shot that lion is no more of a hunter than the accused at The Syndicate should their allegations be proven, or any of the others named above who have been convicted.  They are by definition poachers and thus fall outside the law, to say nothing of what the greater definition of ‘hunter’ actually is or should be.  Recreational hunting at its core involves regulations and the explicitly stated adherence to those regulations. To do less constitutes an act of poaching, plain and simple and if you do it, there are consequences.

This is not a concept fraught with grey areas.  Ethics are one thing, and could (I stress, could) be subject to debates, but the law is clear in that respect.  If it is legal, you can debate the ‘ethic’.  If it is prohibited by a law and due process convicts you, then there should not be a granted chance for debates. Period, full-stop.

(That said, the Sportsman Channel’s release regarding The Syndicate’s situation stresses that they stand for “ethical practices in hunting” but they still align themselves with and praise the support of convicted poacher Nugent in this recent tweet, so maybe it really is all about ratings and marketing, and this is more nebulous than I had initially thought.)

Capture

Now there is little doubt in my mind that the public figures in hunting do genuinely love the tradition as much as you and I do.  I’m sure they are sincere in their support of conservation organizations, and they might even be decent men and women to sit down across from, crack a beer and swap stories with.  They are likeable, which is part of their draw to be certain.  But by nature of their public persona, they are almost obligated to comport themselves to a higher (and arguably, the highest) standard with regards to both those shadowy areas of ethics and fully illuminated areas of the law proper.  Many of them do it correctly, and the bad apples do not spoil the bunch out of hand.

My primary question is, why are there bad apples to begin with?  Is there no validation method or process in place to vet the people who do this for a living?  Surely some of this graft can be weeded out?

My hunting mentors repeatedly stressed to me: Don’t take a shot you can’t make.  To turn that into a metaphor for this whole messy, PR nightmare perhaps the approach of the ‘celebrity hunter’ would be to not do anything that you would not normally do if you were not being filmed.  That is to say, if the goal is to create kills on camera so that you can somehow self-aggrandize your ego, or keep your sponsors happy, or increase your ratings, which would probably also achieve the prior two desires, and you show no regard for what game laws state, then it may be best to not pull the trigger.  If you would still pull the trigger after that…then I can’t help you in re-examining what motivates you to hunt.

But rest assured, you are a bigger part of the problem than anti-hunting groups could ever hope to be.

The Sorry Tale of a Turkey Season Lost…Almost

So exactly ten weeks ago today I broke my leg.  It wasn’t some kind of gruesome, traumatic, wretch-inducing injury, but it was, for the lack of a better term, crippling.  Absolutely no weight bearing for six weeks and a slow rehab process that will ultimately stretch out for another six weeks on its own made for grim prospects come turkey season.  Luckily surgical intervention was not necessary and I was fanatical about obeying doctor’s orders.  That, and the unexplainable fact that I seem to have re-strengthened the leg very quickly led to me actually attempting turkey hunting twice in late May.  Maybe I just have a strong psychological desire to experience hubris…who knows?

In the weeks I had not been hunting, much had gone on.  My friends on the Bruce Peninsula had gone on a spree and had taken down four or five nice birds, and my Facebook and Twitter accounts were full of others sharing their experiences in the great weather and outdoors.  I was getting (dare I say it?) jealous.  By mid-May, I was very committed to getting a hunt in.  On a more cerebral note, also in the time off that I had, I came to appreciate a number of things.  First, there are no people in your life that are more important than the people who take care of you when you are sick or injured.  My gratitude to the family, friends, doctors, nurses, radiologists, and so on that put up with me.  Second, it is easy to get into a funk of negative thought patterns and believe that you’ll never be able to do the things you love in the same way again.  That is false, or at least for a semi-serious (but complication-free) injury such as my own it is false…so perhaps I’m just fortunate.  Third, if you are going to break your leg, try not to do it while your wife is 37-weeks pregnant; the feminine sense of humour can only be stretched so far before it becomes simmering wrath.  And lastly, returning to something you really love doing after a long lay-off from it is invigorating and downright fun.  This is true both of turkey hunting (which was superb, even though it was bird-free unfortunately) and my chosen career, which I am lucky to enjoy immensely and missed while I was off for over a month nursing a broken peg.  I was happy to be back doing both.
My brother and I made it to the gate in the dark, but it was not going to be too long before dawn broke the way it only does on May long weekends in Ontario.  I had given myself ample, ample time to get around in the bush that morning, for even though the area was not particularly robust in terms of its terrain, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was tweak my leg in the dark…that would be most unfortunate and lead those in my life to question my relative intelligence.  And it would probably hurt, bad.  Slowly skulking to my chosen tree, I will admit that I had a little bit of mist in my eyes.  I’m not at all religious so it wasn’t gratitude with a higher power I was feeling, but it was an appreciation for all the loved ones and anonymous medical staff alike that had selflessly seen to it that I could be recovered enough to enjoy a turkey hunt in the still, temperate, breaking dawn of the Victoria Day long weekend.  Barely a whisper of breeze blew, and the coliseum of hardwoods amplified the whisper of cotton camo pants, and the (only slightly) labored breathing of this hunter as he moved along.  Eight weeks of sedentary convalescence had not been good for my already limited cardio.
In the dark I trimmed myself a little bower of solitude into the side of a verdant row of tree limbs and twigs, and then made myself back comfortable against the broad tree, preparing for what I hoped would be long sit culminating in the opportunity to punch my tag on a Simcoe County gobbler.  Saying a reverent apology for what I was about to do to the pristine predawn stillness, I raucously fired up my barred owl call.  For twenty seconds or so I ran through the standard “who cooks for you?  who cooks for you aaaaallllll?” routine with no shock gobble forthcoming from any cagey toms nearby.  As the sun rose to push into hiding the twilight’s greys and deep blues and likewise welcoming the rosy and golden hues of morning, I slipped my owl-hooter casually into a secret vest pocket.  As the crows around me began to wake up their world with raspy music, I chomped down on my crow call and joined in, mimicking their every note and reveling as I joined them in making the unholiest of rackets.  Still not a peep slipped from the beak of whatever gobblers might have been roosted in the surrounding trees.  The crows formed ranks, in the way that crows always do, and begin to wing their way off to some arcane meeting place that only other crows have ever known about, and as the area grew quiet again I did some tree yelps and fly-down cackle.  In time I brushed some twigs and leaves with my hands and did a louder string of assembly yelps.  As I brought the raspy ladder of yelping to a conclusion I thought I heard something a long ways off.  Two or three crows calling at once in a discordant fashion has always sounded vaguely like distant gobbling to me, so I passed that sound as nothing more than a few tardy crows chasing after the mob that had left the vicinity mere minutes before.  In time I yelped again and did some moderately excited cutting…with no gobble in response I was certain there was nothing nearby to answer me.
The woods and meadows around me progressed in their reveille and I smirked as chickadees, orioles, cardinals, and a host of other songbirds and winged creatures began to flit about around me.  The calm, warm dawn promised the eventual arrival of mosquitoes, especially if the later part of the morning brought with it no breeze to keep the little bloodsuckers at bay.  I guess mosquitoes have to eat too, I just wish they didn’t have such a penchant for puncturing parts of me.  It is my blood and they do not have my permission to take it.
I brought my knees up towards my chest and was pleased at how little my right leg was complaining about this whole thing.  I leaned my Remington 870 against my formerly broken appendage and thought about how I had dusted my first gobbler from exactly this same position on exactly this same property.  Feeling the need for extra volume, I slid my box call out of its holster and dragged the lid across the sides, with some effect if I do say so myself.  Looked down on by some as a ‘basic’ call variety, I have always loved the tactile pleasure of working a box call.  You can literally feel the sound waves travel through your hands and up your arms as you delicately work the box and hinged lid; the visceral feeling of turkey music early on a spring morning as it rings through your head and torso is an experience unmatched by any other in hunting, at least in my estimation.
As I thought about just how damn perfect this morning was coming along, the esoteric tranquility was shattered, but not by the strident gobble of a turkey with amorous business on his mind.  No such luck.  Unfortunately for me, it was the rattle of a big tractor engine, followed by the metallic bounce of farm implements jaunting across the field.  For two hours the owner of the immediately adjacent stretch of land tilled the soil, rendering my sense of hearing void and creating a scene that no turkey would likely come jogging into investigate.  My brother was along some time later…right as the tractor pull was drawing to a close.  We had not given ourselves much time to hunt that day, and I had to soon be heading down the highway with my family.  I planned to be back in a week’s time.
A week later and the weather and morning were just as perfect.  With my brother working, my Dad and I planned a run and gun through a few Simcoe County Forest spots where some wild turkeys had previously met their demise in the hopes of at least one of us attaching some gaudy yellow paper to a gobbler’s leg.  My alarm going off at 4am woke up my wife, who rolled over long enough to mutter something derogatory about my relative sanity.  I kissed her softly on the cheek and headed out to meet up with Dad.  Pulling into my parent’s driveway at 4:30am, I was pleased to see the lights on and the stirrings of Dad preparing for the day.  We hopped in Dad’s Jeep and made for the Simcoe County Forest tracts northwest of Elmvale.  It was still decidedly gloomy, but starry, when we parked at our first stop.  Dad hopped off the trail at a spot where he had before taken a gobbler, and I went up to an intersection of roads that had always just had that “feel” about it.  If you hunt, you know what I mean by the “feel”…it is just a place that seems like a likely spot to harvest game.  In this instance it is a stand of hardwoods with some good low cover to keep you hidden, but enough openings to go give a hunter a shot at the head and neck of a turkey.  There’s a big maple tree there that is so form-fitting and comfy that it may as well be a sofa to boot, which is always nice when you’re going to sit still for a few hours.  As I walked to the spot, I saw a single turkey track in the sandy trail, and that gave me hope that I’d get at least a close encounter with a bird.  The morning was even calmer than the previous weekend’s hunt, and it just felt like a day to sit still and listen, so it was well after daybreak before I pulled a hickory striker across a piece of Pennsylvania slate.  I clucked and purred and yelped on my pot call for some time and once again thought I heard the faraway response of a gobbler.  Since nothing showed up, but Dad heard it too and he’s nearly deaf from decades of shooting so I know I’m at least not going insane.  I heard a far off hen fire up a couple of times, and was able to identify a pair of scarlet tanagers whisking their way along the low understory, but still I was unloading my gun “the quiet way” back at the Jeep.  We went up to another spot on the Wildman Road and this time saw a half dozen good (fairly recent) turkey tracks skirting the road back and forth in the mud.  As Dad went east and I went west to our respective spots I came across the distinctive j-shaped droppings of a male turkey.  Further on I walked past a dusting spot and some more turkey tracks.  If nothing else I was happy that there was wildlife in the area.  I also found a spot on a crossroads where a coyote had deposited a few week’s worth of scat.  A territorial signpost if I ever saw one.
I briefly considered relieving myself there just to mess with old Mr. Coyote’s head, but I had not toilet paper and time for turkey hunting was a-wasting.
Reaching my second stand I began to call on my Woodhaven Calls Copperhead2 mouth diaphragm.  It usually sounds halfway decent even in the mouth of an operator as clumsy as I, but on that still morning as I sat in a clearing near a pine stand it sounded great….to me.  No turkeys came for a visit and not a single gobble rang out in the greenery, though so what do I know?  A while later Dad and I reconvened and made for one last sit at a tract on one of the Flos Roads…I’m not sure which…but let’s just say I’m glad we finished with that one.
This particular spot had undergone some recent logging and aside from being snaggy and littered with blowdowns from the skidders rolling through, it was muddy and had some overgrown skidder trails that were just itching to turn my ankle over and put me back to square one on the recovery trail.  It was also a bit on the swampy side, which at about 10am on a sunny, breezeless, Saturday on the last weekend in May makes me nothing more than a handsome piece of mosquito bait.  Oh well, we all suffer for what we love right?
My now complaining ankle and I set up where two reasonably open roads intersected and Dad retreated back behind me and started working his old Quaker Boy box call.  It’s the only call he’s ever used, and I can’t argue with the results.  He’s shot a dozen birds or so in the last decade and they’ve all been inside 30 yards (or so he says) so when he wants to do the calling, I don’t get all uppity about it.  Half an hour in, something began mimicking Dad’s calls from a position well behind us…since we hadn’t seen any other hunters, footprints, or vehicles I could only presume it was another turkey, but since we made no visuals on the noisy culprit it remains an open case.  An hour in and my ankle was frankly throbbing, and even one as averse to complaining as I had to admit that this had shifted from turkey hunting trip, to a ‘get back to the vehicle without requiring a visit to the emergency room’ mission.  I was also getting thoroughly chewed up.
Back at the Jeep on level ground and away from the hordes of biting insects, I slid the same three shells out of my old Remington and, with a hint of resignation, zipped the weapon back up in its case.  Dad and I had a good chat on the ride home, and the day (hell, the whole weekend) remained sunny, temperate, and beautiful so I had no real reason to complain.  Sure, it would have been really nice to have had a close encounter with a wild turkey this spring, yet it was not to be, so instead I went home, had a nap with my month-old son, and just enjoyed the rest of the things that make my life pretty good.
Waterfowl hunting is in less than three months around these parts…so until then I’m just tinkering with gear, practicing my calling, going down to HuntFest in Orangeville come July, and generally trying to find a way to not break any other limbs between now and then.  I’ll be stopping in here a lot between now and then.  Make sure you follow on Twitter @getoutandgohunt and check back here often.

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.

Just Out! Migratory Birds Hunting Regulations, 2011-2012 – Ontario

The wait is over for you Canadian waterfowlers.

As of July 14th, 2011 Environment Canada has posted the national regulations here for 2011-2012.  The provincial links are all there for the viewing at the landing page, so I won’t bore you all by re-posting them all here province by province.

Usually it takes a day or two for the licenses to be distributed, but based on the phone conversation I had with Environment Canada today, all the licenses should be out and available for sale by mid-next week, if they are not out at some distributors already.

This is as sure a sign that autumn is coming as I know, and I couldn’t be happier.