If one were to make a list of longtime Canadian traditions, it would not be complete without hunting.
The history that Canada has with hunting started around 8000 B.C. with our first nations and their pursuit of game for substance. For some clans, it was even a ritualistic step toward manhood. During this time hunting was often the only means by which many families were able to feed and clothe themselves. Hunting has since progressed from a means of survival into a multi-billion dollar industry. Something else that has progressed equally over the years would be the number of participants.
For hundreds of years now, many Canadians have been supplementing their diets with high-quality meat they obtained through their proficiency with a gun or a bow. A study conducted in 1996 showed that one in 20 people in Canada participated in hunting. In the past 35 years, however, the number of annually active resident hunters in B.C. has been on the decline. Based on license sales, interest in hunting here was at its peak in 1981, with public opinion and participation seemingly quite positive towards hunting.
By 2004, the number of annual license sales in B.C. had dropped by more than half. As a result, the number of mentors for youth hunters, as well as those for new inexperienced participants, was also greatly reduced. This will inevitably lead to less successful hunters as many of them are trying to learn how to hunt without proper guidance.
In an attempt to streamline the education process and increase hunter numbers, online qualification is available now but unfortunately, there is no longer a practical test for acquiring a hunting license in B.C. This has had a drastic effect on the number of hunter education instructors whose mentorship will be greatly missed.
Many years ago when we took our hunter education, the practical test was a mandatory and integral part of the process. It was also something many of the participants looked forward to as it was often the first time they had ever held a firearm. It consisted of a mock hunt conducted by the instructor with dummy rounds in the firearms. One of our instructors even took all students who passed the course to the gun club he was a member of and had us shoot a round of sporting clays with live ammo so that he could rest assured we were all comfortable and safe handling a firearm.
Luckily there is hope for the future of hunting. There has been a recent increase in the number of new hunters seeking qualification and the biggest percent of them seem to be from less than typical demographics. A new trend in the way people look at how they get their food is influencing their opinion on hunting. Fuelled in part by interest from young urbanites, men and women hoping to reclaim a family hunting tradition, urban farmers, vegetable gardeners, hipsters, artists, and foodies all looking for a sustainable and ethical way to feed themselves.
There is even a trend amongst vegans and vegetarians who originally stopped eating meat for ethical reasons related to industry raised meat that is now taking up arms in search of truly organic forms of animal protein. Hopefully, these new hunters will one day become the new mentors, and help continue the progression of one of Canada’s oldest traditions. If you are looking for a healthy way to put meat on the table that really makes you feel like you earned it, seek a good mentor, head to woods, and go hunting!!
Alex Nash and Trevor Loren are second-year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Selkirk College in Castlegar.