How and why to get into hunting in Manitoba
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When Anishinaabe Elder Paul Guimond became a spiritual mentor, he gave up his rifle.
“I had to resemble kindness,” he says. “And I had to give up the thing that I loved best.”
This move came with uncertainty for him.
“I asked the question ‘How am I going to eat now?’ People said they’d provide for me. It’s been a few years now, and I’ve been looked after.”
Hunting has been a staple of survival for millennia, and in many communities, still is. Hunting provides food, clothing, and activity.
For those who don’t rely on wild meat to survive, hunting may be seen as more of a sport or pastime. But in many cases, the fundamentals remain the same — find the food, feed your family.
Roben Ogden, 49, grew up in a place called Emo — a town of about 1,300 people that neighbours the U.S. border and sits midway between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. He’s the seventh generation of hunters in his family and has been hunting since he was four. Growing up, his aunts, uncles, and cousins would all join in.
“It was a whole family experience,” he says.
The goal was about enjoying their time together and putting food on the table — not just killing an animal.
“Many of [my family members] were poor and deer meat was a big thing to have,” says Ogden. “Anything they could get from the land was something to put in the freezer.”
Like many children who were raised to hunt, Ogden stuck with it. Eventually, in 1998, he and some relatives started Border Country Outfitters, a hunting lodge in northwestern Ontario just a few minutes north of his hometown. Since then, he and his family have guided hunts for trophy moose, whitetail deer, black bear, and upland birds like grouse.
Over the years, they’ve hosted many big names like Canada in the Rough’s Beasley Brothers, and country singer Blake Shelton.
Though he’s seen lots of different types of hunters, Ogden says he enjoys being with first-timers so he gets to witness their first experience hunting an animal.
Ogden noted how difficult it is for people to get into hunting if they haven’t grown up doing it. Few people know where to begin.
“If the tradition isn’t in the family, and they don’t have someone to mentor them, it’s really prohibitive for new people to try to start,” he says.
So why and how do people get into hunting if they haven’t grown up with it?
Different people hunt for different reasons.
Elder Guimond says the first reason to hunt is to feed your family, but he also says hunting is not just for the meat.
“We use every aspect of the moose,” he says. “We use the hide, preserve it, tan it, and use it for clothing purposes, or for ceremonial purposes, for drums, or rattles. We use the marrow that’s in the bones, it’s a medicine.”
He says they also use the moose antlers as part of a tool. Elder Guimond says powdered deer antlers are used for medicine.
Ogden says the main reason to hunt is to be part of your environment.
“There are so many new experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” he says. “You’re listening to the sounds of nature, you’re watching morning come alive, or you’re watching the darkness come in and the evening set in.”
Ogden says many people today are disconnected from reality, but he’s noticed that when guests are at his lodge, things change.
“Families will sit down at the dinner table and they’re on their different devices and they’re doing their own thing,” he says. “But when you come into a hunting camp, you’ll see everybody’s put that stuff aside, and they’re more interested in the stories of what happened from the day, or from last year, or from 20 years ago.”
He says hunting is a way of bridging gaps between relationships, and it helps bring people together through something they can enjoy together.
“You can just disconnect from everything else. And you’re at peace. It’s quiet. It’s calm,” says Ogden. “It’s just you, your thoughts, and whatever else is out there with you.”
How to start hunting
“If you’ve got no one and nothing that you know, that’s the first place to start because if you have that, then you’ve got the first building block,” says Ogden.
Before you can legally hunt, you must earn a Hunter Education Card. This online course is to ensure you know all about safety precautions, common practices, and more. Being safe and responsible is crucial.
Ogden says mandatory courses like Hunter Safety are important so hunters remain within the bounds of the law.
“It’s good safety,” he says. “Someone who hasn’t taken these courses can be a danger to themselves or to others.”
For example, an inexperienced hunter may not know Manitoba requires you to wear a solid blaze orange hat, and an additional 2,580 sq. cm. of visible blaze orange clothing above the waist. There are certain exemptions, but wearing orange is key to keeping hunters safe.
To pass the Hunter Safety Course, you must obtain an 80 per cent or higher on all chapter quizzes, and at least a 96 on the final exam. If you fail any quiz or the final exam, you are allowed to check your wrong answers, review the material, and try again.
The quizzes must be completed in a relatively timely manner, as payment gives access to the course for 90 days.
Once you’ve passed the course, you need to keep the printed certification form on you whenever you’re out hunting, in case a conservation officer needs to verify you’re doing everything by the books.
Licences are required for all big game (deer, bear, etc.) and most game bird hunting and can be purchased online. When you hunt, you must carry a valid licence for the species you are hunting, along with any associated game tags and your Manitoba Hunter Education Card.
Hunters still need to purchase game tags for specific animals. You don’t need a licence for small game like rabbits and gray squirrels. Wild boar are an exception because they are considered an invasive species, so any legal Manitoban hunter can harvest a wild boar at any time.
You must buy tags for most animals, but with rarer animals like moose, there is a draw to see who gets tags, as the population still needs to flourish before allowing everyone to hunt moose.
Obtaining your licences is the first necessary step toward legality. If you wish to own your own firearm, you must also take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC), or a similar course but for restricted firearms (CRFSC).
This helps you, the gun owner, to understand proper storage and safety practices. After the in-class instruction, you do a written and practical test.
The course covers topics like how firearms have changed, what the most important parts of them are, what different kinds of firearms exist, and most importantly, how to safely operate them.
You’ll also learn about ammunition, safe storage, and transportation. Your instructor will also explain your responsibilities as the firearm owner or user.
“A lot of people may think firearms are a dangerous, bad thing, but when they’re handled by someone who’s learned to use them properly, they’re just like a tool in a carpenter’s bag,” says Ogden. “They’re not afraid of the gun, but they have the respect for it and will use it in a safe manner.”
Usually, if you are in possession of a firearm, you need a licence even if you are not the owner and never handle the firearm.
Once you’ve passed, you can apply for your Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL), which is also known as a firearms licence. Your instructor will give you an application form for the PAL. You can fill it out and mail it to the address indicated.
Minors from 12 to 17 can still take the firearms course, and kids as young as 10 can enroll in Hunter Safety. The minimum age to purchase a hunting licence is 12, and there are certain screening processes to acquire it, and restrictions that will apply before the licensee turns 18.
“There are people at those courses that can help a younger person,” says Ogden. “Someone over 18 can let them tag along and help be their eyes and ears.”
Ogden says the firearms course offers the opportunity for you to meet a group of people that are new to the sport but are interested the same as you. And in many cases, you’ll find instructors who will be able to give you necessary connections.
For equipment, there are more and less expensive options. If you don’t want to buy a gun, some outfitters will let you rent or borrow firearms on a guided hunt. You can also get affordable firearms at gun auctions.
It depends on what you want to hunt for, but the Hunt Fish MB website allows you to filter guides and lodges by distance, season, and what you can hunt for (among other things). The best way to find out prices near you is to go out and have a look.
Where to hunt?
Ogden says before hunting, you should start by walking around Crown land (property that belongs to the government) to spend time in the wilderness and gain a better understanding of where animals go and what they do.
If you’re just getting started, it’s best to go out with a guide or an experienced hunter. They can take you to land that’s been approved. Once you’re more experienced and know a place you want to hunt, you can contact the landowner and discuss options for times, rent, and conditions.
Of course, hunters must abide by hunting seasons. If you’re unsure when a season for an animal opens and closes, you can always look on Hunt Fish MB for a link to the latest hunting guide. It’s also important to note that there are designated times when a person can or can’t hunt based on daylight hours.
What to hunt?
What to hunt depends on what animals are in your area. For beginners, hunting is much more enjoyable when you’re successful.
Ogden says most people begin small. They will learn to go upland bird hunting and build their skill level where they can stalk an animal, make an ethical shot, and harvest more than one animal in a day. Whereas with larger game, it’s one shot and the day is done. Ogden says with small game hunts, it’s more of a team effort than an individual one.
For bigger game, it’s best to go with someone who’s experienced. Not just for safety reasons, but to help share the workload.
“Nobody wants to go hunt a deer or a moose on their own for their first time out because there’s a lot to do after the hunt,” says Ogden, referring to the field dressing of the animal. “It’s good to do it with a family member or a friend … then you can share that experience and you can share the work together as well.”
Deer are great to hunt because they provide lots of meat, and you, the hunter, help with population control. In some regions of North America, there have been controlled deer hunts to keep numbers at bay since there is not enough food to support their current population sizes.
For beginners, black bear may be a bit of a challenge. Many people hunt them using bait.
Ogden, among many other experts, says bear meat resembles pork. Bears, unlike deer, are guaranteed free of chronic wasting disease (an untreatable and fatal prion infection found in deer, elk, reindeer, and moose).
The ethical shot
For many hunters, respecting the animal they’re harvesting is immensely important. One way Ogden practices respect is by keeping his hunts fair.
“You’re not going to shoot a deer that’s swimming,” he says. “You’re going to give them a fair chase advantage where you’re in equal footing … where they can use their senses and their wits, and you’ve got to outsmart them in their own habitat.”
He says many “purist” grouse hunters won’t shoot them when they’re on the ground but will instead flush the birds and try to shoot them out of the air so the playing field is much closer to level.
Good marksmanship is a must when hunting. If you need more experience aiming a firearm, you can use firing ranges to practice.
Ogden says having a good shot is crucial. On larger game, he says you want to make sure you’ve got a clear shot at the vitals and don’t have any obstacles in your way. You should also ensure what’s behind your target is also safe.
“There’s many times where you’ll simply not take a shot because it’s ethically not a good shot where you’re going to have this animal have a miserable end,” he says. “You want to make a clean shot so the animal will be expired right away.”
Ogden says you don’t want the animals you’re harvesting to suffer.
“That’s the ethics. You should have the respect for its life,” he says. “It has to give up its life for you, so you do it as ethically as possible.”
Similarly, in a demonstration of regard, Elder Guimond says the dewlap from a moose — the skin flap that hangs from their necks — is the first thing they cut off.
“We’ll hang it to show our respect to that animal,” he says. “And when other moose walk by it, they’ll see that sign that one of their brothers or sisters offered itself.”
He says it’s important to honour these animals because they feed us.
Stewards of nature
Ogden says hunters are conservationists. In his case, he says his guides and guests take about 15 to 20 animals per season, but in that same timeframe, feed between 300 and 400 animals. Lots of deer and other creatures get to benefit from Ogden’s heaping bait piles of apples.
He says those well-fed animals are now in “excellent” condition and are in great shape to get the next generation underway for the next year.
He says it’s the same thing when they do upland bird hunting. He says the lodge has about 30 miles of groomed trails, and though they take a handful of grouse for a few hunters, you can walk and see 30 to 50 grouse in an afternoon.
He says they’re taking the less than five per cent of the population they look after.
“It’s kind of a stewardship,” says Ogden. “You’re farming it in a way because you’re taking the cream off the top. If you have a healthy population and if you’re doing it right, you’re going to have success year after year because you’re not hurting your population.”
Ogden says anyone in it for the long term is putting more back in than they’re ever going to take out.
“You make their habitat better, you’re getting quality animals, and you’re doing some [population] control, so they don’t eat themselves out of house and home,” he says.
Thrill of the kill?
Ogden says that hunting can get a bad rep because you’re killing a living animal.
“But that’s about 10 per cent of the experience,” he says. “The rest is spending time outside. It’s spending time with other people that you don’t do other things with, getting new connections, and having those bonds with others.”
While he admits some people are in it for the thrill of the kill, and others for the thrill of the chase, Ogden says for many it’s just about being outdoors and experiencing nature.
“And that can change over the lifespan of the hunter. They begin as that person where the success of their hunt is based on what they harvest,” he says. “Over time, the success of the hunt becomes your experience with other people.”
Later in life, Ogden says a lot of hunters simply enjoy “being out in mother nature and taking it all in.”
“Just like when a person grows up, maybe they want a lot of things, and then as they possess some of those things, then the smaller, finer things in life become more important,” he says. “But if you’ve never experienced any of those things, you will never get to have that same joy that those people do who grow in their life as a hunter.”
“As you gain appreciation for life and the things you do, your perspectives really change,” says Ogden. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”