Hunting season is well underway and this year more Albertans are heading to the bush, rifle in hand.
According to the province, more young people are getting into the sport. In the last year, there was a nearly 10 per cent increase in the number of young hunters getting licences among 26 to 35 year olds, as well as a slight upswing among 18 to 25 year olds.
Despite growing up in a hunting family, 28-year-old Joel Burke made his first kill this fall — a large white-tail deer.
“I first started thinking about it a few years ago,” said Burke.
“I decided I wanted to stop eating meat. So I did that for a while and started thinking about more ethical ways to eat meat. I thought hunting was probably the most ethical way to do that. I like to be an informed consumer. So I decided that would be the best way to go."
Burke is part of the trend of young people who want to know where their meat is coming from and want it grass-fed, free-range and organic.
“I'm all for it. I like hipster music and clothes and that stuff. I think as long as they're approaching it with respect, then I'm all for it. I think it's careful to go slow when you're learning it. Take your time, don't be in a hurry. But go for it.”
Burke’s says he’s determined to use the entire carcass of the buck he shot — even the hide.
“I'm going to make kind of a man purse, maybe. I don’t know. I was trying to think how I could actually get away with using that in something I would wear. And I think a man purse is a good idea. Yeah, it's totally hipster. But I mean, whatever. Who else has done that? Do you know anyone else? I think it's pretty cool. I killed the deer, skinned it, tanned the hide, sewed it all together — that's pretty cool.”
Butcher Noel Jervis, who owns Ryan’s Meats in Calgary, says he’s seeing an influx of novice hunters, many of whom aren't as aware of proper practices as Burke is.
"What kind of problems do I see? All kinds of stuff, such as animals not tagged correctly, wrong species of animal with the wrong tag on it. Worst thing we'll see is someone will shoot an animal think it's one thing and it's actually another thing and they've got the wrong tag on it all together,” says Jervis.
“I don't hear enough people telling me they're learning enough about species identification, other than safety, safety, safety. Safety's great, but you still gotta know what you're doing.”
Jervis says he’ll have guys come up to his back door saying “I’ve got a white tail deer in the back of my truck.” And he'll go out, and it's a mule deer — which makes it poaching and means that he can’t butcher that animal.
He also sees first-time hunters who don't know proper hunting techniques — everything from not knowing how to shoot and kill properly to not knowing how to field dress an animal.
"I'm going to throw away half your critter because the meat's rotten,” says Jervis. “It's a waste. It's a total waste. You need to teach these guys properly what to do first in the field.”
Bob Gruszecki, who is president of the Alberta Hunters Education Instructor's Association, says he sometimes hears stories of novice hunters, but program facilitators are working to get more people exposed to their training.
“Does it happen? Of course. And is it our job, our task and our dedicated effort to try and stem the flow of those types of things? Absolutely. And so we think education is the tool to make that happen and I believe that we're achieving it, one person at a time."