Students put down books, pick up guns and credits
'We learn much more when we take students into the field,' University of Manitoba prof says
Students at the University of Manitoba are putting down the textbooks and picking up guns as part of a mentored hunting course this fall.
The Environmental Field Investigations course gives students hands on experience hunting and harvesting geese and deer in southern Manitoba — as well as university credits.
Professor Rick Baydack said it's important for students in the Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources to get a well-rounded understanding of the issues they study, and that includes the role hunters play in conservation.
"We learn much more, I think, when we take students into the field than in a traditional university classroom," he said.
"Hunting is one of the tools that wildlife managers use in their arsenal as we try to manage and maintain and preserve wildlife populations. So, hunting is something I feel, and many of my colleagues feel, students need to be aware of and understand and take part in to experience exactly what hunters, and people who are in the hunting community, are all about."
Students in the course started their first day in the classroom for a couple of hours of discussion on hunting, and shared with each other why they were interested in taking the course.
Then, they hit the firing range for target practice, where they took down clay targets. That section was followed by a brief tutorial on how to draw geese in with goose-like calls and the art of decoy placement in a field.
Fifth-year student Yves Picyk said he believes outdoor activities such as camping, fishing and hunting help people become more connected with nature.
"It's one of the basic things that humans do," he said. "Not everything comes from the store. I guess it gives people the chance to realize you can hunt your own food."
'She was a vegan'
For some of the students, Baydack's course represents the first time they have ever handled a gun. Some don't even eat meat.
"The most interesting quote that I've ever heard was from a student one year that said that she's going to become a hunter," Baydack said.
"She was a vegan; she's going to now become a hunter because it brings her back to the food chain, which of course is a very profound statement that the concept of eating wild game and hunting locally, not in a commercial farming arrangement, is certainly something that assists in the sustainability of our land and our future generations."
Former-vegetarian Vanessa Ahing now feels slightly less conflicted about killing and eating a wild animal.
"I was vegetarian, but I do really enjoy eating meat, so I wanted to find a way that I could eat meat that I could feel good about, and something that felt good for me ethically, so I decided to try hunting," Ahing said.
This is the 10th year of the hunting course, but it isn't the first time Ahing has gone hunting. She took part in a women-only mentored deer hunt in the fall of 2013. She feels prepared now with the ethical implications, but that first hunt was nerve-wracking.
"I didn't know that morning before we went out to hunt, I didn't know if I'd be able to pull the trigger or not," she said. "I really didn't know how I would feel afterwards. It was a very emotional experience, but I am very happy I did it.
"It was a really good bonding experience and I felt really good about eating the meat afterwards. So I definitely learned a lot about myself, a lot about my ethics doing that hunt and how far I could go."
Barriers to hunting
Students receive guidance from seasoned hunters such as Ray Bisson as part of the course. Bisson volunteered with the course through the Delta Waterfowl chapter in Manitoba.
"Being a mentor is a great opportunity for some of us, who've been hunting for many years, to pass some of that experience on," he said.
"The health of this sport and the importance of having people hunting to manage the volumes, it needs that younger generation to come up and continue the efforts that were always there," he said.
Bisson said it's important students get to interact with someone like him, because not everyone has an older family member or friend who is capable of introducing them to hunting.
Picyk's family immigrated to Canada and he said it was challenging to learn the different hunting customs and rules on their own.
"It's pretty hard if you want to get into it at first, if you don't know anyone," Picyk said.
"I think you need permissions for the field, finding the owner and all this stuff. It's not an easy thing to do, and I think people like that, helping people who never hunted before, to find those fields and just knowing things in general about hunting is something great."
As for the former vegetarian, Ahing said that while she still doesn't consider herself a big hunter, she was happy to take Baydack's course and learn more about hunting.
She is still in touch with the "Team Lady Fowlers" from that first all-women hunt, and they plan to go hunting again this fall.
"My parents, I don't think in their wildest dreams they imagined that their daughter would be a hunter one day, but they're awesome, they're super supportive," Ahing said.
"The big goal of Team Lady Fowlers is to one day become mentors to other women and kids who want to try hunting for the first time, but maybe don't have the opportunity to get out."
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With files from Caroline Barghout and Louis-Philippe Leblanc