Hunting is wonderfully complex. It is a social activity that brings us together with friends and family. Hunting is also deeply embedded in conservation politics. Regulated hunting is an important tool of wildlife managers and hunting organizations play an important role in lobbying for conservation outcomes.

Therefore, hunting is also a social-political act. When we hunt, we are an embodied expression of that social-political act. What political statements do we make through the companies we support?

Hunting and fishing exist in a complicated social-political fabric. The choices we make as hunters and anglers shape our individual expression of the social-political act we engage in when we go into the field. It is worth reflecting on how we express our ethics through hunting and the people we surround ourselves with.

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This is not a repudiation of animal rights. The purpose of this discussion is not to diminish the history of the animal rights movement or demonize its proponents.

We sometimes see the conservation movement as a linear thread through history on which we trace the growth of ideas and key figures in a neat and tidy narrative.

In reality, the story of the conservation movement is as beautifully tangled and intricately complex as the issues it works to address. Conservation has always involved alliances and collaborations between a wide variety of actors with diverse motivations and priorities. It is the cross-pollination of ideas brought on by the creative interaction of diverse perspectives that have achieved the many monumental conservation successes we celebrate.

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On week long back country canoe trips, day hunts from a tree stand, or actual sketchy situations, knowing how to work with rope to secure loads and tie off gear is key for any outdoors person. My grandfather spent years sailing by himself on a 22-foot sailboat and that guy knew his way around rope. He emphasized the importance of ensuring your rope was neat and tidy, knots were secure, and you know where the end of your rope was so you could work with it when needed. Whether you are pulling a bear hang up to keep your food safe overnight, tying a canoe to a car, hanging a tarp in a downpour, or just doing general tasks around the house or camp, it’s important to understand the purposes of different knots and which are most useful for the situation.

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Georg Wilhelm Steller spent nine months stranded on an island in the Bering Sea in 1741. If Steller had followed the fate of the expedition’s leader, Vitus Bering, and died of cold, hunger, or scurvy, we may today know far less about much of the wildlife on what became Bering Island. In particular, were it not for the time Steller spent observing and eating a large marine mammal during his time on the island, it is likely that the Steller’s sea cow would have been named after someone else.

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Throughout the 19th century, hunters, trappers, and mountain men would emerge from the mountains each spring to meet for an annual rendezvous. They would trade, sell their furs, restock supplies, exchange news, and engage in general frivolity. The last rendezvous took place in 1840 in Wyoming.

In the spirit of meeting with like-minded people to trade, this series presents discussions I have with friends about topics related to hunting and conservation. It is a kind of virtual rendezvous that presents largely unedited written exchanges with dear friends of mine. As with the rocky mountain rendezvous, it brings together diverse people who spend most of their time far apart but share an important set of motivations and ethics. This is a conversation with Caleb Musgrave (Canadian Bushcraft) and Jon Gattozzi.

Letters amongst friends.

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When a new species is identified, its discoverer typically has the privilege of naming it. Hundreds of wildlife and plant species around the world are named for explorers, scientists, and celebrities. Species such as the Humboldt squid, Steller sea lion, Douglas fir, and Stasimopus mandelai, a species of South African spider named in honour of Nelson Mandela, are named for specific people. We talk about these species often but may not always know the stories of their namesakes.

No other person has more places named after him than Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt has hundreds of cities, streets, and bodies of water named for him worldwide. There are also wildlife species, plants, asteroids, and physical features that bear his name.

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As conservationists, communication one of our most important tools. In many ways, the future health of wildlife depends on our ability to tell compelling stories from the heart that moves the public and politicians. As hunters, we sometimes allow ourselves to become baited into providing reactionary justifications for hunting and forget to focus on our personal motivations. Focusing on our motivations and speaking from the heart will create opportunities for genuine communication.

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The Latin names for wildlife and plant species follow a specific and universally accepted structure that allows us to talk about the same organism across languages, countries, disciplines, and knowledge systems. It might seem cumbersome to memorize Latin names for species that might already enjoy pleasant sounding and culturally significant local names. However, the background of the Latin naming system, known as binomial nomenclature, is interesting and useful to understand. Many Latin names are also full of stories and hidden meanings. Digging into some of these names is sometimes like deciphering a glimpse into the minds and worlds of naturalists from centuries ago.

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The environmental author Edward Abbey once said, “Hunting is one of the hardest things even to think about. Such a storm of conflicting emotions!” As we move our way through the hunting season, we will be acquiring new stories to tell about this year’s successes and adventures. We will take and post photos on social media as a way to tell those stories. Many of us will grapple with the images and words we use to best represent these experiences.

This desire to tell our stories is an instinct that sits deeply in us. Humans are a storytelling species. Through our stories, we convey values, teach moral lessons, entertain, pass on family and cultural traditions, and communicate tacit knowledge through metaphors.

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Conservation involves complicated layers that must be navigated. It involves a diverse set of voices, nuanced motivations, and vastly different ideas about the best types of programs and policies. Inevitably, there is a great deal of push and pull and disagreement about the right kinds of decision-making in conservation and what constitutes a morally right way to approach conservation.

Bounties and killing contests occupy a contradictory space in the North American conservation narrative. Predator bounties were responsible for the widespread destruction of species such as wolves and bears across North America over the last couple centuries. At other times, bounties and killing contests are packaged as deliberate conservation initiatives.

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