Revelance to Stewardship

At first glance, one might wonder where the connection is between the Youth Hunting Day event and stewardship of our natural resources. After all, are not the Apprentices in the field just to harvest game? This of course, is only partially correct representing a minor component of why these events are hosted.

Connecting with nature through the hunting of game birds is the basis of the youth hunting day events.  The stewardship councils consider this the start of the process of creating new ethical and responsible hunters for the future that also appreciate the important role that hunting has in sustaining the province’s natural resources.

In Aldo Leopold’s 1949 famous book “Sand County Almanac and sketches here and there”; he eloquently captured the observations of nature (more specifically about wildlife) not only through the typical year but also across various regions of the United States.  These essays are interesting and informative, yet the importance of this author’s writings were to teach us all about and develop the concept of a conservation ethic, the role wildlife and wildness plays in our culture and ultimately what he called the “land ethic”. Today we would consider this the development of a “stewardship ethic”.

It was recognized by Leopold, that young hunters must pass through a sequence of components as they learn and mature into ethical and eventually hunters that fulfill their true role within nature rather than above it.

Collaborating research done by Dr. Bob Jackson (University of Wisconsin) resulted in his development of the “Five Stages of the Hunter” which was based upon his experience as a clinical psychologist and avid deer hunter!

This theory addresses the need for a hunter (young or old) to pass through each of five stages before reaching the highest level of ethics as a hunter.  It was interesting to note that he also explained that a hunter can be at level five for duck hunting but also be at level one for turkeys!

The introduction and nurturing of ethics in a young hunter is a complicated undertaking involving both ecological and philosophical components.  It is a personal thing (as starting with hunting ethics alone in the woods) but can be argued to also represent the basis upon which individuals also participate in our larger communities. The logical extension to a stewardship ethic is to simply enlarge the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals or collectively: the land.” Paraphrased from “A Sand County Almanac”.

It is important, for each of us to realize that each of the five stations within the Youth Hunt model represents a different education component that reaches the Apprentices with lessons, messages and hands on experience regarding that particular component of the hunt.  In summary the youth hunt model represents the full circle of a safe and successful hunt. 

The identification of game, safety for oneself and others, respect for our wildlife and natural resources and experiencing the techniques of hunt, the firearms, dogs and shooting are core to the program.  It also includes, fair chase, shooting the animal and cleaning as well as the consumption of the game with family and friends.  These are lessons not taught in class rooms. They need to be learned from Mentors and other hunters in a communal setting at such an event.  This approach results in the young hunters realizing that they are participating in a traditional activity that is supported and endorsed by our communities and society. This “Social Licence” is another important component of these structured and educational hunts.

To aid in this understanding, event organizers could encourage development of conservation projects on the properties being hunted, for the Apprentices, Mentors and volunteers to implement eg., tree, wildlife shrub or grassland plantings. Each year a new group of Mentors and Apprentices could be involved in the plantings, enriching both the restoration project and the Youth Hunting Day experience.  This final activity allows participants to complete their experience and hopefully start a process in each of them that encourages them to “give back to nature” as a hunter.

Supporters of Youth Hunting Days recognize that there is a strong correlation between conservation projects on the ground and the number hunters on the landscape. Hunters care about the wildlife they hunt.  They also care about the habitat needs of these game animals but also all other animals and our ecosystems and their health.

Therefore, the stewardship councils and it's partners will continue to promote the Youth Hunting Day model across Ontario knowing the positive impact it will have on our fish, wildlife and other natural resources.