One guide’s perspective on hunting

Left-right are T.J. Stokes, Cory Smith and Emily Plihal. Stokes was able to harvest this massive black bear in spring 2022. Plihal says they are waiting to hear if the bear will receive the Pope and Young belt buckle award within the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society award ceremony this winter.

Emily Plihal
Local Journalism
Initiative Reporter

Many of our readers do not know that my primary occupation is being a professional outfitter.

I started guiding for my father 22 years ago when I was still in journalism school. I started as a bear guide when I was still in college, then started guiding for waterfowl and ungulates (hoofed mammals) when I graduated. As the years progressed, I purchased some allocations and ran my own business alongside my father.

There is nothing quite as special as being able to spend time with a parent in the outdoors, seeing and experiencing all the wonders of nature. I think parents also have a wonderful opportunity to teach their children how to respect animals, how to provide for their own families, and to be cognizant of how wonderful nature is and how much it can provide for us, if we learn to respect it.

As hunters, our primary concern should be learning to be respectful of wildlife and the beautiful trees and ecosystems that we have the pleasure of exploring.

My favourite part of hunting has always been the time that I get to spend with my father in the outdoors. From a young age, I would go with my father bear baiting or hunting for moose, learning the ropes from someone who also learned from his own dad. Now I have the pleasure of sharing the experience with clients, friends, and family who all want to come to experience what I am privileged to do every spring and fall.

I always talk to young people about the importance of respecting the animal’s life you are taking. I have had clients embarrassed when after they shoot their animal, they take a moment to reflect on what they’ve done. Never be embarrassed of being respectful of an animal you’ve harvested; a true hunter understands that the animal has given up its life at his/her hands and should be reflective of the actions they’ve just taken.

If you are to take anything away from this script, the importance of respecting nature and wildlife should be that.

Getting along with farmers and landowners

One of the most vital parts of preparing for a hunt, in my opinion, is ensuring you’re respecting your neighbours when gearing up for your excursion.

It absolutely irritates me when I see posts from farmers who have had substantial damage inflicted on their property at the hands of an individual who decided driving across their canola swaths was “a good idea”. The reality is that most of these folks who are damaging crops, likely do not have permission to be on the field in the first place. Their absolute ignorance not only affects the livelihood of a farmer, but it will also impede the likelihood of others getting permission to hunt on that field in the future.

I’ve seen pictures from friends where people have driven across their land leaving giant tire track ruts across their fields. This damage can cost the farmer or landowner substantial time and money to rectify your carelessness. Quit being ignorant.

It’s vital that hunters use respect when using other people’s land to hunt. One of the biggest concerns for canola producers and municipalities in our region is the spread of clubroot. It has become a trend, or perhaps is a result of laziness, for people who are pursuing animals to drive instead of walk or post.

In many cases, these folks are driving across land that they do not have permission on, potentially spreading clubroot from one affected canola field to another. This disease spreads easily and prevents the farmer from being able to plant canola again for multiple years. Be aware that this is an important cash crop for our agricultural industry and in order for them to stay viable operations they need to be able to plant crops that will pay for their expenses.

Beyond our agricultural producers, it is also important to be respectful of neighbours to the properties you’re hunting on. I’ve given plenty of people heck for being dangerous with their firearms near my home, and I know that I am not alone in this concern. Be aware of where you’re hunting, ensure you’re an adequate distance from a home, do not shoot towards a home or building (I sure hope you’re smart enough to figure this one out on your own, if not please retire your firearms), and be aware if there are livestock near your hunting spot. There are too many cases of reckless firearm bearers, do not become a 6 o’clock news story. We all want to get home safely to our families.

Above all else, if there are no trespassing signs, stay the heck off the land. They don’t want you there for whatever reason and you’re not welcome there. There are plenty of places to hunt on Crown land or land you can get permission on. Don’t have loose morals just because you see an animal you’d like to shoot.

Be aware!

I think it’s super important to focus on the pressures that our wildlife have been under this year. A lot of Wildlife Management Unit 544 was burned as a result of the fires in May and June, and I think the wildfires are a great opportunity to evaluate our actions when we hunt or recreate in bush.

One thing that I was trying to point out to people in April was the importance of evaluating bush conditions when recreating in the outdoors. Many people were utilizing quads in April and May, prior to the bans, when a simple analysis of the dry underbrush should have told them that was a bad idea.

If we are to be classified as outdoorsmen, it is vital to learn how to determine courses of action to take, even if they are not being implemented by the government yet.

As we learned this year, those dry conditions can act as kindling, even the smallest spark can cause damage that we are not prepared for. Prior to exploring wilderness, evaluate what the conditions are and determine what mode of transportation (walking/quad/horse/etc.) would be the best.

Clearly, we’ve had adequate precipitation at this point in the fall, so in a lot of locations dry conditions are no longer a concern, however; this is something to keep in mind next spring and in future hunting seasons.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Many people are too proud to ask for assistance, admit their mistakes, or pose questions regarding hunting. Don’t be. There are many professionals who are willing to answer your questions. One of the best resources is our local Fish and Wildlife office. Our Conservation officers appreciate clear, respectful, and honest dialogue, and they are willing to answer questions that people have. Please ensure to make their job less stressful by following the law and being respectful of wildlife.

If you are unsure of a law or rule, give their office a call.

Be fun

My favourite clients to guide have always been the people who see the whole picture when it comes to the hunt. My favourites are the people who appreciate the wildlife they see, they know the beauty of seeing the numbers of moose we see, the ability to appreciate a sow with triplets (even though they’re not legal to shoot), who get excited when they’re only 20 feet from a coyote, who are excited to learn what a tamarack is. Find a way to find the excitement in the experience you’re having.

There are so many people who never get to see the extreme beauty of what is in our own back doors. Sure, it is awesome to fill your freezer with healthy, lean meat you have harvested, but be excited about all the things before pulling the trigger.

Start a tradition

One of my favourite traditions my father and I have created over the two decades of working together is enjoying a lunch by a creek or stream in the bush. This is a really important tradition when we are bear baiting in the spring, but it may be an opportunity for you to take some advice from me to start with your own kids, something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

Dad and I always pack a glass bottle of coca cola, an almond Hershey chocolate bar, and (other than those items) a healthy and hearty lunch to enjoy with one another. Spend time reflecting on what could have been improved in your pursuit and make quality time for your hunting buddies.

Remember how truly fortunate you are to be miles out in the bush with no noise as interruption. We are truly living the dream every time we get the opportunity to breathe in fresh air, hear nothing but birds and wolves and rutting elk, and spending time reflecting on what is truly important.

It’s our time to reset doing what we love. Enjoy!

Left-right are Jim Forsyth and Emily Plihal. One of Plihal’s favourite clients throughout her 22-year career is Forsyth, a man who was able to be thankful for all the experiences he had while he was on his six-day hunt with us. The pair were able to get “selfies” with a black bear.

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