Evan Saugstad: Keeping our hunts sustainable


The year 2020 marks the 50th year that I have owned guns and hunted. I am retired and spend more time hunting than ever before, except maybe when I was a high school student in the Bella Coola valley. As I get older, I seem to spend more and more time looking, rather than shooting. Despite that, the freezer is always full and the smokehouse busy.

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For the first time in the past few years, I finally shot something other than a grouse; a whitetail buck destined for more homemade jerky and filler in my new career as a sausage maker.

I can spend hours, day after day, wandering the bush, just looking at what is there, waiting for that moment when suddenly one sees what we are looking for. Great exercise and never a dull moment.

It's hard to find some other old geezer that has the time and ability to walk miles, day after day. Most of my time is spent alone, wandering the hills and valleys where ATVs have a hard time navigating. I seldom see another hunter where I hunt, as most don’t seem to get off the ATV and onto their own two feet.

Good for me; I like it that way.

On occasion, and when opportunity permits, I take the time to pass on some of what I have learned to our younger family members. This past year was a good one: my stepdaughter got her first elk (six-point bull) with her first shot, shortly after daylight, opening morning. Three weeks later, my nephew got his first bull elk (five-point bull). Always great to see the excitement and thrill that a successful hunt can bring, and even better, to see all that great meat feeding multiple families.

I also have family friends who make the trek north each year to hunt, like they have every year for the past 25. Still use a wall tent, still sleep on the ground, still have fun, and still act like a bunch of teenagers.

Before you ask about going hunting, remember, the reason I'm reasonably successful is that I don’t broadcast where I go. For those who do know, they have learned about zipper mouths, as they wish to go again.

The opportunity and ability to hunt multiple species on public lands is one thing that sets northeast B.C. apart from the rest of B.C. We all would like to keep it that way.

Some of our hunting regulations are up for review. After spending too much time trying to find out how to submit comments, I did. Some of the proposed changes are good, some seem a bit irrelevant. Most reflect changing attitudes, times, conditions, and technologies.

New innovations in scopes, guns, and binoculars challenge what old school hunters might think as ethical or staying in the spirit of the hunt. Some want to hunt with gun and scope combinations that shoot a kilometre or more — mostly because they are too lazy to walk/sneak/hunt. Computerized technology can now calculate the distance, wind speed, and elevation change so one only needs to put the cross hairs on the animal and technology will figure out the rest. Thank god drones are illegal, otherwise some would wish to use them. Infrared binoculars that see at night are now cheap enough for most to afford.

Electric bikes are becoming more abundant and are now proposed to be considered as a vehicle and restricted in some areas. Proposals to eliminate the use of scopes on bows in bow-only seasons, banning the use of spears, air guns, and some primitive weapons for hunting of big game, and the use of cellular technology on trail cameras that allow for real-time reporting of animal movements during the hunting season, all seem reasonable, but not likely to be big issues here.

The most needed changes with the greatest impacts relate to changes to the mule deer, moose, and elk seasons. The ministry wishes to add a seven-day any mule deer buck season. Moose seasons in the Pink Mountain area are to be shortened and become consistent with adjacent management units. Limited Entry Hunting (LEH) during the winter months for bull elk will be eliminated in our agriculture zone, along with setting LEH cow elk harvest levels at the management unit level (smaller), rather than current large-scale agriculture zone, as these should help increase local populations and bull/cow ratios.

One issue that is not addressed is that of the aboriginal right to hunt, and what that means for animal populations and the ability to hunt for those who are not aboriginal. More hunters with new technologies, more ATVs, and better access as a result of more industrial activity on the land base all lead to more pressure on our game animal populations. To a moose, caribou, elk or deer, it doesn’t matter who kills them, they all wish to live. As a hunter, I too wish to see them live. I also wish to see their populations sustained so I can continue the enjoyment of hunting.

All hunters need to come together, agree on what is regulated hunting and what is the aboriginal right to hunt, and then tell government how we wish to manage this valuable resource. We cannot keep arguing and pointing fingers at each other for our collective failures.

Hunting must be regulated for most species, and that includes how many animals are available for harvest. If not, we could soon face the reality that more species no longer have the population to sustain a hunt, just like what happened to some of our caribou herds.

It isn’t complicated, just takes a bit of work and mutual understanding, as after all, we do live together on a little piece of flat earth.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John.

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