Having Our Say

Each year, the Alberta Fish & Game Association (AFGA) holds its conference and annual general meeting. This year, our club had enough members to send two voting delegates, and I was lucky enough to go. The first day of this conference, was Thursday February 21st. We got all registered and collected our sweet swag bags courtesy of the Calgary Fish & Game Association, and we headed in to the hall for the reports from the Environment Chair and the Programs Chair.

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The environment report was very interesting with its focus on the Big Horn Proposal by the Provincial Government. It offered some valuable insight into the proposal and included a key perspective that it’s not all bad news. Biologists agree that the proposed land should be protected, but where the real issues lie is how to go about doing that (the main concern being increased tourism does not equal protection), and the poor performance of the government in their consultation efforts with the public. (Click here to see the AFGA’s official position on the Bighorn Proposal)

The programs report offered some great insight into the different programs offered by the AFGA, such as the Becoming an Outdoor Woman Program (BOW) which is a multi-day camp offered to all ages of women to introduce them to things such as archery, firearms, and chainsaw operation. The report also gave an update on the Narrow Lake Conservation Camp, a camp for youth members who are sponsored by each local club to attend. They learn skills such as Firearms Safety, Hunters Education, and Boating Safety, since they go canoeing pretty much every day. It provides a major boost to engaging our youth across the province. 

The first night was the mixer, and this year they went with a luau theme, so everyone got in the spirit, got decked out in flowered shirts and got “lei’d” by the Onoway club as we walked in the hall. Many of the clubs generously donated some amazing food, and no Lu Au would have been complete without an entire roasted pig, presented to the crowd on a stretcher and carried in by a couple of dudes in full costume – which is exactly what we got.

The evenings at conference are generally spent networking, something we did a ton of. Finding out what other clubs are doing, in my opinion, is the best part about conference. We got so many ideas to bring back to the club and met some awesome people who are doing some really great things for conservation in our province.

On Friday we were lucky enough to have a number of speakers from the Provincial Government give some insightful and informative presentations, although the general theme when it came to questions was that with the looming election, what they could tell us was limited. Despite this, we learned quite a bit about invasive species in the Province of Alberta, the ongoing projects to monitor them, and what we can all do to combat their spread.

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Saturday, was arguably the most important day of Conference. After breakfast we filed into the hall to take our seats to get ready for the election of the new AFGA executive. After some speeches, elections were held and a new President and Vice President were installed.

Following elections, we reviewed the resolutions drafted by each of the clubs in Alberta for consideration by the voting delegates. These resolutions range from asking the provincial government to allow hunting on Sundays in certain WMUs, to the responsible use of OHVs, to the management of feral horse populations. We went through each resolution and delegates were provided the chance to speak for or against each one before ultimately each was voted in or voted down.

The reason this is so important is because it provides the members of the AFGA, the hunters and anglers in our Alberta, a collective voice that the government hears. The analogy that was used earlier in the conference, was by lighting a match and holding your hand over it. Definitely uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as when you light an entire book of matches. The parallel being drawn is so true, our voices are much louder when we speak together in one voice – something that is achieved for us through the AFGA.

That night at the President’s Ball, after the new Executive marched in to the live bagpipes, and after the new and past presidents did a shot of scotch together (as per tradition), and after the youth delegates led the room in the singing of our national anthem, we had a fantastic dinner, followed by example after example of extraordinary commitment to education and conservation as the awards were presented to the very deserving clubs and members across the province.

It’s astonishing how much love and passion the members of these organizations show year after year, many of them for their entire lives, and it’s extremely motivating for me when returning to my own club wanting to make a difference, like so many before me. It was truly an honor to attend this year’s conference on behalf of our great club, and our club is already drafting our own resolutions to defend at next year’s conference with the hopes of improving the experiences for hunters and anglers in Alberta.

I Don't Do Ups!

This year I was given the honour of representing the Devon Fish & Game Club at the Annual Alberta Fish & Game Conference in Edmonton. Aside from the fantastic food, the amazing opportunity to provide input on conservation activities in our province, and the incredibly educational speakers, the networking was top notch. My co-delegates and I met several people from across the province that were filled with knowledge about different animals and different areas, and different hunting and fishing experiences and we used the conference to soak up as much as we could.

We spent a large portion of our free time, speaking with other delegates just like us looking for ideas to improve their own clubs, and contribute to our amazing sport and to the conservation efforts in our province. One person in particular was Josh. We connected pretty quickly with Josh, although his strange Southern Alberta dialect initially threw us off. Once we were able to get past it, we learned that Josh was struggling with some of the same things we were, and had the same passions. And we also learned that the hunting options where we live, and those where Josh lives have a very particular difference that would provide an opportunity for us to strike a very special deal.

Josh shared with us that he has been fortunate enough to harvest a bull elk in his hunting grounds 5 years in a row. Something that without access to a large area of private land where we hunt, is extremely difficult. On the flip side, while they do exist, the number of large white tail deer in Josh’s home territory, is much smaller than those that we are used to. So we all decided to give each other the opportunity of a lifetime by agreeing to locally host each other in our own hunting camps in the upcoming season. In short, Josh would take us hunting for elk in his WMU, and we would take him hunting for whitetail in our WMU. The results were nothing short of stunning.

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We met Josh in Claresholm after a four or five hour drive from our hometown (I wouldn’t know, my companions were hell bent on leaving at 3AM so I slept the whole way). We had left so early with the intent to get there with enough time to set up camp and go for an evening hunt, but the icy roads slowed us down. We convoyed with Josh into his chosen spot for camp and we set up our wall tents while we marveled at the amazing scenery and the mountains that surrounded us on all sides - all the while keeping a secondary eye peeled for our chosen prey.

It turned out, however, that the best way to find these animals, in this country, is to go up. Brandon, one of my fellow delegates and the current President of our club, who is a somewhat physically challenged due to his cushy oil patch job which requires him to sit in a truck most of the day - was adamant that he doesn’t do ups. He perpetually quoted some comedian who maintained that he doesn’t climb up, doesn’t do push ups, sit ups, pull ups - or any other thing of the sort. Despite his constant complaints, he dragged his butt up that hill every morning, and back up in the evening after lunch, every single day. Josh was committed to the endeavor of getting us a legal bull elk for our freezer, and we didn’t want to disappoint him either by taking the lazy route and hanging out in camp the whole time. So when Josh said up, up we went.

The entire hunt was spent hiking up steep hills for hours at a time, as Josh said many times “the shortest way up is straight up, and the shortest way down is straight down”. The days were grueling, and after some rough calculations it turned out we were hiking around 12kms per day, mostly uphill, and burning around 8000 calories each day. It was the most difficult and one of the most rewarding hunts I’ve ever experienced.

Josh didn’t disappoint either. We saw hundreds of animals over the course of our 9 day hunt of all varieties. We saw herds of mule deer up on the mountain from far away distances to merely 60 yards away. We watched white tail bucks in full rut chasing does. We saw bald eagles and hawks stalking their prey. We walked in the tracks of massive grizzly bears with paws bigger than my brother’s size 13 boots. We saw a cougar making his way across the mountain, always keeping an eye on us, and us both eyes on it. Bull moose, and trophy sheep, and over a hundred elk.

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Unfortunately, as my dad always says, “they call it hunting, not shopping for a reason” and we did not end up finding a legal bull elk on this trip. However, the experience of hunting in a landscape that we otherwise never would have seen, much less hiked up and down for 9 days, was incredible. The friendship we made during this hunt will last a lifetime, and although we were not able to make the time to hold up our end of the bargain this year by taking him on a white tail hunt, we’re already making plans for next fall to host him at our hunting camp.

When I reflect on the whole experience, it’s hard to the ignore that none of this would have been possible without my participation in the Devon Fish & Game Club. I’ve never been more energized to contribute to my club and to the province as a whole, and if meeting like-minded people, with the same passion as you, and being able to share amazing experiences with those people is something that interests you, I’d highly recommend joining.