I grew up in a house where hunting and fishing were a part of our lives. With five kids, a mortgage and one income, wild game helped out with the food budget.
My paternal grandfather was born in rural Ontario. He came from a big family. His wife, my grandmother, came from a tiny community in Northern Ontario. She was the oldest of 16 children. In a time and place where there was no electricity, no transportation and no jobs, families lived off the land. Nothing went to waste.
By the time my father was born, at the beginning of the Great Depression, the family had moved to Toronto. It was a tough time and they depended on a successful fall hunt to have meat for the winter.
We used to laugh because my father would save the water he used to wash his hands for “the next guy”. I don’t think he ever lived in a house without running water, but both of his parents grew up in houses where water was pumped by hand. Those old cultural habits die very hard. Nothing was wasted, even water.
The first thing I learned about firearms was safety. My father kept a .32 special, a 22 and a shotgun in the basement. They were locked up but we all knew where the key was kept. Same with the ammunition. I never touched his firearms and neither did any of my brothers. It was a deep taboo in our family to touch firearms without an invitation from the owner.
Now I have a gun safe and the combination is private. It’s better that way.
We had toy guns as youngsters. I’m not sure why. We were not allowed to point them at anyone. Children would be severely scolded for pretending to shoot another person.
To this day, if I walk into a sporting good store and see someone waiving an empty firearm around, I leave the store at once. I don’t think that the firearm is loaded, but how do I know for sure?
I hunted as a boy. I remember one time going out in the bush with an uncle to hunt rabbits. My father’s cousin had a beagle and we heard it all day long. But we never saw the dog and we never saw a rabbit.
My uncle did not waste the trip though. He handed me his shotgun and invited me to shoot a sapling from a yard away. I shot and the 4-inch sapling was shorn right off. “Imagine that tree was one of your brothers”. Lesson learned.
Although I’ve always fished, I stopped hunting as a teen. School, sports and later medical school, my new family and my practice were all much more important. And I didn’t need the meat.
I started shooting skeet about a year ago. It’s fun, it’s done with friends and no one gets hurt. It gets me out of the house in the winter.
But you need a Firearms Licence, commonly called a PAL to acquire and possess a shotgun.
The first step is a firearms safety course. For the general PAL that allows one to acquire non-restricted firearms like a shotgun, the course is all day. The one I attended lasted about 10 hours and had a written exam and a practical exam. They weren’t hard exams, but they demonstrated that before someone bought or possessed a firearm, they knew how to use it safely.
After passing the firearms safety course there is an application for the licence. There are reference checks, questions about spouses, ex-spouses and other conjugal partners. My list was very short. The RCMP then does a final police check.
The whole process takes a couple of months. It’s hard to argue with the emphasis on safety. I don’t want someone owning a semi-automatic rifle who does not know how to use it safely. I also understand why we don’t give guns to people who have had a violent relationship with an ex-conjugal partner.
But even after you get a firearms acquisition and possession licence, you still can’t go and buy a rifle and head off to Crown Land to harvest a deer. The next step is a hunter’s safety course.
Again, it’s an all day course and goes over the rules and regulations of hunting. It emphasizes safety safety, safety.
There is a large segment on ethical hunting. There is a candid discussion about only harvesting animals that are not required to sustain the population, using and not wasting the animals and respecting the rights of property owners and non-hunters to peacefully enjoy their lives.
After a not insignificant investment in time, effort and money, I can legally buy and possess a firearm and purchase a hunting licence from the Province of Ontario.
The Ministry of Natural Resources sets limits on the number and type of licences issued in each zone of the Province. Municipalities will limit where and when firearms may be discharged. I see deer in my backyard in Ancaster nearly everyday if I’m ambitious enough to look out the back window at dawn. But the City of Hamilton won’t let me shoot them. It would not be safe.
I will go hunting this fall. I’ll go north.
It’s great to get out in the bush for a few days of peace and I do it with a supportive group of friends. I don’t care if I even see an animal. In many ways I hope that I don’t. But if I do decide to take a deer, it will be done with respect and thankfulness.
The respect will be for the animal and for the heritage I’ve inherited from my family
It takes a while to get a firearms licence and a hunting license. It takes planning and hard work.
I think that’s a good thing for us all.
Scott D Wooder, MD