Living in Black Bear Country

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A few months ago, Cathy asked me a very important question.

“You are going to hunt for bear this year, right?” she said.

Clearly, she was submitting a request, not an enquiry. I got the message.

Bears are a serious conversation these days. We have plenty of them around. Cathy’s survey of my upcoming bear hunting plans is an equal amount to do with her interest in family security as it is the pursuit of more outdoor recreation and quality food. Bear meat is delicious. We value every morsel of sustainable, organic and highly nutritious wild food that comes directly from our forest and fields.

We’re a family that loves the outdoors and that’s why we built our home in it. Bears are an important part of country living, and it seems that everyone from a country-side bungalow, small town business, family-farm or on a rural school bus route has a bear story to share. Around my neck of the woods, we see bears meandering through fields. We find bear tracks in the mud, bear scat on the trails and huge rocks flipped over by hungry bears scratching for bugs. Bear sightings and signs are everywhere, and at safe distances, they feed our fascination for these legendary omnivores.

However, bear fascination also means bear apprehension, especially when kids and pets are involved. That apprehension is on the rise and we’re not alone. Over 80,000 “Bear Wise” calls and over 18,000 “bear incidents” (aka clear and present bear danger) in the past 15-years means that thousands of rural families (in Northern, Central and Southern Ontario) share our wary attitude about backyard bears.

Every spring, my best friend, Jane, finds a bruin in her driveway. Her smart phone is full of her front-yard-bear pictures. Lately, though, she says “bears cause me nothing but stress.” Instead of taking pictures, she’s texting and calling out warnings to her neighbours. There’s a 400-pound bear in her backyard, a smaller bear in the front yard and a dog that just barely made back in the house in time. This spring, she was visited from five different bears. She can’t walk her dog, and she doesn’t let her nephews and nieces ride their bikes over to visit.

Two years ago, bear stress struck close to home. As the crow flies (or as the bear roams), my family lives only a few miles away from the trail where a sow bit into the stomach of a 53-year-old woman.

Cathy’s confidence in my hunting skills/tenacity aside, she knows that bear hunting is not easy. There’s no guarantee that I’ll kill a bear. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that I’ll put the crosshairs on one of the bears leaving tracks behind our home.

Bear experts say hunted bears are wary bears. While there’s no guarantee that my personal hunting efforts will bring an end to bear stress for my family and neighbors, it’s an opportunity to do what’s right for wildlife management. It’s an opportunity to do what’s right for my family.

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Sand dollars and smiles

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If I had a sand dollar for every East Coast smile, there’d be enough to pave the TransCanada Highway that led the Pye’s to a fun-filled family vacation, this summer, in Nova Scotia. Sand dollars and smiles went hand-in-hand every time our boys had a chance to go beach combing. Low tide to high tide, Charlie and Jack walked, ran, shovelled, and swam along miles of soft, scenic beaches. But there was more to the Pye family vacation than just toes in the sand.  A week long vacation gave us a great taste of Nova Scotia, and everything was delicious, especially the Digby scallops. A morning hike through Kejimkujik National Park led us to a rugged ocean look-out, a perfect shoreline lunch spot in the company of curious Harbour Seals. A three-hour Bay of Fundy cruise along side of a 45-foot long humpback and her 12-foot long calf, put the power of nature into a whole new perspective. The living planet makes us humble as does the rich Acadia history and working-class hardship that echo in the heart of every habour town we visited. The Atlantic’s crashing waves on Peggy’s Cove gives tempo to the jigs and reels of a Scottish bagpipe. In a moment of vulnerability, I matched the piper’s melancholy music to this great Canadian landmark and a tear touched my cheek as ancestry filled my heart. In New Scotland, the Celtic spirit raises a pint to the City of Halifax, the shire town that feels more like a friendly village than it does Atlantic Canada’s largest city.  We loved Halifax so much that we made a point to return for another evening before we said farewell to Nova Scotia.  The homestretch is the best time to look back on a great vacation, knowing that the genuine local characters we met along the way really made the travel experience feel like home. A vacation is not complete without a special souvenir. An antique lobster trap, along with stunning Nova Scotia vacation photos and memories, are with us forever.

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Once Upon A Time

This speech was presented at the 2015 OFAH Fish & Wildlife Conference.

This speech was presented at the 2015 OFAH Fish & Wildlife Conference.

Once upon a time are the four little words that start a special story.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters certainly has a special story. But today, it doesn’t need to start with once upon a time. After all, we are an organization for the future, not the past.

Let us not think about once upon a time as in yesterday. Think about once upon a time as in right now… because this business development and corporate messaging report takes us into the conceivable future… at an OFAH Conference… far, far away.

The year is 2038, and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is celebrating its 110th Anniversary.  A lot has changed since the 2015 OFAH Annual General Meeting. But still, 23-years-later, isn’t it remarkable that retired Mississauga Mayor, Hazel McCallum was here this morning to bring greetings to the OFAH. {Joke}

If you think that’s ridiculous, what if I also told you that, nearly quarter of century later, the Leafs actually made it to the playoffs?

You’re laughing because you’re optimistic; and perhaps even a little bit crazy.

What isn’t crazy, however, is your 2015 prediction about the crazy technological world that we live in.

As you envisioned, Generation X lit the match on the fuse of digital technology that brought skyrocketing advancements in media and communications, transportation and global commerce.

In 2015, you were also right in your observation about the relentless progress of woman and man.  Urban sprawl sprung to urban speed. The cityscape devoured more landscape when most were too busy texting and tweeting.  Some families sold the farm… others sold the family farm values.

Yes, welcome to 2038; yet another era when environmental priorities and social change still can’t come fast enough.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” And when it comes to Ontario’s fish and wildlife and outdoor opportunities, creating the future is something that OFAH members have always done best.

Back when Model T-Fords rattled down the dirt roads of Toronto, it was our founding members who predicted that, without a fishing season, Ontario would see the demise of its bass populations.  So, in 1928, our Federation was born following a grassroots victory in the creation of conservation laws.

In the 1950’s, OFAH members predicted that our great hunting legacy would be crippled by the bad reputation caused from hunting accidents. So, we took charge of our destiny by spearheading one of North America’s finest hunter education programs.

Throughout much of the 1980’s and 1990’s, OFAH members predicted that Ontario could, once again, be home to wild turkey and elk. Forward-thinking prevailed.P1030614

“Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.” It’s a sentiment once shared by Theodore Roosevelt… and, to this day, it accurately explains why so many anglers and hunters need to belong to the OFAH.

Membership is the lifeblood of the OFAH. In year 2038, the OFAH can be very proud of its strength in OFAH membership and support. However, the journey to membership prosperity is never a smooth road. It is a reality that the OFAH has experienced years with spikes and dips in membership.

During the 2015 OFAH AGM, it was reported that OFAH strength was holding solid at 84,432 members. Remarkable retention deserves a pat on the back, but trickling growth causes a scratch to the head.

In 2015, OFAH members and staff were asking important questions.

Why didn’t critical OFAH success leverage critical OFAH membership growth — particularly during a time in OFAH history when our organization landed its longest line-up of wins: Sunday gun hunting, record highs in hunter education, the demise of the long gun registry and a returned spring bear hunt… to name only a few.

Sadly, wins that were absolutely unimaginable in the past are apathetically taken for granted in the future.

Every day the OFAH is going to work for the members we have; meanwhile, our successes benefit the members we don’t. It’s a classic case where the majority count on the minority to make one hundred percent of the progress.

When gun owners and hunters’ backs are against the wall, OFAH membership works for the entire outdoors community. But when the walls come down, we can’t afford to wait for another crisis to get the outdoors community back.

It’s a classic case where the majority count on the minority to make one hundred percent of the progress.

It’s a classic case where the majority count on the minority to make one hundred percent of the progress.

This winter, another crisis, another hunter. He said:

“My town council is trying to ban hunting, and I really need the OFAH’s help.”

We said:

“The OFAH will be there!

Oh, and by the way, your OFAH membership is expired.

We need your help, too.”

The future of OFAH membership is shaped by many symptoms including economics and demographics. Apathy, however, is our greatest threat.

In the words of Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”

In year 2038, the good old days of hunting and fishing are still being invented by a next generation of OFAH members – members who followed in the footsteps of those who fought for the outdoor opportunities they enjoy today. They chose the front line over the free ride. They trumped apathy with passion and they joined the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters for all the right reasons. And the hat and knife were just a bonus.

Indeed, the future of hunting and fishing are alive and well today because the OFAH membership never stopped making a difference. Hunting and fishing are in our DNA, and no matter how much society will change, the majority will always count OFAH’s united approach to make gains for individual pursuits.IMG_20140930_075556_edit

Once upon a time, a father and son stopped suddenly on a trail. A partridge flushed and the .410 went off. Big smiles; pats on the back; and a quick photo to mark the spot on the trail of the boy’s first bird.

The father said, “Promise that you will always protect hunting.”

The boy said, “I promise, Dad.”

The trail to OFAH membership success is told with thousands of these important stories. After all, the OFAH is about people and passion. We are an organization for the future not the past.  Once upon a time is written today.

Welcome to the future.

 

Sugar Maple Memories

Charlie can't get enough of this classic series.

Charlie can’t get enough of this classic series.

Behind the cover of a Laura Ingalls classic is a seven-year-old boy who is absolutely fascinated with her every word. That seven-year-old boy used to be me, and I’m proud to say is now Charlie.

Like my son at his age, I spontaneously connected to the 19th century homesteading hero. She was like a long lost friend. Every Laura Ingalls chapter cheered on my childhood curiosity about pioneer life.  Simple, honest stories that capture special moments when family and friends help grow gardens, store preserves, hunt deer, harvest fuel wood and make maple syrup. For our little boys, these outdoor heritage connections are innate, especially against the backdrop of a maple bush and a sugar shack.

Maples on Pye Acres go untapped. When the sap drips, we leave Pye Acres to head a mile or so down the road to Avalon Acres. We prefer syrup production in the company of our friends and neighbors, Tom and Melanie, and their two young homesteaders, Noah and Gabe.Many years ago, Tom broke trail to the Avalon Acres sugar bush, gradually adding to his investment in buckets and taps, a wood-fed boiler and a cozy little shack. Like all homesteading skills, maple syrup production is a labour of love.

IMG_20150315_111854_editWhen the warmth of the March break sun breaks the cold grip of winter, the snowy woods provide refreshing comfort. Family and friends arrive, and so does a team of horses. Silver pails on Maples, and the sweetly scented smoke-filled air signals their attention. Add potluck meals and music and the days that Laura Ingalls called the “Sugar Snow” stands the test of time.

Tiny winter boots trek up hardwood hills. The boys are going as fast as they can to lift the lids on nature’s candy. They’re having too much fun to ever consider this hard work. For the boys of Pye and Avalon Acres, homesteader rituals are just a way of life. And, like a recently read chapter from Little House in the Big Woods, another heart-warming pioneer adventure lives on.

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Chill of an Early Fall

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When morning coffee time calls for a sweatshirt, it’s time to welcome the chill of an early fall. As far as this Blogger is concerned, that first refreshing moment of seasons change really heats up the outdoors adrenalin. The recent clamour of Canada geese is the sound track for my hunting season anticipation.

Summer days are shorter and my mood to crank a bait caster is overshadowed by an urge to shoulder my shotgun. A walk in the woods feels more rewarding than a paddle through the lily pads. Waterfowl spell V in the sky and a duck blind is calling my name. My deer hunting tag arrives in the mail and suddenly every hardwood on Pye Acres has tree stand potential. These are the little clues that remind me that hunting is not only on my brain, it’s in my heart. Hunting is my identity. It’s my passion.

That passion is embraced by Cathy and the boys, and shared with my Dad and my best friend, Jane. But perhaps no one lives out that passion more energetically than our English Setters. This hunting season, every inch of upland game habitat will be pointed out by Enzo, our gun dog in training. He’s being trained by the best…. Molly’s 12-year daughter, Bella, and our 6 and 4 year old boys. Enzo is 9-months-old. He doesn’t even know what a partridge is yet, but he’s ready to hunt them.

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The Life of Molly

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Anyone who truly knows me knows Molly.  She’s more than a great dog, she’s my identity.  Inseparable throughout 15 monumental years, Molly’s amazing life story is also a Pye family biography.

‘Neath the stars of an old farmhouse/bachelor pad, Molly joined me on the front porch as I quietly confided to my dog that I was starting to fall in love with that girl we met on the river. Molly and I fished and camped together on dozens of rivers and lakes. During grouse season, Molly took me to incredible hunting grounds where, years later, we would actually own the nearby acreage. Molly travelled with me on business trips and hung out with kids at the very first OFAH Get Outdoors Summer Camp. She delivered nine beautiful puppies right next to my bed. Later, Molly proudly welcomed home two more babies and she was there to make sure our boys made it safely to a brand new home. Indeed, from the moment Cathy and I met along the Indian River, to the day we moved our family into our dream home on Pye Acres, Molly was there.

On October 26, we said goodbye to Molly. She lived an incredible life. She now rests beside her son, Bert, who we buried on the day we promised to build a home on the hill that overlooks him and Molly. Keeping watch over them is Bella, Bert’s sister/Molly’s daughter who, at ten years old, makes sure that our local grouse population doesn’t go un-hunted.

A house is not a home without the love of a dog.  I’m proud to announce that our home is about to shine even brighter. A new English Setter puppy is coming this spring! With blood lines connected to Bert and Bella, our new English Setter will be born on January 6 at Kendal Hills Kennels. We can’t wait to welcome a new dog to the Pye Family – a family that was lovingly founded in the Life of Molly.

We love you, Molly.

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Country Roads

Madeline McCarthy is about to turn 101 years old, and today the country road along Pye Acres was officially named in her honour.  McCarthy Road is a fitting tribute to a century of love and respect for the countryside she calls home.  Madeline is our lovely neighbour, and she is just as sharp today as she was when she lived her youthful adventures on hundreds of acres of land that borders her namesake.  The title to our 138 acres was signed to the founding owner in the late 1800’s, and in the early 1940s, Madeline proudly took over its deed. Cathy and I are now the third owners, inspired by the values that Madeline established here before us — pride in family, and pride in land where family is raised.  Perhaps that’s why there were tears in Madeline’s eyes on the day that we told her a baby Charlie was on the way, and so too were construction plans for our family home on her previous property. It’s flattering that Madeline enjoyed experiencing the Pye family house-raising as much as we did last year. We are also proud that Charlie and Jack will remember spending time with the lady who put her heart and soul into our property and her name on the road that leads right to it.