I am the turkey hunter

I am the anticipation of a new tale – a tale of a fanned out feathered tail — the display of a wild birds’ boss bravado in the turkey woods. I am the back against an oak with a shotgun to the shoulder. I am the heart rate that red-lines when a gobble shocks the air. I am the hen talk behind the decoys, seducing a long beard as it struts its best spur forward into a courtship trap. I am the cluck, the yelp, the purr and the cut, slowly raising the barrel as a Tom reaches range. Boom! I am the adrenaline, the double arm pump, the successful hunter with a notched tag and a bird over the shoulder, walking back in the footsteps that came here in the dark before dawn. I am the chef presenting a bird on a platter with the play-by-play story that brings priceless value to this delicious family meal. I am the self reflection upon spring times before wild turkeys were brought back. I am the conservation connection, proudly reminding others that hunters help make outdoor dreams happen. I am a guide to the future, calmly mentoring while peering over an apprentice’s shoulder, feeling our hearts race as their first turkey lines up with a steady aim. Boom! Again, I am forever part of a treasured outdoors memory. I am the confidence that youthful fascination and commitment to nature are proudly moving forward. I am conservation.

 

The trail to my association roots

I can take you to the exact spot on the partridge hunting trail where my Dad told me about his membership in the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

“You see this crest,” my Dad said pointing to the OFAH emblem sewn to his hunting jacket. “This is what protects hunting.”

I felt my Dad’s heart when he talked about his OFAH membership. My Dad called hunting and fishing his “birthright” and he told me that he proudly belonged to the OFAH because, “if anglers and hunters don’t stick together, we are going to lose it.”

That simple truth ignited my own passion for the OFAH. It also shaped my respect for anyone with the initiative to get involved in an association. Even as a young hunter, I understood the basic purpose of membership organizations. An association (or Federation) is a group of regular people, like my Dad, who pull together to take charge of their shared values and interests. I got it!

I joined the OFAH when I was 12. I was offered a professional position with this organization when I was 23 and have proudly been with the OFAH ever since.

These days I spend a lot of time wondering if membership has lost its meaning for the next generation ready to make a difference, but perhaps not ready to ever join an association. Do most people even consider why associations exist?

I reach back to 35-year old memories, including that day on the partridge hunting trail, to help retrace my earliest steps in awareness about the importance of associations.

Every summer my friends and I played baseball. Our families never paid for uniforms, equipment or sports registration fees because, behind the scenes, were my neighbours who belonged to our little village’s sports association. They made baseball participation possible thanks to their volunteer time and year-round fundraising. I was also actively involved in public speaking, travelling across the province and throughout the United States for prepared speech competitions. Every dollar of my travel costs was sponsored by volunteers of our local Lions Club, Rotary International and the Royal Canadian Legion. My first-year college tuition fees were subsidized with scholarships I received from more great community leaders and their respective associations. In many ways, I am the product of caring people who are the pillars of community service. Looking back, I guess I’ve known for years that volunteer-based associations drive civic achievements.

Bridging generations

Today, most membership associations are run almost entirely by the same generation of volunteers that have been working tirelessly since my childhood days at the ball diamond. That generation (baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964) urgently need new volunteers to fly the plane. However, associations are struggling with recruitment, particularly from my generation (Generation X born between 1965 and 1981) and the Millennials (Generation Y born between 1982 to 1995). The struggle is real and the reasons for it can be found in the great demographic divide.

I have a humble confession. Several years ago, I had to back out of a promise (a promise that I made to myself) to “someday” join a local service club. After being officially welcomed to the club, I admitted that the time and money involved in attending regular business meetings, committee meetings, and weekend club events, fundraisers and all of the other great opportunities “to give back” was not possible for this new Dad. My wife and I were balancing family life and our careers while managing a new mortgage, childcare costs and all the other pressures on the 30 and 40-something crowd.

According to association experts such as Sarah Sladek, author of “The End of Membership As we Know It,” my confession accurately reflects the realities of today’s middle-age interests, habits and expectations. This year, I joined fellow association managers in a Future of Membership workshop, hosted by Redstone Agency in Toronto, to learn more about Sarah’s insight into generational differences.

Beyond membership

Sons and daughters of Boomers are not considered “joiners” but they may be prepared to contribute on other levels for associations that see beyond membership. For instance, my family supports our local associations with event participation, donations and raffle ticket purchases. No, we don’t make time for membership meetings, but we enjoy being part of association’s online communities that keep us informed of when and how we can help. Through our personal family and friends on Facebook and email we have raised hundreds of dollars in pledges (aka “peer-to-peer” fundraising) as part of our involvement in campaigns like Movember, Relay for Life and the Kids Help Line’s Walk So Kids Can Talk. Personally addressed information and news we receive to recognize our donations to Ducks Unlimited Canada and the OFAH also motivate my family to give more to conservation.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is presenting new ways to get all ages involved in our organization. Some members belong to one or more clubs and others make a commitment to join and renew as individual OFAH members. The new $25 OFAH Paperless Membership has brought in thousands of new supporters from ages 8 to 82, and the average age is 47 (Generation X).

But there is more to the OFAH menu than just membership. Anyone who purchases OFAH branded merchandise, donates to OFAH programs through monthly giving, planned giving or buys our conservation lottery tickets is supporting the outdoors in ways just as meaningful as membership. The OFAH is also grateful to anyone who reads Ontario OUT of DOORS Magazine, watches Angler & Hunter TV, and engages in OFAH topics and discussion through our e-news and social media. These communications vehicles help people consider the outdoor opportunities that simply wouldn’t exist without OFAH supporters.

This spring, I was asked to give a presentation to Grade 9 science students about the role of the OFAH as a non-government and not-for-profit conservation association. I started my talk in the same way I started this article. I told them that the OFAH was about people like my Dad, just everyday citizens who join together because they care about our natural resources and outdoor traditions. The students clearly understood the definition of an association when I rhetorically asked, “what is stronger, the united voice of 78,000-members or a single cry of an individual?”

My presentation included an overview of a long list of environmental achievements that were spearheaded by OFAH volunteer passion. The reintroduction of native species like elk and wild turkey, and tens of thousands of hands-on volunteer hours (invested annually) in local stream restoration, tree planting as well as salmon, trout and walleye stocking. I stressed how the majority always benefit from the minority that take the initiative to create change.

The new hope

The OFAH presentation inspired my audience of cyber-agers (Generation Z born between 1996 and 2009), and hopefully they will be inspired to support associations that represent their way of life. Generation Z also includes my two boys who have inherited their grandpa’s fascination for spring mornings on the trout stream and autumn evenings in the duck blind. There are now three generations of Pye boys putting their support behind outdoor associations that stand up for family traditions and the environment.

I believe the future is bright for associations. Today’s generation is raised to think globally about a planet that needs urgent care, and now more than ever, young people are empowered to lead movements to influence change for social and environmental causes. Every high school student takes on 40-hours of community service work so there is a stronger base of understanding about local associations and the satisfaction of giving something back. In my opinion, Generation Z is the new association hope and they have the promise to become the largest and most accomplished revolution of volunteer leaders.

Regardless of age, no one can afford to be silent. Support for an association doesn’t start with a donation or a membership, it starts with a deeply personal commitment to choose action over apathy. Right now, it’s time for all generations to get back to their association roots. It’s time to return to the trail where down-to-earth advice to get involved is passed along, and where promises to give back will keep associations strong.

My son and my Dad talking about our family hunting traditions.

I am the duck hunter.

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I am the paddler breaking through the cattails, making way to a duck blind that calls my name. I am the anticipation in the hour of darkness that unravels into legal light. I am the steadiness, the readiness, the call and the shot as wild wings descend upon the decoys.   I am the hunting skills passed down by generations of duck callers and wing shooters. I am the spectator hidden by camouflage as Canada Geese spell V on a flight that plays the soundtrack of fall. I am the face towards an autumn sunrise that feels like an exclusive show. I am a vow that wetlands will always have my volunteer spirit, and my voice, to protect them. I am a name on a duck stamp and license fees proudly addressed to environmental action. I am the fascination for iridescent feathers, studying the profound artistic perfection of the mallard, wood duck and teal.  I am the quality time I promised a special hunting buddy, sharing a morning in the marsh as we whisper our observations of nature at work — on the water and in the sky.  I am the passion that comes from waterfowl hunting pastimes. I am conservation.

Lessons learned from my paper route

Written for the 2018 Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular Magazine.

IMG_20150715_202105_editWhen I was 11-years old, I had a paper route. I delivered the Orillia Packet & Times in the village of Atherley.  I had 45 customers, and I knew everyone by their first name. Delivering the daily newspaper was a chance to learn more about the people in my community. I always made time to build those relationships.

As winter approached, I was off to K-Mart to buy Christmas cards for my customers. I found myself trying to match pictures on those assorted cards with the interests and personality of my paper route customers. For instance, the anglers and hunters on my route received the cards illustrated with deer or snowy cabins. A family with young children received the cards that colourfully captured Santa or Frosty-the-Snowman, and the faithful church members received the cards adorned with hallowed angels and a nativity scene.

Important people deserve important considerations, I thought, no matter how subtle the gesture. Focusing on the custom-made details and the personal touches are always worth the extra time.  Inside each of those cards, I wrote an authentic, personalized message. I wished my customers well in the New Year and tried to mention topics or coming events in their life that I distinctly remembered from some of the conversations we shared.

As I was taking interest in my customers’ lives, they were taking an interest in mine. They remembered my open discussion and enthusiasm for saving up for a new bike.

While it is always better to give than to receive, in return for service and sincerity, receive I did. House after house, customers slipped a Christmas card into my newspaper delivery shoulder bag. Inside, a generous Christmas tip and a special message: “put this towards your new bike.”

Anyone who is familiar with Robert Fulghum’s best selling book “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten,” might suspect where this OFAH membership story for the Salmon Spectacular is going. All that the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters embraces about quality membership service and donor stewardship is perhaps emphasized by the important life-lessons learned on a paper route.

The OFAH understands that relationship building and communication is always a two-way street. We listen carefully to the interests and ambitions of our members, and we never stop showing them how hard we are working to achieve our goals.  That kind of trust and dialogue opens the door on opportunities through the new I am Conservation campaign.

I am Conservation was developed to promote the OFAH as a highly acclaimed charity in addition to already being a highly respected membership organization.

Your personal outdoors passion

It’s impossible to pick one K-Mart greeting card that speaks to the interests of all paper route customers, and it’s even harder to pick one outdoors passion that speaks to the heart of millions of conservation donor prospects. The OFAH has been creating the I am Conservation themes and messaging, as well as producing personalized appeals that really show how much our organization has been listening, and how much we care.

I am a deer hunter.

I am a trout fisherman.

I am a trapper.

I am a waterfowler.

I am a _________ . (Please tell us!)

No matter if, when and how often these “I am” statements match your outdoor lifestyle, there’s one statement that galvanizes all fishing and hunting pastimes. I am Conservation.

I am Conservation is the single greatest statement that describes the passion and purpose behind every traditional outdoors pursuit. I am an OFAH member is in the echo of 80,000 voices that never give up on the fight to improve outdoor opportunities. I am Conservation is in the heart of anglers and hunters who volunteer, donate, mentor, or in anyway, lead by example to quietly and humbly give back to nature.

The OFAH promotes many ways to make an outdoors difference. While OFAH membership is certainly the most popular option, the OFAH conservation mandate cannot be delivered on membership dues alone. Through the purchase of OFAH Conservation Lottery tickets, donations to OFAH wildlife calendars and other products, as well as participation in the OFAH monthly giving program, about 50 percent of OFAH members proudly contribute dollars beyond their annual membership fee. Some supporters prefer “membership only” and we respect their wishes to be removed from OFAH campaigns ahead of standard membership renewal reminders. It’s also important that we hear from passionate anglers and hunters who believe, as does the OFAH, that we must hold governments responsible to make sure our tax dollars are properly reinvested for the future of fish and wildlife.

Nevertheless, anglers and hunters are motivated by the potential for new outdoor opportunities – a bright outdoors future that the government alone may never be able to afford.

Guided by Purpose

OFAH involvement in enhancing our natural resources is not unlike the work of other great charities that enhance community services, including healthcare. Yes, taxpayers have a right to keep pressure on the government for more support, but at the same time, we must backup our tireless community volunteers who help provide various sport and wellness center needs as well as essential hospital services and equipment such as rehabilitation equipment, radiation facilities and MRI machines.  No matter if it is health care or conservation, progress is achieved when more people find opportunities to give a little extra.

To recognize the “extra” help from OFAH members, we take the time for personalized, hand-written notes to special conservation donors, and we make sure that we remember what topics motivated their OFAH support. We are paying close attention.

Like the paper boy who takes the time to get to know his neighbours, the OFAH is also focused on building long-lasting connections within our own fishing and hunting community. Every home is different, but we make every home feel like they are the most important outdoors home in our organization. We are building on our great membership service reputation, and we never make apologies for reminding our supporters about things we are saving up for – and no, not for a new bike, but outdoor priorities like local fish stocking and hatchery upgrades, moose research and fisheries and wildlife habitat improvement.

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Conservation is the brush that allows everyone to paint their own outdoors picture.

The Outdoors Journey

The White Otter Inn was in my rear view mirror and the rising sun was on my windshield.  I was up unreasonably early to drive home from a late-November OFAH membership meeting in northwestern Ontario. Slowly,  the break of dawn unveiled the full view of an empty Trans-Canada Highway… empty except for the OFAH company Jeep I was driving and a half-ton truck up ahead.  That truck was also flying my organization’s emblem.

Back bumper or top windshield corner, I can spot an OFAH membership decal a mile away. Our bright blue membership sticker is the highly recognizable “I’m proud to fish and hunt” statement affixed to boats, ATV’s, trucks and cars all throughout Ontario, especially in the north.

With a full travel mug of coffee and an extra hour on my side, I had no inclination to pass my fellow OFAH members.  After all, a weekend full of fish hatchery tours, club meetings and conservation topics couldn’t replace this anonymous OFAH membership success story being told, from the shoulders up, with backs against a truck cab window.

With every mile I paid closer attention to the OFAH members sitting side-by-side in the cab of that truck. Their blaze orange hats and jackets made it easy to tell how they were spending the morning.  A father and his son, I predicted. Going deer hunting, I assumed.

I recognized their body language from my own childhood hunting trips, sitting beside my Dad on the bench seat of his old two-toned-brown GMC Sierra. The constant bobbing of two hunting hats to the beat of their discussion made me wish I could hear it. The steady nodding of the driver’s head told me that he enjoyed listening and learning from his son. The enthusiastic expressions from the young passenger told me that today’s hunt was already successful – successful if only from the perspective of quality time between two lifelong hunting buddies.

Simple moments like these that remind us why a passion for hunting comes from the heart. Hunting is about the fulfillment of the journey not the squeeze of the trigger. Hunting builds character and a deeply rooted respect for nature.  Hunting connects us to the family and friends who cared enough to pass down the hunting heritage. Hunting is our identity. It is a core value for millions of Canadians.

National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day

20170720_120625The need to express the importance of our outdoor heritage has always been the OFAH motivation to push for federal and provincial recognition of those who fish, hunt and trap and serve fish and wildlife conservation.

In Canada, on the third Saturday of September, our great traditions are saluted with an official “Day.”  That Day is the new National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day, presented by the Government of Canada.

Even when the occasion has come and gone, our pride in Canada’s outdoor heritage, and the great conservation story of anglers, hunters and trappers, deserves to be told every day.

National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day gives the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and its conservation allies another opportunity to put long overdue public attention on how our members and supporters contribute to our natural resources.

Conservation leadership

Yes, we love to fish and hunt but anglers, hunters and trappers have done more than that.

When wetlands were considered wastelands, it was duck hunters who were the first to demand the protection of wetlands and the international Migratory Birds Treaty.

When some people didn’t care about cold water streams and its value to fish and wildlife, it was trout fisherman who volunteered to plant trees, prevent erosion, built spawning beds and fish ladders.

When an entire industry was built on the decimation of wildlife for commerce, it was hunters who demanded seasons and limits and the prohibition on selling wild meat.

When catch and release wasn’t even a concept, it was fishing club members who built hatcheries and stocked lakes with fish and locally promoted conservation and responsible angling.

When our delicate waterways and forest ecosystems faced the threat of invasive species, it was the OFAH that built partnerships, programs and awareness to stop the spread.

Improving local streams and wetlands, stocking lakes, planting trees, building nesting boxes, picking up litter from rivers and forests, volunteering for habitat restoration programs, promoting hunter education and teaching kids about responsible fishing and conservation are all examples of how the outdoors community makes a difference.

Right now, somewhere in down-to-earth-rural-Canada, there’s a valuable conversation happening between two life-long hunting buddies. Perhaps they are sitting side-by-side on the bench seat of truck as they’re heading into deer camp. Perhaps they’re reminiscing about past hunts, legendary bucks and all the special family memories that the great outdoors provides. Respect for nature and quality time with family and friends is never taken for granted, and National Fishing, Hunting, Trapping Heritage Day helps express our passion for the outdoors journey.

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 inquiry. 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.