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 cold hard truth about ice fishing


A frozen lake warms the Canadian spirit. Brave the barren hard water flats and auger a hole. Refresh in wide open winter air and escape in the idle concentration of bottom bouncing a jig head and minnow in the depths below. That’s ice fishing. It doesn’t earn celebrity attention for the technical tinkering or athletic agility that other outdoor sports demand; yet there is accomplishment of the Olympic-degree, as in the personal challenge, and I suppose, the physical and mental stamina that Canadians take for granted in expressing their fascination for hard water angling. Ice fishing is a culture. It’s a community. It is a conservation connection.  Ice fishing makes us a student of winter landscapes and ecology. The understanding of lake depth contours, shoals and structure, the movement of bait fish and the elements of food chains. Anglers contemplate an under water world of aquatic life in lakes locked down tight with a winter hard top. Walking on water isn’t as humbling as perhaps walking in the footsteps of our frozen past.  Ice fishing makes us think about the harsh and lonely winters of early settlement. Fish pulled from icy waters fed hungry children but also gave Canadians, and their nation, character and strength. Today, the icy grip of winter can lead to isolation. In a society that is finally talking about the dangers of being on thin ice in a mental health sense, ice fishing inspires a much-needed social occasion. There’s comfort food and conversation being served in those ice shanties with hours of undivided attention on topics that go deeper than bait and hooks below.  Family fishing — on the rocks or in a boat — is real life promotion of the rural virtues of our past. It welcomes a new generation to trek across frozen lakes in pursuit of fish, in need of nature and in search of self.

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.


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

If stone fences could talk


Historic stone fences are monuments of strength. They symbolize the willpower for a better life. Timeless works of perseverance and back forty landmarks that shaped our countryside. Rock solid, like the character and determination that took on the heavy lifting to make a humble living. The metamorphosis of rugged real estate into gentle meadows is the legacy of work ethic, land stewardship and a vision.

Canada was new when these fence lines were drawn, and so too was the ink on the Queen’s Crown land patent. The township’s first private land owners were sworn by her Majesty’s land grant, and a dream.

If these old fences could talk perhaps we would learn more about farm kids in the 1870’s who picked and piled every piece. Their backbreaking labor achieved what machine driven contractors couldn’t possibly quote. No entitlement. No shortcuts. No rest until the job was done. Farm life meant following farm family orders: Venture into the backwoods and scratch open a new farm field.

Form followed function as these fences were never engineered to impress the neighbors. Built to keep livestock in or, at the very least, to pronounce a boundary, stone fences were a practical use of the raw material that interrupted the walking plow that cut the furrows. A blacksmith-made plow point found on Pye Acres helps tell the story.Furrow

Acres of rock surfaced by the frost, lifted by hand, loaded onto horse-drawn stone boats and then strategically stacked. Bring on the cold, then the heat, and the nerve-wrecking black flies, mosquitoes, poison ivy, wild predators and all of the other elements that challenged the young homesteaders’ fortitude. Did childhood even exist for the architects of these stunning stone creations?

Today, the fallow fields of Pye Acres serve as an oasis for wildlife and family recreation time. The smiles and freedoms of the Pye Boys shines as big and bright as the historic stonework. The boys climb up high onto the fences. Their shoes shuffle across the rocks that were painstakingly maneuvered with youthful hands over a century earlier. The boys race each other over grassy drumlins to a home with electricity, running water and every other on-demand privilege that our rural roots simply never imagined.


A window to the commitment and hardship of this lands’ past is what our countryside home represents. On her 101st birthday, our property’s predecessor enjoyed a cup of tea and the eastern view from our dining room table. No one owned this land longer than Madeline McCarthy. She pointed to fences she crossed, and described the special places  on the property that gave her heart comfort. When Madeline was widowed at age 54, this land soaked up the tears as she privately sat in the fields and mourned for her husband Joe. Solo sits are personal moments of escape and soulful reflection, and it seems that Madeline started a trend.

Nature therapy is the motivation that brings bus loads of high school students to Pye Acres. Since 2006, annual field trips are literally just that. Fields and forests, watersheds and wide open spaces for Cathy to connect her classroom lessons about life sciences to the context of real outdoor life, past and present. Her science students collect plants, mosses and pond water samples to help identify the parts of their world that are sadly estranged from today’s adolescent norm. This is where science and history lessons meet. Cathy’s science lab is delivered against the backdrop of a stone fence where students consider the realities of early settlement and how they would have survived. The field trip concludes with a solo sit – twenty distraction-free minutes to contemplate an idea, process a curiosity and untangle anxiety.

Outdoor experiences provide the power of perspective. Gone are the days of shaping the landscape by hand but the resilience required to turn obstacles into prosperity will never change. Stone fences lead us back to our roots.


This blog is dedicated to Madeline. 

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.

Pye Acres in full bloom

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River

The lilac lined lane into our new home has never looked brighter. It looks like a great year for apples, too.

The lilac lined lane into our new home has never looked brighter. It looks like a great year for apples, too.

In full bloom!

In full bloom!

This carefully stacked stone fence is a favorite feature on Pye Acres. Beyond it, Cathy has a special place in her heart for the massive maples.

This carefully stacked stone fence is a favorite feature on Pye Acres. Beyond it, Cathy has a special place in her heart for the massive maples.

A nice spot in the back field to lure in a Gobbler,  with the help of a cast of turkey decoys and a bit of lonesome hen calling.

A nice spot in the back field to lure in a Gobbler, with the help of a cast of turkey decoys and a bit of lonesome hen calling.