'Gun-Totin' minister declares Hunting Day
by Robert Remington, Calgary Herald

Published: Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Let's go out and shoot some," one of my Florida relatives once suggested.

Natural curiosity prompted me to wonder "some what?" but I resisted asking. To him, it didn't matter. Deer, birds, clay pigeons -- the prey was secondary to the act. He just wanted to go out and shoot some.

Ted Morton also likes to shoot some. An avid hunter, Alberta's sustainable resource development minister gets into full camo and hunts his own game for meat. Recently, he had his riding executive over to his house for "buck and duck." The venison, I'm told, was might tasty, and the duck sublime.

This year, as usual, Morton was out with his shotgun for the opening day of duck season on Sept. 1, but it wasn't a great day for duck.

"The weather was good, but not the slaughter," said Barry Cooper, a frequent Morton hunting companion.

Cooper, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, is ecstatic that Morton has declared Sept. 22, next Saturday, as Hunting Day in Alberta. Hunters across the province are equally pleased.

"We're just thrilled," said Bob Gruszecki of Millarville, chairman of the Hunting For Tomorrow Foundation, which mentors new hunters and runs hunter education programs. Gruszecki was inundated with media calls Friday, all attributed to Morton's announcement the day previous declaring Sept. 22 as Hunting Day.

Anybody who eats meat cannot rightfully be opposed to hunting, but do we really need a declared day to celebrate it? Yes, say hunting advocates, and to heck with those city slickers who think it makes Albertans look redneck.

"I guess we don't need a Hunting Day any more than we need a Family Day," Cooper says of a province where one-quarter of households are made of people living alone and which has the highest growth rate of couples without children.

"The problem is that hunters are declining, and that doesn't bode well for wildlife management," Cooper says. "Instead of getting nicely shot, the critters are starving to death and that's not nice to contemplate." Provincial figures show that sales of wildlife certificates have fallen to 94,310 in 2005-06 from 162,573 in 1982-83. The problem, says Cooper, is urbanization and demographics. "Most people hunt because their fathers hunted and that is 100 per cent the problem," he says.

Gruszecki thinks those figures are beginning to turn around.

In 1996, his organization had about 6,000 people come through its programs. This year, 55,000 students will take part, including 5,800 youth hunters and 4,900 females.

"The average age of a hunter in Alberta is 42, but that's coming down," Gruszecki said.

Cooper says Morton enjoys all forms of hunting -- deer, elk, waterfowl, upland birds. "If it moves, it's got a target on it," Cooper says of the minister's fondness for hunting.

No doubt many people cringe at the thought of Gun-Totin' Ted, a cabinet minister, merrily blasting away at the province's Bambis. But Lee Foote, a hunter who is a biologist and professor of sustainable resource management at the University of Alberta, says hunters are unfairly demonized by non-hunters.

"To most people geographically or generationally isolated from eating wild-killed meat, these activities seem barbaric, heartless and uncivilized. When 'uncivilized' becomes a pejorative, it speaks volumes about how far cultures have drifted from a natural way of living," he once wrote in an essay, The Irreducibility of Hunting.

Foote argues that hunting is more environmentally responsible than buying meat from a store. He once passed out the following at a dinner party where he served venison: "This animal, like its ancestors and progeny, was produced locally. The meat herein was produced as a result of free genetic exchange (no artificial insemination). The animal was not castrated or forced onto a synchronized breeding schedule. She lived to maturity (41/2 years) and reproduced at least once, but most likely had three sets of twins.

"The meat contains no antibiotics, synthetic steroids, artificial growth hormones or insecticide residues. Its production required no land clearing, fencing, fertilizing or feedlots. Her life did not contribute to the destruction of associated fauna and flora. No manure was collected or spread on erosion-prone pastures to produce (or as a result of) its growth.

"This animal was not confined, transported or kept in crowded conditions at any point in its life. The lean, unmarbled meat was not wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam packaging. No nitrates or sulphites were applied to prevent discolouration. No fossil fuels were used for specialized refrigerator transport or cold-storage aging." He ended with three words that are music to the ears of guys like Morton: "Let us prey."



© The Calgary Herald 2007