I spend a lot of time standing in rivers. Cast, catch, release, repeat. Meanwhile, my friends and fellow BHA members disappear every season into the backcountry, reemerging with epic stories, stronger quads, and motivation for the next hunt. I started to feel like I was missing out, and wanted to learn more -- even if it meant starting from the beginning.
Luckily for me, I was accepted into the 2023 Hunting for Sustainability Course: a series taught by BHA board members, wildlife biologists, and DWR agents who care passionately about sustainable hunting and are willing to educate and share their passions.
Out of 70 applicants, 15 were accepted. We kicked off the course at the Eccles Wildlife Education Center. Policy and Access Advisor, John Fairchild gave a presentation on the history of hunting followed by hunting ethics. We covered the Boone and Crockett Fair Chase Ethics, conservation in the U.S., and wildlife management principles. This was followed up with a group conversation on why we hunt, and what we wanted to take away from the course.
R3 Coordinator Josh Liljedahl followed that up with game opportunity, basic equipment, and navigation. We got to go through Josh’s gear and learn necessities and preparedness techniques. Students also left that evening with a new Browning hunting knife and a one-year membership to OnX.
Like a “fish on!” I was hooked.
At a local DWR office, our next class topics included animal behavior, species recognition, and hunting tactics. Then we moved outside where Josh and BHA Treasurer Matthew Wohlwend gave us a hands-on scouting and blood trailing tutorial. This was followed with a trip to the foothills where Vice Chair Caitlin Curry and Central Regional Manager Will Peterson showcased glassing techniques. This was my favorite. Right away, we spotted elk! Grazing high on the slopes of the Wasatch foothills, just above homes and businesses. Right there, enjoying the spring sage.
Our third lesson focused on regulations, common violations, applying for tags, and a firearms overview. Tag and draw applications can be particularly confusing; this day proved invaluable in educating and preparing us on how to navigate rules and laws that regulate hunting in Utah.
We spent our next class at the shooting range where Chair, Perry Hall joined the rest of the board to cover accurate shooting in the field, firearms safety, and practice.
Between classes we were treated to several Hike to Hunts where we got to sweat, glass, and enjoy the beauty of Utah’s public lands.
To end the series, we fully processed a depredation deer. I was excited, but also a little afraid of how I’d feel during the experience.
We started the morning with reiterating the “whys.” Why we hunt, why it is important, and why we act with ethics and integrity. And then, we moved into the “hows.” How to harvest, how to pack out, how to prepare our game.
With great care, BHA Board Members Tate Myers and Jason Kaitchuck took the time to give us hands-on, detailed field dressing methods. How to skin, where to cut, what to watch for, how to keep meat from spoiling, and preservation methods. Everyone got a chance to participate. My turn getting my hands dirty was an eye opener. I had a newfound appreciation for the physical and mental endurance it must take to harvest big game.
The day finished with Josh Liljedahl demonstrating the best way to pack out safely and efficiently. We received a culinary lecture in butchering game, and how to prepare and cook different cuts. Wrapping it up, Peter and his wonderful family treated us to a delicious meal of smoked caribou and moose. Each student left with new knowledge, appreciation, and their own meat to cook at home.
I have immense gratitude for the Hunting for Sustainability instructors. Folks that took the time to teach their passions. They gave us the building blocks to become new hunters and better outdoor stewards.
This fall I’ll head out on my first bird hunt and will take with me what I have learned. When the opportunity arises to hunt big game, I’ll be prepared to cross that river when I get to it.
Follow your local BHA Chapter for more information on Hunting for Sustainability and other conservation events in your area.