BHA's University of British Columbia Okanagan collegiate club is helping students overcome barriers to hunting.
By Peter White
The pursuits of hunting and fishing aren’t easy pastimes to incorporate into life on campus as a university student. For one thing, on a student’s budget you are continuously flipping a coin between a piece of new hunting gear and a required textbook. Plus, if you are new to campus, it can be hard to find accessible hunting and fishing areas and to meet like-minded peers for company in the field.
Since 2019, the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus has been home to one of Canada’s first BHA collegiate clubs. As leaders of the club, we’ve organized conservation-focused guest lectures, annual fishing events, learn-to-hunt webinars and in 2020 received funding from the Public Land Owner Stewardship Fund for an Indigenous-led stream reclamation project.
While our club weathered two years of online gatherings, we were eager to begin the fall 2021 semester with something outside, where we could meet other students interested in hunting. Having identified some of the barriers for students to become involved in hunting, fishing and public lands, we launched Sky 2 Skillet, an initiative aimed at connecting students with each other and the outdoors, all through the link of waterfowl hunting and conservation.
We wanted to make the experience as inclusive as possible and to break down barriers; we assembled a community of Indigenous and non-Indigenous hunters, able-bodied and people experiencing disabilities, postdoctoral fellows and undergraduates and both experienced and rookie hunters.
The idea was to first create a “gear library” – an entry-level amount of equipment for club members to sign out. And then we aimed to host an education day in the field to learn from mentors and their trusty four-legged retrievers. We wanted to make the experience as inclusive as possible and to break down barriers; we assembled a community of Indigenous and non-Indigenous hunters, able-bodied and people experiencing disabilities, postdoctoral fellows and undergraduates and both experienced and rookie hunters.
The first Sky 2 Skillet event started on an early December morning. Under a cold, bluebird sky, our group of students followed mentors to a river oxbow located on a nearby parcel of public land. After a decoy and safety demonstration, we were ready to watch, learn and – for a few hours – hunt.
The echo of early shots rang during a successful morning, as the mentors and more experienced members of our club worked to teach others. The dogs’ tails mirrored the smiles of our newly acquainted group. And by the time the last morning flyovers became fleeting, we were buzzing for lunch.
With the help of some Okanagan-harvested moose sandwiches, we broke down the morning’s hits and misses, which led to the conversation of waterfowl and wildlife management as a whole. As a group, we considered the challenges faced by not only students, but by all those who enjoy the outdoors near a rapidly expanding campus and an ever-urbanizing valley.
Ella, one of the new-to-hunting students of the group, reflected, “I am grateful to come away with an understanding of the process of the hunt and how to then prepare the harvested animals for a meal.”
"...by the end of the day, we had shared muddy boots, cold fingertips, stunning sunrises, hardworking dogs and some wild-harvested food. We made a community in the marsh.”
For Mateen Hessami, a club founder, the day was “a powerful intersection of conservation, food security and mental health. Hunting was only a tiny component of this initiative, and by the end of the day, we had shared muddy boots, cold fingertips, stunning sunrises, hardworking dogs and some wild-harvested food. We made a community in the marsh.”
The Sky 2 Skillet event culminated a week later when a few members of our group processed and cooked the ducks we harvested. We took the hearts, breasts and legs and kept a couple of carcasses for stock. Then came the cooking; we made a homemade risotto with roasted zucchini and cooked the duck breasts in … you guessed it, a cast iron skillet! The first bites left us bewildered that duck could taste so good, be so rich in flavor and color and be so attainable for us.
“They learned about conservation in action and public land access,” our club advisor, Dr. Adam Ford, said when recounting the event. “And while the mentors shared their knowledge with eager listeners, the most important teacher for everyone that day was the wildlife, the water and clear skies.”
For our budding club, Sky 2 Skillet addressed the challenges we witnessed on campus with the benefits we as hunters have found in the field. By making gear available to those in need, connecting mentors with the less experienced and ending it all with a good meal, we have found a working formula to help grow our club and the values of conservation into the future.
Peter White is a graduate student at UBCO, where he also sits on the board of BHA's collegiate club. Upon finishing his research on the spatial ecology of bighorn sheep in Alberta's Rocky Mountains, he looks forward to more time in the hills chasing elk, deer and the odd bison.
This article first appeared in the Spring 22 issue of Backcountry Journal. Join BHA to get 4 issues a year right in your mailbox.