The Canadian Armed Forces are defenders. Ranchers are stewards. Together they are incredible protectors of Canada's best resource, our land. When the Armed Forces Initiative (AFI) Canada Alberta Chapter reached out to the Waldron Ranch CO-OP for a fall archery elk hunt, these two groups quickly realized a lot of shared interest in protecting that land.
AFI serves as a branch of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) to help serving military members and veterans access hunting and fishing opportunities. As they actively served to protect Canada's lands, AFI members continue to protect these lands in their volunteer work. The Waldron Ranch Co-op, which has the largest deeded block in the Eastern Slopes of Alberta, is an "innovative cooperative practicing sustainable stewardship of the land, livestock, wildlife, and people." The ranchers of South-West Alberta are fiercely proud of their role in protecting the native grasslands through responsible managed grazing practices. The way these grasslands are managed ensures they remain effective carbon sinks and wildlife habitat. The Co-op, along with BHA and AFI has been, and continues to be, advocates for preventing coal development in Alberta's Eastern Slopes. BHA's issue of Public Lands and Waters: check.
It's easy to fall in love with the landscape of Waldron Ranch. Our beloved Canadian Rockies cast a backdrop of awe. The trout-filled rivers, like the Old Man River, provide world-class angling opportunities. The mixed forests scatter the grasslands in pockets to host an abundant array of big game and other animals. It's common to see elk, moose, mule deer, and white-tailed deer grazing in the fields and forests. Then you have top-tier predators like black bears and grizzlies, wolves, cougars, and coyotes keeping them all alert. It's the Wild West. It's "Authentic Alberta."
I was lucky enough to be invited to the 2022 AFI Fall Elk Archery Hunt hosted by AFI on the Waldron Ranch. Not only did we have access to the 65,000 acres of the ranch, but it is surrounded by both the Porcupine Hills PLUZ and the Bob Creek Wildland Provincial Park. BHA's issue of Access and Opportunity: check.
The host of the event, Evan Wile, is a former Officer for the Canadian Armed Forces turned business owner. He has hunted these lands for numerous years and has many success stories from the hills. He knows the work that goes into a successful elk archery hunt, especially with people new to the area and the sport. BHA's issue of Fair Chase: check. Our other companion, Tyler Hay, is a current member of the Armed Forces and is an avid hunter of Northern B.C. and Central Alberta. The excitement of an elk hunt in these lands with experienced mentors was an opportunity not easily dismissed. A couple of other members of AFI joined the hunt, and I was lucky enough to team up with Evan and Tyler in the pursuit of an elk.
With only one full day and the next half-day allotted for hunting (welcome to the world of adults finding time away from work and family to escape into the bush), we had to hike fast and efficiently. The three of us climbed to the top of a ridge prior to legal light, dodging ground squirrel ankle-breaking holes and ascending steep inclines along the way. At the top, before putting together a thorough plan, we decided to let out a few cow-calls to see if we could get any return plights. Unknown to us, there was an elk bunkering down in the near aspen patch, downwind from us, who immediately figured we were not breeding material and crashed away down the hill. We decided to learn from our mistakes and start using strategy over stubbornness next time. Unfortunately for us, even though we put on more than 50,000 steps (mostly incline/decline) over the next 36 hours, that next opportunity never came. Some locals in the area informed us that due to too little rain and too much heat, the elk was still summer vacationing in B.C. Excuses aside, we failed to tag an elk.
This hunt was not designed to end with meat in the freezer, it was designed to bring defenders and stewards together in a shared commitment to protecting land and water. Maybe next time we'll plan a longer hunt, or we'll strategize more, but one thing we will always do is advocate to protect Alberta's wild lands. We will defend. We will steward. We will succeed.