Wild things — they make my heart sing 

From geese to beavers, it's game on for good eating

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO - A CANADIAN SPECIALTY Canada geese, grass-fed and otherwise, make for a delicious meal anytime they're in season.
  • Shutterstock photo
  • A CANADIAN SPECIALTY Canada geese, grass-fed and otherwise, make for a delicious meal anytime they're in season.

A large bag of fermenting birds found recently near Boundary Bay had naturalists fomenting when it was reported they were bald eagles.

The whole event, though, was quickly upstaged in the world of nature lovers by the bigger ball of nearly 500 hibernating garter snakes that biologists found in a pile of rip-rap as they were upgrading dykes, also around Boundary Bay. Incredible!

Now being tended to in various wildlife shelters until it's warm enough to return them to the wild, the snakes will soon be on Easy Street.

The bag of birds, on the other hand, turned out to be dead Canada geese, not eagles. Good chance they were bagged — bad joke — by hunters who had removed the prime breast meat and dumped them.

Yes, folks, spring has sprung — as it turns out, very early this year — and Nature in all her glory is crossing our paths in myriad ways, including the bounty that's there for the hunting.

Well, maybe not skinny little garter snakes, but the tale about the geese reminded me and my pals who love to bird, and even eat them occasionally, how many gourmet opportunities there are in our great Canadian wilderness — opportunities available year-long, not only fall when we usually think of hunting.

For decades, my grandpa was one of the many great Canadian duck hunters on the prairies. Mm-mmm, grain-fed mallard duck, dusted in flour and fried in butter — pretty hard to beat. Moose roasts from my uncle and cousins who hunt with a bow and arrow. Delicious venison steaks from friends in Prince George.

Elk, cougar, bear, game birds like grouse and pheasant. Even non-endangered native animals like skunks and raccoons are all fair game for the dinner table. And, I should warn you, all in need of a hunting licence before you get out there banging away.

I don't know about skunk, but if you Google around you can find a number of recipes for raccoon, most of which recommend soaking the meat in milk first to minimize the gamey taste. (Where do you think all those coonskin caps came from?)

Squirrels are good, too, although not quite as popular here as they are in the Southern States, where the native species like fox squirrels are much larger than our native red squirrels and the Eastern grey squirrel. The latter, which are sometimes black just to throw you off, are an introduced species considered a pest, which can be hunted year round, along with other non-native pests like the European starlings. Don't laugh. Ernest Hemingway, before his success, survived on pigeons he killed in Paris.

Even beaver meat is good. This makes me laugh as we were just admiring the handy work of beavers on a trail riddled with thick willow stumps obviously created by those massive incisors — a single beaver can fell a 12-centimetre diameter tree in less than half an hour — and wondering if we could gnash into beaver meat with our own incisors.

Yes, is the answer. A hearty herbivore, beaver is fatty but tasty, I'm told. With the North American variety weighing in at up to 40 kg (90 pounds), you can imagine how they'd make for a lot of hearty dinners for our First Nations friends, who had great respect for beavers. (At least one group called them "Little People:" beavers have been seen walking upright carrying twigs in their arms.)

In days of empire, when the skins were so valuable, beaver pelts were exported by the millions — 139,509 were exported in 1757 alone, and those were the ones that got counted! What a feast all that meat would be that was left behind for our pioneering ancestors, who couldn't just run to the grocery store.

Getting your own game

If you'd like to get ready to get your own game, be prepared. The process is a bit convoluted and complex, but for good reason. I like to think of it as a test of your own determination to go hunting, so be prepared — you don't have to nor should you wait for fall.

All the info you need to get going is available here: www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/wildlife/hunting/regulations

First off, you'll have to take CORE training and pass a test. CORE, a program run by the BC Wildlife Federation, stands for Conservation in Outdoor Recreation Education, and that's what it's all about.

When you pass that you have to get a "hunter number," a card assigning you a number that's registered. Hunting licences, which are available at sporting goods stores, are an annual deal, and you'll need your number to get one. For migratory birds, like brant and Canada geese, you'll need a migratory bird stamp sold by the federal government at post offices. If you want to hunt in the Lower Mainland, you'll also need a Fraser Valley Special Area hunting licence and a million dollars in public liability and property damage insurance.

For all these hoops, safety first is the rule and it's a good one. Hunting anytime means there is great potential for people to get killed or injured — not only the people in your hunting party, but innocent bystanders as well. Plus if you don't know what you're doing you can cause property damage.

Also, it may not get as much media coverage as lost skiers, but invariably every year a hunter gets lost. When you take your CORE training you'll learn how to stay safe in the woods, something our terrific search and rescue people will be very grateful for.

The other factor in wildlife management is striking the fine balance between conservation and protection of wildlife populations that need it and not restricting our urge to hunt and enjoy the rewards, on the dinner table and otherwise.

The most likely thing you'll hunt is waterfowl, and in the Whistler area, the season is fairly short due to all the snow. But you can definitely do it in suitable places that have waterfowl habitat outside municipal boundaries. It's municipalities like the RMOW that regulate the discharge of firearm bylaws, so be sure to check those, too, and abide by them.

See? I warned you the process ferrets out half-hearted souls, since all this is just getting you started. You haven't even spent a buck yet on your gun and hip waders!

But a responsible hunter is usually also a very good naturalist and outdoors enthusiast, so don't be discouraged.

Get out and enjoy it while you tap into the bounty that's been at our feet since time immemorial. After all, wild things are right on trend these days.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who has all respect for good hunters.

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