"If Landowners sink, Hunters go with ‘em"

Although the Christmas gift was nominally from my buddy, I suspect that his wife probably selected it as a symbol of shared suffering with my wife. It’s a wooden plaque with a lordly-looking whitetail buck wreathed in the message: “We Interrupt this Marriage to bring you Hunting Season”. I gave my best rendition of a Bill Clinton ‘I share your pain’ look…and then hung it (with a smirk) on my office door.

It seems as though marital stability is not the only commodity at risk in hunters’ homes when Opening Day rolls round. Logic, common-sense and decency seem to get lost in the buck-race too. I say this because, over the past few months I have listened to some of the most selfish, stupid statements that I have ever heard in my life coming from the mouths of hunters.

Now, there can be no argument that the two fundamentals hunters depend upon to enjoy their recreational pursuit are their rights to own, use and enjoy firearms, and, the rights of Landowners to own, use and enjoy land. No guns, no hunting. No land, no hunting. Talk about a flair for the obvious, eh?

Not everyone gets it. At a coffee-shop one November morning, a local hunter - overhearing our conversation reviling Toronto Mayor Miller’s proclamation that handguns should be banned - interjected his two cents worth: “Well, as far as I’m concerned, no one needs a handgun, period!” When I pointed out that the same anti-firearms lobby that applauded Miller’s nonsense also wanted his 12 gauge forged into a ploughshare, and that the support of Canada’s handgun owners might not be a bad thing if he and his kids would like to be hunting in 2015, he simply regurgitated his statement and turned back to his maple-glazed.

A few days later another nimrod in our local Canadian Tire store loudly proclaimed, “The MNR is giving out way too many farm removal permits, there’s no more deer.” Now this guy used to have permission to hunt on a local farm - but the farmer brought in hunters who would pay for the privilege…so he had no more deer on that particular farm. When my buddy pointed out that we had seen more deer this year than ever before, this hapless archer opined that everybody agreed that the deer population was down. We voiced our disagreements. Our farmer friends were saying that 2007 had been a bumper year for crop damage; local car/deer collision statistics have remained stubbornly consistent over the last seven years; and in any event, removal permits count for less than 1% of hunter-killed deer - but he was having none of it. Never let the facts sweeten a good feed of sour grapes.

It’s a curious notion – possibly uniquely Canadian - that hunting should be the one recreational activity on private property that the landowner should not expect to be compensated for. Set up a driving range, go-cart track, or paint-ball park and it’s okay to ask the public to slide some loonies your way…but please, please, please don’t make me pay for my hunting.

Oddly enough, it is hunters’ indifference to the idea of landowner property rights - working in concert with government hostility to the same notion - which is forcing the trend towards pay-for-the-day hunting. Embattled (sometimes impoverished) farmers in Eastern Ontario had appealed to the government for some relief from crop damage caused by deer - give us control or give us compensation. Grudgingly, the MNR announced its nuisance deer removal program – a bureaucratic, time consuming process that puts the onus on the farmer to prove that the sustained crop damage merits the removal permits.

Glengarry County farmer Shawn McRae tried to follow that route last year and spent a good part of an August morning pointing out crop damage to an MNR bureaucrat. A pair of whitetails frolicked and munched the bean-tops in full view of Mr. Ministry, who opined that there wasn’t yet enough damage to issue removal permits. However, Shawn could re-apply in a few weeks, and, why he’d gladly make the tax-payer subsidized four-hour round trip to reassess the situation again. Sure…that’s going to happen.

Shawn knows dozens of farmers along the St. Lawrence shores who found American hunters willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of exacting autumn retribution on the exploding Canada goose population that devours spring-time crops. Not adverse to borrowing a good idea, he found some rich guys who would gladly reduce his Bambi population and pay for the exclusive privilege. Needless to say, local hunters are decidedly unenthusiastic about the arrangement. My friend’s philosophy is simple and utilitarian: “I am showing the same degree of support for the hunting community as it has shown for my property rights.”

And he knows what he’s talking about. He took on the Raisin River Conservation Authority on the issue of compensating him for 180 acres of farmland that had arbitrarily been declared Conservation Lands. Ducks Unlimited (which has a lease on some of his land) ruffled his feathers by siding with the Enviro/Government cartel that gave the thumbs down to Shawn’s claim. And insult was added to injury when they joined the cheering section for Ontario’s Endangered Species Act – yet another piece of legislation that authorizes government agencies to arbitrarily remove a farmer’s property rights without providing compensation. Fat chance that Ducks Unlimited will renew its lease on the McRae property, or for that matter, enter new leases on any of the farmlands belonging to the 940 members of the Glengarry Landowners Association.

Unfortunately, this sort of response from the hunting community on the subject of Landowner property rights seems to be the rule rather than the exception. When various Ontario ministries ganged up on half-a-dozen wild boar hunting operations and ordered their closure, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) not only supported the shut-downs, but as Mike Platt, one of the operators, explains: “As far as I’m concerned, they (OFAH) were complicit in getting us shut down…they were the ‘big push’. They basically felt that hunting should be free and open and the government was only too glad to come down on their side. OFAH took the side of the tree-huggers and my perfectly legal business that had been operating openly for ten years on my own land didn’t count for anything."

Now, that knowledge might be enough to make some Landowner/Hunters hesitate before they send in their OFAH membership renewal fees…or for that matter, let an OFAH supporter hunt on their properties.

What’s to be done about it? Well, if you’re a hunter, you better start realizing that any Landowner property concern is a Hunter’s concern. The enviro/conservo lobby groups pull all the strings in Toronto and Ottawa, and the very same regulators that are eating away at Old MacDonald’s liberty to use his land are concurrently dimming the lights on your hunting future. Get it through your head that they want hunting outlawed, period. They are achieving this by slow, incremental attacks on your gun rights and Landowners’ rights to own, use and enjoy property.

And if your favourite association or federation isn’t doing its job to protect your long-term interests, that’s your fault. You have an obligation – not just to yourself, but to future generations - to get things fixed. If you’re not prepared to write a letter or to pick up the phone, just get used to the fact that you and your grandkids will be spending your autumns in a Lazy-boy instead of a duck-blind or a treestand.

And, a question Landowners might want to answer before renewing their OFAH membership or partnering up with Ducks Unlimited is this: "Just whose side are these guys on?" If you need any help with that one, call Mike Platt or Shawn McRae.

Jamie MacMaster is the past Vice-President of the Ontario Landowners’ Association

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