Hunting new blood

Campaign tries to attract young hunters in Quebec

“Hunting as an activity has seen its day,” said Georges Dupras. “It’s good news it isn’t growing.”

Dupras is the Montreal-based director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, a non-profit organization based in Toronto that focuses on achieving long-term animal and environmental protection. We have already been talking for several minutes, and he doesn’t sound too concerned about a recent PR campaign launched by Quebec hunting groups to attract students to the sport that used to occupy one of the highest pedestals in the province’s sports pantheon.

“They’re trying to recruit hunters because their numbers are falling,” said Dupras.

Geneviève Clavet, public relations officer for the Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs (FEDECP) based in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, near Quebec City, painted a much more optimistic picture of the sport’s status in the province.

“Hunting is doing really good. [Quebec] is the only province with an increase in the number of people taking [hunting] classes,” said Clavet.

With the average age of Quebec hunters hovering around fifty years, however, Clavet does acknowledge that hunting in the province will face a decline in coming years.

“With the baby boomers growing older, there’s going to be a decline,” said Clavet. “We’re planning ahead.”

In what Clavet describes as a “long-term project,” FEDECP has launched a new advertising campaign targeted at 25 to 54 year-olds, with ads littered across Montreal attempting to rekindle an interest in hunting among the urbanite youth. The campaign – described by the Globe and Mail as portraying the “hunter as hipster” – has featured billboards around college and university campuses in Montreal, including a billboard in the Shatner basement men’s bathroom.

FEDECP’s campaign, which is running until February, is organized by Zoom Media – described on its website as “Canada’s leading targeted lifestyle media.” According to their website, Zoom Media “offers advertisers innovative out-of-home media solutions and reaches distinct target audiences in specific environments.” Thus far it has provided services for organizations such as New Balance, Pfizer Canada, and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, targeting niche groups as vaguely defined as “Generation X” and “Tween & Teens.”

“We decided to do an image campaign,” explained Clavet. “The Quebec government is involved.” Clavet described how the provincial government has recently increased the price of hunting permits, but said that the increased revenue from pricier permits is being used to promote hunting across the province.

“It generates the economy,” said Clavet.

However, Dupras sees the promotion of hunting in outlying areas – where the sport is most popular – as a tactical move on the part of Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal Party to appease rural voters. “[Hunting] is highly political,” said Dupras. “It’s a surgical way of looking at where the votes are in the community.”

Clavet also said the extra money hunting groups receive from provincial hunting permits is being used to help handle environmental problems, most notably wildlife overpopulation.

“Hunting is a way to manage the population,” said Clavet, pointing to the past example of deer in the Eastern Townships. “They had become a problem. There were lots of accidents with cars.”

Dupras contends, however, that while hunters may think they’re part of the overpopulation solution, they may actually be part of the problem.

“There’s a difference between what nature does and what the hunter does,” said Dupras. “[Hunters] hunt for trophies…for the biggest, strongest animal. … Nature doesn’t do that – it goes after the weak, the sick, the old. … The biggest and best specimens are hunted out before they get the chance to do what nature expects them to do: replenish their numbers.” Dupras also noted secondary deaths as a result of hunting – deaths that often go unrecorded in terms of statistics. Dupras, uses the example of the black bear – when a mother is killed, she often leaves behind at least three cubs who are unable to survive alone.

“Those are numbers the hunting community doesn’t give out. They don’t know [the numbers] themselves,” said Dupras. “[Hunters are] creating imbalances. [But] they are setting themselves up to solve imbalances, to ‘keep the numbers down.’”

Many believe, however, that the unsavoury aspects of hunting may not be able to defeat the multiple forces pushing young Quebeckers out into the wilderness bedecked in camouflage equipment. While Dupras repeatedly cites “curiosity” as the main motivation for young hunters, Clavet described the seductive, casual experience of hunting, especially when courting urbanites.

“In urban areas, you live in a fast-paced world of technology,” says Clavet. With hunting, she continued, you can “go to rural areas, take time, relax, and bring back some healthy, nutritious food.”

Enrique Garcia, a professor in McGill’s department of Kinesiology and Physcial Education, while taking note of the athletic value of hunting, pointed to the ironic “Bambi complex” that seems to pervade urban society, with some preaching about cruelty to animals between hamburger bites.

“The meat industry is engaging in impractices,” said Garcia, giving examples of how industries feed animals with hormones to accelerate their growth. “People in cities are totally removed from what happens in nature. We are criticizing things we don’t understand. … [While] eating animals who live miserable lives.”

Despite the potential hypocrisy of urban carnivores, Garcia noted the physiological appeals of a sport like hunting.

“There must be a lot of adrenaline when you hunt a target. … I can see how that can be very reinforcing,” he said, adding that many sports evoke similar emotions. In the sense of getting better, and improving your skills as a hunter, Garcia can “see how hunting can be very addictive.”

In addition to the physical and physiological allures of the sport, Clavet pointed to the long hunting history in French Canada.

“Trapping beaver was one of the first things people in Quebec did,” said Clavet. “Colonization [happened] because of all the animals found in trade. … That’s how trapping began – how hunting began.”

Dupras attributes this fierce defence of Québécois culture to the fierce isolation the province has enforced on itself in the past. Quebec’s history and culture now finds itself under siege from both technology and a rapidly diversifying Quebec population.

“In Quebec, it’s a bit of an isolated society in certain areas,” said Dupras. However, he added that, in Quebec, there’s been “more immigration than we’ve ever had. … There are more Europeans in Quebec, and they’re bringing their culture with them. As new cultures come in, a new way of life is surfacing. [Quebec is] not in an isolated bubble anymore.”

“There was a time when the big sport in Quebec was hunting, then hockey,” said Dupras. “[But] then the Habs won all those Stanley Cups, and hockey became very, very popular.”

As a result, Dupras posited, hunting has now tumbled to the bottom of the provincial athletic food chain, and he doesn’t see it climbing back up any time soon.

“The kids have ten-, 12-gauge guns. They get knocked on their backside when they fire them. They do it out of curiosity, but I don’t think the retention rate is all that great.”