Dateline Jasper, Alberta
September 12, 2018
I spent the past day and a half driving south through Yukon territory where autumn, if not winter is definitely in the air. Even though we drove this same route a month ago, the scenery has changed dramatically. Full on fall colors and fresh snow in the mountains. I had not planned to be this far south and heading home this early, but here I am. I find myself looking back at the past few days with a sense of deja vu in the sense of good news/bad news. This time with the emphasis on the bad news. Remember that famous Woody Allen line, ninety percent of life is just showing up? The thing is, that other 10% can be a bitch.
This part of the trip was supposed to be dedicated to hunting 3 species of grouse (ruffed, sharp tailed, and spruce) all in the same area of southcentral BC. I mentioned in a previous post that with all the fires plaguing that portion of BC, and the fact that I got zero response to my calls to the lodge I was supposed to be staying at, I had opted to spend more time in Alaska, hunting birds up there instead. Well, those of you following these posts know that things didn’t exactly pan out for that plan. So once again taking the optimistic view, I thought what the hell, I’m going south one way or another, might as well at least try to hunt grouse in BC.
So it was that a few days ago, I found myself in Smithers, BC. The steelhead fishermen reading this will know that Smithers is something of a mecca for dedicated steelhead fishing. Definitely ground zero for winter steelheading, at least in Canada. Bird hunting? Not so much. But my main reason for stopping there was that it’s a cool town with a great vibe (you can tell by the coffee and microbrewery scene!). And the only town big enough to have decent cell coverage and Wi-Fi access for hundreds of miles around. As a bonus, Smithers has a BC government services office, which BTW, is the only place one can purchase a hunting license as an alien. Or at least try…
The good news was that I was in the right town to get set up to hunt, do a little on-the-ground intelligence gathering, and launch my grouse campaign. What’s more, it turns out that although not exactly grouse-central itself, Smithers is located on what appears to be the western edge of what looks like a huge expanse of gorgeous grouse cover, most of it Crown (i.e., public) land. Sounds great, right?
There was just this one small catch. I couldn’t buy a license. “How is that possible?”, you ask. And well you might. As did I! First off, timing is everything. Turns out that BC implemented a new licensing system for the 2018-19 season. Everything is done electronically. But if you are not Canadian, the only place you can secure a coveted Fish and Wildlife Identification number (FWID), is in person, through a BC Services office. As I said, there is such an office in Smithers. So far so good. So I got to the counter and painlessly made it through step one, which was securing my FWID. Great. Part two – buy a license. Now it turns out that the good people of BC (at least the government) take safety very, very seriously. No problem. Me too. So in order to acquire a license, you have to show proof that you’ve taken and passed a Hunter Safety course. That, in itself is not uncommon. What is uncommon, in my experience, is that the good people of BC Services do not accept as proof of having taken such a course, a license from another government entity that requires the same. Not at all! What they insisted I produce was my Hunter Education Card from the course I completed in 1973. Sure – let me just check my pockets…
There is one other way to satisfy the reg. One can simply hire a guide, in which case you’d be exempt from the requirement. Presumably because the guide will then keep you from hurting yourself or others. Hmmm. But the hitch here, is that all respectable guides in BC are aware that the only kind of hunting a non-resident/alien can do in BC without a guide, is small game hunting. That’s right! Birds. So bird hunting guides in the area are scarcer than hen’s teeth. And not cheap.
At the end of the day, I had to abandon my plans for hunting birds in BC (ever!). And to add salt to the wound, I then had to drive through a couple of hundred miles of some of the nicest grouse cover I’ve seen outside of maybe Minnesota or New Brunswick. Both, by the way, I have hunted numerous times without once producing the Hunter Safety card I earned when I was 15 years old.
After spending two days in Smithers, I decided that the Red Gods were definitely trying to tell me something. It was clearly time to head south, regroup in Sheridan, and turn my attention to all the birds that would be in season by the time I got home.