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Delta’s Mentored Hunting Program Restoring Canadian Waterfowling Culture

Winnipeg, Manitoba—As the days get shorter and the evenings cooler, Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson gets that unmistakable itch that the waterfowl-hunting season is right around the bend.

“It happens every year,” says Olson. “I get that itch.”

As each provincial season opens in the weeks ahead, tens of thousands of Canadian hunters will go afield to enjoy time with friends and family in this timeless Canadian tradition. Delta Waterfowl and its many partners will be heading afield too, mentoring the next generation of hunter-conservationists and, by extension, keeping Canada’s time-honored waterfowling tradition alive.

Beginning with a single youth hunt in 2000, Delta Waterfowl has provided hundreds of mentored hunts for kids and adults, men and women across Canada. This year alone, more than 40 are scheduled, in nearly every Canadian province. Delta Waterfowl will also hold its third annual women’s hunt at historic Kirchhoffer Lodge on Delta Marsh, as well as several university hunts across Canada. Delta Waterfowl chapters, provincial wildlife federations and countless other groups and individuals have pitched in to make this hunter recruitment program one of the largest of it's kind in North America.

“When we started this waterfowl mentored-hunting concept in 2000 it was obvious that we had to take the lead to save our waterfowling culture, and we have,” says Olson, who notes that between 1978 and 2006, 72 percent of Canada’s waterfowl hunters left the heritage.“When you lose as many waterfowl hunters as we have, that’s a conservation crisis, a crisis we intend to solve by recruiting—and retaining—more hunter-conservationists every year.”

Olson says that Canadian waterfowl hunter numbers have increased the last two years, which, he says, is positive news. “We’ll take every new hunter we can get, but we still have a lot of work to do,” he says. “Our mentored hunting program has been a huge success and interest in it continues to build. The bottom line is that more and more people want to learn to hunt and be apart of our culture, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide them with the opportunity.”

Most of Delta’s mentored hunts run over the course of two days. Each participant must have passed a hunter education course. All equipment—shotguns, waders, etc.—is provided, and each attendee is given a recipe book, duck calls, a duck identification chart and other equipment to bring home.

Day one features instructional seminars, including hunter safety, firearms safety and practice, waterfowl identification and ecology, hunting tactics and equipment, retriever demonstrations and conservation and ethics discussions.

Day two begins with a morning waterfowl hunt, after which participants and mentors gather to share stories and clean birds. The day ends with a duck dinner, bringing the hunt—and their training—full circle.

“It’s a powerful thing to see new hunters exposed to a way of life that Canadians have embraced for generations, a lifestyle that provides a deep connection to the land and their food,” says Delta’s Hunter Recruitment Director Cam Meuckon.“In fact, at many hunt locations the new hunters are cooking the game they harvested that morning and serving it to their parents. It doesn’t get any better than that, and in some cases the food ritual has been the catalyst for entire families to become waterfowl hunters. Like I said, it’s a powerful thing to see.”

Meuckon says he’s excited about this year’s mentored hunts and that all comers are welcome. “Age, gender, ethnicity—it doesn’t matter,” he said. “If you want to learn to hunt waterfowl, we’ll teach you how to do it the right way, and we’ll have a lot of fun in the process.”