The thrill of the hunt is a proud and longstanding tradition that has been a diverse and crucial way of survival and sport around the world since the primitive beginnings of all civilizations of man. The history of hunting is far more complicated than any other age-old story, covering countless eras where it was a major part of life, skilfully utilizing early crude weapons such as the sling, the spear, and other items of wood, stone, and bones. Of course over the decades it had to slowly change and adjust to go along with the rapid growth and diversification of our planet.
In pre-civilization the human race survived on their skills of scavenging and hunting, with the women taking on the role of caring for the home and preparing the food that was found by the men. All of the materials from the spoils of the hunt were used, from the bones to the pelts, but as civilizations formed into communities other skills had to be developed such as craftsmen, animal handlers, and other trades that could adjust, build, and get the best of what the virgin lands had to offer. In the matter of the early pecking order, hunting was also a method of determining who was the bravest warrior, the one who could take down the most ferocious creature, or lead a group against the largest of the prey. The hunter was always highly regarded, not only because of his rugged skills, but also because the fruits of their labours would feed young and old, as well as keep them in the clothes, shelter, and tools they needed to survive, wherever they settled or wandered.
It was amongst the early Romans, Babylonians, and Egyptian civilizations where the first hint of hunting also becoming a sport came into being. Prey was captured live for sale or used in gladiatorial competitions, while wealthy clans and families displayed animal and bird skulls, teeth, and other parts as decorations, jewellery, or as symbols to salute their stature and their idols. Perhaps one of the most interesting times in the history of hunting was the middle ages, where hunting for food was a vital part of life for most, although very restricted, with likely the world’s first restrictions on hunting was that no one was allowed to hunt in the King’s Forest. Only the rich prospered, with the nobility brashly stalking everything from boar to deer to fox, for just sport and bragging rights, but then again there were many wily scavengers, and heroes of the lower class like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, who came along and robbed from the rich to give to the poor. This jolly era marked the arrival of skilled archers with bow and arrow and crossbow, as well as the introduction of very noisy guns that had to be stuffed with powder to fire, but were followed quickly by the invention of muskets and rifles.
Following are some of the highlights of early hunting in and around Ponoka and across the rolling prairies to the rugged Rocky Mountains.
• Millions of buffalo roamed through the southern States and into western Canada in the late 1800s. They were skilfully hunted by Indian tribes, with only enough killed to assure that they would have enough food, shelter, clothing, and supplies for their survival in the wild. The white man’s guns blazed into the 1900’s, decimating the massive herds for trophies, sport, pelts, and profits only, finally resulting in the strict Government protection that managed to save the distinction of this mighty mammal of the prairies.
• Our early homesteaders coming into this area were greeted with bountiful Hunting through the years for survival and sport, fields and forests teaming with wild game such as moose, deer, timber wolf, elk, coyotes, and bear, as well as massive flocks of ducks and geese, and bushes plum full of partridges, pheasants, fool hens, and other game birds. Rivers and lakes were teaming with all species of fish, which were caught or netted, then brought into town by the wagonload to sell for a few cents a pound to hungry and growing families. The men, women and children had to learn very quickly to become sharp with a 22 rifle and a fishing pole, but shot only what they needed to support family and neighbours, carefully following their family survival motto of: ‘What they couldn’t raise or grow they would go out and fish, pick, or hunt for.”
• Trap-lines were set and tended everywhere in the wilderness, with the rewards being the rich pelts of the beaver, muskrat, mink, wolves, fox, squirrel, lynx, and others that would hopefully bring a good price from the Hudson’s Bay trading posts in the area. The thousands of rabbits that invaded the prairies in the 1920s to 1940’s were hunted and sold for food for the big fox and mink farms.
• One of the true natural phenomena’s of hard times of the ‘dirty ’30s’ and beyond was the invasion of thousands of Sharp tailed Grouse, which settled on the land where the settlements met the wilderness. They were a delicacy on the dinner tables, but were devastating pests when they invaded the stocks in the fields at harvest time, or could be heard for several miles as they formed a massive circle and trampled the ground as they performed their annual mating dance. By the early 1970’s this amazing bird had become very scarce.
Hunting in the present day
While hunting is still now very popular as a sport, equipment and transportation has improved a great deal in making it just a little bit easier. Then again, there will always be those spirited hardy souls who love to trek through the bushes or into the mountains with hopes of tracking down a prize elk, moose, elk, deer, mountain sheep, or whatever else their annual license and strict Provincial laws will allow. A few may bag a perfect rack for their trophy case or rumpus room, with the meat hopefully going into the freezer to enjoy another day, but all and all the chance to get away from the hustle and bustle with the boys will always be a very special adventure. Each and every era of the history of hunting has done a lot for the sport and trade, offering a rich heritage that must never be forgotten. Hunting safely and sensibly is vitally important for everyone, and we must always strive to respect and protect our precious environment as well as the multitude of wildlife species that live within its magnificent splendour.