Hunting Wildlife…With My Camera

It’s a little ironic that I’ve never been hunting. Although I have gone fishing in my youth with my Grandfather…does that count? I suppose it does yes but fishing isn’t what comes to mind when you think of hunting. 

The irony being because I’m a Canadian outdoorsman and my Dutch surname literally translates to “the Hunter”. However, I’ve never fired a rifle or bow at an animal. The only thing I’ve ever shot an animal with is my camera. 

In today’s age of modern conveniences, and living in a major city, there is no need for me to hunt. I have no problem with those who hunt as a way of life and in some way survive off doing so. Many people rely on hunting as a food source. Just like when I went fishing with my Grandfather, we would eat the fish that we caught, and for those hunters who eat what they kill, I have no problem with that. It’s an important resource and when done responsibly, it’s sustainable in small numbers. I’ve even known a few people over the years who went further than just using the meet for food. They would also harvest the skins, pelts, and bones to make clothing and tools.¬†Over-hunting though can have disastrous results. Just look at what happened to the Bison in North America. Their numbers were in the tens of millions and they were hunted nearly to extinction. The same can be said about many other species in the world.

I do have a problem with Sport or Trophy Hunters. Those who hunt just for the sake of their own ego, and go out and kill large animals, especially endangered ones…well let’s just say I have little patience for those types of people. If you want to go to Africa and do a “Big Game” hunt for a Rino, or Elephant…I won’t shed a tear if you yourself get shot.

In Canada, we have one of the most diverse ecosystems in the word with creatures ranging from the smallest Gnats up to the majestic Moose, Elk, Caribou, Wolves, and Bison, as well as a range of bears like Black, Brown, Grizzly, and the truly massive Polar Bears (although their numbers are dwindling fast).

Now you would think that on a road trip around the country, that I would see many of these large animals but that isn’t the case. I’m moving rather fast in a vehicle, crossing huge distances each day. The only wildlife I would see would be whatever can be seen from the roadway, and since most animals are skittish, they stay away from noisy places like roadways. It’s only at night when the roads are less traveled when the animals are usually nearby.

Although there are exceptions and sometimes those big beautiful animals that you want to see, wander close enough to the road during the day. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to shoot them…with your camera.¬† Usually though, you’ll only get a passing glimpse of them. I was extremely fortunate to see several types of large animals in the northern British Columbia region, as well as in the Yukon and North West Territories. I was even more fortunate to be able to capture them with my camera. Getting that elusive black bear was one of my prize trophies, as well as the Bison, Big Horn Sheep, and the one animal I never thought I would even see in the wild tolerated my presence long enough for some photos…a Canadian Lynx.

Shooting a deer, moose, or a bear with my camera may not fill my stomach, but it does fill my soul.

On my road trip up to the Arctic, I was fortunate enough to see the following:

  • 4 Bison Herds, + 30 randoms, so about 80 in total
  • 13 Black Bears
  • ~1 dozen Seals
  • 6-7 Orcas (Killer Whales)
  • 9 Deer
  • 5 Moose
  • 4 Foxs
  • 3 Big Horn Sheep
  • 2 Bald Eagles
  • 2 Porcupines
  • 1 Canadian Lynx
  • 1 Caribou
  • 1 Mountain Goat
  • Countless Columbian Ground Squirrels

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My Van “Moose” | What’s in a Name?

Some people may be curious how my van got the name “Moose”.  Well, I’ve never really been one to name my vehicles, although a couple did have some sort of nickname. 

In this case though, I knew that this van would certainly have a significant role to play in my life in the near future. When I bought the van, it was just to have more space for my RC stuff and I planned on sleeping in it on the weekends when I went RC racing. I hadn’t at this point decided to drive around the country in it. Although…it didn’t take long for the idea to become planted in my head.

One day while working with the ILR Car Control School, at their facility in Brampton, I saw in the parking lot a small stuffed TY Animal and on the tag it said…Canada Moose. It was of course a small moose.

It was dirty and tattered and it looked like it had been driven over by a car or two, so I figured I would take it home and toss it in the wash. If it survived, it would become the mascot for the van and the van would be named Moose.

Well it survived the washing machine and now sits in the ashtray of the dashboard. It, like the van, got a new lease on life. 

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Road Trip Cut Short but to be continued…

Well the original goal was to reach all three Canadian Oceans on this road trip but alas, funding ran short. Once I was back in Ontario, I was able to assess where I was, how much farther there was to go, and how much it would cost, and I simply didn’t have the funds left to do the east coast section as well.

Well…I could have made it but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. It would have been a difficult push to reach Nova Scotia, spend a couple nights there at a friends place, then turn around and go home.

You can’t just go to Nova Scotia and not spend a few days exploring the whole Province and especially Halifax. You also can’t drive to the east coast and miss out on Newfoundland, PEI, and of course more whale watching. I’ve always believed that if you’re going to do something, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but don’t do a half-ass job of it.

So after six weeks, and just over 17,300km (10,750miles), it was time to pack it in for this road trip.

The rest of the trip is on hold for next year but I can also see myself doing many more road trips like this. In fact, I have a short trip planned to Quebec in just a couple weeks for an RC race.

A huge thanks to MySIM, CarControlSchool, Ronin Automotive, McFadden Cottages, Goodyear, WrapWerks, and the many individuals who pitched in personally to make this trip happen.

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Exploring the North West Territories

It could be constant daylight, or or constant darkness, depending of the time or year. Extremely cold, or mild and pleasant. If you’re an Entomologist you will love being swarmed by bugs of the greatest diversity. By that I mean…if it flies and is found in Canada…you will find it here. Mosquitos, Bull Flies, Black Flies, Deer Flies, Bees, Wasps, Gnats, Jiggers, No-See-Ums, and what the hell kind of beetle was that…some sort of Long Horn? I’m not an Entomologist so what do I know.

On the more pleasant side is seeing all the bears, caribou and LOTS of Bison. You really need to be careful when slowing down to get a better look at these animals though. The Black Bears are by nature very skittish and don’t like being approached. They usually bolt into the bush long before you get close enough for a good look, but the ones that don’t…be very careful. These bears are probably more accustomed to humans but if they feel threatened, even a little, you will regret having slowed down for a better look. If you aren’t very familiar with bear behaviour, do NOT get out of your vehicle to get a closer picture. Fortunately I am familiar enough with black bears to get close enough for some great pics but not close enough to upset them or put myself in harms way.

Bison are quite different though and there are lots of them to be seen beside, or even on, the road. They are quite tolerant of cars but they have a very short fuse and they can charge without warning. Do not get out of your car period. It’s very common to come across one to three teenage males hanging out on the road and although they tolerate your vehicle slowing down, they have little patience for humans who get out for a closer look or for vehicles that linger to close for to long. Those horns will mess you up badly, and they will puncture your vehicle (and you) with ease.

The view from the “Rock” at the
Bush Pilots Monument in Yellowknife, NWT

The city of Yellowknife was originally a gold mining town and is now the capital of the North West Territories, but in general it’s a small place with little to see. There is a large military presence though with the Joint Task Force being stationed there. Although it doesn’t seem like a place for typical military operations, it is a good spot for various training exercises (especially cold weather survival) and considering it’s latitude, and limited radio wave pollution, it would make a great place for Signal Intelligence (collection and analysis). While you’re there you may as well check out the Bush Pilots Monument, which affords a beautiful of the surrounding area and the harbour, and depending on how you get there, you may find yourself on some Ragged Ass Road. Yes…that’s the actual name of a short residential road that has some quaint little homes on it. Early settlers certainly had a sense of humour. I really loved the Fred Henne Territorial Park Campsite located right inside the city limits. As far as campsites go, this one was possibly one of my favourites.

If you’re ever considering a drive through the area (along the Liard and MacKenzie Highways), be sure you are very familiar with the fuel consumption of your vehicle and be prepared for massive detours to find fuel. It’s not uncommon for some gas stations to be empty leaving you stranded if you aren’t prepared for it. It would also be wise to carry an extra 20L…just in case.

After a 380km stretch, I found myself at a fuel station that was out of fuel and even though I had a full 20L Jerry Can, I didn’t have enough to make it to the next fuel stop along my planned route. I had to take a 65km detour to fill up (and another 65km back again) costing me about 18L, and almost 2hrs, just so that I could buy about 60L to get to the fuel stop that I was expecting to reach again originally. Annoying yes but up here, that’s just how things work out.

Alexandra Falls

Now since you’ve made the effort to be here, you should make the effort to check out the waterfalls hidden along the MacKenzie Highway. They are worth it, and a couple of them have some great little campsites almost directly beside them. In one case, I had the sounds of the rapids to listen to as I fell asleep. It was one of the best nights sleep that I had so far on this trip.

The North West Territories is a nature lovers paradise, but if you aren’t there to indulge in the scenery and wildlife, then you should avoid it. It’s a lot of effort just to see trees, rivers, Bison, and waterfalls. But if you’re like me and love that kinda thing, it’s quite a beautiful experience.

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Tuktoyaktuk, NWT

The end of the Trans-Canada Trail

As the most northern place you can reach by road in Canada, this sleepy little town of 900 people is a mix of the modern and the old. The first thing I did upon arrival is head straight to the “Arctic Ocean” sign for a quick picture and then to find the camping spots. There are a limited number of spots by the water so I’m glad I arrived early.

Once again the miserable weather had followed me to the Arctic Ocean. I’ve had rain every day for six days now, so why should this one be any different, right? At least I had a camping spot right on the edge of the water. Every time the weather eased up, I went for a walk around the shoreline and took a peek around town.

There really isn’t anything to do or see here but people are extremely friendly and seem to like engaging the travelers to their town. The town has grown since the videos I’ve seen from previous travelers and although they have cell service you can see much of how they do things are in the old ways. The traditional Sod House would be a good example. It’s just a wood shed really but it’s covered in sod (the stuff your lawn is made up of), which is used for gatherings.

Many times on my trip around Canada, I have often been wondering why the native people of these lands choose certain spots to set up at and call home. So much of the territory further south is simply inhospitable, and far too dense with trees and shrubs to make for a good place to settle, but here…in this place…it’s clear why they settled here. Wide open space on the ocean, with just enough of a sheltered Harbour for fishing boats, and easy access to Caribou migrations. Also, the tundra is frozen year round but it’s just pliable enough to dig into to store their stocks (fish, seal, and of course whale). Once smoked, the food can be stored long-term underground. Now though, they have electricity and fridges so those old ways aren’t needed, but they are still used. 

All the houses, buildings, huts, etc are on stilts to avoid damaging the permafrost. 

This also one of the many “Dry” communities, so we’re allowed to bring in a small amount of alcohol for our personal use, but there is no alcohol sales in most of the NWT or Yukon. It is available in the large cities like Whitehorse, or at some small shops that are far from major town.

For the record, you are NOT allowed to swim in the ocean in Tuktoyaktuk. It’s a fishing ground and come on…show some respect to the community! They do have a spot where you can put your toes in the ocean if you really feel compelled. They established this spot just to appease the silly tourists who come here just to do that. Well since my camping spot was right on the water’s edge, I did go sit on the rocks of the shoreline and place my hands in the ocean.

One of the coolest features of the area are the Pingos, which are very distinct landmarks of the Tundra. There are about 1300 of them and they are basically mounds of tundra with an ice core that have been pushed up due to an old thaw and re-freeze cycle.

I only stayed the one night. The weather just wasn’t cooperating and the bugs were relentless. I really do hope to return one day. Ideally in September though. Less bugs.

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