It is with very mixed emotions that I write this, my last column, as hunting and outdoors columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press. My bride, the inestimable Caroline, and I, are embarking on a new phase of our lives whereby I will be attempting to launch a political career.
But when you move on, you always think about what one leaves behind. And in my case it is this column and you, my faithful readers, who have made it so very worthwhile. My column has been a labour of love and it has been my privilege to showcase to you the "lifestyle of a hunter." As an aside, many of you were no doubt bemused by the decided lack of "how to hunt" pieces, which are typical of many other hunting publications. But I can now let you in on my little secret; I'm actually not that good of a hunter. So suggesting tactics, strategies, and advice on "how to bag that big buck" was simply beyond me.
More importantly, however, I wished to convey the joys of living the life of a responsible hunter who resides in a beautiful part of Manitoba. Whether it is the explosive flush of a ruffed grouse, a big buck in the evening light, or the magic time known as "dawn in a duck blind," a hunter's life is filled with an awe and wonder words simply cannot describe.
Hunting is a funny thing. Some are puzzled as to why a person would hunt and ultimately kill; and all the while expressing a deep and profound respect for your quarry and the landscapes that sustain our precious wildlife resources. In my case, that passion for hunting and fishing, which I learned from my late father, led to a very rewarding career in conservation. It's quite simple, actually. We hunters "take," therefore we must "give back." And we do.
One thing columnists live for is feedback from readers. My friendly readers were quick to correct my errors, recount stories of their own, suggest column ideas and enhance my understanding of their own hunting experiences. I am especially grateful for all those non-hunters who consistently read my column simply because of a lively curiosity about what we do "out here." I cherish one letter from an elderly lady who recounted her joyful childhood on the family farm. She ended her letter with, "Keep us posted about the simple joys, Mr. Sopuck."
On another occasion, a father was overcome with emotion when describing his son's first deer. "Because of that experience together," he said, all choked up, "I will have my son forever." I had a lump in my throat over that.
Hunting is one of those timeless activities that gives us respite from an increasingly hectic world and harkens back to a simpler time. But a time that is still very much with us, as befits a hunting species that evolved over 3 million years. And long after the game has been eaten, the stories and memories remain. Or as Henry David Thoreau said:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
I must acknowledge key organizations and individuals, without whom this column simply would not have been possible. The Delta Waterfowl Foundation spearheaded its formation. The venerable SIR Sports Store under then-president Terry Robinson provided much-needed support and encouragement. And where would we have been without the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF), especially under the leadership of president John Williams. Finally, I would like express my thanks to the staff of the wildlife branch of Manitoba Conservation, who were always available to provide information on the latest hunting issues, regulation changes, wildlife population trends and research programs. They have dedicated their careers to wildlife conservation and their work benefits all Manitobans.
It has been wonderful to have these years with you all. Thank you.