I had just turned 15 when I got my first hunting licence, having successfully completed Ontario’s hunter education program. My best friend, Tommy Walter, and I were among the few young punks sprinkled in with the adults also attending the summer course in a classroom at the old Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School. I wasn’t one for sitting inside on a summer evening back then, but I knew that if I stuck to it, the reward would be worth it come that fall. Finally, I’d be able to join Dad on his grouse-getting jaunts, no longer as his two-legged bird flusher, but as a full-fledged hunting buddy carrying his old bolt-action .410. If I got to actually bring home a bird of my own, the reward would be even greater.
Back then, Ontario’s small-game hunting licence came in the form of a bright yellow identification badge—it looked more like a small licence plate—that you had to wear in a “conspicuous place” while afield. I imagined it was so the conservation officers could check your status from a distance, then quickly move on to find the guys who actually weren’t playing by the rules. Well, I was happy to play by the rules and respect conservation, and I wore my licence with pride. In fact, I’ve kept it ever since as a memento of my official entry into the hunting community. That’s it pictured below, along with my dad’s relic of a .410.
Things have changed quite a bit since then when it comes to licensing. These days, I carry a small plastic card attesting to my hunting credentials, and I log into my computer to purchase and print my own game tags. Long gone are the days of the bright-yellow badge of honour. What hasn’t changed, though, is the sense of responsibility a hunting licence represents. Looking down a barrel or through a scope or peep sight at an animal you intend to kill and eat is no small matter. It must always be done with safety, fair chase and a clean shot in mind, and earning a hunting licence is the first step in making sure that happens.