Whether hunting as a freelancer hunter or with an outfitter, Manitoba’s new waterfowl hunting regulations affects all foreign resident hunters intending to hunt waterfowl there. The recent announcement that foreign residents are now required to draw for 7-day waterfowl hunting permits exploded in controversy, with fingers pointing blame and casting suspicions in many directions. But the reasoning behind these controversial new regulations are, in fact, pretty darned simple. Birdtail Waterfowl’s Paul Conchatre and Manitoba Wildlife Federation’s Carley Deacon and Chris Heald were among proponents of these new rules. Explaining from several perspectives the all-too-familiar circumstances resulting in this new draw system, you about have to wonder what other changes loom for North America waterfowling.

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Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, man, have I got a topic for you all? You’ve heard us talk about hunting pressure throughout North America and everything else. We’ve had Bradley Cohen and several others on, hot topic. Can we all agree that maybe there’s too dead gum many people out there hunting ducks or so it seems. Listen to this, I got a letter in the mail yesterday, now first off, I got asked back this fall when I was hunting some buddies in Manitoba, what did I think about the new rule? And I’m like, what new rule? Well, there might be a new rule coming, they explained. There’s a new rule coming to Manitoba, for those of you all that been sleeping under a rock, here is a letter I got in the mail today. Manitoba has recently introduced new waterfowl hunting regulations that will come into effect during the 2023 fall waterfowl hunting season. These regulations will affect foreign resident hunters, that means guys from Mississippi who intend to hunt waterfowl in Manitoba, whether as a freelance hunter or with an outfitter, they’re going to go to a draw system. And since this rumor started kind of getting out in the interweb, there’s been a lot of speculation on why, it’s got to be the mean old outfitters trying to make an end run at all that revenue, right? Or it’s got to be a crazy government that doesn’t like Americans right? No. Guys, this is coming back to a point I think, that today’s guests are going to explain very well where this was coming from. Joining us today is Paul Conchatre, an outfitter himself and native Manitoba Birdtail Outfitters. Mr. Chris Heald, Manitoba Wildlife Federation and Mrs. Carly Deacon, also Manitoba Wildlife Federation. And what interests me so much about this topic is I believe, hope not, but I believe it represents the spear tip of a bigger movement that is coming throughout North America to regulate the hunting pressure that we avid duck hunters today are putting on the resource. How you all doing today, Manitoba? How’s the weather up there, I should ask?

Paul Conchatre: It’s nice today.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Paul, you’re the first one that told me about this thing, but man, Paul, I immediately felt disenfranchised because I’m the guy that goes up there and hunts with Paul and hunts with Bob and just jumps around and hunts with about a dozen people for a few days, I visit my friends and we get to go shoot a few birds. And so, I’m like, well, if you cut me down to 7 days, that’s going to be a whole lot of time in the garage, not duck hunt just be a whole lot of time in the garage drinking beer with my buddies instead. But I kind of sort of understand where you’re coming from, so I’m going to lead off like this. And Chris, Carly, Paul, anybody jump in at any time and feel free to ask me questions also. But what problems did you all think you all were seeing in Manitoba that needed to be addressed? What prompted this law?

Hunting Land & Access Issues in Manitoba

So, the residents were getting completely squeezed out of the equation.

Paul Conchatre: Access is one of them for sure for everyone, you could feel it coming for, I don’t know. I’ve been guiding an outfitting for about 25 years and you could feel this change, probably pretty dramatic change, probably in the last, like 15 years and it is access. I can’t say it’s 100% congestion in the province, but in Manitoba, we just don’t have a giant footprint of the prairie potholes or ag land, we have a lot of boreal and we have hotspots in that ag land. And you could see it’s almost kind of, almost since the Internet hit forums and social media and stuff like that, you get these major clustering happening, and that’s where you could see the change. And then you see the evolution of almost of the waterfowl hunter change as well. It’s an access thing. The culture definitely changed where you’re seeing more land leasing purchase, hunt clubs getting developed and stuff like that. I’ve hunted down in the states and fished all over the place and you can kind of see the advanced thing down there that you could see, okay, it’s coming up here, you can see the growth of it. And I think that it was time for change. As an operator, this new modernization policy is a double edged sword for us, we’re not winning by it, but what we are gaining is sustainability. It’s definitely not growing the outfitting industry, it’s just basically capturing us at a certain stage at that pre COVID levels. For us, I think it was 2016 our department wanted us to fill out these ODFs, so an Outfitter Declaration Form, and what they’re trying to do is find out how many guests we were having, what areas we’re hunting. So they’re trying to figure out the congestion and then where these operators were working. And in Manitoba, it’s a little bit different from what I understand than down in the states, is that I’m only licensed for X amount of areas. So, we can’t move, we can’t follow birds and stuff like that and a lot of us have home bases, so you have a radius. And when you’re licensed like that and function like that, you end up getting – if there’s an increase of activity in your area, it directly affects you. But those ODFs, basically what they did is, it gave the government, I guess, an idea on how big you are and what areas you are working. And that’s kind of where we’re at right now with this policy to where they took an average from those 2016 to 2019 ODF numbers, so guess what we were running and that’s how many licenses were allocated and then that’s it. We can’t grow, we can definitely shrink if we would like to, there’s probably going to be usage criteria, along those licenses you have to meet a minimum sales. But in the province, there’s X amount of allocated licenses for operators, they didn’t grow it, it’s just right at that almost like a freeze frame about 2016 to 2019 period. So with a lot of the media that we’ve read and seen, it’s the outfitters who have been driving this or whatever. Well, I don’t know a business that would want to put a cap on growth. And that’s kind of where the severity of the problem that was growing, made majority of the operators do the yeah, okay, we should be going along with this because you could see on the landscape the changes. And that 2020 year was a real eye opener, especially for me. I’ve never seen birds like that before and then those birds were not pressured, so you actually got to see a true migration. And then you have friends down in North Dakota and stuff like that and then you see what happened in North Dakota in that 2020 year. From what I understand and what I hear is you can’t door knock to go get a permission on field anymore. And that’s in essence what was happening in last 15 years you could really feel it. So it’s one of those ones where it is a really good thing, but it also is hard for this industry because you’re captured in that 2016, 2019 period with no growth. And that to me, is a giant concession for business in Manitoba.

Ramsey Russell: How big is the outfit -? Please go ahead, Chris.

Chris Heald: Yeah, I think it’s a big misconception there Ramsey, that the outfitters drove this. I mean, as resident waterfowl hunters, we’ve been seeing this for years and quite honestly, a lot of the residents blamed the outfitters at tying up the land and access issue. And when we dig into it further, the last decade here, it wasn’t the outfitters that were tying up land. They were tying up land, leasing land, but only as repercussion trying to protect their business. We have Americans coming up or foreign residents coming up and tying up land the same way and it was a constant competition between outfitters and foreign residents to tie up land and the residents were the ones that were getting squeezed out. So, my personal situation, I mean, I’ve been duck hunting for 35 years and you could watch the progression, no problem getting permission and the final straw was last few years of my son, he’s 20 years old, wanting to duck hunt and the properties I hunted on the same property when I was his age and now he went 0 for 11 getting a field. And it was Americans that were there and some outfitters and everybody’s got the land locked up. So, the residents were getting completely squeezed out of the equation. And Carly and I and our organization just kept getting repeated calls, it’s like, why can’t there be something for us here, right? So we’re watching the progression in the states, we’re all reading the magazines, watching the television shows and seeing what’s happening there. And then the last 10 plus or 15 years. But I would say a decade here, we’re seeing Americans come up buy properties, tying up land outfitters competing with them for land access and residents were losing. So it was almost where residents are telling us, we’re going to give up hunting, we only want to go out once or twice a year and shoot some geese and ducks and it’s just not worth it anymore, we don’t feel like competing. We get such a short window here in Manitoba versus the States, we get the hunt from September to basically Halloween, we might get a few bonus days after in November, but now most years Halloweens are cut offs. We have a very short window to hunt and like Paul was saying, we have a very small sliver of ag land in Manitoba. Province is huge, but the ducks are only down in that southern portion here. So, we were just getting squeezed out and I think everybody came together here finally and realized there’s no use fighting amongst themselves, let’s address the big issue and its access. And I think it’s a North America wide issue. And I mean, Ramsey, you would understand better around the world if this is an issue around the world. But North America, it’s definitely an access issue like Paul has brought up.

Decline in Waterfowl Hunters

Ramsey Russell: It’s definitely becoming an issue. Both Canadian and US Fish & Wildlife service agencies are quick to point out that there’s a rapid decline in waterfowl hunters on both sides of the border. Ask anybody that hunts public in America or say that to anybody that hunts public in America and they’re going to fight you, oh, heck no, there’s not, it’s a circus. But how can that be? How can we be losing so many hunters into this sport? But when you show up to a public boat ramp, it’s a freaking circus on both sides of the border, I would say to hear you all talk about it. I think it’s because – yes, we’re losing hunters primarily because of access and demographic, but also the reason we’re so concentrated and this is becoming an issue is because while hunter numbers decline, the landscape is shrinking more quickly, so that we fewer hunters are more highly concentrate on a smaller landscape and it’s starting to result in conflict. I heard a commissioner meeting just the other day online that other states around the United States are talking about limiting, for example, limiting foreign residents to Sunday, Monday and Tuesday only on public land, it’s coming. Everybody wants to take care of their own base, their own residents, but they’re seeing a big problem. And that commissioner pointed out that there was a big boom during COVID and they’re like, wow, look at this, let’s just see if it’s temporary. But after COVID waned, bam, this problem persisted, people were traveling. A couple of questions is, I noticed 2016 to 2019 are the average you all are using as your caps. Did you all see a big spike? Did you all see a big spike during post COVID, I know you were closed for a couple of seasons, but since COVID’s been open, did you all see a market change? Did this problem escalate after COVID or not in Canada? It did in the United States for sure.

Chris Heald: I think the one thing that COVID brought forth is people didn’t travel. So we had an influx of people wanting to do this and forced people to reevaluate a lot of the things in their lives and a lot of people got back into hunting. So, we definitely seen an increase in hunter numbers. I think Paul had answered it better if they have seen an increase in the foreign residents. I think it’s too quick to make that decision there, Ramsey.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Paul Conchatre: Yeah, I agree. It’s a little too quick.

Ramsey Russell: And you all both mentioned south of the border hunting and I’ve mentioned it too, but from the outside looking in, Paul, Chris, Carly, from the outside, from north of the border, looking south towards the United States, what does American duck hunting seem like to you all as compared to Canada? When you start looking at places like Kansas and North Dakota or the Internet or whatever you all are looking at and drawing your opinion forward, what’s happening in America? What does it tell you all? What do you all see from the outside looking in?

Chris Heald: It’s almost like – Carly, you go.

Carly Deacon: Yeah. No, I was just going to say I feel like our culture up here is so much different in terms of aggression and competition because we haven’t had to deal with it as much as the US has. But in my experience traveling to the states for some duck hunts, I’ve had the most incredible experiences in the most diverse habitats, that is something we can’t offer here. And the comparison between an experience in a duck camp where people own land, flood corn and have access to property and the duck hunting is incredible. It’s unbelievable and it’s something we couldn’t experience anywhere. But then you compare that to 3 days later, where I go and hunt the Mississippi or somewhere where there’s public access and we are racing to a blind to compete with another group that’s 30 yards away, it’s hostile and confrontational in a completely different environment. And I had my eyes opened within 4 days of hunting down there just in the drastic differences between hunting a hunt camp where there’s land access and land manipulations and luring birds into a privatized area versus competing with others to try and get that greatest spot and using all of your skills and calling to get that bird to come to your decoys versus the decoys that are 30 yards away was mind blowing to me, that’s not what we are used to here. And the proactive approach that this modernization strategy has taken is creating protection and sustainability so that my daughter, who is 5 and likes to hunt, which is mind blowing, has an opportunity in 25 years when she has kids to take them out and be able to still knock on a farmer’s door and not have that pressure of not getting that spot or having to call the birds in with a group 30 yards away. So that’s my experience and I think that this is probably the first time in Manitoba that we have seen multiple stakeholders representing different interests come together on a management strategy and successfully put it together where it benefits all, including US hunters by the way. I mean, we did this for the protection of US hunters coming up here and obtaining quality waterfowl hunting, just as much as we are protecting the resident hunters. Because in 20 years, if we don’t stop this now, the US hunters aren’t going to have the same opportunity and experience that they’re having right now, there’s no way it’s just going to escalate the slippery slope.

Paul Conchatre: That’s a really good point, Carly. And I think a lot of just with the media and whatnot, a lot of the media that I’ve heard and read has been really fed and really short sighted. And that point you made, Carly, is giant. It’s sustainability for all. I mean, I’m sitting on the landscape every day from way before the season starts to after it ends, so you get a real good feel for it, what is going on the landscape as an operator. But it’s one of those ones where Manitoba is a special place and to be able to hunt it is, I don’t know, to me, as soon as I get out there and start doing our thing, it’s like it brings you back decades in my head when somebody would be to come up here from basically this season going on, you’re captured, your Manitoba is captured into like, I guess, how would you say it? I don’t know, like generations before access opportunity with this where you’re managing pressure, you’re not reducing the volume of people coming up, you’re just managing the pressure length of stay and there’s going to be more hunts available for everyone. So when you do get plan that trip to Manitoba, you are going to get probably some of the best damn hunting you’re going to ever see. I don’t want to talk about other jurisdictions in Canada, but their opportunities are sliding on them with access. To me as an operator, it’s a double edged sword, I’ll say it again, but to be able to be captured in this kind of decades before kind of like freeze frame of waterfowl hunting and access and pressure and all that kind of stuff is going to be a real treat for your kids, Carly, my kids, they’re the best people I’ve ever hunted with. This gives sustainability for them going down the road. And that’s really important to be like number one, I’m a resident, but I am an outfitter, but my number one is my family. And I want them to be able to have access to what their dad saw and what all of us were able to enjoy while we were kids. And this does it. That’s the number one.

Chris Heald: I think Carly raised a good point too. This actually protects the American freelance hunter coming in Manitoba. It’s almost a thing of the past in the states and this is actually going to protect it. We’re not saying don’t come up here, we’re saying come up here, enjoy our resources for 7 days, go home, let somebody else come up and enjoy it for our short window. We’re not saying we want rid of it, but we’re going to be the last spot where you can come knock on a door and get farm permission. That’s the way it’s going to play here, right? And they know it’ll be everybody benefits. And I really believe that Manitoba is leading the way here and you’ll see other jurisdictions doing this. It may be too late for some jurisdictions, maybe it’s already leased up and bought up and not sustainable. But we wanted to freeze it, we don’t want to turn back the clocks to 1960 where you can do whatever. We just want to freeze it now so it doesn’t progress worse, we want to have that spot for where our kids can go, right? So, a lot of people don’t realize what was happening as the Americans come up love it and slowly buying up farm towns, locking up land and it was squeezing everybody out. And this package that the government put forth and we all made compromises. I mean, ideally, we would have loved to see outfitters restricted more, we would have loved to see as a resident being greedy, more restrictions on Americans, more restrictions on these guys buying houses. But we all agreed, let’s just freeze it where it is now, let’s not let the problem get any worse, that’s what the package came up them.

Benefits of Local Waterfowl Hunting in Canada

It’s very overwhelming because about the time the hunting gets really good in Canada, those farmers are out there on that tracker from daylight to dark, maybe past dark with their headlamps, trying to get their crops taken care of and it’s very dawning for them. 

Ramsey Russell: I have threatened to move to Canada a million times, my wife’s tired of hearing, especially Manitoba, because Manitoba, there’s something very familiar, maybe it’s the agriculture or just the small town feel and the people. But there’s something I just really resonates with me in Manitoba. As a visitor coming to, especially to Manitoba, but also throughout a lot of western Canada, it does remind me of the 1960s and 1970s in America, as I’ve heard it described from the old timers, where you could sit on the tailgate of a truck, get to know somebody, knock on the door and get to visit and over time become friends and they seem just very opening and willing to share their land and share their resource. The flip side being, I don’t want to get too far off from the bushes either. But in Saskatchewan this year, I’m going to say since COVID, I did not see this problem before COVID. But since COVID going up to Canada this year, knocking on a farmer’s door, we always knock on the door, we always maybe bring them a little something and visit. And there’s no short visits. When you knock on a door, sit on a tailgate and talk to a Canadian farmer, there’s no short visits, you’re in for a while, you may be there 30 minutes or an hour enjoying a conversation. And she explained to us that the week preceding the season, her door had been knocked on no fewer than 60 times, 60 times by outfitters and nonresidents wanting to hunt their property and that’s a little overwhelming for them. It’s very overwhelming because about the time the hunting gets really good in Canada, those farmers are out there on that tracker from daylight to dark, maybe past dark with their headlamps, trying to get their crops taken care of and it’s very dawning for them. And I’m starting to see it, this year in Saskatchewan, there was an area we’ve been hunting for many years, my buddy’s been hunting for 20 years, we gained no access whatsoever. And it dawned on us that person or persons had the landscape locked up for their own benefit. They’re not outfitters, but they kind of sort of are. And that’s what we started seeing up there in Saskatchewan. Are you all seeing that in Manitoba also?

Chris Heald: 100%. There’s the other misconception, everybody was saying it’s like, it’s illegal outfitting that’s causing issue, why don’t you just go out and enforce the laws that are there? From our standpoint here, from our conservation officers, it’s almost impossible to stop it. So, what’s happening is American comes up and he hunts with 4 friends, which is totally legal and then he just stays for the whole entire season and he’s hunting with four new friends every week, we know it’s illegal outfitting, but from the officer standpoint, they can’t prove it. So, what we’re seeing is guys buying farmhouses, walking up land, and bringing 4 new friends every week with them and it’s competing with the Pauls of the world and the residents are the ones that lose. So, Carly and I have heard it from multiple people, it’s like we only want to go hunt once or twice a year. You were saying Canadians are so polite, they don’t want that confrontation, so they go knocking on the door and they say Joe’s got the land already or this outfit has got the land, they just quit hunting, they just walk away from it. And Carly really deals with this on the recruitment and retention of hunters and we’re hearing it all the time, it’s just like they don’t want the competition, so it’s easier to avoid confrontation, we’ll just quit hunting completely. And that’s a big stumbling block for our organizations.

Carly Deacon: Duck hunting, waterfowl hunting is funny. It’s the best way to recruit a new hunter because it’s social, lots of shooting opportunity, it’s fun, it’s engaging. But it’s also probably the first sport where people are prone to hang up their firearms. If there’s any reluctance or barriers and your time is restrained, if access is restrained, if you’re just at that age where you can’t put in the extra, but you just want to get out a couple of times like Chris said, it’s so easy to hang up your shotgun. And that retention portion of things is massive because those are the guys that are bringing in the new ones, right? Those are the aunts and uncles and grandpas that are taking out their youngsters and bringing them out. So, the recruitment side of things is huge and it has been huge in Manitoba for 20 some years, right Chris? We started a huge movement with mentored hunts back in like 20 years ago, we started the first youth hunt, women’s hunt, university hunt, God, I ran 3 hunts in a row, like, mentored hunts in a row, taking out hundreds of kids and women. And our province grew probably to have this, like, we had multi stakeholders involved, we had resources pulled into it, we had probably up to 25 different waterfowl and deer hunts in the province operating annually through communities and volunteers. Other provinces were looking at us as a role model for the mentored hunt, whole recruitment side of things. And the government just recently invested $2 million into an endowment fund for safe hunting and recruitment. So, it’s a priority for the government right now too. And MWF will perpetually have funds to run mentored hunts and put initiatives into that. We have a full time staff right now that is hunter education instructor, our PAL instructor, he’s been running mentored hunts for 20 years. So we’re full on into this right now. And to bring people out, just to hear them say that I can’t get on land or access is a problem, it’s very discouraging to say the least. I think we did a survey about 15 years ago, it’s an older survey, but we want to evaluate the success of our mentored hunt program. And one of our questions was, what is one of the largest barriers that you are confronted with as a new hunter? And I think over 50% said access. So it was there 15 years ago, to put that into perspective, this isn’t a brand new thing, this is something that’s probably been growing for a number of years in the province.

Canadian Waterfowl Culture Vs American Waterfowl Hunting Culture 

When we’re on the landscape and you’re seeing how a freelance American treats the hunt. 

Ramsey Russell: I want to back up and ask you all this question. I find this very interesting, we’re talking about how when I come to Canada, it seems like stepping back in time. How do you all think that Canadian waterfowl culture differs from American waterfowl hunting culture? Canadians seem very different, their approach to duck hunting seems very different than the average American. Paul, you might speak to that because you deal with both sides. But how would you all describe Canadian duck hunting culture as different than American duck hunting culture or is it?

Paul Conchatre: It’s probably the wrong word, but first word that comes to mind is younger. Just a little bit more naïve, a little more naive to what’s coming. What’s happening down in the states. We see it, it’s extremely competitive and aggressive. When we’re on the landscape and you’re seeing how a freelance American treats the hunt. We’re a little bit naive and young to it, but that in essence is changing. Obviously, everybody’s kind of picking up on it and seeing an access issue. But people come to Manitoba, to Canada, because there is access and there is good hunting and to me, this just protects it. Everybody will be able to enjoy what we should enjoy versus being bought up, leased up, and hunt clubbed up and land manipulated and all whatnot, it’s natural, to me we’re keeping it natural, we’re keeping it fair. That’s to me a really big thing for my kids and their friends and whatnot and my business.

Ramsey Russell: Most of the Canadians I hunt with value the resource as a form of protein, let’s say. They really take a big interest in whether it’s deer or moose or elk or waterfowl, that’s a big part of the pursuit, is to put meat in the freezer. Do you all suspect that’s the same south of the border? Would you say that American hunters put as big emphasis on that as you all do? Or is it something different maybe? It’s an interesting thought I’ve had. Because every single Canadian I hunt with, it’s all about the meat son. We go to great pains to – I got some buddies that come over from Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan every year, and it’s a meat run, they want snow geese, they want them and they come over, and it’s very important to them. We’re talking about modernization rules, well, Manitoba also modernized a lot of migratory gamebird rules and it seemed to be they wanted to incentivize their hunters to keep participating, it was a way to make it easier for the Canadian hunter to hunt and to harvest meat. So, Canadian government seems to be very pro hunter minded, would you all agree with that?

Paul Conchatre: Yeah, absolutely.

Carly Deacon: I think there was a big movement a while back that changed the perception of hunting in Canada in terms of how the industry advertised and promoted it, in my opinion, anyways. I feel like when I started hunting 20 years ago, there was less families, less women, less talk about food, it was more about gear, the fastest shell, best gun, the painted faces, the angry poses behind the pile of geese. I feel like that perception has changed a bit in terms of just showing more of the family component, the outdoor component, the food component, use of dogs, just that whole perception, I think has changed. When you’re looking through magazines and even watching Canadian hunting shows now, even the US hunting shows now I feel like there’s the 30 minutes kill on repeat versus the shows that actually show a plot and a story and our heritage and our tradition and people missing and people laughing and having fun and cooking their birds and cooking their deer and it’s more welcoming and inclusive, I find over the last little while to any demographic. And that to me has been a big change over the years.

Chris Heald: I think Carly brings up some good points. And then Ramsey, back to talking about the government, it’s really interesting, the economic part. Government really understands the economic part, they may not understand hunting and angling per se, but it really changed our advocacy efforts here in Travel Manitoba commissioned a study, I believe, in 2019 and resident anglers and hunters put almost close to $1.1 billion into the Manitoba economy. The total hunting and angling into our economy, about 20% of that is foreign residents. So it’s 5 to 1, basically, on resident versus nonresident hunting. So, the government is really understanding that we have to cater to our resident hunters first, they’re the ones that are buying their decoys, buying their trucks, buying local property, so they really understand that part of it. So that’s why you’ve seen a government change and promote the resident hunting is they’re understanding the economic part of it. So, this government actually has been incredible, like Paul said they’ve been good, it’s been amazing, they’ve listened to the stakeholders, you’ve never seen this, where all the stakeholders come together and we have a minister and a premier that have adopted to the strategy and it’s been exciting. And not only the current government, the opposition government as well understands the Manitoba residents need this and our outfitters need this and we want to have a spot for the freelance Americans. So it’s been actually an exciting ride and lots of the complaints I hear from, I’ve probably talked to 300 to 400 American hunters through this process and why do they come here? They all say it, they want to avoid the competition. So it’s the elephant in the room, everybody’s having the same problem across North America and they’re coming here to escape the competition and what we’re doing is creating the competition here. We want to stop it so it doesn’t get worse, we can’t roll back the clock, but we can stop it from getting worse. Paul and Carly and I and all the other stakeholders, this misconception that we rammed this through, the government had Zoom calls and Teams meetings and open houses with the association of Manitoba Municipalities, Habitat Heritage Corporation, Hotel Association, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, we have a strong advisory group now for future changes and it’s exciting. I really believe this government’s leading the way on these changes.

Paul Conchatre: This government has done a ton, even outside of the waterfowl world. It’s a bit of a push for modernization on a lot of, I guess, resources in the province. Like there’s fishing, the enforcement, there’s a lot of changes going on, like waterfowl isn’t the targeted change, I guess, that this government’s doing. I was president of our Logs Association for a long time, we pushed through and we advocated for a lot of changes and I tell you, it’s incredible to watch what’s happening right now for all resources like, this government’s on fire.

Ramsey Russell: What kind of studies did you all – how extensive were the studies regard economics, the impact studies. Who did that and how did you all come up with those numbers?

Stimulating Interest in Hunting and Fishing

So, they had two hunt & fish economic impact studies to kind of compare, but yeah, they were extensive. Like obviously, our association and Manitoba Wildlife Association was involved and Hotel Association, like all the small Chamber of Commerce, municipalities and what not.

Paul Conchatre: Yeah, Travel Manitoba let it, so that’s our destination marketing organization for the province. And then they use probe research who are quite well known. And it was months and months, probably thousands of calls and surveys and whatnot before they came up with, I guess, their economic impact studies. There was actually 2 completed, one was the 2008 recession and then they did that, I think it was 2019. So, they had two hunt & fish economic impact studies to kind of compare, but yeah, they were extensive. Like obviously, our association and Manitoba Wildlife Association was involved and Hotel Association, like all the small Chamber of Commerce, municipalities and what not. It was a lot of work and it was really interesting to see because there had never been one. And seeing the growth from the first one to the second one was impressive. Where yeah, it’s over a billion dollars hunt & fish Manitoba. And that was also part of the Manitoba hunt & fish MB brand. They really didn’t even market hunting at all. They did some fishing, but as soon as Manitoba created that Hunt & Fish MB brand, it really fired things right up, very successful brand and got people –

Chris Heald: And really tailored it to residents. We didn’t understand it until we seen those economic studies, how much residents are spending? So we have 10,000 resident waterfowl game bird hunters, 3000 foreign residents, not to count our Métis First Nation harvesters are spending their money. But that study really shows we’re buying our boats, our trucks, decoys, yes, the Americans spend money at hotels and restaurants, but it’s just not to the same caliber of the residents. You’ve seen a tailoring of that and that’s what’s really opened government’s eyes is we need these hunters in Manitoba, these resident hunters, so we can’t afford to lose anymore, goes back to what Carly’s talking about, $2 million endowment fund to recruit and retain hunters like, they’re understanding it’s an economic driver in Manitoba.

How Does Lawful Hunting Benefit the Local Economy

Ramsey Russell: When you look at that billion dollars from both, 20% of it come from foreign nationals, 80% come from local hunters. How do those dollars convert to wildlife conservation in Manitoba or in Canada? What mechanisms exist for the economy around hunting to go back into actually conservation measures?

Chris Heald: What we’ve seen is since then, I think it was in 2017, the government established a 200 million dollar conservation trust fund for wetland work and that kind of stuff. And then a growth fund, I think, correct me, but I think it was $40 million investment. Those endowment funds are applied to through MHHC every year for nonprofits to do the work on the ground. Not much different than the knock of funding itself is that this is our own money. So, the government invested that kind of huge resources into it. And they’ve also invested this year, $7.5 million into an increased enforcement, brand new money to increase enforcement to protect our resources. So we’re seeing the economic impact studies showing them. So, now they’re investing to protect what we got and try and do the habitat work. So it’s kind of exciting for us.

Ramsey Russell: As you all are doing some of the economic studies and here’s what I’m leading up to, we’ve touched on this previously. As you all are doing these studies, you say, okay, Manitoba’s created a billion dollars, a billion dollars in hunting and fishing going on right here in Manitoba. What about the illegal? Did the studies find out or discover a surprising amount of maybe illegal activity ain’t the way, but let’s just say some of these unregistered outfitters, some of these unresident types, how do those numbers compare to the lawful hunting, the normal hunting, in terms of an economy? What kind of economy exists outside of licensed outfitters? That’s kind of the question I’m asking.

Chris Heald: It’s actually an eye opener for us. Until we actually went through this process, we didn’t realize how prevalent the cash under market outfitting, guiding, paying landlords, we didn’t realize how big it was until you seen this. It wouldn’t be reflected in that economic study because the guys that are doing it illegally aren’t going to report it, right. But we are seeing it, with the increased enforcement and these new regulations, we’re hoping it curtails it, we really are. I think it will. Even the guys that are going to cheat it, that want to come here and with 4 friends and outfit them, they’re going to be able to do it for 7 days. They can say they’re friends, they can take $2000 or $3,000 off each guy and still do it for 7 days, they just can’t do it again for another 7, another 7 to Halloween. So, I think we’re going to curtail a lot of it that way.

Ramsey Russell: How did you all come up with 7 days? That seemed like a reasonable amount?

Chris Heald: Paul would speak best of that, but the average stay by all thing was 3 to 5 days American stay.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Chris Heald: So, we figured go a little bit past that, and that was kind of a concession between all the groups that we had with government.

Ramsey Russell: 3 to 5 days, I must be an outlier. 7 days is plenty. I’ve told all of you this before we started and I’ve had this conversation since this fall when I was first asked about this rule. What did I think about it? You know, on the one hand, I want to come up there, I really want to come up there and live, your winter is just keeping me down south. But at the same time, what lures me to Canada is a quality, a quality of hunting that I’m seeing in parts of Canada begin to decline. And so, if I have my choice, do I want to go up there and hunt for 20 days and have mediocre hunting or would I rather go for 7 days and experience the hunting that I’m used to experiencing up there, I’ll take the 7 days. At this point, I’ll choose quality over quantity anytime. And it’s obvious anybody listening that hunts in their backyard, unless you hunt just nice private property in America, we all see what’s happening throughout the United States, there’s just a lot of hunting pressure on these birds. And the more we hunt, the more the quality hunt declines. So did this proposal, this modernization rule, if you all call it that. Did it originate with the Manitoba Wildlife Federation? Is that where it originated it here in you all’s office?

Chris Heald: It would have started between us and discussions with the lodge and outfitters. I mean, we always seen the lodge and outfitters as part of the problem. And until we actually got the relationships built and dug into it deeper and said, hey, we’re both up against a brick wall now, what do we do to get out of this? And there was compromise. We would have loved to have seen further restrictions, the outfitters would love to still grow, but we just said we agreed to it. It’s like, let’s take this to government as a joint proposal and see where it goes. And then government expanded that to multiple stakeholders, so everybody had input and there was heated discussions between even us on this call, I think I got hammer out deal. But fighting any further and not compromising and letting this get to the point where we probably can’t have her daughter hunt or my son hunt wasn’t allowed. So, it was a real compromise and we all took it to government and government ran it.

Ramsey Russell: Who are some of the other stakeholders besides the Manitoba Wildlife Federation and some of the government agencies, who would you describe as a lot of your stakeholders that you had to reach out to and begin to collaborate with? Who got on board with this – who got on board with this idea and who initially are still resisted?

Chris Heald: The only ones truly resisting are the ones that are a problem.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Chris Heald: The ones that want to stay here for the whole fall and harvest multiple birds per day, those are the ones. The ones that were illegally outfitting, buying a farmhouse and bringing 4 or 5 friends every week till Halloween, those are the ones that are still complaining. The ones that are complaining loudest on the outfitters side are the ones that were doing it illegally. They’re not the Pauls of the world that are first class and most outfitters are, we are finding those, some of them were doing it illegally. So those are the ones screaming the loudest as far as the stakeholders, we had Ducks Unlimited, we had Delta Waterfowl, Habitat Heritage Corporation, Hotel Association, Chamber of Commerce, Association of Manitoba Municipalities, everybody had their input, full cabinet, premier, everybody was part of this discussion. So it wasn’t like there wasn’t discussion around this at all, this has been vetted extensively the last 2 years, but been talked about for close to a decade.

Ramsey Russell: Paul, how does the outfitting and guiding industry work in Manitoba? The volume of licensed partnerships with the provincial government, how does that work in Manitoba? And then what does some of these outliers represent with respect to that system?

Paul Conchatre: Yeah, in essence, there’s a whole bunch of acts and regulations that we have to abide by and that’s what you’re basically signing to when you get your operator’s permit. Yeah, it’s a lot of rules, it’s a lot of regulations, I can say that a lot are or it makes sense, but I don’t know how to say it. Basically, you’re in business with the provincial government. It is highly regulated, but a lot of the regulations within the acts make sense for sustainability of the operator and opportunity. So this one, it does marry well within the acts and the regulations. So there took some work, obviously, it’s still a discovery period, there’s still a lot of work to do with this policy. But Manitoba operators are highly regulated, it’s hard to answer.

Ramsey Russell: But as an outfitter, you have to go buy a permit and a license and then work within a certain standard that the government lays out. Is there a cap on the number of outfitters, like in your area, is there a cap on those number of outfitters that can operate within your area?

Paul Conchatre: There is now a cap of waterfowl operators for Manitoba and that’s 60. So, there was more than that. But what ended up happening is that the people that were non active, that just had waterfowl, like foreign resident waterfowl on their operators permit that were non active, so they weren’t filling out their ODFs, they ended up taking that opportunity was removed from their outfitting permit, which is within what is allocation of hunting licenses act. So it was already something that was within, I guess, your agreement with government. If you’re inactive, they have the ability to pull it and that’s what they did. So I think there was 110 operators in the province and only 60 were active, that 60 are the ones that are able to operate now and then it was the average of how many guests that they had between that 2016 and 2019 period. So, yeah, there’s a cap number of operators and there’s a cap number of foreign resident allocated licenses now. And there’s no growth mechanism put in place within this policy. It is something that we have to deal with and suck up. But the way things were going, the writing was on the wall, we were going to get pushed out of our operating areas and that’s what’s happening in other jurisdictions.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And we’re talking about resident and nonresident hunters, but there are other people in here that have also been considered, such as your first nations and some of the Métis harvest, how does that factor in? What is the priority use chain that going into this program?

Chris Heald: They’re number one rights based harvesters are the primary, they get primary access to the resource. So that’s established by Supreme Court of Canada, so that doesn’t change. I don’t know if that’s the same in the United States, but they don’t require license, they don’t have to report their harvest. We have no idea on the harvest numbers from them either, which is discouraging for us, we would like to know that. But they get primary and then residents are number two.

Foreign National Hunters Locking Up Land in Manitoba?

Manitoba is going to be one of the last spots for those freelance Americans to come and hunt here and knock on a door, I truly believe that to the corpse.

Ramsey Russell: Were they having any conflicts also, Chris? Were the First Americans or Métis, were they having conflicts because of the onslaught of foreign national hunters locking up land?

Chris Heald: 100%. They’re experiencing exactly the same as residents. So, the MWF represents many First Nation people and Métis harvesters and we’re hearing from them exactly the same as our resident hunters. So, I don’t think of them any differently, like, we’re all resident hunters, right? So we’re all experiencing the exact same problems.

Ramsey Russell: Did you all expect any resistance at all to this new legislation? When you all were brainstorming way back when, getting together and talking and then starting to reach out a little bit to tourism and hotels and government channels? Did you all expect any resistance to this idea and what you expected versus reality? What was the reality? Was the resistance more or less than what you all expected?

Chris Heald: Good question. I would think it was a little more than I thought. I knew we were going to get some, I didn’t realize how extensively guys had bought up houses and land and access and until they all start phoning and yelling at you, it’s hard to know. And then the loudest complainers are the guys that want to stay here for the fall, that bought a farmhouse and were bringing up friends regularly, those are still the loudest complainers, right. So, I truly believe, like what Paul was saying, the cap on the outfitters. Manitoba is going to be one of the last spots for those freelance Americans to come and hunt here and knock on a door, I truly believe that to the corpse.

Ramsey Russell: Is there any chance that this will result in a decline in foreign nationals that choose Manitoba over a more wild west free for all province?

Chris Heald: I think you could in the first year or two, some guys are going to be mad and say going there, I’m going to go to Saskatchewan or Alberta, I think they’re going to come back. I really do. I think they’re going to realize this is what everybody needed to do and they’re going to be coming back here for their 7 days, I truly believe that.

Carly Deacon: We’ve seen this on multiple regulation changes in Manitoba though. Transition is hard, especially when you’re adding applications and draws or any extensive extra work that, it’s not even extensive, any extra work on coming here. But the transition in the end will be beneficial. And we saw that at the Lake Winnipeg fishery, we know we make changes there. Commercial guys are mad, but now the fishery is sustainable and everyone’s happy again. But it’s going to take a couple of years for everybody to learn the process and understand why we’re doing this and then experience those quality hunts and say like, actually the draw system is worth it going forward. And I think we’ve experienced that multiple times in Manitoba, just with variations of regulation changes. But I’d say give it a couple of years and let people get used to it and understand it and then I don’t think it’s going to be a decrease at all.

Ramsey Russell: As a Manitoba hunter, as a Manitoba outfitter either way, were you seeing an impact on how increased hunting pressure affected waterfowl behavior? For example, Chris, did you and your son, did it become harder for you all to go out on the areas you could access and harvest birds?

Chris Heald: It’s funny you say that. So, back to that first story when my son went 0 for 11 getting the field at home and he’s such an avid waterfowl hunter, he wants to go. So we look for a small little pothole in southwest Manitoba go there, he buys it with his own money and me and him chip in on a little hunting cabin and we go there. And first year was a lot of fun and then last year, local guys bought up a house in town and somehow has locked up all the land around our cabin, from Minnesota. No, we feel it to the core. It really does lock it up and it’s got to push those birds around too. I think back to the conservation side of thing is like, we’re not giving those birds a break anywhere, right? And I know Ramsey, me and you had talked about this before in decisions we’d made in our advocacy efforts years back and I think of one in particular where we removed boat restrictions on a refuge lake and it was a mistake. We’re pushing those birds around, they need to rest and we don’t need to kill hundreds and hundreds of birds. If we don’t start as a group or as an outdoor community, protecting these birds and being sustainable, we’re just cutting ourselves short here. So, I know you had mentioned that before and I don’t know what you’re seeing around the world, but are these issues happening on all your other tours you do?

The Beauty of Waterfowl Hunting in Manitoba Canada

Go to Manitoba, the reason Canada is so attractive to so many US hunters is for most folks living in the bottom half the United States, I can get 3 or 4, 5 or 7 more days add to my hunting season quality experience by coming to Canada and getting a head start on my season. 

Ramsey Russell: No, I do not see these problems. Because what makes North America so singularly unique to me, relative to many other parts of the world, is we’ve got an absolutely passionate and avid and committed amount of hunters. We have more hunters than maybe any other country I’ve ever visited. What makes Argentina so great? They’ve got most of their population lives in the cities and don’t hunt, a very small minority of hunters in just a couple of provinces actually duck hunt. And then it’s strictly a meat run. It’s very not much sport hunting, it’s more substance hunting. And they’ve got this beautiful habitat and very little hunting pressure and boy, does it make a difference, it’s like stepping back in time. And the same could be said in a lot of other places. Mexico gets beat up a lot about, they’ve got very liberal limits, granted, not all outfitters stick to those limits, ours do, but they’ve got very generous limits. And the reason they can shoot those limits is because there’s virtually no native or Mexican duck hunters, it’s all American tourists that come in. The Mexicans that hunt, hunt big game or hunt doves, they don’t hunt waterfowl, primarily. And the absence of hunting pressure, you’ve got this real high quality hunting experience that we all duck hunters want naive birds, they want an abundance of naive birds, we can go out and experience those really great days, I don’t see it, even though Mexico is North America technically, I don’t see it elsewhere around the world like I do here in Canada and the United States. You just don’t see that mindset at all. It’s a problem we’ve got. On the flip side of it is because we hunters are so passionate and so motivated, we spend a lot of money, we generate a billion dollar economy in Manitoba, we generate a $75 billion hunting economy in the United States, you know what I’m saying? And from that, the offshoot of that is organizations like Manitoba Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Delta waterfowl, we’ve got a US Fish & Wildlife Service and other agencies. We have state agencies going hard at it to manage this resource and when you look around the world, migratory bird populations, bird populations in general are in steep decline, probably because of habitat and yet here in North America, ducks and geese are stable. And that is to me, a direct result of the amount of interest and money, time and money, we’re putting into the resource. But the scary part and why it was so important for me to have you guys come on is the landscape is shrinking. And we hunters, we have the time and money now to travel, more than just Ramsey can go to Manitoba and hunt for more than 7 days if they want to. And a lot of Americans in fact, most of them, can go to Manitoba once in a lifetime or once a season if they want to or go to Kansas or go to Oklahoma or go somewhere to hunt. And so, we’re not just hunting in our backyard for a lot of days, we’re traveling, we’re extending our opportunity out in the field. Go to Manitoba, the reason Canada is so attractive to so many US hunters is for most folks living in the bottom half the United States, I can get 3 or 4, 5 or 7 more days add to my hunting season quality experience by coming to Canada and getting a head start on my season. Because Mississippi, the season doesn’t open until around Thanksgiving, late November. And so now I can add another week to my season by coming up to Canada. And it’s very daunting times that we live in, we all want quality hunting experiences, we all spend a lot of time and a lot of money doing this thing of ours, but it’s starting to catch up with us. It’s like the past is meteorically colliding with the future and it’s all going to have to do – if you talk to anybody in North America, access is a major problem. For example, I meant to say this earlier, can you all imagine? Can a Canadian hunter imagine going to some beautiful public land in Arkansas on opening day flooded timber is just an amazing place to hunt? Can you imagine sharing? You got up early, you raced to the hole, that’s a foreign concept for a Canadian hunter in and of itself is having to get up 2 hours early and race to get to a spot, you want to hunt and compete. But can you imagine sharing that experience with 70 other people? Because 5 of you made it, then 10 more showed up, then 20 more showed up. And if anybody called the game warden, said I got dibs on this hole, the game warden is going to show up and tell everybody to go home. So, you just grit your teeth and bear it and it was all over the Internet. My son knew somebody that hunted there, 70 something people, bigger than my high school graduating class, shared a duck hole in Arkansas, I quit. If that’s what it’s coming down to, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much as I grew up enjoying duck hunting, that’s very scary. And so, hearing that and experiencing that throughout the United States, when I hear that Manitoba is going to come up with this rule and it does directly disenfranchise me, I’m the outlier. I’ve got to step back and look, this is a matter of quality versus quantity and it’s not going to stop me from coming to Manitoba, I’m just going to have to pick my 7 days wisely, where am I going to spend my 7 days? Am I going to chase Canada geese? Am I going to chase divers? Am I going to chase mallards out in the field? A little bit of all. But I see it, like I said earlier, I see this as the spear tip that’s going to spread rapidly across North America as we get into this. The scary part to me as an American is, I can remember my son in high school, him and 2 of his buddies applying to hunt a draw system on WMAs in the state of Mississippi and if one got drawn, he got to invite the other 2. So, the 3 of them would apply to go to a lot of WMAs. And one season they got drawn twice, collectively they got drawn twice and they had great hunts. But 2 hunts a duck season, if that’s what your opportunity is, if that’s how you hunt, 2 duck hunts a season does not a tradition make or a culture build. And that’s the scary part of moving into the future.

Paul Conchatre: And why would you invest?

Why Are We Losing Duck Hunters?

It’s a very difficult situation, I don’t think there’s any great answers, but I think that Manitoba has, first that I know, taken a widespread targeted approach to how they’re going to manage hunting pressure in their backyard.

Ramsey Russell: Why would you spend? We talk about hunters as conservation, a lot of that is through excise taxes and stamps and expenditures. Going duck hunting is not a cheap endeavor, I need some waders to keep dry and to keep warm. I need some clothing, I need shotguns, I’ve got special shells and stamps and licenses, why would I do that if I knew I was only going to go out twice? Or if I knew I was going to go out 10 times and not shoot many birds because the hunting was so poor. You got to ask yourself, why are we losing duck hunters? Populations are stable, or so the science says. So why are we losing duck hunting? I think it goes back to access that a native Manitoban Chris and his son can’t go out and hunt like you hunt. That your son, you can’t show your son the opportunities to hunt in your backyard that you did, that’s scary, man. How is he going to show his grandchildren or your grandchildren how to hunt? It’s a very difficult situation, I don’t think there’s any great answers, but I think that Manitoba has, first that I know, taken a widespread targeted approach to how they’re going to manage hunting pressure in their backyard. And I know it’s controversial because I’ve heard some of the controversy brewing around it and I just wanted to come straight to the horse’s mouth and hear it said of why this was not an outfitter, why this was not an anti-American initiative, this was about real duck hunters, like everybody listening, trying to ensure that their kids and grandkids and themselves had somewhere to hunt and that the hunting was quality.

Chris Heald: You’ve summed it up perfectly, you really have. So it never wasn’t an anti-American thing at all. I mean, the outfitters, their main clients are Americans and my cousins are all Americans that come up hunting too and that was not the intent, the intent was it so our 3 kids could go out there and hunt and their grandkids could hunt and that was the intent of this whole thing.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I appreciate you all taking the time. If you all got any parting shots before we part ways?

Carly Deacon: Just thank you for having us.

Ramsey Russell: No, thank you all.

Chris Heald: You really summed it up really well, Ramsey. It’s a controversial thing, but the whole waterfowl community’s got to work together.

Ramsey Russell: We’ve got to work together. What we’ve got to remember is we’re all in the same life raft, there’s a lot of initiatives going on right now and Australia is on my mind, they don’t have the hunting pressure problems that we have, but they’ve got a major ideological conflict with people that don’t agree with hunting. And here in the United States especially, we are like a cancer, like carbon monoxide behind the scenes, it’s dangerous, it’s against what I’m trying to do, but I can’t smell it or touch it or see it or sense it, it’s not in the headlines, but there’s a lot of movement going on right now here in America to undermine hunting, the value of hunting. What they did in Australia is they took the license sales for example, they threw them into a general budget, not into conservation like we do in Canada and the United States, they put them into a general budget and that was a good way of marginalizing that money value to conservation that hunting represents. And there’s an initiative right now, represented by several organizations more than just one, that is trying to disassociate hunting related funding from DNR wildlife management, get it out of the DNR budgets and remove from wildlife management entirely and their premise is that the game birds don’t belong to just the hunters, it belongs to all of us and a lot of us don’t agree with you all hunting where we’re going to be. So, we’ve got a lot of different issues going on and I just feel like all of us hunters have got to get along if we’re going to keep doing this somehow another we got to go along. I applaud Manitoba for taking a stand, I really do. As somebody that doesn’t get to hunt as much as I might otherwise want to up there, I nonetheless applaud it. I know it’s going to be difficult, I know there’s going to be a work in progress. It’s probably going to continue to evolve as times move forward. Thank you all.

Chris Heald: Thank you.

Carly Deacon: Thank you so much.

Ramsey Russell: And folks, thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, what do you think about that? What do you think about these new rules? What do you think the possibility is that it’s going to come to your backyard, that we traveling duck hunters especially are going to get marginalized out, that we’re only going to have access to certain days or a number of days or certain properties on certain days throughout the United States as well as Canada? Got an opinion, let me know, hit me up, shoot me a text, shoot me an email. Thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.



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