Victoria is arguably British Columbia’s most picturesque town on Vancouver Island and was the setting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia (GOABC).
Held at the historic Empress Hotel, adjacent to Victoria’s calm sheltered harbor, 210 of the province’s best professional guides and outfitters, families and guests attended the golden jubilee, 50 years after the first meeting held at Williams Lake in 1966.
During the March 10 – 13 gathering a few of the GOABC members looked back on the decades past and reflected on their experiences in the guide and outfitting business and differences between then and today.
Chris Franke, who started in the outfitting industry as a 17-year-old rambunctious teenager, commented: “It’s important for hunting professionals in British Columbia to be involved in GOABC. Our industry is a partner with government and others in the stewardship of Canada’s natural resources and staying active in governmental affairs, wildlife resource management and monitoring trends that affect our vocation is more important now than ever.”
That is why as the only female professional outfitter licensed in both BC and Alberta Provinces, Franke is an enthusiastic GOABC member and advocate, and has been for over 10 years.
Chris Franke owns Mountain Spirit Outfitters in Likely, BC. She has seen many changes in guiding and outfitting during her 30 years in the industry, that started with long hours and hard work wrangling livestock, cooking for hungry hunters in camps, then guiding and eventually owning her own BC hunting territory, starting in 2007.
She has experienced a lot. “There isn’t as much big game today as 50 years ago. Government seems to be more focused on governing people and society than it is looking after our wildlife resources,” she laments. And yet British Columbia proves to be one of the best choices for hunters to go hunting and welcomes outdoorsmen from all over the world to its expansive forests, crystal clear rivers, tall snow-capped peaks and lush sheltered green valleys.
“Outfitting has become complicated with numerous regulations, insurance and permitting requirements, paperwork, and, with the excessive daily demands of running a small business – it can all seem endless,” Franke says. Even though she says outfitting isn’t for the faint of heart, Franke wouldn’t trade her career for anything else – she loves the life. She proudly believes British Columbia hunting offers the best outdoor experience in North America with vast beauty, big skies and many different and challenging game species to hunt that are healthy and readily available.
Jack Goodwin, who operates Northwest Big Game Outfitters, is a second generation professional from the Skeena region in the northwest of BC. He described how his father joined GOABC early on. Dave Goodwin started guiding in 1949, buying his first area a decade later in 1960 and then moved his family north to Skeena in 1966.
Jack looks back on his fond memories as a kid helping out with chores alongside his Dad – “Back then, it was different conducting guided hunts in BC. You picked up your customer at the small and quiet Whitehorse, Yukon airstrip and drove the four or five hours on gravel and dirt back to main camp, hopefully not getting a flat tire. The cabin didn’t have electricity, and light in the evening was the glow from white gas lamps,” says Jack. “Water was supplied from a cold mountain spring, gravity fed down to the cabin. Only wood stoves provided any heat during the crisp chilly nights. It was great, and I relished every minute”.
At first light the next morning after the horses were saddled, rifles secured, gear and kit packed and tied off, a guide and his hunter in the 1960s headed out alone for 21 to 30 days, exhilarated by the raw unrefined backcountry. The sure-footed string of typically six pack horses carried everything the two would need for three to four weeks in the wild untamed wilderness, pursuing multiple species of game – as there was not a quota limit system as hunts have today a half century later.
Now, Jack describes, “That same first day journey to main base camp is on pavement and takes half the time. There is propane heat and electric light in the cabins. Hunts are shorter durations, too, lasting 10 to 14 days. People are busier today. Hunters can’t commit to a long three weeks or month in the woods. Comfortable amenities are appreciated by some folks, with cabins replacing canvas wall tents in many hunting areas. Many main camps offer hot showers to wash the grime away and saunas or hot tubs sometimes are built at main camps to soothe weary bones and tired muscle after a hard day of hunting.”
“Not much really has changed once you’re up a trail and in the backcountry as accomplished woodcraft and hunting skills are still absolutely necessary to track and harvest big game,” says Goodwin. “Marksmanship, physical stamina and ability all play a part. Having a good experienced guide who knows exactly what he is doing helps, too,” he grinned.
SCI Vice President Bruce Eavenson, who has hunted British Columbia and represents the Club frequently at GOABC annual meetings added, “Safari Club International is a dedicated supporter of GOABC and considers the group a key partner in North America. Good public relations and influential governmental affairs are critical to the long-term success of hunting, GOABC and the entire guide and outfitting industry. We will always support our Canadian partners any way we can.” Your Club provides two distinct annual grants to GOABC to help fund its programs adequately and will continue to do so into the future.
At the conference the Honorable Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations for British Columbia, was again a keynote speaker. He said: “Government balances the different interests of many who have a stake in BC’s tremendous natural resources and recognizes sustainable resource development drives the economy.”
Minister Thomson remarked that Government wants to grow populations of moose in the Province through a partnership with GOABC and the Wildlife Stewardship Council, a resources coalition of stakeholders and interested parties. The comments about moose drew much appreciative applause.
Thomson seems to be a respected voice of Government and a straight shooter with hunters and outdoorsmen. He spoke of improving certainty for the guide/outfitter industry and reinforced that Government listens to what GOABC has to say and respects any concerns. He further promised to cut some bureaucratic red tape. Thomson reinforced British Columbia’s commitment to sustainable hunting and fishing and said Government understands and supports science-based wildlife management. Moving forward, the Minister galvanized his office’s commitment to GOABC “through dialogue, engagement and a constructive relationship.”
Strong leadership and great management has always been a hallmark of GOABC. Executive Director Scott Ellis, assisted by Jennifer Johnson and a brilliant tight-knit team, work tirelessly on executing the directions that come from a focused, dedicated Board of Directors.
Michael Schneider, a veteran of the industry for over 30 years, succeeded Brian Glaicar as President and was inaugurated during the anniversary conference. Mark Werner, owner of BC Guide Outfitters, rejoined the Board as Vice President. All of the others who serve in an elected leadership capacity share common goals, as Werner described: “Everyone on this board has one primary goal and purpose – to serve GOABC as best we can and to advance our industry. We’re proud of what we do and we’re proud of GOABC.”
President Schneider reinforced the belief of GOABC’s leadership: “Partnerships with hunting’s stakeholders is key to our future success, and Safari Club International is at the center of that wheel. All of us in hunting need to work together in harmony today to protect our future and expand opportunities for everyone.”–Phil DeLone, SCI Chief Executive Officer