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From Canoe to Computer: Memoirs of a Career in Wildlife Management

From Canoe to Computer: Memoirs of a Career in Wildlife Management

by John Raymond Gunson
From Canoe to Computer: Memoirs of a Career in Wildlife Management

From Canoe to Computer: Memoirs of a Career in Wildlife Management

by John Raymond Gunson


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The life ways of Native and other northern Canadian inhabitants and the animals they live with, respect and use are featured in this book. The author describes the aboriginals’ (First Nations people) and other northern peoples’ historical and current involvement in the use, studies and management of wildlife. Recommendations for the accelerated involvement of Native peoples in wildlife management are presented. In addition, interesting observations of the ways of life of northern animals and their populations are described. Details of long-term studies and management of problems with bears, wolves, beaver, elk and other species, and their diseases and parasites, are highlighted as well as the resulting human politics . The continuation of recreational, subsistence and commercial hunting are recommended and the need for development of complex management techniques are presented. . Changes to wildlife management education are suggested.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524655860
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 01/11/2017
Pages: 750
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

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From Canoe to Computer

Memoirs of a Career in Wildlife Management

By John Raymond Gunson


Copyright © 2017 John Raymond Gunson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5246-5586-0


The Canoe

There was a small bump of muscle on my left forearm; I couldn't explain it, partly because I was skin and bones at age nineteen, but Darrell Dennis offered: "It might be from paddling your canoe." I thought about that and was inclined to believe he was right. We were at the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) in Guelph, Ontario in I960. I was in my second year of university intending to advance into a career of wildlife biology and Darrell was to proceed to a major in honours chemistry. Later, he switched to join my major; that of fisheries and wildlife management and continued into a life-long career with wildlife as did I. The canoe he had referred to was the focus of stories I had told him of growing up near the small town of Geraldton in northern Ontario (in fact, as far as we could figure out that year, I was from the most northerly location in Ontario of any of the students at the three-partitioned colleges; OAC, Ontario Veterinary College and MacDonald Institute). I had purchased and used the canoe when I was sixteen years of age. The canoe was a 15-footer, canvas and cedar (the Cadillac of canoes), pointed at both ends. It was a Peterborough paddling canoe (built in Peterborough, Ontario) and I had ordered it directly from the catalogue; brand new and shining green.

I needed the canoe, or so I thought to expand my activities of duck hunting, trapping and general exploration in the boreal woodlands, muskegs and never-ending lakes and rivers of the northern Precambrian Shield country surrounding the small gold-mining town. In those years, there were few roads; human presence north of the town amounted only to workers of the northern line of the Canadian National Railroad and habitants of the much smaller hamlet of Nakina; beyond that were the northern boreal forest, the "land of the little sticks"-- the lowlands of James and Hudson Bays.

Each fall, my brother Reg and our buddies Raimo and Mauri Mikkonen would hike through a mile or so of muskeg to get to the cattail (Typha) marsh of a small river (Pine Creek) in which the town poured its wastes. The fertilizer had encouraged the growth of a sizeable and productive delta where it entered Kenogamisis Lake (ask a northern Cree to explain the meaning of the lake's name -- I can't do it here in public; by the way, it does not mean "long lake" as reported on the internet). Various species of ducks summered there and late-fall migrants, especially black ducks, would arrive to rest and feed for a few days. The duck-hunting season was the highlight of the year for me; the four of us always missed that day of school when the season opened, but the teachers knew about it and tolerated our absence. Shooting the ducks, especially the large black ducks on the wing was terribly exciting and enjoyable. We made our own decoys from cedar (Thuja) wood and with the canoe, we were able to place them out in the shallow water. Reg shot a green-headed mallard drake in 1956 and mounted it; this was one of the first indications of this species moving into northern Ontario from the west.

At an even earlier age (in the 1940s), the summers were occupied with helping out in the garden, which included gathering little bits of organic soil from the nearby forest for the vegetables. We picked blueberries (Vaccinium) all-day-long during some August days (after a five-kilometer hike, followed by the hike back, carrying six- and eleven-quart baskets full of berries) so our mother could preserve them in quart sealers for the winter (as many as fifty sealers per year). We picked mushrooms for the same purpose, used dandelion (Taraxacum) leaves for spinach and generally eked out a living from the surrounding woodlands of black spruce (Picea), jack pine (Pinus) and white birch (Betula). We handpicked jack pine cones and sold them to the tree nursery. During those years we had few, if any, toys. Rocks and sticks were abundant, so we made slingshots and used these to war against the Mikkonen brothers, when we were not just simply throwing rocks at each other at an abandoned mineral-drill site. I can still remember, while standing next to the garden at age eight or nine, listening to the cries of a pack of wolves not that far away.

Of course, we fished for northern pike and "pickerel" (walleye) in the nearby lake. On one occasion, while fishing off Little Long Lac Bridge, we noticed a huge pike-like fish trying to grab a 2-pound pike on one of the lines. Four or five of us boys immediately attached other small pike to our lines, and threw them out to catch the monster, but to no avail. This large fish, which we compared to the length of our bicycles, must have been a muskellunge, never before reported from that lake, or if not, one of the largest northern pike ever! In summer, we somehow survived the mosquitos, blackflies, no-see-ums, horse flies and deer flies, all so common in Ontario's northern woods with never-ending water bodies. When I travelled back to my home country in later years, I often wondered how I had survived the bugs. Swimming was our most common summer sport; our beach was the tailings of the local gold mine (Little Long Lac mine, one of nine producing mines) that were dumped right into the lake. Here, on the "slimes", the water was shallow and warm and we could dive off the sudden drop-off into deeper, cooler water. Later, the "beach" was condemned for swimming; that after we had used it for years!

The first house we lived in had few amenities; the diamond-drilled water well with one pipe leading cold water to the kitchen sink was one. If we needed hot water, the wood stove was stoked and a pot of water placed on top. Baths were infrequent because of the shortage of hot water, but occasionally a galvanized tub was hauled out and we took our turns. Naturally the oldest child went in first, and that wasn't me. There was no fridge and not even an icebox. Most organic degradables (preserved wild fruits, potatoes, rhubarb, and other vegetables) were stored in a dugout hole below the boys' bedroom. We occasionally had to drink milk that was ageing with floating yellow curds; I have hated milk ever since. There were no cows or horses within 150 miles (240 kms). We had our own chickens and collecting eggs was one of the daily chores. Occasionally, we chopped off some chicken heads, stuck the remainder in boiling water, and then pulled out the feathers. Splitting and carrying in the firewood was another tedious daily task. One spring I shot a Canada goose; my dad threatened to report me to the local game warden (he was a bird watcher), but my mother overruled him because we needed meat. That's the only animal I ever poached! Now, in the twenty-first century, the province of Ontario is initiating a spring goose hunt because the Canada geese in that province rarely stop in autumn on their way south to their winter ranges. I was ahead of them!

As youngsters growing up in this northern environment, we were used to travelling in the bush especially during winters when it was easier to get around (reminiscent of the year-round activities of wolves, as I was to learn in later years). Cutting a few scrawny logs of black spruce with the Swede saw for firewood and then hauling them home on a home-made sleigh over the winter's snows, snaring snowshoe hares (rabbits), trapping weasels, and snowshoeing and skiing (home-made, wooden skis with twisted-rubber inner-tire-tube bands for foot anchors) through the muskegs and Canadian Shield rocks at every opportunity were common activities during the colder season. We snowshoed a lot, and as a result the high school held a 6-mile snowshoe race in March, 1959. To advertise the event, it was agreed that I would give all the rest of the boys a head start. You can check the story in the Thunder Bay Times News of March, 1979, twenty years later, to see who won!

I played hockey virtually every night in winter on a nearby outdoor rink; we had a small shack to put on the skates. First, shovel off the snow, then play hockey with occasional fights, listen to and watch the sizzling and wavering aurora borealis on late, clear, cold nights, and tramp home through the snow fields. I just have to wonder why some people still argue that one cannot ever hear the northern lights. When they appear near during low ambient temperature, they produce a rustling sound; when far-off, you do not hear them. Here is how Samuel Hearne described the northern lights in December 1771: "I can positively affirm that in still nights I have frequently heard them make a rustling and crackling noise, like the waving of a large flag in a fresh gale of wind."

Hockey, hunting and trapping -- they were what kept me going. Winters could, however, be tough to handle. The trip to the outhouse when it was forty below could be an adventure in itself (although the smell was less during freezing temperatures, and all the large black spiders were gone). Walking the 2 kilometers to school in the same weather was challenging (in high school years, Reg, Raimo and Mauri usually rode to school in Mauri's car while I walked). Leo Sten joined me on some of these winter walks; when we were finally in the school, we sometimes had a good laugh at our frost-scarred faces with tiny icicles here and there. One winter day -- when the temperature was about twenty degrees below Fahrenheit and snowing, and when still quite young (ten or so years of age) -- the four of us returned from a skiing trip to find the town contemplating a search for us. We thought this silly because we were used to the bush and the searchers probably would have got lost!

A few years later, in spring, I looked over towards a new field that Roy Barker, our multi-millionaire neighbour, had cleared (after discovering the mineral lode that became Geco Mines and that led to the town of Manitouwadge, some miles to the south). Brother Reg and I (at ages sixteen and seventeen) worked for Roy -- to make what was probably one of Ontario's most northern farms -- a potato farm. We learned how to work during those summers with Roy! With Wally McMahon, Roy's helper, we burned a trench through solid bedrock to bring water into Roy's new three-story house. We built a hot fire with tamarack (Larix), dumped water from full 45-gallon drums, then picked and shovelled the cracked and broken rock out. We cleared several acres of jack pine-covered sandy forest a couple of kilometers north of town, excavated tons of organic soil from a muskeg and spread it on the new fields, planted, tended, picked and bagged the potatoes, and looked after several acres of flowering plants and vegetables in front of the house, as well as many other chores.

Twenty or so Canada geese on their way north in spring had landed on the new field to feed on the green growth poking their slim stems above the surface. The geese would land in our area in spring, but rarely during the fall hunting season. Another neighbour, old Grandma Lewkoski, walked stealthily towards the geese, scattering seeds in an attempt to feed them. The geese shied away and finally took off. I still wonder if Grandma wanted to eat one of them. Grandma raised pigs. While dangling on a high wooden fence with our heads stuck over the edge, I and the other neighbourhood boys would watch them being slaughtered in the small pen behind her house. That year, you could buy a whole pig for $5.

In later years as a teen, I became more interested in trapping much larger or more wilderness-type furbearers. My partner, Errol Newhouse, and I again used the canoe to set out our brand-new Newhouse (no known relation) number-4 jump traps for beaver along a creek a couple of miles from town. We were assistant trappers on Kaarlo Niemi's registered trapline and Kaarlo sold our pelts to the local furbuyer. When the winter sealed off the lake and creek, we eventually expanded into trapping marten and mink in the same area. It was exciting to trap during winter when you always wondered what might be in your trap, if an animal had approached the trap (as evidenced by tracks in the snow), or if an animal escaped the trap. The trapping was stimulating and invigorating and because of this recreation and the duck hunting, I eventually decided to get into wildlife work.

Trapping could be educational too, for example, it taught a person what not to do in special circumstances in the bush. Once, near an active beaver lodge, I suddenly disappeared through the ice into the creek. With Errol's help I made it out and we journeyed to an old abandoned trapper's cabin, lit a fire, and I soon dried out enough to get home. On another occasion while mistakenly wearing leather boots on the trapline in freezing weather, I froze my left big toe; it turned into a sack of mush completely surrounding the toe for about a month or two, but later healed. I never saw a doctor-- who sees a doctor when that young? On a trip through lowlands in summer, a bent willow (Salix) branch slapped into my eye and it was quite sore for a few days. Sixty years later (in 2015), an optometrist could still see the scar on the surface of the eye! I guess I was lucky.

We hunted ruffed and spruce grouse as well as ducks during fall months in the '50s. With proceeds from my work with Roy Barker, I purchased a small used motorcycle (a Czechoslovakian Jawa); I could sling the shotgun over one shoulder and get quickly in grouse country. I was often a long way from home searching for this species that has played such an important role in the education of young Canadian hunters. Many of us cut our hunting teeth on these "partridges" and there is a good probability they will be the focus of our last hunt as well. If you stick to shooting them in the air, you will come to admire their ability to escape; they can outwit the hunter with explosive power and aerial acrobatics. I have to admit that I usually cheated and took them on the ground so my mother had something to cook. I can't forget the male "ruffie" that ignored my bike and strutted off the road at his own pace or the nervous hen in spring snapping back and forth while shepherding her chicks to safety. The drumming of the male in spring was always interesting and the sudden explosive exit from a snow bed in winter or at your feet during a silent stalk of bigger game in autumn was, for a second, alarming and unforgettable.

Paddling a canoe is special; the sound of the canoe belly cutting through the lake water, feeling the weight of the water with each stroke, adjusting the angle of the squared-stern paddle blade to steer, keeping your knees on the bottom and as close to the sides of the canoe as possible to balance it, occasionally switching sides with the paddle to rest one arm and shoulder, and moving almost silently and effortlessly through the wilderness to view nature's wonders is relaxing, unique and memorable. On one occasion, Errol and I paddled right by a adult river otter swimming peacefully through the surface waters; because of the quiet approach of the canoe we were able to make the close-up observation; I still remember his whiskers! Another time, I cautiously approached a bull moose busy feeding under water in a small lake. When his head and antlers broke the surface, the water poured off past his mouth full of aquatic vegetation. He seemed to dare me to come closer, but I didn't.

I made the mistake of lending the canoe to Reg and Raimo to do some fishing. They brought it back with a 3-inch hole right through the canvas and one of the ribs; instead of fishing, they were running fast water. They fixed it up, but it never seemed the same. Another mistake -- at the age of nineteen, I lent the two of them my just-acquired '52 Pontiac and they burned out the rear differential. They fixed that too. Then Reg borrowed my 303 Lee Enfield British war rifle and shot a moose. Boy, the pain of having an older brother!

During my first years in the west, the canoe sat at home in northern Ontario where both tips rotted out. On a trip back in the late '60s I replaced the tips and gunwales, repainted it and brought it to my home in the west. I used the ageing canoe for various biological surveys in Alberta in 1971 (more details of these surveys later); we accessed several lakes in the parkland to view heronries and to examine cormorant and pelican colonies. Among other journeys, I took the canoe to the Yukon in 1972 and paddled it on famous Kluane Lake. Eventually, the canvas rotted off and the super-structure of cedar plates sat in my yard for many years; I just couldn't work up the emotion to throw it away. In a later time, I learned that the first such cedar-plate canoe in Canada was made by fur trader and surveyor David Thompson who wanted a stronger-bodied canoe than those of birch bark (Jenish 2004).


Excerpted from From Canoe to Computer by John Raymond Gunson. Copyright © 2017 John Raymond Gunson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface, ix,
The Canoe, 1,
The University Years, 9,
Muskrats of the Cumberland Marshes, 15,
The Moose-Checking Station, 31,
The Beaver of Saskatchewan's Northern Forest, 36,
The Great Beaver Disease (s), 58,
Historical and Recent Values of the Beaver, 67,
Canadas Everywhere, 76,
Forests of Spruce and Pine, 80,
The Spear Points, 97,
The First Canadians, 109,
Rethinking the Late-Pleistocene Extinctions, 136,
Wolf Control in the North, 152,
The Barren Lands, 159,
The Peace-Athabasca Delta, 165,
The International Biological Program, 176,
Some Fur Work in Alberta, 180,
The Striped Skunk in a Northern Habitat, 184,
Alberta's Flying Mammals, 196,
Management of the World's Most-Feared Disease, 202,
Other Diseases and Parasites, 216,
The Tree Bear, 225,
Recreational Hunting of Black Bears, 242,
Bears and Beehives, 255,
Bear Safety, 266,
Management of the Great Bear, the Grizzly, 272,
More on the Grizzly Bear, 286,
Bears as Predators, 301,
Wolf-Livestock Research and Management, 306,
Wolves and Hoofed Mammals, 319,
Studies of Wolf-Ungulate Relationships in Alberta, 333,
Wolves for Yellowstone, 344,
The Evolution of Wolf Management, 362,
Wolf Specimens and Related Things, 379,
The Story of Alberta's Elk, 391,
Crop-Munching Ungulates, 404,
Another way to Count Ungulates, 412,
The "Gunson" Pipes, 415,
The Need for More Complex Hunting Management: a Case History, 420,
About Hunting, 425,
The Antis, 436,
Hunting by Aboriginal Peoples, 441,
Should Natural Predation be Managed?, 450,
Other Considerations of Wildlife Management in Northern Ecosystems, 459,
The Carnivore Conservation Area Concept, 473,
Education, Planning and Priorities in Modern Wildlife Management, 477,
Thoughts for Beginning Wildlifers, 489,
Environmentalists, Media and Management, 495,
The Computer: the Final Years, 502,
Appendix 1: Encounters with Wildlife, 509,
Appendix 2: Reports*, papers, manuals, articles, posters, databases, 544,
Recommended Readings, 559,
References Cited, 573,
Seventeen of my Heroes, 593,
Acknowledgements, 595,
Illustrations, 597,
Index, 725,

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