By Natalie Finnemore
Helping hunters register their harvested animals and assisting biologists check-in severed elk heads is just part of an unusual, but rewarding, opportunity at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield during the annual Elk Herd Reduction Program (EHRD).
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Master Corporal Nicholas Patterson, of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), CFB Edmonton, who was tasked to support CFB Suffield. “It’s not every day that you get to hunt through work.”
The Victoria, B.C. native has been hunting white tail deer for the past three years, but this year he’s getting to experience his first elk hunt thanks to the Alberta Environment and Park’s EHRP at CFB Suffield.
“It’s been a really rewarding experience to be a part of this, and work with such a great bunch of guys,” Patterson said.
Those who are tasked to come to support the EHRP work for four days, Monday through Thursday, supporting the hunt efforts in the training area and at Range Control. Range Control is a department of the base that co-ordinates all activity, safety and security on the range training area. Those tasked to support the program are rewarded with two complimentary tags to participate in the hunt on Friday and Saturday.
For Patterson, he worked as a gate guard and at the check station at Range control.
“This is the best tasking I’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s great if you love the outdoors.”
For those who work at the Range Control check station, they are responsible for recording data about the harvested animals, documenting information about the hunters and assisting the biologists in taking elk heads to test for chronic wasting disease. To test for this fatal disease, which affects the brain tissue of the elk, hunters can voluntarily submit animal heads at the check station that will be later tested by biologists employed by the province. Patrolling the range involves driving a pickup truck or ATV to monitor out of bounds areas, check gate security and assist any hunter who gets lost or needs help in the training area.
Corporal Jordan Ridgeley of the Base Firehall, 3rd Canadian Divisional Support Base, CFB Edmonton, was also sent to CFB Suffield for the EHRP.
Ridgeley patrolled the range at CFB Suffield, the largest training area in the country, and also acted as a gate guard. He had previously tried to acquire tags through the Province of Alberta in other regions and had been unsuccessful.
“The benefit of having two free elk tags drew me to Suffield,” Ridgeley said.
Originally from Goulds in St. John’s, N.L., Ridgeley has been hunting on and off since childhood. He’s an experienced hunter who usually hunts birds, moose and deer, but his trip to CFB Suffield gave him his first chance at hunting elk. For Ridgeley, the hunt is also an opportunity to spend some time with family.
“My uncle and family friend are driving down from Edmonton and staying in Medicine Hat to come hunting with me,” he said.
He and his hunting party were successful in “tagging out” on their first morning hunt in late November, acquiring two antlerless elk in the process.
Currently, more than 40 people will be tasked to support the hunt at CFB Suffield, which runs until Jan. 30.