Brent Sheppe grew up in a family of hunters, and for almost as long as he can remember he wanted to kill what some people regard as the biggest trophy of all.
“It’s been a dream of mine to get a grizzly bear. You know, to be able to hunt something that could hunt you back is pretty intimidating, is pretty awesome,” Mr. Sheppe said in a recent interview as he sat at home watching a hunting show on television.
This fall, after 10 years of trying, Mr. Sheppe got lucky, and for the first time his name was drawn for a grizzly bear licence in a limited entry hunt (LEH) in the Knight/Kingcome Inlet area on British Columbia’s central coast.
Getting your name drawn for an LEH is like winning the lottery, because it allows you access to an area from which the vast majority of hunters are excluded. LEHs are a way for the government to restrict the number of animals killed by limiting the number of hunters allowed in a prescribed zone. This year, 9,614 hunters applied for LEH licences for grizzly bears in British Columbia, and 3,469 tags were issued. In the Knight/Kingcome zone, 324 applied and 59 were selected.
(A government spokesman said many more tags are issued than bears are harvested. In 2014, for example, 3,067 LEH hunters province-wide killed 267 grizzlies.)
When Mr. Sheppe got his licence after so many years of trying, he was ecstatic.
But in a remarkable story of conversion that shows the dramatic way attitudes are shifting against grizzly hunting in B.C., Mr. Sheppe is going to forfeit his LEH.
Instead of shooting a trophy bear, he is going to look at one through binoculars.
The 31-year-old welding contractor grew up in Port McNeill on the north end of Vancouver Island, where people go into the forest to get meat the way urbanites visit the butcher.
“The way I was raised, we’d go out and shoot some animals and we’d bring the animals home and clean them, process them, smoke them and put them in the freezer. That was what we’d eat growing up. So hunting has been a big part of my life,” he said.
But his views on hunting grizzly bears changed recently when he talked with Mike Willie, an old friend and a hereditary chief of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation.
Mr. Willie runs Sea Wolf Adventures, which offers cultural and wildlife tours on the coast, and Mr. Sheppe was hoping to get a boat ride into the remote Knight/Kingcome area, at the southern edge of the Great Bear Rainforest.
“I gave him a call, and was like, ‘You know, you’re the guy to take me out and help find some animals.’ And he said, ‘Well, there’s a bit of a problem because I’m completely against hunting these animals; they are majestic and spiritual,’” Mr. Sheppe said.
They talked about the importance of bears to First Nations.
“Bears are like family. If you have a bear lost, it’s a family member down,” Mr. Willie said.
“It really hit me,” Mr. Sheppe said. “I never had the opportunity to go hunt one before, so I was pretty excited about this [hunt], but my views have changed. Something in my spirit has switched and I’m ready to start a new chapter and try and help promote saving these bears.”
Mr. Willie said as an incentive to help Mr. Sheppe abandon his hunt, Sea Wolf Adventures and Nimmo Bay Resort, a luxury wilderness lodge, have offered to host him and his family for a bear-viewing trip.
It is an offer he hopes to make to other hunters prepared to give up their LEH licences.
Fraser Murray of Nimmo Bay Resort said when Mr. Sheppe sees a trophy grizzly, they will identify it as the bear that would have been shot had the hunt proceeded. A snare will be used to get DNA from a hair sample, and the bear will become part of a science project tracking the movement of coastal grizzlies.
“We’ll learn more about that bear and get a sense of the value of that bear to tourism as opposed to hunting,” he said.
A study last year found that tourists spent $15-million on bear viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest in 2012, while hunters spent $1.2-million.
Judging by that, the bear being spared by Mr. Sheppe is worth a lot more alive than dead.
Increasingly, British Columbians seem to be realizing that. A survey released on Friday found that more than 90 per cent now oppose the grizzly hunt. Included in that number are probably a lot of hunters like Mr. Sheppe, who have turned away from killing bears.