Wild, wild Westman: Wildlife association anticipates strong comeback of outdoor activities
A return to fundraising, live events and just having fun outdoors with the community again is what the Brandon Wildlife Association is most looking forward to after two years of canceled events.
During the pandemic, people have been encouraged to get outside as much as possible for their physical and mental well-being. Nature exploration was an outlet for many, while closures and restrictions barred people from other recreational activities outside their homes.
But ironically, many conservation and wildlife organizations have had to cancel events and go virtual due to COVID-19 health measures.
Hoping for a more normal summer and fall, the Brandon Wildlife Association is returning to in-person events after two years of cancellations and online meetings. The association caters to many types of interests: archery, pistols, rifles, shotguns, angling and hunting.
And if the numbers from the association’s Jigging for Jacks Ice Fishing Derby on February 26 are any indication, people are ready and eager to get a fresh start in the great outdoors.
Events like the derby serve multiple purposes, said Nicole Epp, secretary of the Brandon Wildlife Association.
“It’s a great way to show people all that we do as an association and to tell people about the possibility of joining us to get involved in more activities,” she said. “Some people don’t realize all the things we do locally, like maintaining the wharf on this lake. We also work with provincial and federal governments to protect the environment. We encourage everyone who uses these lands and waters to join us so that we have a good knowledge base to build on.”
The derby, which took place on Lake Wahtopanah, featured 197 people who tried their luck for a prize and a share of $5,000 in cash rewards. In the end, 39 pike, aka jackfish, were caught, saved and released.
It was a busy day, Epp said, with many people just happy to be back to host events in person and with like-minded people.
The main message for the association has been the safe enjoyment of hunting, fishing and sport shooting activities, and that has never ceased, said President Brad Kirkpatrick.
“We’ve never had to shut down our operations other than our fundraising events, like the Brandon Gun Show, Buck Awards Day and others like that,” he said. “These have been canceled for two consecutive years now and the only major disruption to our operations.”
It took a bite out of their finances, he said, but they maintained their operations with government funding.
Club meetings also continued but on online platforms. Even then, he said the members lacked human interaction, so they were quite happy to have their first in-person meeting on March 1.
At the center of the association is the firing range located south of Brandon. Shooting sports are a major draw for the association and it strives to attract more people and events and learn how to use firearms safely.
The facility is home to a variety of shooting disciplines, from rifles to pistols and even archery. There’s already a full slate of shooting competitions and lessons planned for the coming year, Kirkpatrick said.
The range is owned by the Brandon Wildlife Association, he said. Among the amenities are rifle and pistol shooting ranges with enclosed shooting areas. There is also a dedicated archery range with a separate 3D archery circuit. The grounds also house a classroom building, accessory storage, and a kitchen shack.
There are plans underway to build a new clubhouse, but nothing has been finalized yet, Kirkpatrick said.
“We offer so many because we have the space and we have members who do both archery and gun shooting,” he said. “But not all archers are equally good rifle or pistol shooters, so we like to cater to anyone who is passionate about hunting and shooting sports.”
The range offers such a wide range of disciplines to attract more members and organize more events. This allows the line to offer what are known as “three-gun” competitions, where shooters compete in centerfire rifle, handgun, and shotgun categories.
Each competitor goes through stages of paper and steel targets, as well as clay pigeon ranges, to test their accuracy and timing.
“Three gun is very popular because members can bring all their toys and practice in one place.”
The range also hosts International Practical Shooting Confederation matches, which Kirkpatrick says are very popular provincially, nationally and even internationally, but there isn’t much interest at the moment in from local shooters.
The next matches are scheduled for July. It is run on a voluntary basis, but there is one person who receives a stipend to clean up spent cartridges from filming.
However, everyone should contribute to maintaining it.
“Every spring we have a cleanup day and have volunteers come out, grab bags, go to each bay, and give everything a good facelift to start the season off,” Kirkpatrick said.
But to be clear, Kirkpatrick said the association does not offer firearms licensing courses. To obtain a firearms license, people must apply to a commercial entity. The association is a voluntary organization, so it cannot organize such courses.
What they offer is a Black Badge introductory course in gun safety. This is a required course to participate in matches sanctioned by the International Practical Shooting Confederation.
The next course will take place at the end of April.
“I usually run them and we host six to 10 students,” he said. “We don’t get many, so it’s something we do maybe once a year.”
One of the association’s mandates is to teach younger generations the safe handling of firearms and bows while nurturing a passion for sportsmanship.
As part of this mandate, the association organizes a supervised turkey hunt. Kirkpatrick said they are inviting a young person to write an essay about why they want to go turkey hunting this spring and the winner will be able to participate in a supervised hunt.
This summer the Junior Rifle Club will again operate every Wednesday.
With so much renewed enthusiasm in both the community and the association, they look forward to welcoming all who wish to join.