It’s a profession that goes back generations. It goes beyond our simple need for companionship and shelter, down to the core - it’s our need to find sustenance. And, the earliest way of doing this was through hunting and gathering.
Scott Smith, who co-owns Canadian Wilderness Outfitters (CWO) with his wife, Michelle, continues that hunting tradition, using the skills honed over years of practice, to provide an experience for hunters just like himself.
“I have been hunting for as long as I can remember,” he said. “One of my earliest memories was tracking a crimson trail in the snow. It’s such a vivid memory, and I think I was hooked from then on.”
Hunting is such a part of who Smith is, he has based his life around it. He spends as much time in the bush as he can, and is so passionate about hunting and guiding, his enthusiasm is evident in every story he tells.
“Hunting and guiding is my heritage,” Smith said with a smile. “I was born to do this. The knowledge is passed down, but in many ways, this has become my identity. It’s unfortunate people don’t take the initiative to invest in the outdoors and really get out there.”
Because Smith is so invested in doing what he loves, it was a natural thing for him to take over CWO from his father.
“My father started CWO in 1992, and I took over in 2004,” he said. “We started outfitting for black bear and white-tailed deer, and became outfitters here in Manitoba. We owned a fishing lodge at the time - Elbow Lake Lodge, north of Cranberry-Portage. It was pretty well known to a lot of the fishermen around the area.”
While hunting is in his blood, there is a legal aspect to guiding, and as soon as Smith turned 18, he took the required tests so he was settled with the law.
“I have guided every year of my life (since my test),” said Smith. “I never followed through with a job or trade, because I had to make sure I was there every fall and spring for hunting, because that’s my priority. I’m so fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I love, and maybe there’s some luck in that. My life and relationships have been shaped by guiding,” Smith continued. “I spend a lot of time away from home, and family and relationships weren’t going to happen unless there was a certain understanding.”
Smith noted that due to the seasonal nature of the job, it pulls him away from his family more often than he would like.
“I was introduced to (hunting and guiding) very young, and both my father and grandfather were guides, which makes me at least a third generation guide,” Smith said. “I’m also a second generation outfitter. My family has always had our hands in guiding and hunting, and I’m glad that my daughters have also expressed interest in the same lifestyle.”
At CWO, Smith focuses on creating an experience for the hunters that seek out his outfitting business, with a special attention to helping them achieve the goals they have for their time with him.
“As a guide, I have to know how to do it all,” he said. “I need to know how to hunt mature animals, as well as everything that comes with the hunt. The hunters I deal with aren’t all coming for the same reasons, and once I figure that out, I’m able to make the experience better. We focus on safety and show the hunters an experience, which may mean taking an animal, but not all of them are here for that,” Smith continued. “Every experience is so different. There are so many dynamics.”
But, even though Smith loves his job and can’t picture his life any differently, there are still challenges associated with it.
“I find the biggest challenge is the time away from my family,” Smith said. “Being away on a hunt, maybe in the Arctic, and coming home and seeing your kids have grown is so hard to take because it’s obvious. It’s also a bit of a challenge to stay focused on the goodness of what we’re doing. We’re showing people a wilderness experience, and we have to stay on our game.”
Fortunately, Smith doesn’t go it alone.
“I work with a number of other people, including some local guys,” he said. “All of them have different strengths and provide unique takes on a hunt.”
While Smith’s focus is on black bear, deer, and caribou, he has also had the chance to hunt other animals with some of his fellow guides.
“I had the chance to go polar bear hunting, and at first, I wasn’t sure, but I gave my head a shake, and took the opportunity because I knew I wouldn’t get another shot at it,” he said.
Smith noted that there are very strict conservation laws in place for all animals he hunts, and CWO makes sure to stay well within those boundaries to ensure sustainability of the wildlife populations.
“In Canada and Manitoba, we are quite conservative when it comes to our resources, and we study the populations of animals to make sure they are thriving,” said Smith. “One of the balances with sustainable management is to not overharvest, and that is a definite priority. One example is the black bear,” Smith continued. “We have been able to hunt them, and still see the population maintain itself which is such a model we want to follow."
At the end of the day, Smith is truly following his dream.
“I get such a fill from guiding. If I go through 50 hunts, I’ve learned 50 different outcomes. It’s like I’ve been on so many of the hunts myself. It’s just such a thrill to get out there and be doing what I was meant to do. I am just able to live by my motto: Live to hunt, hunt to live,” Smith concluded.