Roy McLaren sat at the café table in Crystal City gripping his scrapbook of hunting and fishing memories. His excitement to dive in and share a wealth of hunting stories and family history was uncontainable. At 94 years young, he was not who I envisioned. Roy was strong…physically and mentally. His tall, lean stature and large working hands made it very evident that his farming career ended a very short time ago and his outdoor lifestyle is still going strong. He walked and drove with purpose (fast!) and was quick on the draw to crack a joke. Roy is one in a million, an outlier per-say. He did not hang up his guns when he had kids. He did not hang up his guns when he retired. He followed his passion and engrained a healthy, deep rooted and passionate outdoor lifestyle into his children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren. Roy McLaren is an outdoor enthusiast that has successfully hunted for 75 years – a remarkable amount of time and a familiar milestone to MWF and our organizations existence.
Hunting recruitment, retention and reactivation programs are hot topics across Canada and the US since the onset of an alarming hunter decline back in 70’s. MWF has delivered many hunting recruitment initiatives over the last 75 years, the three R’s has definitely been a popular model used to introduce and increase participation back into hunting and shooting sports. The cause for this decline could be a multitude of factors including urbanization, increased costs, barriers with access, changes in societal interests, changes in species abundance, busy lives, health after retirement or perhaps even because we no longer have to hunt for sustenance. All viable deterrents…deterrents that obviously did not deter Roy.
Roy’s love for hunting started in the dirty 30’s, on a small farm situated beside a breathtaking valley. His family had little to no money, raising livestock and squeaking by with money raised from a fur ranch. At 6 years old, Roy spent his time shooting rabbits with his .22cal and set snares along the valley after school. Rabbits back then sold 2 for a nickel! Soon Roy was a proud owner of a Winchester 12-Gauge Pump (with an external hammer) tearing after game birds and finally in 1941, at the age of 16, Roy harvested his first deer. Since then, Roy has purchased a deer tag every year (75 in total); except for the couple years there were season closures in the 70’s.
One can only imagine the changes Roy encountered. Changes in farming efficiencies, changes to his hunting grounds in the valley, the variations in guns, ammunition and hunting equipment, even the fluctuations in wildlife populations must have been interesting. He remembered everything, go figure! We stood at the top of the valley close to the farmstead where he raised his families. Roy pointed out over the valley and explained how the area used to be filled with ponds, “As farms developed and drainage became abundant, water flooded and scorned the valley, filling it in with mostly silt. My family farmed this land and was the first to break ground. I know it all too well and shot many deer off this mound. Through all the changes I fished and hunted it every year, but most importantly, I knew the wildlife that inhabited our land. I have always watched and enjoyed the wildlife. One of my favorite things to do to this day is just drive the country side, looking for wildlife. Or simply sitting with my girlfriend in the hunting blind and seeing what we can see”.
Yep, I said girlfriend.
We can’t be surprised! Roy didn’t throw in the towel on his outdoor adventures at 94, why would he throw in the towel on his love life! Good for you Roy!
Prior to this lovely lady, Roy was married to his beautiful wife Allice for most of his life. She wasn’t much for sitting in the hunting blind, but she was a very active soul, well known, loved and always engaged in the community. By the sounds of it, Allice also enjoyed long drives across the country side. Roy and Allice ventured on 10 winter trips down south. They always drove, choosing a different route each time and taking in everything they could along the way. Together they raised 4 boys, that transpired into 5 Grandchildren and now 9 precious great Grandchildren! Our time spent with Roy’s family was minimal but I immediately noticed how influential and admired he is to his family. This became so evident to me as I can relate to it. My Grandpa is 101, my Grandma just passed away at 99. They are giants in our family. They are the core of warmth that my entire family pivots around. Two other trucks pulled up to the mound and out poured Roy’s son, a couple grandsons and 3 very excited great grandchildren. They all came to take pride in their Dad and Grandpa, to show him off and share his remarkable achievements.
We continued to flip through the pages of hunting and fishing pictures in Roy’s scrapbook and listened intently to his rolodex of incredible memories. He participated in annual hunting and fishing trips all over Manitoba and Saskatchewan for every species of fish, waterfowl, deer and moose. Never missing a year with hunting partners that have long passed. He reminisced and chuckled about his son Ken’s first deer, “Ken and I jumped a nice big buck, after Ken shot the deer I knew he must have just nicked him, so we started looking for him in the bush. The deer came running down the trail straight at Ken, he had no time to shoulder so had to shoot from the hip”. It was a pretty startling moment for him I think”.
Roy also took a lot of interest and had vast knowledge in different guns and ammunition. For many years he reloaded his own ammunition, especially during his trapshooting days. On the café table he rolled out a 41 Swiss Rimfire bullet from his pocket. “That was used in the Boer War”, he explained and later at his home he hauled out the actual 41 Swiss. “I haven’t shot this but I know it still shoots”, he said with pride. It was incredible! One of Roy’s favorite guns he started hunting with was a Salvage 303. It was passed down to him from his brother who was killed in the war. Roy sold it in 1947. “I thought about that gun often but for the life of me could not remember who the heck I sold it to”, he said with a smile. “Then a couple years ago a fella I was playing cards with brought it up. I couldn’t believe it! So, after all those years, I got my gun back!”
Roy raised his boys to hunt, who have passed on their traditions to their kids, who now have youngsters chomping at the bit to get afield. For the McLaren family, hunting and fishing is their lifestyle. It is what they have always done together as a family. There are many books and best management practices written around hunting recruitment, retention and reactivation. How can we eliminate deterrents and encourage folks to continue pursuing their passion? How do we get hunters to continue to take their kids hunting? How do we teach hunters to continue to take responsibility and protect wildlife? These questions are relevant, but there is nothing in Roy’s life that could have deterred him from hunting with his family, or passing along traditions and cherishing the wildlife in his area. Not societal changes, busy lives, costs, health or age. One of his grandson’s told us that this past season was the first year Roy didn’t push bush with them. I asked Roy if his great grandchildren seem interested in hunting. He said, “Well yes I think they are. Some have gone out already with their Dads and sat in the blinds. They are into many things and I find great joy in watching them do other activities like play hockey. But they are keen on hunting, especially my great Grandson Jackson. Pretty sure he will still be hunting at 94”.
It’s unfortunate that Roy is an outlier. I wish there were many more like Roy in this world and I know we all hope for a full life of outdoor adventures and good health. Roy never drank or smoked and always took care of himself, but he claims his secret to good health and happiness was a lifetime of hunting and fishing experiences surrounded by friends and family. He has no intent on hanging up his guns or storing away his fishing rods. In fact, a brand-new catfishing rod was leaning against the wall in his living room. “I just bought that rod”, he claimed. “I have never gone catfishing but always wanted to try it, so hoping to wet that line this year”. His list of fun won’t stop there. Roy has plans to purchase his 76th deer tag, continue to wolf and coyote hunt and has recently added a caribou hunt to his bucket list. Sounds like many more pictures will be added to his scrapbook!