How hunting connected one Newfoundland mom with her food, tradition, and the land.

Jen and her husband, Kerry Shears, with their daughter Aspen, at Quidi Vidi Village, NL

The first time Jen Shears tried hunting she hated it. Hated getting up at 4 AM, hated not being allowed to talk, and hated all the walking. She wanted to give up after ten minutes. She complained constantly. She was seven.

Despite the rocky start, she stuck with it and now the early mornings and silence are two of the things she loves most about hunting. It’s in her blood: all the women in her family hunt, her mother, her sister — even her 86 year old grandmother still has a license. And now Jen is teaching Aspen, her five year old daughter, how to live off the land.

As a woman who hunts, Jen is also part of a rising trend. Although women are still a minority in the hunting community, the number of female hunters in Alberta has doubled since 2006, risen by 70% in Ontario since 2014, and by 62% in BC between 2003 and 2012.

We spoke with Jen about what hunting means to her, how it’s allowed her to build a life in Newfoundland, and connect her to her community and our planet.

What do you love about hunting, and why is it important to you?

Hunting is good for every aspect of my being. It keeps me active and fit, and spiritually I’m not a religious person, but it’s humbling. You need to think like an animal. Chasing after something that has way more skill than you — they smell and hear so well, and are so strong and fast that you’re the one at a disadvantage. Socially it gets me out with friends and family, or — if I need some alone time — I can go check my snares. It helps me as a woman and mother feel a sense of pride in providing for my family. You’re part of every step: you have to find and get the animal, clean and butcher it — and you know it lived a wonderful life — then you prepare it. It’s local, free-range, organic food. Field-to-Plate is so important to me. There are many reasons I love hunting, but physically, socially, spiritually, mentally, and as a woman and a mother all those tie together, that’s why it’s important to me.

Field-to-Plate — what is that, and why does it matter?

Field-to-Plate is thinking about where food comes from and how things get added to it. It’s thinking about the environment and our biology so we have that minimal impact. I love teaching my daughter that meat and food don’t grow on a grocery store shelf. Animals have lives out in the world and we need to harvest them in the most ethical and humane way possible, and not pump them full of chemicals. Everything humans do has an impact on wildlife.

You mentioned that as a woman and mother you take pride in providing for your family. Is there something about being a woman that helps you as a hunter?

Being a woman makes me a better hunter because I’m compassionate and soft-hearted, and a mother who gave life to an animal myself. That’s why I feel like I’m a good and ethical hunter. I’m always thankful and respectful and use the entire animal. The meat feeds us and the skins and fur keep us warm for years. When we are done with them, we can compost them.

Imagining a hunter cares about animals may seem disconnected, or unrealistic, but I am someone who cares, and I wish people understood that 99% of hunters are ultimately conservationists.

You’ve talked about how hunting reduces your impact on the world — how does that actually work? Is it because it’s super local?

A lot of food comes from other countries around the world. There could be unsafe working conditions or child labour, and the land the food is grown on had to be clear cut. So people need to think about the animals that are displaced or killed by that. They also need to think about shipping which has a huge impact. It’s a long-winded way of saying people who don’t like hunting often don’t understand their own actions kill a lot of animals too. Why not hunt a small number of animals locally rather than have a lifestyle that contributes to deforestation, unsafe labour, and harm to wildlife?

The land is often deforested to grow feed for factory farmed animals, too.

We are part of the planet. My goal in life is to have the least impact over the widest area. Part of that is eating local food and hunting — moose and seals for food and clothing — it’s an abundant resource.

You hunt for food, and you and your husband also run a wildlife museum and taxidermy studio in your hometown of Rocky Harbour, plus have a boutique in St. John’s that sells seal fur clothing that is made mostly in rural and indigenous communities, and you yourself identify as Mi’kmaq. Are those things connected in any way with your wellbeing and how you live?

When my husband and I graduated from high school we watched our friends and classmates leave Newfoundland to find work. I’m able to stay at home with my family and in my community because I live on the land. I make a living because I live on the land and understand opportunity when I see it. Being able to be home and raise Aspen near family, the outdoors, and on the land is a huge part of my wellbeing.

Anna Purcell lives in Nelson where she enjoys making things — pies, socks, a stink — when she isn’t talking or writing things down, she can be found thinking about stuff, or folding her underpants.

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