One of the first Alberta outfitters who stands out in history is Tom Wilson who, in 1881, joined the survey of what is now the Stoney Indian Reserve near Banff, Alberta. He quickly learned how to pack a horse and followed old Indian trails up the Bow Valley.
1922: In May of that year various guides and outfitters formed the Rocky Mountain Outfitters Association.Their objective was to have one official body to negotiate with the dominion and provincial governments.
1932: The Alberta Outfitters Association (AOA) was formed to represent the interests of trailmen and set standards for their industry. Members were required to have a certain number of horses and specified equipment. The organization sought to collectively market their product and lobby the government on common issues.
1970: The Alberta government decided there was a need to limit bighorn sheep allocations for non-residents to conserve the resource. Most of the active outfitters of that day were allotted six non-resident permits each—which were later cut down to four. Some of these outfitters included Tom Vinson Sr., Roy Trimble, Jim Colosimo, Dave Simpson, Jim Simpson, Charlie Stricker, Bazil Leonard, Chester Sands, Myrtle Ravio, Ed McKenzie, Sammy Sands, Randy Babala and George Kelley. Up to this point in time, no restrictions had been placed on other big game species.
By the late 1980s, several outfitting organizations were in existance to represent the interests of outfitters who were not in the AOA. The Professional Outfitters Association of Alberta (POAA) was created under the direction of Leroy Fjordbotten, Minister of the Department of Forestry, Lands and Wildlife to encourage unity and concensus within the industry.
1989: An Outfitter Guide Policy was created which limited Outfitter harvest opportunity. A previously unlimited harvest was replaced with a fixed number of resident licenses available for each species—in each Wildlife Management Unit (WMU).
Outfitters, many with generations of history in the business behind them, found themselves competing for the right to ply their trade. No one knew who might be bidding against them, or what the fair market bid price might actually be in a bidding war. However, everyone understood that losing the bid meant an end to their career. The outfitting stakes, had never been higher.
On that day when successful bidders were awarded their allocations, the dreams of many outfitters were shattered. The size of the outfitting industry was effectively cut in half. Bitterness, disillusion, and resentment were shared by veteran and aspiring outfitters alike—many of whom now found themselves on the outside looking in.
1997: On March 31, five outfitters signed an application to create the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society (APOS). The POAA was absorbed by APOS; the new body was charged with the responsibility of managing the outfitting industry on behalf of the government of Alberta.
With the purchase of an outfitters license, all outfitters would now become members of APOS and APOS would now collect the annual user fees all outfitters paid on allocations. A percentage of this sum would be retained to fund the daily operations of managing the industry; the remainder remitted to the provincial government.
A Legacy Fund supports initiatives that benefit outfitting, hunting, habitat, and animals. Its main source of income is derived from proceeds of the APOS annual convention. Since 2001, APOS has distributed over half a million dollars through the Legacy Fund to many worthwhile projects.
A Wildlife Management Fund, worth over $1 million, was created through negotiations in the 10th year renewal of allocations. This money has been earmarked to supplement aerial big game surveys and inventories, and to provide funding for studies of specific wildlife species.
In its brief 10 years of existence, APOS has now emerged as the international poster child of the outfitting industry. Within the province, outfitting now contributes in excess of one hundred million annually to the Alberta economy.
It’s been one hundred plus years since Tom Wilson provided the first guided hunting excursion on Alberta soil. So much has changed, and yet so much remains the same. Tom would still appreciate the aroma of wood smoke, freshly-baked bread, and pure mountain air. He’d be mesmerised the whistle of an elk, the smell of gunpowder on a frosty morning, and the warmth of the sun in a quiet meadow. Tom would recognize a well-mannered horse, a hunter with scruples, and a guide with a sense of humour. He would be charmed by the satellite phone, awed by the Global Position System (GPS), and seduced by a helicopter. No doubt he’d struggle to understand 9-11 – the destruction of the World Trade Centres in New York by terrorists on September 11, 2001. One could only guess at his response to gun control, passports, and export permits! A credit card would foul his banking program, and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) would irritate his western spirit. However, Tom would be humbled by the sophistication that can trace its roots to his first Alberta hunt.
The passion of the early pioneers continues to motivate Alberta’s modern outfitters. This passion has been seasoned with the development of APOS’s professional leadership. When matched with spectacular scenery, abundant and diverse wildlife, it’s no wonder that Alberta continues to remain atop the world’s destination of choice for professionally guided hunting experiences.
As we celebrate 100 years of history for the Alberta Fish and Game Association (AFGA), 10 years of APOS, and 120 years of outfitting in Alberta, it is appropriate that we reflect on the significance of that history. Although 100 years is relatively short compared to the history of North America, the commitment of those who lived during that time frame form the foundation upon which today's organisations exist.
Alberta’s booming economy poses many challenges for the hunting community. Mega oil sands projects, sprawling urbanization, and the imposition of new provincial parks all impact landuse. There is the increasing gap between those who recognize and support the recreational value of “sport hunting” – and those who are either oblivious or totally opposed to it.