The author is a decided hunting generalist (Photo: Vanessa Harrop)

Opinion: Whether you’re a specialist, a generalist or something in-between, you’re a hunter through and through


As a sheep expert, Tom Foss (right) rates as a specialist (Photo: Tom Foss)

While Tom, David and Jeff are all at somewhat elite levels when it comes to hunting, I use them as examples only to demonstrate how deeply engrained these specialist and generalist traits can become. And truthfully, most hunters fall somewhere into either category, progressing through five distinct stages along the way.

First there’s the shooter stage, when hunters simply want to do a lot of shooting. Here, waterfowl are the typical targets. Then there’s the limiting-out stage. Hunters still like to shoot a lot, but now taking the maximum allowable limit also becomes important. That’s followed by the trophy stage, when hunters focus only on the oldest and largest of their target species. These hunters often travel long distances to hunt trophy animals.


Next up is the method stage. At this point, hunters get the most satisfaction from the way they take game, often turning to more limited-range methods, such as archery. Finally, there’s the sporting stage, when hunters take the most pleasure from the entire hunting experience and often harvest fewer animals themselves, preferring to mentor others.

In my experience, it’s once hunters progress into the trophy stage that they begin to either generalize or specialize. When it comes to the specialists, it’s important to note they aren’t necessarily like Tom, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed their passion. Many are simply content to hunt their entire lives within a few kilometres of home, becoming the best they can at hunting just one species. I’ve noticed that these people also work in very specialized jobs, and tend not to travel much. They’re typically very focused, and quite often live close by to where they grew up.

Outfitter David Fishley (left) is a waterfowl specialist (Photo: David Fishley)

Generalists, on the other hand, have often had many careers, and lived in many different places. They are typically well-travelled and get pleasure from being in situations where things are not entirely in their control. Most generalists I know describe their addiction as wanderlust, with hunting a key component. Like Jeff, I’ve had the good fortune to hunt on six continents, but being a generalist doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend a king’s ransom. In my home province of Alberta, for example, there are 11 big-game species, more than 30 species of game birds, and numerous predators and varmints to legally hunt in an incredibly wide array of terrain.


And just looking at the popularity of draws for game such as pronghorns, bighorn sheep and Merriam’s turkeys shows how many generalists there are in Alberta. They not only enjoy travelling far from home to hunt these uncommon species, they also enjoy hunting the diverse terrain the province has to offer. For someone from Fort McMurray, hunting bighorn sheep in the Rockies is just as exotic as going on a Marco Polo hunt in Tajikistan or a safari in Tanzania. Alberta is a great place to be a generalist, even if you never plan on hunting outside its borders. The same goes for most provinces in Canada.