Renfrew – Hunting, the sanctity of the hunt camp and the importance of the first two weeks in November is a part of life in the Ottawa Valley and Hunt Camp Live on Valley Heritage Radio has provided not only a view into this slice of iconic Valley culture, but also become a cherished part of it.
“For most avid hunters, this is bigger than Christmas,” noted Hunt Camp Live Producer Gerry Bimm.
In many Valley families, the hunt camp goes back generations and is an annual tradition which cannot be missed. It is tradition, heritage, way of life and culture. This is what the show celebrates and pays tribute to. From sharing the stories of the hunt camp, joking about who is the loudest snorer or who boasts about being the best hunter, to the singing and the camaraderie, it also has become a way of linking the hunt camps together and celebrating a way of life and sense of community.
“What our show has done is brought people together in a way that people realize how important this is,” he said. “It is a community. Now people know people because they hear them on Hunt Camp Live.
“It is also a lot of nonsense, and it is just about people having fun together,” he said. “We don’t really talk a lot about hunting.”
The show is also a continuation of what Valley Heritage Radio is all about – celebrating the Valley and the culture of this area. This includes music, storytelling and sharing about and preserving a way of life.
Now in its 13th season, the impetus for the show started one day when Mr. Bimm was driving into work, he recalled. While the radio station – which celebrates the heritage of the Ottawa Valley which not only includes the music but also the lifestyle – had been running a “hunters bulletin board” where people could leave messages for other hunt camps, it had not proved very popular.
“Hunting is such a part of our culture, and I was thinking, ‘why don’t we take the radio station to the hunt camp?’,” he recalled. “So, 13 years later, here we are.”
The first hunt camp visit was to the Bluff Mountain Hunt Camp at Ladysmith, Quebec on November 1, 2011. Since then, they have travelled the Valley, broadcasting, singing, laughing and sharing the stories of the hunt camp on both sides of the Ottawa River.
The incredibly popular Hunt Camp Live features music, tall tales and chatting with familiar, beloved friends, many of whom have become listener favourites. Originally billed as “Live from the Hunt Camp” the show took on the new name of “Hunt Camp Live” after a few years and this stuck. It also suits better what is happening because some of the hunt camps are so remote it is impossible to be live, although all the recording is done on site.
Through the years various local personalities have been involved in the program, including Dai Basset and Andrew Cartwright. Now it is the core group of Mr. Bimm, Lesley Galbraith, Jason Marshall and John McMaster. The show airs each weeknight during the two weeks of “rifle season” – distinguished during hunting season because everyone in the Valley knows there is also bow season – and although slated to last an hour beginning at 6 p.m., sometimes things are such fun it goes a bit longer.
“We have the most dedicated audience of any show Valley Heritage Radio produces,” Mr. Bimm noted. “We call it Hunt Camp Nation.”
The following is not only among the core listener group of Renfrew County, Lanark County and Pontiac County (in Quebec) but also people who listen online from around the world. For the advent of new technology means anyone can go to the Valley Heritage Radio website and simply click on the “listen live” button to hear more.
“It has a great following in the US and out West,” he said.
Sometimes, people who are driving through tune in on their radio, become a fan and never look back.
“It is impossible to tell how many listeners we have,” he said. “This is a one-of-a-kind thing. We don’t know anyone doing something remotely like this.”
Busy Two Weeks
For the production crew, it is a busy 10 days in hunting season travelling the Valley to visit hunt camps.
“We go to 10 different hunt camps,” Mr. Bimm said. “It is a lot of road work.”
Some of the camps, all of which are located in either Renfrew County, Lanark County or Pontiac County, are quite remote and don’t have good cell service and no wi-fi. In those cases, the crew travels there earlier, records the segment, takes it back for editing and then airs it at the 6 p.m. slot. In areas where there is good cell or wi-fi service, it is all done live.
“Originally it was all intended to be done live on location,” he said. “But we ran out of hunt camps we could go to and get a signal.”
Being able to pre-record in some cases allows them to visit more hunt camps and there are new ones to discover every year.
“There are a lot of great hunt camps,” Mr. Bimm said. “It is absolutely the funnest thing we do all year.”
The folks at the hunt camp also love being part of the show. Many make sure there is something special for the Valley Heritage Radio Team when they come by. For example, a video on the Hunt Camp Live Facebook page shows at the Rocky Mountain Hunt Camp near Griffith the crew was met by a bagpiper welcoming them.
The program has proved so popular there is a wait list of hunt camps requesting to be on the show.
“We encourage hunt camps to get in touch with us and we put them on the list,” he said.
Mr. Bimm said he is very cognizant of what a privilege it is to be invited into the hunt camp. For many hunt camps, it is quite the discussion to see if they want to bring in a radio crew – and the world – into the camp. Once they do, they become part of the Hunt Camp Live world which is not just talking at the camp but interacting with other camps.
“We arrive a few hours before the show starts to get to know the guys and the history of the camp,” he said.
Although now it is no longer “the guys”, he quickly added, for there are many wives, girlfriends and other family members involved in the hunt camp.
“It is not just the guys anymore. Everyone comes to the hunt camp and they have a fun time,” he said.
The ensuing one hour on the radio is about the local camp, the fun of the season, celebrating Valley life and chatting, he said.
“A lot of it is us just talking and then people call in and text and we have a shout out to different hunt camps,” he said. “It is a lot of fun. We have a whole selection of characters we have met.”
Near Eganville there is someone called “Nicker Napkin” and there are many frequent callers who have become beloved personalities in the program.
Along with the shout outs, people also enter to win prizes from several businesses, especially the main sponsor, Plummer Marine in Pembroke. Anyone who calls in or texts is eligible to be entered for the draws.
As hunters head to the camp this weekend and folks converge on the Valley for hunting season, there will also be a very dedicated contingent listening to Valley Heritage Radio each night, Monday through Friday, at 6 p.m. for Hunt Camp Live. It just would not be hunting season in the Valley without it.
Meanwhile, back at the radio station, the team from Hunt Camp Live are getting their equipment ready to travel the Valley, visiting the hunt camps and sharing the stories and their laughter with an expectant audience.
“It is very heartwarming to hear people say Hunt Camp Live is part of the fabric of hunting life in the Valley,” Mr. Bimm said. “Maybe 50 years from now, we may be remembered for this.”
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader