Ray Collingwood stands with his newly minted Professional Hunter of North America award

Ray Collingwood stands with his newly minted Professional Hunter of North America award

Hunter of the year

Staring at his shiny new award, Ray Collingwood can’t help but think that it should be the name of his family, and not just his own, engraved on it.

Collingwood was named the Professional Hunter of the Year in North America by the Safari Club Foundation, a very prestigious award when you consider there are approximately 260 guides and outfitters in British Columbia alone.

“It is a very prestigious award,” Collingwood said. “I’m the fourth Canadian who’s won this award.”

With no idea who nominated him, Collingwood said he was baffled when the Safari Club Foundation told him to submit information outlining what he, in his work with Spatsizi Wilderness Vacations, has done for conservation, advocacy for the right to hunt, and personal contributions to society.

From there, he was shortlisted, and eventually chosen as North America’s finest, a huge honour, he said.

The award captures 42 years of his dedication to guiding, a natural career choice for Collingwood, who moved to the Bulkley Valley from the Lower Mainland following advice from his father to move north.  At that time he was an appraiser for the government, but as an avid outdoorsman, it didn’t take him long to figure out he wanted a job in our backcountry.

“I wasn’t here for two days and I was up the Telkwa Mountains,” Collingwood said.

Soon he was learning fly fishing, and shortly after quit his government job and began Spatsizi Wilderness Vacations — a company with three facets: big game hunting, fly fishing, and adventure tourism.

Conservation has always been a strong focus for him, one of the reasons he feels his company stood out from the others. The award wasn’t for the biggest animal shot, but more about professionalism and conservation, as well as advocating for hunters rights.

Community support has always been important to the family-run business as well, he said, who estimates that in those 42 years they’ve given in excess of $1 million to support local initiatives and other donations.

He’s also always fostered a strong, respectful relationship with First Nation’s, Collingwood said, another reason why he believes they were chosen for the award.

A high degree of professionalism was also mentioned.

“It’s got my name on it, but it should read the whole family,” Collingwood said.

The celebration in Reno, Nevada, was certainly something to behold, Collingwood said.

“You have to see the artistry of the taxidermy part,” Collingwood said, who was left speechless at some of the displays: one had eight wolves chasing a bull moose, another had life-sized elephants. “Even if you’re not a hunter you have to go there.”

When they asked him if he wanted to receive the award in person, he said he had no idea what he was going into.

“I thought I was going to a banquet with between 100, 150 people,” Collingwood said. “Not so. There was between 4,300 and 4,400 people at that banquet and you have to get up and accept this and then make a speech …”

He will now look at his award as a memento of all his, and his family’s, hard work.

Hard work, he added, that doesn’t end with an award.

“I’m not tired of it,” Collingwood said, who noted that despite often fickle weather patterns, he loves his job.