Ok, I might be dating myself, but does anyone remember that Wilderness Family movie? You know, the one where some stressed-out family leaves their urban life to go live out in the wilderness and eventually befriend and adopt grizzly cubs. Yes, they become friends with bears. So you know it’s true.
Well, I’m pretty sure I’ve met Manitoba’s closest version of the Wilderness Family in Paul Epp (minus the bear cubs because they will eventually tear your face off — nothing’s cute forever). We’re huge fans here of Paul’s wildlife encounters on Instagram, especially the ones from his trail cam. He’s got a true love for Manitoba’s natural places and all its wonderful creatures. We knew Paul would be the perfect person to interview for our Ambassador Series, and he graciously obliged…
So we’re obsessed with your trail cam posts on Instagram, tell us how that came about?
Well, I’ve always been fascinated with wildlife, and always curious about what is out walking the trails when we are not there. Years ago, two friends and I blazed a trail to a secluded lake, and it’s about a 4 km portage. The first year or two we would always notice a wolf track here, bear scat there, an antler laying around. Hoping nobody else walks our trail (and so far no one else has), I’ve just left the cam on a tree along the path.
I’ve been blown away with all the animals that are around the area. We’ve seen bears, wolves, deer, fox, and rabbits! Just waiting for a sasquatch! 😉
Keep looking, he’s out there! What is the most fascinating moment you’ve captured on the cam?
Best moment? Oh man, it’s hard to say, so many! If I had to choose, it would be a video from this summer I have of two wolves walking towards the camera, then sniffing the ground and walking off the trail, then watching a pure white wolf follow behind them, walking towards and right by the trail cam, even looking up at it for a face shot! Manitoba wolves fascinate me.
A close second and third moment is watching a huge black bear sniffing the trail three hours after a friend and I walked by and a picture of a wolf squatting for a bathroom break!
Now that’s a money shot! Your love of wildlife shines through all of your wildlife photos and videos. Do you have a secret or tip on how to capture such moments?
Well, most of the time the secret is always assuming you will see something. When we are hiking, portaging or canoeing, I have my camera within arms reach. You only have a moment or two to take the picture, so be ready!
I will also make animal calls to try and get an animal to look at the camera. Not that I think my call is good, but the sound likely leaves it thinking “what the heck is that?!”
Ok, we definitely need to hear those calls. In addition to being our resident wildlife-whisperer, you paddle a heckuva lot. Where are some of your favourite places to take the canoe out?
We do a lot of weekend trips, so nothing usually too far away. We like paddling far enough where we have a lake to ourselves, or almost. In Nopiming, our favs would be going up the Bird River or Rabbit River!
In the Whiteshell, we like going all over. War Eagle Lake, Cabin Lake, Echo Lake, are a few we really like. Also, maybe a secret spot here or there! We love the journey part of a trip just as much as the destination. We often leave after work Friday, and paddle /portage in the dark. Nothing beats a moonlit paddle — there’s usually no wind, and my animal calls have a more likely chance of being returned!
A moonlight paddle sounds heavenly right now. It looks like you’ve paddled outside of province too, how do we compare with the competition?
I’m biased of course because this is my home, but I find most people go out of province for an adventure. It saddens me if that’s their vibe, because I know they haven’t experienced some of the beauty here, like enjoying a fire at your campsite under the stars with nobody else on the same lake. I mean think about the different kinds of beauty we have here all within two or so hours from Winnipeg? Some of the best freshwater beaches in the world, a dessert, prairie farmland, and my fav, the Canadian Shield, which has unlimited wilderness to explore!
Awhile ago, I hosted a canoe trip for a few guys who flew in from all over the world. All of them came thinking “…manitoba…,” and left thinking “…when are we doing that again!?” I think all it takes is one of these “within two hours” adventures to hook someone for life.
Is there a Manitoba waterway you haven’t tackled yet that is currently calling your name?
I’ve always wanted to do some northern trips! Like set-in at Pisew Falls and journey into Philips Lake to see Kwasitchewan Falls, then end in Paint Lake! Also the northeast portion of Nopiming is somewhere I’d love to spend some time in.
All excellent choices. Canoe trips usually include some good camping time. What is, hands down, the absolute best campfire meal one can have on a paddling adventure?
We always eat well. I always believe it’s worth bringing extra weight for gourmet food! I’d have to say the fav is a fresh pickerel fish fry, baked potato with all the fixings, and asparagus. All cooked over the fire. Occasionally I’ll sneak a small cheesecake to surprise everybody for dessert.
How sweet of you! 🍰 You seem to know all the ins and outs of the Whiteshell. Why is this area so special to you?
I think because it was where I had most of my childhood adventures. Caught my first fish at Brereton Lake when I was five riding on the back of a paddle boat. I had a May Long Weekend tradition of going to Cabin Lake with my high school buddies, enduring snow, wet tents and bears in our campsite. I once survived a crazy storm in late June 2007 where trees were falling down all around us, while we kept cover in a tent. And every year I take a youth group with me on a canoe trip.
So many memories out in the Whiteshell. Now, with my beautiful wife and I expecting our first child, I can’t wait to give him/her memories that they will (hopefully) treasure forever!
With you both as their adventure guide, I’m sure they will. Is there one trail or place in the Whiteshell that you think more people need to check out?
Honestly, I’d say to check out a Whiteshell map, and pick a lake which is one over from any lake with cabins on it. Camping on a secluded lake is a must do, and a treasure of this province!
Do you have a favourite season in the Whiteshell?
Summer is definitely my fav, but winter is also beautiful! The snow mutes everything. We do day trips, and hike down snowmobile paths into lakes to try some ice fishing. If it’s calm and sunny, there have been days where we sit around a fire in just t-shirts while listening to woodpeckers working away. It’s amazing!
I think the quietness of winter is way underrated here. What’s one thing you think would surprise people outside of Manitoba about our province?
The diversity Manitoba has to offer! We are much more than the prairies. The beaches of Lake Winnipeg, the ruggedness of the Canadian Shield, and our cultural unity make this place unique. Festivals like Folklorama that celebrate different cultures and communities really gives one a sense of togetherness. There’s a lot of love in Manitoba! ❤️
Lastly, can you send us one of those animal calls?
I have one fun one of a loon taking exception to me calling to it.
Bonus! Wolf howling
This was equally one of the most beautiful experiences of my life as well as one of the creepiest.