Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jazz and the Ol’ Duck Hunter


By Bert Lindler

Rivers in summer hold little attraction to the Ol’ Duck Hunter.

There’s no reason then to slip behind a screen of rose, cradling a fowling piece, swaddled in white.

No reason to wait, lab at your side, while ducks float down the river’s center, a few leaving the current, feeding just out of range in the eddy near your decoys, attracting other mallards that set their wings, drop and land, still too far.

The only hunter visible from the hide wears white, head and tail. In its sights, a lone duck, floating close to the snow-covered ice lining the river’s banks. The eagle swoops, talons ready as the duck dives.  Again.  Again. The duck tires. Another swoop, another dive, and the duck floats on.

Waterfowl regulations are many, but the Ol’ Duck Hunter follows two additional rules: take nothing but drakes, and shoot until the duck is dead.

The hens are the future, the drakes expendable and ever so attractive in their refracted green headgear.

If a duck drops, but hits the water swimming, it’s best to use another shell so the duck lies dead in the eddy rather than watch the chase, Jazz’s head bobbing in the strong, cold current as desire pulls him farther and farther downstream.

Jazz is a North Dakota farm dog, let free to roam and so starved for companionship that he jumped into the cab of the Ol’ Duck Hunter’s pickup during a years-ago pheasant hunt. The farmer had no desire to keep Jazz, timid, shy, never make a hunting dog. So, after the proper arrangements, Jazz rode back to Montana with the Ol’ Duck Hunter.

When introduced to the duck boat, Jazz got in, but at the outboard’s first cough, leapt for safety.

After a few aborted launches and a morning’s deliberate cruise, Jazz was fine with the tools of the trade.

The duck boat, welded wide-bottomed utility, parts the river and lifts ducks on either side that hang briefly in the cold air like summer’s mosquitoes.  Above them, trumpeter swans, seven, white, necks far before them, wings beating deliberately against the gray morning’s mist.

Once Jazz, the Ol’ Duck Hunter, and decoys are delivered, the duck boat becomes a billboard of sorts, warning, “Hunters Nearby.” The Ol’ Duck Hunter moors the boat as far from the hide as possible but not so far that he can’t reach it in time if a duck floats downstream out of Jazz’s reach.

Throughout the day, most ducks regard the billboard’s warning, staying high and midriver as they fly over.  A few fail to see or heed the billboard, passing within range of the Ol’ Duck Hunter’s 20 gauge. They fall, Jazz swims and they’re laid to rest inside the snowy hide.

Hunt concluded, the pickup relies on all four wheels to climb snowy tracks carved into the hillside, the Ol’ Duck Hunter at the wheel, Jazz resting on a blanket behind the seat, the duck boat being tugged behind.

At the pavement, a field of standing corn. Calligraphies of ducks are written across the sky—hundreds, thousands, thousands more—streaming from the river, wheeling in large circles before dropping to the winter table set for them.

Season ending a few days hence, mallard bounty in the pickup bed, promise of future seasons circling above the corn.




Friday, January 16, 2015

Bringing on the Heartache

We all lie awake the night before opening morning, unable to sleep because we’ve built up the anticipation of walking in the woods with a bow or rifle to the  level of childish glee that comes on Christmas eve when you know Santa is bringing you everything you asked for. The antithesis of that happens the night before The Montana Legislature is back in Helena; at least if you’re a hunter, angler or Montanan who sees the phrase “treasure state” and doesn’t immediately think of inflated profit margins. The Legislature over the last few sessions has been remarkably antagonistic to the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks as well as the access, conservation and wildlife statutes that protect Montana’s abundant big game hunting opportunities and scientific management of wildlife.
It’s already shaping up to be another session full of controversy and strife. But it’s a little different this year. There are about 40 fewer bills requested than 2013. Only 19 have been introduced. Out of that 19, several have already been making their way through the system. There’s a lot of small bills right now, things like Allow development of boat dock on Wild Horse Island, or Generally Revise Fishing Derby Law. There’s the bigger stuff as well, like increasing fines on people who harass game, shoot from the road or in general, act like slobs.  

Here's a few more that are in the que:


Revise Bison Laws: Representative Alan Redfield wants to require FWP to do a range analysis in any area that FWP would consider putting a herd of wild bison. Current statute already defines FWP’s obligation to determine carrying capacity for any place where they’d likely drop a buff or two, but this amendment to current law would also specify that FWP would have to use either the MSU Extension Service or the Federal  National Resources Conservation Service. But here’s the thing: I think that there is an unintended consequence that comes with this level of scrutiny that livestock producers who lease public lands might not like: You’re inviting the government to your allotment to count blades of grass. But, I suppose we should be relieved that we’re at least boiling the bison issue down to what it’s really about: Who eats what grass, and where.

Taking the “Public” out of Public Hunting: Sponsored by Senator Doug Kary, this bill would remove the prescription that landowners must allow public hunting as a condition of receiving sportsman’s license dollars to help mitigate problematic concentrations of critters. The issue is being promoted by the same outfitter who tried unsuccessfully for the last 3 sessions to set archery seasons by legislation rather than through the 100 year old process through the Fish & Wildlife Commission. The problem you see is this: Landowners who don’t allow any public hunting and take large amounts of money to either outfit or lease their ranches don’t want elk eating their hay. They want FWP to come in and either kill them, haze them , or buy the landowner a lot of very expensive fence. So, in essence, they want to have their cake and it too.
Boosting Block Management : Representative Kelly Flynn is an outfitter, landowner and sportsman. He’s also the chair of the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee. His bill to increase the amount of funding for block management is not without controversy. The Chairman’s bill would change the amount of funding allocated, or earmarked, for Block Management from 25% of Nonresident tag cost to 33%. On it’s surface, it sounds pretty good: Increased funding for Block Management is needed and this would help get us there. But the law of unintended consequences comes to play here as well. FWP is facing a significant shortfall of funds if their license revamp bill doesn’t pass later this session. While Representative Flynn is honestly working to find solutions, this bill has a long road ahead of it due to how it shifts funding, resulting in a situation where you’re robbing Peter in order to pay Paul. We are, however, extremely grateful that Representative Flynn has been working with sportsmen lobbyists to find common ground and a reasonable path forward. I believe that by the end of the session, we will see some good movement forward in maintaining Montana’s world-class wildlife and access programs, while respecting the rights of our ranching and farming neighbors.


We’re still in the early days though, and as the old line goes – there’s many a slip twixt a cup and a lip. As bills move forward, and issues boil over, we’ll be there to let everyone know that it’s time to suit up, and get in the fight.


Montana’s calling, let’s make sure she’s there forever.

Friday, December 19, 2014

No Dumping

By Kit Fischer

Every hunter has heard the old mantra “the real work begins after you shoot an animal”.  Even after your critter is hauled back to your truck, hung in your garage, butchered and packaged, the job isn’t completely finished.  What about all the meat trimmings, bones, hide and skull?  While it’s tempting to toss it in the alley and hope for the best, most folks recognize that open, rotting meat in an urban location is not ideal.  This often results in folks tossing their game carcass in the back of the pickup the next time they head up in the woods for easy disposal.

8 days ago.  I was headed up Pattee Canyon to get a Christmas tree.  A new dusting of snow has created a winter wonderland.  A dozen or so cars are parked along various turnouts – some walking dogs, others with saws in hand and family in tow, searching for the perfect Christmas tree.  Norman Maclean couldn't have written  a more Montana  scene—except for the blood spattered road and  carcasses.

 The dumping of game carcasses along county and Forest Service roads and in front of locked gates doesn’t exactly ring of Christmas cheer.  Not only is dumping your big game carcass on state and federal lands usually illegal, it’s ugly and it’s irresponsible. Here are the FWP regs related to carcass disposal: http://fwp.mt.gov/news/newsReleases/hunting/nr_1978.html

Not only do ill-placed carcasses attract scavengers to places they shouldn’t be, that illegal dumping also stains the image of hunters. 

I, and for that fact, most Montanans whether you hunt or not don’t like to have to tip-toe around deer carcasses when I go out looking for a Christmas tree on the outskirts of town.  Not to mention, carcasses pose serious health risks, especially if they are placed near a stream or waterway.  The third issue with dumping carcasses willy-nilly is that you could be facilitating the transmission of a disease from one area of the state to another.  And who wants that on their conscience?

So what’s the easiest solution? 

1.       Bone out your critter in the field.
2.       Get a sweet new pair of gloves for your big game hide from Pacific Recycling
3.       Chop your bones to snack size and give them to your pooch for Christmas.

4.       Toss them in your garbage can or run it up to the landfill (preferably the day before pickup to avoid nosy scavengers) 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Giving Thanks

 I didn’t bag a buck or a bull this year and apart from a young pronghorn buck who was kind enough to succumb to my 30-06, my freezer is empty, but I have a lot of thanks to give this holiday season.
Most importantly, thanks go out to Senator Jon Tester, Senator John Walsh and Congressman Steve Daines for their hard work and dedication to advance Made in Montana bills like the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the North Fork Preservation Act.

These bills, along with a number of other good (and a few not so good) provisions were included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 this week. That bill funds our nation’s defense, and it’s passed every year for over 50 years, so even in the most dysfunctional congress in memory, the likelihood of passage is as high as any other bill. It’s not a done deal, but it’s damned close. In fact, as I was writing this, the bill passed the House and is now on it's way to the Senate. 

Both the Front and the North Fork bills have wide support across Montana. Sure a few extremists on either side of the issue don’t like it but these bills gained the support of our entire delegation because they are locally supported collaborative bills that engaged working Montanans, rancher, hunters and anglers and small businesses across the state from the get-go.  

More importantly, it’s a good sign that our delegation will work together in the next congress to address other critical conservation issues like the Land and Water Conservation Fund Re-authorization and hopefully the Forst Jobs and Recreation Act as well.

I spent 6 years working on the Front legislation with a host of other great people. Here’s what I learned: When people put aside their ideological differences and focus on a common goal, rooted in the possibility of actually protecting something everyone loves, the end product is strong enough to withstand the vagaries of congress, the slings and arrows of detractors and the poorly considered opinions of critics who didn’t engage in drafting the bill to begin with.

A mighty tip of our Stormy Kromer to our delegation for fighting for what’s right, and working to get these two critical bills over the finish line before the end of December.

What those bills do: 


Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act: 
The bill would create about 60,000 acres of new wilderness in the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness complex. It would further designate about 200,000 acres as a Conservation Management Area where existing uses like hunting ,grazing and current travel regimes would become the law of the land. The CMA is a new designation and one that was drafted specifically to ensure that the habitat remains in good shape, while providing the certainty that livestock operators need to keep their leases, some of which date back to before the establishment of the Forest Service. This bill was crafted by the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front and is endorsed by dozens of local sporting groups, businesses and folks who live in Montana.

North Fork Protection Act:
The NFPA would take away the ability to drill for oil and gas along the North Fork of the Flathead River. While there remains much debate about the amount of recoverable gas along the North Fork, some poorly planned development could come along and destroy one of Montana’s crown jewels in the Crown of the Continent. Backed by major oil and gas companies, sportsmen, conservationists and a host of politicians from both parties, the North Fork Protection Act is an important step in ensuring the North Fork always remain wild and free.



Thanks, Congressman Daines, Senator Tester & Senator Walsh for your willingness to work for all Montanans, and to advance good ideas even when the going gets tough. 

We would be remiss to point out that not all that glitters is gold in this bill. In order to get the Montana bills as well as some bills for New Mexico and Colorado, compromises were made that we're holding our nose on. However, we're not willing to let perfect be the enemy of good, and while those provisions are problematic and difficult to allow movement forward, it is important to recognize the hard work the delegation did in order to get Congress to actually do something with net positive gain for hunters, anglers, wildlife and most importantly, wild country. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Montana’s Outdoor Hall of Fame

Montana’s rich outdoor legacy is no mistake. It’s the by-product of hard work, dedication and vision. Our territorial legislators knew that unregulated hunting and fishing were stripping our land. Our state legislators protected thousands of acres as Game Preserves long before the word Wilderness was ingrained in our psyche. Citizens led efforts to protect wildlife from slaughter, to protect our shared landscapes from unmitigated destruction and to ensure that every generation following had the same opportunity to hunt, fish and hike that our forefathers did.

On Saturday, December 6th at 6:00 PM in the Great Northern Hotel in Helena, a banquet will be held to induct the first class of inductees. You can find out more about the banquet here: http://montanatu.org/event/outdoor-hall-of-fame-banquet/

We owe the inaugural class of inductees a collective tip of our Stormy Kromers, a hearty handshake and a well deserved thanks (along with maybe a libation or two). Without folks like these, we would not have the world class hunting and fishing, or the access to those critters and public lands and waters, that we do today.

There's one person, however, who is not on this list and should be: Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame organizer and architect Jim Posewitz. Jim's dedication to Montana's wildlife, wild country and hunters and anglers is legendary in it's own right. We hope to see Jim's name in the Hall in upcoming classes. Well done, Mr. Posewitz!
Here’s the inaugural class:

Granville Stuart , 1834-1918
Granville Stuart came to Montana when it was still a territory in 1857 and noted the flourishing wildlife populations. Within a few years, the wildlife plummeted, and Stuart was instrumental in getting the hunting laws passed in the First Territorial Legislature.
Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919
President Theodore Roosevelt set aside 230 million acres for conservation and created the national forest system. While Roosevelt did not spend a great deal of time in Montana, a bison hunt in 1883 among the slaughtered herds is often pointed to as a turning point in his life, leading to the conservation movement.
Charles M. Russell 1864-1926
Artist Charles M. Russell was famous for his western scenes that displayed and at times lamented the loss of wildness. “Civilization is nature’s worst enemy. All things vanish when she comes,” Russell said.
Lee Metcalf 1911-1978
Sen. Lee Metcalf, born in Stevensville, was a key figure in the creation and passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and his legacy includes sponsoring or writing the Clean Air Act of 1963, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1964, the Water Quality Act of 1965 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
Don Alrich 1912-1990
Born in Deer Lodge in 1912, Don Aldrich went on to lead the Western Montana Fish and Game Association and the Montana Wildlife Federation. He advocated for conservation from local to national levels, and had a hand in almost every wildlife, water, wilderness and mining issue from the 1950s until his death in 1990.
Bud Moore 1917-2010
Bud Moore changed the face of the U.S. Forest Service, advocating for wilderness and as a district ranger in Idaho, famously turning back a bulldozer that came to build a road through what would become the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. He became the chief of fire management for the Forest Service’s northern region, shaping the philosophy from one of fire suppression to recognizing fire’s ecological role in nature.
Thurman Trosper 1918-2007
Ronan native Thurman Trosper played an important role as a wilderness and conservation advocate in the Forest Service, the Wilderness Society and within the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. He became one of the first Native Americans to serve as a manager in the Forest Service but may be best known for his advocacy of the eventual Mission Mountain Wilderness on the Flathead Reservation.
Doris Milner 1920-2007
Doris Milner spent 40 years as an advocate for wilderness after moving to Hamilton in 1951. First inspired by the threat of a timber sale along the Selway River in the Magruder Corridor, she went on to join Idaho Sen. Frank Church and Montana Sen. Lee Metcalf in expanding the wilderness to include the corridor and designating the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Cecil Garland 1925-2014
Lincoln resident Cecil Garland worked for decades to see the 240,000-acre designation of the Scapegoat Wilderness. He pledged to protect the country he loved as one of the founders of the Lincoln Back Country Protective Association, which caused boycotts of his store in Lincoln. Despite pressure from the timber industry, Garland and others pushed as citizen advocates and saw the land protected in 1972.
Gerry Jennings 1940-
Gerry Jennings of Great Falls has been an active volunteer in the Montana Wilderness Association since the early 1990s. She has played a major role in shaping the present-day focus of wilderness advocacy in the state, serving in leadership positions for 12 years.
Ron Marcoux 1942-
Helena resident Ron Marcoux spent 22 years with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, steering the fisheries division away from constant stocking of hatchery fish to developing wildly reproducing fisheries. He and others encountered plenty of resistance to the idea, but after proven successes, FWP adopted the policy statewide. Marcoux also spent a decade as associate director and deputy director with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, developing its land acquisition, conservation easement and land donation programs.
Chris Marchion 1952-
Chris Marchion became an officer of the Anaconda Sportsmen Club in 1985, still serving as vice president today. With nearly three decades of conservation advocacy, he has worked on projects ranging from mining settlements on the Clark Fork River, formation of the Mount Haggin Game Range, the elimination of game farm hunting and drafting the Bighorn Sheep auction legislation, which has raised millions of dollars for bighorn conservation in the state.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Who We Are

By Mark Olson

Since our founding, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers (HHA) has held Aldo Leopold in high regard.  His writings concerning issues such as a land ethic, wildlife management and sportsmanship  has guided HHA as we strive to fulfill our mission.  Our newsletter was even called “The Leopoldian”.  But what does it mean to be a Leopoldian?  How are we different from other hunters and anglers out there?  What are our core beliefs?  What follows is a quick sketch of two of the core ideas of a Leopoldian and how they relate to the Mission of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers.

LAND ETHIC

     Leopold writes, “ a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise”.  This forms the basic premise of a land ethic.  For a Leopoldian, every piece and part of the natural system is equally important and necessary to the proper functioning of the ecosystem. We may not understand or like certain parts but that does not diminish their role in the system.  Whether game animals or non game species; predators or scavengers; soil microbes or a ponderosa pine - all are necessary parts of their biotic community.  Leopold says it best:

     The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant:
     ‘What good is it?‘  If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every
     part is good, whether we understand it or not.  If the biota, in the course
     of aeons, has build something we like but do not understand, then who
     but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts?  to keep every cog and
     wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

     In this view, homo sapiens are no longer viewed as superior or separate from the rest of the biotic community.  We are no longer the conquerors of nature but fellow members of it.  A leopoldian includes soil, water, plant, and animals in his definition of community and so has a deep respects for all the other (non Human)  members of the community. 

     One key aspect of HHA’s mission is to conserve wildlife and wild places.  From a Leopoldian standpoint you cannot have one without the other.  Our efforts to conserve wild places in effect conserve wildlife and vice-versa.  Wild places are essential to the health and long term survival of all wildlife.  They need places to roam away from the human dominated landscape.  HHA strives to help protect critical habitat for game and predator species and hopefully everything below them on the land pyramid.  HHA comments on everything from forest travel plans, to land acquisitions, roadless designation, and public access.

     In regards to wildlife management, HHA takes a balanced long term approach. We seek to conserve all wildlife -- both game and non game species; predators to scavengers.  Every piece has a role to play in the health of the landscape and is necessary to the functioning of the whole.  This may occasionally put us at odds with those who think there should be fewer or no predators and also with those who think we shouldn’t manage predators.  But with a view to towards the sustainability and long term survival of the system we are protecting the game when we protect the predator.  Leopold says it best:

     You cannot love game and hate the predator... The land is one organism.        
     Its parts compete with each other and cooperate with each other.  The
     Competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the cooperations. 
     You can regulate them - cautiously, but not abolish them.



Sportsmanship

     Leopold defines sportsmanship as ethical restraints.  “Voluntary limitations in the use of armaments.  Its aim is to augment the role of skill and shrink the role of gadgets in the pursuit of wild things.”  This type of sportsmanship is key to HHA’s mission to conserve our fair chase hunting and fishing heritage.  Skill and preparedness; respect and right choices; woodcraft and marksmanship are held in higher regard than gadgets and other aides to help overcome the rigors of the wild.  The “go light “and “one bullet one critter” philosophy are American Traditions stemming from our early history of exploration and pioneering.  Going light means taking only what you need because a lot of stuff just gets in the way of our experience with wild things and places.  Having skills in outdoor living and travel is ultimately safer and instills in ourselves and our children a sense of self-respect and self-reliance. 

     HHA works to protect this ethical tradition through education, outreach, partnerships, and youth camps.  We actively work to recruit new hunters into the fold and to help lead them on the way to good choices.  Because every hunter must learn the hard lessons for themselves --  through trial and error, on their own, with their conscience as their guide.  Leopold should have the last word on this as well:

     Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one is watching -- even when doing the wrong thing is legal.   


    

     

Friday, November 14, 2014

Go Easy on the Brussels Sprouts

What kind of flies are these? They look so realistic. I showed the vial to Kevin, who scowled like I was offering him a roadkill sandwich.

Houseflies, he said returning his attention to his ice hole. You should clean out your tackle box once in a while.

It was, of course, a leftover container of maggots from the last ice fishing trip of the previous winter. Maggots grow up to be houseflies. My ice fishing gear was in shambles, but at least I was physically prepared for the rigors of ice fishing. Allow me to share some tips for getting yourself into shape for the upcoming season.

Your preseason conditioning regimen will depend on the style of ice fishing you prefer. If you fish from the relative comfort of a collapsible ice shelter, you should start eating a lot of carrots. They are rich in beta-carotene (I know, right?), which has been shown to help with night vision. Obviously, you have to keep it pitch dark inside the shelter in order to see the maggot squirming deep in your ice hole. I would recommend increasing your carrot intake until your skin begins to turn orange, then back it off a couple of carrots.


 It can get mighty intense for a man, staring down his hole all day.
Youll probably be spending several hours sitting on the hard plastic of an upturned five-gallon bucket, so you want to make sure you have any hemorrhoid or colo-rectal issues under control before you hit the ice. Also, even if you have buns of steel, your ass will go to sleep if you sit in the same position for longer than one beer. Its a good idea to stand up every 20 minutes or so and clench your butt cheeks together several times. Clench, relax. Clench, relax. Just make sure you inform your fellow fishermen what youre doing so they dont get the wrong idea.

If youre fishing inside a shelter, do your buddies a favor and go easy on the Brussels sprouts, beans and other gas-producing foods. Itll probably be too cold to leave a flap open for ventilation, and you want to be invited back. Remember, if you let one rip while youre sitting on a plastic bucket, there will be no doubt as to who dealt it. And if the propane heater is on? The burns resulting from an anal flareup could be hard to explain in the ER.


 Q: How many ice fishermen does it take to drill a hole? A: Pass the whiskey 
You might prefer to fish outside, especially if its a bluebird day, and your friend Kevin who owns the shelter got in trouble with his wife and cannot go to the lake with you. Some core strengthening may be in order to facilitate a quick recovery when the edge of your bucket punches through the snow crust, spilling you onto your back and providing some wonderful entertainment for your companions. You know what they say: you have to get right back on that horse and get your eyeballs on that maggot.


One last thing to keep in mind for your ice fishing conditioning is the ability to imbibe in the morning and not be asleep by dinner time. Start training now by adding a shot of whiskey to your coffee every day, and soon youll be in tip top drinking shape, ready for another winter full of exciting times pulling trout and salmon through the ice at your favorite lake. Ah, who are we kidding. Weve been training for that since 1983.


 Just to be clear, this is the fish, not the bait. Pass the whiskey.



Bob Wire writes words and plays music in Missoula, Montana. This father of two teenage redheads spends much of his time working frantically to keep up with his kids, but is usually a step or two behind. Fortunately his long-suffering wife keeps an eye on the ball and knows where everything is.
Bob’s blog, “Bob Wire Has a Point (It’s Under His Cowboy Hat),” runs weekly at makeitmissoula.com. He writes with no holds barred from his unique perspective as a beer-swilling, guitar-slinging, road-tripping, fly-fishing, meeting-skipping, freelancing, dinner-cooking bigmouth. Sports, politics, drinking, Missoula culture, education, music, the outdoors, the indoors, travel, drinking—Bob spouts off on all that and more.
His blogs have been anthologized into a series of eBooks, The Bob Wire Chronicles, which are available for download at Amazon.com.
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