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.


     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.


     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 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
For more information:

Friday, October 31, 2014

The British are Coming!

Well, He's come and gone, actually.

Richard Jackson is an avid fly fisherman, hunter & guide from Great Britain who loves Montana. He just completed his second trip to the Treasure State and managed to find more than a deer or elk (which he did, on Public Land and on Block Management). Richard's trip started out a little Rocky.

You can read the details on Randy Newberg's forum, Hunt Talk:

Long story short, Richard had his handloaded ammo confiscated by customs and landed in Bozeman unarmed as his rifle hadn't made it yet either. He posted to Randy's website, and hunters came out of the woodwork offering to overnight him ammo, handload for him or give them some from their own closely held stock. It was pretty cool to see the hunting community come together and help Richard get what he needed. Luckily, there were a couple of boxed of 30-06 still in Bozeman and he soon retrieved his rifle from the airlines.

He was set but would he connect?

You bet he did. We love to see brothers and sisters from other countries come to Montana and experience our public lands and block management areas. Richard hunted hard opening weekend and connected on an unique 3x5 bull:

A day later, he was able to find this Whitetail Buck on a piece of Block Management:

It is a pretty impressive task to not only overcome the tribulations of flying internationally and then connecting on two critters on a Do-It-Yourself hunt on public land on opening weekend. 

Well done Richard. We hope the venison and elk steaks bring a smile to your face and the antlers serve as long lasting memories.  Cheers! 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The true bird hunting paradise

By Nick Gevock

My English Setter Sapphire went on point along a creek bottom in eastern Montana and I rushed in, expecting to flush a pheasant.

It was opening day of the pheasant season and I couldn’t wait to put up a rooster as Sapphire held a rock-solid point. But when I got up there, a covey instead of about 20 Hungarian partridge busted from the cover, and in my state of surprise I missed with two shots.

That, to me, epitomizes why Montana is truly among the best states in the country when it comes to upland bird hunting.

That creek bottom – which of course shall only be dubbed “No-Tellum Creek”, is well known for holding lots of pheasants. And of course pheasants are a lot of fun to hunt. But it’s also home to Huns, a fantastic bird both for the wingshooting they offer and their quality on the dinner table.
Both non-native bird species that have adapted very well to much of Montana. Both are highly sought after by upland bird hunters.

What also struck me on that fall day was how rich the diversity of upland bird hunting in Montana is. Just a few hundred yards away, in the sagebrush hills above the creek bottom, I’ve busted large groups of sage grouse in years past. And a few miles down the road, in the native dry grasses so characteristic of eastern Montana, abundant groups of sharptail grouse can be found.

These two, native prairie grouse species are iconic of the northern Plains. And together with their recent arrivals, they make up what is arguably the most diverse, and fun, upland hunting in the country.

Within a roughly 10 mile radius, a hunter could bag three pheasants, eight Huns, two sage grouse and four sharptails in a single day. Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve never been one that has to reach the bag limit every day. In fact, I’ve still never reached a bag limit on Huns, even though I’ve had some great days afield pursuing them.

But it does speak to the abundance we enjoy in this state. And of course it doesn’t stop with those species. We also have mountain grouse – blue, ruffed and Franklins.

Now granted, two of those species are not native to North America. Pheasants come from China and Huns from eastern Europe. But both species are not causing havoc on the environment, like other non-natives including spotted knapweed, or Zebra mussels.

A day spent upland bird hunting in eastern Montana is just another reminder of how blessed we are as hunters to live in the Treasure State. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Map it Out

I can’t remember a time in my life where a map hasn’t been close by. I spend hours going over the topo lines, dreaming of mountain monarchs in little gulches and potholes, bighorns running on top of the reefs, muleys holed up deep in the middle of rough coulee country and whitetail silently walking down the river bottom.

Maps are a part of my life that help hold the mystery of what’s around the next corner in the river or over the next ridge. They help me plan my fishing, scouting and hunting trips as well as help me stay on the right side of the section line.

We carry different maps today than we did just a few, short years ago. GPS units with mapping data keep us from running on to private land with remarkable ease. Google Earth makes scouting for likely spots easier and while there are a few programs like the Atlas, nothing comes close to what we offer - for free. 

The Sportsman’s Atlas includes several layers that help hunters and anglers in Montana find block management areas, Roadless areas, hunt districts, landownership, and even fishing access sites. The layers also include Satellite imagery, topographic imargy and a layer dedicated exclusively to the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LWCF in Montana has provided funding for 70% of our Fishing Access Sites and some of our best hunting grounds like Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area and the soon to be completed Tenderfoot Project in the Belts. LWCF is up for renewal this coming year, and as we’ve written about before, we’ll need all hands on deck to push the bill through our undeniably broken congress to reauthorize and fund this 50 year old success story.

Until then though, it’s hunting season. More importantly, it’s the week before general rifle opener and my web browser has the atlas open at all times so I can figure out what my plan of attack will be on that bomber muley buck somewhere deep in Coulee country.

Check out the Sportsman's Atlas here:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Otter Attack at the Pond

By Bob Ralph

My pond and my dogs bring me so much joy.  I put out nest boxes and have raised several broods of wood ducks on the pond.  I love watching the ducklings grow and the adults dive-bomb in and out.  Also, I enjoy raising fish, even catching hoppers for them, so my grandsons can catch them.

Then there are the predators.  Great-horned owls and other aerial predators take many of my young woodies, while kingfishers, great blue herons, and of course otters catch many of my fish.  Even bears enjoy swimming in the pond.

At mid-day on September 20,  I went outside and noticed several otters in the pond.  It was a female with two young who looked to be two years old.  As I walked toward the pond with my dog Ivy, I was surprised the otters didn't take off. Ivy is half black lab and half border collie, and very smart, but she had never encountered otters.  As I circled the pond to get closer the otters swam to the middle.  

Even my yelling and arm-waving did not scare them away.  As I turned to circle back I noticed Ivy swimming out to greet the otters. She looked to be only a little bigger than the otter coming at her.  The mother otter took off to “greet” Ivy but I could tell her real intentions.  

When they met, and to my surprise, Ivy was immediately dragged completely under water.  When they surfaced, Ivy was howling, but only had a second before she was pulled down again.  Again they came up, only to submerge again.  This time Ivy stayed down, so after a few expletives, I waded in.  

About ten feet out, they popped-up right in front of me, with the otter staring right at me.  Acting on adrenalin and instinct, I tried to thump the otter on the head, but it ducked under water.  Out of the corner of my eye I see Ivy making a break for shore, and not seeing the otter I turn to leave, but two steps later I felt a searing pain in my left arm above the elbow.  

At first my brain didn’t make the connection, but then I realized- that little shit bit me!   I’ve had some crazy encounters and wild adventures, but I thought, I’ve never heard of anyone being bitten by an otter.

Soaked and bleeding, I walked back to the house to call “now care” but realized my phone was wet too.  So I drove into Missoula with a very anxious but subdued Ivy. Amazingly, she only had a minor cut on her ear. I’m guessing the otter grabbed the thick fur on her sides to pull her under.

After a tetanus shot and stitches I headed home. 

Amazingly, reading through yahoo news headlines the next day, I read an article about a young boy being attacked by an otter and his grandma rescuing him.   They received over a hundred stitches.  Otters truly are the supreme predator in the water.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gettin’ game? Good. Now learn to cut it like a pro.

By: Grant Alban

It’s mid October.  You’re in shape.  You've hiked ridges and scouted all summer long.  Your rifle is sighted in and your boots fit like a glove.  You've got your tags and you know the country like the back of your hand.  You’re confident you’ll be pulling into the “Hunters With Game” line at the Game Check Station. 

You've literally left no detail unaccounted for in preparation for this year’s hunting season. 

Fast forward a few weeks.  The pressure is off and elk quarters are hanging in your garage.  Your knives are sharp and you just bought a new vacuum sealer.  There is only one more thing to do to close out another successful Montana big game season – butcher your meat. 

But ask yourself this: do you know how to properly butcher an animal?  If you’re like most of us out there, you don’t.  Sure, we've all cut up our game – some of us many times over.  We’ve separated muscle groups and spent hours hunkered over a table, backs aching as we try to remove the last of the stubborn silverskin.  In the end, our freezers are full and we sit back with a grin of contentment.

But wouldn't it be nice to really butcher the animal?  To pull meat off the barbecue for dinner guests and explain to them exactly what cut they are eating that evening?  Imagine yourself saying, “Enjoy this elk T-Bone, my friend,” or “What do you think about that muley’s top sirloin, bro?” 

Learn how to properly butcher an animal, and the lessons will pay dividends for the rest of your hunting life.  Or don’t, and always refer to every cut as a “steak.” 

If you live in or around Missoula, consider coming out next Wednesday October 22 to join local hunters like you and me who are looking to hone their meat cutting skills.  We’ll be gathering for an evening of a live butcher demonstration, complete with hearty specialty off-cut appetizers (can anyone say duck rolls?), and local beer to boot. Only thing – tickets are limited. Get yours today ($12 student, $15 regular) at:

Grant Alban is a member of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers and works as a Development Associate for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Grant lives for hunting season and enjoys elk and antelope hunting. He also finds time to guide his wonderful wife down Montana’s rivers while she casts to rising cutthroat trout.