Monday, December 31, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust



2012 is in the bag. It’s been a wild ride for hunters and anglers. We've seen some pretty low points, including the death of the Sportsmen’s Act, lack of passage  of Forest Jobs and Recreation, Rocky Mountain Front  Heritage Act, increased polarization of hunting and angling issues (especially funding these programs), conflicts over bison, wolves, trapping, bull trout, lake trout and land management. Relations between sportsmen and landowners/outfitters are at all time lows. This upcoming legislative session looks to be as contentious as the last one.

It’s easy to look around and see the negative. It’s human nature to focus on what went wrong in the hopes of fixing it later. But all of that pales compared to the highs of 2012.

This year I was able to watch the sun rise over the continental divide as I chased elk and wolves. I saw the sun set over river breaks that Lewis and Clark traveled. I helped a friend take a fine buck, the largest he’s ever harvested. I was with a friend when he shot his first deer. I've fished clear mountain streams, brawling tailwaters and hiked in some of the most magnificent country in the world.

These things all might seem small in the bigger picture of wildlife conservation but this is what we work towards – our time in the woods.

In the bigger picture – We've blazed new trails. The Bully Pulpit nation has grown to almost 4,000 folks who care about conservation. We've had some fantastic discussions about the issues and for the most part, we've been able to find common ground. The influence and power of conservation organizations grow and become a force to be reckoned with both nationally and in Montana. New lands are open to hunters and anglers through programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Habitat Montana.

The vision is growing: The Montana model of Wildlife Conservation is taking off around the nation. How we ensure the future of hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation will surely change over the next few years, but we’re ready for the conversation, and we’re ready to continue to defend the legacy.

There’s a few more hours to make a tax deductible contribution for 2012 to your favorite conservation group. With the upcoming legislature, your time and money is needed more than ever.

Hellgate Hunters and Anglers [B1] will be at the legislature defending the Legacy. Will you?





 [B1]http://www.hellgatehuntersandanglers.org/Join_Us.html

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hard Work and Gratitude

By Rita Wolfe
The final weekend of this past hunting season, after 13 days of hunting (not necessarily consecutive), Gary got a nice 5x4 whitetail buck, and after 17 days, I got a 2½ year-old, 5x5 bull elk!!!  I’ve taken a number of cow elk over the years, but this was my first bull.   Luck had finally caught up to us.
Elements that seem to be at our disadvantage can sometimes work just the opposite.  The icy conditions were to Gary’s benefit this time.  After hiking around in snow and ice, he took a rest near a beautiful old snag.  His focus on a specific direction and down-slope area was suddenly switched when he could hear the buck coming from behind as it crossed an icy opening.  Otherwise, he most likely would have never seen the deer crossing 85 yards behind him.  Gary’s quick response and shooting abilities paid off.  Only four packages of venison from the amazing whitetail buck I harvested last fall in the Swan Valley remained in the freezer, but that’s another story.  After 32 years of marriage, we’ve never been without wild game to eat. Aren’t we blessed?  I was feeling anxious to fill the freezer before the close of hunting season.  When I heard his shot, I felt a deep appreciation for the meat.  I just knew it had to be his shot because we were not that far apart, as is usually the case when we are hunting in grizzly bear country.  I stopped to retrieve my walkie-talkie and started to head his way.  It was quite an easy hike when you know your partner has got game on the ground.
It was snowing hard the next morning and we were excited to return to the same area to look for the magnificent whitetail buck I’d seen the previous day.  After hours of sneaking around, the only thing I saw all morning was four dashing does and fawns, and not a single buck or elk track.  Gary and I rendezvoused where he’d gotten his buck the previous morning, kicked some snow around, and found nary a sign of the gut pile.  There were no bear tracks, but mostly coyote and bird sign.  Many critters had been well fed.  We took a lunch break and decided to go hunt another area for the afternoon.
So as to cover more country, we took separate routes back to the vehicle.  I could see Gary below me once or twice, and then disappear as he worked his way further west.  No tracks, no deer, no elk in sight, but the trees, squirrels, birds. What a beautiful day. Wait, what is this? These tracks are “right-now” fresh, definitely at least one bull elk, maybe two!  My eyes and feet follow the tracks to my right.  Just below me feeding on an open sagebrush hill-side are two cows and a brow-tined bull elk.  The bull glances up at me, lowers his head and goes back to feeding.  Suddenly, one of the cows jumps, so the other cow and bull jump, too.  I’m already focused on the bull and when he jumps, I wait, knowing he’s going to stop.  Standing broadside, he hesitated, looked up at me and I squeezed the trigger.  It all happened so fast!  All three were out of sight instantly and heading down hill.  I took off after him in the slippery, fresh snow.  I had to give chase for a few minutes before I was on his blood trail.  I could see the elk tracks heading up the next hill and I thought “get going.”  To my sudden amazement, there was the bull.  He couldn’t make it up the next hill and had dropped near some trees that had blocked my view of him.  By the time I called Gary on the radio, he knew I’d shot a bull and not a buck.  Running full speed, the two cow elk had nearly run him over.  He followed their tracks back to me and was thrilled to see the bull lying near the road we had walked in on.
Back home, after hanging and ageing the buck and bull for several days, we carefully deboned them, cut and wrapped the meat and the freezer’s full once again.  I relive the experience in my mind and still can’t believe I got a bull.  I also think about the women’s shotgun class I took this summer and believe it helped with my reaction time big game hunting. We are so grateful for this superb meat.  We worked hard and it paid off.

*Rita is a long time conservation minded sportswoman lviing in Missoula.  She is a proud member of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twelve Days of a Sportsman's Christmas




Neighborhood Hun's Angel Wings.
Photo Land Tawney



      Last night I was outside building a 7 ft snowman with my four year old daughter and heard rustling just across the street.  I looked up just in time to see three Hungarian Partridge land on the neighbors lawn.  I grabbed Cid and started to creep on the birds.  That's when she spied a single "Hun" that was only 10 feet away in a juniper brush.  We froze, the bird froze and for a moment we were stopped in time.  Then a small explosion erupted and all the birds flew down to another neighbors, hopefully to fascinate them as much as they did us.  It wasn't the prairie but definitely a gift from mother nature.  Make sure you get out and enjoy the holidaze!  


Twelve days of a Sportsman's Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a Hungarian Partridge on the prairie.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two hundred doves

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me, three Flying Pheasants

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a four point buck

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, FIVE GOLDEN TROUT

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six Geese a landing

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, seven teal a whistling

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a royal bull a bugling

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a nine weight rod

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, ten smallmouth bass

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, eleven northern mallards

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, twelve pounder walleyes



Sharptail Grouse ornament a co-worker made for me.
Photo Land Tawney

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Coming War



There’s a special holiday coming, but it’s not Christmas. It’s not New Years, Hanukah, Kwanza or Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday (look it up).

No, it’s the Montana State Legislature. 150 of Montana’s finest minds will convene to take up the pressing issues of the day, like hunters being able to use sound suppresors while hunting lions[B1] .

Or ensuring that we never get a new Bighorn Sheep herd [B2] anywhere in Montana. Apparently, FWP is running rampant with sheep lovers who want to populate the state with big curlies in a dastardly attempt to ruin the sheep industry (yeah, someone actually said that).

As it stands now, there are 109 bill draft requests. You can look them all up at the Legislature’s website[B3] . There are a few bills that we like, such as Representative Pat Connell’s bill to give the FWP Commision the authority to institute barbless hook regulations and Senator Kendall Van Dyk’s Hunters for the Hungry bill. It would allow hunters and anglers to donate money as well as critters to food banks. Providing healthy, organic, protein rich food without having a food bank go broke trying to pay for the processing fee, who could hate that?

 Other bills that are coming forward with a lot of steam are bills that would put our state management of wolves in jeopardy by drastically altering the state management plan, place a legislative cap on the number of wolves in the state and the general whackiness that comes with every session. I’ve not seen a bill draft request to call wolves terrorists yet, but I’m sure a freshman legislator will introduce that one at some point.
Bison will once again be a hot topic of conversation as will land purchases[B4] . Elk Archery bills that would eliminate the current draw system and replace it with one that gives non-resident guided hunters much more opportunity than resident archers will come back, for a fourth time. Every time, Hunters have killed the bill. Every time, the war gets more intense.

Even Ranching for Wildlife, or some other Orwellian named device that hands our wildlife over to private hands to be sold like livestock will come forward this year. As one outfitter told me: “It’s going to be a bloodbath.” Folks, war has been declared once again on the average hunter and angler in Montana.

And a lot of times the Legislature truly does feel like a war albeit with some very nice ties and sensible shoes. Tempers flare, nostrils too. People get hit every once in a while and some jackwagon in the back of the room thinks they’re a comedian and scoffs at others testifying, muttering under their breath like a hobo under a bridge. 12 angry guys show up strapped with Glocks and Ar-15’s and a cholesterol level high enough to kill whatever is living in the basement of the capitol (nobody knows for sure, but some speculate that it’s a Gollum like creature who lost in a landslide against a very popular two term Governor).

It’s the democratic process at work, the MT state legislature. It’s unfortunately the messiest place I’ve ever seen sausage made. The committees have been set, and the chairmen chosen:

Senate Fish and Game will once again be chaired by Senator John Brenden. Senator Brenden’s shining moment came close the end of the session in 2011 when he led the attempts to not confirm FWP Commissioner Dan Vermillion. That led to a massive organizing effort by the Montana Wildlife Federation and others to turn out supporters for Commissioner Vermillion and we flooded the capitol with emails, phone calls, and I think I even saw a few carrier pigeons fly through an open window (There’s a lot of hot air in the building).

House Fish, Wildlife and Parks will be chaired by Representative Jeff Wellborn. Representative Wellborn is best known as the sponsor of HB 309, the dirty ditch bill. This bill, more than any other, galvanized the sporting community and brought them to Helena for a rally that was over 400 strong. The subsequent Committee hearing, held in the Old Supreme Court Chambers, was packed both on the floor, and in the gallery. Seats had to be set up in the Rotunda just to accommodate the outpouring of Montana Hunters and Anglers who showed up and fought back.

So there you have it. We’ve only brushed the surface of what’s in store for us over the next 5 months. The Bully Pulpit will be up at the Capitol, giving you all real time information on who to call, and what to call them.

We must defend the legacy. Get back in fighting shape. We’re going to need every voice, every email and every warm body we can muster to fill legislators inboxes, voicemails and the halls of the Capitol itself to make sure that our heritage, our birthright, is not squandered.





 [B1]http://laws.leg.mt.gov/legprd/LAW0210W$BSIV.ActionQuery?P_BILL_NO1=27&P_BLTP_BILL_TYP_CD=HB&Z_ACTION=Find&P_SESS=20131


 [B2]http://laws.leg.mt.gov/legprd/LAW0210w$BSIV.ActionQuery?P_BILL_DFT_NO5=LC0043&Z_ACTION=Find&P_SESS=20131


 [B3]http://laws.leg.mt.gov/legprd/law0203w$.startup?P_SESS=20131


 [B4]http://helenair.com/news/local/fwp-votes-to-buy-milk-river-ranch/article_7393e208-42f6-11e2-8668-0019bb2963f4.html

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Alabama Slammer


By Land Tawney and Ben Lamb

This bill has had overwhelming support through each stage of the process, most recently receiving a supportive bi-partisan vote of 92-5 right before the Thanksgiving break.  This latest vote against hunters and anglers demonstrates why the American public is sick of the Washington DC antics that waste time and taxpayer dollars.  One Senator that voted against the bill before the break, Jeff Sessions(R-AL), somehow convinced his caucus to vote against 90 million sportsmen and women and the $70 billion annual contribution they make to America’s economy.  The bill was supported by more than 50 sportsmen’s groups including the NRA, Ducks Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and National Wildlife Federation.  

Senator Sessions opposed the bill on the technicality that it violated budget rules by increasing the cost of the duck stamp, despite the fact that the bill would reduce the deficit.
We've talked about the expansive and monumental Sportsman’s Act of 2012 for a while now; it includes provisions that would allow the importation of legally harvested Polar Bears from Canada, the Making Public Lands Public Act (directing a portion of Land and Water Conservation Funding dollars to increasing access), re-authorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and a modest increase to the price of the Duck Stamp. 

Here’s the real problem that Senator Jeff Sessions has with the most important Sportsmen’s Legislation of our time: The NRA had made it clear that they would score the final Senate vote and not the procedural vote on the budget point of order.  Senator Sessions was endorsed by the NRA in his last election in 2008 with an A+ rating.  He has an election coming up in 2014 and knows how important the NRA’s endorsement is in sending him back to Washington.  

By organizing his caucus around the procedural vote Sen. Sessions avoided a dip in his rating.  He claims that its congresses right to tax the American people, and because of the way the bill is written, that authority would be handed over to the Secretary of the Interior, while violating the budget rules that Congress operates under.  

When you pick yourself up from the floor and stop laughing at the thought of Congress having rules that they abide by, I’ll continue.

Right, so we've seen how well Congress plays together. The entire sportsmen community was caught off guard by last night’s vote, and is now regrouping to see what’s next.  One thing that is for sure is that Senator Tester will continue to fight. Right after the vote Tester said, “I’m disappointed Republicans and Democrats couldn't work together today to pass this bipartisan bill.  Protecting our outdoor economy shouldn't be a partisan issue.  This bill will create jobs and strengthen our small businesses, and I will continue pressing to get it through the Senate on behalf of every sportsman and women around the country.” Congress’ duty should only be that of oversight. Not of micro-management.

Sessions also bemoans the cost of the bill, saying that the $145 million that the bill would raise in revenue would be needlessly frittered away on stupid things like habitat.  The bill in fact pays down the deficit by $5 million: chump change to insiders like Sessions who make billion dollar deals over breakfast, but enough of a political opening to exact revenge on a Senator who just won re-election.

Sessions forgets his history: Sportsmen first imposed a tax, if we use that vernacular, on themselves in 1934 with passage of the Duck Stamp.  Once again it is sportsmen who are asking for the increase.  Why?  Because every dollar spent on the “Duck Stamp” which gives hunters the ability to hunt waterfowl, is spent on habitat protection through the National Wildlife Refuge system.  Waterfowlers understand that habitat is the key to robust populations of ducks and geese and are more than willing to pay for their conservation.  Mr. Sessions should be ashamed of himself.  During his speech on the Senate floor, he talked about how he knew duck hunters in his own state loved the bill but that he had to vote against the bill on principle. “Should we violate the Budget Control Act for a mere $14 million a year?” 

Sessions asked in floor remarks Monday. “I don’t think the average duck hunter would be concerned if we slowed down a little bit and sent this bill back to committee and had it paid for so we didn’t violate the budget.” Mr. Sessions Ducks Unlimited, the largest concentration of Duck Hunters in the world supports the bill and asked for this particular provision.
The National Rifle Association and the Wilderness Society agreed that the bill was important enough that they put the guns down and worked together to try and pass legislation.

Only in Washington DC is that kind of American idealism not rewarded. Call Senator Sessions now, and give him a piece of your mind. You can reach him at (202)224-4124 or email

You can also show  your support of the Sportsman’s Act on The Bully Pulpit’s Facebook page by posting a message encouraging Seantor Tester to continue this fight (and make sure you tag him!), or email his staff

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Tag


Ive watched the sun come up over hay fields, coulees, mountains and river bottoms. I chased deer for two weeks, passing up bucks nobody in their right mind would have passed up, even on the first day of the season. I didnt want it to end.

The smell of sage, frost on the rifle, coyotes walking by at 20 feet as I sit behind the ancient  cottonwood that created a natural blind and the massive 10 year old double patched whitetail 200 yards and 400 vertical feet across the coulee all remain in my memory far beyond the meat that is now in our freezer.

The season started out with promise and hope as all do. I didnt connect on an elk, and given the travel we have to engage in for the Holiday weekend, its unlikely that Ill get out and chase them again this year. I notched my tag five times on whitetail. Big, fat laden does and the anti-climactic end of the year: A spike buck. He busted out of cover, following a large bodied buck whose antlers I couldnt see. When I saw the spike I committed the cardinal sin: I didnt wait one last second. A 225 yard shot later, we walked up to what I thought was the big doe, and got that sinking feeling as I saw the little fork, and 5 inch long spike.
That little buck, it turns out, was a gift. Because I shot that little guy, I was able to be with a good friend who took the largest buck hed ever shot; a nice wide 4 point whitetail that made the mistake of covering ground during shooting light. I was with another friend who shot his first deer, ever. Hes recently moved to Montana and grew up in an urban environment but couldnt stand the thought of his boys growing up without wild country. After he shot his deer, we went fishing and stuck a number of large browns and rainbows. A real Cast and Blast.

We hunted both public and private ground this year. Both offered up multiple opportunities to harvest wildlife for the larder. The public land sticks out most in my memory as its a recent addition to the State of Montanas Wildlife Management Areas. These WMAs are part of Montanas wildlife legacy. The wisdom of their purchases can be seen for decades after their acquisition.

Places like the Sun River Wildlife Management Area, Robb Ledford, WMA, Spotted Dog and the Marshall Block continue to show us that proper conservation of the land means bountiful opportunity.

As the FWP Commission considers adding one more Wildlife Management Area to the fold, controversy surrounds it. Just like every other one before it. The Legislature will surely use this to try and eliminate FWPs ability to purchase land, just like last session when they came unhinged at Spotted Dog and Fish Creek.

I am thankful that I live in a state that values habitat conservation over heavy handed management through reduced opportunity. Montana puts its wildlife and the opportunity of every one of us to harvest that wildlife above the desire to turn a buck over antlered critters.

Governor-elect Steve Bullock has a big job ahead of him when it comes to nominating new FWP Commissioners, agency heads for Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation as well as policy staff. Were headed into a new legislative session that will once again prove to test the mettle and ferocity of those who defend the legacy that Theodore Roosevelt gave us. Dark clouds in Washington continue to threaten the wild country we love, as well as the funding streams we need in order to keep ducks in the sky, and bulls in the Mountains.

But for now, I am thankful, and content. Well grill the first backstraps on Thursday. Ive still got my wolf tag and a December in the mountains to fill that. Ive got trout rising to midges on warm winter days.

 Ive got Montana, and for that, I am thankful.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Git'R'Done!!!



We all cringe at the words: Congress is back in session.

However, today we’re pretty excited. Senator Tester’s Sportsman’s Act of 2012 is coming up for a cloture vote today. That means that the Senate will vote to move the bill forward. It requires 60 votes to push the bill onward to the House of Representatives and ultimately, to the President.

We’ve written extensively about the bill[B1] , so we’ll not go through all of the provisions. But one should be highlighted: The Keeping Public Lands Public component. Introduced as a standalone bill in 2011 by Senator Tester, the KPLPA would permanently dedicate 1.5% of all Land and Water Conservation Fund monies to securing access to public lands.

How could anyone be against that?

The bill received 84 votes in support before Congress adjourned to let us all watch all of those great commercials and then go vote. 84 out of 100 Senators said that this was good enough to pick it back up after the election.

Well buddy, here we are. On the eve of a vote that we hope will show America that Montanan’s know how to get it done. Senator Tester has worked tirelessly to reach across the aisle and generate support from over 40 conservation, hunting, angling and gun rights organizations.

The question then remains, will congress do something worthwhile, or just keep whistling past the graveyard.





 [B1]http://www.mtbullypulpit.org/2012/09/i-love-getting-emails-with-good-news.html

Friday, November 2, 2012

Public Lands in Public Hands




In a few short hours, I’ll point the truck north and head up to the highline for a week of chasing gnarly old whitetails and a few monster muleys. If I’m lucky and find a deer willing to take a bullet, I’ll point the truck west and start seriously looking for an elk to fill the freezer and a wolf for the mantle. I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas morning to arrive.

But I also feel like a kid who’s toys are about to be stolen. In two recent developments, Stream Access has returned to the forefront of the news and our minds. In Virginia, a court found that a fly fisherman fishing well below the high water mark was found to be trespassing. Highlighted in this Orvis blog[B1] , the case shows that some folks with enough money will stop at nothing to throw the citizens off of their public resource.  The image of a lone angler fighting for the right to utilize a public resource should sicken all of us. If this happened in Montana, do we think this guy would have only had a lawyer by his side?

Remember 2011, when over 500 of us showed up to kill the ditch bill? I do. It was something that I’d never seen in over a decade of advocating for hunters, anglers and wildlife. I don’t know if we can repeat that effort in a few short months, when the Legislature returns. I hope so. Because the same attacks on our access that we saw in 2011 have been smoldering underground during the off season will be coming back next session. Recently, two groups, the United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM) and the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) have joined in on the side of James Cox Kennedy in trying to overturn Montana’s Stream Access law[B2] . These same groups advocated for HB 309 during the last legislature, and these same groups have been trying to undermine the public ownership of wildlife for quite a while now, essentially trying to turn America into Europe when it comes to hunting and fishing.

In fact, out of the 110 plus bills we fought in 2011, UPOM was regularly on the side that was seeking to eliminate your voice in wildlife management, eliminate funding for access programs, and even stood with those who wanted to kill the Wolf Management plan that led to our ability to manage wolves.

I think everybody respects private property rights. I know I do. But I also know that what’s public is public, and it needs to stay that way. Not just for my ability to hunt and fish, but for the $3 billion economic engine that Montana has based on the democratic allocation of the wildlife resource and public lands. Access to public lands and water will always be contentious so long as people with hidden agendas try to obfuscate the reality of what public ownership of wildlife means.

Much like our staunch defense of the second amendment, fighting for access is something that most Montanans are born with. So much of our lives are spent on public ground that we consider it ours. Because it is our land, our water and most importantly: Our wildlife.

It’s not socialism, as some folks think. It’s the most democratic enterprise that this nation has ever invested in. Without public lands, and access to them, we might as well buy some lederhosen and try to figure out how to shoot running boar while spending tens of thousands of dollars to do so. Public lands are the great equalizer, providing the opportunity to harvest game to everyone.

I’ll take that over the lederhosen every day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beans and Rice

By Jared Serigne

I could almost see feathers falling from the sky and taste the duck gumbo in my mouth when I boarded the plane from New Orleans on my way to Missoula. My good buddy Land Tawney like the Willy Wonka of Montana waterfowl extended me a golden ticket invitation to come up for a few days of duck hunting in Mid-October this year. The big duck season wouldn’t begin for another month in Louisiana so my friend Bob Marshall and I left the marsh behind and headed for the mountains in pursuit of all things fowl.

As I sit here writing this, its a balmy 78 degrees outside here in New Orleans. One week ago I was sitting next to a pond, wearing thick layers of camo while the cold mountain winds blew around me on a tract of public land near East of Missoula, MT. Earlier that morning we made a hike in the dark across the safety zone and into the hunting area until we found a small pond to throw a few decoys into and wait on the morning flight.

Just when the dark grey clouds broke and allowed the first bit of daylight to peek through, a hen mallard came swinging down into the decoy spread. I kneeled up over the grass and put Land’s Remington 870 Wingmaster to my shoulder. I crippled her on my first shot. Land’s black labrador retriever Turk got right to work and eventually found the bird hiding in a patch of wheat grass.

There was little action for the next hour and Land decided to set out and find some more birds on a nearby creek. He returned 45 minutes later nearly out of breath with news that he’d shot a triple on Canada geese. He thought that we should stalk the creek to try our luck at jumping some birds.

My trips in Louisiana never afford this type of hunting. You’d find yourself waist deep in marsh mud doing this in my neck of the woods, but the grassy fields along this creek were perfect for sneaking up on puddling ducks. It was like upland hunting but for ducks- and I liked it.

We made a few attempts and after much walking, Land was able to spook and knock down a gorgeous mallard drake. Turk made another fiery retrieve and we added the drake to our stringer.

Every once and a while I would mistake the flashing of a whitetail deer jumping through brush along the creek bank for the beating wings of a duck or goose. I can’t recall how many deer we saw but it was the most I’ve ever seen in any one area, especially one that is so open and available to the public.

The rest of the stalk wouldn’t produce another bird but we got in our fair share of exercise. The wide open landscape made for some incredible photo opps too. We decided to call the hunt and started what became known between the three of us as “the death march” back to Land’s truck. Being weighed down by my backpack, gun, one of Land’s geese, and the ducks made me miss the ease of Louisiana hunts in a surface drive boat. Still, I pressed on, sadistically enjoying the new experience. “When in Rome” I told myself.

I would spend the next two days hunting areas outside of Missoula. Each spot we tried seemed to grow from the previous in its natural beauty and pristine scenery. With the exception of one privately owned location, we hunted public land and public water. Coming from Louisiana where we lease our duck hunting marshes, I was amazed at how beautiful and productive the public lands were in Montana. The stream access law that allows hunters and anglers to access rivers and streams up to the high water mark is a far cry from what I’m used to.  That law helped me catch my first Westslope Cutthroat trout.  Cast and blast indeed. 

Hunters there should consider themselves lucky as this type of prime territory is rarely kept public in Louisiana and it certainly wouldn’t exist if there were oil and gas underneath it or money to be made from leasing or private ownership.  

I am lucky in that my family owns marshland from two of my great grandfathers who purchased the land for trapping muskrats. I also lease some marsh property for duck hunting. In some cases families were able to make money from allowing oil and gas companies on their properties, but most of the time, large profits were made by land holding companies who owned hundreds of thousands of acres of marsh. In my case there was a pipeline canal that cut straight through my great grandfathers’ marsh land during the height of oil and gas exploration. These canals were cut and exist all throughout Louisiana’s coast. They weakened the marsh and allowed saltwater to intrude that marsh and upset the balance of brackish water and destroy those types of marsh.

When seeing the vast amounts of public land and water in Montana I thought for sure that there must be no resources to harvest here. That would be the only way to keep politicians and energy companies hands off right? Land told me that there was indeed oil and gas underneath these public grounds but a legacy of staunch conservation started long ago by Teddy Roosevelt was set in place to defend and develop them responsibly, putting long term health over short term gain.  I learned later that evenening from Land that Montana has had its share of exploitation on public lands and only through an ardent conservation constituency has it survived

I had a lot to think about on the plane ride back to New Orleans. I started to miss Montana the minute I stepped into the Southern heat. What I took away from the trip was the desire to help Montana sportsmen maintain their legacy of conservation. As for my work at home, I want to transfer that energy here to Louisiana where we are engaged in a life threatening battle to save what’s left of the Mississippi River Delta. The delta is where we hunt. It’s where we fish. It’s also been a great supplier for our nation in seafood and energy production. But we are losing the delta at an alarming rate and if we don’t take action soon, it will be all but gone in less than 100 years.

The time is near to elect the leaders who will either fight to preserve our public lands and access to them or choose those who favor opening up those land to let big business extract its resources and become the playgrounds of the privileged. I would encourage those in Montana who believe in keeping those lands free to the people to rally with all their might. I’m now one of you. I plan to return to Montana and enjoy the public resources your state has to offer and I stand with you as a brother in conservation. I hope you will return the same to us down here in Louisiana.

 1st photo courtesy of Bob Marshall and 2nd photo courtesy of Land Tawney









Thursday, October 25, 2012

This is my rifle, This is my vote




A vote is like a rifle. Its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.
T. Roosevelt.

100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt was shot shortly before giving a speech while running for president of the United States. That bullet, meant for his heart, hit an eyeglass case and his 50 page speech that was folded up in his pocket. He gave the speech with blood running down his chest. He even made light of the situation. TR was a lot of things, but a wimp ain’t one of them. Roosevelt knew that his legacy of public lands and public wildlife were at risk. He came out of the jungle, literally, to run for president. He did it not for his own ego or for power, but because he saw the dismantling of America’s outdoor legacy and future being used as a casual campaign conversation designed to eliminate people from their public lands.

Roosevelt knew this: Your vote matters.

If it didn’t, why does every Tom, Dick and Harry with a PAC or special interest spend billions of dollars each election cycle to try and influence your vote?  Why do candidates don hunter orange and pose for photos in the field while trying to tell you that they share your beliefs and passion?

It’s because you and your vote matters.

Early voting is underway in Montana right now. So is absentee voting[B1] . The only requirement to vote is that you register. Not a bad deal.

I usually go for the early voting. I like filling out that ballot and ticking all the candidates I feel will best represent what I believe in. There is a sense of community at the polling place. People smile, and how you vote doesn’t matter to election officials. They’re just glad that you’re there to voteThis election year shares some striking similarities with TR’s Bull Moose run[B2] . The same fight to sell off the public estate and reduce the number of people who can use public lands is regaining momentum. We’ve seen bills in Utah, Arizona, and yes, even Montana to divest ourselves of public lands. Programs that help put and keep hunters in the field are constantly under attack by budget wonks who wrongly think that cutting revenue generating programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and even closer to home, programs like Habitat Montana and the Access Enhancement Fund, are the way to balance a bloated budget.

We do not endorse or oppose any candidate. We’re not partisan, liberal or conservative. What we are is Montanans who care deeply about the public land legacy that we've been left. We’re staunch advocates of Montana’s sportsmen and women, and the businesses who rely on public lands to help generate over $3 billion per year by promoting our bounty. Call public lands for what they are: Job generators, soul-revivers.
Just don’t try and take away a legacy that hunters and anglers have fought for now for over 100 years.

Go vote, exercise your franchise and fulfill the founding fathers vision of an involved and educated electorate guiding the future of our nation.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Got Bison? by Jim Posewitz

  
          In 1883 a 24 year old hunter searched for more than a week hoping to find one of North America’s last free ranging buffalo.  Finally, just inside the Montana Territorial border, on Little Cannonball Creek, he found and shot a lone wandering bull.  In his excitement he did a war dance around the fallen bull and tipped his guide $100.  Eighteen years later that hunter would be President of the United States – it was Theodore Roosevelt.  During those eighteen years between 1883 and 1901, he had: ranched in North Dakota, hunted throughout the Northwest, helped create a national club for the restoration of wildlife, wrote several books, served as the Undersecretary of the Navy, formed the Rough Riders, led their charge up San Juan Hill, been Governor of New York State, and briefly served as the Vice President of the USA. He was a busy guy.
          

            There is little doubt that the carnage of the buffalo slaughtered on the Northern Great Plains contributed to young Theodore’s wildlife conservation epiphany.  During his brief career as a rancher his cattle grazed among the rotting buffalo carcasses that littered the Dakota badlands. His propensity to use every public speaking opportunity to teach the conservation gospel made his identity and the term Bully Pulpit synonymous.  As our president, in his very first message to Congress, he used that Bully Pulpit to give them a lecture on conservation.

As president, TR wrapped his conservation ethic around a wild land estate of 230 million acres with a focus on wildlife and forests.  His wildlife protection included the National Bison Range at Moiese, Montana set aside in 1908.  He also used the Bully Pulpit to tell the world who he was doing it for.  He referred to you and me as “those generations still within the womb of time.”  Well, we have emerged and enjoy a restored wildlife resource that several generations of hunters passed to our time.  Now, we have a chance to make a contribution of our own.  We have the opportunity to finish the pyramid of restored wildlife by adding the top layer – Buffalo.  And the last best place to restore these bison is on the immense 1.1. million acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MDFWP) launched an environmental analysis that ended in June, of buffalo restoration and we all had the opportunity to participate.  The Bully Pulpit encouraged the Bully Nation to send in their comments.  The analysis is underway. This is just a first step of many in the restoration process but we here at the Pulpit are encouraged. 

*Photo Courtesy of Boone and Crockett Club


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cheers with a Glass of Cold, Clean Water!!


By Land Tawney  
The first time I took my daughter camping we went to Rock Creek, a blue ribbon trout stream just 30 minutes east of Missoula, Montana. My father took me there when I was a kid. Perhaps like him, I realized soon after arriving that I wasn’t going to get much fishing in so after getting camp set up I stole a few minutes on the river. It’s a “blue ribbon” trout stream because it produces fish on a consistent basis and has the cold clean water that trout rely on.
After a few minutes I had caught two small brown trout, cleaned them and then brought them back to camp for my daughter, Cidney, my wife, and me to eat. As we were preparing dinner, Cidney had a fish in each hand, inspecting them with inquisitive eyes. Ah, I love seeing things for the first time again through her eyes. I looked down and told her, “You know Cidney, we are going to eat those tonight.” She looked at me, back down at the fish, one more time at me and then took a big ol’ chomp out of one of the fish. I quickly added, “Cidney, we have to cook em first!” She took the fish out of her mouth and just smiled.
I love this little girl.
Celebrating Clean Water
Today, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which was signed into law in 1972 with strong bipartisan support to protect waters and wetlands that are vital to people and wildlife. This particular piece of legislation is special to me.  It works to ensure that my daughter will be able catch and eat blue-ribbon trout with her children just 30 minutes from the urban sprawl of Missoula. It is also special because my friend and mentor, Jim Range, contributed to the writing and passage of the Clean Water Act while working for Senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), the Senate Majority Leader at the time. While Jim has unfortunately passed on, the image of him casting into the fading sunlight on the Missouri River, a river he helped protect, will always be etched in my memory.

The Montana Wildlife Federation played a key role in this great conservation win, mobilizing members and their affiliates to support and defend the Clean Water Act for all of its 40 years. I couldn’t be more proud of our efforts and countless other hunters and anglers from across the country who have made clean water a priority. Our rivers are no longer burning and no longer smelling of odors so foul you’d be crazy to so much as dip a toe in them. This is quite a success story. Sadly, too many take this success for granted. For years now, the Clean Water Act has been under attack in Washington D.C. and across the country.  We are losing Clean Water Act protections for stream, lakes and wetlands right at this very moment.  Despite the great strides we have made, some of the most important habitats for fish and wildlife are now at risk.
My daughter turned four this year and caught her first fish. Well, let’s say the fish caught her. Her smile says it all. Let us celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this year and work to make it stronger and while we do, know that a whole new generation of Montana “Sushi Girls” are waiting in the wings, counting on us to provide them with the same opportunities my daughter has today.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Quickening



I have a ritual where I clean and sharpen all of my blades. Gutting knife, skinner, axe and bone saw are ready to go, fresh and unscented. Extra batteries for the GPS, range finder and headlamp are tucked in with the latex gloves and Purell. Clothing has been mended from last year’s run-ins with sagebrush and willows.

Rifle loads have been meticulously developed over the course of the year, and the 35 Whelen will get a fouling shot tonight to make sure she hits right where I tell her to on the first, cold shot. She wears an old Bausch and Lomb scope, circa 1958 or so. A 250 grain round nose Hornady bullet is ready to plow through bone and gristle. These are my tools. They are necessary in order for me to be successful in the hunt. 

Now we have a new tool, one that will enhance my hunting statewide. We unveiled the Montana Sportsmen’s Atlas yesterday, and so far we've had nothing but praise, and a few minor technical glitches. I spent the better part of this week scouring the map and satellite image of where I’ll be opening morning. It’s a high ridge on a Roadless Area that holds a lot of elk and wolves. The Atlas has helped me locate areas where elk should be, especially in a warm, dry fall like we’re having now. Springs, wallows and the beginnings of creeks in protected cool areas mean if I am successful, my legs will burn as I haul that elk out of the hellhole I find them in.

The Atlas has all the layers I want, and a few extras. Satellite, USGS topo maps, landownership, and Block Management Areas all pop up easily, giving me an easy hunt planner to coincide with what I see on my GPS. The other thing that we’ve put into this Atlas is the Land and Water Conservation Fund Projects that are so important to access geeks like me. Over 70% of all Fishing Access Sites in Montana had LWCF funding attached to them.  LWCF has become a political football lately, but the value of LWCF is so much more than just a line item in a politician’s budget. This program opens thousands of acres of prime habitat to hunters, and thousands of miles of streams to anglers. Without it, we’d be poorer by many degrees.

I've dropped 7.5 inches of fat over the last couple of months preparing for this season. I've spent countless hours at the gun range ensuring my bullet finds its mark. With this atlas, I've discovered new routes into secluded areas where the elk will hole up. Last year at this same moment in time, I was nervous, not sure I could run ridges looking for a nasty old bull elk.


This year, I am ready. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Snakes in the Grass



Every political season, politicians try to engage with hunters and anglers to convince them that they’re worthy of their vote. This year is no different and in fact, it’s probably even more pronounced than in years past.
I’ll be up front and clear here at the beginning. I don’t care who you vote for, or what party to ascribe to. I won’t tell you who to vote for or what to think. I won’t endorse one candidate or another here. What does matter is that you do cast a vote, and do so in an informed manner.

Rob Chaney had an article in the Missoulian [B1] that was both fascinating and frustrating the other day.
There’s a lot of truth in what Rob has written in this article, especially how hunters and anglers aren’t easily pigeonholed. We’re not strict NRA supporters, nor are we tree-huggers. We’re somewhere squarely in the middle. We want healthy public lands, and we want abundant wildlife. It’s not difficult to see how these things are mutually beneficial. And it’s not hard to see how without both of these things, hunters sit at home watching football rather than go spend countless hours in the woods, fields and streams.

But that’s where the politics of hunting and fishing come in. Some groups want to focus on one thing, and let others slide. Other groups don’t want to acknowledge that there’s anything wrong, and still more just want to be left alone and never get involved in the difficult discussions and decisions necessary to have healthy wildlife, and healthy habitat.

Historically, Hunters have self identified as conservative. That shouldn’t surprise anyone of us. But this quote from Tom Opre of Kalispell really tells the truth:

“But when it comes to outdoors, hunting and fishing, we’re out-and-out crazy liberals when it comes to protecting it.”

Well, we used to be.

There’s a growing cancer in hunting policies and politics and its hit Montana. States like Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and others have programs that lead to the privatization of wildlife under the banner of conservation.  Ranching for Wildlife in Colorado has closed of thousands of acres of public lands in Colorado to public land hunters like you and I. Utah’s model literally hands wildlife over to landowners and lobbyists like bushels of wheat, or other commodities to be sold to the highest bidder. New Mexico Resident Hunters have to fight tooth and nail to restore some semblance of balance in the allocation of Pronghorn tags so that the people who live and work in New Mexico have the opportunity to hunt in New Mexico.

The common, average hunter is under assault. The assault is coming from within. Some groups tout their work on wolves to gain your membership and money, but their record is horrible when it comes to access, and wolves. One group in particular fought to keep wolves listed in order to further bolster their coffers. They sold out Utah anglers when the fight to access rivers and streams was on at the legislature, and now that they’re in Montana, they've made sure to politicize every aspect of wildlife management regardless of the truth. Last session, they tried to eliminate over $24 million in Federal funds for access and wildlife management. Their signature bill, SB 414 from the 2011 Legislative session would have kept wolves on the Endangered Species Act and derailed the Simpson/Tester delisting rider.

Other groups have gone down the same road.

In 2010, one prominent sportsmen’s organization hired an Oil and Gas lobbyist to represent hunters. This is the same industry that has tried to keep hunters and anglers from being at the table when public land management decisions are being made. This lobbyist immediately set to work trying to eliminate the Roadless Rule, keep wolves listed, and generally turn the sportsmen’s movement into another arm of the Petroleum cartel.

They’re winning, by the way.

 Bills like HR 1581, HR 4089, HR 1505 and the assault of funding conservation programs at the Federal Level, and bills like SB's 414, 255, 303, HB's 309, 607, 361, and others from the last legislative session are coming at hunters in full force. George Orwell would have been appalled at how well the proponents of these bills have adopted his double speak in order to fool hunters and anglers into believing that they’re good for you. The use the key words like access, opportunity and yes, wolves, to lie and cheat their way into degrading laws designed to actually increase your access and opportunity.

A tiny fraction of public lands remain unroaded, undeveloped and wild. That’s an affront to a lot of folks in congress, and it’s clearly an affront to the anti-hunters masquerading as our friends.

When you vote this November (and for the love of all that is good and holy, do vote), make sure you know where candidates really stand on important issues. Don’t just buy the first thing that sounds good when it comes to where a candidate stands. Ask the tough questions, and do a little homework.

Al Gore invented the internet after all, let’s use it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Photo Contest Winners

After an usually cruel delay that we attribute to our remarkable lack of focus as the fishing season comes to a close, and hunting seasons start to ramp up, we've managed to put the shotguns and rods down long enough to do the job we told you we'd do: Finish the damned fishing contest. Our judges spent a few days pouring through the photos and while there were so many fantastic submissions, they had to pick just three. All of the photos tell a story, whether it's about the joy of a stringer full of trout, the effort it takes to get to where the pigs are, or a fading  glimpse of what we once had, and hopefully will have again. All of the photos are distinctly Montana, and that's, after all, what we're about: Montana, and her wild places and wildlife.

So here they are:

First prize and the winner of the Scott Fly Rod:

We believe the Children are the future, just like Whitney Houston. Therefore, the Judges agreed that a smile you can't wipe off your face is a winner! Congratulations to Michelle Larson!



Second place and the winner of a $100 gift certificate to Headhunters Fly Shop out of Craig Montana:
Ryan Busse with his South Fork of the Flathead Bull Trout:


Third place shows the effort and determination to head into the backcountry searching for monster cutthroat. The sweat and effort it takes to hit some of these high country lakes makes me giddy just thinking about what lies a few more miles ahead on the old dusty trail. Congratulations to Tyler Campbell who will receive a fully stuffed Fly Box from Sweetwater Fly Shop out of Livingston Montana!



Now, head out there and enjoy what is shaping up to be a wonderful fall in the Big Sky State!

Friday, September 28, 2012

More Hunters and Anglers? Yes Please!



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s preliminary hunting and fishing numbers show that over the past five years there were nine percent more hunters and 11 percent more anglers throughout the nation. These increases are proof that sportsmen recruitment and access efforts are working!

The survey also found that more than 37 million hunters and anglers spent $90 billion last year nationwide. That number doesn’t include secondary economic boosts like the creation of new hunting or fishing-related jobs. It is clear that this sustainable, non-exportable industry provides great value during tough economic times.

The uptick is particularly welcome news for our nation’s state wildlife agencies. The agencies responsible for maintaining healthy populations of fish and wildlife as a public trust for all of us get the vast majority of their funding from hunting and fishing license fees. Additionally, sportsmen and women had the foresight to fund conservation through excise taxes on the guns, ammunition, bows, arrows and fishing equipment we use.

One of the National Wildlife Federation’s first achievements was the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937. This established the first excise taxes to be collected into the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund and distributed to states. Since its inception, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Fund has provided more than $14 billion to support fish and wildlife restoration and management.
Another number to note from the survey is the increase in wildlife watching. Last year 72 million Americans engaged in wildlife watching, contributing $55 billion to our nation’s economy. One big difference between the hunting/angling and wildlife watching communities is that wildlife watchers have not yet taxed their gear to contribute to conservation and don’t pay license fees. Attempts have been made to place excise taxes similar to those on guns and ammo on items like binoculars, cameras, backpacks—to no avail. I have high hopes in the American people that these efforts are not over.

For the Montana, the increased numbers of hunters and anglers across the country is good news for a different reason. I am hopeful that the more people who connect with the natural world—be it through hunting and fishing or through wildlife watching—the more advocates there will be for conserving our natural resources, including the great American landscaps like the Rocky Mountain Front, and the Mississippi River Delta.