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!