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?


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.