Friday, October 25, 2013

Opening Day

I've got a pocket full of tags and a loose knit plan on how to fill them all. This Saturday, 130,000 fellow Montanans and I will begin our five week journey where we fall in love with Montana all over again. Fall in the high country, coulees & fields of Montana is about as close to heaven as you can get without meeting your maker.

I’ve already got days in the field chasing pronghorn & upland birds but nothing in the bag yet. I missed an easy shot on a dandy Pronghorn Buck. So long as all things come together again, he’ll be on public land or on Block Management. I swear these big boys know what’s open and what’s not. He’s been planted on two sections of private land; an island in a sea of state & Block Management. His herd is all over with a few smaller bucks thrown in the mix.

I watched him for hours last Friday. He bedded 350 yards from a piece of Block Management that I was signed in to. I waited until last light. He slipped over the hill and deeper into the island of private land. Such is life. The next day he was 130 yards off the county road as I drove in. Along with a 1.5 year old buck, he took off in the direction of state land. We swung down the road and the entire herd swept by us, hooked a hard left and hit the State land.

Finally, it happened. He was legal and the chase was on. We stalked the ¾ mile across the barely green winter wheat. If the herd acted like I’d hoped, they’d be at the bottom of the hill. They were. I dropped to my knees, lasered the herd at 240 yards.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, two towers of black shifted. There he was. I had him – dead to rights. He was watching me and partly obscured by a rise between us. The Leupold range finder showed 127 yards.

I belly crawled a few more yards to get the right shot. He was exposed; watching me as I tried to calm down enough to get the crosshairs lined up. The shot went off and I saw the bullet smack the dirt directly between us, 5 feet off of where it was supposed to go. In my haste, I didn't account for the wind.

Colorful language ensued.

I’m hopeful this scenario replays itself for all of us,, but with a better outcome. As we all gather our gear, make that final trip to range, plan our hunts, research public land, block management areas or look for access to friendly ranches and farms, Montanans are partaking in more than just hunting.
Our economic engine gets a lot of juice from hunters. The money we spend in preparation of the hunt and during the hunt help local economies thrive even during down economic times. The threats to not only our traditions, but the very lands we rely on for our winter’s meat are many. Forces aligned to take away long seasons, abundant wildlife and ample opportunity never sleep.

While we all enjoy the next five weeks, remember that your opportunity doesn't come just during hunting season. We all have to stand up and fight for wildlife and for our ability to harvest it.

Good hunting! 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Kicked out, Shut Down & Sold Out

The Government is shutdown, Yellowstone and Glacier are closed for business, costing local businesses much needed revenue during the fall season. Archery hunters in the CMR have had to pick up and get out. Federal Fishing Access Sites along Fort Peck, the Bighorn River and Missouri are closed. Forest Service campgrounds sit empty as hunters pack up and move on. Nobody knows when it will end and it doesn’t look like congress has a plan to get us back to normal before pheasant opener on the 12thThe petty politics of Washington DC are throwing an unneeded monkey wrench into Montana’s hunting season.


But while everyone is focused on the Continuing Resolution or whatever manufactured crisis comes up next, the House Natural Resource Committee continues to push full steam ahead.


Yesterday, the committee had a hearing on the North Fork Protection Act from Montana’s own Congressman Steve Daines.  The bill is widely hailed by the logging industry, mineral companies and the conservation community as a testament to people working together to find common sense solutions based on input from folks who live and play in the areas under consideration. It’s the product of years of hard work by a lot of good folks who want to ensure that the North Fork of the Flathead remains wild and brawling. We support that bill, and Congressman Daine’s actions to protect the North Fork.


At the same hearing, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) got a hearing on his bill, HR 2657, Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013 which would sell off about 3.3 million acres of public land in a huge swath of western states, Montana included. Chaffetz and others argue that this public land holds no value. Basing his bill off of an outdated 1997 survey of public lands, Chaffetz would eliminate some prime hunting ground, selling it off to the highest bidder. Cloaking his bill in the banner of “the children,”Chaffetz during his testimony said that there’s really no other way to raise revenue for schools. Apparently, Congressman Chaffetz doesn’t understand how local governments work.


There have always been short-sighted individuals who think of public land as a curse. These folks usually wrap themselves in the cloak of economic development and limited Government. The reality is this: Public Lands in the west are huge economic drivers and revenue generators. Eliminating 3.3 million acres of public land, an area the size of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks combined, isn’t good governance, it’s poor economic planning. It’s also the top down, limited input type of legislation that always has significant problems with it in the off chance it actually gets implemented.


In a political world where most every move is scripted, thehighly dubious effort to hold a hearing on a controversial bill like this while the entire nation worries about how the shutdown will affect them shows to us that maybe the committee is in fact trying to slip this through unnoticed. Well, we noticed.


There hasn’t been a vote yet, and as Montana’s Congressman sits on the Committee, we’ll be keeping a keen eye on this bill to make sure the interests of public land hunters, anglers and the small businesses that rely on our revenue are taken in to account.


If you want to contact Congressman Daines and thank him for his work on the North Fork Protection Act and ask him to oppose HR 2567, you can contact him here:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Sweet Spot

I haven’t anticipated a duck season like this since I was a kid. I’ve got a serious case of duck fever.  Thanks to the conservation ethic of America’s hunters, the prairies are full of birds.  Slightly down from last year but the second best numbers since they started counting in 1955, at 45.6 million ducks, there will be plenty of opportunity.  I have freshened up both my goose and duck spreads with some finely crafted birds. 

 First, Final Approach has come out with some flocked head, flocked tailed, full body field honkers that look dead sexy.  They have aptly named them Last Pass. .  

If you hunt waterfowl and you haven’t heard of Hard Core decoys, put it on the list.  High quality, guaranteed paint, and damned affordable; I picked up a half dozen of their field dekes as well as their pre-rigged floaters.  The idea of a complete system straight out of the box is perfect for me.  With young kids, time is at a premium and I already spend more time away from home than my wife can tolerate.  Being able to put them together in literally 10 minutes is just up this young father’s alley.  I can’t wait to try all sorts of placement schemes and trick me some quackers.  

This year I’m going to be dry, warm, and comfortable.  Sitka Gear came out with a waterfowl line in January 2012 that is changing waterfowl clothing as we know it.  Just pick up any outdoors catalog to see some of the copycats.  Sitka has technical gear that isn’t bulky but keeps the elements out.  I’m most excited about their Pantanal Jacket and Duck Oven.  They crafted their waterfowl camo pattern on what a duck would see, not you and I, a duck.  That’s the prey, right? 

So all this new kickass gear and reports of thunderous -flocks are exciting but not ultimately what makes my heart quicken.  My-five-year old daughter Cidney has been interested in birds since I started bringing them home.  She has stood by my side, handing me birds to clean and watching me clean them since she was one.

 Last year, she asked if she could do more.  I thought for a minute and then showed her how to breast a bird out…it took a couple tries but after she finished that brace of birds that night, she was a pro. Now, she cleans birds better than most of my friends.  No qualms!  Soon I will teach her how to use a knife.  We spent one day in the marsh last year.  It was a sunny mid-day hunt, not ideal for harvesting but good for her first hunt.  We got all camoed up and headed to one of my favorite spots close to town.  She helped me set dekes and she tried her hand at blowing her pink DU duck call.  While she isn’t a world champion caller yet, she was an enthusiastic guster.  We will work on her feeding call.  About a half hour in we heard a truck pull up across the river about a half mile downstream.  We watched what appeared to be a grandfather and his grandson get out with loads of spinning tackle.  Hard to blame them as it was a sunny fall afternoon. With all the racket Cid was making and a dozen and a half decoys in the water, I was surprised when they walked right up on us.  It was time to go.  I got out and started picking up dekes when the grandfather said, “Oh we didn’t see you there, didn’t realize you could duck hunt this time of year.
As I put the last decoy in the bag, two drake mallards almost landed on my head!  Not our day. On the way back to the truck Cid asked, “Why did we have to leave dad?”  I thought for a second and then responded, “Cid, we will hunt again. It’s best to share the river with others and today, it was that grandfather’s time with his grandson.”  This seemed to appease her.  And you know what, this little girl and I will get ours this year. 

We have made a pact to hunt every Sunday, some good ol’ fashioned daddy/daughter time.  She will see her beloved Turk retrieve some wily waterfowl and all will be right.  This is what I most anticipate about hunting this year. This is what takes over my brain and gives me the fever a lot more than the gear or the birds themselves. Building the love of hunting in my daughter just as my father built it in me is the finest gift I can give her.  It’s the sweet spot.