Friday, December 19, 2014

No Dumping

By Kit Fischer

Every hunter has heard the old mantra “the real work begins after you shoot an animal”.  Even after your critter is hauled back to your truck, hung in your garage, butchered and packaged, the job isn’t completely finished.  What about all the meat trimmings, bones, hide and skull?  While it’s tempting to toss it in the alley and hope for the best, most folks recognize that open, rotting meat in an urban location is not ideal.  This often results in folks tossing their game carcass in the back of the pickup the next time they head up in the woods for easy disposal.

8 days ago.  I was headed up Pattee Canyon to get a Christmas tree.  A new dusting of snow has created a winter wonderland.  A dozen or so cars are parked along various turnouts – some walking dogs, others with saws in hand and family in tow, searching for the perfect Christmas tree.  Norman Maclean couldn't have written  a more Montana  scene—except for the blood spattered road and  carcasses.

 The dumping of game carcasses along county and Forest Service roads and in front of locked gates doesn’t exactly ring of Christmas cheer.  Not only is dumping your big game carcass on state and federal lands usually illegal, it’s ugly and it’s irresponsible. Here are the FWP regs related to carcass disposal:

Not only do ill-placed carcasses attract scavengers to places they shouldn’t be, that illegal dumping also stains the image of hunters. 

I, and for that fact, most Montanans whether you hunt or not don’t like to have to tip-toe around deer carcasses when I go out looking for a Christmas tree on the outskirts of town.  Not to mention, carcasses pose serious health risks, especially if they are placed near a stream or waterway.  The third issue with dumping carcasses willy-nilly is that you could be facilitating the transmission of a disease from one area of the state to another.  And who wants that on their conscience?

So what’s the easiest solution? 

1.       Bone out your critter in the field.
2.       Get a sweet new pair of gloves for your big game hide from Pacific Recycling
3.       Chop your bones to snack size and give them to your pooch for Christmas.

4.       Toss them in your garbage can or run it up to the landfill (preferably the day before pickup to avoid nosy scavengers) 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Giving Thanks

 I didn’t bag a buck or a bull this year and apart from a young pronghorn buck who was kind enough to succumb to my 30-06, my freezer is empty, but I have a lot of thanks to give this holiday season.
Most importantly, thanks go out to Senator Jon Tester, Senator John Walsh and Congressman Steve Daines for their hard work and dedication to advance Made in Montana bills like the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the North Fork Preservation Act.

These bills, along with a number of other good (and a few not so good) provisions were included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 this week. That bill funds our nation’s defense, and it’s passed every year for over 50 years, so even in the most dysfunctional congress in memory, the likelihood of passage is as high as any other bill. It’s not a done deal, but it’s damned close. In fact, as I was writing this, the bill passed the House and is now on it's way to the Senate. 

Both the Front and the North Fork bills have wide support across Montana. Sure a few extremists on either side of the issue don’t like it but these bills gained the support of our entire delegation because they are locally supported collaborative bills that engaged working Montanans, rancher, hunters and anglers and small businesses across the state from the get-go.  

More importantly, it’s a good sign that our delegation will work together in the next congress to address other critical conservation issues like the Land and Water Conservation Fund Re-authorization and hopefully the Forst Jobs and Recreation Act as well.

I spent 6 years working on the Front legislation with a host of other great people. Here’s what I learned: When people put aside their ideological differences and focus on a common goal, rooted in the possibility of actually protecting something everyone loves, the end product is strong enough to withstand the vagaries of congress, the slings and arrows of detractors and the poorly considered opinions of critics who didn’t engage in drafting the bill to begin with.

A mighty tip of our Stormy Kromer to our delegation for fighting for what’s right, and working to get these two critical bills over the finish line before the end of December.

What those bills do: 

Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act: 
The bill would create about 60,000 acres of new wilderness in the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness complex. It would further designate about 200,000 acres as a Conservation Management Area where existing uses like hunting ,grazing and current travel regimes would become the law of the land. The CMA is a new designation and one that was drafted specifically to ensure that the habitat remains in good shape, while providing the certainty that livestock operators need to keep their leases, some of which date back to before the establishment of the Forest Service. This bill was crafted by the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front and is endorsed by dozens of local sporting groups, businesses and folks who live in Montana.

North Fork Protection Act:
The NFPA would take away the ability to drill for oil and gas along the North Fork of the Flathead River. While there remains much debate about the amount of recoverable gas along the North Fork, some poorly planned development could come along and destroy one of Montana’s crown jewels in the Crown of the Continent. Backed by major oil and gas companies, sportsmen, conservationists and a host of politicians from both parties, the North Fork Protection Act is an important step in ensuring the North Fork always remain wild and free.

Thanks, Congressman Daines, Senator Tester & Senator Walsh for your willingness to work for all Montanans, and to advance good ideas even when the going gets tough. 

We would be remiss to point out that not all that glitters is gold in this bill. In order to get the Montana bills as well as some bills for New Mexico and Colorado, compromises were made that we're holding our nose on. However, we're not willing to let perfect be the enemy of good, and while those provisions are problematic and difficult to allow movement forward, it is important to recognize the hard work the delegation did in order to get Congress to actually do something with net positive gain for hunters, anglers, wildlife and most importantly, wild country. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Montana’s Outdoor Hall of Fame

Montana’s rich outdoor legacy is no mistake. It’s the by-product of hard work, dedication and vision. Our territorial legislators knew that unregulated hunting and fishing were stripping our land. Our state legislators protected thousands of acres as Game Preserves long before the word Wilderness was ingrained in our psyche. Citizens led efforts to protect wildlife from slaughter, to protect our shared landscapes from unmitigated destruction and to ensure that every generation following had the same opportunity to hunt, fish and hike that our forefathers did.

On Saturday, December 6th at 6:00 PM in the Great Northern Hotel in Helena, a banquet will be held to induct the first class of inductees. You can find out more about the banquet here:

We owe the inaugural class of inductees a collective tip of our Stormy Kromers, a hearty handshake and a well deserved thanks (along with maybe a libation or two). Without folks like these, we would not have the world class hunting and fishing, or the access to those critters and public lands and waters, that we do today.

There's one person, however, who is not on this list and should be: Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame organizer and architect Jim Posewitz. Jim's dedication to Montana's wildlife, wild country and hunters and anglers is legendary in it's own right. We hope to see Jim's name in the Hall in upcoming classes. Well done, Mr. Posewitz!
Here’s the inaugural class:

Granville Stuart , 1834-1918
Granville Stuart came to Montana when it was still a territory in 1857 and noted the flourishing wildlife populations. Within a few years, the wildlife plummeted, and Stuart was instrumental in getting the hunting laws passed in the First Territorial Legislature.
Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919
President Theodore Roosevelt set aside 230 million acres for conservation and created the national forest system. While Roosevelt did not spend a great deal of time in Montana, a bison hunt in 1883 among the slaughtered herds is often pointed to as a turning point in his life, leading to the conservation movement.
Charles M. Russell 1864-1926
Artist Charles M. Russell was famous for his western scenes that displayed and at times lamented the loss of wildness. “Civilization is nature’s worst enemy. All things vanish when she comes,” Russell said.
Lee Metcalf 1911-1978
Sen. Lee Metcalf, born in Stevensville, was a key figure in the creation and passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and his legacy includes sponsoring or writing the Clean Air Act of 1963, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1964, the Water Quality Act of 1965 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
Don Alrich 1912-1990
Born in Deer Lodge in 1912, Don Aldrich went on to lead the Western Montana Fish and Game Association and the Montana Wildlife Federation. He advocated for conservation from local to national levels, and had a hand in almost every wildlife, water, wilderness and mining issue from the 1950s until his death in 1990.
Bud Moore 1917-2010
Bud Moore changed the face of the U.S. Forest Service, advocating for wilderness and as a district ranger in Idaho, famously turning back a bulldozer that came to build a road through what would become the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. He became the chief of fire management for the Forest Service’s northern region, shaping the philosophy from one of fire suppression to recognizing fire’s ecological role in nature.
Thurman Trosper 1918-2007
Ronan native Thurman Trosper played an important role as a wilderness and conservation advocate in the Forest Service, the Wilderness Society and within the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. He became one of the first Native Americans to serve as a manager in the Forest Service but may be best known for his advocacy of the eventual Mission Mountain Wilderness on the Flathead Reservation.
Doris Milner 1920-2007
Doris Milner spent 40 years as an advocate for wilderness after moving to Hamilton in 1951. First inspired by the threat of a timber sale along the Selway River in the Magruder Corridor, she went on to join Idaho Sen. Frank Church and Montana Sen. Lee Metcalf in expanding the wilderness to include the corridor and designating the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Cecil Garland 1925-2014
Lincoln resident Cecil Garland worked for decades to see the 240,000-acre designation of the Scapegoat Wilderness. He pledged to protect the country he loved as one of the founders of the Lincoln Back Country Protective Association, which caused boycotts of his store in Lincoln. Despite pressure from the timber industry, Garland and others pushed as citizen advocates and saw the land protected in 1972.
Gerry Jennings 1940-
Gerry Jennings of Great Falls has been an active volunteer in the Montana Wilderness Association since the early 1990s. She has played a major role in shaping the present-day focus of wilderness advocacy in the state, serving in leadership positions for 12 years.
Ron Marcoux 1942-
Helena resident Ron Marcoux spent 22 years with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, steering the fisheries division away from constant stocking of hatchery fish to developing wildly reproducing fisheries. He and others encountered plenty of resistance to the idea, but after proven successes, FWP adopted the policy statewide. Marcoux also spent a decade as associate director and deputy director with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, developing its land acquisition, conservation easement and land donation programs.
Chris Marchion 1952-
Chris Marchion became an officer of the Anaconda Sportsmen Club in 1985, still serving as vice president today. With nearly three decades of conservation advocacy, he has worked on projects ranging from mining settlements on the Clark Fork River, formation of the Mount Haggin Game Range, the elimination of game farm hunting and drafting the Bighorn Sheep auction legislation, which has raised millions of dollars for bighorn conservation in the state.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Who We Are

By Mark Olson

Since our founding, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers (HHA) has held Aldo Leopold in high regard.  His writings concerning issues such as a land ethic, wildlife management and sportsmanship  has guided HHA as we strive to fulfill our mission.  Our newsletter was even called “The Leopoldian”.  But what does it mean to be a Leopoldian?  How are we different from other hunters and anglers out there?  What are our core beliefs?  What follows is a quick sketch of two of the core ideas of a Leopoldian and how they relate to the Mission of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers.


     Leopold writes, “ a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise”.  This forms the basic premise of a land ethic.  For a Leopoldian, every piece and part of the natural system is equally important and necessary to the proper functioning of the ecosystem. We may not understand or like certain parts but that does not diminish their role in the system.  Whether game animals or non game species; predators or scavengers; soil microbes or a ponderosa pine - all are necessary parts of their biotic community.  Leopold says it best:

     The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant:
     ‘What good is it?‘  If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every
     part is good, whether we understand it or not.  If the biota, in the course
     of aeons, has build something we like but do not understand, then who
     but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts?  to keep every cog and
     wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

     In this view, homo sapiens are no longer viewed as superior or separate from the rest of the biotic community.  We are no longer the conquerors of nature but fellow members of it.  A leopoldian includes soil, water, plant, and animals in his definition of community and so has a deep respects for all the other (non Human)  members of the community. 

     One key aspect of HHA’s mission is to conserve wildlife and wild places.  From a Leopoldian standpoint you cannot have one without the other.  Our efforts to conserve wild places in effect conserve wildlife and vice-versa.  Wild places are essential to the health and long term survival of all wildlife.  They need places to roam away from the human dominated landscape.  HHA strives to help protect critical habitat for game and predator species and hopefully everything below them on the land pyramid.  HHA comments on everything from forest travel plans, to land acquisitions, roadless designation, and public access.

     In regards to wildlife management, HHA takes a balanced long term approach. We seek to conserve all wildlife -- both game and non game species; predators to scavengers.  Every piece has a role to play in the health of the landscape and is necessary to the functioning of the whole.  This may occasionally put us at odds with those who think there should be fewer or no predators and also with those who think we shouldn’t manage predators.  But with a view to towards the sustainability and long term survival of the system we are protecting the game when we protect the predator.  Leopold says it best:

     You cannot love game and hate the predator... The land is one organism.        
     Its parts compete with each other and cooperate with each other.  The
     Competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the cooperations. 
     You can regulate them - cautiously, but not abolish them.


     Leopold defines sportsmanship as ethical restraints.  “Voluntary limitations in the use of armaments.  Its aim is to augment the role of skill and shrink the role of gadgets in the pursuit of wild things.”  This type of sportsmanship is key to HHA’s mission to conserve our fair chase hunting and fishing heritage.  Skill and preparedness; respect and right choices; woodcraft and marksmanship are held in higher regard than gadgets and other aides to help overcome the rigors of the wild.  The “go light “and “one bullet one critter” philosophy are American Traditions stemming from our early history of exploration and pioneering.  Going light means taking only what you need because a lot of stuff just gets in the way of our experience with wild things and places.  Having skills in outdoor living and travel is ultimately safer and instills in ourselves and our children a sense of self-respect and self-reliance. 

     HHA works to protect this ethical tradition through education, outreach, partnerships, and youth camps.  We actively work to recruit new hunters into the fold and to help lead them on the way to good choices.  Because every hunter must learn the hard lessons for themselves --  through trial and error, on their own, with their conscience as their guide.  Leopold should have the last word on this as well:

     Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one is watching -- even when doing the wrong thing is legal.   



Friday, November 14, 2014

Go Easy on the Brussels Sprouts

What kind of flies are these? They look so realistic. I showed the vial to Kevin, who scowled like I was offering him a roadkill sandwich.

Houseflies, he said returning his attention to his ice hole. You should clean out your tackle box once in a while.

It was, of course, a leftover container of maggots from the last ice fishing trip of the previous winter. Maggots grow up to be houseflies. My ice fishing gear was in shambles, but at least I was physically prepared for the rigors of ice fishing. Allow me to share some tips for getting yourself into shape for the upcoming season.

Your preseason conditioning regimen will depend on the style of ice fishing you prefer. If you fish from the relative comfort of a collapsible ice shelter, you should start eating a lot of carrots. They are rich in beta-carotene (I know, right?), which has been shown to help with night vision. Obviously, you have to keep it pitch dark inside the shelter in order to see the maggot squirming deep in your ice hole. I would recommend increasing your carrot intake until your skin begins to turn orange, then back it off a couple of carrots.

 It can get mighty intense for a man, staring down his hole all day.
Youll probably be spending several hours sitting on the hard plastic of an upturned five-gallon bucket, so you want to make sure you have any hemorrhoid or colo-rectal issues under control before you hit the ice. Also, even if you have buns of steel, your ass will go to sleep if you sit in the same position for longer than one beer. Its a good idea to stand up every 20 minutes or so and clench your butt cheeks together several times. Clench, relax. Clench, relax. Just make sure you inform your fellow fishermen what youre doing so they dont get the wrong idea.

If youre fishing inside a shelter, do your buddies a favor and go easy on the Brussels sprouts, beans and other gas-producing foods. Itll probably be too cold to leave a flap open for ventilation, and you want to be invited back. Remember, if you let one rip while youre sitting on a plastic bucket, there will be no doubt as to who dealt it. And if the propane heater is on? The burns resulting from an anal flareup could be hard to explain in the ER.

 Q: How many ice fishermen does it take to drill a hole? A: Pass the whiskey 
You might prefer to fish outside, especially if its a bluebird day, and your friend Kevin who owns the shelter got in trouble with his wife and cannot go to the lake with you. Some core strengthening may be in order to facilitate a quick recovery when the edge of your bucket punches through the snow crust, spilling you onto your back and providing some wonderful entertainment for your companions. You know what they say: you have to get right back on that horse and get your eyeballs on that maggot.

One last thing to keep in mind for your ice fishing conditioning is the ability to imbibe in the morning and not be asleep by dinner time. Start training now by adding a shot of whiskey to your coffee every day, and soon youll be in tip top drinking shape, ready for another winter full of exciting times pulling trout and salmon through the ice at your favorite lake. Ah, who are we kidding. Weve been training for that since 1983.

 Just to be clear, this is the fish, not the bait. Pass the whiskey.

Bob Wire writes words and plays music in Missoula, Montana. This father of two teenage redheads spends much of his time working frantically to keep up with his kids, but is usually a step or two behind. Fortunately his long-suffering wife keeps an eye on the ball and knows where everything is.
Bob’s blog, “Bob Wire Has a Point (It’s Under His Cowboy Hat),” runs weekly at He writes with no holds barred from his unique perspective as a beer-swilling, guitar-slinging, road-tripping, fly-fishing, meeting-skipping, freelancing, dinner-cooking bigmouth. Sports, politics, drinking, Missoula culture, education, music, the outdoors, the indoors, travel, drinking—Bob spouts off on all that and more.
His blogs have been anthologized into a series of eBooks, The Bob Wire Chronicles, which are available for download at
For more information:

Friday, October 31, 2014

The British are Coming!

Well, He's come and gone, actually.

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

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

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

He was set but would he connect?

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

The true bird hunting paradise

By Nick Gevock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Map it Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the Sportsman's Atlas here:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Otter Attack at the Pond

By Bob Ralph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a tetanus shot and stitches I headed home. 

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

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

By: Grant Alban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sending in the Cavalry

In case you missed it, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, arguably one of the most respected hunting organizations in the United States,issued a strong statement against the sale and transfer of public lands. This is a big deal for several reasons, not the least of which is that David Allen, CEO of the Elk Foundation, is taking a stand where a lot of other single species oriented, big money groups refuse to go: Supporting the public land hunter.

To be sure, there are many groups who have been fighting this fight for a long while now. Hellgate Hunters & Anglers, The Montana Wildlife Federation and the Montana Bowhunters were the first groups to stand up during the interim and say that the concept of transfer would lead to more taxes and less access. Those organizations are usually on point when it comes to protecting our public lands and they deserve our gratitude and our membership.

But so does the Elk Foundation. Few organizations in the U.S. have as much clout or standing among those of us who hunt and love public lands as the Elk Foundation. For a large and politically wary group like RMEF to be as publicly opposed to the poorly thought out transfer concept is a break from the usual, quiet, way they do business.

There will be those who take swipes at RMEF for standing up for the vast majority of elk hunters. Winston Chuchill once said “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up  for something, sometime in your life.” 

We’re proud to stand up with RMEF and oppose this land transfer. The harsh reality is that the concept is being proposed by out-of-state special interest groups who want to take your land and give it away. It’s being proposed by the same people who have stood up and yelled at the top of their lungs that “The state can’t manage what it has now and needs to get rid of land before buying more.”

It’s a lie wrapped up in the American Flag and served with a side of apple pie. But it’s still a lie. The truth is that the state cannot afford to add 31 million acres of public lands to the management duties of state government without significantly increased how much money we spend. That means the taxpayer of Montana would now pick up the $360 million a year bill to manage these lands with no guarantee of access or multiple use management that respects the needs of hunters, anglers and wildlife.

For every westerner and every Montanan, the concept should represent everything that’s wrong with the real issues surrounding public lands management. We need more collaboration and less divisiveness.
We need more groups like RMEF to stand up and be counted when it comes to opposing this poorly thought out land grab.

Well done, RMEF. Who’s next? 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wilderness: The Crown Jewel of the Treasure State

By Nick Gevock

Imagine Montana without the Bob Marshall Wilderness, or as most Montanans simply call it  “The Bob.”

Think of the Treasure State without the Absaroka-Beartooth, Anaconda-Pintler or Lee Metcalf Wilderness areas. Throw in those smaller gems –like the Rattlesnake, where an elk tag can be filled within sight of Downtown Missoula. . It was five decades ago this month that Congress had the foresight to pass the Wilderness Act. Today we look back and see how blessed we are that people of all political stripes did the hard work to set aside some of our country’s most spectacular places; we see the wisdom inherent in the passage of the act.

One only has to look at other areas of federal or state lands that are heavily roaded, logged, drilled, mined and otherwise disturbed by man. That is not to say that every piece of public land should be wilderness. Nor is it a call to end natural resource development on public lands.

In fact, there are many places where some sound timber management is warranted, and where energy development can be done responsibly.

But the fact is, there are other places in Montana that are best suited for wilderness protection. They’re places that still maintain the untouched character of wildness that the Act described so eloquently. They’ve been studied, and studied, and from a landscape analysis perspective the highest and best use is as wilderness.

That offers the protection that allows wildlife to thrive. It allows streams to continue to provide cold, clean water for fish and to supply drinking water for our homes and towns Wilderness provides places for hunters, anglers, hikers, horseback riders, wildlife watchers, skiers and anybody else who wants a bit of relief from the modern world. Anybody with a pair of boots and will to walk a little bit can experience Wilderness.
Just the language in the Act itself is inspiring. Places that are “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” That well describes the Bob, where people hike and horseback ride in summer but for much of the year is free of human intervention.

Of course like anything with public lands there are people who say we have enough wilderness and don’t need more. Others say you can’t get into a wilderness because no roads go into them.

But even those people benefit from wilderness areas. Hunters who spend their days afield on the national forests are often pursuing game that came out of these high mountain areas. Anglers that enjoy  our world-class fisheries as well as the irrigators that produce our alfalfa, corn and barley  rely on the water pumped into our rivers by clean mountain streams. And for others, getting the watch the wildlife that comes out of those mountains every year is a special reward – and a call to protect these natural places that make Montana such a destination for people from around the world. It’s been over three decades since we designated a wilderness area in Montana. 

The areas we’re working on now, including the Rocky Mountain Front and some lands in western Montana, are controversial, but worth the effort to protect. Montanans have strong legacy of standing up for Wilderness and protecting important public lands. While the politics of Wilderness designation has deteriorated, the spirit, drive and determination of Montanans of all walks of life has only grown stronger. It’s time for Congress to act and pass the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, Forest Jobs & Recreation, and the North Fork Protection Act. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Finding Fish in a Changing World

By Hellgate Hunters & Anglers Board member Josh Conner

Montana is a state known for its abundance of pristine river systems.  With thousands of miles of winding rivers, creeks and streams, it is a fisherman’s paradise.  From Cutthroat fishing in cold water cobblestone creeks, to hunting big browns in the slow moving waters of the Missouri, there is something to satisfy even the pickiest of anglers. 

I’ve fished the rivers in Montana for over 30 years and these diverse offerings have kept me passionate in the sport my entire life.  I could travel in any direction and find something new and different; rising rainbows in the soft waters of the Clark Fork, elusive brown trout hiding under the banks of the Bitterroot.  I can swing a streamer for that opportunistic monster in the Blackfoot, or present that perfect drifting dry fly to that picky surface sipper of the Yellowstone.  The opportunity appears to be endless, but these productive fisheries in Montana haven’t magically appeared. We worked for them. 

Our river systems have faced several challenges over the years:  Logging, habitat degradation, mining, and dams have historically been devastating to the local rivers and fish populations.  As of recently, nonnative fish introduction, invasive aquatic plant life, and warming water due to climate change stress these fragile river ecosystems.  The question is how much impact do these things have on fish populations, and are the fish able to cope with such drastic changes within their environment?  Although the answer is uncertain, one thing is for sure, the sport of fishing in Montana is changing.

I recently did an overnight float trip on the lower Clark Fork, which in 2009 overcame its own obstacles with the removal of the Milltown Dam. I found myself surrounded by fish diversity.  I set up camp on a small rock bar between a slough and the main channel.  In the main river to my right I could see a pod of rainbows sipping small dry flies from the surface.  I almost reached for my dry fly rod when I looked to my left over the slough.  

There was a group of Northern Pike lurking toward the middle of the glassy water.  The smallest was about 25 inches, and the largest topping over 35 inches.  Before I could choose between streamer rod and dry fly rod, something else caught my attention.  I noticed a large shadow lurking up the bank of the slough toward me.  It didn’t take long before I could make out the large red stripe down its side.  I picked up the nymph rod and put my nymph just ahead of the fish and could tell it was immediately interested. 

My line pulled tight.  The surface of the water broke as the fish exploded up the slough. Just as soon as he was there, he was gone, my tippet broken.  After a five minute timeout, and regaining some confidence, I tried my luck again for another red-banded beast. I casted blindly up the middle of the slough, and it didn’t take long to hook another good fish.  This time I was ready, and I horsed the 20 inch fish around a log and into my net.  I caught two or three more of these slough rainbows, and decided to try my luck for something a bit larger.  I put on a simple streamer, articulated in the middle, fleshy in color with no weight, and tossed it out into the middle.  A couple slow strips later and smack, I hooked into a nice Northern Pike.  It immediately came out of the water, dancing across the surface before it darted toward the back of the slough.  It carved my line through the water as it sped from one bank to the other, winding and weaving its way through patchy weed beds, and rolling violently on the bottom.  Finally I was able to land the fish which measured just over 25 inches.  I couldn’t hold back the smile on my face.  I ended up spending most of the day switching rods between explosive rainbows, aggressive pike, and the occasional rising cutthroat.  I was in fish heaven, dabbling into different species with different techniques of fishing.

It was on this trip when I realized what true fishing is about.  Taking what is given to me and figuring out how to overcome it.  This is easier said than done.  The challenges to be a successful fisherman extend beyond a good presentation of the fly.  Trying to locate the fish can sometimes be the biggest challenge. Fish have learned to avoid making themselves vulnerable.  Placing themselves in harder to reach areas of the river, and feeding at night are adaptations I think fish are inheriting in response to added fishing pressures.  Rising air and water temperatures are forcing fish to find cooler water, which means they are spending more time in deeper pools where a nine foot leader isn’t long enough to reach them.   Learning about these changes will give us a deeper understanding of fish behavior, and help us as fisherman overcome the challenges of a changing environment.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

          Today we face an entirely new set of challenges in our rivers, the introduction of nonnative fish species.   What’s a fisherman to do when having more fish in the river is actually a bad thing?  It becomes a problem when the nonnative fish species out-compete the native species, forcing them to relocate in areas less suitable for their needs.  It’s obvious which species aren’t going to be a good fit for the ecosystem.  

         Northern Pike are a prime example.  Often refered to as water wolves, Pike are the true hunters that can eat almost anything that crosses their path. But is there a place for them in the rivers?  What about other nonnative fish species that anglers covet?

         Rainbows and Brown trout are not native to Montana (Except for the Red-Band Rainbow in the Kootenai), yet they hold a higher value to some anglers than even a native species like the cutthroat.  The biggest problem with Rainbows is cross breeding with Cutthroat Trout and eliminating the pure strain of the Cutthroat species.  Montana has used fish-kill techniques for decades trying to eradicate the Rainbows and prevent them from hybridizing with native species.  I understand the importance of this especially in the upper headwaters of river systems where Cutthroat and Bull Trout populations continue to thrive in their natural pristine environment and don’t have to compete with nonnative fish. 

         We must continue to pay special attention to the river systems we can still influence without killing fish, and the ones that hold critical habitat for threatened species like the Bull Trout.  Fish are amazing creatures.  The more I learn about them, the more I admire them.  They can migrate hundreds of miles to spawn, swimming under log jams, through raging whitewater, and over hydroelectric dams.  They can survive the harsh Montana winters, and escape the relentless flows of runoff. 

         Fish are at the top of the menu for many predators, including being cannibalized by their own kind.  They can determine a meal the size of a grain of sand, and deny my #22 mayfly displayed perfectly in front of them.  This is one aspect of fishing that has never changed for me and remains the biggest challenge for any body of water around the world.  It doesn’t matter where I go or what I’m fishing for, I will always need some level of experience or knowledge to catch that one fish we’ve all been searching for. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This Land is Your Land

It doesn't matter if it’s the Supper Club in Shelby, The Pony Bar in the shadow of the Tobacco Roots or the Bison in Miles City: Bitching and stitching about public land management is just as much fun as bingo night. That’s a good thing, by the way. It means people care about how our shared American birthright is managed. It means we all take ownership over how these lands will be left for future generations. It’s best example of democracy in action that we have in modern America.

That estate, from the West Pioneers in the Big Hole of Southwestern Montana to the wild Frenchman’s Coulee in the northeastern corner of the state belongs to us, the American people. For over 100 years, the guiding principle that the land must be used for the greatest good for the greatest number of people has stood the test of time.

Until recently.

The barroom brawls over wilderness, logging and whether or not roadless actually means exponentially better elk hunting are growing again. Out-of-state interests, primarily from Utah, are infiltrating the way that Montanans manage lands. For the last decade, conservationists and timber interests, ranchers, wilderness outfitters and many, many more have been able to put aside the things they disagree on and work to find solutions on mutual problems. That’s where we ended up with the North Fork Protection Act, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the Forest Jobs & Recreation Act: Communities working together despite ourselves to find common ground.
Here’s what we’re up against:

Transfer of Public Lands: This idea is a rebirth of the old Sagebrush Rebellion, led by a huckster named Ken Ivory out of Utah. His efforts to eliminate Public Land have garnered the attention of the Salt Lake City press corps. The reality of this boondoggle is laid out well by the Billings Gazette Editorial Board: More taxes, less access.  

Sale of Public Lands: Both Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Paul Ryan have been working overtime to force the sale of your public lands. Cruz helped defeat the Bipartisan Sportsman’s Act with a poison pill amendment that would have forced states with more than 50% of their land base in public hands to be sold. Since he’s from Texas, I suppose we shouldn’t expect him to understand what a morning sunrise over Crown Mountain while elk bugle is like. Representative Ryan is an avowed archery hunter, but given his penchant for food plots and private land, I doubt he knows what it’s like to walk into wild country with nothing but your wits and a rifle on your back. His “Path to Prosperity” budget featured the sale of public lands.

Land & Water Conservation Fund: Montanans have used LWCF for 50 years. 70% of our fishing access sites are paid for by this visionary fund. Elk have the room they need in the winter along the Rocky Mountain Front because of the LWCF. Congress has to pass a full funding and re-authorization bill by 2015 in order to ensure that our funding mechanism for access to public lands remains in place.

H.R. 1526: This bill shows a clear and present danger in terms of taking the public out of public lands. Using serial litigants as boogeymen to further the agenda of eliminating protections for elk & deer, the House of Representatives have voted to create Top-Down panels that will manage our public lands based on politics rather than science. The bill would establish politically appointed “Boards of Trustees” to manage “Forest Revenue Areas.” In Montana, that could be as much as 14 million acres of Roadless Areas that account for some of the best elk hunting in the state. Those Roadless Areas and Wilderness Study Areas are generally within 2-3 miles of a road and elk seek those dark, timbered slopes to escape road traffic and hunter traffic. The bill has not had one public hearing in Montana, despite a lot of valid concerns being raised. If the goal of public land management truly is getting more local control so the people who know the land can help manage it, then H.R. 1526 is the exact opposite of what people want when it comes to collaboration as it relates to land management.

What can you do?

Stand and be counted. Your voice is desperately needed at this rally. If our officials don’t hear from hundreds of hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, horsemen and lovers of public land of all stripes, then shame on us.
You can RSVP to the event so planners have a good estimate of what to expect here:

Buses are available from Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Missoula and Great Falls (click here to find out when and where).

We’re seeing bomber bulls, monster bucks and some freaky pronghorn hitting the dirt this archery season. Post your public land critter up on our facebook page and let’s show our officials what really matters to hunters and anglers. If we don’t stand up today, our children and their children will never hear an elk bugle in wild, public country.