Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When Anti-Hunters Attack

We’ve all been there. Someone finds out that you’re a hunter and you immediately find yourself on the receiving end of a raised eyebrow, a sarcastic comment, a cutting question or, even worse, name-calling and vicious verbal or written attacks. Despite efforts to offer background information and education, some of the attacks are getting bolder, more frequent, and much more abusive—especially when it comes to women.

Waller (left) and Montana
houndsman Ben Wohlers
at the site of an elk kill
Case in point is what happened to Jana Waller, a member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and popular host of the TV show Skull Bound. Waller went on a mountain lion hunt in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in February of 2014. Shortly after daybreak, her hunting party saw a lion run down a ridge. It turns out the big tom was just finishing off an elk kill. They released the hounds which eventually treed the lion on a very steep ridge. Upon arrival, she shot it with her bow at ten yards. 

After packing out the lion, Waller posted a few photos on her Facebook and Twitter pages. And that’s when it started—an avalanche of hate. 

“The comments come in all forms of insults and name-calling from attacking my skull business and personal attire to threats on my life and my family's lives,” said Waller. 

Waller deals with vile and harassing comments on social media by deleting and banning those who make them. Other people are much more aggressive. One man posted his intention leave his home, travel to Montana and kill her. Waller took action to deal with the physical threat. She grabbed a screen shot of her accuser, contacted Facebook and then called law enforcement.

“I had to get an attorney and the district attorney involved last year when a man from Oklahoma was continuing to harass and threaten me online. With the cooperation of the D.A., we sent this particular man a 'cease and desist' letter to end the harassment,” said Waller. “Many people don't understand that it's not very hard to track down a person hiding behind a computer. The FBI and other state agencies have the power to climb through cyberspace and get a lot of information about cyber bullies. In many cases, cyber harassment is often a federal offense and can be prosecuted if one wanted to go to that level. There are also many hunter harassment laws protecting us that can be used if the 'delete and ban' button doesn't stop the behavior.” 

Argys (left) and her husband
Charisa Argys, a Colorado native, watched her horror show play out on a worldwide stage. She, too, shot a mountain lion but an animal rights activist from Germany somehow got a hold of the photo. It eventually spread to dozens of Facebook pages and Internet sites belonging to international anti-hunting organizations. The floodgates opened with specific threats targeting her physical appearance, her life and her family. These were among the comments: 

“Let’s hunt her!”

“This ugly woman is an embarrassment and shame to all women around the world.”

“I hope she knows how much she’s hated. Male or female, I hope they all suffer horrible hunting accidents.”

“I have never been called so many horrible, hateful names in my life.” Argys told The Sportsmen’s Daily. “They even went as far as to post my full name, address and directions to my house.” 

“This has to stop! United we stand divided we fall! We have to get the word out we are under attack!” Argys recently wrote to RMEF. “The meat from this animal fed my family. I was lucky and harvested a large tom.”

See a Denver TV report about Charisa's experience here.

“It's been my experience that predator hunting is the most misunderstood of all hunting,” said Waller. “I'm not saying the anti-hunting community condones any type of hunting but the rude, nasty, ignorant comments come out in full force when sharing predator pictures such as lions, bears, wolves and coyotes.” 

That’s where the need for education comes into play. It’s obvious that there’s no educating or convincing extreme anti-hunters about why people hunt, the link between hunting and wildlife management or the connection between hunting and conservation. There needs to be at least a hint of desire to learn and understand for that to happen. There is, however, a vast segment of the population that is largely ignorant of the facts because they simply don’t know any better or they only act on or react to second-hand information. 

A recent study found that 79 percent of Americans strongly or moderately approve of hunting, marking the highest level of acceptance since research began in 1995, while only 12 percent strongly or moderately disapprove of hunting. Translation: most people think that hunting is okay. But if hunters want the masses to understand why they do what they do, it is up to hunters to provide that education.

Part of that education may include what some refer to as The Great Debate: Trophy Hunting Versus Meat Hunting. At least that’s the title of a recent article written by Argys. She spells out what happened to her, why she hunts and how she honors the animals she kills. She also seeks to reach a middle ground with those that may not understand how or why hunters hunt.

“Controlling predator populations is vitally important, and most hunters understand that importance,” wrote Argys. “I have seen many online comments saying we should just let nature take care of itself. Starvation and disease are the direct result of ‘letting nature take care of itself.’ This is a very slow and painful death for any animal; I would much rather see animals managed and thriving.”

Waller cites a specific study to highlight her reasons why she hunts lions.

“We have an overpopulation of lions in the Bitterroot and thanks to a new DNA type of testing they're doing on cats, Montana's Fish, Wildlife & Parks has just released their findings that the previous cat density numbers were estimated way lower than they now believe,” said Waller. “Not only did the three year elk study (funded by RMEF) show that our cat numbers are causing a significant impact on the elk populations but this new DNA testing is concurring that there are simply too many mountain lions in this area of Montana.” 

"No one would argue that cats are not beautiful, majestic creatures but they simply need to be managed like every other predator population,” Waller continued. “Another interesting fact many people don't know is that mountain lion meat is wonderful. It has the consistency of a pork chop and is simply wonderful on the grill.” 

A recent forum held at the Professional Outdoor Media Association conference in Tennessee offered some key considerations for members of the outdoor media, and hunters alike, in helping non-hunting folks create a connection with hunting. People’s attitudes change as they gain a direct experience with anything else—in this case it’s hunting. Key factors include:
  • Knowing a hunter
  • Eating wild meat
  • Locavore movement
  • Emphasizing social networks and mentoring
  • Separating poaching from legal or regulated hunting
  • 79% of Americans approve of hunting
  • 97% of hunters eat the meat
  • Hunting has a definite and measureable role with conservation
  • Species do not become endangered or extinct from legal, regulated hunting

“Hunters need to stand tall and proud for protecting our herds, habitats, flocks and hunting heritage,” said Waller. “I always recommend people educate themselves on the fact that Hunting IS Conservation and we hunters are the ones giving back every year to our wildlife. Through groups like the RMEF and other conservation-based organizations, through our license and tag purchases, through the Pittman Robertson Act and so on... there are more animals and habitat because of hunters and we need to celebrate that fact.” 

Steven Rinella (see video above) from the TV show MeatEater shows that patience and knowledge are the best way to offer education to those who misunderstand hunting. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The True Definition of Elk Hunting

"Elk hunting runs deep. Not that it's always fun, because it isn't. It's a contrast in superlatives, ranging from agony to euphoria, and it will stretch your sense and your senses to the limit. It raises you higher, drops you lower, deep into your body, mind, emotions and soul. You may like elk hunting, you may not, but you definitely won't forget it."

-Dwight Schuh, Game Country, 1989

Monday, April 7, 2014

Meeting the Visionaries Face-to-Face

I’ve had Charlie Decker and Bob Munson’s picture (The Visionaries by Larry Zabel) hanging on the wall of my den for the last six years. I feel like I know them, though until this weekend, we had never met.

Charlie is leaning with a knife over a fallen bull elk and Bob has his eye on another herd far across one of those beautiful high-mountain Montana valleys that you can only access by horseback. There is a handsome mule ground-tied and standing patiently in the background. She steals the show from the hunters and the elk in a manner that only those of us who love a good saddle mule can truly appreciate. 

I suppose I enjoy the print most because of that mule. Or perhaps it is the setting and the mood of camaraderie shown on the faces of the hunters that all remind me of why I hunt. Then again there is the hypnotic beauty of northern Montana where my daughter Maggie was born. She and I shared our first hunts together there near Kalispell as she quietly stared out in awe from her baby carrier through long walks in those forests.

I’ve donated a hunt to the Denver Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for seven years now and when I heard that Charlie and Bob would be attending the banquet I decided to take my print. They along with Dan Bull and Bill Munson founded the RMEF. It is amazing what has been accomplished over the last thirty years and I thought I might have a chance to have these two of the original founders take a minute to sign that work of art that they inspired. 

Deadwood’s own David Allen is president of the RMEF and also was in attendance. He shared a few stories about the struggles associated with founding an organization entirely on the backs and bank accounts of four individuals. They pooled their savings and mortgaged their houses and businesses for that first mailing of 43,000 brochures. It garnered them only 233 initial members. When the first copy of the foundation’s flag ship magazine, Bugle, came out, the quality was so low that they doubted that anyone would ever by it. At Saturday’s banquet, I saw a single signed copy of that initial magazine sell for over $300.00. 

Most inspiring is the scope of the RMEF’s success. They have enhanced or protected from development over a square mile of habitat for wildlife for every single day of the last thirty years. Thousands of volunteers have been inspired by the idea that we all might be able to leave something better for our children and the future. South Dakota alone has garnered $35.2 million in accumulated benefits in more than 215 individual projects to save and enhance our environment here at home.

This year’s Northern Hills Chapter banquet was the first I’ve missed in over twenty years, but three of my children were there and volunteered in my absence. My father was a volunteer. So many grandfathers have been inspired by the RMEF’s vision that it is now common for the grandchildren of members to receive a life membership as one of their first birthday gifts. The association’s commitment has over 90% of monies raised being used specifically for missions that enhance or protect wild places. 

As Charlie and Bob took time to sign the back of my painting, I was struck by their appreciation for all of the efforts of the more than 700 people who attended the auction and dinner in Denver. Because of the success of their dream, hunting, hunters, and the environment have a brighter future.

Bob Speirs is a columnist and proud RMEF member-outfitter from Sprearfish, South Dakota
Bob Munson (left) with Bob Speirs

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Obligation: Be the Best Hunter I Can Be

Have you ever entered a contest or drawing and wondered what happened to whoever was lucky enough to win? Below is such a true tale. We'll tag along with new RMEF Life Member Tim Lovern--from the day he received the lucky email in his in-box to his planned elk hunt this fall.

Tim Lovern on the practice range
The gear started arriving, and for a while, every day was like Christmas! I was floating on clouds. Life was beautiful! I was looking forward to each day and the package that would arrive. The delivery man was my personal Santa Claus. Then something interesting happened. Reality set in. I had been given something very special, something that carried a responsibility I had not foreseen.

Start of a Journey

It started with a small thing. It was an email, one of dozens I had gotten that day. Reading the subject line: “You won the Trembling Giant Sweepstakes." Great – more junk mail. Then I decided to open the message and see what the deal was. Evidently I had won some contest. It looked legitimate but the spammers are getting pretty clever. It did have a phone number and a link to the contest web page. But still I wasn’t sure.

Eventually, I gave in and called the number and sure enough, I had won something I hadn’t thought possible. I really was the grand prize winner of the Trembling Giant Sweepstakes. I never believed that real people actually won these contests. It was always someone in another state, some anonymous name. But this time it wasn’t a stranger. It was me! 

I was about to receive a ton of fantastic gear: a pair of East Ridge boots from Danner, Cascade binoculars, an RX-FullDraw archery specific rangefinder from Leupold, a Tundra 65 cooler from Yeti, a set of hunting clothing from Sitka Gear, a caper and skinner set of knives from Lone Wolf Knives, a Motive 6 Compound Bow from Bear Archery, a life membership from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a fully guided elk hunt from Winterhawk Outfitters.

The gear started arriving, and for a while, every day was like Christmas! I was floating on clouds. Life was beautiful! I was looking forward to each day and the package that would arrive. The delivery man was my personal Santa Claus.

Then something interesting happened. Reality set in. I had been given something very special, something that carried a responsibility I had not foreseen. I was going on a guided hunt. An item on my bucket list had been given to me. This was serious stuff: I have an obligation to be the best I possibly can be on this hunt. I owed it to all the hunters who dreamed of wining but didn’t. I owed it to the countless people that put this contest together. I owed it to the outfitters to show up ready to hunt. I especially owed it to the elk I hope to tag. This is a big deal. I need to be at my best.

This is easy to lose sight of. Hunting is about many things and carries many responsibilities. Respect is one of them. Respect for nature. Respect for the quarry. Respect for others. Respect for self. These would be easy to forget in light of being given such a fantastic prize package. The seriousness of my situation actually weighed heavily on me.

Archery hunting was something I did with my son. Boys grow to become men and my son was no exception to this rule. High school gave way to college, and college gave way to a career on the East Coast many hundreds of miles from here, leaving me without my archery hunting partner. For five years, my bow sat unused.

Now I found myself behind the curve. I had to get my bow shooting skills back up to snuff, and also get my 54-year-old self into some kind of shape for an elk hunt high in the Colorado wilderness. This is daunting stuff indeed.

First Steps

Faced with all this new-found responsibility, I devised a plan. First, I needed to get my archery skills to an acceptable level and, at the same time, learn how to shoot my brand new Motive 6 Bow. Fortunately for me, the city had opened a public archery range less than two miles from my house.

My plan was really pretty simple: go to the range at least twice a week, shoot lots of arrows at varying distances and declare victory. I got my bow sighted in at 20 yards and then at 30. The React Bow Sight is designed to automatically adjust all the pins out to 60 yards based on those two distances. Pretty slick bit of technology.

So, following my plan, I shot a lot. I shot often. But for some reason I couldn’t make it work. Tight groups failed to materialize. In fact, I found that my shooting appeared to be worsening. My frustration grew. My muscles ached. This hunt is going to be a disaster! What was I doing wrong? How can I fix this?

I researched online everything I could find on sighting in a bow and proper technique. Nothing seemed even remotely helpful. In one article, which I wish I had kept so I could properly credit the author, I stumbled across a single paragraph that suggested not shooting too many arrows at a time, to rest between strings of shots. This sounded exactly like what I needed! I would change my plan accordingly.

With my new plan in mind, I deliberately took a week off from shooting my bow to allow me to start fresh. By the second trip to the range, I saw dramatic improvement. By limiting the number of arrows I shot in a group, I rested more often while waiting for the line to clear so I could go retrieve my arrows. I settled on strings of four arrows. Concentrating on the shorter ranges has allowed me to focus on technique: consistent anchor point, consistent sight alignment, and follow-through on release. I still drop my bow more than I should, but I’m aware of when I do it and am working on it.

I started at the 20 yard line, working basics. It took me a while, but I quickly saw dramatic improvement. Groups were tightening and more than one arrow was lost from being hit by a following shot. I’m not ready for any tournaments but I now have a base to build upon. More importantly, I think, the confidence from this led to reinforcement of positive results.

The 30 yard line brought a larger group, as now the flaws and inconsistencies are magnified by the distance. It didn’t take me too long to get the 30 yard shots under control, again by taking my time and not forcing things.

Then the 40 yard line followed. After patiently working on my breathing, release and follow-through, I’m getting nice groups and am hitting my own arrows. I had one really nice Robin Hood where the second shot is nicely buried inside the shaft of the first one.

Currently, I’m focused on getting my 50 yard shots to consistently group in a 4-inch circle. That’s my goal. I’m improving but not there yet. From what I’ve read, the majority of shots on elk are at a range less than this but I want to be at least reasonable out to 50 yards. If I can make a shot at 50 yards, I can certainly make a shot at the shorter ranges.

For now, I still have a ways to go at the 50 yard line. I will get this dialed in to my personal limits. Then it will be on to the 60 yard line. The 60 yard line will do two things for me – give me the confidence at all the lower ranges and allow me to be ready for a once in a lifetime shot should everything come together perfectly. 

I cannot stress the overall importance of not overdoing the shooting until you have built up to it. I find practice to be peaceful and relaxing. It was a small thing, something almost too simple to work, that turned it all around for me. I shoot small strings of arrows, wait between strings, and take my time. I work on different things at different times. Sometimes I work on holding the bow at full draw for longer periods. Sometimes it is drawing, sighting and releasing quickly. Whatever I’m working on, I keep it low key enough that I can analyze my performance, identify flaws and follow up without wearing myself out.

Once I have the archery squared away, I will focus on conditioning and getting ready for the high altitude conditions of the hunt. Then it will be back to archery from unusual positions, such as kneeling. And finally, the focus will be on combining the conditioning with shooting from a variety of positions. To this end, I have started walking to the range. It’s about a 4-mile hike from my house each way. People do give me funny looks with my bow attached to my Sitka Flash 20 Backpack, but what better way to get used to carrying my gear than to actually do it?

This will certainly be critical to any hopes for success. All the archery skills in the world won’t do me any good if I can’t hunt. This is just another challenge to hit head on.

I’d sure like to be able to post pictures from a very successful September hunt!

About the Author: Tim Lovern has lived in Arizona since 1982, moving there from the Chicago suburbs. He has hunted in Arizona extensively, from waterfowl to elk and everything in between. He is currently employed in the I.T. field as an enterprise architect for a large company based in California.

Partnership Pays Off for Wyoming Youth

Ryan Mauck (left) and Cole Benton 
Thirty years ago, you’d have been hard pressed to find an elk in north-central Wyoming and just over the border in south-central Montana. Today, hundreds of elk now roam this area. Hunters love the abundance of elk, but some private landowners aren’t such huge fans after dealing with wandering, hungry elk that tend to mow down fences and raid haystacks.

As the elk herd grew, so did opportunities to hunt cow elk. After talking to a few local landowners, we decided that guided cow hunts had to become one of our priorities. One way to do that was to donate hunts to kids. We spread the word, and it wasn’t long until different wildlife organizations in Wyoming—along with a Montana game warden from just over the state line—started sending young hunters our way. Jeff Shelley, the owner of Big Horn Meat in Buffalo, processes the meat for the youths free of charge. This fall will be our eighth year working with our many partners to help give more than 60 kids the chance to take their first elk.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Buffalo Chapter has been involved in our program for several years. They reach out to their local community (schools, companies, youth organizations, etc.) asking them to recommend in writing a youth 12 to 17 years old who would be a great candidate for an elk hunt, but doesn’t have the means to do it on their own. The chapter reads through the submissions and selects one boy and one girl for a hunt. Then, the chapter signs them up as RMEF members, enlists them in a hunter safety course, purchases their hunting licenses, and invites them and one parent or guardian to be special guests at their big game banquet. The chapter’s goal is to introduce these youths not only to hunting, but to the importance of ethics and conservation as well.

We follow those same ideals while guiding them on hunts. Our hunts typically involve very long stalks on elk. Not only do the kids get an opportunity to experience what hunting is all about, but their adult guest also gets the chance to learn about and enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the beauty and solitude of the outdoors. Are all of these long stalks successful? Not hardly, but we’re teaching these kids that hunting is about more than the kill.

The excitement felt by these kids as we crawl up on a herd of elk is unbelievable. The stories we could tell and the experiences we have had would fill a book. One young boy, as a herd of elk stood up in front of him, laid his gun down on the ground and exclaimed, “Look at all those elk!” Needless to say, they all got away. Another time we got a 13-year-old girl close to several elk that were about to move out of range. I asked her if she thought she could still make the shot. “I can,” she said, “but I don’t think this gun can!” I assured her it could, and one shot and she had her elk!

We never ask questions about the background of any of the youths that hunt with us. Many of these kids come from troubled families or broken homes. Our goal is to offer a young person who may never have had an opportunity to hunt the chance to do something he or she will remember for the rest of their lives.

So far about 25 percent of the young hunters we’ve taken into the field have been girls, which is something we’ve really focused on in the program. Another very important part of the hunts is our Border collie Cody. This fall will be his 12th season accompanying us on hunts. He is never in the way, makes no mistakes, and keeps the kids entertained when hunting is slow. We run into kids years later who always ask, “How’s Cody doing?”

All of our youth hunts would not have been possible without the cooperation of two very generous ranchers: the Scott family, owner of the Padlock Ranch Co. in Wyoming, and Jim Guercio, owner of the OW Ranch in Montana. Thanks to these folks and many partners, the tradition of introducing youth to hunting in Wyoming and Montana will continue for many years to come.

Cole and Elaine Benton
Grizzly Outfitters, LLC

Conservation at Work in Washington State

The 640-acre Pine Canyon property is a recent addition to a long list of critical elk country the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has helped conserve in Washington.

Another hunting season had gone by, and again I was not able to enjoy the pursuit of the great wapiti and all the sights and sounds that define elk country. Initially, I was a bit depressed, then angry, then frustrated.

Then I thought of my life in the forests of Washington. I am a hunter and conservationist, born and raised in this state, and have walked many of the lands that have been touched by the RMEF. I have volunteered with the organization for more than 20 years, and have made many friends across this great nation because of it. I am blessed.

Pine Canyon, Washington.
Over the years, our friends in the timber industry have given the citizens and guardians of our state opportunities of a lifetime. Through a series of acquisitions and land exchanges, epic land protection efforts have set aside almost 117,000 acres of wildlife habitat. Through the efforts of RMEF volunteers and staff, and many partners, some of the most valuable habitat in Washington State can now be managed by landscape and not by parcel—meaning safer migration routes for elk, better winter ranges for deer, cleaner water for fish—the list goes on. I don't believe I will see the opportunities for land protection like that again on the East Slope of the Cascades. Land, forest and wildlife managers have suggested this was the best opportunity for public lands to continue as productive wildlife habitat in the long term. As an RMEF volunteer, I can't agree more.

Not only have we protected these lands for wildlife, but for us as well. We can be sure that each of us, our children and, most importantly, those yet unborn, will have the opportunity to hear, see and feel the wild forest awaken. People need places where they can go to hear a chattering squirrel and the footfalls and wing beats of creatures big and small. In this hectic world of ever-changing technology, people need wild places to spend time contemplating whatever they want to contemplate. They need places to hunt, fish, hike and ride horses. Protected wild places create opportunities for all of our citizens.

RMEF is filled with visionaries. I’m so proud to be among the many staff, volunteers and members who give of their time, talent and treasure to help provide my descendants the same opportunities that I have had.

Did I miss hunting season last year? A little bit. But then, thanks to the RMEF, there will always be this year!

Frank McMahon
RMEF Mt. Rainier Chapter

Michigan Governor Recognizes Outstanding RMEF Volunteers

Dan Johnson, RMEF Michigan state chair; 
Judith Robinson, aide to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder; 
Bruce Mach, Southeast Michigan Chapter;
Tim Johnson, Saginaw Valley Chapter;
Larry Bialobrezeski, Saginaw Valley 
and Thunder Bay chapters; and 
Doug Doherty, RMEF Michigan regional director. 
(left to right)
On Saturday, January 11, the Michigan State Leadership Team held its meeting at the Michigan Department of Natural Resource’s Ralph A. MacMullen Center on the north shore of pristine Higgins Lake. Our focus was to bring all 14 Lower Michigan chapters together to discuss banquets, provide updates on RMEF nationally and recognize outstanding volunteers.

This year, state chair Dan Johnson wanted to do a little something extra by recognizing volunteers who raised the bar in 2013. It was not an easy task, but we chose three people to receive a special award for their time and effort in volunteering for events and projects outside of RMEF big game banquets: Bruce Mach, Southeast Michigan Chapter; Tim Johnson, Saginaw Valley Chapter; and Larry Bialobrezeski, Saginaw Valley and Thunder Bay chapters.

Ironically, right after we decided who would receive the awards, an email from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office showed up in my inbox stating the governor had moved forward with a bill to recognize Michigan’s outstanding conservation volunteers. Judy Robinson, aide to Gov. Snyder, called shortly after to inquire about RMEF and our volunteers. The timing couldn’t have been better.

We collaborated to have Robinson present a special certificate to Mach, Johnson and Bialobrezeski at the State Leadership Team meeting, along with their awards from RMEF. All three were surprised and honored to have received recognition from both the governor’s office and the State Leadership Team.

We also presented an award for best performing chapter with best net to gross. The West Michigan Chapter out of Grand Rapids received the honor. All in all, it was a proud day for Michigan’s RMEF volunteers.

Doug Doherty
Michigan Regional Director