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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Celebrating New Access to Central Montana’s Elk Country

It was only fitting. The October sunshine streamed down and warmed more than five dozen people who gathered in the remote Big Snowy Mountains of central Montana to celebrate a transaction that will positively affect generations of hunters in years to come. 

“Opening up access to 18,000 acres of public land through a 40-acre parcel like this is one of the crowning achievements for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and our members,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “It’s a true payback to our members who put so much time and effort into the organization and it lets them have access to some of the most incredible country in central Montana.”

Allen made those comments moments after taking part in a dedication ceremony of the Red Hill project along with RMEF volunteers, members and staffers as well as federal, state and local government leaders, landowners, ranchers and others. As he thanked all those involved with the project, he spoke respectfully about one person they probably never met and did not know, but a man whose influence and passion for RMEF and elk country rings as strong as ever despite his passing many years earlier.

Bob Torstenson would be so proud to know resources he provided to us are directly responsible for this project and many projects that will follow like this. And I mean directly responsible. We did not sell this back to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the same amount we bought it for by design. The state didn’t have the budget and we didn’t care. That’s not what it was about. We were glad to take a loss, quote-unquote, on paper because the gain is so much bigger on the ground, and all in the name of the Torstenson family. I know Bob Torstenson would be extremely proud his legacy will live on in a piece of property like this,” said Allen.

After the unveiling of a sign marking the occasion, many of those on hand headed up the trail to make their way to the Lewis and Clark National Forest—the first time in years such a hike was even possible.

“This project is pretty special to me because it’s really the first true access project I’ve been involved with at the Elk Foundation in my 6-plus years of being here,” said Allen. “This is the first one I can actually reach out and touch and say we did this with our resources and we did it immediately and we opened up 18,000 acres of public land that was otherwise pretty inaccessible.”

The entire project came together and was finalized in just a matter of weeks, and marks a blueprint of what is to come.

“There are projects like this across the West and we’re out looking for them and we’re going to make them a high priority to keep his hunting culture alive and make it easier and better for the hunter-members of ours and the nonmembers who really support our wildlife system and believe in public land hunting. This is critical to us and something we should all be proud of,” Allen added.

Big Snowy Mountains elk

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hunters Motivated by Meat, Elk Does a Body Good

Why do you hunt? New research conducted by Responsive Management shows more of us arise well before the crack of dawn and head into the woods, mountains, prairies or to a favorite stretch of water in a quest to fill the freezer.

Researchers conducting the scientific nationwide telephone survey reached out to Americans 18 years of age and older and asked them “What is the single most important reason you hunted in 2012?” They offered a list of possible answers including spending time with family and friends, being close to nature, for the sport/recreation, for the meat or for a trophy. Thirty-five percent of hunters chose “for the meat,” which is a 13 percent increase since a similar nationwide survey in 2006.

Responsive Management, 2013

Members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and elk lovers everywhere will tell you there is no leaner, healthier meat than the wild wapiti taken off its native range. You won’t get an argument from the U.S. Department of Agriculture either. USDA statistics show elk has a higher percentage of protein and a lower percentage of fat than grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, duck, whitetail deer or antelope (see chart below). Elk also wins the cholesterol battle while topping the list for the fewest calories per pound category. By comparison, moose and wild turkey put up the best fight.

Nov/Dec 2012 Bugle magazine

And then there’s the taste test. Elk rules the barbecue too. Of course the key to teasing or better yet satisfying those taste buds is not just knowing where to find the various cuts of meat (see chart at bottom of post) or how to cook them, but how to prepare them. Let me let you in on one of the best kept RMEF secrets we recently let out of the bag. It’s a marinate recipe that’ll make you swear you just bellied up to your favorite table at the best steakhouse in town. 

Here’s the back-story:
The recipe is the product of a long-running challenge between two brothers, both members of the RMEF, aimed at designing the ultimate wild game marinade. Over the course of nearly two decades, the brothers sent each other a variety of concoctions each of them made up, some better than others, until the day that one sent this particular recipe to the other. Upon trying it, the challenge was deemed complete. The ultimate wild game marinade had been found. 

Photo via Chad Harder
Here’s what you'll need:
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
1/2 cup lemon juice
Choice cuts of venison

Here’s how to make it:
Mix ingredients in a bowl. Submerge selected cuts of locally harvested venison in marinade. Let sit, the longer the better—refrigerate overnight, if possible. Grill venison to desired temperature.

For more tantalizingly tasty recipes, check out RMEF’s Carnivore Kitchen. You will find everything from ginger-spiked elk egg rolls and Southwestern Elk Pozole to bourbon-spiked elk gravy with buttermilk biscuits, pulled elk sandwiches and smoky elk macaroni and cheese. 

Back to the study. A cross-tabulation by gender of the data from the nationwide survey shows that females are even more pro-meat: 55% compared to 27% of male hunters. 

Responsive Management, 2013

So there you have it. Not only is meat the choice of hunters across the country, but elk meat does a body good and tastes great too. We don’t need a study to tell you that.

Nov/Dec 2012 Bugle magazine

Friday, October 18, 2013

Integrity Shines Through, Young Hunters Rescue Elk Calf from Wallowy Fate

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
-C.S. Lewis

Novelist and poet C.S. Lewis hit the nail right on the head. And so did bowhunting buddies Jeff McConnell and Brant Hoover, both in their mid-20s from Boise. Their true tale is a shining example of their upbringing, integrity and ethical behavior.

First, let’s lay a little groundwork. Jeff, age 25 and son of a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation member, and Brant, age 24, both hunted with their fathers as long as they could remember. In fact, they’d never hunted with partners other than their dads. That changed when Jeff’s father recently had knee surgery, leaving the son to fend on his own, that is, until he ran into Brant in an archery shop three months before the 2013 bow season. Instantly, they hit it off, shared their elk hunting obsessions, stayed in touch and planned to hook up in the fall. 

When the temperatures started to drop and the bowhunt season arrived, McConnell and Hoover met in the backcountry of west-central Idaho near McCall. Conditions were ideal. It looked like rain yet the skies remained dry despite their gray, overcast appearance. The two hunters passed through meadow after high country meadow, scouting mud holes and scanning the horizon. At the sixth meadow, they jumped a bull and a few cows that quickly headed for safety into the forest, yet for some reason one cow remained.

“What we didn’t notice was a calf in the wallow,” Jeff said. “It was wallowing around and we could hear it like it was using the wallow, but after a while we heard a cow mewing in the woods. It was like a lost cow mew as if she was searching for her baby or something so we stood up and saw this calf was stuck.”

Brant Hoover
Sure enough, a mucky sludge-like wallow, always a magnet of sorts for a bull in the rut, claimed a much smaller victim. The young calf remained stranded as the cow looked on from a short distance away continuing to mew. 

“We approached the calf slowly. I had never heard that shrill screaming sound it was making and she was scaring us as much as we were scaring her. The closer we got, the louder it got,” said McConnell. “When we got really close, the mom came charging into the meadow and was barking at us from 45 to 50 yards away. We both ran away from the calf because we were like ‘Oh crap something may happen here!’ because they can be mean when you’re close to their babies.”

Brant and Jeff took off in separate directions before slowly and cautiously returning to the wallow. They took a step in the muck toward the calf and instantly sunk in almost to their waists quickly realizing they were jeopardizing their own safety. 

“We thought we may get ourselves in trouble,” Jeff said. 

They formulated and acted on a plan to gather sticks and branches that would supply more stable footing. Jeff recorded video (see below) on his phone as Brant grabbed the calf’s hind legs and started to pull. After a while it became obvious this would be a two person job so McConnell put down his phone to help out.

Jeff McConnell
“We both grabbed a hind leg,” Jeff said. “I started to pet her and she calmed down as we pulled her out as far as we could. We just got on the other side of the mud hole and tripped and she kicked the crap out of us. From there, she had the option to go between us to her mother or jump back in the mud and she jumped back in the mud. We were disappointed. It started to rain and we needed to get out of the woods. The mud stunk and we were covered in it. It was sticky and nasty.”

During the struggle, Jeff took a swift kick to the chest but the calf instead connected with a couple of elk calls hanging around his neck. His chest was sore but not bruised. With the calf now further back in the wallow, the young hunters devised a new plan. This time they gathered a couple of big logs, dropping them where they could get better access to the calf and avoid sinking in the mud. Each of them again grabbed the calf by a hind leg and pulled her out a good 10 feet beyond the mud hole, dropped her and then ran back to guard the wallow to block any return.

“She stood up kind of slow. You could tell she was tired. She walked a little bit, looked back at us, and kind of trotted away. Then we both looked at each other like ‘That was the coolest thing that will probably ever happen to us in the middle of the woods!’ We both said we wouldn’t leave until we got her out of there. Hiking out of the woods, we couldn’t stop talking about it. It felt pretty good to know we did the right thing by rescuing that animal. It was pretty cool. We couldn’t sleep. We talked about it all night,” Jeff added.

The evening could’ve ended much, much differently with two “thwacks” from two bows. The hunters could’ve rather easily, and legally, filled their tags—one on a distressed calf stuck in a wallow and the other on a lingering mother cow. Instead, that would not and did not happen.

“Both of us were raised by our dads, raised in the wild and are hunters educated by our fathers who came from a time when there was more respect for animals back then,” Jeff said. “Nowadays so much stuff gets put on Facebook that it gets blown up by social media. It’s definitely something that needs to be illustrated that the younger generation, at least some of us, were raised with the dignity and integrity of the older generation of hunters.”

McConnell called the experience “a pretty big life-changing moment.” Consider the weight of that statement especially when you take into account it came from a young man of integrity nearing yet another life-changing moment—his marriage, that took place a mere three weeks later.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Seniors to Teens, Volunteers Spice up Oregon Elk Country

What generation gap? From teenagers to retirees, all spurred on by their commonly shared love of elk, the volunteers recently gathered in the heart of Oregon elk country. Members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Willamette Valley, South Coast and Yamhill County Chapters worked side-by-side with members of the Tioga Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association.

The gathering place was near a small town named, fittingly enough, Elkton in the west-central part of the state which is home to an elk population estimated at some 7,000 animals. The goal was to spice up downtrodden elk habitat on old logging roads decommissioned by the Bureau of Land Management. The 16 volunteers spent five hours pulling noxious weeds, seeding native grasses and forbs, fertilizing and applying mulch on approximately two miles of roads in the Lutsinger Creek area, a unit that supports a large number of elk hunting tags but also contains strong populations of grouse, turkey, black bear and black-tailed deer. The project will assist all of those species and take a positive step toward improving habitat for an elk population that is currently below objective.

“This was a unique situation where a 2012 seeding had failed, and volunteers came together to make sure this restoration was completed,” said Steve Langenstein, BLM wildlife biologist. “Materials for the project were provided by both BLM and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife habitat restoration funds.”

Kati McCrea, statewide RMEF project coordinator, echoed those comments saying the group cooperated in such a way that this was one of the best gatherings for a volunteer project she saw this year. South Coast Chapter Chair Kirby Boyd put the project volunteers together.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Nevada Volunteers Dig Deep to Help Thirsty Elk

One of the best ways Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteers work to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage is to not just kick around ideas of potential habitat enhancement projects, but to roll up their sleeves, dig in and get dirty. Case in point, check out a recent project in the bone-dry Nevada desert that is now an oasis of sorts--a new water source for elk, deer and other critters.

The RMEF ponied up $15,500 as part of a cooperative effort to fund and construct what’s now called the Rimrock Guzzler. Located on the east side of the Grant Mountain Range near the mouth of Rimrock Canyon in Nye County on the Ely Ranger District of the Hyumboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the guzzler consists of two 1,800 gallon wildlife drink tanks. It also contains a 30’ by 100’ collection apron, a screen, pipe and fittings. 

Volunteers from the RMEF Ely Chapter worked with the Nevada Department of Wildlife to connect the two guzzlers in tandem so gravity feeds water from the collection apron into the first guzzler and then overflows downhill into the second unit. Crews also built a four-strand barbwire fence with treated corner posts around the apron and a pipe rail fence around the tanks to protect them from any nearby livestock and wild horses. Motion detection cameras will be used to monitor the site. Though only in use a few months, wildlife such as elk, deer and antelope are already using the guzzler.

Thank you volunteers and our partners!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ensuring our Hunting Heritage in the Last Frontier

Alaska is known for its sprawling, breathtaking scenic landscapes and an abundance of wildlife. And while it’s the largest state in the United States by area, it’s the least densely populated but that certainly doesn’t stop Alaskans from getting out and learning new ways to enjoy it.

Enter the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which recently co-sponsored the NRA Youth Sportsfest Firearm Safety Camp—a “no cost” camp designed to help youth responsibly and safely enjoy firearms. RMEF, which devotes a part of its mission to “ensure our hunting heritage,” contributed $3,750 for ammunition and $250 for safety equipment and supplies. 

RMEF has a long history of supporting such activities in Alaska. Since 1992, RMEF and its partners completed 73 conservation and hunting heritage projects with a combined value of more than $5.3 million.

Volunteers from the Mat-Sue Chapter offered supervision and guidance to 394 youth age 8-18 by helping the boys and girls shoot small and large caliber rifles and pistols, black powder muzzleloading rifles and pistols, cowboy-action pistols and rifles, 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns, and compound bows at the Birchwood Recreation & Shooting Park in Chugiak. 

The youth left the camp with much more than newly acquired knowledge, confidence and noticeable smiles on their faces. Each attendee received a coupon to attend a Hunter Education course offered through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Before they left they also received lunch and then took home a free gift ranging from camping supplies to hunting and fishing equipment as a way to encourage kids to participate in future outdoor activities and remain active.

Special thanks goes out to our dedicated Alaska volunteers, our co-sponsors, local law enforcement and the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department.