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

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Cade Bulls

The scene where Eric first saw the two bulls
(Courtesy Eric Shepherd)
April 11, 2015 started out as any other day hunting shed antlers. I had decided that we would go into an area where most people wouldn't venture and that a four-wheeler couldn't make it. Since the second week in February, I had been out 18 times and put in close to 300 miles hiking and had very little to show for it. I am not one to hunt via a four-wheeler but still a firm believer that hiking is the best medicine. My thought was I might have better luck if I followed the road less traveled. 

So far the year of shed hunting had been pretty slow for me. A few of the larger bulls had dropped the first week of February which is early for our area. The word got out pretty quick that a few had dropped and the bulls started getting pushed causing an extremely hard shed hunt. Most people have their normal spots they like to go to that produce but not this year. The normal spots you would expect to find sheds had none and where they were being found was not typical. (We also had a below normal snow pack which caused a lot of elk to remain in the high country). Like most people, I started out earlier than normal hoping to get a jump but with no luck. All the bulls I came across were still holding and after returning a few days later, the elk were nowhere to be found. 

Cade Webb
2014 and 2015 had been hard years for our family. We suffered the loss of our daughter's boyfriend, Cade Webb, who I thought of as the son I never had. Even though Cade was only 15, he was already an avid outdoorsman and spent many hours hunting sheds and he was quite accomplished at it. Since the start of the season I would often find myself looking up and asking Cade for some help, "Come on Cade give me a little help here.” Well thus far it had not helped too much other than a couple finds, but each trip I found myself doing the same thing. I was actually starting to get really discouraged thinking to myself, “I'm putting in the time and miles but no luck.” The elk were there but they were not producing any sheds for me. It seemed as though every time I would get 8-10 miles into an area, I would discover the dreaded four-wheeler tracks and just had to shake my head. 

On that Saturday I headed out from the pickup with my trusty companion "Whiskey,” a blue heeler I have worked with shed hunting for two years that was probably a hunting dog in a previous life. I figured we had 4-5 hours of light left. We headed up a canyon that had a small stream running in the bottom from the winter snow pack. It looked real promising but produced nothing. As we reached the end of the canyon my plan was to head out, cross a ridge and go back down another deeper canyon. The canyon we were heading to was much easier access from the bottom end so I didn't have high hopes of finding anything other than four-wheeler tracks. 

The larger bull
As we crossed the ridge and started down into the canyon it was apparent this was not going to be real easy. It was a north slope, very steep and had tons of downed trees to maneuver up, over and around. Unlike me Whiskey took off into the canyon like it was nothing. In the distance I saw him reach the bottom and then saw his nose turn to the air. As he often does he will start working from left to right head held high and low until he has the scent locked in and then off he goes. As I made my way slowly down into the canyon Whiskey continued to work back toward me in a left-to-right pattern. I stopped about halfway down to watch him. As Whiskey was about a quarter of the way back to me, he stopped and at the exact time that he made the find, I also saw it. Laid up against a downed tree I could see antlers but something wasn't right. I pulled up my binoculars and adjusted them. As they came into focus I had to do a double-take. Looking with the naked eye and then again through the binoculars, I thought to myself there is no way I am seeing what I am seeing. I just stood there in shock for what seemed like forever. As I started to work my way closer, the realization of what I had just found came over me. Once I came up to it I was in shock, my mouth open and eyes glazed. I just stood there, looking around almost in hopes of being able to share the excitement with someone. Once I collected myself the first thing I did was looked up and said "Thank You Cade."

What lay before me were two large bulls—both dead and horns still locked from the battle that took place. I thought to myself “Okay, you have to document the heck out of this. No one is going to believe you.” I pulled out my cell phone and started taking pictures and video of both the elk and surroundings, and started trying to put together what took place. It appeared as though the smaller of the two bulls died first as its stomach contents were located about 20 feet up the hill from where the second bull finally died. 

The second bull, the larger of the two, looked as though he ended up lodged under the tree where I found them. I can only image that in one last ditch effort to get free, he lost his footing and slid down under the tree where he eventually met his demise, still locked with the smaller bull that was now on top of him. 

After about an hour I needed to formulate a plan to get them out of there legally. Arizona Game & Fish has specific rules on dead animal finds and a protocol to follow. The first thing is to notify them so a game warden can come to the field and verify the cause of death. If it is determined the animal died from a natural cause, such as predation, disease, fights, falls, drowning, lightning, etc., the wildlife part may be possessed by the individual. It was very evident given the cause of death and since this was such a rare find, I knew I had to contact them. The bad part was it was late Saturday and I knew I would not be able to get a hold of anyone until Monday. 

Antler base

So first thing Monday morning I drove out to verify someone had not stumbled onto them and to make the call to the Game & Fish. The elk were still there so I drove out to a location where I had cell service and made the call to the district office. I gave the lady all the information and asked how long before she could have a warden out to the scene. She advised me it could be Wednesday as most officers were in Phoenix and only one was in the district and he was hours away. So I explained to her in detail that this was not just another dead elk find but two bulls, horns locked. That changed things. She said give her 30 minutes so she could make some calls and either she or the officer would call me back. About 15 minutes later I got a call from the Unit 1 game manager. I explained to him the find and location. He asked a few questions and then asked if I had pictures I could send to him of the scene and the bulls so he could authorize the removal. I sent him six or seven pictures documenting the bulls and the area so he could review them. About 10 minutes later he sent to me the authorization to take possession of both bulls and said they were mine. I thanked him and immediately headed back to retrieve the bulls. 

The closest road was about five or six so it was not going to be an easy chore. For those who have packed a head out, you know they can get heavy pretty quick, so now I was going to have two at the same time. Once I got back to the site I took a few more pictures and one last video. The bulls had only been dead about six or seven months and five of those were under snow pack so getting the skulls from the body was a challenge but I managed to do it and still keep the heads together. That was always my plan to not separate the horns from one another. Once I had the skulls freed, I was able to rotate the top bull back around, horns still locked. I hauled them down to a flat area to prepare them for my pack. I was able to put the skull of the smaller bull on the shelf in my pack and got that attached with the larger bull on top being rotated upside down. This allowed me to stand the pack up on the horns of the larger bull and just slip right into my pack. 

I have packed some heavy weight before but this was on a different level. It was not easy to do but I knew I would get it done one way or another. As I was making the final hike out I realized just how beautiful this county really was. I was next to a small stream in a deep canyon. I could hear far off in the distance some turkey gobbling. Whiskey keep running up and down the stream jumping from side to side as though he knew his work for the day was done. 

As I put one foot in front of the other I started to reflect on just how good life really is. Even if I had not made a once in a lifetime find it still would have been a good day. I was in the mountains doing what I loved. I thought a lot about Cade and how he really did bless our lives. I thought to myself I sure wish I could have shared this year hunting sheds with him and had him by my side. That’s when it dawned on me that this was not my find but rather it's Cade's. I know deep down in my heart that this was his passion and even though he may be gone, he actually shared with me one of his last finds. When I would look up to him and ask for help I now know I did get to spend this year shed hunting with him. He was with me every step of the way! 

After the necks were broken off

So friends, the next time you’re sitting high atop a mountain with a spotting scope or hiking down a deep canyon or across a beautiful meadow just remember that sometimes it's not always about the hunt. It's about the memory. So get outside and do what you’re passionate about, for over the next hill or around the next bend you to might just discover your "Cade Bulls!" 

Eric Shepherd 
Flagstaff, Arizona

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Leave No Trace for Hunters

Cloud Peaks (Courtesy William Matthews)
The fog was beginning to clear, revealing a meadow surrounded by snow-covered peaks. A light breeze stirred a nearby patch of aspen in full autumn color. Last night’s freeze had left delicate patterns on the grass and the needles on the pine and spruce trees. Occasionally, the frozen stillness was interrupted by birdsong. 

As the sun appeared over the mountains, the valley was suddenly brilliant with light. The sun climbed higher, warming my cold fingers and toes. I could hear the sound of rippling water.

I was waiting for the bull to lead his harem into the open. But where were they? 

My eyes were drawn to the stream. What I saw wasn’t an elk. It was an abandoned campsite. A fire ring full of melted aluminum cans, Styrofoam, plastic bottles, and partially-burned logs smoldered only inches from the crystal clear waters of the stream. More cans, food scraps, and other trash were scattered over the heavily-trampled wildflowers. The smell of human waste hung in the air. I realized no elk would come here today.

Courtesy William Matthews
Who would do this? Could people really be this careless?

The truth is any one of us could be the culprit. Even the best intentioned of us can unknowingly cause damage. Often, this damage leads to restrictions or closures on public lands. Fortunately, there is a solution that can both protect natural areas and allow people to enjoy their favorite outdoor places. By practicing the outdoor ethic known as Leave No Trace, outdoor enthusiasts can help ensure the places they love will still be there in the future. Leave No Trace consists of seven principles that help people make good decisions and reduce their impacts, making outdoor experiences a lot more enjoyable.

Seven Principles of Leave No Trace:

Plan Ahead and Prepare
Get information about your hunt area and route from the land manager.
Prepare for bad weather and unsafe road conditions with extra food, clothing, first aid kit and signal mirror.

Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces
Appropriate vehicle use protects wildlife and wildlife habitat.
Prevent erosion and trail widening by using the existing tread surface.
Place vehicles, camp kitchen, tents and stock on areas where obvious signs of prior use exist.
Camp at least 200’ from watering holes, lakes and streams.

Pack It In, Pack It Out
Pack out everything you brought in with you--spent brass, shotgun shells, cigarette butts, etc.
Keep the wild in wildlife, don’t bury food or leave it behind.

Courtesy Pat Bower
Properly Dispose of Human Waste
Bury human waste in catholes 4-8” deep at least 200’ from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole. Do not leave toilet paper on the ground.
Clean water means better fishing; carry your wash or dish water to your camp.

Leave What You Find
Leave historical or cultural artifacts as you find them.
Use dead and downed trees for poles and hangs; dismantle when finished.
Signs are expensive; please don’t use them to sight-in firearms.

Minimize Use and Impact of Fires
Stoves are often the best option. Campfires, fire rings and wood collection can scar the backcountry.
Collect only dead and downed wood or bring your own.

If you are interested in learning more about Leave No Trace or becoming a trainer, go to https://lnt.org/about and contact the Center or your State Advocate. 

 Enjoy the hunt!

Sara Evans Kirol 
Trails/Special Uses
Forest Service
Bighorn National Forest

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New Report Highlights How ‘Hunting Is Conservation’

The firearms and ammunition industry is thriving in the United States and that is great news for conservation. A new report indicates the total economic impact of the industry jumped from $19.1 billion in 2008 to $42.9 billion in 2014. That’s an astounding 125 percent increase!

The ripple effects from such tremendous growth are many. Among the biggest is the benefit for the nation’s wildlife and wild landscapes.

“Wildlife conservation is the real winner here, as we increased federal tax payments by 108 percent, Pittman-Robertson excise taxes that support wildlife conservation by 145 percent and state business taxes by 106 percent,” said Stephen L. Sanetti, National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) president and chief executive officer.

The Pittman-Robertson Act, officially called the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, was originally passed and then signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. It places an 11 percent excise tax on firearms, ammunition, bows, arrows, parts and accessories. The funds, generated by hunters and recreational shooters, do not go to the U.S. Treasury. Instead, they are given to the Secretary of the Interior with the specific and designated purpose to distribute them to each state wildlife agency based on the area of the state and its number of licensed hunters. 

Hunters also generate $796 million annually for conservation efforts by purchasing state licenses and fees. They add an additional $440 million a year for conservation by making donations to groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Pittman-Robertson funds help state agencies introduce and manage wildlife species, conduct research, enhance habitat, acquire and lease land, conduct hunter education programs, develop access facilities for public use, build and operate public shooting ranges, and improve public access. 

To date, the tax has raised more than $8 billion to help fund on-the-ground conservation efforts. The NSSF report indicates recreational and shooters generated excise taxes to the tune of $864 million in 2014.

The bottom-line impact of the firearms and ammo industry on America’s job market is also substantial. The total number of full-time jobs* directly linked to the industry rose from about 166,000 to more than 263,000. If you do the math, that is a 58 percent increase. 

"In our nation's economic recovery since that year (2008), our industry has been a standout, increasing our direct workforce by 78 percent, adding jobs that pay an average of more than $52,000 in wages and benefits,” added Sanetti.

It is also interesting to note that despite the increase in demand for firearms and ammunition, both the criminal and accidental misuses of firearms continue to decline.

*These include jobs in companies supplying goods and services to manufacturers, distributors and retailers, as well as those that depend on sales to workers in the firearms and ammunition industry.

Monday, April 6, 2015

RMEF Grants to Assist Elk Restoration, Research, Habitat Enhancement in Wisconsin

Below is a complete listing of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 2014 grants for the state of Wisconsin. Find more information here.

Ashland County—Enhance elk forage on 320 acres on the Chequamegon National Forest through maintenance of existing forage openings and accelerated restoration of aspen forage habitat via mowing, hand-clearing, prescribed fire and timber sale (also affects Sawyer County); and provide funding to cover the cost of electricity fees associated with the Clam Lake interactive elk information kiosk.

Bayfield County—Provide funding for the Wisconsin RMEF Bugle Days Rendezvous which promotes the celebration, history, and future of the Wisconsin elk herd, and also includes opportunities for volunteers to take elk bugling tours and participate in an elk habitat work project as well as other activities.

Bedford County—Host a SAFE (Shooting Access for Everyone) Challenge booth at the Kicking Bear event in West Salem.

Burnett County—Provide funding and volunteer support for the annual Coyland Creek Youth in the Outdoors Day in northwestern Wisconsin for a series of hands-on activities and demonstrations including shooting, archery, canoeing, fishing, orienteering, pack mules, survival skills, building a campfire and education about the state’s elk herd (also affects attendees from Barron, Polk, St. Croix and Washburn Counties).

Chippewa County—Provide funding and RMEF volunteer support for the Indianhead Hunter Safety certification class and field day.

Columbia County—Provide funding for more than 1,400 students from around Wisconsin to participate in dozens of outdoor skills activities at the first annual Midwest Outdoor Heritage Expo in Poynette where they learn about wildlife habitat, conservation, the value of hunting, ethics, wildlife management, forestry, natural history and Wisconsin's outdoor heritage.

Dunn County—Provide funding for the NRA’s Women on Target program which offers women an introduction to shooting sports where they learn safe gun handling, how to accurately shoot, and learn a sport they can enjoy for a lifetime (also affects Eau Clair and Chippewa Counties).

Eau Claire County—Provide funding to assist the Eau Claire High School Trap Club with purchasing guns, shell bags, safety glasses, ear protection, shell belts and other supplies; and provide funding for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Rod and Gun Club which promotes conservation and shooting sports to the next generation of outdoorsmen and women.

Grant County—Provide support to encourage youth participating in the Wisconsin State High School Clay Target League to enjoy the outdoors and learn about gun safety and discipline through hunting and shooting.

Jackson County—Provide $300,000 in funding over three years to help continue the ongoing restoration of Wisconsin’s elk herds and expand the herd into new areas (also affects Ashland and Sawyer Counties); and improve early successional habitat by treating, and then seeding, 30 acres adjacent to potential release sites for the Black River elk reintroduction thereby maintaining high quality habitat near the core of the Black River elk herd range.

Kenosha County—Provide funding to assist the Central Falcons shotgun team to attend the Scholastic Clay Target Program National Championship in Illinois; and co-sponsor and provide volunteer support for the Halter Wildlife Youth Day which offered youth ages 5-15 a gun safety course, rifle shooting, sporting clays, fly casting, duck calling, duck identification, dog training and conservation, and habitat lessons.

LaCrosse County—Use the Torstenson Family Endowment (TFE) to fund an elk education trunk; provide funding for the Boy Scouts of America Gateway Area Council Trailblazer Spring Camporee which offers hands-on instruction in firearms safety, fishing, archery, trapping and more;; provide funding for the Youth Outdoor Fest where children get hands-on experience from professionals in camping, fishing, archery, air rifle, canoeing, kayaking, boating, bird watching and animal identification; provide funding and RMEF volunteer support for the West Salem Rod and Gun Club Youth Day which offers turkey and deer calling, treestand safety, a "floating target" archery station and RMEF’s SAFE Challenge BB gun range; and provide support for the RMEF LaCrosse Chapter’s youth events.

Marathon County—Provide funding and volunteer support for Marathon County Sporting Heritage Youth Day which offers education in hunting, fishing, and trapping; and provide support for classes taught by Weston Hunter Safety instructors.

Monroe County—Provide funding to cover the cost of ammunition, transportation and program promotion for the Tomah Warrens Shooting Alliance’s youth shooting club.

Oneida County—Provide support for the Oneida County Sheriff's Department’s hunter education classes that focus on safe gun handling and encouraging new hunters to be safe, ethical and responsible while in the field; and co-sponsor the Northwoods Youth Deer Hunting Challenge which includes indoor archery, educational displays, awards, prizes, dinner and other activities (also affects Iron and Vilas Counties).

Outagamie County—Provide funding for a SAFE Challenge booth at a youth event in Shiocton.

Polk County—Host a SAFE Challenge booth at the Richardson Sportsmen Club Youth in the Outdoors event in Clayton.

Price County—Provide funding for the Phillips Sportsmen’s Club Youth Day which exposes youth ages 10-16 to outdoor activities including archery, shooting, and fishing; and provide support for the 14-week summer schedule of the Phillips Sportsmen’s Club Youth Trap League.

Racine County—Provide funding for the Union Grove High School shooting sports program to encourage more youth to participate in the shooting sports, fundamentals, safety and sportsmanship.

Richland County—Contribute to reward fund set up to help solve vandalism done to Richland Center High School’s FFA pheasant program after raising pens were damaged, 39 birds were killed and others escaped.

Sawyer County—Use radio telemetry and trail cameras in both the Clam Lake elk range and Black River elk range to estimate post-release survival, recruitment, and habitat selection in order to provide information for future elk releases and management (also affects Price and Jackson Counties); provide funding for the Hayward Outdoor Youth Day which offers disadvantaged youth an opportunity to learn about the outdoors including archery, fishing, outdoor cooking, plant identification, dog training, BB gun shooting and trapping demonstrations; and provide TFE funding to enhance 450 acres through a variety of treatments including prescribed fire, mowing, and planting on the Flambeau River State Forest and Kimberly Clark Wildlife Area (also affects Price County); and provide funding for the construction of two four-acre acclimation pens within the Clam Lake elk range for the placement of supplemental elk being brought in to improve genetic diversity and augment herd productivity.

St. Croix County—Provide support and volunteer coaching for the recently organized Scholastic Clay Target Program’s Hudson Raider Shooting Club shooting team.

Statewide—Provide funding to support the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association’s involvement in its shooting sports activities; provide funding for the refurbishing and reinforcement of an elk head mount and base that is used at youth and SAFE events, exhibits, and RMEF big game banquets; provide TFE funding for the donation of 4,000 RMEF youth membership knives to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to assist its Hunter Education courses throughout the year; provide funding to pay for repairs to the Clam Lake kiosk computer system; and provide funding to help cover the cost of the 2014 Wisconsin hunting regulations manual.

Partners for the Wisconsin projects include the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and various sportsmen, wildlife, civic, tribal and government organizations.

RMEF uses proceeds from the TFE solely to further its core mission programs of permanent land protection, habitat stewardship, elk restoration and hunting heritage.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Toast to Protecting Washington’s Elk Country

It was a modest gathering of just a little more than a dozen people but they came together to recognize and celebrate a major accomplishment. At one point, representatives of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy (CCC) paused in unison to raise a glass, filled with either champagne or sparkling apple cider, to salute a joint effort to permanently protect and secure access to nearly 2,900 acres of elk habitat in south-central Washington. 

North Fork Cowiche Creek project
(located in green)
The North Fork Cowiche Creek project is located about 15 miles northwest of Yakima on the east slopes of the Cascade Mountains. Nearly 3,000 elk migrate eastward through the area from publicly-owned summer range toward Cowiche Mountain. The elk must also cross several miles of privately-owned grounds undergoing significant development pressure so the project thwarts a possibly similar fate to this crucial migration corridor. In addition to elk, the project also benefits mule deer, bighorn sheep and a wide array of other species connected to the shrub-steppe and riparian habitats. 

The tour included three stops that allowed participants the opportunity to walk in the mountains, soak in the scenic landscapes and view nearby past projects while also celebrating the North Fork Cowiche Creek project. They found themselves surrounded by abundant bunchgrass, Ponderosa pine, Oregon white oak, aspen and beautiful blue skies.

Among those on hand included Washington State Chairs Rick Barlin and Greg Ganick, contractor Rance Block and Lands Program Manager Bill Richardson of the RMEF; CCC Director Betsy Bloomfield and several board members; and South Central Regional Director Mike Livingston, Oak Creek Wildlife Area Manager Ross Huffman and contractor Jeff Tayer of the WDFW.

Go here to learn more about the North Fork Cowiche Creek project and here to view a national map of RMEF’s conservation efforts.