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posted in: Sportsmens Access

October 11, 2016

Getting In Close on Public Lands Pronghorns

It’s a privilege to access public lands, but sometimes that means competing for a shot at filling your tag—here’s one story of a successful bowhunt from a blind that almost didn’t happen

I tried hard to control my breathing as the first pronghorn walked in front of my shooting window. I sat motionless, with my bow ready, as the doe dipped her head to drink. For two hours I had been glassing the pronghorn antelope from a ground blind set up on public land in the dry southeast corner of Oregon. There were ten antelope now just 30 yards from my blind. The biggest of three bucks was last in line as they slowly made their way into the waterhole.

Pronghorn archery hunting on public land is extremely challenging, but I felt lucky to be there. The wide open space and lack of cover in antelope country is not conducive to bowhunting at close range. A ground blind on a well-used waterhole upped my prospects, but it wasn’t easy to find one unclaimed by another hunter.

That’s one of the central challenges of hunting public lands—we are so fortunate to have these places to go, but they are a shared resource. Blind hunting, in particular, is first come, first served. From my experience, two blinds with two different hunters on one waterhole will result in neither shooting an antelope. Hunters are much better off simply respecting each other’s right to hunt public land; if someone is there first, move on.

Blind hunting is definitely worth a try. Here’s what I’ve learned:

First, whether your public lands are managed by the BLM, Forest Service, or another agency, check with the local office about restrictions and placement dates. On BLM lands in Oregon, you can place your blind up to ten days before the beginning of the season, but no sooner. And your blind must be removed within seven days of the season’s closure. While all this may seem like a pain, and a longer allowance might be nice, it’s less stressful on the animals if there aren’t blinds set up a month before season and a month after.

As early as you can, based on these restrictions, look to place your blind on the downwind side of some form of natural funnel: a well-traveled trail or an important source of food or water, as was my choice in the arid sage flats of Oregon’s high desert. I’d arrived in my unit four days before opening day, which, having hunted there before, I figured was plenty early. I knew the landscape and that there were only 15 tags given out. Still, I spent an exhausting morning hiking into waterhole after waterhole, all of them occupied by other hunters’ blinds, until I finally got lucky. As I stood in the sage and glassed the hole, I could see it was only occupied by thirsty antelope.

Set up your blind, check your shooting lanes, and get comfortable enough to sit all day long. For me, this means a small stool, lots of snacks, and plenty of water. Temperatures inside of a hunting blind in the direct sunlight can reach staggering highs. You want to be alert and ready to shoot when the opportunity presents itself, not lightheaded and dehydrated.

Similarly, as much as I’d like a cross breeze, I usually insist on keeping all but one of the windows closed. The goal is to have it as dark as possible inside the blind. I practice drawing my bow and aiming out the front window to make sure there are no obstructions. Any flaps or screens that are in the way are dealt with now. I also like to remove my hiking boots and put on another pair of socks to keep me quieter in the blind. Antelope will still act especially wary when approaching a waterhole, and any noise or movement from inside of the blind will put them on the run.

Then you wait, with your bow at arm’s length and an arrow ready to fly.

For me, all this preparation paid off. As the doe’s mouth touched the water, a second doe came into view. As she stepped up to the water to drink, I lifted my bow and nocked an arrow. My heart was beating so fast and loud in my own ears that I was sure the antelope could hear it, too. I willed the blind to do its job of concealing me. Suddenly, the big buck charged into view and trotted into the water about knee-deep.

My bow came up, and the arrow touched my cheek as I came to full draw. The buck’s nose hit the water, and my arrow was gone.

I watched the arrow slide into his ribcage and bury itself into his far shoulder. The waterhole exploded as antelope ran every direction. I watched the buck run 60 yards and turn around to look back. The other antelope caught up to him, settling into a walk toward the short sage.  Another 40 yards and the big buck lowered himself to the ground.

Relieved, I too sat back. I set down my bow and started to put on my boots. It was time to get to work.

Ground blind hunting was very effective for me this fall, and though the search for my very own piece of public land was frustrating, I remain grateful for the privilege. I guarantee that when a big pronghorn buck walks in to 20 yards and stares right into the dark black rectangle you are sitting in, you’ll forget all about your hike past other blinds and how hot, cramped, and bored you were ten minutes ago.

If you agree that hunts like this are worth the wait, take a minute to support our opportunities to hunt and fish on public lands, especially those undeveloped, pristine BLM lands in the backcountry. Having better tools for managing these lands ensures that “Sportsmen’s Country” can thrive. It only takes a minute, and it might mean a shorter sit next season.

Mike Roth is a born-and-raised Oregonian, and a third-generation hunter. He prefers the intimate experience of bowhunting, and when he’s not chasing big game on public lands, he’s salmon and steelhead fishing from his drift boat.

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Kristyn Brady

October 4, 2016

Colorado’s Lake County Opposes Transfer of America’s Public Lands to the State

This is the tenth Colorado county to join a growing movement against state takeover of national public lands, which are the lifeblood of sportsmen’s access in the West

The Board of Lake County Commissioners has passed a resolution opposing the effort to transfer or sell national public lands to the state of Colorado or local governments. This decision supports every American’s ability to hunt, fish, and recreate on public lands and underscores the conservation legacy of leaders like Theodore Roosevelt, who helped create a public lands system that is the envy of the world.

“The commission has proven its commitment to America’s public lands and they should be commended by sportsmen beyond the county limits,” says Nick Payne, Colorado field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Lake County public lands include a frontier mining district with a rich history, and the county is home to the headwaters of the Arkansas River, which is very popular with anglers and rafters. Efforts to restore and reclaim the fishery have been very successful, and more than 100 miles of the Arkansas is now recognized as a having Gold Medal status—that’s worth safeguarding for citizens.”

The county’s resolution recognizes the importance of public lands for:

  • Providing fish and wildlife habitat and opportunities for outdoor recreation—including hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife-watching, horseback riding, and bicycling—that are essential to residents’ quality of life.
  • Attracting outdoor recreation tourism that drives local spending and employs hundreds of county residents.
  • Preserving historically significant and irreplaceable cultural sites and landscapes.

It’s worth noting that the BLM’s Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan, which is currently being revised, includes Lake County backcountry lands that provide important habitat for bighorn sheep and elk, as well as other game species, and sportsmen are proposing unique protections for these areas. With this resolution, the commission has highlighted the value of these public lands for their benefit to fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.

“Backcountry BLM lands in Lake County provide important habitat for bighorn sheep and great fishing opportunities on various drainages of the Arkansas River,” says Tim Hill, owner of Colorado Fly Fishing Guides out of Leadville. “By passing a resolution in favor of these federal public lands, the commission is joining a growing majority of county governments in Colorado and across the West that see how unworkable and insulting the idea of state takeover is to millions of Americans. I hope that other counties across the West will continue to carry this banner in support of our outdoor heritage.”

A total of 21 pro-public-lands resolutions have been passed by county and municipal governments in the past two years. The new sportsmensaccess.org, where hunters and anglers can take action and find resources on the would-be impacts of land transfer, has an exhaustive list of these resolutions and other meaningful opposition. Click here to learn more.

Steve Kline

September 8, 2016

The Top Four Things Lawmakers Can Do for Conservation by the End of 2016

Congress gets back to work this week—here’s what we’ll be focused on while you’re out in your treestand or duck blind

It’s that time of year, when the nation’s hunters begin to sight-in rifles in preparation for the deer woods and clean last year’s feathers and shell casings out of the dove bucket. But for a few hunters, like me, who have to while away the days in Washington, the autumns of even-numbered years sometimes contain a flurry of activity that keeps us out of our duck blinds and deer stands: This is the end-of-the-year push to meet a cascade of tight political deadlines that come with an election and the official end of Congress. The end of the 114th Congress promises a similar array of action, some of which could have profound impacts on conservation policies that are important to sportsmen and women across the country.

Image courtesy of USDA/Flickr
Don’t Lock In 2016 Funding Levels

First and foremost, a comprehensive funding bill for fiscal year 2017 could be debated by Congress in November and December. We expect a stop-gap continuing resolution, meant to keep government running through mid-December, to be passed by Congress sometime in the next few weeks. This development, by design, leaves the window of opportunity open for a more deliberate funding bill—one that allows Congress to actually make funding decisions on a program-by-program level, instead of just funding everything at last year’s levels. Of course, as TRCP advocates for an omnibus funding bill, we’ll be lobbying for sensible increases in priority funding areas, like for Everglades restoration, North American Wetlands Conservation Act projects, and Farm Bill conservation programs.

Let Conservation Work for Sage Grouse

Of course, every potential opportunity in Washington seems to come with its share of risks, and anything that is deemed “must-pass” becomes a potential vehicle for last-minute mischief. What TRCP is most worried about is an effort to derail federal sage grouse conservation plans, a threat that has manifested itself not only as a rider in the appropriations process, but also as a provision within the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, annual legislation that keeps the military operating smoothly. The provision as it currently exists, and as TRCP has strenuously opposed in all its guises for months, would give state governors veto authority over conservation plans on federal public lands. This would not only threaten what might be perhaps the greatest western wildlife conservation effort in generations, but also represents an unprecedented shift in national public lands management authority.

Image courtesy of USDA/Flickr
Pass Sportsmen’s Act and Wildfire Funding Fix

Off the must-pass list, but certainly on the TRCP radar, are the ongoing negotiations between the House and Senate around comprehensive energy legislation, discussions that could produce agreement on some things that TRCP has prioritized, such as provisions to increase active management of our national forests, ending the damaging budgetary practice of ‘fire borrowing’ and, very importantly, a deal to finally get key provisions of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act on the President’s desk. Energy conference provisions that survive the negotiation process could become fodder for inclusion in the omnibus spending bill I mentioned earlier, as energy leaders search for a must-pass vehicle.

Give Habitat a Happy New Year

I always plan a duck hunt on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay for the last morning of the year. Here’s hoping we can close out 2016 with plenty of canvasbacks committed to the decoy spread and a Congressional session that ends with good tidings for conservation in the New Year. If we see better funding for key conservation programs, no bad sage grouse provisions, sensible improvements to national forest management, an end to fire borrowing, and all, or most of, the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act getting across the finish line, I’ll be celebrating.

Be the first to know about how these important issues are progressing and how you can get involved—sign up for The Roosevelt Report, and check back on the blog every Monday for a new Glassing the Hill, The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress.

Scott Laird

August 30, 2016

A Landscape Worthy of Conservation: Explore Montana’s Missouri Breaks in Photos

Live vicariously through photographer Charlie Bulla and escape to Big Sky Country right now (we won’t tell your boss)

Along the southern edge of the one-million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, the vast Montana prairie abruptly falls away and becomes the rugged Missouri Breaks. Because of its pristine habitat and remote wildness, this area is known by sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts as some of the country’s most unique and productive country for elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.

Ponderosa pine stands are found throughout the Missouri Breaks area. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.
The sun shines on your public lands in Big Sky Country. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

Much of this country is public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and, for the first time in over 20 years, the agency is updating its Resource Management Plan (RMP) that will guide the future management of these important lands. The TRCP and other sportsmen’s groups are advocating for a new and important conservation tool called Backcountry Conservation Areas (BCAs), which would be used to protect the Breaks from fragmentation and development while maintaining Americans’ access for traditional uses, such as grazing, hunting, and range improvement.

Remnants of recent fires dot the landscape, stimulating new plant growth. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.
Rainbows are a common site as storms move across the landscape. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

The importance and beauty of these remote lands, and the need for a tool to help protect them, is hard to put into words. So we asked Charlie Bulla, a professional photographer, to capture the essence of the unique landscape of the Missouri Breaks. Having never been to this part of Montana, Bulla was blown away by what he saw, calling the landscape “visually timeless and so precious.” Bulla said his respect for public lands only grew as he explored the area.

Rain-soaked soil is referred to as “gumbo,” making travel challenging. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.
Every time of day brings a new set of colors. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

Bulla returned with dozens of breathtaking pictures. We’re hoping these images serve as proof that the Missouri Breaks are more than worthy of conservation—they demand it.

Bringing much needed moisture, spring rain storms can be seen miles away. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.
The Missouri Breaks are a destination for hunters and rock hounds alike. Image courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

How can you help conserve the Missouri Breaks? The BLM is making final touches to its draft RMP and is expected to release the draft to the public soon. When they do, your input and comments will matter. Help us urge the BLM to conserve the best backcountry in the Missouri Breaks. Sign up at sportsmenscountry.org to pledge your support for backcountry conservation, and we’ll keep you informed throughout the BLM’s planning process. Sportsmen like you should continue to have a say in the future management of this unique fish and wildlife habitat.

A young bull elk begins this year’s antler growth. Image Courtesy of Charlie Bulla.

 

Kristyn Brady

August 18, 2016

Now Is the Time to Tell Lawmakers that CRP Works for Wildlife, Sportsmen, and Landowners

With our launch of CRPworks.org, we’re asking sportsmen to help us call for a better Conservation Reserve Program well ahead of the next Farm Bill

At an outdoor show like the Deer & Turkey Expo in Bloomington, Ill., it’s tough to be the conservation group with a couple of clipboards, a petition, and a handful of stickers to seal the deal. We’d much rather be handing out free samples of wild-game sausage or demonstrating how to hand-knap arrowheads, but it’s just not who we are. Still, last weekend we were delighted to speak to so many sportsmen and landowners who were just as enthusiastic about conservation on private lands as they were about testing bows and tasting venison.

On the whole, these folks agreed that CRP—the Conserve Reserve Program, which incentivizes landowners to put a portion of their acreage into conservation—works for wildlife, sportsmen, and farmers. And they were more than willing to ask their lawmakers for a better CRP.

Images courtesy of Kristyn Brady.

Now, with the help of some of our partners, we’ve made this easy to do. With the launch of CRPworks.org, a coalition of sportsmen’s groups—including the National Deer Alliance, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, and the TRCP—is rallying conservation advocates who support enhancing the program in the next Farm Bill.

“During the latest CRP sign-up, landowners who demonstrated an overwhelming demand for voluntary conservation practices under CRP were met with the lowest acceptance rates in the program’s 30-year history,” says Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “That’s why we’re calling for sportsmen and women to support strong conservation provisions in the Farm Bill, including a larger and more robust CRP authorization that meets the demand from farmers, ranchers, and other landowners, who improve wildlife habitat and provide us with better recreational and access opportunities.”

Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP once supported 37 million acres devoted to conserving soil, water, and wildlife habitat. But Congress has reduced the size of the program to just 24 million acres in the most recent Farm Bill. Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is turning down thousands of CRP applications from those who want to enroll millions of private acres in conservation.

The user-friendly website and advocacy app at CRPworks.org allows supporters to add their names to a petition asking lawmakers to reverse this trend, explaining that “without a strong CRP, the northern plains states would lose much of their duck breeding habitat, greater sage grouse in the West would be at greater risk of population decline, and brook trout would disappear from Eastern headwaters. Without CRP, 40 million sportsmen and women would lose access to private hunting and fishing grounds across rural America.”

Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.

Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the National Deer Alliance, says, “Deer hunters know that CRP works for wildlife and habitat—we’ve got the big buck stories to prove it—so it’s important that sportsmen and women call for better investments in CRP and become a part of the solution, well ahead of the next Farm Bill. This website makes that process very easy.”

CRPworks.org will also house educational resources on the benefits of the program and the latest news about private land conservation. “CRP acres are often enrolled in access programs to provide public hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands, and where they’re not, CRP acres might provide critical wildlife habitat adjacent to the public lands that receive a lot of hunting pressure,” says Ariel Wiegard, agriculture and private lands policy director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This program has served as an important piece of landowners’ business plans and a vital part of working and wild landscapes for 30 years, so it deserves the attention of our lawmakers.”

Learn more about the game and fish species that have benefited from the Conservation Reserve Program here, and sign the petition at CRPworks.org.




HOW YOU CAN HELP

WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?

The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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