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Reflections from a rookie hunter’s first day afield
When the alarm went off, I had already been awake for 15 minutes. I easily popped out of bed and started layering up. Ed told me it would be chilly and I needed to be prepared for the crisp, fall air.
My butterflies were surprisingly active for 4:00 am. It felt like Christmas morning growing up in Montana, but instead it was opening day in Colorado. And I would need to work a little harder for any gifts that might come my way.
The pickup and trailer were already loaded down with decoys, two different blinds, a sled, extra clothing, and Deke, a chocolate lab who would prove to be an excellent partner in the blind. This was Ed’s 1,000th (or so) hunt, but it was my first.
Earlier in the year, I had mentioned on a work call that I wanted to start hunting and TRCP’s chief scientist Ed Arnett generously volunteered to take me on my first excursion. I was nervous about how this might all shake out, but Ed patiently calmed my nerves in the days leading up to our trip.
After a short drive, we pulled up near the pond where we planned to set up and I asked if I could be put to work. I wanted to know how to do it all. I wanted the experience of hauling the equipment to the spot, wading through the water, setting up the decoys, covering the blind with brush, and sitting quietly as the sun rose.
It was a picturesque morning, and a stereotypical beginning to my first experience in the field. Moments after placing the spread, a HUGE flock of birds flew overhead just before shooting light—so there we sat, still under the blues and yellows of the morning sky, waiting for the next opportunity.
As we waited, Ed walked me through the best way to hold my gun in the blind and what would happen when and if the next round tried to land. There’s something about duck hunting that is quite different than what I understand about big game hunting: It’s more social. Ed and I swapped stories of our experiences outside, talked to Deke, drank our coffee, and waited for the birds to come in.
I was eager to bust out of the top of the blind and take my first shot at a bird. I had practiced by breaking clays in the days and weeks leading up to this hunt. If I had the opportunity, I wanted to make sure not to miss.
As with any good hunting story, there are exaggerations and compressions and extensions of time. So this next part falls into the category of true, but the full story has been shortened so you don’t have to read a play-by-play of two full days in the blind with Ed and me and zero action. (You’re welcome.)
“Ed!” I whisper–yell.
He calmly signals for me to hold. Then, seconds later I hear him say, “Take them!”
We pop up out of the blind. There are three mallards just about to land. I fire. He fires. One drops.
It’s definitely not mine.
Deke retrieves perfectly and my pulse is racing.
There was something magical about the whole experience. I could have been disappointed that I didn’t get my first bird, but I wasn’t. I was grateful to be outside learning from an experienced hunter, feeling an indescribable rush, and taking it all in.
Whatever anxiety I’d felt about taking on this challenge, developing new skills, and putting myself out there had evaporated with the morning fog. The biggest takeaway from my time in the blind was clear: the attention and generosity of a thoughtful mentor can make all the difference in the world.
It was a great reminder that if our community will succeed in addressing some of the most important conservation challenges—hunter recruitment among them—everyone has a role to play, no matter how big or small.
As we packed up the decoys one–by–one, I was thankful for such a rewarding first hunting experience and knew it wouldn’t be the last.
Stresses need for long-term commitment to see the conservation of vital big-game habitats
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed an executive order this week prioritizing the conservation of big-game migration corridors.
The TRCP responded to the directive:
“We appreciate Governor Gordon’s leadership on big-game migration corridors with his Executive Order,” said Nick Dobric, Wyoming field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We have incredible wildlife populations and hunting opportunities in Wyoming, and we hope that the Governor’s directives will help conserve these resources for decades and generations to come.”
During the summer of 2019, Governor Gordon tasked an advisory group of eight citizens—each representing various interests, including sportsmen—with devising a solution for migration corridors that would conserve the corridors while being consistent with multiple uses of the land. After three long sessions, the group recommended the governor could best address the issue through an executive order that would set up a process for more public involvement and limit development in designated corridors, with emphasis on stopover and high-use areas.
Subdivisions, fences, roads, and energy development all contribute to the loss of big-game habitat and impede the migrations of these animals between the seasonal habitats on which they rely. Land-use planning decisions on state and federal lands can have a determinative effect on the function of these habitats. This includes the proposed management objectives in the Rock Springs draft Resource Management Plan that is expected this Spring and will have implications for the Sublette Mule Deer herd, which depends upon the 150-mile migration corridor commonly known as the Red Desert to Hoback.
“This week’s action should be viewed as a renewed commitment, not a final step, to see migration corridors conserved over the long-term in Wyoming. Sportsmen are hopeful that the governor’s directives will be applied to the Rock Springs draft RMP, which overlaps with the designated Sublette corridor,” said Dobric. “We are counting on the BLM to support state management objectives for this deer herd and apply conservation measures that protect its future.”
Many of Wyoming’s big game herds depend on migration corridors in areas that have yet to be formally identified and designated. While the Order does not apply to areas outside of designated corridors, the science does support similar measures to conserve habitats and allow for multiple uses in other areas. Wyoming Game and Fish has been at the forefront in the West due to their efforts to gather the best science to inform their big game management. Years of captures and collaring, funded by sportsmen and others, gives the state a strong foundation for expanding its efforts so that conservation measures can be put into practice on the ground for migrating big game.
“Wyoming has been a leader of migration science, as well as the policy, for over a decade,” said Dobric. “The TRCP will continue to work with the Governor, state and federal agencies, sportsmen, and other stakeholders to implement this Order and ensure the continued functionality of big-game migration corridors.”
Photo courtesy: BLM Wyoming
Final plan includes key provisions to benefit wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation
The Bureau of Land Management today released a land use plan that will support outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve important big game habitat on public lands north of Mountain Home and east of Boise in western Idaho.
When finalized, the BLM’s proposed Resource Management Plan for the Four Rivers Field Office will determine how the agency will manage approximately 750,000 acres of public lands, including the Boise Front, the eastern flanks of Brownlee and Oxbow reservoirs, and the Hixon Sharptailed Grouse Area.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership worked with landowners, local government officials, and other stakeholder groups, and helped activate hunters and anglers to provide meaningful feedback on the draft plans that was then incorporated into the final proposals.
“Sportsmen and women spoke up in support of additional management emphasis for hunting, access, and habitat improvement under the final plan, and we appreciate that the BLM listened to our community’s requests,” said Rob Thornberry, Idaho Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This plan will benefit quality wildlife habitat and recreational access in places like the Bennett Hills, which is great news for those of us who care about Idaho’s strong outdoor traditions.”
The popular public lands in central and western Idaho to which the revised plan will apply help fuel the state’s $7.8-billion outdoor recreation economy, provide important wildlife habitat, and support various traditional uses of the land. These landscapes include IDFG Hunting Units 39, 43, 44, and 45, which offer some of the state’s best mule deer hunting.
“The Bennett Hills provide vital winter range and outstanding hunting opportunities for one of Idaho’s most important mule deer herds,” said Ford Van Fossen, conservation and content manager for First Lite, a Ketchum-based manufacturer of hunting apparel. “We want to thank the BLM for adopting measures in the Four Rivers RMP that prioritize wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.”
The revision process was formally initiated with a scoping phase in early 2016 and the BLM published its draft plan with a number of proposed alternatives in May 2019. While several wildlife- and recreation-friendly provisions to improve access and habitat were considered in the draft plan, most were not included in the preferred alternative at that stage of the process. Hunters and anglers spoke up and requested changes in management, and those comments produced meaningful improvements to the proposed plan.
“The hunting and fishing community owes the BLM thanks for the agency’s responsiveness to our concerns and proposals,” Thornberry said. “Public lands in Idaho are some of our state’s greatest assets and the revised Four Rivers plan will help ensure that future generations can enjoy these places as we do now.”
“I have hunted this area for almost 50 years, and I can state emphatically that it is a haven for an enormous amount of wildlife,” said Drew Wahlin, president of the Idaho Chukar Foundation. “It is a bird hunting destination and an essential winter area for the famed King Hill mule deer hunt. It is worthy of protections that help wildlife and sportsmen, and I applaud BLM’s decision.”
Wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation will benefit from final revisions
The Bureau of Land Management today released land use plans that will support outdoor recreation opportunities and habitat for big game near Missoula and northeast of Lewistown, in and around the Missouri River Breaks.
When finalized, the BLM’s proposed Resource Management Plans for the Missoula and Lewistown Field Offices will determine the future of forest and grassland management, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation on approximately 900,000 acres of public lands in western and central Montana.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership worked with landowners, local government officials, and other stakeholder groups, and helped activate sportsmen and women to provide meaningful feedback on the draft plans that were then incorporated into the final proposals.
“We appreciate that the BLM listened to the input of the hunting and fishing community during the draft comment periods for both the Missoula and Lewistown RMPs, and made meaningful refinements to benefit quality wildlife habitat and recreational access,” said Scott Laird, Montana Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Places like the Hoodoos and Ram Mountain in the Missoula area, as well as Arrow Creek and Crooked Creek in central Montana, will receive additional management emphasis for hunting, access, and habitat improvement under the final plans, and we view that as positive for sportsmen and women.”
The Missoula plan will guide management of local landmarks including the Blackfoot River corridor and portions of the Garnet and John Long mountain ranges. The revision process was formally initiated in early 2016 with a scoping phase and the draft plan was published in May 2019. While several wildlife- and recreation-friendly management measures dealing with access and habitat management were considered in the draft plan, they were generally not included in the preferred alternative at that stage of the process. Hunters, anglers, the state of Montana, tribal representatives, Missoula County, and other entities spoke up in support of such provisions, and those comments were reflected through meaningful changes in the final plan, including through the adoption of Backcountry Conservation Areas, a multiple-use focused conservation management tool.
“It is encouraging to see the BLM’s responsiveness to the concerns and suggestions of our community,” said Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “We’re fortunate to have these publicly owned landscapes in our own backyard and the revised plan will help ensure that future generations can enjoy them as we do now.”
“Having access to high-quality hunting opportunities on our public lands is critical for our customers and our bottom line,” said Casey Smith, owner of Straight 6 Archery in Missoula. “Refinements made to the BLM’s Missoula plan will help safeguard our outdoor traditions.”
In the Lewistown Field Office, which encompasses some of Montana’s best elk hunting units in the Missouri River Breaks, the planning revision process unfolded along a parallel timeline to that in Missoula. Similarly, strong support from the sporting community, the state of Montana, and local conservation groups led BLM decision-makers to include wildlife- and recreation-friendly measures in the final plan.
“The knowledge that places like Arrow Creek and Crooked Creek will continue to offer some of the best elk hunting in Montana is excellent news for sportsmen and women across our state,” said Doug Krings, Region 4 Leader for the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The BLM made sure that local values and priorities would shape the outcome of this process. As a result, our public land hunting heritage is stronger and future generations of public land owners will enjoy these places.”
Photo: Charlie Bulla
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More