July 8, 2021

Harvesting My First Turkey with the MeatEater Himself

TRCP’s fall 2020 sweepstakes winner has the ultimate Rinella-fan experience in Michigan

In the midst of the pandemic last fall, the TRCP was forced to take its signature in-person fundraising gala and host the whole thing online. Steven Rinella, a TRCP Board Member, served as co-emcee and graciously offered to be part of our first-ever nationwide sweepstakes, as well. Hundreds of sportsmen and sportswomen entered for a chance to join a turkey hunt in Michigan with the MeatEater crew, including Rinella and Janis Putelis, but only one could win: Austin Snow of Colorado Springs, Colo. Here’s his story.

I didn’t grow up hunting, but when I decided to give it a try, my childhood friend Kevin suggested that I purchase the two-volume “Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game,” by Steven Rinella. Over the next five years, these two books were invaluable to me as I became obsessed with learning how to hunt big and small game. In that time, I learned more and more about MeatEater and Rinella: the hunter, writer, entrepreneur, cook, entertainer, and conservationist.

Needless to say, I’m a fan. I’d been looking for a conservation organization to support, so the chance to donate to a good cause while putting in for a once-in-a-lifetime hunt with Steve was impossible to resist.

After a few weeks of not giving my entry a second thought, I received an email saying I had won and that I could bring two guests on what promised to be a memorable experience. It was only fitting that Kevin join us, after introducing me to MeatEater, and I asked my brother Jake, as well.

Months later, we were picked up at the airport in Michigan by the world-record turkey caller Guy Zuck. Along with his wife and son, Guy takes care of the property we’d be hunting, and in our time there, I saw him do everything from taking care of boats and guns to processing and cooking harvested animals. He’s also happy to help people improve their turkey calling skills.

Upon arrival, we received a tour and then patterned the shotguns we would be using. TRCP Board member Matt Cook, our gracious host, welcomed us with a few hilarious stories from the ranch—some involving the MeatEater gang—to help prepare us for the days ahead.

A short while later, Steve and the rest of the crew walk through the door. Over a meal of walleye fish tacos, we discussed our plan of attack for the morning and decided who would hunt with whom. Jake was paired with Janis, Kevin with Cal, and Steve and Seth would hunt with me.

I’d barely slept when 4:30 AM came around. After a few crow calls before sunrise, we heard some gobblers off in the distance and picked a spot to set up. Steve and I posted up on the same tree so he could talk me through the experience of my first turkey hunt. Seth was on a tree just behind us to capture some footage.

After about an hour of calling and a few interactions with some hens, the tom we’d been hearing got louder and louder. Anticipating a shot opportunity, Steve was offering some last-minute guidance when all of a sudden the biggest turkey I’ve ever seen in my life came charging in, full strut. I freaked out and rushed my shot, resulting in a clean miss, but the giant bird doubled back and gave me the very rare chance for a follow up. The second shot got him down and I approached shaking from the cold and the adrenaline.

That was that. Not many people can say their first turkey was called in by Seth “the Flip-Flop Flesher” Morris and Steven Rinella.

 

After filling my tag, I set decoys as we worked to get Seth a bird that evening. All along the way the MeatEater crew gave me pointers, teaching me the difference between the sign from males and females, as well as some of the physical differences between jakes and toms.

The next morning, I had the sincere pleasure of sitting in a blind with Guy Zuck. Although the birds were stubborn, I could easily tell that Guy was on a different level when it comes to turkey calling. If Steve and Seth have master’s degrees in turkey calling, Guy has a Ph.D. in clucks, yelps, and purrs—PLUS a master’s in turkey behavioral psychology.

Later in the day, Steve and I sat still watching about eight hens graze a field until sunset, while deer worked their way out of the woods. It was another beautiful, cold Michigan evening with a symphony of birds all around us.

I spent the last morning with Steve in a blind. I must say, Steve’s all business out there in the woods, but if you find yourself hunting with a stranger in close quarters, he’s the most down-to-earth guy you could ask for.

Not long into the afternoon, Jake got a bird—his first, as well. They’d roosted some birds the evening before and relocated them that morning. At some point, Jake drifted off for a quick nap, only to catch a glimpse of a bird right when he awoke. Janis grabbed the tom’s attention with a few calls, and he came straight into Jake’s shooting lane on his way towards the decoys. When all was said and done, Jake had a 24-pound bird—his first—and Janis was just as excited as he was.

Later, Seth joined my brother and Janis just in time to see “the Latvian Eagle” pop a nice-size jake for himself.

I wanted to give Steve some time to hunt for himself on the last evening, so Guy and his son took our trio out fishing on the lake. We caught close to 20 bluegills, one yellow perch, and saw a couple of massive beavers, calling it a day just after sunset.

I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have hunted with sportsmen of this caliber. I can easily say the MeatEater crew put on a master class. Plus, between Cal’s Coues deer chili, some elk meat marinara sauce over spaghetti, and Janis’s turkey schnitzel, we ate like kings. It was such a great first turkey hunt that I awkwardly gave Steve a man-hug before we all parted ways for the airport.

I’m truly grateful to the TRCP, MeatEater, Matt Cook, and his whole crew for making it happen. I know that it was just the first of many spring gobbler hunts for me and my family. I am now a lifelong turkey hunter.

The next opportunity to win a hunt with the MeatEater crew will be announced in August. In the meantime, enter to win some great gear and prizes while celebrating the private landowners who provide public access for hunting and fishing through Montana’s Block Management Program.

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Kristyn Brady

July 1, 2021

House Passes Highway Bill with Strong Investments in Habitat and Access

Senate must now act to establish a first-of-its-kind federal grant program for wildlife crossings and advance other important conservation priorities

Washington, D.C. — In a 221-201 floor vote today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the INVEST in America Act, a five-year highway bill with much-needed funding for fish and wildlife habitat connectivity, climate resilience, and road and trail maintenance across public lands.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is particularly encouraged to see the advancement of a new $100-million-per-year grant program that would help states construct more wildlife-friendly road crossing structures, including over- and underpasses, that benefit migrating big game and many other species. An amendment was also successfully passed to establish a new grant program to fund and support culvert restoration projects, which will help restore essential anadromous fish passages across the nation.

“It’s the right time to invest in America’s transportation infrastructure and jobs, and it’s highly appropriate that we look out for fish and wildlife habitat as we make largescale improvements,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This may be our best chance to knit together fragmented migration corridors and fish habitat, especially now that we know more about the way animals use seasonal habitats and exactly how development affects their movement patterns. The science and technology have advanced, but we can’t create solutions without the dedicated funding provided in this bill, which would create the first national wildlife crossings initiative of its kind and help prioritize culvert restoration across the country.”

The bill also includes an amendment that authorizes the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program through 2030 and requires the U.S. Forest Service to develop a national strategy for using the program—which would have a direct impact on public land access and hunting and fishing opportunities on Forest Service lands. The Forest Service also gets a share of the $555 million per year included in INVEST for the Federal Land Transportation Program, but the TRCP and partners will continue to push for more balance here.

Importantly, INVEST would also:

  • Reauthorize the Sport Fish Restoration Program, the well-known conservation fund that draws from angler license and gear purchases.
  • Create a Community Resilience and Restoration Fund and competitive grant program at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, authorized at $100 million per year.
  • Increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program to $40 billion over five years. Fifteen percent of these funds would be set aside to encourage states to invest in natural systems and nature-based approaches to addressing local water quality challenges.

The Senate surface transportation bill includes the culvert provisions but only $350 million over five years for wildlife crossings. It also includes a climate resilience program that is not in the House bill. The two versions will need to be reconciled before the president can sign off and advance the much-needed conservation provisions mentioned above.

 

Top image courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Randall Williams

June 16, 2021

Senate Subcommittee Considers MAPLand, Other Priority Public Land Bills

Hunters and anglers urge lawmakers to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and improve access

Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining heard testimony in support of a suite of public lands bills championed by hunters and anglers, including the bipartisan MAPLand Act, introduced by U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) in March.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership submitted testimony on behalf of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (S. 173), Ruby Mountains Protection Act (S. 609), and the Modernizing Access to our Public Land Act (S. 904).

The majority of this testimony focused on explaining the challenges posed to outdoor recreationists by outdated and incomplete public land access mapping data. The MAPLandAct would enhance recreational opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that would allow outdoor enthusiasts to access the information they need using handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.

“We are encouraged to see the committee listen to the voices of hunters and anglers by giving these bills an expeditious hearing,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The MAPLand Act will allow more Americans to get outdoors and share in the public land legacy that belongs to us all, while the CORE Act and the Ruby Mountains Protection Act secure some of the best fish and wildlife habitats for future generations of sportsmen and sportswomen. We hope these bills move through committee without delay and ask that lawmakers in both the House and Senate support these priorities that will strengthen our hunting and fishing heritage.”

In its formal testimony, the TRCP noted that:

• The MAPLand Act “would help address [access] challenges and inequities by moving our federal land management agencies into the modern era, so that public land users of all types can use digital mapping systems and smartphone applications to easily identify new opportunities for access and recreation, while understanding the rules to reduce conflict with private landowners, prevent resource damage, and avoid violations of the law.”

• The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act “would conserve landscapes in western Colorado that include headwaters and habitats crucial to the health of Colorado River cutthroat trout, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep and many others. The future of our hunting and fishing traditions and the North American Model of Wildlife Management depend on our ability to conserve quality habitat and to address the needs of wildlife in the face of dynamic challenges with increasing complexities.”

• The Ruby Mountain Protection Act “offers an important opportunity to conserve habitat and our outdoor traditions in one of the most spectacular places in our nation, and the TRCP thanks the committee for considering this legislation. The Ruby Mountains of Nevada support breathtaking views and valuable fish and wildlife resources, including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, mountain goats, and Lahontan cutthroat trout. We are thankful that the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a vital stopover of the Pacific Flyway, has been included in the leasing withdrawal area.”

The TRCP’s full testimony can be read here.

 

Photo: Craig Okraska/Maven

Randall Williams

June 8, 2021

House Committee Considers the MAPLand Act

Sportsmen and sportswomen call for swift passage of important public land access legislation

Hunters and anglers around the nation voiced support for the bipartisan Modernizing Access to our Public Land (MAPLand) Act as the bill received its first hearing in the 117th Congress.

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Tuesday for the MAPLand Act (H.R. 3113), introduced by Representative Blake Moore (R-Utah) and co-sponsored by Representatives Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.).

The bill will enhance recreational opportunities on public land by investing in modern mapping systems that allow outdoor enthusiasts to access the information they need using computer applications and the handheld GPS technology commonly found in smartphones.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to public lands, incomplete and inconsistent mapping data prevents outdoor recreationists as well as land management agencies—including the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Army Corps of Engineers—from utilizing the full benefit of these technologies,” noted the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in its formal testimony.

The MAPLand Act will direct federal land management agencies to consolidate, digitize, and make publicly available recreational access information as GIS files. Such records include information about:

• legal easements and rights-of-way across private land;
• year-round or seasonal closures on roads and trails;
• road-specific restrictions by vehicle-type;
• boundaries of areas where special rules or prohibitions apply to hunting and shooting;
• and areas of public waters that are closed to watercraft or have horsepower restrictions.

Last year, a coalition of 150+ hunting- and fishing-related businesses called on Congress to support the bill, highlighting the importance of public land access to the $778-billion outdoor recreation economy.

A companion bill in the Senate was introduced in March of this year by Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) alongside Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).

“The events of the past year have helped to put in perspective the importance of outdoor access, and this bill would make it easier for Americans from all walks of life and varying experience levels to take advantage of the opportunities we all share,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Hunters, anglers, and the countless other Americans who enjoy recreating on our public lands extend their appreciation to the members of the subcommittee for their attention to this issue and ask lawmakers in both the House and Senate to support the MAPLand Act.”

TRCP’s full testimony in support of the MAPLand Act can be read HERE.

 

Photo: Craig Okraska/Maven

Randall Williams

May 14, 2021

More Hunting and Fishing Coming to a National Wildlife Refuge Near You

Interior Department proposes another wave of expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on wildlife refuges and other public lands

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to allow hunting and fishing on an additional 2.1 million acres of land across 90 national wildlife refuges and one national fish hatchery.

This follows similar moves to expand access under the Trump Administration in 2019 and 2020, which we called out as one of the recent successes the Biden Administration could build upon to benefit sportsmen and sportswomen. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the expansion proposed in this rule is the largest in recent history—including last year’s, which itself was larger than the previous five rules combined.

If the rule is finalized after a public comment period, Americans will be able to hunt and fish on seven wildlife refuges previously off-limits to these activities and access new lands on another 83 refuges. Public lands in all 50 states are included in the new proposed rule, and the changes would go into effect in time for the 2021-2022 hunting seasons.

All told, the new rule would boost the total number of huntable national wildlife refuges to 434 and make fishing available on 378. The Fish and Wildlife Service is also working with states to make sure hunting and fishing regulations on federal refuges are more consistent with local laws and seasons.

Why Allow Hunting and Fishing on Refuges?

It comes as a surprise to some that hunting and fishing are allowed on refuges, which were established to conserve, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and their habitats. These lands, however, are not off-limits to other uses, and six wildlife-related activities are prioritized by law: hunting, fishing, photography, wildlife watching, environmental education, and interpretation.

When, where, and how hunting or fishing is allowed is dependent on several factors, and the decision to permit these activities is made on a case-by-case and unit-by-unit basis by local refuge managers and biologists. Considerations include objectives of each refuge or hatchery, its biological soundness, and the public demand for and economic feasibility of providing recreation while protecting other resources. Learn more about the history of allowing hunting and fishing on refuges here.

More Access Equals More Opportunity

“Hunters and anglers are some of our most ardent conservationists and they play an important role in ensuring the future of diverse and healthy wildlife populations,” says USFWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “Our lands have also provided a much-needed outlet to thousands during the pandemic and we hope these additional opportunities will provide a further connection with nature, recreation and enjoyment.”

Here are 26 places across six regions where this proposal may enhance your hunting and fishing opportunities by this fall.

The West

Some of the proposed changes in the West would open new opportunities for species or types of hunting that were not previously available. In Montana, for instance, both the Charles M. Russell NWR and the UL Bend NWR would allow mountain lion hunting on acres of the refuges already open to other types of hunting. Similarly, both the Las Vegas NWR in New Mexico and the Camas NWR in Idaho would allow elk hunting, which would be the first big game hunting opportunity offered by either refuge.

On the Ouray NWR in Utah, pronghorn and sandhill crane hunting would be allowed in areas already open to sportsmen and sportswomen pursuing other species. Likewise, the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming would allow deer and pronghorn hunting in areas already open to other hunts.

The Southwest

In some places, hunters would see a sea-change in opportunity. On the Muleshoe NWR in Texas, sportsmen and women will be able to hunt whitetail deer, mule deer, quail, and doves, which would amount to the refuge’s first big game, upland game, and migratory bird hunting seasons.

The Southeast

While some changes create hunting and fishing opportunities where they previously did not exist, others expand existing opportunities to a greater area of the refuge. For example, in addition to opening migratory bird hunting for the first time, changes proposed for the Mackay Island NWR in North Carolina/Virgina would also expand current opportunities for deer hunting.

Several refuges would create additional opportunities through youth-only hunts. Among those proposed in Arkansas are a youth deer hunt on the Big Lake NWR, a youth turkey hunt on the Bald Knob NWR, and youth hunts for deer, rabbits, and squirrels on the Holla Bend NWR.

Anglers in the region would for the first time get to enjoy sportfishing on the Grand Bay NWR, which straddles Alabama-Mississippi border, and the Florida Panther NWR in Florida, while waterfowlers in Alabama would see the first-ever duck and goose hunting season on the Choctaw NWR.

The Mid-Atlantic

Both the Great Swamp NWR and the Supawna Meadows NWR in New Jersey could offer new opportunities to hunt, among other species, turkeys, and both could also expand existing deer hunting opportunities.

In Virginia, the proposed rule would open migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and sportfishing for the first time at the Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, while also expanding existing opportunities there for whitetail hunting. The Great Dismal Swamp NWR, James River NWR, Occoquan Bay NWR, Prequile NWR, and Rappahannock River Valley NWR would all allow turkey and coyote hunting for the first time, among other opportunities.

The Midwest

In Michigan, the Harbor Island NWR would allow migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and sportfishing for the first time, while also expanding current opportunities for deer hunting and bear hunting to additional acreage within the refuge.

The Northeast

In Maine, waterfowl hunters would enjoy the first-ever migratory bird hunting opportunities at the Franklin Island NWR and the Pond Island NWR, which also extends into New Hampshire. Likewise, anglers would for the first time be able to fish at the Pine Tree State’s Green Lake National Fish Hatchery.

A complete list of the proposed changes to hunting and fishing access can be found here.

 

Top photo by Wyman Meinzer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via flickr.

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