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Selecting a Location…Public Land Elk Hunt Part II

Huntable populations of elk exist across the west (as well as a smattering of states in the east) and good choices for your next North American elk adventure abound.

When it comes to selecting where you want to hunt elk, the challenge can be as great as the hunt itself.  Luckily, a number of online-resources exist to help you through the decision making process. Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) has some great information for those seeking options.  Honestly, if you’re able to budget the time and money, you can’t go wrong.  I’ll take a slow day in the mountains over a day in the office every time.

Once a specific area is selected, state laws, applications, and any local regulations must be thoroughly understood and navigated to successfully get your license and get you into the woods.  Here too, there are some great websites that have compiled state regulations into one, easy to use interface.  RMEF has done this as well, but I found National Shooting Sports Foundation’s “Where to Hunt” (www.wheretohunt.org) website very user friendly.  As with any third-party source, always check with that particular state’s website to confirm dates and specific regulations.  Ignorance is rarely a successful defense…

Most of the time, the application process must be started at least 9 months prior to your planned departure.  In many cases, especially hunt areas where prospective hunters (license buyers) far outnumber available licenses, the process for getting a license and hitting the woods may take years of unsuccessful applications and building up multiple “preference points.”  This was the case for our hunt.

Full disclosure…while there are some really good options out there for chasing elk, our decision was largely made for us.  I’m never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, or a gift “guide” for that matter.

Through work and a mutual friend, I met Dan “Dancing Bear” Nichols (nickname to be explained later), shortly after moving to Minnesota in 2011.  He was (and is currently) a board member for a local conservation club as well as their state-wide federation, the Minnesota Conservation Federation (MCF).  Many years my senior, Dan and I struck up a quick friendship through a shared passion for all things hunting and attendance/participation in numerous conservation club meetings, banquets, events, and fundraisers.  After just a few stories about September elk camp, Dan had me hooked.

Knowing I’d probably need a few preference points to join the hunt with Dan in Wyoming, I began a yearly tradition of purchasing a preference point (July/August) in preparation for when I could budget the time and money needed for a Wyoming elk trip.  After three years, my father and I had amassed a combined 6 preference points and we were ready to go.

We could only get away for 8 days, but Dan promised to show us the ropes for our first trip to elk camp.  In an effort to temper our expectations (who doesn’t expect to see a 300 class elk every time they enter the woods) Dan tell us we’d see and hear elk, but he couldn’t promise anything more.

We’re in.  Having applied for and gotten a license, we were now on the clock to get the equipment and ourselves ready for the mountains…

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Autopsy of a Self-Guided, Public Land Elk Hunt…a first-timer’s perspective.

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The author with his father, center, and their friend and elk-hunting mentor, Dan.

My first foray into elk hunting has come to an end, having arrived home at 5:30am Saturday morning.  Given only a week to explore the Medicine Bow National Forest in south-central Wyoming, I feel I was able to get the most I could out of the opportunity and I’m left with one simple reflection.  I’m hooked.

I’m hooked on the adventure of chasing an animal the size of a horse through the most rugged terrain I’ve ever experienced while hunting.  Hooked on the adrenaline felt at hearing the screaming bugle of a bull elk shake the forest from less than 20 yards away.  Hooked at how quickly the mountains can turn the highest of highs to the deepest low.  In a word…hooked.

I’ve been planning, on some level, this hunt for years.  Ever since my grandfather first mentioned an interest in heading west to chase elk (he never made it), my father and I have talked about a trip of our own.  Determined not to let “someday” end the same way it did for my grandfather, I undertook the responsibility of planning our first elk adventure.

Site selection, applications, equipment (including a few purchases), personal training and practice, packing, hunting techniques, lessons learned, and everything it took to make the trip a success will be discussed in the next few posts.  Stay tuned.

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The author’s father glasses for elk along the Sandstone Creek basin.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Lucy, the author's GSP

Lucy, the author’s GSP

 

Last month, I had a tough decision to make.  It’s one of the hardest, most gut-wrenching decisions a pet owner ever has to make.  When to say “goodbye.”  Honestly, it’s taken me until today to gather the courage to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys for that matter).

A little perspective.  I know Lucy was “only a dog.” I have lost both friends and family in my short 35 years, and realize the devastation left in the wake of their passing.  My focus is not on the pain felt in my decision, but to celebrate the amazing dog that was my best friend, hunting buddy, and “first born.”

Lucy was my first dog.  I grew up with dogs, but she was the first one that was my own.  My graduation present upon finishing my B.S. in wildlife biology from Michigan State University, she was there for the beginning of my career in wildlife advocacy, buying my first home, marrying the love of my life, and the birth of both my children.

My first true “gun dog,” I did what any wannabe dog trainer would do after bringing home a new puppy;  I read all the books, watched as many videos as I could, and then promptly forgot it all.  I tinkered here and there with different methodologies, vacillating between pointing and flushing/retriever skills, never really deciding if I had the German Shorthaired Pointer her pedigree told me she was or the Labrador Retrievers I had grown up chasing through the woods.

As I muddled through her first few months of training, a clear goal began to emerge.  The dog I was searching for wasn’t a four-legged Rambo, it was a dog that trusted me and that I could trust.  Her instincts were amazing, I didn’t need to (and couldn’t hope to) train her on “how” to hunt birds, I just had to get us to the point that we both knew our role in the field and let each of us do our respective jobs.

To that end, we began our training anew.  Tennis balls replaced training dummies, and thousands of sticks were thrown into area lakes and rivers.  Long hikes were taken and her spot on the couch was firmly established.  What developed was a relationship, one between dog and man, as friends.  She wasn’t a tool, she was a hunting buddy.

After marriage, a move to the city, and children arrived, we began to spend less time in the woods.  Times change, and so did we.  Lucy transitioned into a city dog and dutifully protected our back yard and home from squirrels and other invaders.  But she was always ready to shake the rust off and take to the woods when opportunity presented itself.

Last year, after noticing how long it was taking Lucy to recover from a round of fetch or short runs through the field, I decided it was time to retire her from hunting.  It was a tough decision, and it hurt to see the look on her face when I would suit up Dillon (her younger “brother”) for hunting, knowing she wouldn’t be going along.  She was going deaf and having trouble keeping up with the younger dogs.  I wouldn’t have minded moving slower to accommodate, but an inability to hear commands in the woods was more than a mere inconvenience.

Lucy’s last year was filled with love, long naps in warm, comfy beds, and a seemingly endless joy of fetching tennis balls, even as her body slowly gave out on her.  Her last day was spent in my office, curled up in front of the fireplace, kicking wildly as she dreamed about flushing pheasants or grouse exploding from the aspen.

In the end, Lucy will always be remembered as my first dog, and my (and my son’s) best friend.

Forever, Logan’s “Lucy girl.”

Goodbye.

Lucy quickly adopted our first son, Logan, as her own

Lucy quickly adopted our first son, Logan, as her own (early 2010)

Out for a hike

Out for a hike (2012)

Lucy, her younger "brother" Dillon, and the author after one of her last pheasant hunts

Lucy, her younger “brother” Dillon, and the author after one of her last pheasant hunts (2014)

Conservationist’s Call to Action

The author's son holding a new friend, an eastern garter snake

The author’s son holding a new friend, an eastern garter snake

This week, Michigan’s 110 state Representatives will have the chance to vote on a citizen-initiated law called the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. On the heels of over 300,000 signatures, Michigan voters have given the legislature this monumental opportunity to defend our state’s ability to manage wildlife as well as defend itself against incoming invasive species like Asian carp.

You’ve probably heard about Asian Carp already, but they are voracious filter feeders that can grow to more than four feet long, weigh up to 100 pounds and quickly dominate a body of water by gobbling up the same food that sustains native fish populations. Urgent action is needed to prevent these invasive species and others from invading the Great Lakes and risking the $7 billion dollar commercial and sport fishery. Once passed, the initiative will provide much-needed financial resources to help combat invasive species, like Asian carp, in Michigan.

In addition, the initiative ensures that management decisions for the state’s fish and wildlife with be made by responsible fish and wildlife professionals using sound science.

The alternative?

A “NO” vote, or inaction by Michigan’s House of Representatives will allow animal rights groups and activists and the millions of dollars they have pumped in to their anti-conservation campaigns to buy your vote and dictate the what, how, and who of wildlife management. Wildlife management decisions must be de-politicized and left in the hands of management professionals. From history and experience, I have found that the best way of ensuring healthy wildlife populations is through the support of scientific and professional wildlife management.

Successful passage of the act will support more funding for invasive species, like Asian carp, ensure that fish and wildlife decisions are made by professional, scientific wildlife managers at the state and federal level, and provide free licenses to active military personnel.

Please call your representative and tell them to vote “YES” on the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. Just one call can make a difference.

Click HERE for more information on Representatives needing your calls.

More information on the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act can be found at http://www.citizenswildlife.com/about/initiative/.

More information on Asian Carp and their effects in the Mississippi River can be found at stopcarp.org.

 

Wilderness designation coming for Sleeping Bear Dunes

Photo Courtesy of National Park Service

Photo Courtesy of National Park Service

I imagine everyone who’s spent time in Michigan as a youngster has a lasting memory from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Sand, amazing topography, water, forested islands, history (lighthouses and shipwrecks), and memories await all who venture there.

Whether it was traversing the dunes and running (mostly falling, rolling, and laughing) crazily down what seems to be hundreds of feet in elevation to the bottom of the “dune climb” or backpacking the Manitous and enjoying the serenity of the forested Lake Michigan islands, Sleeping Bear Dunes seems to have something for everyone.  And now, Lawmakers are looking to make sure it remains a pristine wilderness for our children and successive generations to enjoy.

Sponsored by Senators Levin (D, MI) and Stabenow (D, MI) in the Senate and Representatives Benisheck (R, Crystal Falls) , and Huizenga (R, Zeeland) in the House, the measure would bring wilderness designation to Sleeping Bear Dunes, placing extra protections on the fragile dune ecosystem and safeguarding the park for future generations to enjoy.

Officially designated S.23, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act will ensure that the beaches, dunes, and forests along the shore of Lake Michigan will be protected in perpetuity.  The legislation’s protections also extend to sportsmen, specifically adding that recreational pursuits such as hunting and fishing will also be preserved for future generations seeking to visit the park.  Along with being an important recreational destination for Michigan hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts, the designation will also protect the habitat of several threatened and endangered wildlife species.

Passage of the legislation will be an important step in ensuring that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will continue to be a destination for recreation and wildlife enthusiasts for generations to come.  National Wildlife Federation, along with bipartisan support of Michigan’s congressional delegation, is pushing for passage of the bill.

The bill has already passed the Senate and is set to be brought to the floor in house this week.

For more information on S. 23, click here.

For more information on what National Wildlife Federation is doing for sportsmen, click here.

For more information on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, click here.

For OUR Future…Take a Kid Hunting

Author's son with a successfully harvested doe he helped track

Author’s son with a successfully harvested doe he helped track

This year’s Deer hunting season is nearing its end, having sent the largest army in the free-world into the woods across the Midwest.  While our numbers are staggering, they belie a greater problem; our numbers are also stagnating, and have actually seen a downward trend over the past 30 years.  Part of the problem is that we’re recruiting less hunters, and keeping even fewer (see what Michigan is facing here).

This year will mark the first year I wasn’t able to get to my family’s hunting camp for opening day in nearly 20 years.  A remarkable run considering that period includes high-school, college, marriage and children; but its passing has me reminiscing on my beginnings in the tradition of hunting.

My passion for everything out-of-doors can be traced back to my parents and grandparents and their willingness to include me in their passion for the great outdoors.  Learning how to track a rabbit, cast a fly, or field-dress a successfully harvested deer can’t be learned from a book.  My parents and grandparents both instilled my outdoor ethic as well as nurtured it by continually getting my outdoors with them.

My earliest hunting memory is of me sitting on my grandfather’s lap in his hunting blind.  I had a bag of chips, a coke, and a handful of other things that would never find their way into a normal hunter’s blind.  At the time, I was too young to officially hunt, but it didn’t matter.  I was “hunting” with grandpa.  I don’t remember ever seeing anything on my hunts with grandpa…but that wasn’t the point.  Yes, he had his trusty 30-06 (which has since been handed down to me) with him, but he knew that his mission that day wasn’t to harvest a deer; it was to bring the next generation of hunters into the family.

My grandfather hasn’t been to camp for a number of years now…but his tradition lives on in my father and me, and my mission couldn’t be clearer; to pass OUR tradition on.  It is this mission that I implore my fellow hunters/outdoorsmen/conservationists joins me in.

As hunters/conservationists and stewards of OUR natural resources, it is our duty to not only protect those resources, but the outdoor heritage that has been passed down to us from previous generations.  Take a kid hunting, invite your friends, neighbors, and others new to the out-of-doors into the field and introduce them to what drives each and every one of us…the protection of both our natural resources and outdoor recreation heritage.

More information on getting kids and others into the hunting can be found at:

Michigan DNR Mentored Youth Hunting Program

Wisconsin Mentored Hunting Program

Minnesota Hunter Recruitment and Retention Program

Pheasants Forever Ringnecks Program

Michigan United Conservation Clubs Youth Outreach

Score one for science

MI DNR

MI DNR

Score one for the good guys. This week, Michigan’s Governor signed into law Senate Bills 288 and 289. Widely misunderstood and mischaracterized as the wolf hunting bills, the measures extend the Natural Resources Commission’s (NRC) authority and sound science mandate to list game species (the legislature retains this authority as well) and reiterates the legislature’s exclusive authority to remove them. The bill also provides for free licenses for active-duty members of the military.

Score one for the good guys.  Not because this means that a season can move forward for wolves, but because we will be reaffirming the need to have science be the key consideration when managing our states natural resources, not the ballot box (or $$$ brought to bear by outside groups).  And of course, there’s the welcome change that our active-duty military heroes will now be able to hunt for free.

Since 1996 and the passage of Proposal G, the Natural Resources Commission has had the exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game in Michigan. As part of that authority, they are mandated to use principles of sound scientific management in making decisions regarding the taking of such game. SB 288 is a logical extension of that authority. Rather than leaving game decisions up to the political powers that be or to the political winds within the non-profit community, the voters decided (by an overwhelming 2/3 majority) that these decisions should be left up to science.

Some may not like the thought that their “vote” may not be heard on the issue…but the process is stronger rooted in science. Peer reviews, scientific integrity (when’s the last time you heard the words “political” and “integrity” in the same sentence), adaptive management, and collaborations between research institutions, management authorities, and citizen groups are all safeguards and stabilizers that mold the process of game management. The ballot box has no place in that world.

Score one for the good guys.

More information can be found at http://www.mucc.org and http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf