BRING MY ASHES HERE: PAGE 54
The Magazine of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers SPRING 2020
PLUS: CONSERVATION HERO
TONY SCHOONEN, NEW ENGLAND
BACKCOUNTRY, THE OZARKS, MORELS
WITH HANK SHAW, PYRAMID LAKE,
E-BIKES AND MORE!
2 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Spencer Shaver, Land and Lukas Leaf stand for the
Boundary Waters in Washington, D.C.
I couldn’t be more excited about the coming year.
We have arrived. Many of you have heard me say we punch
above our weight class, which is absolutely true.
How do we do it? We the people! This world is run by those
who show up, and we have the most dedicated volunteers and
members on the planet. Last year alone you all put in upwards
of 50,000 hours of volunteer time and sent 108,955 messages to
elected leaders (more than doubling our total from 2018). You
made phone calls, spoke up at meetings, cleaned up your public
lands and continued to bring the masses into our fold. At 40,000
plus members strong our voice continues to grow louder. BHA
staff has the all-important job of providing the megaphone to
make your voices even more robust. I couldn’t be prouder of our
In February BHA was asked to testify in front of a House
Natural Resources subcommittee on behalf of H.R. 5598, the
Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention
Act, sponsored by Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota and Rep.
Francis Rooney of Florida. The strongly bipartisan H.R. 5598
would prevent copper-nickel mining development on 234,328
acres of public lands upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe
Area Wilderness watershed, located in northeastern Minnesota.
Some places are just too important to risk. Many of you recognize
this. More than 5,000 of you have taken action via the BHA
website in support of conserving the Boundary Waters. If you
haven’t taken action yet … do it now!
When I traveled to D.C. to testify before Congress, I received
messages from BHA members and supporters all across the
continent. Thank you, one and all, for the encouragement. I
felt a deep responsibility to represent not just our membership –
including the 1,600-plus BHA members who live in Minnesota
– but also sportsmen and women everywhere, as well as the
fish, fowl and wildlife who rely on our advocacy. Lukas Leaf
and Spencer Shaver, both active BHA members who work for
Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, did an amazing job briefing
me in advance of the hearing. Our D.C.-based government
relations manager, Julia Peebles, grilled me with tough questions.
In true backcountry fashion, we were overprepared.
As I was called upon to give my testimony my heart raced. Rep.
Paul Gosar of Arizona, ranking member of the subcommittee, was
particularly aggressive. From his elevated seat, he looked ready to
pounce. Buoyed by the support of so many of you, I delivered
my prepared remarks. After all the speakers testified, Rep. Alan
Lowenthal of California, chair of the subcommittee, gave each
of us an opportunity to expand on anything we had heard or
wanted to add. When it came my turn, I made it clear that our
longstanding chapter in Minnesota is directly responsible for our
involvement in the Boundary Waters. You all have worked on
defending this special place now for over a decade. My role was
not to provide a top-down mandate; rather it was to elevate your
voices on the ground – and to help protect a place special to all
inside and outside of the great state of Minnesota. In my heart of
hearts, I hope I represented you all well.
One other memorable moment from my trip to Washington,
D.C., did not happen in a committee hearing room or meeting
with high-level administration staffers. It unfolded in the basement
of the Dirksen Senate Office Building at the hands of one of our
members, Kevin. Rabbit in red sauce. Fine china and mismatched
cutlery. This is the second time that Kevin has shared his bounty
with me while I’ve been visiting D.C. I ate mostly with my hands
and did my best not to spill anything on myself. The food was
delicious, but what I loved most was the flowing conversation.
This is what BHA members do! We share – not only in the
blood sport that is conservation advocacy but also in experiences
in the field and, ultimately, over delicious vittles. Kevin, I can’t
thank you enough for providing a much needed oasis from the
craziness that is D.C.
I’m confident that our family will continue to grow. Together
we will continue to forge deep relationships around campfires.
Together we will continue to reach new heights and evolve. Our
core will remain the same. We will always be the voice for our
wild public lands, waters and wildlife, and we will always be an
organization for the people, by the people.
We have much more to do together across North America. I
look forward to seeing many of you June 4-6 at BHA’s North
American Rendezvous for the best conservation gathering on the
planet. Most of all, I look forward to seeing you on the trail.
Onward and upward,
President and CEO
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 3
4 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 5
THE VOICE FOR OUR WILD
PUBLIC LANDS, WATERS AND
Photo by Jeremiah Watt
Ryan Busse (Montana) Chairman
J.R. Young (California) Vice Chairman
Jeffrey Jones (Alabama) Treasurer
Ted Koch (Idaho) Secretary
Ben Bulis (Montana)
NORTH AMERICAN BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Ryan Callaghan (Montana)
Bill Hanlon (British Columbia)
Hilary Hutcheson (Montana)
Heather Kelly (Alaska)
Tom McGraw (Michigan)
T. Edward Nickens (North Carolina)
Ben O’Brien (Montana)
Michael Beagle (Oregon) President Emeritus
Land Tawney, President and CEO
Aliah Adams Knopff, Alberta Public Lands Coordinator
Grant Alban, Development Coordinator
Tim Brass, State Policy and Field Operations Director
Walker Conyngham, Communications Coordinator
Trey Curtiss, R3 Coordinator
Katie DeLorenzo, Southwest Chapter Coordinator
Kevin Farron, Montana Chapter Coordinator
Caitlin Frisbie, Operations Associate and Assistant to the President
John Gale, Conservation Director
Chris Hennessey, Regional Manager
Ace Hess, High Divide and Idaho Chapter Coordinator
Josh Kaywood, Southeast and North Carolina Chapter Coordinator
Frankie McBurney Olson, Operations Director
Katie McKalip, Communications Director
Jason Meekhof, Upper Great Lakes Chapter Coordinator
Rob Parkins, Public Access Coordinator
Julia Peebles, Government Relations Manager
Jesse Salsberry, Northwest Chapter Coordinator and Video Production Assistant
Kylie Schumacher, Collegiate Club Coordinator
Ryan Silcox, Membership Coordinator
Dylan Snyder, Operations Assistant
Ty Stubblefield, Chapter Coordinator and New Chapter Development
Brien Webster, Program Manager and Colorado and Wyoming Chapter Coordinator
Zack Williams, Backcountry Journal Editor
Rob Yagid, Digital Media Coordinator
Interns: Kincaid Jones, Trenton Kriz, James Lindbloom, Craig Martynn, Atlas
McKinley, Scott Moore, Tyler Turco
Contributors in this Issue
Moriah Boggess, Tim Brass, Dan Crockett, Cory DeStein, Corey Ellis, Holly Heyser,
Brenton Lammers, Charlie Levesque, Harly McAllister, Fisher Neal, Joe O’Brien,
Brian O’Keefe, Rob Parkins, Christine Peterson, Andrew Posewitz, Don Rank, Wendi
Rank, Hank Shaw, Emily Stone, David Sumner, Brandyn Thorsen, Garrett Titus,
Wade Truong, Garrett VeneKlasen, Craig Watson, Jeremiah Watt, Victor Yvellez
On the cover: Somewhere near Mt. Shasta, California. Photo by Jeremiah Watt
Journal Submissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Advertising and Partnership Inquiries: email@example.com
General Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
P.O. Box 9257, Missoula, MT 59807
P.O. Box 9257, Missoula, MT 59807
Backcountry Journal is the quarterly membership publication of Backcountry
Hunters & Anglers, a North American conservation nonprofit 501(c)(3) with
chapters in 45 states and the District of Columbia, two Canadian provinces
and one Canadian territory. Become part of the voice for our wild public
lands, waters and wildlife. Join us at backcountryhunters.org.
All rights reserved. Content may not be reproduced in any manner without the
consent of the publisher.
Published March 2020. Volume XV, Issue II
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
in the Ozarks
BY GARRETT TITUS
The crisp turquoise spring water ripples across the front of my
canoe, with the gentle strokes of my paddle and the soothing
melody of stirring songbirds the only sounds as I traverse downstream.
Steam is coming from the water like a fire that has almost
burned itself out, while the sunlight pierces through the sycamores,
providing me a clearer path through the rapids and root
wads. The river bluffs rise high above on either side almost as if to
point my eyes to the heavens. The cliffs, though not long-lived,
are magnificent, and I take maybe a moment too long enjoying
the serenity of my view. I am trapped in the moment, almost unable
to continue, until a distant gobble yanks me back to reality.
The Eleven Point River stretches over 40 miles in Missouri and
is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which also includes
the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. This paradise of public
land, which consists of classic karst topography with limestone
cliffs, deciduous forest and caves – over 175 miles of river in
south-central Missouri – is all protected by the ONSR. Although
managed by the National Park Service, this area is open to hunting
and fishing. Additionally, the rolling hills of the Ozarks provide
stunning vistas, fall foliage, rafting, camping and are home to
some of the largest freshwater springs in the United States. That’s
all why I chose to hunt here. It’s hard, it’s fair and it’s isolated.
With my canoe parked safely above the rapids, I first grab my
fishing rod and casually toss a Rebel shallow diving crawdad. I do
this a few times trying to entice a local rainbow trout to become
dinner. Unsuccessful in my attempts, I strap on my turkey vest,
grab my grandfather’s single-shot 12 gauge from the canoe and
attempt to cross the creek that appeared to be an easy obstacle on
my map. This proves to be much more difficult than anticipated;
it’s a half mile hike before I can even attempt to cross the nebulous
water. I start the climb up the bank and crawl into hills of
the Irish Wilderness. The cliffs make climbing up from the river
difficult, but curiosity and excitement drive me farther into Missouri’s
largest wilderness area. After a few hours of calling, I am
reminded that no matter how hard I try, I will never be as good
as the real thing.
A long hike down a ravine, a five-mile float and a few casts later,
a rainbow trout finds a cozy home over the brilliant glow of the
fire. A consequence of my urban residence for the past four years,
I have to be reminded of how the starlight can focus my thoughts
on reflection. A lonely whippoorwill assures me that I am not
alone in basking under the pale moonlight.
I’m not an early riser. After a 4:45 alarm was silenced by deafening
rain, I go after the infamous 10 o’clock gobble. With heavy
rains in the forecast and unknowingly floating past my designated
camp the afternoon before, I could be in for adventure. Yet another
trek into the hills leaves me with a few minutes of excitement –
a tom decides to mimic the storm and let loose a thunderous roar
from underneath me – and yet still an empty stomach. I am again
humbled by the instincts of such a wary bird, the wily Ozark tom
deciding he wants to see tomorrow’s sunrise more than he wants
to come looking for love.
On the hike down off the ridge, the skies open up. With over a
two-mile float to the car, not everyone would have a smile on their
face. As my clothes gain water weight, and I find myself taking
on the job of human bilge pump, scooping water from my canoe
with a water bottle I cut in half, a wave of happiness overcomes
BHA member Garrett Titus grew up in the heart of Missouri but
now follows his outdoor passions in western Montana.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 7
ENJOY A GOOD FIGHT
PROFESSIONAL KAYAK ANGLER HOWIE STRECH DOESN’T BACK DOWN
FROM THE SHIFTING CURRENTS AND PUNISHING WINDS OF THE PACIFIC.
8 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Email your Backcountry Bounty submissions to williams@
backcountryhunters.org or share your photos with us by using
#backcountryhuntersandanglers on social media!
Hunter: Shon Waery, BHA member Species: whitetail State: Minnesota
Method: bow Distance from nearest road: 1 mile Transportation: foot
Hunter: Eric Nuse, BHA member Species: snowshoe hare State: Vermont
Method: shotgun Distance from nearest road: one mile Transportation: foot
Anglers: Cole and Carter Fauskee, BHA members Species: cutthroat State: Wyoming Method: spin
and fly Distance from nearest road: four miles Transportation: horseback
Hunter: Tanner Dallas, BHA member Species:
rainbow trout State: Oklahoma Method: spin
Distance from nearest road: one mile Transportation: foot
Hunter: Isaiah and Josh Hindman, BHA members
Species: ducks State: Oregon Method: shotgun
Distance from nearest road: one mile Transportation: foot
Hunter: Liz Bradley, BHA Member Species: pronghorn State:
Montana Method: rifle Distance from nearest road:
four miles Transportation: foot
Hunter: Gerald Mauriello, Jr., New Jersey Co-Chair Species:
turkey State: New Jersey Method: shotgun Distance from
nearest road: one mile Transportation: foot
Hunter: Shannon Scott, BHA Life Member Species: elk State:
Nevada Method: rifle Distance from nearest road:
four miles Transportation: foot
Angler: Colin Nelson, Texas BHA
Secretary Species: speckled trout State:
Texas Method: spin Distance from nearest
road: three miles Transportation: foot
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 9
The Magazine of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Spring 2020
Volume XV, Issue II
Bring My Ashes Here 54
By David Sumner
Hooked on the River 58
By Emily Stone
Transcending Waters 62
By Michael Stepp
On the Brink 66
By Victor Yvellez
Worth the Wait 68
By Christine Peterson
Always Show Up, Never Give Up 71
By Dan Crockett
10 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
President’s Message 3
Tranquility in the Ozarks 7
Backcountry Bounty 9
BHA Headquarters News 12
Faces of BHA
Sabrina Schuler, Boise, Idaho 15
Conservation Crossword! 17
Field to Table
Butter Curry Turkey 20
See You There 22
Beyond Fair Chase
Considering the Ethics of Trophy Hunting 25
Public Land Owner
Breaking Down Barriers 28
E-Bikes and the Backcountry 30
Morel Hunting 101 32
Spring Steelheading in the Great Lakes 35
Chapter News 38
In Depth: The Pennsylvania Chapter’s Huge Win on Sunday Hunting 44
In Depth: New Mexico Chapter Battles for Public Stream Access 48
Backcountry on a Budget 50
Backcountry Doesn’t Only Mean Public Land 78
End of the Line
SPRING Pyramid 2020 Lake, BACKCOUNTRY Nevada. Photo by JOURNAL Brenton Lammers | 11
2019 PUBLIC WATERS
Photo by Jeremiah Watt
For almost a year BHA has been working to develop
a three-year strategic plan, our 2020 Vision, to guide us
through the end of 2022. This process started at Rendezvous
last year with the North American board and included
input from our members through the membership
survey, feedback from chapters and insights from staff.
It ultimately was approved during the February North
American board meeting. Thank you to all who participated.
Some highlights include aspirational goals of growing
membership to 100,000, chapters in all 50 states, provinces
and territories, and a $1 million endowment. The 2020
vision also highlights building an infrastructure to support
our chapters and volunteer leaders, expanding our collegiate
club and Hunting for Sustainability programs, and
continuing to emphasize finding common ground with
those outside of our hunting and fishing world. … We are
all Public Land Owners. We look forward to working with
our volunteer leadership, members and staff to accomplish
our 2020 Vision!
The winners of the 2019 Public Waters Photo Contest have been announced!
1st Place: Cole Bergman – Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (shown above)
2nd Place: Steve Reimer, Wisconsin
3rd Place: Joseph Magnelli, California
Honorable Mentions: Mike Clingan, Nancy Anderson Porter
Find the other winning images at backcountryhunters.org
RECENT EPISODES OF BHA’S
PODCAST AND BLAST
Wildlife Migration Corridors and the Future of Western Wildlife
Host Hal Herring interviews Dan Prenzlow, director of Colorado
Parks and Wildlife, Jessica Myklebust of Colorado Department of
Transportation, and Luke Schafer, wildlife warrior of the West Slope
from Conservation Colorado, about problem-solving for wildlife and
human beings on an epic scale and building a future where we all can
Do you know a modern-day Roosevelt, Carson or Leopold?
We are accepting nominations for our 2020 awards
to be presented at Rendezvous. Visit www.backcountryhunters.org/awards_2020
for more information and to
make your nominations. Deadline for nominations is
March 31, 2020.
Christine Peterson, Wyoming Outdoor Journalist and Adventurer
Wyoming native and star outdoor reporter, Christine Peterson talks
with Hal about the deadlines, the adventures, the stress and the love
of newspapers and reporting – and her decision to leave it behind after
the birth of her daughter Miriam, to take up freelancing full time and
own the freedom to focus on a new life as an outdoor mother and
BHA’s Podcast & Blast, sponsored by Sitka, is released twice per month
on alternating Tuesdays.
You can find BHA’s Podcast & Blast on the following: iTunes, Stitcher,
Podbean and at backcountryhunters.org/bha_podcast
12 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Did you love a particular article? Or disagree with
something we published? Let us know your thoughts about
Do you have a unique tip for dressing out a duck? Or
starting a fire in wet conditions? Or another tip for the
backcountry? Send us your brief (1-4 sentence) tips for the
field or water to share with other BHA members.
WHAT DOES BACKCOUNTRY MEAN TO YOU?
For this new segment, send us a stunning, high resolution
(4+ MBs) photo of one of your favorite backcountry spots,
whether it’s a Western mountain wilderness, an Eastern
forest or a Southern swamp. And then answer in 1-3
sentences: What does backcountry mean to you?
By submitting photos and writing to Backcountry Journal,
you grant BHA permission to use those materials in Backcountry
Journal, in emails, on the BHA website and on social
media. All journal submissions should be sent to williams@
CALL FOR MISSING JOURNALS
Old-school BHAers, BHA
headquarters is missing three
of the original Backcountry
Journal issues, which are
needed for the complete
set. We would love to have
these in our library. If you
happen to have a copy of
any of the following three
issues, please email williams@
We will send you a thankyou
surprise! Missing issues:
Winter 2006-2007, Fall 2012,
The very first issue of Backcountry
Journal, stapled together in founding
chairman Mike Beagle’s basement –
PROTECTION BILL INTRODUCED
In January, sportsmen and women across the continent
voiced their loud support for the introduction of the
Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution
Prevention Act (H.R. 5598), bipartisan legislation that
would withdraw mineral development and defend this
incredible place from pollution. The mine proposed
just a quarter-mile south of the BWCA – where all
water flows north – could catalyze a steep decline in the
quality of fish and wildlife and the world-class hunting
and fishing opportunities in America’s most-visited
In February, BHA President and CEO Land Tawney
testified in front of the U.S. House Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources in
support of this legislation. Please join BHA in voicing
your support for the BWCA by contacting your
representatives and asking them to cosponsor this bill.
Packrafting through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Photo by Jeremiah Watt.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 13
14 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
BOISE, IDAHO Vice President of Boise State BHA Collegiate Club
FACES OF BHA
YOU TO BHA?
When I first heard about
BHA, I lived in Indiana
– where I am originally from – and the state
did not have a chapter yet. My significant other,
Hunter Johnstone, and I both decided to become
members. We were both studying wildlife biology
and forestry, and once we graduated, made it
our goal to go west and work in Idaho with our
conservation degrees. Once there, we both became
more involved with BHA and learned more about
the missions and ideas, and instantly were drawn
to the message: keep public lands in public hands.
Since then, I have been donating money when I
can, volunteering my time and helping out the
collegiate club at Boise State University.
North America is
unique in that people from
around the continent –
and the world – can come
to vast, open landscapes
and enjoy wandering around on public land,
which many other countries lack; it is our duty
to protect these precious resources so that they
can be enjoyed and used by future generations.
Personally, public lands are my getaway after long
days in buildings – an outlet for fresh air, peaceful
silence and great happiness. Realizing how valuable
these public spaces are to me – richness of wildlife,
habitat health and diversity, foraging opportunities
and much more – encourages me to appreciate and
protect what should not be taken for granted.
WHAT IS YOUR Currently, a perfect
PERFECT DAY IN day would be a gentle
THE OUTDOORS? yet adventurous hike
with my old pooch,
Polar. Starting at a trailhead in an isolated wilderness
Left: Cooking whitetail steaks and vegetables on a fire near Mt. Borah, Idaho
Middle: Deploying a wolf research camera in the Clearwater NF while working for IDFG
Right: Mushroom hunting after the Craig Mountain Stewardship Event with the Idaho chapter
mid-June, my pup and I would wander
for hours, allowing him to sniff to his
heart’s content. He would trot a little
ahead of me, looking back often to
see if his pack – me – was following,
and eventually we would end up at a
subalpine lake. He’d lay his body down
for a rest while I got out my fishing rod
and cast a few times, hoping to hook
a trout or two. Lunchtime would be
coming around, and we’d eventually sit
down for a snack together, me letting
him have little nibbles of my food, of
course. Lastly, we would hike out, me
giving him a reassuring pet and a kiss
on the forehead as he waited patiently
by the door of the vehicle.
HOW DO YOUR SCHOOL AND
CAREER ASPIRATIONS TIE
INTO YOUR WORK WITH THE
BHA COLLEGIATE PROGRAM?
I dual majored in wildlife biology and
forestry, investigated many career paths
upon graduation – wildlife research,
wildland/prescribed fire management,
population monitoring, etc. – and
decided to combine all my interests by
studying restoration ecology. Presently, I
am a graduate student at BSU examining
soil properties in the sagebrush steppe
pre- and post-fire to further understand
restoration practices. My work with
various projects as well as my experience
in school ties greatly into the natural
resources work of BHA. Stewardship,
land management and wildlife are my
areas of professional expertise, which
blends well with the work of the BHA
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR
STUDENTS AND OTHER
YOUNG ADULTS TO GET
INVOLVED IN PUBLIC LANDS
Personally, I have noticed a trend in
younger generations diverging from
engaging in the natural world, having
stronger connections to advances in
technology or other societal aspects of
life. I grew up in this type of household
as well, but I found value in exploring
the outdoors and absorbing myself in
asking questions and literally digging
for answers sometimes. I have learned a
great deal and found personal happiness
fixating myself on conserving public
lands. Without healthy ecosystems,
there is no economy, and there is no
delicate balance to maintain, enhance
and restore these precious public lands
for the enjoyment and health of future
Learn more about the BHA collegiate
club program at backcountryhunters.org/
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 15
KIDS’ KIDS’ CORNER
15 16 21
2. deer that lives in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico
4. largest Great Lake
6. “man’s best friend”
8. __________ model of wildlife conservation
9. 1.5-million-acre wetlands preserve in Florida
13. also known as wapiti
14. ocean on the east coast of North America
15. nickname for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
18. united States national bird
19. Land and ____ Conservation Fund
21. first chief of the U.S. Forest Service: Gifford ______
22. species of salamander: ___ puppy
6 7 23
9 10 11 12
1. salmon that turns bright red when spawning
3. male moose
5. state where Backcountry Hunters & Anglers was formed around a campfire
7. Canada’s national bird: Canada _____
10. animal whose paw appears in BHA logo
11. father of wildlife conservation: _________ Leopold
12. guns should always be pointed in a ______ direction
16. host of the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Podcast & Blast: _____ Herring
17. farthest north BHA chapter
19. most prevalent big game animal in North America
20. male turkey
23. most popular freshwater gamefish in North America
Answers can be found at backcountryhunters.org/crossword
Winners from our winter 2020 issue’s coloring contest!
8 years old
9 years old
Honorable Mentions can be found at backcountryhunters.org/2020_coloring_contest_results.
Thanks to all who participated!
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 17
Mark V® rifles are guaranteed to
shoot a 3-shot group of .99” or less
at 100 yards (SUB-MOA) when used
with Weatherby® factory or
CARBON FIBER STOCK
SPIRAL FLUTED BOLT
FIELD TO TABLE
20 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Butter Curry Turkey
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1-6 hours depending on meat preparation
1-2 lb wild turkey meat*
2 medium onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 inches ginger, roughly chopped
1 ½ tbsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 cinnamon stick
1 qt crushed tomatoes
¼ cup labneh**
4 tbsp butter, divided
*This dish can be made with turkey breasts or thighs/legs.
Grill, smoke or roast the breasts, and cut into one-inch cubes.
Or, braise the legs/thighs in stock separately until tender.
**Labneh is an incredibly rich, creamy and slightly tart
strained yogurt that I’ve been using lately instead of Greek
yogurt or sour cream in recipes. It’s delicious on its own and
worth seeking out in your local Middle-Eastern market, but
it is not strictly necessary for this recipe. Feel free to substitute
plain yogurt or sour cream if that is what you have on hand.
BY WADE TRUONG
Wild turkey holds a special place in my heart and kitchen.
Each time I take a bag out, I’m reminded of the deafening sound
of the gobbler, so close that it felt like it was breathing down
my neck. I’m also reminded of all the mornings, when no matter
what I tried, the tom went the other way.
Everything about turkey hunting in the spring is special. Each
morning, the woods get thicker, livelier, and the days get longer
and warmer. It’s like going through the fall season in reverse. A
unique time of the year to be in the woods, with the added bonus
of bringing home some of the best wild game meat available.
This curry comes together quickly yet has layers of depth. The
spices and tartness of the tomatoes are savory and bright, while
the labneh and butter give the dish a satisfying creamy richness. It
tastes exotic and homey at the same time, it’s rich and tart, it has
everything you could ask for, just like turkey hunting.
Sauté the onions, garlic and ginger in two tablespoons of butter until fragrant and the onions begin to turn translucent. Add
tomatoes and all the spices except the cinnamon stick. Simmer for around 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld, adding a little stock
or water if necessary, then remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.
Transfer the sauce into a blender and puree. When it is mostly smooth, return to the pan, and add the cinnamon stick. Allow it to
simmer for a few more minutes, and add water if necessary to bring the sauce to the right consistency. If your sauce is too thin, allow
it to reduce. Add the remaining two tablespoons of butter and the labneh or yogurt, stirring until incorporated. Lastly, add the turkey
and allow it to warm in the sauce before serving.
Serve with naan, basmati rice, sliced hot peppers and some extra labneh.
BHA member Wade Truong is a lifelong Virginian and self-taught chef and hunter. His work has been featured in the New York Times and
Garden & Gun. His passion for cooking and sharing food is the foundation of his obsession with the outdoors and the resources they provide.
He believes that the more we participate with our environment, the more we understand that we need to protect it.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 21
SEE YOU THERE
BY WENDI RANK
I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I don’t even go outside.
I’m at Rendezvous 2019.
Back home, our friends think “Rendezvous” is a romantic rendezvous
with my husband.
They don’t understand I’m meeting up with my husband at
Rendezvous because he thinks it’s romantic.
I’m not sure I even understand.
I arrive slathered in SPF 50 and still feel my lips burn, curling
and sizzling like breakfast bacon in the Boise sun. In a scene evocative
of any romance novel, I reunite with my beloved amongst
camouflage, compound bows, fixed knives and duck calls.
My wayward husband hands me a beer and ushers me into
the MeatEater podcast, which is basically the hunter’s version of
Champagne and roses.
Out of 1400 people at the podcast, I’m almost definitely the
lone non-outdoorsman. I’m like Where’s Waldo Goes To Rendezvous.
After MeatEater, every BHA member in Boise heads to a bar.
An indoor bar. I feel like maybe the outdoorsmen of BHA are
trying to make me feel welcome by hosting all events of this particular
Drinking at the bar, I get into a conversation with Land Tawney.
We bond because we both had parents that went to college
when we were children. We also bond over our mutual disbelief
that someone like me is at Rendezvous.
When I say “we bond” I mean that I have an amazing experience
talking to BHA’s CEO, and Land has a bizarre experience being
trapped in a conversation with the lone life member of BHA
who doesn’t go outside.
After a few hours in the bar, I try to fulfill the expectations back
home and make this Rendezvous truly amorous. After all, a man
doesn’t take his wife to a MeatEater podcast if he’s not hoping for
a little action later, am I right?
I am not right. I stand in our hotel room alone and contemplate
the stupidity of leaving my pajamas at home. If my hunter
can leave me for a cold, middle of the night escapade through
the woods in search of some white tail, he’ll leave me for a warm,
boozy room to discuss whitetail.
On Saturday morning, my hunter is up and out before I’m ever
conscious because hunters are always up and out before anyone is
conscious. It’s basically a federal law. Part of Pittman-Robertson,
Later, my husband texts me to come touch a snake. He knows
I’m herpetophobic so I figure he means his snake.
It’s not what he means.
It’s a real snake.
It’s the only snake I’ll touch for 36 hours.
After the rattler, I try unsuccessfully to tear my hunter away
from Rendezvous. Instead, I shop for pajamas because – let’s be
honest – the only guy in Boise who has seen me naked at this
point is my hotel’s masseuse.
Later, my hunter and I try to reconnect in the plaza. He’s wearing
a baseball cap. Plaid button-down. Khakis. They’re the BHA
dress code. Now he’s Waldo, in a sea of Waldos, just as impossible
How did I get here? Married to a hunter? Hanging out at Rendezvous?
I’m never going to be an outdoorsman. Dark forests
are terrifying places. Has any BHA member besides me seen The
Blair Witch Project? Friday the 13th? Deliverance? I even read an
article once about people murdered by a drifter on the Appalachian
Trail, near our hunting cabin. You guys should maybe read
that article too.
Still, my herpetophobia and agoraphobia prove no match for
BHA. Rendezvous is like coffee with a shot of Baileys – you feel
warm, relaxed, gooey. Optimistic about the world and the people
That feeling carries me home. I try to hang on to it. I try reading
A Sand County Almanac. A few Jim Harrison novels.
Nope. I’m still pretty sure the Blair Witch is waiting for me in
the murky woods. And James Harrison is Khan’s pseudonym in
the Star Trek universe. Did Khan pen Legends of the Fall?!
That probably just got me banned from Rendezvous 2020.
I can live the BHA mission without actually going outside
though, right? Can I conserve from my sofa? Own public land
while under my roof? There’s one way to know for sure.
Let me come to Rendezvous 2020.
I promise to give Sand County another chance. I promise to
cool it with the Star Trek references.
I even promise to leave Land Tawney alone.
So, see you there?
BHA life member Wendi Rank is an indoors enthusiast from Pennsylvania.
She spends her free time patiently waiting for her husband
to return from hunting. Her writing has been published in Nursing
and the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing.
22 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
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R E M I W A R R E N @ r e m i w a r r e n
CONSIDERING THE ETHICS OF
BY COREY ELLIS AND HARLEY MCALLISTER
The first challenge in considering the ethics of trophy hunting
is defining the term “trophy hunting.” Our aim in this writing is
to lay a framework for discussing the merits of the subject by first
categorizing the various types of trophy hunting into three groups
and then getting to the meat of the issue in a subsequent column.
There is nothing less at stake than the image of hunting when we
discuss this issue. Research conducted by Responsive Management
found that support for hunting for meat is 85 percent, but when
the public was asked about trophy hunting, support dropped to 28
percent! As a community, hunters need to be prepared to defend
or criticize trophy hunting when appropriate to properly represent
the community as a whole. But first, “trophy hunting” can mean
different things to different people. ...
What we are defining here as “type one” trophy hunting is familiar
to most readers of this publication and is defined by the act of
hunting for the largest bucks, bulls, rams, etc. that one is able to
practically find. In some instances, this may just mean holding out
for a 3 x 3 instead of a “forky.” What’s important to notice is that
the hunter is harvesting a more mature animal for one reason or
another, and in this type of hunting, the term “trophy” can still have
a wide range of definitions: Is a 30-inch mule deer a trophy, or does
it have to score the Boone & Crockett minimum? More likely, each
of us has our own definition of what makes a trophy. Depending
on the hunter, the season, the tag, the genetics, etc., a trophy could
be anywhere from a three-plus-year-old animal to the largest buck
on the mountain or an animal that qualifies for entry into a record
book. But, what is critical in considering the ethics of this endeavor
is that the animal is being pursued legally, the meat is being utilized,
and the pursuit is defined primarily as passing up smaller specimens
in order to harvest a more mature animal with the goal of increasing
the challenge and, therefore, the reward and experience of the hunter.
However, a hunter could legally and sustainably trophy hunt an
animal purely for bragging rights or other “wrong reasons” creating
a situation that is ethically questionable. Although minor ethical
challenges remain in type one trophy hunting, the nature of this
hunting is always legal, ecologically sustainable and so personal that
its merits will likely only ever be settled at the individual level.
Type two trophy hunting is the idea of killing something solely
for its head, hide and bragging rights, with little to no consideration
for the meat. In some cases, this definition would include acts that
would actually be defined as poaching. However, some type two
trophy hunting involves predators where there is no human use of
the meat, but it is legal and even encouraged in many places. The
BEYOND FAIR CHASE
killing of antlered or horned animals just for head or hide is uncommon,
but each year there are reports of deer and elk carcasses
found with heads removed and the rest of the animal left to waste.
Although this is clearly poaching and not hunting, the concern is
that a large portion of the general public believes that this type of
activity represents hunting in general. Many people who are unfamiliar
with legal hunting mistakenly believe that hunting involves
the unregulated shooting of animals just to mount the horns or take
a selfie. Because this type of hunting/poaching does not respect the
inherent value of wildlife or its conservation, most would agree that
this is neither an ethical pursuit nor fair to call this hunting.
Type three trophy hunting is the one most often portrayed in the
media today and is also the most difficult for us, as members of the
hunting community, to sort out ethically. This is characterized by
hunters often traveling great distances, going to high fence shooting
preserves and/or paying large sums of money to hunt “exotic”
species. We are probably most familiar with African hunts for the
“Big 5” or plains game, but this could also include various sheep
and goat species in Asia, or brown bears in Alaska and polar bears
in Canada. In these cases, the meat is usually consumed, but often
not by the hunter. In some cases, the meat is considered inedible
(typically with carnivores), so the direct link to hunting for sustenance
is lost. Instead, what the hunter may be seeking is adventure,
or the experience of a different and potentially dangerous type of
game and some level of bragging rights. Unlike type two hunting,
this type of hunting is legal, but there are also similarities to the
type two that are perhaps uncomfortable, and certainly nuanced.
One key difference is that type three typically has a strong conservation
element, via hunter’s dollars, that is lacking in the second.
In the public eye, the jury is still very much out as to the ethics of
this style of hunting, although there is a good argument to be made
that the strong opinions on the matter also reflect a distinct lack of
understanding of the manner in which these hunts are conducted.
Because of the nuance and difficulty in type three trophy hunting,
our following column will primarily focus on this clouded issue.
We should all be asking ourselves what makes trophy hunting
ethical or unethical. Does the meat have to be consumed by humans?
If it’s legal does it mean it’s ethical? Do the ends justify the
means, or conversely, do the means justify the ends? In the next
installment we will look more closely at types two and three in order
to keep the conversation going.
Corey Ellis lives in western Montana where he spends his time avoiding
work, exploring public lands and rivers, and advocating for wild
places and wildlife. He serves on the board of directors for Orion-The
Hunter’s Institute and is a life member of BHA.
BHA member Harley McAllister works as a project manager but is
most alive when he is outdoors, especially with his eight kids. He and his
wife Abby write guide books to the national parks directed at families
with children. A hunter his whole life, he has been a board member
with Orion for two years.
This department is brought to you by Orion - The Hunter’s Institute,
a nonprofit and BHA partner dedicated to advancing hunting
ethics and wildlife conservation. To discuss this article and others,
go to backcountryhunters.org/fair_chase
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 25
26 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
PHOTO: JOEL JONES (@joel_bo_jones)
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 27
PUBLIC LAND OWNER
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
Apprentice licenses may be the key to recruitment
BY FISHER NEAL
It’s old news that hunter numbers are falling, and the revenue
implications have wildlife agencies across the country scrambling
to turn the tide before it’s too late. An important change being
made to combat this is the introduction of apprentice licenses
and hunting mentorships, which allow a person to purchase a license
and hunt without taking hunter education so long as they’re
accompanied by a licensed and legally responsible mentor in the
field. Some states have had to fight fierce opposition to pass the
exemption into law, usually on the claim that it’s unsafe, and several
remain with either no apprentice option or a seemingly arbitrarily
I know from firsthand experience that hunting mentorship
works. In 2014 I started a guide service offering lessons and outfitted
hunts on public land to beginners in and around New York
City. I got my SEO dialed in and for the next three seasons fielded
regular emails that almost always went roughly like this:
Client: “Dude! I just found your website! I have always wanted
to try this! Can we go next weekend?”
Me: “Actually you have to take hunter education, which isn’t
available right now, but you can take it in the spring and we can
go next fall!”
Client: (Radio Silence.)
When the apprentice license became available in New Jersey in
2017, a radical shift took place. Not only was I able to say “yes”
to everyone who wanted to go; my main source of revenue turned
out to be returning customers. Clients returned to hunt with me
repeatedly as apprentices, and many took the hunter education
course and began hunting on their own. The opportunity to experience
hunting was all they needed to cross the threshold from
interest into action, and soon they were hooked.
I remember vividly the lesson of “barriers to entry” during my
college economics class. What’s become abundantly clear to me
through these guiding experiences is that barriers to entry are the
problem with hunter recruitment – not the tired notion that everyone
moved to the cities and therefore were no longer interested
in hunting. Yes, more people live in cities now, but it’s not their
lack of desire that is the problem; it’s the fact that the logistics
and the pace of society have changed, and the hunting world has
been too slow to keep up. City people crave nature because they
so rarely get to be in it. And, they will go to great lengths and
expense to acquire quality meat that’s lived a respectable life, but
they have big barriers to entry when it comes to proximity to land,
space to store equipment, parking a vehicle, and even the legality
of owning firearms.
28 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Photos courtesy of Fisher Neal
to remove most of the barriers, few have the time and foresight to
take a hunter education course months in advance of the season.
Most people spend their spring and summer busy with their lives
and only think of trying out hunting in the fall and winter when
they know the season is happening. Inspiration comes, then they
hit a wall and forget about it.
By allowing new hunters the opportunity to try out hunting
under a mentor before taking hunter education, we are taking a
critical step in the direction of preserving our heritage and our
model of participation-based conservation. According to Families
Afield, more than a million people have bought apprentice licenses,
and a majority end up taking hunter education and buying
again. If we want this momentum to grow, states need to remove
as many barriers to entry as possible.
College students in every state should be able to buy licenses at
resident prices. Arbitrary rules like Sunday hunting bans should
be phased out. Hunting licenses should be able to be purchased
online and printed at home. Most importantly, every state should
have a version of the apprentice license. What better way for
someone to learn about hunting than one on one from an experienced
mentor? If states can learn from this success and do more
to ease barriers to entry, the futures of our great tradition and our
wildlife are bright.
They also encounter a great scarcity of hunter education courses.
In all of New York City, there is only one class offered on a
regular basis, and it’s way out in the Bronx and always full! There
are thousands and thousands of people in the city who would love
the chance to try hunting, but the barriers to entry are so high
that they never give it a try. Even for people who have the money
BHA member Fisher Neal is a professional actor trained at the
famed Yale School of Drama and the owner of Learn to Hunt NYC,
which offers lessons and fully outfitted hunting trips for deer, turkey
and small game on public land in northern New Jersey.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 29
PUBLIC LAND OWNER
E-BIKES and the Backcountry
BY TIM BRASS
I’m not one to pass up a shot on an elk. My hunting buddies all
give me a hard time about “ruining a great bow hunt” prematurely,
as I tend shoot the first legal elk within comfortable range. I
would argue my approach has been dictated by the fact that I’ve
largely been limited to hunting Colorado’s increasingly crowded
over-the-counter archery units for the past nine years, where if
you have an interest in putting meat in the freezer, it’s best to take
the shot when you get it.
But this year was different. Nine years of over-the-counter elk
hunting had yielded enough preference points to draw a tag in a
“trophy unit” with a near 50:50 bull to cow ratio and 80 percent
of the unit in public ownership. I figured, heck, when in Rome
it’d be worth testing my self-restraint to go after a big guy along
with my friends who had drawn the same tag.
We gave it our all and had opportunities to shoot bulls nearly
every day of the season, though the big guys had eluded us. The
last week of the season I met up with a friend who had found a
concentration of elk like he had never seen before – bulls bugling
all day long. They were hiding out five to eight miles from camp,
just off a dirt bike trail. We had found the elk motherlode, but
it was a haul, and the better way to access it would be with the
assistance of a dirt bike, e-bike or mountain bike.
So, we loaded up a mountain bike and a borrowed e-bike, and
the next morning biked to within a mile of the elk. With packs
loaded to the gills for an overnight trip, and plenty of pedaling still
required, it wasn’t exactly an easy uphill climb, but the thought
of riding a pack of meat back down on wheels eased a bit of my
hesitation to let an arrow fly.
We were down to the last few days of the season, and I was
needed back home, so it was time to fill the freezer. A perfect
calling setup brought a smaller 5 x 5 within 20 yards – too good
to pass up. I let the arrow fly, and he tipped over within sight. Six
miles deep, our fingers were crossed that our experimental e-bike
packout would work out as hoped. And, oh did it! The packout
was a downhill roll and, where pedaling was involved, the e-assist
kicking in made it perhaps wrongly easy. I lapped three of the four
bags of meat out with daylight to spare, using the turbo e-assist on
the uphill and riding the load downhill with relative ease.
A former mountain biker myself, the ride reminded me of
the joys of cruising downhill on a single track – a joy that I had
not experienced in years. Time for me to grab a new bike and
rediscover old ways? Not exactly. In recent years, I’ve found myself
more often pushing back on a seemingly relentless push by some
in the mountain bike community for more trail development
A growing breadth of scientific evidence is showing that
recreational disturbance from mountain bikes and other uses
is having a significant negative impact on elk populations in
30 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Colorado. Wildlife biologists are sounding alarm bells as wildlife
habitat on our public lands is increasingly being fragmented by
both sanctioned and illegal user-created trails – in some cases
leading to population level declines.
WE SIMPLY CANNOT STAND BY
AS INDUSTRY GROUPS PREVAIL
IN GUTTING THE SCIENCE AND
VOICE OF THE PUBLIC FROM
SUCH IMPORTANT PUBLIC LAND
In this case, the e-bike provided for a quiet approach on an open
motorized trail, where an early morning ride on a dirt bike would
have likely disturbed the elk, as well as nearby hunters. It was the
perfect place for an e-bike to be used – a place where, up until this
summer, our federal land managers had consistently agreed these
motorized bicycles should stay – on designated motorized routes.
BHA publicly agreed with this interpretation soon after it was
clarified in 2016. Then in August 2018, in response to intel that
the Trump administration may reverse course and open nonmotorized
mountain bike routes to e-bikes carte blanche, BHA
join the National Wildlife Federation in delivering a letter clearly
outlining our concerns that such a move could have on wildlife
habitat and traditional non-motorized hunting and fishing
Unfortunately, growing pressure from the booming e-bike
industry led Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, with
Secretarial Order 3376, to direct the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service
to unilaterally reclassify electronic motorized bicycles as “exempt”
from motorized travel restrictions and facilitate e-bike use on
existing mountain bike trails, while also stating that “e-bikes shall
be allowed where other types of bicycles are allowed.” Subsequent
agency guidance resulting from S.O. 3376 affirmed, “As the BLM
works to fully implement SO 3376, District or Field managers
should use the exclusion to the definition of off-road vehicle
(OHV) at 43 CFR 8340.0-5(a)(3) to authorize the use of Class I,
II and III 1 e-bikes where ever bicycles are allowed, provided they
are operated in the pedal assist mode.”
Implementation of decisions to allow e-bikes on nonmotorized
routes have recently faced legal challenges, whereby
the authority of our federal land management agencies to bypass
a scientific review and public input process, as required by the
National Environmental Policy Act, is being contested. E-bikes
most certainly can have a place on our public lands. The ultimate
question is: Where are they appropriate? Hunters, anglers and
wildlife conservationists should have a say in where new motorized
uses are proposed. We simply cannot stand by as industry groups
prevail in gutting the science and voice of the public from such
important public land management decisions.
The industry’s outsized influence on this decision has not gone
1 Class 1 e-bikes engage only when the rider is pedaling and have a top
speed of 20 mph; Class 2 e-bikes engage with a throttle and have a top
speed of 20 mph; Class 3 e-bikes engage when pedaled and have a top
speed of 28 mph.
unnoticed. In December, the Interior Department’s “E-bike
Partner and Agency Group” was officially shut down after it was
determined that a series of closed door meetings with e-bike
industry lobbyists leading up to the issuance of S.O 3376 were
illegal as they violated the public notice requirements of the
Federal Advisory Committee Act.
While the legality of top-down e-bike travel management
mandates will likely be debated for years to come, e-bikes will
continue to gain popularity. Whether they’re used as an alternative
to commute to work or to pack out an elk on a motorized route,
their popularity is sure to continue to explode. It’s on all of us to
help ensure future uses are planned responsibly – with wildlife
and traditional recreational uses in mind.
BHA encourages members to actively engage in future
decisions regarding motorized use on public lands by active
participation with your local chapter and in public comment
periods for the resource management plans and travel
management plans that delineate trail and land use decisions.
Tim Brass is BHA’s state policy & field operations director and lives
in Longmont, Colorado, with his wife Megan and their 4-year-old
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Photo by Hank Shaw
BY HANK SHAW
All hail the mighty morel! Arguably the most popular target of
American foragers, and definitely the most popular mushroom in
North America, the various morchella species exist in every state
of the United States and most provinces of Canada.
There are reasons they are so popular: Morels are very easy to
identify, are often plentiful and they give the outdoors-inclined
something to do after hunting season and before fishing gets hot
later in spring.
Morels are also delicious. Fried is the most popular method,
and everyone’s breading or batter is different. Frying is so common
that some parts of the country refer to morels as “land fish,”
because you basically cook them like a fish fry.
That said, morels are also the darling of chefs all over the world.
They are pretty to look at (especially sliced crosswise into rings),
meaty and add needed depth when you are relying on lighter,
springtime ingredients like ramps, fiddleheads and new spring
The main note of caution is that morels absolutely must be
cooked to be safe to eat. Morels, and especially their cousins the
false morels (some of which are edible), contain a hydrazine,
which happens to be one ingredient in jet fuel: not good eats.
Eat raw morels and you will get sick. But, as you might imagine
with a substance in jet fuel, hydrazine is volatile and cooks off.
So. How to find them? Morels associate with different species
of trees in different places. You have to know what the indicators
are where you live.
Morels are easy to identify, which is why they are so
popular. I always tell people that a true morel is basically
a honeycomb on a hollow stick. Remember that, and you are in
good shape. All sorts of variations occur with different species and
even individuals within the same species, but that general guideline
always holds true.
That said, there are also false morels. Most common are the true
falsies, which look more like a brain on a stick. They are often a
warm, inviting milk-chocolate to reddish brown, where morels
are typically black, blonde or gray. Some falsies are edible, but let’s
leave that for another day.
The other false morel is more controversial. These are the “halffree”
or verpa morels. They look similar to real morels, but the
honeycomb part is only attached at the top. Many people eat
these, and I have, but some do get sick from half-free morels. For
those who do report getting sick, it’s basically worshipping at the
porcelain altar as opposed to a hospital trip.
Spring to summer. There are two more morel
look-similars, the helvellas and the stinkhorns, which
occur in winter and summer, respectively, and are, for the most
part, not good eats.
Your time is spring. The keys are afternoons around 70°F and
32 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Photos by Holly Heyser
nights not colder than 40°F. Morels need rain, so drought conditions
Keep in mind that this temperature range can be as early as
March for say, North Florida, and as late as August for the Yukon
– or at altitude.
One more tip: Morels grow slowly, so if you have them on private
land, wait until they are fully grown, which can take a week.
This is the hardest part. Morel species always associate with a
particular tree or group of trees: elms in the East, apple trees and
cottonwoods in the Midwest, beech in some places, conifers in
The easiest way to find morels is to go west, from the Rockies to
the Sierra Nevada and Cascades, and look for a place that burned
down the previous year, or even two or three years ago. Morels
appear in huge abundances after Western burns.
The trade-off is that burn morels are a one, two or three-year
deal, for the most part. (Exceptions exist to that.) Eastern and
Midwestern morels will pop up every year in the same place. The
West has these “naturals” too, but they are less common.
Find the right trees at the right temperature and you are on
your way. Mark your spots well and come back to them.
Gathering and Cooking
Once you find morels, slice them off at the base. This keeps
your basket or bag clean. Use a basket or paper bag, never plastic,
as the morels will sweat and rot quickly. To keep morels fresh for
a week or more, lay them on paper towels in a large, lidded plastic
bin in the fridge. Change the paper towels if they get soaked. For
longer storage, dehydrate them. When fully dried, put them in a
jar with one of those silica packets to suck out excess moisture.
They’ll keep for years this way.
The best cooking methods are the aforementioned frying, sautéing,
stewing or braising. You need to cook them all the way
through. One pro tip: Add just a pinch of caraway seed to the
mushrooms as they are cooking – it brings out the morel flavor
Hank Shaw is a member of BHA and is the author of four wild
game cookbooks and the award-winning website Hunter Angler Gardener
Cook. He lives near Sacramento, California.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 33
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Photo by Craig Watson
in the Great Lakes
BY BRANDYN THORSEN
The rivers of the Great Lakes region offer an incredible opportunity to fish for large spring steelhead – a pinnacle gamefish – on
public water. Warming temperatures slowly thaw winter’s hold of ice and snow, bringing barren trees to bud and rousting fauna
from their winter sleep. During this wonderful transition from frozen to flourish, when we can experience spring steelheading at its
finest, we often encounter a wide variety of weather. Thus was born the phrase, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.”
Understanding these inconsistencies and adjusting to their effects is the key to successful spring steelheading.
1UNDERSTANDING THE WEATHER
Water temperature is the key to fish migration from the Great Lakes and into the rivers. When water temperatures climb
toward the upper 30s, it triggers fish to enter from the lakes. As temps rise above 40 degrees, steelhead will begin to spawn in
shallow gravel areas, with increasing spawning activity as water temperatures continue to climb. In general, spring-fed streams will
warm more quickly than larger tailwaters. Watersheds that maintain a large snowpack will be slower to warm, as snowmelt leaks into
these systems, keeping them cooler. Lastly, water that is more stained, as we often get with rain and runoff in the spring, will warm
faster than gin-clear water, as it absorbs more heat. The USGS Waterdata website or one of a host of smartphone apps are great tools
for monitoring both water temperature as well as flow levels. All of these factors drive when river systems receive fish, how quickly they
navigate upriver to spawn and their behavior.
Water temperatures and timing of the run also dictate where in the system fish are most likely to be concentrated and the
type of water anglers should target when fishing for spring steelhead. Early in the season, when temperatures are lowest, seek
out deeper, slow moving runs often found in the lower to middle sections of the river. These four to 10 feet deep runs provide safe areas
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 35
for the fish to hold without expending their much-needed energy
resources for spawning. As water temperature increases, fish migrate
their way upriver toward spawning grounds. When the density of
fish population within the system increases, target fish in the middle
and upper sections of the river, still in deeper runs. During this
time, fish are staging in close proximity to gravel, waiting for the
right conditions to begin spawning. By the peak of the season, a
majority of steelhead have entered the river and have made their way
to the upper sections, which contain the most spawning habitat.
Fish are actively spawning on redds within sight throughout peagravel
sections, reproducing the next year-class of fish. During this
time, target transition water for active fish and avoid the spawning
gravel. Transition water is any area within the immediate vicinity of
active spawning gravel, where it is deep enough that you can’t see
the bottom. Steelhead in these locations are not actively spawning.
Instead, they are often gorging on eggs from spawning fish. As an
added bonus, you can catch a lot of resident trout in these same
locations where they are enjoying easy, calorie-packed meals of
steelhead eggs. When the season starts to wind down in May, it’s
time to shift focus to target more resident trout as it becomes more
difficult to find active fish that aren’t spawning.
Photos courtesy of Brandyn Thorsen
Anglers can achieve success using both fly fishing methods and traditional
gear. When fly fishing, a 7-weight to 8-weight rod from nine to 13 feet will be
more than adequate. Gear anglers should look to use medium light rods in the
same length range with reel capacities of a minimum of 150 yards. Techniques
for catching steelhead are vast and very greatly among differing angler groups and
their preferences. In the spring, regardless of your preferred delivery – fly fishing
or traditional gear – the most popular methods for catching steelhead in the Great
Lakes are float fishing with bobbers or bottom bouncing.
Float fishing consists of suspending weight and an offering (flies, roe, beads)
near the bottom, suspended by a bobber or strike indicator. Floating fly lines, or
monofilament in the 10- to 14-pound range for gear anglers, are essential to keep
the line on top of the water from the bobber to the rod. When float fishing, choose
a bobber that meets the criteria for the type of river being fished. Deeper, higher
volume rivers require more weight to get the offering near the bottom efficiently and therefore require a larger bobber in the range of
15 to 20 grams. Smaller, lower volume rivers require less weight and smaller bobbers in the range of four to 11 grams. Fluorocarbon
leaders in the six- to 10-pound range are preferred to cut through the water column and maintain low visibility to fish. This style of
fishing is very appealing to the visual angler. The concept is very similar to fishing for panfish with spring bobbers in a lake as a kid,
only on a moving body of water. When the bobber goes under, set the hook!
Bottom bouncing or drift fishing utilizes weight to drift an offering along the bottom of the river. For traditional gear, a similar setup
to float fishing is most effective – 10- to 14-pound monofilament main line, with a 6- to10-pound fluorocarbon leader. Fly anglers,
however, opt to use monofilament shooting lines in lieu of floating fly lines for this method, allowing a direct connection from fly rod
to offering and the ability to sense when fish strike. Significantly less weight is needed for bottom bouncing compared to float fishing.
The goal when drifting through a run is to feel contact with the bottom every three to four seconds. Too much weight results in getting
hung up on the bottom and too little weight leaves your offering too high in the water column, resulting in missed fish. A cast slightly
upstream allows time for the offering to sink to the bottom. Follow the bait through the run with the rod tip, feeling the occasional tick
along the bottom. Maintaining proper line control by eliminating slack is the key to feeling the bite. Bottom drifting is a very effective
method when done correctly because the offering stays in the strike zone throughout the duration of the drift.
BHA member Brandyn Thorsen lives in West Michigan with his wife and two kids, where he owns and operates Silver Seekers Guide Service.
36 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
38 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Chapter News & Updates
• Southeast Alaska BHA members spoke out against the Forest Service’s
plans to revoke the Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest, and
Juneau members met up for a pint night following the comment period.
• Likewise, in Anchorage, BHA co-hosted an event with Trout Unlimited
that focused on generating comments on the Tongass.
• We received a grant from the Cabela’s Canada Outdoor Fund, which
will help the chapter develop and deliver backcountry hunting and fishing
• A positive decision was received regarding the Castle Mountain Ski
Resort expansion – the province has required additional environmental
assessment. BHA’s advocacy and comments played a critical role in
acheiving this decision.
• Planning for boots-on-the-ground conservation projects is underway
with a focus on the Eastern Slopes.
• Legislation is a key piece of what AZ BHA works on throughout the
year, and this year’s legislative session will need the same diligent focus
and wherewithal to deter bad policy and encourage good policy that
makes its way to the state Senate or House floor.
• The Tonto National Forest has a draft land management plan that they
are working on with public and partnership input that will help direct
the future of the forest for years to come. AZ BHA is reviewing this plan
and will offer support and suggestions where needed.
• BC BHA saw rapid growth across the province, reaching their ambitious
goal of 1,000 members by January 2020.
• Regions all over the province held successful pint night events that included
speakers on topics including mountain caribou, deer, caping,
land use management and wolverines.
• Showings of the Public Land Owner Film Fest are being scheduled all
over the province for 2020.
• Volunteers are stepping up in Regions 3 and 5 to get regional tables
• The chapter hosted a Hunting & Fishing for Sustainability weekend-long
course in Kernville with over 30 new hunters and anglers taking
to the field.
• We’re currently planning a Beer, Deer & Gear event that will be held in
Sacramento this coming May. You can sell used or excess gear to others,
and we’ll have a particular focus on new hunters and anglers who are
just gearing up for the first time.
• Our events, policy, and Communications committees held their inaugural
meetings and began work on a wide range of issues central to
achieving our goals for 2020.
• The Capital Region board assembled and hammered out goals and strategic
plans for furthering the mission and vision of BHA in the District,
Maryland and Virginia!
• Attended the Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine Festival, gaining members
and foraging new relationships with fly anglers from around the East
• Added new board members to our chapter board with hopes of creating
a unified voice for sportsmen and women in the DMV.
• BHA welcomed six new college clubs: St. Michael’s College (VT),
Mississippi State University (MS), Northern Arizona University
(AZ), Holland (MI), University of British Columbia Okanagan
(BC) and Auburn University (AL).
• The clubs got off to a busy start in the spring semester holding
events in their communities: Western Colorado University held a
chili cookoff, Utah State University hosted a Fly Fishing Film Tour,
and the St. Michael’s club hosted a Learn to Ice Fish event targeted
at students and kids.
• Gonzaga University and the University of Nevada Reno helped host
BHA’s Public Grouse Film Tour.
• We appointed five new Chapter Leadership Team members: Colorado
Parks and Wildlife State Trust Lands Liaison Liz Rose, Southeast Group
Membership Recruitment Coordinator Kyle Vistuba, Southeast Group
Sponsorship and Media Coordinator Drew Trujillo, Central Rockies
Group Assistant Regional Director Elena Reynolds, Central West Slope
Group Assistant Regional Director Leslie Kaminski.
• The Western Colorado University club was recognized as College Club
of the Month for October 2019.
• Two dozen Idaho chapter leaders recently met to formulate 2020 chapter
goals, fundraising priorities and expand our board leadership.
• Our college clubs at the University of Idaho and BSU are both planning
fun conservation-oriented projects to engage local students and are always
needing more involvement.
• Myriad opportunities exist for new volunteers this spring for those
wanting to help our chapter with stewardship, events, policy and communication
• Helped mentor new hunters in partnership with the Illinois Learn to
Hunt program with a whitetail hunting class and pheasant hunting.
• Engaged with the angling community and spread the word about public
lands and waters at the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance Early Show and the
Illinois Deer Classic in March.
• Looking forward to 2020 with plans to engage in efforts related to
chronic wasting disease, public access and opportunity in Illinois, R3
and other issues affecting our public lands, waters and wildlife.
• Have grown to nearly 600 active members in the state.
• The Indiana chapter finished up a busy 2019 with boots-on-the-ground
public lands work, new partnerships and fellowship at pint nights.
• We are working with White Pine Wilderness Academy to establish a
partnership to advance conservation education and to introduce Hoosiers
to hunting and fishing.
• Indiana continues to be vigilant as the general assembly goes into session
in early 2020. Several conservation bills are being considered and
the chapter is ensuring that the voices of public land owners are heard.
• The Indiana chapter held a public lands workday at J. E. Roush Lake
FWA installing the wood duck boxes we constructed this past fall.
• Hosted archery deer and small game mentored hunts as a collaboration
with board member Rachel Vanderwerff’s Edible Outdoors and the
• Established several sub-committees and delegated board members to
spearhead each committee alongside other BHA members to promote
greater participation in the chapter, spread the BHA message and gain
new BHA members.
• Board members gathered in Allamakee County at the heart of the Iowa
Driftless Area for a special rifle antlerless-only season aimed at preventing
the further spread of CWD in the northeast part of the state.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 39
• In November, Kansas Board Chair Kurt Ratzlaff attended the Kansas
Ringneck Classic in Colby, which included a panel discussion that John
Gale, BHA conservation director, was a part of.
• In January, we attended the Monster Buck Classic in Topeka, where we
engaged new members, discussed the BHA mission and talked with various
stakeholders about public lands and access issues.
• In February, we attended a meeting organized by the city of Hays to discuss
potential future public access and management of the 7,000-acre R9
Ranch, located south of Kinsley in Edwards County.
• KY BHA members did our second public lands work day, along with a
biologist, stocking a remote mountain stream in eastern Kentucky.
• A few KY BHA members did an adult mentored hunt at Taylorsville
WMA through KDFWR’s Field to Fork event.
• On opening day of modern gun deer season, KY BHA members helped a
biologist collect deer brain samples for CWD testing.
• In December, KY BHA partnered with the League of Kentucky Sportsmen
to host an annual sportsmen Christmas get together along with
Wildlife Women, TU, RMEF and Kentucky Traditional Bowhunters.
• The Michigan Chapter of BHA is looking for more volunteers to represent
communities from all around the state. We have a big year ahead
of us, and we are going to be relying heavily on our volunteers to meet
our goals and expectations for 2020 and beyond! If you would like to be
involved more, please send an email with a little about yourself, where
you’re from and what type of volunteer work you are most interested in
to: email@example.com. Thank you for making 2019 our
best year yet!
• MN BHA celebrated the introduction of H.R. 5598, the Boundary Waters
Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. Please contact your representatives
and urge them to support this bill.
• MN BHA, along with Land Tawney and HQ staff, joined Pheasants Forever
in the first ever Public Lands Pavilion at the 16th Annual Pheasant
Fest to announce that BHA and PF would be purchasing the first land in
BHA history here in Minnesota and opening it to public access!
• MN BHA will be hosting an Earth Day cleanup in April, led by UMN
club president Kyle Hildebrandt. Please follow our social media channels
and emails for more info on this and other upcoming events!
• The Missouri chapter is coordinating with the Arkansas and Oklahoma
chapters to host a Tri-State Black Bear Bash in Bentonville, Arkansas,
featuring Clay Newcomb and others on March 28.
• St. Louis County council has approved managed archery deer hunts in
county parks starting in 2020. Visit Missouri Department of Conservation
for details on how to apply for hunts.
• The Missouri chapter will be holding their annual storytelling event on
April 9 in St. Louis. Come out and listen to some amazing stories by
BHA President and CEO Land Tawney and many others! Visit the BHA
events web page for details!
• MT BHA weighed in on a dangerous precedent of allowing high-horsepower
hovercrafts on stretches of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers.
Commissioners listened and denied the request. We also generated significant
opposition to a proposed land exchange in the Crazy Mountains.
• We donated $1,000 to a reward fund, which was set up to seek information
leading to the conviction of an elk poacher, who has since been
• MT BHA raised nearly $6,000 during a Public Land Owner Film Fest at
Kalispell’s Sportsman Ski Haus.
• The chapter has been engaged in the Washoe County and Clark County
• We brought on Lowland Knives and Anderson’s Outdoors as state corporate
sponsors and thank them for their support!
• Membership in our state surpassed 500 members late last year.
• In New Hampshire, the New England chapter partnered with the Monadnock
Conservancy to celebrate the protection of the Cunningham
Pond Conservation Area in Peterborough.
• Vermont BHAers rallied to oppose the sale of 1600-acre Proctor Town
Forest, protecting public access to streams on the property and access
through the parcel to the abutting Green Mountain NF.
• Chapter leaders in New Hampshire submitted a statement to the Municipal
& County House Committee opposing H.B. 1115. This bill, if
passed, would increase the firearms buffer from 300 feet to 900 feet for
• The chapter tackled its first sports show and pressed the flesh with many
hunters and anglers at the Garden State Outdoor Sports Show in Edison
• Garden State BHA members hit the sand and surf at Long Beach Island
State Park in November to fish for striped bass and a beach cleanup.
• Planning for growth in 2020, the chapter is teeing up a series of events
aimed at introducing folks to BHA and driving membership.
• Our chapter is now over 500 members strong as we begin 2020.
• The chapter launched Access Watch positions to monitor potential road
closures and other access issues at the county level. These new positions
enable us to make sure sportsmen and women are considered when these
closures appear on county commission agendas.
• Members are excited to work alongside the USFS in replacing old fencing
with antelope friendly fencing in the Kiowa National Grasslands this
spring. For information on how you can volunteer please contact us at
• Helped the Northeast Wilderness Trust open previously inaccessible land
to recreation and assisted the Quality Deer Management Association
with their Capital Region Hunter Education and Field to Fork Weekend.
• Collaborated with the Catskill Chapter of Trout Unlimited for the Tie
One On event hosted at Westkill Brewing and worked with the Adirondack
Center for Loon Conservation building line recycling containers at
public fishing accesses.
• Welcomed our regional event coordinators and policy team contributors,
and tabled at the Syracuse Sportsmen’s show and others.
• Our second annual Trashy Squirrel Hunt 2020 was a smashing success!
Teams from across NC got out and got after it, earning points for trash,
tails, new hunters and new members. Can’t wait for next year!
• BHA showed up in strong numbers to public hearings regarding Sunday
Hunting restrictions and advocated passionately and respectfully for their
right to hunt their public land on Sundays in NC.
• The NC chapter is working with a handful of conservation orgs and the
state fish and game agency in a Trout Angler Access Working Group, organized
to address dwindling access to our public mountain trout waters.
• Held our annual chapter planning meeting in January.
• ND BHA is looking for someone in eastern North Dakota to step up
in leadership and better represent out eastern ND Members. Email the
chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
40 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
• Facilitated a new 3D archery shoot at Huff Hills Ski resort in cooperation
with the Nishu Bowmen of Bismarck, ND.
• Held a full day planning session to lay out the 2020 strategy.
• Increasing our presence and building a community through pint nights,
fly tying, Filson events, Deer and Turkey Expo, Columbus Fishing Expo
and the Public Grouse Film Tour.
• The Tri-State Black Bear Bash is Saturday, March 28, at the Benton County
Quail Barn in Bentonville, Arkansas, and co-hosted by the Oklahoma,
Arkansas and Missouri chapters.
• Hosted a meetup at Lake Arcadia, where we enjoyed a campfire and shared
wild game harvests from Oklahoma.
• The legislative session is expected to be another very active session with
our wildlife department on the defensive. Our chapter continues to fight
to preserve our hunting heritage and public lands and waters.
• We are kicking off spring with a visit from Land Tawney, with him taking
part in a spring turkey hunt and storytellers event April 7.
• Oregon BHA’s ambassador team has been invaluable to issues and efforts
throughout the state.
• Ambassador Scott Peckman is working with the USFS and ODFW to
help stop illegal road usage in the Blue Mountains.
• Ambassador Katelyn Lambert became a Salmon Trout Enhancement Program
instructor in the SW region of the state.
• Ambassador Karl Findling, in the central region, is working with Oregon
Hunters Association to secure grant money to help the Malheur chapter of
Pheasants Forever conduct habitat restoration for upland birds.
• BHA PA celebrated the passing of Senate Bill 147, which will allow for
three days of Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania. (See page 44 for more!)
• BHA PA unveiled their BHA vs. CWD Challenge to encourage members
to harvest deer in Disease Management Areas and have those animals
tested to determine the spread and prevalence of CWD in Pennsylvania.
• BHA PA unveiled the Take Two Campaign, which is a call for current
members to take two new or reactivated hunters and mentor them by
taking them hunting or out for a hunting-related activity.
• Held the Public Grouse Film Tour in February in Rapid City.
• SD BHA will be hosting the Terry Peak Total Archery Challenge After-Party
• Watch the state social media pages for spring lake and trail cleanup events
in your area.
• Several states within the Southeast chapter have begun hosting small game
hunts in order to engage members, recruit new hunters and encourage
public land stewardship through trash cleanups.
• Upon the urging of BHA and other sportsmen groups, Florida’s FWC
elected to include hunting as a viable option and tool for long-term bear
management in Florida.
• The Mississippi State University collegiate club has been officially recognized
and is building momentum going into 2020.
• TN BHA launched its education and awareness campaign, #TN-
BHAvsCWD, to help mitigate the impacts of chronic wasting disease and
provide wildlife biologists and resource managers critical harvest data.
• The Tellico River and its tributaries in Cherokee NF are cleaner after a
cleanup organized by the chapter and Tellico Outfitters. Big hauls of trash
removed included a mattress, an old TV and an air conditioner.
• A questionnaire regarding public land issues and policies was composed by
the chapter and disseminated to state politicians to better understand their
stance and bring forward key issues.
• Our 2nd annual spring public lands work day targeted a multitude of state
and federal properties, all of which allow some form of public hunting or
• Marissa Boughner joined the board as our new events and fundraising
chair, setting us up for our most action-packed and successful year yet.
• Texas officially kicked off its adult mentored hunting program in collaboration
with the Texas Youth Hunting Program for a wild hog hunt in
• In September the USU club won the public land pack out and the Utah
chapter was named chapter of the month.
• Our chair, Josh Lenart, represented Utah BHA on a mule deer advisory
• The chapter wrote a letter of support to the Forest Service for a travel
plan to limit the use of OHVs in high use areas with illegal OHV issues
in southern Idaho.
• Our Christmas party and board elections were held in December and included
a wild game potluck. We’re excited about the dynamic board we
will have for 2020 with representation in all regions of the state.
• With financial help from our chapter, Conservation Northwest and
local Mule Deer Foundation chapters installed the Janis Bridge Wildlife
• The chapter donated funds to the Wild Steelhead Coalition for the
“Grande Ronde Steelhead Access Parcel.”
• There are multiple volunteer events currently being planned; the dates and
specifics will be released as we roll into spring. Stay tuned by following
the Washington chapter on Facebook, Instagram and through our chapter
• WI BHA kicked off 2020 with a wild game potluck at Ojibwa Bowhunters
in New Berlin and followed it up with a gear swap/pint night at Delta
Beer Lab in Madison.
• The WI BHA Board met to prepare for 2020, discuss policy priorities
such as the Railroad Trespass Law and the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship
fund reauthorization, the addition of new WI BHA-led Learn to Hunt
Programs and public land habitat work days.
• The WI BHA board is actively seeking volunteers looking to bring BHA
to their local communities. If you are interested please email WI BHA at
• Had two BHA members report the illegal construction of roads across
state, Forest Service and BLM land in the Laramie Range that led to the
prosecution of the offender and nearly $50,000 in fines.
• Supported the Teton County Wildlife Crossing SPET election.
• Added Pete Kassab as a regional director and Tom Chambers as a field
representative to the Wyoming Regional Leadership Team.
• Hosted CWD workshops in Laramie and Jackson.
Yukon BHA is busy with:
• Planning our annual general meeting.
• Engaging with Yukon Government on moose management tools.
• Ramping up our social media presence.
Find a more detailed writeup of your chapter’s news along with events and updates by regularly visiting www.backcountryhunters.org/chapters
or contacting them at [your state/province/territory/region]@backcountryhunters.org (e.g. email@example.com)
42 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Every Adventure Has Its Rewards
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 43
Chapter’s Huge Win on
BY DON RANK
Despite routinely boasting some of the largest numbers
of hunters in the United States, Pennsylvania is one of the few
remaining states that either restricts or completely bans hunting
on Sundays. On Nov. 27, 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Tom
Wolf signed Senate Bill 147 into law allowing for three Sundays
to be open to hunting. Those three days represent a major victory
for hunters in the Keystone State.
Sunday hunting restrictions remain in place in 11 states. For
example, Maryland allows it by county, while South Carolina
limits Sunday hunting to private land. Three states have the most
severe restrictions or complete bans: Maine, Massachusetts and
These laws don’t just impact personal freedoms; they have a
larger effect on the hunting community, wildlife funding and the
economy as a whole. A study of lapsed hunters in Pennsylvania
showed that lack of time to hunt is a major influence in lost license
sales. Those lost hunters not only threaten the future of hunting;
those unpurchased licenses also decrease the funds available for
wildlife management. Additionally, a study conducted by the
National Shooting Sports Foundation indicated that lifting
the ban would result in the creation of over 8,193 jobs and
$245,630,435 in wages.
In the 1800s, Pennsylvania sought to protect wildlife
populations as they plummeted. By 1873, the forerunner of
modern game laws were adopted. Along with such measures as
the banning of punt guns for waterfowl and increased protections
for passenger pigeons, Sundays became forbidden to hunters. Five
years later fishing on Sunday was also made illegal; that ban would
stay in place until 1937.
Blue laws (a law prohibiting certain activities, such as shopping,
on a Sunday) were not new to Pennsylvania. Many had been in
place since William Penn founded the colony; the 1800s simply
saw the blue laws extended to hunting. Over the years exceptions
have been made for crows, foxes and coyotes. But with this long
history, it is not hard to imagine why three Sundays are such a
big deal. For historical perspective, when the ban first took place
Ulysses S. Grant was the president of the United States.
The main opponent of Sunday hunting is the Pennsylvania
Farm Bureau. Its leadership has cited fear of trespassing, disdain
for gunfire on Sundays and the need for a day of rest for farmers
and game animals as their rationale for continuing the Sunday
ban. Being that agriculture is such big business in Pennsylvania,
the bureau holds sway with many politicians. Ironically, many
farmers complain of crop damage from deer and would like to
reduce their numbers.
Some hikers have also supported the ban for fear of encountering
hunters on the trail and the ever-important day of rest for the
animals. The most organized campaign originated from the
Keystone Trails Association. It is interesting to note that despite
the stated fear of being in the woods with hunters, many of the
group’s organized hikes are scheduled on Saturdays while hunting
is open. One KTA life member, however, did pen two opinion
44 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Photos courtesy of Pennsylvania BHA member John Conte III
pieces in support of Sunday hunting both before and after the
passage of S.B. 147.
What may be the most surprising voice against lifting the
ban came from Pennsylvania’s hunters. As recently as five years
ago the numbers were 50/50 at best on this issue. But over the
past two years the tide has turned. Initially, it seemed that only
younger hunters sought to overturn the prohibition. For the most
part, those of retirement age steadfastly held to the rule, stating a
wish to hold onto tradition and fears of overhunting. But those
attitudes have changed. I believe for many of the older hunters it
started with the desire to go afield with grandchildren. And for
those unable to go into the woods alone, they felt the effects of
societal demands that working age hunters already face. While
manning the BHA booth at the 2018 Great American Outdoor
Show we were approached by parents with young children as
well as retirees who voiced support for the cause. Our platform
brought many new members to BHA.
Moving the Needle
Sunday hunting was named a top priority by Pennsylvania
chapter chairman, Nate Fronk, when the present board took
office in January 2018. The rest of the board unanimously agreed.
At that point we began to study the issue and develop a plan.
Being a relatively new chapter – we were still writing our bylaws
– we could not have put together the infrastructure to act without
the efforts of BHA Regional Manager Chris Hennessey. Our
statement on Sunday hunting was one of our first official position
In a stroke of luck, a meeting of like-minded groups was
scheduled in March of that year at the Pennsylvania Game
Commission headquarters. Hunters United for Sunday Hunting,
a grassroots organization formed in 2011, renewed the fight under
the guidance of Executive Director Harold Daub. Pennsylvania
BHA spoke at the meeting and added our name to other groups
working towards changing the law, including PA Federation
of Sportsmen & Conservationists, QDMA, TRCP, United
Bowhunters of Pennsylvania, NWTF and others. The list grew as
the campaign continued. At this point, Sunday hunting became a
coordinated effort on multiple fronts.
Despite being a relatively new and unknown entity in the state,
BHA brought some unique strengths to the fight; BHA has a
social media presence that was not shared by other groups at the
time. This coupled with a membership that seeks engagement
and is eager to take action helped amplify our voice. Another
useful vessel were podcasts, which helped us bring our message
to a wider audience. Early on, Todd Waldron, of New York BHA,
hosted the Pennsylvania officers on his podcast. And later, Hal
Herring brought the issue to light on the BHA Podcast & Blast.
Discussing Sunday hunting on these podcasts proved invaluable
to educate and motivate our members.
A few months later, our chapter also began working with a
sportsmen’s summit originally put together by Dave Kinney,
of Trout Unlimited, and a host of other Pennsylvania-based
organizations. Among other priorities, Sunday hunting was
put forward. The group organized trips to visit the state capitol
and bring our message to legislators. Many legislators did not
have a familiarity either with hunting or with this particular
issue. We were able to both advocate for the issue and educate
those legislators. One of our most successful endeavors was a
congressional breakfast with the members of the Game and
Getting a Bill
Multiple bills in the past have had the intention of overturning
the ban in Pennsylvania, none of which ever made it out of
committee. Sen. Dan Laughlin was the prime sponsor of S.B.
147, and when he became majority chair of the Senate Game
and Fisheries Committee, there was finally a legislator who could
champion the bill and move it forward. As an accommodation to
the Farm Bureau, the bill also included tougher trespassing laws.
As it moved through the legislature, the bill was further altered to
include only three Sundays as opposed to all Sundays.
At each step of the way action alerts were sent and our members
responded. Legislators heard our voices. Despite some very
powerful opposition, we were able to help move the bill through
the Senate and House and finally to the governor’s desk.
While S.B. 147 has been a hard-won battle in Pennsylvania,
our work is far from complete. In every state that has moved
to allow Sunday hunting, change has come incrementally. New
York allowed three days in 1996 and expanded to all Sundays
within five years. Ohio trialed Sunday hunting for three years
then removed the ban altogether. Delaware started with one day
and recently added all Sundays during deer season. The claim
of damage to wildlife populations has not been substantiated in
any state that has moved to lift these blue laws. Our end goal
is to give the Pennsylvania Game Commission the authority to
regulate hunting seven days a week as we feel our wildlife is best
served when decisions are made by wildlife professionals. The
Pennsylvania chapter will continue to champion this cause until
that day arrives.
Don Rank is the secretary for the Pennsylvania BHA chapter. He
is a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, where he’s been hunting for the
past 35 years, with the exception of Sundays.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 45
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New Mexico Chapter
Battles for Public
Photo by Garrett VeneKlasen
BY ROB PARKINS
BHA members, other sportsmen’s groups including New
Mexico Wildlife Federation and American Whitewater,
lawmakers and outdoor industry businesses recently used their
collective voice in an effort to reverse the stream access regulations
in New Mexico that appear to violate the public’s constitutional
right to access any stream or river within the state as long they
do not trespass to reach or leave the water. Due to the pressure of
in-person testimony, a letter writing campaign to Gov. Michelle
Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Game Commission, a BHA
petition signed by over 1,100 members and a favorable statement
from the New Mexico attorney general’s office, there is hope that
privatized waters in New Mexico waters will be opened to all.
The New Mexico Constitution, enacted in 1907, states that
“every natural stream, perennial or torrential, within the state of
New Mexico, is hereby declared to belong to the public and are
subject to appropriation for beneficial use.” But in 2015, with
support from landowners and special interests, the state legislature
passed a law, by one vote, that gave the New Mexico State Game
Commission the authority to declare waters running through
private property as “non-navigable.” That set the stage for the
commission in 2017 to adopt a new rule (19.31.22 NMAC) that
allows landowners to apply to have stretches of stream designated
non-navigable and therefore closed to the public. The first
applications included stretches of the Chama, Pecos, Alamosa,
Mimbres and Penasco rivers. All five were approved in the fall
of 2018 by the previous game commission. In the summer of
2019, Gov. Lujan Grisham’s newly appointed game commission
placed a moratorium on the access rule until an opinion on its
constitutionality could be issued by the attorney general.
Outdoor recreation in New Mexico supports nearly 100,000
jobs and brings $9.9 billion in consumer spending. Industry
partners who have a stake in defending public access, such as
Patagonia, the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Fishpond,
Far Bank Enterprises (Sage, Redington, RIO Products and Fly
Water Travel), RepYourWater, Ross and Abel Fly Reels, wrote to
Governor Lujan Grisham urging her to “support the commission’s
decision and reaffirm the state’s commitment to upholding access
opportunities critical to New Mexico’s economy and outdoor
traditions.” Access to the state’s rivers and streams are not only
integral to the state’s economy; they also are critical for the
enjoyment of New Mexico’s citizens and a lifeblood for outdoor
While many people were gearing up for hunting season, in
September Assistant Attorney General John Grubesic released a
letter stating, “The constitution does not allow an interpretation of
19.31.22 NMAC that would exclude the public from using public
water on or running through private property for recreational
uses if the public water is accessible without trespassing on private
property.” He added, “Any language in 19.31.22 NMAC which
attempts to prohibit access to the public waters of New Mexico is
unconstitutional and unenforceable.”
His statement, based on both the state constitution and a 1945
New Mexico Supreme Court decision that affirmed public stream
access, will hopefully inspire the commission to rescind their rule
or revise it to comply with the constitution.
U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, along with U.S.
Rep. Deb Haaland, wrote to Game Commission Chairwoman
Joanna Prukop in support of ensuring access, stating, “Like others
who value our federal lands and waters as assets to be enjoyed and
passed to future generations, we respectfully urge you to reaffirm
the state’s commitment to uphold our access opportunities and
stand against the privatization of New Mexico’s streams and
rivers.” With an outpouring of support from the public, the
game commission agreed in November to reconsider the rule.
This spring, they could order the New Mexico Game and Fish
Department to either amend or repeal the regulation.
Leading in to 2020, Gov. Lujan Grisham, who says she
supports stream access, dismissed Chairwoman Prukop, creating
some doubt on the future of stream access in the state. Joel Gay,
chair of the New Mexico chapter, expressed that “New Mexico
anglers, boaters and others had been optimistic that our new State
Game Commission might do a politically courageous thing in
2020 and actually improve public access to our rivers and streams.
Given the political pressure the governor has faced regarding this
sensitive issue, we were not surprised by her action. We remain
optimistic, however, that Gov. Lujan Grisham will do the right
thing and allow the commission to follow our state constitution
and Supreme Court rather than bend to political pressure.”
Our hope is that the next chair continues to lead the commission
and their mandate to protect and enhance the public waters for
the benefit and enjoyment of New Mexico’s citizens.
Rob Parkins, living in Victor, Idaho, is the public access coordinator
for BHA. When not making a living working on access issues, he
makes his life fly fishing and bow hunting across the West and raising
48 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Photos by Moriah Boggess
BACKCOUNTRY ON A BUDGET
A poor college student’s guide to Western adventure
BY MORIAH BOGGESS
Growing up hunting whitetails and catching trout in the local
streams of western North Carolina was exciting, but those local
experiences eventually left me desiring big game animals and large
views in the West, which felt like a pipe dream far out of reach.
I’m sure many other Eastern outdoorsmen and women can relate
to these feelings. After all, how does one jump from hunting
whitetails in eastern farmland to backpacking Rocky Mountain
ridges while chasing elk?
For some college buddies and me, shed hunting became an easy
entry into Western adventure. I know what you’re thinking, “Why
go shed hunting when I really want to hunt big game out West?”
But, shed hunting proved an excellent gateway to experiencing
the West on a budget.
Spotting a fresh deer antler hiding in the leaves provides a shot
of adrenaline and excitement that fuels my drive to keep walking.
And the greatest benefit of being a shed hunter may be the variety
of critters and sights seen while exploring the woods. It’s this
innate enjoyment of simply being outside that first interested me
in shed hunting and later led me to deer hunting. Now, I shed
hunt every spring as much as I can, whether that’s for whitetails
around my home in Mississippi or on Western roadtrips.
One of the biggest benefits of shed hunting is that it currently
requires no license purchase, allowing you to experience new
states and game species without paying a high non-resident fee; a
perfect fit with the typical budget of a college student.
Easy as 1, 2, 3
I first tested the waters of shed hunting road trips several years
ago when a close friend, Kyle, and I spent a weekend driving and
walking Ohio and Indiana public land searching for our first
Midwestern deer sheds. A few weeks later, we both had bought
plane tickets and flown to Reno, Nevada, to spend a week in the
Sierra Nevada mountains looking for mule deer sheds, a first for
us Carolina boys! During this trip it all clicked for me: I could
very affordably travel to the West, hike almost anywhere I wished
(thank you public lands), view wildlife species I don’t see in the
Southeast and carry home antlers as memories of the trip. My
Nevada expenses totaled less than $400, and I had been lucky
enough to pick up numerous sheds, but more importantly I had
my first taste of Western country.
50 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Shed hunting road trips have become annual adventures for my
college buddies and me. Last spring, I took three shed hunting
trips: eastern Arkansas, southcentral Georgia and a five-day trip
to Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. We camped on public land,
cooked in camp, shared many laughs and found a pile of sheds,
including my first elk antler.
Can You Afford It?
The first step in planning any trip is figuring out its affordability,
because even the most elaborately planned trip will fail if no
consideration for finances is made.
For our Colorado road trip last spring we spent a total of $210
on fuel by driving my small crossover-SUV. Lodging could be
another big expense on such a trip; however, camping saves coin
and adds another layer to the adventure.
Eating out every meal can add up, but if you cook at camp and
eat backpacking snacks for breakfast and lunch you can minimize
this expense. If done right, you can keep your food expenses as
low as if you were at home.
Inviting some buddies along on your trip not only adds to the
memories but will further reduce your expenses by splitting the
larger costs like fuel. For our Colorado trip last spring, we each
spent $70 in fuel, camped for free, and ate venison dinners over
the camp stove – a steal for five days traveling the West.
Where to Go?
For an Eastern guy, the most difficult part of planning a trip
will be choosing a destination without any local knowledge and
I began searching for a specific hunt unit using the RMEF elk
range layer in the onX Hunt app to visualize which units had elk.
I then further narrowed my search using the public lands layer
to find access points and drop pins in areas I wanted to walk.
When narrowing down your search, it’s also beneficial to seek out
local knowledge, such as a wildlife biologist, conservation officer
or other local familiar with the area.
The big game species of the West have much more dynamic
home ranges than do our Eastern whitetails, so there is a bit of a
learning curve when beginning to shed hunt out West. Elk and
mule deer both experience annual migrations that allow them to
winter at lower elevations where conditions are favorable and then
follow the spring flush of new plant growth up the mountains.
This essential adaptation for the animals can also make sheds
difficult to locate when you are not familiar with the herds. To
complicate things further, mule deer shed early, from late winter
to early spring, and elk shed later, usually March or April.
Care must be taken, especially early in the spring, to avoid
pushing animals from their winter range, which can cause undue
stress when they are at their weakest after a long winter. States are
starting to adopt regulations that protect these wintering animals.
For instance, Colorado recently closed shed hunting west of
I-25 from Jan. 1 to April 30, with additional restrictions in the
Gunnison Basin. Utah now requires completion of an online
Antler Gathering Ethics Course for shed hunting prior to April
These trips have helped tremendously with increasing my
comfort level concerning my ability to hike and survive in a
large landscape with extreme weather patterns so different from
what I know in the East. These trips opened the door to archery
hunting mule deer and rifle hunting elk. I experienced my first
successful Western hunting trip last fall while backpacking
deep in the wilderness, where I harvested both my first cow and
bull elk. Camping four miles from the trailhead in single-digit
weather on a self-guided hunt while completely out of touch with
the developed world sounds intimidating to a college student in
Mississippi. However, the miles I’ve spent hiking for sheds and
nights I’ve spent camping on these roadtrips gave me confidence
to hunt this country safely and enjoy a successful trip in the
backcountry. Shed hunting has now mentally unlocked millions
of acres of wilderness for me to explore and hunt!
Moriah Boggess is a graduate student in the Mississippi State
University deer lab where he studies direct and indirect effects of
whitetailed deer on upland oak regeneration. He is also vice-president
of the MSU BHA collegiate club and a co-host of the Hunt The Land
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 51
52 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
PACK - $ 625
BOW - $ 700
RANGEFINDER - $ 450
BINOS - $ 250
ARROWS - $ 100
FLASHLIGHT - $ 80
Use promo code BHA to get 20% off any new membership when purchasing at onxmaps.com/hunt.
A portion of all proceeds go to BHA to support their mission.
is a proud supporter of
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 53
BRING MY ASHES
BY DAVID SUMNER
We took the trail slowly, through lodgepole pine, Engelmann
spruce and Doug fir, up over scree-covered knolls, plunging again
into the dark of the trees. We rested often and sang “Stay on the
Sunny Side” and “Country Sunday School.” He bribed us with beef
jerky and hard candy, and an hour or so before dark we walked
from the forest edge to see the surface of Swasey Lake reflecting the
exposed moraine, pocked with the expanding circles of rising trout.
That morning, we left home in the predawn dark: I-80, state
highway 40, north out of Duchesne through the Ute Ouray
Reservation, and in mid-morning sun we bumped up the last rutted
half-mile to Garfield Basin trailhead. We hoisted our packs, starting
the six-mile trek. Excitement filled me, threatening to overflow onto
the boot-worn trail. I had camped before, car camping with Mom,
Dad and my brothers, but this was different. We were backpacking.
We were walking six miles into what used to be the Uinta primitive
area but was now – post 1964 – called wilderness. The music of that
word: we were walking into the wilderness!
As a father now, I’m impressed with my dad. He took three of us,
the oldest 12, the youngest eight, deep into the roadless forest with
one two-man pup tent, hardware store aluminum-frame backpacks,
and new sleeping bags for which he had traded dental work with a
rep for an obscure outdoor company called North Face. No stove.
No water filter. A Vietnam-era canteen on each of our hips, a couple
of mess kits purchased at Allied – “if we don’t have it, you don’t need
it” – four sets of knife-fork-spoon that cleverly fit together with slots
and posts, some foil for cooking hoped-for trout over coals, and,
thanks to the space program, some freeze-dried pork chops, chili
mac and dried ice cream.
Getting yourself out into the woods is hard enough. Once you
take kids, gear, headaches and worries multiply. Does everyone have
a jacket? Are there enough fishing rods in the basement? How much
can eight-year-old Mike carry for six miles? Bobby needs new shoes,
but will this pair make it for the trip? Can we all fit in the one tent if
it rains at night? What if I get hurt? Will Bobby and Dave have the
sense and know-how needed to get help?
Dad carried most the gear on his 38-year-old shoulders, but Bobby
and I carried some on our narrow backs, and Mike wore a daypack
stuffed with his clothing. The three of us, all clad in Toughskins and
t-shirts, carrying spinning rods in our right hands. My dad wore his
outdoor uniform – a khaki Jones-style hunting cap with the back
brim turned up, Stewart-plaid wool shirt, worn Levi 501s and lugsoled
Danner work boots.
We had plastic ponchos for the afternoon thundershowers and a
box full of spinners: bright orange and red and white striped Mepps,
silver spoons, gold Panther Martins, a bottle of maraschino-dyed
salmon eggs and a styrofoam cup of worms for backup.
As a boy, I could imagine nothing better. There was no amusement
park, baseball game or airplane ride that could compete. Three days
of angling and camping. As those days unfolded, we caught fish,
ate surprisingly-good rehydrated pork chops and dried ice cream,
relished the delicate flesh of the cutthroat and introduced brookies,
hunkered under fir trees during the afternoon showers, slept under
the stars and listened to my dad’s stories. I wandered through the
dreamy days of sunlight and water and cloud and trout. I wondered.
I marveled at creation.
As a boy, my father first hiked into the Uintas with his father.
Cecil loaded their pre-war Nash with three wooden-framed, canvas
backpacks and walked my 14-year-old Uncle Smith and my 10-yearold
dad, Bob, into Naturalist Basin. In 1948 the old Mirror Lake
Highway was dirt. It didn’t go all the way through to Evanston. They
had to stop and roll rocks out of the way to get to the trailhead. But
the Civilian Conservations Corps had built the Highline Trail 10
years earlier, and they followed it east, taking a left just before Rocky
Sea Pass and hiking north into the shadow of Mt. Agassiz. They
camped at Jordan Lake. They caught fish, dodged afternoon showers
and cooked over the fire.
I imagine my grandfather, the thin, angular man who taught
me to fish and who worked nights coupling trains for the Union
All photos courtesy of David Sumner
Pacific: square-fingered grip on bamboo rod, elegant motion,
extending line, caddis touching down on still surface. I can see
the rise, the quick upward pull that sets the hook, the lips parted
in determined excitement. With so many hours surrounded by
loud machinery and pungent diesel exhaust, he must have been
grateful to while away a few days fishing and hiking, surrounded
by beauty, grace and wonder.
The Uinta is one of the few ranges in the lower 48 that runs eastwest
and is the highest to do so. It lies just south of the Wyoming
border and stretches a hundred miles, crowned by 13,528-foot
King’s Peak, named for Clarence King – 19th century explorer
of the 40th parallel and first director of the U.S. Geological
Survey. Here, you can wander above treeline, moving from
drainage to drainage through rugged, scree-strewn passes: Gun
Site, Anderson, Porcupine, Dead Horse, Rocky Sea. The high
country is dotted with lakes and tarns filled with snow melt, with
trout, with grayling. When you reach the high country, you see
the structure of the range, the geological history of the lakes and
drainages, the bald, rounded moraines, the work of the Provo, the
Duchene, the Whiterocks and Ashley glaciers. As Powell floated
past its eastern edge on his 1869 expedition, he wrote in his diary
of the “high peaks thrust into the sky, and snow-fields glittering
like lakes of molten silver.”
When I think back on my family’s relationship with the Uintas,
I think about a line from Robinson Jeffers: “When the cities lie
at the monster’s feet, there are left the mountains.” Four years
after my initial trip to Swasey, I took my first trip into Naturalist
Basin. My Uncle Smith was getting a divorce, and my dad wanted
to help. It was 1980, but we were Mormon, and divorce had not
yet come to our provincial community. My dad loved his brother,
and he loved his niece and nephew, so he did the only thing he
could think of: he took them into the Uinta Mountains. He took
them to the same place he had visited for the first time with their
father and our grandfather. “There are left the mountains.”
For this trip, he recruited Alan, a neighbor boy whose family
owned horses. So the nine of us – me, my dad and two brothers,
two cousins, the neighbor kid and two horses – all trekked into
Jordan Lake. I was again overtaken by wonder. We had only two
tents, so we would dodge the afternoon weather by stuffing our
bedding into the dark green nylon shelters, but we slept out.
I would awaken at dawn feeling warm in my bag, my cousins
and brothers lying next to me. I could see the first rays of light
hitting Spread Eagle Peak. Mosquitos buzzed, and I felt my face,
counting bites. I could hear dad breaking wood and coaxing last
night’s coals to life. When the yellow and orange flames grew,
and the smell of bacon beckoned, we quickly dressed to warm
ourselves by the fire.
Because the horses hauled in anything we wanted, we ate like
kings – fried eggs, steaks, canned stew. We supplemented most
meals with foil-wrapped fish placed on hot coals. The ancestors
of these fish had been eaten by my father and grandfather, caught
from the same lake, cooked in the same manner. In the shadow
of Mt. Agassiz, I felt connected to the world and to this place as
only a boy can. When young, the borders of your body seem more
fluid, almost one with glacial valleys, alpine tarns and weatherworn
passes, gateways to remote and ancient worlds.
My dad seemed a magician. He knew how to cook anything
over a fire. Most meals came from a large cast-iron skillet, a blend
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 55
of root vegetables and meat. On the last night he pulled
out potatoes to bake, but we had already used all the foil
for fish. No problem. He took us to a where the stream
had exposed clay soil and showed us how to pack the
spuds in mud and place them in the fire.
“Every fall when I was growing up,” he said, “all the
neighbors would pile their leaves in the street and burn
them. We cooked potatoes like this every year.”
When we pulled them from embers, the dried earthen
shell cracked off, butter melting into the steaming white
As a boy, the thing I loved only second to wilderness
was horses. And on this trip, we had horses. Comanche
and Bar, both palominos. Comanche was 16-hands tall
and strong. Bar had been a racehorse in Evanston before
Alan’s dad bought him. He had a scar on his crooked nose
where he had run into a gate, but he was still fast.
Alan, a year older than I, had been drafted for the trip
as chief wrangler. He and I spent hours riding around the
basin, racing bareback, shirtless and shoeless, out across
the meadow south of the lake, one hand on the reins and
the other gripping tightly, deep in the mane, bare heels
prodding sweaty flank, spurring even more speed.
When you’re on a horse, wild animals register less fear. We
would quietly approach cinnamon does with yearlings or spotted
fawns. We would talk back to the jays, nutcrackers and ravens,
answer the high whistles of pika and marmot and then race across
the meadow to grab our rods for the evening rise.
In 2001, when my oldest son was eight, he, my dad and I were
back in the Uintas, again treading the familiar trail to Swasey
lakes. This time we had two pack-goats. They were strange, devileyed
creatures with large horns and an inscrutable gaze. We rented
them from a tall, thin farmer in Tooele. Each would carry up to
40 pounds, and the farmer said they would “just follow without
much trouble.” These goats were trouble.
After three miles of pulling hard on lead ropes, horned heads
angled back, splayed hooves pushing dirt, we crossed over the top
of a bare moraine before dropping back into the valley. Just as
we reached that exposed point, a thunderstorm fell upon us with
all its violence. The fiends now followed willingly as we scurried
down off the rubble-littered slope – lightning cracking, heavens
opening – and sought shelter in the trees. The goats stood face-in
to the largest trunk, shaking and refusing to move. We bivouacked
for the night.
The next day, sun out, storm forgotten, goats more willing,
we hiked the remainder of the way to the lake. As we emerged
from the trees, a wave of recognition swept over me. The light on
the bald hills, the slowly expanding ripples of fish rising on the
mirrored surface, the clearing to the south where we had camped
that bicentennial summer of my tenth year. We stepped across
the stream where years earlier ravens had stolen the cleaned fish
waiting in the cool water for suppertime. Did Penn see this place?
Did he feel the connection? Will he bring a son or a daughter
We spent three lazy days fishing and napping, hiking to
neighboring lakes. The cutthroat trout were spawning and clogged
the stream leading up the drainage, their speckled backs and red
sides waving in the current like mottled crimson-edged grass. You
could catch them by hand if you cared to, but we plied the waters
of the lake instead: my dad and I with five-weight fly rods, Penn
with a simple spinning set up. If you attach a bubble to a spinning
line, filling it halfway with water, it has heft, and you can really
cast it. Tie on a tan caddis or a gaudy green-and-red Royal Wulff,
and you’re set. Cast, retrieve, cast, retrieve, strike! Penn pulled in
fish just as I had at that age, at that place. We fashioned tin-foil
packets and dropped then onto yellow-orange coals. White flesh,
salt and pepper; it was as if we could taste the lakes.
The last time I was in Naturalist Basin, my dad met me there.
It was 2002. It had been 22 summers since those sun-gilded days
of horse races and mud-baked potatoes. A week earlier, my friend
Sean and I were dropped off at the Brown Duck trailhead. For
six days, we rambled the high country, dead reckoning from one
drainage to the next, scheduled to meet my dad in Naturalist
Basin on Sunday, at the campsite on Jordan Lake he first visited
in 1948, and I first visited in 1980. We would hike out together,
and he would give us a ride home. He was also eager to spend
some time – once again – in the shadow of Mt. Agassiz, in the
mountains he loved.
As we descended Rocky Sea Pass, we caught our first glimpse of
the basin. I could see the smaller Everyman Lake and the larger
Jordan Lake. There was the meadow Alan and I had raced across.
I flashed to the sensation of speed, leaning low over Bar’s neck,
gripping mane as the rhythms of running and breathing pulsed
As we got closer, I was straining to see my dad’s camp. Although
fit, he’d been solo for two days and was in his sixties; I was eager
to see him, to find him healthy.
As we came closer to the lake, there was the tree I had slept
under with cousins and brothers; there was the stream mouth
where I had caught so many trout. Finally, the yellow of my dad’s
tent peeked through. But as we approached his camp, it was still.
We unloaded our packs and set up our own tent, but still no dad.
We waited. Finally, I saw him coming from the northeast, on the
56 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
All photos courtesy of David Sumner
Shaler Lake trail. An Akubra hat had replaced his hunting cap, and he
now wore shorts instead of the old Levis, but it was clearly him, fly
rod in hand. Yet, as he approached, he seemed strangely dour, and as
he entered camp he wiped away tears. Seeing my concerned visage, he
laughed at his emotions.
“David,” he reminded me, “I came here with my father, and I brought
you here. Mt. Aggazis, Spread Eagle Peak, Jordan, Everyman, the other
lakes. This is the most beautiful place in the world.” A pause, another
embarrassed laugh, emotion in his throat. “When it’s time,” he said,
“bring my ashes here. Bring my ashes here.”
We ate fish that night—the ancestors of the ancestors of the fish I
ate in 1980, the fish he ate in 1948. I burned my fingers as I pulled the
packet from the fire. I slit the foil, the steam rose; I lifted the tail and
with a fork separated the delicate flesh from the fine, translucent bones.
I could taste the lakes; I could taste the glaciers.
BHA member David Thomas Sumner grew up outside of Salt Lake City,
Utah, in the small town of Granite. He read Bring my Ashes Here as a
tribute to his father, Robert Smith Sumner, at his memorial last April. David
currently lives in McMinnville, Oregon, where he is professor of English and
environmental studies at Linfield College. When he isn’t teaching, writing
or playing guitar with his bluegrass band, he loves nothing more than to
wander the wild places of the West with friends, family and a fly rod.
HIKING - WORKSHOPS - HUNTING
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 57
Photos by Emily Stone
HOOKED ON THE RIVER
BY EMILY STONE
It didn’t take long to load the gear. Six of the seven boys had
been on a canoe trip with me before; the newbie was a younger
brother. Sleeping bags, sleeping pads, headlamps and mess kits
from the National Park Service went into the garbage-bag-lined
packs with their clothes, toothbrushes and extra shoes. Within
half an hour, the seven boys from nearby towns, two leaders and
two parent drivers were on our way to the Namekagon River
landing just below the Hayward dam in northwest Wisconsin.
Many hands make light work; unloading the heavy Royalex
canoes from the trailer at the landing went quickly. I’m often
impressed with these local kids – they jump right in to help and
don’t complain. Just before launching the canoes, we slathered on
sunscreen and fueled up with gorp (aka trail mix). “Two hands,” I
reminded them as I poured the peanuts, raisins and M&Ms from
the bag; to drop an M&M is a major fail.
Soon we were all floating. Great blue herons rose like dinosaurs
from the reedy shallows. Kingfishers swooped overhead, and
cedar waxwings gave their high, thin whistles from the shrubs
on shore. The boys probably didn’t notice the birdsongs, though,
as they focused on navigating through quick water and around
rocks. Gavin’s canoe got distracted by some fishing line tangled in
the alders, and the boys managed to free quite a bit before moving
on. They’ve been told how dangerous lost line can be to wildlife,
and a use for the line was already swimming in their heads.
A light drizzle gave way to tentative sunshine as we landed at
our first night’s campsite. After we gathered around the picnic
table, David, an intern with the National Park Service and my
co-leader, asked, “Does anyone know where the closest national
“Right here!” several boys replied. Just two summers ago, none
of the kids on the canoe trip realized that we live so close to a
Many local residents drive by the brown arrowhead signs every
day and never stop to realize that they live next to such a gem.
The Namekagon River is a tributary of the St. Croix River and
therefore is part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a unit
of the National Park Service.
Both the Cable Natural History Museum and the NPS want
to get kids on the river, and this partnership makes it happen. As
the naturalist/education director at the museum, I provide the
trip guiding experience, camp food and participants, and the NPS
provides camping gear, a second adult for safety, a park ranger for
an evening program and logistical support.
The kids are the ones who really benefit. We had covered our
miles quickly, and recurrent drizzle dampened their enthusiasm
for swimming. So what could they do around the campsite?
58 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Wild & Scenic
It’s not often that you can paddle a pristine river with plenty of
solitude and almost no visible development along the banks yet
easy road access. The Namekagon River in northwest Wisconsin
is one such hidden gem. Since the beginning of human
occupation after the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, the river
has been a highway for Native Americans, fur traders, explorers,
loggers and now tourists, fisherman and nature-lovers.
When the Namekagon – and the St. Croix River it flows
into – were threatened by new industries in the 1960s, Sens.
Gaylord Nelson and Walter Mondale stepped in. Through their
hard work, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (which
includes the Namekagon River and a protected, quarter-mile
corridor on either riverbank) was created under the National
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. The intention of this act
was “to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural
and recreational values in – a free-flowing condition for the
enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Today, the National Park Service manages human
engagement on these two rivers by providing rustic campsites,
frequent landings, maps, rangers and education. Stop by the
Namekagon River Visitor Center in Trego, Wisconsin, or visit
www.nps.gov/sacn for more information.
Before long, Tyler found a bungee cord near the fire ring and
started filing down its metal end to make a fishhook. Grant
began whittling a fishing pole from a stick, and Gavin worked to
untangle the rescued fishing line.
Not a single boy pulled out an electronic device or even
mentioned wanting one. Two Frisbees (one of mine and one
found in the weeds on the river) were sailing among the tents.
No one was bored. Everyone was safe. I sat back and let them
be boys in the woods.
Soon the fishing pole was outfitted with a wooden bobber,
baited with a raisin picked out of the gorp and ready for testing.
The whole troupe followed Gavin down to the landing and
watched as he swung the hook and line into the current. Evening
light reflected off the trees, and bugs skittered along the surface.
The onlookers soon dispersed, but Gavin stood quietly – our most
talkative boy – sliding easily into the fisherman’s meditation.
After several minutes without any nibbles, Gavin decided to try
the other canoe landing – a backwater area filled with water lilies
and muck. As he waded in wearing sandals, I heard him mutter,
“I hope I get a leech on my foot so I can use it for bait.” The rest
of us drifted back around the picnic table.
“I’ve got a leech!” came Gavin’s shout, with not a hint of disgust
or fear in his voice.
Nearby, Grant, who had whittled the fishing pole, replied
“Sweet! Now we have bait!” with the same untainted joy.
The boys never caught a fish with their makeshift pole and leech
bait, but I know they caught the spirit of the riverway: adventure,
resourcefulness, stewardship and beauty. Over the next two days
we paddled class I and II rapids, cooked over a campfire started
with flint and steel, learned about the Voyageur history, picked
other people’s trash out of a fire grate, admired bald eagles and
osprey soaring above and paddled 15 miles in a morning.
Around the final campfire, I asked the kids what they wanted in
a trip next year. “More fishing!” came Gavin’s predictable request.
“Can we go longer?” suggested another. I was glad to hear that
they’re hooked on the river.
Emily Stone is the naturalist/education director at the Cable
Natural History Museum and author of “Natural Connections:
Exploring Northwoods Nature through Science and Your Senses.” She
loves introducing kids and adults to wilderness travel.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 59
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SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 61
BY MICHAEL STEPP
“Oh good, you guys are tall,” Glenn said as we stepped from our
pickup. Peculiar first words from a man we were just meeting for
the first time.
“You our guide?” I asked. The confidence came through in
my voice, bolstered by the giant ladder stands towering over the
cab of his pickup. We shook hands and made our way through
formalities in the rain and the dark of a gas station parking lot in
“It’s good when my clients are over six feet; we can fish my
favorite spot,” Glenn reasoned, explaining how taller waders can
reach deeper water.
I felt incautious, not having put my rain gear on for the parking
lot introduction; I knew we had a long, cold day ahead of us, and
I didn’t want to start it out wet. We finished up with a few selfdeprecating
jokes about our fly-casting abilities and a disclaimer
about my duck blind waders, grabbed coffees from inside and hit
Six months ago, Brenton had asked me if I wanted to go on a
fishing trip. “Guide and rooms are taken care of. You just gotta
get yourself to Pyramid Lake.” I told him I would check in with
Momma and let him know, but it sounded pretty good. I used
to be a fisherman. I don’t responsibly feel I can lay claim to that
title any longer; the dust accumulated on stacks of Bassmaster
magazines on a closet shelf at my folks’ house has grown far too
deep to justify any validity to such a claim.
It used to be that my mom, my dad, my buddy’s sister – anyone
we could get to drive us – would drop us off at a farm pond some
20 miles from town. The hours we would spend in a weekend
bass fishing every inch of those banks might sicken a modern-day
parent. Age, sports, girls and college seemed to fog over the lure
of those glassy ponds. Marriage and babies put the nail in the
coffin. I still hold fun at the top of my list; it’s just that fishing, as
62 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Photo by Brenton Lammers
a priority, has waned over the decades.
It was a rainy drive in the dark from that Reno quick-stop to the
mountain lake named for the pyramid-shaped rock protruding
from its surface waters. The winding yellow lines of Highway 445
guided us some 50 miles to a dull, dreary beach. The darkness was
the most defining feature so far, save for the bouncing headlamp
of a single fisherman more zealous than us. “I’ve got some rain
gear,” Glenn mentioned in a muffled voice as he dug around in
the back seat of his pickup. He handed us a couple of toughfeeling
My reluctance to borrow his gear melted away with the pelting
rain. Built for ultralight backpacking applications, my gear might
not have been up to the task. I didn’t know if my pride was worth
wagering against the severity of the rain and the hours I knew
we’d be at it. I fumbled around by the light of my headlamp as I
navigated the closures, buckles, and straps of Glenn’s self-dubbed
“Alaska Jacket”– a heavy, tough Patagonia piece. “Maybe I won’t
stick out as bad amongst the locals,” I thought, as I covered the
top half of my camouflage neoprene waders.
Night faded, turning the black into gray, as we stood on that
soggy beach. Glenn was giving us a crash course on the basics.
“I’m a blank slate, man. Let me know if I am doing something
wrong. I’ve got a better chance of breaking this damn thing
than learning how to run it,” I half-joked as I tried to imitate
Glenn’s patient casting demonstrations with frozen fingers. The
confidence was low beneath the pitter patter of that oversized
Patagonia rain hood. I left the certainty of surefootedness on
the beach as I tiptoed through an offshore slough, all the while
wondering if Glenn had correctly judged our height back at that
gas station. Each step seemed a fraction of an inch deeper, and I
was quickly running out of wader. Fully expecting a whoosh of icy
water into my waders, I gently navigated towards the silhouette
of my ladder stand. Relieved to be able to spend the day dry, I
carefully fit my clunky boots into the rungs as I made my way up
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 63
that peculiar perch.
“Ladders!” my buddy had responded. I chalked it up to a
misdirected text message. We were chatting about “what’s new,”
and I had mentioned my recently booked trip to Pyramid Lake. A
month later the exact same response from another acquaintance
had me considering the coincidence. Four weeks out from our
trip, a social media post from a celebrity-of-sorts prompted me
to dial my Google research a bit tighter: “Pyramid Lake fishing.”
Photos of fellas standing on ladder tops with fly rods and giant
fish filled my phone screen.
“What in the heck do these knot-heads have against boats?”
I wondered as I dialed Brenton’s phone number frantically.
“Brenton, I think I just made a discovery.”
“Yeah?” he replied.
“Are we fishing from ladders!?” His pause could only cover his
laughter for a moment.
“Yep!” he said, probably in total disbelief that I didn’t know,
yet. My curiosities of the details of just what we were getting into
had been unleashed.
Lahontan cutthroat trout – a subspecies native to Pyramid
Lake, Nevada – were extirpated in the 20s and 30s, overfished
commercially to feed the folks comprising the gold rush of
neighboring California. The biggest cutthroat in the world, the
Pilot Peak strain of Lahontan, has left artifacts suggesting they
grew to 70 and 80 pounds. Modern-day, after rediscovery in a high
mountain stream and successful reintroduction and conservation
efforts, folks are catching fish near the 30 pound mark while
balancing on top of a ladder. The Pilot Peak strain shares the water
with the Pyramid Lake strain of Lahontan cutthroat. The latter is
typically a smaller fish but still has the capability of runs that leave
you all but helpless, clinging to the cork grip of a fishing pole
wondering what you just tangled with.
The beach had a mellow gradient, and we would try to intercept
the feeding fish that cruise along that stretch throughout the day.
Casting is king in this strategy. Standing near the top of a sixfoot
ladder placed in five feet of water serves multiple purposes.
First, it keeps your elbows up out of the water making repeated
casting less cumbersome. Next, it gets your eyeballs up off the lake
surface. Spotting fish as they cruise and roll along the shallows can
be advantageous if you can get your bug to fall through the water
column in their line of travel. Lastly, it keeps your body out of the
seasonally 40-degree water temps.
Glenn stood in the water near my ladder coaching me from
his chest-deep vantage point. I was almost solely focused on
not making a mess of the fishing line, piling it neatly into the
stripping basket. The confusing list of jargon muddled my mind:
shooting head, strip setting, water hauling. I felt like I needed a
picture book to keep it all straight. I chuckled at the idea that
water hauling was something I probably had a better chance of
doing with my waders than with my fly rod. Everything was so
foreign and awkward; it seemed as though actually catching a fish
would be nearly impossible.
It was only my fourth or fifth cast. I hadn’t been on my ladder
for more than six or seven minutes. The fish smashed whatever the
heck Glenn had tied onto the other end of my outfit. It was like a
largemouth bass on performance enhancing drugs.
“I’ll be damned,” I exclaimed. I was still in disbelief that a fish
had afforded me the courtesy of taking my bait.
I will never forget seeing that first fish in the net. We knelt in
the lapping waves near the beach admiring her for quite some
time. The connection between her and I felt very natural and very
mutual. She waited patiently in the water, almost posing for us
as we reveled in our first impressions. She was a class act – a true
ambassador of her species.
Slightly more than a year before this trip, Brenton was in Las
Vegas, Nevada, bedside in a special-care facility room with his
Uncle Lynn. Lynn had been diagnosed with leukemia mere days
before and, weakened by his year-long fight against MDS, was
likely on his deathbed. Though it is tragic, Brenton speaks of that
experience and of his uncle fondly. The connection he shared with
his uncle was a deep one, built over many years and rooted to when
Brenton was a little kid growing up. They spent the afternoon
that day recounting stories of hunting, fishing and camping with
family and friends. The outstanding detail was Lynn’s fishing trip
to Pyramid Lake that was less than a month away, and Lynn was
dejected that he wouldn’t likely be around to take it.
Lynn’s funeral was April 14, 2018. Brenton wouldn’t make it on
account of a planned trip to Boise, Idaho, for BHA’s Rendezvous.
The fact that he’d shared a great afternoon with his uncle just
before his death, coupled with the knowledge that Lynn most
certainly wouldn’t miss a huntin’ and fishin’ party for some damn
funeral, put Brenton at peace with sticking to his original plan. As
it would happen, the online auction at the rendezvous featured a
guided trip for two, ladder fishing at Pyramid Lake; omen enough
that Uncle Lynn endorsed the decision.
It was pure excitement, but I held some underlying guilt for
having caught the first fish. Beginner’s luck as it was, I would have
hoped for Brenton to find it first. The day went on, and I caught
a good number more fish, though they did not come easily. I
spent the long draws between hookups pondering the similarities
to backpack bowhunting elk – some suffering is required. If you’d
have made this comparison to me before I’d experienced our
entire first day of ladder fishing, I’d have called you crazy or worse.
Doing anything for 12 hours, though, can be grueling.
In the waning hours, I had slowed my retrieve considerably. I
spent the duration of each retrieve almost dreading the suffering
of the next cast. The lake was void of anything beautiful: soggy,
sloppy shores the same tone of gray as the sky. A worn-out arm,
creaky, aching knuckles and raw fingers begged me to sack up the
bats. Giant cutthroat trout nipping the surface ahead kept calling
upon every last drop of determination. All of this and still those
encounters would reign. Just as a distant bugle erases your shortterm
memory and drags you over the next, the crushing blows of
Lahontan cutthroat trout and the ensuing ride they take you on
thaws your fingers, if only for a frozen handful of minutes.
Mid-afternoon the rain dried up. Shortly after, the sun broke
through. Before long, we were feeling halfway decent. I no longer
needed 10-minute beach breaks every half hour in order to get my
blood pumping and my fingers feeling. What followed the sun
was, without a doubt, a handsome reward for our perseverance
throughout the first two-thirds of the day. After burning away
all of the fog and most of the clouds, the sun lit up the far side
of the lake in a way I will never forget. The opposing repetition
of casting and stripping became a trance led by the unbelievable
beauty of the snow-capped, sun-kissed peaks that stared down at
us. “There’s some serious elevation over there,” I mentioned to
64 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Photo by Brenton Lammers
Brenton. Purple mountain majesties couldn’t possibly make more
sense than from atop those ladders that evening. If the trout alone
couldn’t make the suffering worth it, we cast flies and admired fish
under the most spectacular hand-painted sunset I’ve witnessed in
my 33 years, and we did it until darkness was all around us.
I had caught a good many fish. They did not come quickly,
maybe one an hour, but with each one my apprehension grew. It
was three in the afternoon, and Brenton had yet to catch a fish.
Beginner’s luck was off the charts at my ladder, but that lady was
overlooking Brenton in a bad way. He would never say it, but I
could feel his frustration from 40 feet away.
I waded back to the beach to stretch my legs. It almost called
to me. The camera, and whatever lens was currently affixed to it,
was way above my paygrade; it had more bells and whistles than
I could shake a stick at. But that turquoise … that purple ... the
way the sun was orange-washing the peaks ... and there was a lone
fisherman lit up in the middle of it all, diligently searching for
that first fish.
I fumbled around for five minutes before I could take one out of
three pictures with frame, focus and lighting somewhere close to
decent, figuring my only insurance policy towards a decent image
was by sheer volume. I was fidgeting with the zoom wheel when
Brenton’s fly rod doubled over. The camera’s shutter sounded
like a ratchet wrench clicking away as fast as it could. “Glenn!”
I hollered, as I kept shooting the situation. Stowing the camera,
I waded out to Brenton’s ladder in time to watch Glenn slip the
net beneath the fish. Sighs of relief and congratulatory high fives
circled the three of us, and we headed for shore with grins as
bright as the cheeks on that cutthroat. I didn’t tell Brenton about
my photoshoot – how I’d experienced my luckiest moment of the
trip when I watched him set the hook on that fish through the
lens of his camera.
A moment later, when I looked up, a giant neon rainbow had
appeared. It dipped into the lake from the mountaintop across
My heart stopped.
I looked at Brenton and his head was down. He was stripping
line from his reel in preparation for another next cast. “I think
your Uncle Lynn saw that fish,” I choked, trying to get it out loud
enough for him to hear while motioning with a nod. The bill of
my hat cast Brenton’s gaze across the lake.
The waves, the wind and the whip of fly lines the only response.
And Uncle Lynn smiled.
Born and raised on Nebraska dirt, BHA life member Michael
Stepp and his wife Melanie work hard at instilling in their four boys
a deep appreciation for all things outdoors. Learn more about him
@beerandbackstraps on Instagram.
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 65
Photos by Cory DeStein
ON THE BRINK
Woodland caribou herds throughout Western Canada teeter on the edge of extinction
BY VICTOR YVELLEZ
As the sun rose over the snow-capped slopes of the Rocky
Mountains in late November, Tibor Egri started his truck’s
engine. His job: patrol a stretch of highway known for its
seasonal migrations of woodland caribou – one of Canada’s most
controversial endangered species.
With a population of around 3,500, traffic isn’t common in
Grande Cache, Alberta – a town founded on the backs of coal
miners. Highway 40, which bisects the town from north to south,
consistently remains one of Canada’s deadliest roads for caribou.
Crystalized pieces of salt lie within the yellow lines separating
the highway from the various trees and grasses, while vehicles of
all sizes zoom in both directions. Bright yellow signs lining the
highway portray a large-antlered caribou preparing to stroll across
the road, highlighting a species becoming more threatened with
each passing season.
For Egri, a biologist and field supervisor for the Caribou
Patrol Program, it isn’t difficult to diagnose just how Highway 40
became such an issue.
“It’s hard for caribou in the winter when they put salt on the
road, because caribou like to lick the salt,” Egri said. “And the
cars often speed on the road because of low traffic and lack of
The Aseniwuche Winewak Nation of Canada founded the
Caribou Patrol Program in 2012 as a grassroots response to the
declining herds around the Grande Cache area. The program’s
mission is to mitigate vehicle collisions with caribou on Highway
40 through periodic patrols, collect wildlife data and enhance
public awareness of caribou management. Four herds roam
in close proximity to the town. For the Aseniwuche Winewak,
caribou represent a living connection to a cultural heritage going
back hundreds of years.
Revered by indigenous people of the region and decorating the
reverse of the Canadian quarter since 1937, the caribou stands as
one of the country’s icons. But their significance failed to prevent
their decline. Many indigenous groups in Alberta and British
Columbia gave up their legal rights to hunt caribou as a means to
help recover populations.
Scientific estimates, though not perfect, put woodland caribou
populations at one tenth of their historical numbers. The situation
for mountain caribou – a ecotype of woodland caribou – is even
Melody Lepine, a member of and director of government and
industry relations for the Mikisew Cree First Nation, remembers
when her mother could enjoy roasting her favorite delicacy –
caribou head. Declining populations throughout Alberta make it
difficult to hunt caribou on their treaty lands; a scene playing out
across Western Canada.
“There is a fear in the community when they see their culturally
important species not managed properly. It has a profound impact
on our culture and our treaty,” said Lepine. “We have a right to
harvest these culturally important animals, but we aren’t able to.”
The Caribou Patrol Program displays a local response to a
regional problem, which has seen minimal federal and provincial
government response. And the program has found some success
in preventing vehicle-animal collisions: In 2019, just two caribou
were killed on Highway 40 – their worst year since the inception
66 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
of the program. But, the Caribou Patrol Program can only do so
Caribou licking salt off the road shows one of the most visible
representations of how human impacts affect the species in real
time. However, caribou decline throughout Western Canada
isn’t only due to vehicle-animal
collisions; its root problems are
much larger in scope.
“The state of the situation is that
caribou are in catastrophic decline.
Virtually every herd, at least in the
province of Alberta, is on their way
out,” said Stan Boutin, a professor of
biological sciences at the University
of Alberta, who has studied caribou
for 25 years.
British Columbia faces a similar
dilemma. More than half of the
province’s 52 southern mountain
caribou herds face local extinction.
And the 2019 extirpations, or local
extinctions, of the South Purcell herd and the transboundary
South Selkirk herd – the last caribou herd in the contiguous U.S.
– lend the issue more urgency in the region.
Habitat loss on a large scale spearheads the problem.
Industrial development, such as mining, forestry and oil and gas
development, has fractured and changed the landscape of Western
Canada. Mountain caribou herds throughout Alberta and British
Columbia have declined precipitously from the effects of over 100
years of industrial presence.
“We know why caribou are in decline; that work has largely
been done,” said Rob Serrouya, a scientist who has been a leader
in the mountain caribou research in British Columbia. “The
legacy of industry in the region will keep this an issue for many
years even if we stopped all logging today.”
Historically, caribou were the main large game species of the
region. Old-growth forest was simply unsuitable for deer and
moose populations. Caribou eat lichen growing on mature, oldgrowth
trees while deer and moose do not. Their spatial separation
from other ungulates afforded them safety from predators. As
forests were razed piece by piece, primary prey species began to
thrive within regenerative forest. Predators soon followed in larger
numbers than ever, following increasing moose and deer numbers.
British Columbia and Alberta conduct intense wolf culls
throughout caribou ranges. Wolves receive much of the blame for
disappearing caribou herds, and Boutin and other scientists do
agree wolf culls are a necessary strategy in saving caribou. They
also harp that it isn’t as simple as only killing wolves – a Band-Aid
solution to the problem.
“Wolf numbers have increased substantially, and that’s driven
by deer and moose numbers going up. And with those higher
numbers of wolves, caribou just take it on the chin,” Boutin said.
“As soon as you take your foot off the accelerator on the wolf
control, it’s right back to square one and you’re in a bad situation
The problem also involves industry influence throughout the
region, jobs in rural areas, political will and the effects of climate
change. Industrial development remains a cornerstone of the
provincial economies in Western Canada. Oil and gas account
for 30 percent of Alberta’s economy, according to the Canadian
Association of Petroleum Producers. Forestry impacts British
Columbia’s economy in a similar manner. In both western
provinces, small towns like Grande Cache rely on resource
extraction for survival.
Lepine notes that though this
is the case, the law requires the
government to protect these animals.
“In the face of development and
economic priorities,” she stresses,
“it seems that important species are
pushed to the bottom of the list.”
The controversy around how
to properly address caribou
recovery magnifies industry’s
deep connection with the people
and politics of the region. Many
citizens fear that proper caribou
recovery will negatively impact the
economy. Recent consultations on
the recovery of mountain caribou in British Columbia drew large
crowds of citizens voicing concerns over how recovery plans will
impact local economies. But, as caribou populations continue to
decline, the federal and provincial governments also face increased
pressure from indigenous groups, conservation groups and citizens
fearing the point of no return.
Boutin remembers when he first began researching caribou.
“I thought the solution to caribou was going to be pretty
straightforward, that we could do some mitigative measures and
everything would be good,” he said. “And since then it’s been a far
more complicated situation. It’s been a really tough nut to crack.”
Slow government action has forced indigenous and
conservation groups to take caribou protection into their own
hands. Throughout British Columbia and Alberta, local groups
are taking ownership of their herds. For the Caribou Patrol
Program, their mission to patrol and educate is a small piece in a
“Five years ago it was all doom and gloom, but we’ve seen that
intensive management can change the story for caribou,” said
Serrouya. “But I don’t think herds will ever be self-sustaining;
caribou will likely always need some form of human management
from now on.”
Back along Highway 40, Egri points to a spot in the road where
a caribou calf was killed in the fall – a semi-truck rounded a bend
too quickly to slow down. Even one death impacts a herd that has
shrunk to around 88.
“Human-wildlife problems are constant problems that will not
end. It can be bears or caribou, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “All you
can do is accept it and not give up.”
BHA member Victor Yvellez is earning his BA in journalism at
the University of Montana and enjoys backpacking, mountain biking
Editor’s Note: Tibor Egri is no longer employed with the Caribou
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 67
WORTH THE WAIT
Photo by Christine Peterson
When do you decide, or not, to pull the trigger?
BY CHRISTINE PETERSON
I didn’t take my first shot at (what would have been) my first
wild turkey because I questioned if hairs on the bird’s chest were
from a beard or ruffled feathers. I had a tom tag, not a hen. I
wasn’t about to shoot the wrong bird.
I didn’t take a shot the following year because when the toms
finally fanned their cream-tipped tailfeathers and strutted,
releasing prehistoric-sounding gobbles, all I saw were the pencilthin
sticks between me and the birds. I couldn’t risk a bad shot.
I didn’t take a shot the next year because the wobbly-but-stealthy
birds wandered between me and a rural dirt road. I may have been
new to shooting, but even I understood pulling the trigger at a
dirt road was borderline illegal and certainly not advisable.
So when I found myself with a shot another year later – this one
fanned, on national forest land, away from roads and in a clearing
– I had to decide if I was actually going to shoot.
I’d been carrying a turkey tag in the breast pocket of my
camouflage coat for five years. I’d spent weeks chasing the birds,
calling to them, listening for their replies and scanning for their
tracks. I’d had offers to hunt on private land – but those were
ranch birds, farm birds even, ones that spent their lives in front
yards near humans they no longer feared. I wanted my first turkey
(and subsequent ones) to be public land turkeys, ones that didn’t
know humans came with fields of grain and occasional food
scraps. I wanted to wait until I had a shot as secure as a shot can
be. I wanted to limit opportunities for failure.
Hunters have been talking about, analyzing and deciding when
and if they should shoot for centuries. It’s at the core of who we
are and how we understand ourselves as a hunting community.
And all of those decisions not to shoot – the years of wandering
hillsides and sitting frozen in stillness, certain the turkey could see
if not hear my heart throbbing and adrenaline building – flashed
through my mind that cool day in April as my thumb rested on
the safety and finger on the trigger.
Some of the best modern advice on whether or not to take a
shot comes from acclaimed hunting and conservation writer Jim
Posewitz. His ability to clearly and concisely convey eons worth of
hunting lessons in a 53-page book is impressive.
In the early pages of Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethics and Tradition
of Hunting, he explains a scenario very similar to mine: A boy and
his father were hunting bull elk, but when the boy finally had
a shot he couldn’t see antlers through thick trees. He turned to
look at his dad. That motion made the elk bolt and the chance
“Doing right, at the critical moment, was more important than
killing a fine bull elk,” Posewitz wrote. “There was a doubt, so the
boy did not shoot. In time he would realize the hunt had already
A local game warden-turned-biologist living in my little
northeast Wyoming town first introduced me to the book in the
middle of one of our many discussions about turkey hunting.
Joe Sandrini, a clean-cut wildlife biologist and Catholic deacon,
has been my source of information on turkey habitat, habits and
populations for the better part of a decade.
For Sandrini, deciding to shoot comes down to three easy
68 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
questions: Can an animal be killed
quickly and painlessly? Does the hunter
have an advantage that makes it less a
hunt and more a kill? Can all of the
meat be removed legally?
And he has his own story to support
that he lives by his convictions.
More than 20 years ago, he decided
not to shoot a bighorn sheep. The
tag was rare. The shot was the best he
would have after a long season of hard,
high mountain hunting.
“I did it like you’re supposed to. I had
a camp and spiked out on this ridge and
slept under my blue tarp and walked
a little more and came back and here
were nine rams all bedded down, and
I was within 150 yards of them and
picked one out,” he said.
He wasn’t familiar with the area and
was on a talus slope. He could have shot
one and killed him. But he didn’t know
if he could have safely brought it home.
So he didn’t shoot.
It’s not a regret, he said. He believes
he made the right choice.
“It took me a few years to come to
that, though. I thought for weeks, ‘I
should have made the shot,’ and after
ruminating on it for a few years, I
thought I did the right thing,” he said.
“I suppose it’s how you mature as a
The author and her first turkey.
Photo by Theresa Peterson.
A turkey isn’t necessarily the same
as a bull elk or bighorn sheep. It won’t
fill my freezer and feed my family for a year. It isn’t a once-in-alifetime
tag. But until that point, I hadn’t shot anything larger
than a pheasant.
I was as ready to shoot a turkey as the boy in Posewitz’s book
but also as nervous about making sure he wouldn’t be wounded
and lost in the woods.
A close friend and experienced hunter sat next to me, perched
under a thick Ponderosa pine in a bed of needles. Nothing
separated us from the approaching turkey but our camouflage.
The tom had left a group of hens and other toms to find my
friend’s hen call. He puffed out his chest, ruffled each of his
hundreds of feathers and fanned his tail, letting out occasional
gobbles I can still hear.
He was 45 yards. My friend told me I could shoot if I was
He was 40 yards. He told me I could shoot anytime.
He was 30 yards. My friend said I should shoot.
He was less around 25 yards.
I shot. Twice. The first one missed the tom completely. The
second one didn’t.
I can’t remember now the length of its beard or his spurs. It
doesn’t matter. It was a male turkey shot deep in public land far
from ranches and farms in Wyoming’s Black Hills.
In that moment, I stopped regretting earlier hunts where I’d
failed to shoot. I had waited for the shot I knew, with as much
certainty as you can know, that I would make. I could leave the
woods that day, carrying the turkey over my shoulder, knowing
I was successful partly because I was lucky (aren’t we all when we
harvest an animal?) but mostly because I waited. I waited until I
was sure. Until I was comfortable.
I’ll wait again next time, even if it takes another five years.
Christine Peterson has written about outdoor recreation and the
environment for the past decade from her home in Wyoming. When
she’s not chasing trout or trapping grizzly bears and bighorn sheep,
she’s wandering the West’s public lands with her daughter, husband
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 69
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70 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Photo by Joel Caldwell
For nearly 70 years, Tony Schoonen was above all else a bare-fisted brawler for wild country and his bone-deep
conviction that “blue-collar people should be able to hunt and fish.”
BY DAN CROCKETT
Tony Schoonen cat-footed within 80 yards of his last bull, a
solid six-point, four years ago. That was back when he was 85.
Tony was alone on that hunt, but he did get some help packing
it out. He shot his final elk two years later. When I asked him
how many he’d killed all told, he eased off to the side a little bit
the way you do when you’re on a hot set of tracks, and they start
meandering like the bull is getting ready to bed.
“Well, the statute of limitations has long since expired,” he
chuckled and paused. “You have to understand things were
different back when I started hunting elk. There weren’t nearly
so many of them. You could hunt hard for a week and not cut a
set of fresh tracks. So, when you got into a bunch, you made the
most of it.”
He shouldered an imaginary rifle and swung: bam, bam, bam.
It’s a pretty sure bet there would have been three elk lying in the
lodgepoles. He hunted with the same Belgian Browning BAR .30-
06 since 1956. What Luke Skywalker is to a lightsaber, that was
Tony with his BAR. But that was all long ago, the ethic a product
of earlier, leaner days.
“Times have changed, and it’s absolutely for the better. For elk
and for hunters.”
“I’ve killed 92 elk.”
All but four of them lived and died on public land. What made
Tony extraordinary, though, was what he did beyond the elk
woods. It’s tough to imagine a more dogged champion for wild
elk, wild trout and above all, opportunity for the common man
to seek them.
Born the ninth of 10 children as the Depression cinched
tight on America in 1930, Tony went to the orphanage in Twin
Bridges, Montana, when he was six months old. He lived there
for 13 years until Jack Seidensticker took him on as a hand on the
family ranch along the Big Hole River. Tony already knew how
to work, but it was there that he learned to hunt and fish and fell
irretrievably in love with wild places.
He became one of Montana’s first licensed fishing guides, a
profession he pursued every summer with an angler’s passion
and a teacher’s patience across an almost four-decade career spent
first in the classroom and then as a principal. He launched Tony’s
Family Guide Service in 1960 and laid down the oars in 2012.
He was 81. These days the outfit is known as Blue Ribbon Guide
Service, but it’s still going strong in his hometown of Butte, run
by his sons, Tony Jr. and Jack.
For nearly 70 years, Tony was above all else a bare-fisted brawler
for wild country and his bone-deep conviction that “blue-collar
people should be able to hunt and fish.”
Fed up with a hostile landowner who strung barbed-wire
fences all the way across the Dearborn River right at the waterline
– making floating not only impossible but, during runoff,
potentially lethal – Tony teamed up with fellow Butte sportsmen
Tom Bugni and Jerry Manley in 1978 to launch the Montana
Stream Access Coalition. When attempts at diplomacy failed, the
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 71
three scraped together their limited funds and hired Jim Goetz,
the best lawyer they could find. They sued over the public’s right
to access not just the Dearborn but every river in the state. The
case eventually went all the way to Montana’s Supreme Court in
1984. And the court ruled for the people.
Because of that landmark victory, anyone can walk or float every
foot of Montana’s navigable creeks and rivers no matter who owns
the land those rivers run through. All you have to do is stay below
the high-water line. Despite a ceaseless barrage of challenges,
Montana’s Stream Access Law still stands as the staunchest in
the nation. I’ve put that law to maximum use over the past three
decades, and my life has been immeasurably
richer because of it.
Want to see how it could have been
without Schoonen and his fellow warriors?
Look no farther than Wyoming and
Colorado. There, whoever owns the land
that a river flows through rules that water
from bank to bank and has complete control
over who can access it. Yes, provided you can
find a public put-in and take-out, you can
float through. But no stopping; drop the anchor to work a run
and you can be cited for trespassing.
I have been fishing, floating and camping along the Dearborn
for almost 30 years. Good friends once led my wife and I to an
eagle pit trap overlooking the river. A stack of red ocher circles
topped by an arrow pointing skyward mark the base of a 150-foot
cliff. On top, young Blackfeet men went to prove themselves by
seizing the tail feathers from the birds they revered. They would
lie motionless in a shallow trough in the limestone, camouflaged
with brush, a raw buffalo hump or jackrabbit staked out beside
them. Then they’d wait as an eagle funneled down in wary circles,
ever closer to the bait.
“You’ve got to get out
there and fill your heart
back up. That way you
remember how precious
these things are that
you’re fighting for.”
I proposed to my wife along the banks of the Dearborn, the
air sweet with willows, dogwoods and cottonwoods. While
hardly comparable as an act of bravery, it was a moment no less
transformative. I try not to step into its waters without offering a
quiet thanks to Tony for giving me that opportunity.
Four years after the stream access triumph he and his lifelong
friend and hunting partner, Jack Atcheson, swung their sights
to another galling inequity. They pooled their money and filed
suit to open more than 5 million acres of Montana state school
trust lands to the people who own them – all of us. This would
open almost a million more acres of adjoining national forests and
BLM land that were otherwise landlocked
by private land. For most of a century, the
landowner who leased those state lands for
grazing held exclusive authority over who
could access them to hunt, fish and camp.
That ended when the judge sided with
Schoonen and Atcheson.
I killed the biggest mule deer of my life
(so far) on a rugged chunk of the state land
they unlocked. Those blue squares on the
map have given my family dozens of other mulies, whitetails and
pronghorns over the years. Whenever I’ve knelt beside one on
state land, I’ve tried to remember I had that chance because two
men believed that everyone should.
The moment that set Tony on the long road of conservation
came in the early ‘60s when he rounded a bend on the Big Hole
to find the river reduced to a trickle courtesy of a fresh-gouged
berm that sent much of the river into an irrigation ditch. Appalled
by the fact that a rancher could take a D-9 Cat and treat a river
like his personal sandbox, Tony vowed to take action. The result
was the passage of the Montana Stream Protection Act in 1963,
which restricts county and state governments’ ability to rearrange
72 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
streams and rivers. He followed that up by championing the Natural
Streambed and Land Preservation Act (commonly known as the 310 rule),
which brings the same scrutiny to bear on private landowners.
In the midst of this, the Bureau of Reclamation proposed damming the
lower Big Hole near the town of Glen to generate electricity and control
flooding. Tony was convinced the river held greater power and value in
its natural, free-flowing state and immediately began enlisting forces
of opposition. Tony’s work to keep rivers in their natural beds had not
endeared him to the ranching community. But some of his fiercest and
most effective allies against the dam were ranchers whose bottomland
would have been inundated. In 1967, he and kindred spirits drove a stake
through the heart of the dam scheme.
Tony once told me, “You’ve got to get out there and fill your heart back
up. That way you remember how precious these things are that you’re
Toward that end, he taught his sons everything he knew about tracking
elk. Then never accompanied them on a track again.
“He was fine moseying along together until we cut a track,” Jack said.
“Then it was over. He was strictly one man on one elk.”
Back in 1990, elk season was well past the midpoint, and Tony and Jack
were both hungry to put a bull on the ground when they went prowling
the Big Hole somewhere west of Wisdom. Hiking together, they struck a
lone set of platter-sized tracks slanting up through the lodgepole jungle,
not smoking fresh, but not old.
Jack said, “Well, I’m going after this bull.”
Tony replied, ‘Oh no, I’m going to take this bull.”
They glared at one another. Then at the ground. A stony silence passed.
“You’ve gotta understand, we’re both pretty hard-headed and tend to
come out swinging,” Jack said. “He knew I was pissed, and I knew he was,
Finally, Jack smiled and said, “All right, go take him then, old man.”
Jack dropped into the next drainage and never cut another track. After a
few hours, he looped back around and hit twin sets, his dad and the bull.
By then, both tracks looked like they’d just been carved into the snow with
a skinning knife. Jack figured he might as well see how the story ended
and started up their trail. Presently, Tony’s BAR spoke once. Jack found
him moments later in what passes for a clearing in that country. Tony was
kneeling, head bowed beside a six-point with beams thick as truck axles.
“That was the last really nice bull he killed,” Jack said. “Looking back
now, it was perfect.”
Tony tied all his own flies, and when he killed a late-season bull like
that with long, prime guard hairs, he would cut a big strip right behind
the shoulders and treat it with wood ash. He loved to fish big dries and
streamers, going smaller only when needed and switching to nymphs
purely as a last resort.
“Probably his very favorite dry fly was what he used to call the Bloody
Butcher, which is an old, old pattern from England that got modified
Butte-style for the salmonfly hatch,” Jack said. “He would only tie it with
When closed-cell foam hit the fly-tying world, Tony immediately saw its
virtues. He got hold of some foam the color of arrowleaf balsamroot just as
the petals start to darken and substituted that as the body on a Sofa Pillowstyle
bug. The wing and hackle were still elk hair, with a squirrel tail. No
fancy blood-soaked alliteration for that one.
“He just called it a Foamy. He used it for golden stones, but also just as
a big hunting fly,” Jack said. “He loved those damn Foamies. And so did
the big browns.”
As Aldo Leopold counseled, “He who kills a trout with his own fly has
Tony with his grandson Sage and
granddaughter Helena by the Stillwater
River outside of Dillon, Montana.
Tony with his son Jack, granddaughter
Helena and her buck.
Tony’s granddaughter Brooke fishes the Big
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 73
Favorite River: Big Hole
Favorite Dry Fly: Bloody Butcher
Favorite Elk Gun: Browning BAR .30-06
Favorite Hunting Dog: Lab
Favorite Conservation Victory: Montana
Stream Access Law
Favorite Apre-River Establishment: Glen Bar
Photo: Tony’s best whitetail, killed at 35 yards with a Model
12 12-gauge and double-ought buckshot, his favorite way
to hunt whitetails. The inside spread was just over 29 inches.
scored two coups, not one.” Make it a Foamy or a Bloody Butcher
you tied from an elk you killed, and you can bump that up to a
hat trick. (Even if, as Tony invariably did, you ease the trout back
into the river and watch it become part of the river once more.)
Roy Morris, his ally in dozens of conservation struggles, said,
“Friends my age and younger never took chances outdoors. Tony
was way older than me, but he’d call me up and say, ‘You want
to go fishing.’ I’d say, ‘Of course.’ And he’d reply, ‘Great. Bring
Across more than half a century of
guiding – and probing lesser-known
waters on his own time – Tony never lost
his appetite for showing people how to
fish, or to fish better.
“He loved teaching people of all ages,”
Jack said. “But what he loved best was
to take kids fishing, loved teaching them
how to fish. He couldn’t resist the magic
of watching a kid light up when they got the rhythm of the cast –
or hooked that first fish.”
Tony fished all over Montana, but his home water, his favorite
by far, was the place where he first fell under the spell of rivers, the
Big Hole. He and his sons fished there for the last of a thousand
times last September, just as the willows and cottonwoods began
to glow. They made sure to go to the locals-only stretch.
Back in 1998, Tony helped spearhead the Big Hole and
Beaverhead river recreation rules, held up by many as a model and
a yardstick for other rivers too popular for their own good. One
of the things those rules did was divide the Big Hole into eight
zones. The uppermost reaches are closed to all float outfitting. In
the lower seven zones, each one is closed to all guided float trips
one day a week. The two most popular stretches of the river are
closed to all guiding on Saturday and Sunday. On top of that,
weekends in those two zones belong strictly to Montanans, with
“He always believed that the
rivers belonged first and
foremost to the people, and
nobody should have to write
a check to go fishing.”
no floating by nonresidents allowed.
“Dad was extremely proud of the fact that he always put
fish before fishermen. And that he always put fishermen before
outfitters and guides,” Jack said. “Even though he made a good
chunk of the money that fed our family as an outfitter, he always
believed that the rivers belonged first and foremost to the people,
and nobody should have to write a check to go fishing.”
One of the sorry truths of conservation is even when you
win you have to keep fighting the same
damn battles over and over again. After
buying land that engulfed eight miles of
the Ruby River in southwest Montana,
zillionaire James Cox Kennedy thumbed
his nose at the stream access law and had
barriers built that sealed off three bridges
over the Ruby in 2004. Those barriers
denied blue-collar anglers access through
the public right of way to get below the
river’s high-water mark.
Back to court Tony and his cohorts went, originally suing
Madison County. They reminded county commissioners that
recreational use qualifies a public county road for a prescriptive
easement and pushed them to uphold their duty and tear down
the barriers. The discord see-sawed back and forth for a decade,
ultimately landing in the Montana Supreme Court. When the
5-2 decision came down, the justices ruled in favor of the public’s
right to go to the river and fish.
Early on in the dispute, a real estate developer and fellow
landowner in the Ruby had aligned himself to Kennedy and the
cause. This man had long argued that private property rights
trump public access, and did so again at a hearing in the State
Capitol in Helena. He became so inflamed that as the parties
were all walking out into the parking lot afterwards, he grabbed
Schoonen by the shoulder, shaking him and shouting in his face.
74 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
Bad idea. The man was 20 years his junior, but Tony
never hesitated. He spun and swung from the gut.
Technically, it wasn’t a KO, but the developer lay
splayed on the pavement and nobody was having to hold
him down to keep him from jumping back in the fight.
Given his bellicose nature and ferocious commitment
to principle, Tony was often at odds with even his
longtime conservation allies. I’ve spent the last 30
years helping to edit Bugle, the Rocky Mountain Elk
Foundation’s magazine. Tony became a life member of
RMEF in 1987, when the odds of the fledgling group
surviving were still up in the air. Over the years, I received
more than a couple phone calls and hand-written letters
letting me know he thought RMEF had gone in the ditch
on some stance or the failure to take one. You never had
to wonder where he stood on an issue.
But we saw eye to eye on more than a few. One of
the finest came on the morning of Aug. 27, 2019, as
an exuberant knot of people gathered along the upper
reaches of the Dearborn, the same river he had fought to
open to public access 35 years earlier.
The crowd ranged from lifelong ranchers to firefighters
with a passion for backcountry elk and mulies to U.S.
senators. They came together to celebrate the dedication
of 442 acres of newly minted public land purchased by
the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and protected
as national forest. That acquisition not only created
new access to the Dearborn but also encompassed a
voluptuous mile of Falls Creek, including the 60-foot
plunge that gives the creek its name.
Most of all, though, this property provided a gateway
to 27,000 acres of incredible backcountry on the shoulder
of the Scapegoat Wilderness that had been sealed off for
decades. Now anyone willing to cinch up their boots or
saddle is free to look up Falls Creek toward Bear Den
Mountain and the high, wild ramparts of the Scapegoat
beyond, and go there.
Tony was too sick to be with us that day, but his
daughter, Becky, was, and he was there in spirit, too.
Exactly seven weeks later, on Oct. 22, he crossed his last
river. He was 89.
As dawn broke on the day that he went into the
hospital, Tony was out savoring his stream access rights
along the Big Hole with Ginger, the latest in a long line of
Labs. He killed three mallards with three shots. On Tony’s
final day, Roy Morris came to visit and seek his counsel
on strategies to keep the Madison River from being loved
to death. No longer able to speak but comprehending
everything, Tony nodded or shook his head like an old
brown trying to rid itself of a Bloody Butcher.
The last time I talked with him, I asked what advice he
had for those of us working to make sure the things he
loved go on. His reply could well be his epitaph: “Always
show up. Never give up. If you’re determined, you can do
it. Don’t ever stop fighting.”
A proud life member of BHA, Dan Crockett lives in
Remembered: Tony Schoonen’s
Contributions to BHA
When I heard Tony Schoonen had passed, I immediately thought of a Bruce
“They say you can’t take it with you,
but I think that they’re wrong;
Cuz I woke up this morning
and something big was gone.”
I don’t remember meeting Tony, because I was too young to remember, but
I always remember him being “there.” “There” was anywhere someone needed
help, and anywhere a bully needed to get knocked down. Tony’s fingerprints and
boot prints are all over Montana’s wild places, mostly attached to a figurative
sign that reads, “Public land for all to use.”
My last two memories of Tony encapsulate his life to me. First, Tony was
advocating a land swap and leading a tour of the properties. He was guiding
his raft down the Big Hole and the Jefferson rivers at 86 years old, while my
82-year-old father fished. The idea of the 168 combined years of conservation
heroism in that raft humbled me to my core. Then, at the end of the trip, my
dad had somehow lost his rod case. I watched the wheels in Tony’s head turn,
and he walked about 100 yards downstream, disappeared under the magnificent
waters of the Jefferson river and emerged with the rod case. Seriously, the man
My final memory of Tony is his work as part of the coalition to finally
resolve public access in the Crazy Mountains. Our paths to the coalition began
separately, mine with BHA and his with Skyline Sportsmen, but they eventually
merged, and when they did I knew a solution was in our future. Being on a team
with Tony means the public will win, because he feared no one, refused to settle
for less and never quit. Ever. I remember the initial phases of our coalition, and
one of the concerns was if we could afford to do what needed doing. It took less
than five seconds for Tony to offer to mortgage his house to pay for it.
Whether Tony was helping someone or everyone, he was always part of the
solution. His legacy will be written by people far better with words than I am.
However, his impact on me will be to make sure his legacy is respected by a life
of conservation activism to preserve those things that matter most; when you
find them, fear no one, never settle for less and never quit. Ever.
-Andrew Posewitz, BHA life member
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 75
76 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
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SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 77
Doesn’t Only Mean
BY CHARLIE LEVESQUE
I’ve been a member of BHA for many years now. I was drawn to
the organization because, like all of you, I like to work hard when
I hunt and fish. When I fly-fish, I much prefer to catch a six-inch
native brook trout in a remote beaver pond than a two pounder
at a stocked site. It’s about a fair chase hunt or fish, but it’s also
just that I like to be up in the sticks and backcountry, where I
might be lucky enough not to see another human.
BHA now has chapters all over North America, and many of
these are in areas dominated by private land – not public land –
such as in the Northeast. So, those of us who hunt and fish here
usually hunt and fish on both public and private land – some, like
me, mostly on private land. As BHA expands further, it is critical
that the organization and Backcountry Journal highlight the many
opportunities available in Eastern backcountry, much of which
occurs on private land.
In much of New England – one of the most forested regions in
the country – there has been a time-honored tradition of open,
free access to private land for walking, hunting and fishing. In
southern New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode
Island) that open private land tradition is waning, lost as the
urban sprawl from New York City to Boston encroaches. But, in
northern New England (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont),
my closest stomping grounds, the tradition is still going strong as
stated by New Hampshire Fish and Game:
“Based on long-standing tradition, nearly all lands in the
state of New Hampshire are open to hunting. The ‘rule of
thumb’ in New Hampshire is: all state, federal, municipal,
county and private land is open to hunting unless it is posted
against hunting. However, hunting is a privilege granted by
the landowner – not a right granted to the hunter.”
Maine and Vermont have similarly written rules.
This year I only hunted grouse, turkey and deer on private land
– none of it posted against access. As a small forest owner, we
have never posted our land and never will. While statistics are not
readily available on the amount of private land open to access for
no fee, the vast majority is in northern New England.
Those of us who hunt and fish private land in the Northeast
treat it as a privilege and not as a right. Legally, we are entitled
to access private land on foot if it is not posted against access; so,
technically, it is a right under state laws. We need to treat these
lands carefully, however, making sure we don’t litter (many parcels
have been posted over time as a result of littering), and that we
don’t wreck a woods road or accessway by driving it when soils are
saturated or not in condition for a vehicle.
The Northeast has plenty of private land with conservation
easements in place as well. A conservation easement is a
permanent deed that prohibits current or future landowners from
Federal, state, county and local public
land in New England and New York totals
6.1 million acres in a 7-state area of 81
developing the land. Many of these easements require the lands
remain open to hunting and fishing, too. All of these Northeast
states have active programs to acquire and purchase conservation
easements on private land – most requiring permanent public
access. According to Maine state officials:
“Since the 1990s, Maine state government and private land
trusts have protected over a million and a half acres using
purchased and donated conservation easements. Using
federal Forest Legacy funds and Maine’s Land for Maine’s
Future Program funds, over $100 million worth of easements
have been purchased to assure public access and keep these
lands undeveloped – in perpetuity. These lands remain
private and owners continue to pay property taxes.”
I hunted and fished on some of these lands this year.
Conservation easements have been a wonderful tool for keeping
forests as forests and farms as farms, as well as providing the public
with a special hunting and fishing benefit – all on private land.
Having worked and lived in the West early in my career, I can
attest to the wonders of public land to walk, hunt and fish in
remote backcountry. Getting there on foot is half the fun. In the
Northeast, we like backcountry hunting and fishing, too. But,
given the land use and ownership patterns, this is more likely to
occur on private land than public.
Our BHA mission is, “Backcountry Hunters & Anglers seeks to
ensure North America’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing
in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild
public lands and waters.” In my mind that lends itself equally well
to the backcountry traditions on private land in the Northeast as
well as the vast public land of the West.
Charlie Levesque is a forester and longtime BHA member from
New Hampshire. He is the co-owner of Innovative Natural Resource
Solutions, LLC, a natural resource consulting firm.
Editor’s Note: Always verify access regulations in your state before
venturing onto private land! BHA is committed to promoting public
access to private lands, just one example being our support of the
Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, which is
funded through the 2018 Farm Bill.
Graphic by Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, LLC
78 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 79
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care of us.
80 | BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL SPRING 2020
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SPRING 2020 BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL | 81
END OF THE LINE
R3. Since coming to work for BHA a year ago, I’ve heard it often:
recruitment, retention and reactivation. I’ve been quizzed about
what it stands for in meetings, published articles about it in
Backcountry Journal and taken a keen interest in how new hunters
are being recruited through BHA’s Hunting for Sustainability
program. But it wasn’t actually until very recently, the end of this
past fall’s hunting season, that I realized I was part of that mix.
You see, I grew up bowhunting. Even in college, when friends
were partying late and sleeping later, I would go to bed early and
leave while they were still raising havoc to canoe several miles
upriver to my favorite treestand. But then, I didn’t; I stopped
hunting. It wasn’t overnight but more of a long, drawn-out
breakup. The reasons were many. Fall fishing was winning out
more and more often, until the opener of bow season started
coming without me having even shot my bow. I had also grown
a little disgusted with some of the behavior I was seeing. Ted
Nugent, my childhood hunting role model, sang in my favorite
song, Fred Bear, “There I was, back in the wild again.” It turns
out, wild to Ted meant high-fence hunting over bait. I didn’t want
to be like Ted anymore.
Not long after killing my last deer, I moved west, drawn by
fish I had not yet caught. And then I became a fishing guide who
worked every day each fall. There simply wasn’t time to hunt. And
I forgot what I was missing.
It took nearly a decade to come full circle, which started by
watching rutting mule deer on the hills above the river while
guiding. I started to wish I was stalking those hills rather than
standing wader-clad in the river. And there was our favorite
campsite on overnight steelhead trips, where we would watch a
resident elk herd come out of the draw above every sunset and
then fall to sleep to the giant herd bull’s scream. I started bringing
a diaphragm call just for the sake of hearing him answer. It seemed
that Call of the Wild wasn’t just a book title; it was a state of mind.
Around that time, I found out about this small but rapidly
growing organization called Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. I
saw that there were a bunch of people hunting the way I envisioned
it; it was about wild places, wild-harvested food, protecting those
places for the future and so much more. And, like that, I was
ready to be a hunter again.
I could say I regret not having hunted more for the past decade,
but I don’t. Sure, I missed out on some things, but with it came
perspective and an appreciation that I don’t know I would have
found otherwise. When I look back over these years, it is now
so clear how each and every little decision led to the next, none
of which I could see as they were actually happening. If I hadn’t
taken a break from hunting to focus on fishing, I might not have
moved west, started guiding, met my wife or formed a little flyfishing
magazine – all of which, together, led me back to hunting
with a new-found appreciation – reactivated – and then here to
BHA and Backcountry Journal.
-Zack Williams, editor
Photo by Zack Williams
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