Thursday, December 17, 2015


A backlash of outrage continues to rumble among grassroots hunters and anglers who are furious at leaders of the Ducks Unlimited organization. DU recently chose to fire one of their columnists who has been 'free lancing' for their magazine for 15 years.  The offense was that Don Thomas  had published an article in another magazine, Outside Bozeman, critical of the anti-public access actions of a major DU financial supporter: James Cox Kennedy. DU was not mentioned by Thomas in his article thus begging the question of why DU would act unless Kennedy's financial support is more important to DU than the vast public recreational access obtained by the Montana Stream Access Law. Destruction of this law is the avowed goal of Kennedy's actions.

So is this dispute an isolated event? Or do other NGOs (non-government organizations) self-censor or suppress support for public access to obtain backing of wealthy donors who want more wildlife but also want exclusive private access to it?   My observation is that such suppression is widespread, even endemic, to the DU-type fundraising model employed by many habitat conservation groups.
Thirteen years ago I wrote on this very subject in my old NIMROD'S TRACE column once published in the Montana Wildlife Newspaper of the Montana Wildlife Federation.  That column was about the challenges for hunters in the 21st Century as predictable at the end of the 20th Century.

Judge for yourself whether the 20th Century has inflicted hard challenges on conservationists of the 21st Century.

~~ Ron ~~ 

October 2002


   A bighorn ram paces the Montana spine of the continent --a whitetail
buck ghosts through a Dixie hardwood bottom -- a mallard hen leads her
yearlings high and fast south out of Canada.
 In their existence today, all such wild creatures are threads woven
into what remains of our wild cloth -- a fragile fabric on a
conservation loom crafted by modern hunters.
   A glaring truth shadows our modern wildlife miracle, however. When
the weaver's hand leaves the loom, the cloth unravels.
   The human support system that underpins the preservation of our 21st
century wild heritage is inextricably dependent on the North American
hunter picking up the bill -- and paying her dues.
 Many hunters want "to give something back;" they donate generously to
organizations that proclaim a mission of habitat preservation. Everybody
knows that wildlife cannot live without a place to live. So hunters have
become obsessed with saving and improving habitats.
 The problem in this focused generosity is that habitat is actually only
one-third of the conservation equation.  Indeed, over-emphasis on
habitat funding has resulted in conservation being propped up by a
one-legged stool. That conservation stool actually has three legs.
Scientific management of the wild animals, themselves, is the second
leg.  Leadership of people through law and ethics is the third leg.
 Whatever the success of habitat preservation, both the wildlife and
people legs of the stool are rapidly becoming toothpicks.
 The social equation that produced the almost miraculous restoration of
North American wildlife is, today, in serious jeopardy. Extinction of
the hunting tradition among ordinary people is a real possibility in the
21st Century.  All that may remain will be a residue of the old
European-style of hunting as the privilege of the new American
 Social extinction happens in human cultures for similar reasons that
species become extinct.
 Hunters lose their hunting grounds and become discouraged. They become
socially isolated and fail to adapt to a changing environment because
they cling to an obsolete status quo. Recruitment of youth dwindles
because adults are too busy filing their house with trophies to maintain
the 'village." And so on.
 But the real, core reason for extinction will be that hunters simply
lose the will to keep their tradition alive.
 Character, Courage and Commitment kept Rome on top of the world for
more than a thousand years. When those social qualities faded, so-called
eternal Rome, an empire still financially rich, fell.
 Thousands of American hunters write checks for millions of dollars
every year to buy and improve wildlife habitat. This accumulation of
financial power, like the wealth of Rome, however, will prove
meaningless if only a few aristocrats remain in the field to enjoy the
fruits of conservation.
 Indeed, current trends in the organizations dedicated to funding of
habitat may speed up the end of democratic hunting. More and more,
tycoons take over these foundations and direct the investment of
publicly raised funds toward habitats locked up exclusively for those
who can afford to pay.
 Ordinary public hunters should know before they write their checks
whether their donations will fund habitats open to public hunting.
Otherwise they are likely buying their own eventual social extinction.
 An even greater irony lies in the contrasting financial starvation of
the few state and local hunter-conservation organizations which are
leading the charge for protection of our democratic American hunting
   More public access to public land is locked up every year. Bad laws
harming public hunters are passed every year. All because hunter
conservation groups get no money from public hunters -- the same public
hunters who have, in recent years, written more big checks to buy
habitat some of which will be closed to the public.
 The democratic principle of wildlife being owned by the people, and
managed by public hunting under rule of public law is under general
attack across America -- both in state legislatures and in Congress.
 Hunters who thought their habitat funding donation paid their dues to
wildlife are getting a rude awakening each fall as they find access fees
and trophy prices are beyond their means. They often discover, unknown
to them, that a law was recently passed that made it easy to price them
out of fair hunting opportunity.
 Yes, they paid their dues; but they are functionally extinct as hunters
just the same.
 The majority of nimrods in this situation don't even know that groups
of organized hunters are trying to save their way of life. Political
activism, however, is a lot less fun than bidding on auction items at a
banquet. If they ever heard of such a thing as a state wildlife
federation they may actually have avoided it because they shy away from
 In America, public leadership always is controversial. And controversy,
everybody knows, cannot be resolved with only a checkbook. Courage,
Character and Commitment (and that most precious resource - your time)
are needed.
 For more American nimrods every year, apparently, it's becoming easier
just to go bowling.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Child-Age Hunting Program Bad for Kids and for Hunting

The making of new Montana laws obviously is not supposed to make sense.
Here we have a Montana state legislature now in session that is at one-and-the-same-time advancing new laws to (1) cut out funding for purchase of new wildlife habitats available for hunters including a shut-down of the popular Block Management Program for private land access, and, (2) allow 10 year-olds to go hunting without first taking a hunter education course, because the outdoor sports industry is losing market share and needs new customers.
In an individual human this would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder and the patient properly institutionalized. 
The only way both laws can logically intersect is if private land outfitters are planning pay-to-play ‘kiddie parks’ at affordable rates for young families.  Federal and State public lands, while they last, will already be full up as they nearly are now.
Ironically, the Montana bill, SB 395, is almost a good bill. It would establish a hunter apprenticeship program in which an adult ‘mentor’ can take prospective new hunters on a ‘test ride’ of a new adventure without having to first complete the 18-hour state Hunter Education course.  SB 395 standards for the mentor are still too weak, at least two years of prior license holding should be required instead of one year, and some demonstrated competency is needed. {see Utah below}
Where SB 395 goes badly wrong is the lowering of the legal hunting age to 10 years. I could write a book on the thousand ways this is a bad idea. (that book would already exist if all the objections to child-hunting already written by knowledgeable people were compiled. See Mike Korn's guest essay below for well-written details)
Just know that the vast majority of the volunteer Hunter Ed instructors who actually observe young people in their course – through the eyes of seasoned, knowledgeable hunter – all say the juveniles younger than 12 years are not ready to handle lethal force responsibility, or to comprehend the ethic, moral aspects of killing beautiful wild animals.
I’ve been a Montana instructor for 25 years now, with another nine prior years in Mississippi. I’ve seen eight year olds who were ready to hunt and 18-year-olds who were dangerous just sitting in class.  I also observed problematic interactions between parents and youths in which I would have bet on the kid over the parent.  Fifty seven years ago when Montana enacted mandatory Hunter Ed they got it right when the minimum age was set at 12 years.
The kids haven’t changed in the way they mature over the years. Montana State Legislators, on the other hand, seem to have reversed evolution.
Ironically, Utah last year passed an apprentice hunting program that is just what the doctor ordered. Research has demonstrated that the age class in which mandatory Hunter Ed laws do cause a slight barrier to would-be hunters is between ages 13-20. No impediment is found at younger ages. {Fish & Wildlife Ref Service, No 113, Summer 1997}
Under the Utah program: Participants must be at least 11 years old when applying for the program and 12 years old to hunt. Trial hunters must be accompanied by a licensed hunter age 21 or older and complete an orientation course and exam. Once an authorization number is approved, the trial hunter has three years to take hunter education.
    “Trial hunters are limited to participating in small game, upland game, waterfowl, general-season deer and elk, bear, cougar, sage grouse, sandhill crane, sharp-tailed grouse, swan and turkey hunts with the proper permits. They are not allowed to hunt in trophy-game areas or get once-in-a-lifetime permits,”
according to a Salt Lake Tribune story.

Utah thus scores a bulls-eye on the demographic need with its new rules. I wish the Montana Legislature would punt SB 395 to the 2017 session and re-work off the Utah precedent.  It’s not as if one more session will matter. Montanans has been fighting off these bad child-age hunting bills for the last four or five sessions.
Certainly, concerns over declining hunter license sales are real; hunting as an institution in American life is about to fall over a demographic cliff as decades of wrong-headed leadership and grassroots complacency comes to a climax with the aging of baby boomers. But that’s going to happen no matter what.
Ironically, the traditional, ethical, public hunting community can at any time stabilize its numbers simply by opening its heart and arms to the greater society and display the genuinely good ethical, science-based lifestyle hunting has to offer.  Indeed, new faces are already attracted to hunting by way of the ‘locavore’ and ‘natural foods’ movements.
Absent the demands of a hunting-centered commercial industry there would be no real push for child-age hunting.
The so-called “Families Afield” marketing concept is actually an imitation of the famous McDonalds juvenile marketing strategy.  By loading Saturday morning childrens’ TV schedules with ‘Ronald McDonald’ and ‘Happy Meal’ advertising the company cleverly made it impossible to drive past one of their restaurants without a backseat uprising to demand a stop for treat. Over time persuading young children evolved into an all-age market share.  This is intended to be an explanation not a criticism of McDonalds. They run a very good business.
I am criticizing the McDonaldization of a sacred and natural human relationship with wild things and wild places. Not only are the moneychangers running amok in the temple they are now rewriting the faith.
  ~~ Good Hunting, Ron ~~

Babes with Arms
- or -
Why I Oppose Senate Bill 395
By Michael Korn
Korn recently retired as the Deputy Chief of FWP Law Enforcement after serving more than 26 years with the agency.
Members of the legislature as well as a number of conservation and gun groups have proposed a bill to allow 10-year-olds to hunt. By “hunt” I mean to be licensed to take an animal legally with a firearm during the regular hunting seasons. They would be “apprentices” supervised by older hunters (referred to as mentors) and would not have had to complete Hunter Education. The premise for this bill is that the number of hunters is shrinking nationwide and we have to do everything we can to encourage the next generation to carry on Montana’s Hunting Heritage.
Although the motives here are well-intentioned, I don’t buy it. I can’t go along for a number of reasons.  First, having raised a couple of kids myself, been involved in various youth outdoor activities (including Hunter Education and taking kids under 12 hunting with me), 10 is not an age for a youngster to be carrying-- that is, in full possession and control of--  a firearm - even under supervision. There’s a reason a kid can’t take Hunter Education until he or she is 11- and why the most traditional gift for a 12 year old is their first gun (mine was a .22). It is the almost universal age of transition out of childhood. Cultures and religions around the world all have rites of passage that are generally marked by the 12th birthday or thereabouts. If hunting for the first time is not a rite of passage here in Montana, I don’t know what is.
I have observed kids growing to twelve and watched as their physical, mental and emotional maturity and dexterity changed; and it changed radically from year to year. I suspect that Child Development folks would say that this moves at a rate of not one a year at a time but exponentially from one year to the next.  At ten they’re still-- well, little kids. Yeah many 10 year-olds are handed lofty responsibilities- I’ve seen them run tractors on farms and ranches and be hot amongst ‘em during calving.  But still- they’re 10. SB 395 says the mentor must “…confirm an apprentice hunter possess the physical and psychological capacity to ethically engage in hunting activities.”  I don’t know how on earth that can be done nor should such a responsibility be placed on the “mentor’s” shoulders.
Montana’s Hunter Education program is second to none. It started in the 1950’s and has turned out thousands of Montana hunters since then. It has gone from simply a firearms safety course to a thorough, complete overview not only of firearms handling but wildlife biology, outdoor skills, landowner relations and so much more. A youngster who graduates from Hunter Ed is armed with far more than just a rifle; he or she has been given the basics of enjoying wild Montana as well as a super-sized helping of hunter ethics that will last a lifetime. To bring our kids into hunting while bypassing all this is simply wrong-headed. It rudely brushes aside the 1000’s of hours donated by Hunter Education instructors annually and sets the stage, I believe, for  problems-potentially catastrophic- that my former  colleagues in FWP Law Enforcement will be dealing with well into the future. That’s lousy job security.
Finally, SB 395 simply reduces hunting in Montana to act of killing something. After all, that is the intent of the bill, to allow ten year olds to carry a firearm and shoot something. I find this not only counter to our Hunting Heritage but perhaps more important in the long run, a lay-up for anti-hunters.  Hunting involves a huge range of skills to be successful including marksmanship, tracking, knowledge of wildlife behavior, ability to read and understand regulations…the list goes on. In spite of setting up a mentor system, it circumvents all the cumulative cultural and institutional systems for learning to hunt and goes directly to shoot and kill.  Such a path panders to anti-hunters who claim that killing is the be all and end all for hunters. We can ill afford to paint ourselves in that corner. If we proceed that way, Pogo will have been right: “We have met the enemy-- and they are us.”
Montana is one of the few states where “hunter recruitment,” that is, bringing new hunters into the fold, is nowhere near the problem of other places. The percentage of Montanans who hunt today- at least gauged through the purchase of licenses is about 20% which is about the same of our surrounding states and far and above the single digits of the more populous states, even in other parts of the West.  No, everyone doesn’t hunt and young people are distracted, it seems, more and more by school activities, sports, computer stuff and fast thumbing text messages to their friends. We have to face the fact that the way we live has changed, is changing and will continue to change- even in Montana. Hunting may not occupy the lion’s share of this generation’s imagination in the same way it did ours. But letting 10 year olds go out to shoot something is not going to change that.
If we really want to make a meaningful contribution to Montana’s Hunting and Outdoor Heritage and we must have some formal, law-driven system then why not establish a program through FWP’s Hunter Education Program where a person 10 years old (or younger) gets a kit. That kit would include a log book, a manual on outdoorsmanship, and a book (written at an appropriate age level) about Montana’s Outdoor Heritage. The young person will accompany a parent or a friend into the field, not just during hunting season but year-round. When he or she learns about tracking, they mark it in the logbook as a task accomplished; when they see elk on the winter range and they can speak to why they are there, they mark it in the book; when they learn to read a map and use a compass or (God help us techno challenged folk) a GPS-it gets logged in the book. Basically a system not unlike scout merit badges. When, at age 11 (the age they can take Hunter Education) and all the logbook tasks are expected to be fulfilled, it is noted and the young outdoorsman or woman is entered into a raffle.  The winners of that raffle could get their first big game hunting rifle or shotgun to use when they graduate from Hunter’s Education (i.e. rite of passage) and goes forth for their first trip afield as a hunter, with all the privileges and responsibilities that entails.
Identical bills have been rejected by the legislature 3 other times in recent years and SB 395 has raised forth again ---a solution looking for a problem-- and a wrong-headed one at that.  Let’s teach our kids that the Montana outdoors is a great, wondrous place to be year round regardless of having a rifle slung over your shoulder or out on a hike or camping. Let’s not cater to instant gratification and all the wrong things that hunting is criticized as being about.

Michael Korn, Clancy, MT