The Curious Case of the Guv and the Park Wolf

Park Wolf 1155 – in happier days. NPS photo.

The case of Greg, the Mighty Wolf Killer, keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.

 In case you’ve been hibernating and just emerged from your cave, a couple weeks ago Boise State Public Radio (yes, you read that right) broke the news that Governor Greg Gianforte got a warning citation from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for harvesting a wolf that had first been trapped, then shot, by the governor. The citation was for not having completed an online class on wolf-trapping, as required when someone purchases a wolf trapping license.

 The incident occurred in mid-February, though nobody in Montana knew about it until Boise State Public Radio, and other members of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaborative of a number of western public media agencies, reported on the governor’s brush with the law. Within a day or two, the case made national news, including the Washington Post and New York Times.

 To complicate the case, the wolf that fell victim to the Guv’s trap and rifle wasn’t any old wolf, it was a Yellowstone Park wolf, Number 1155, bearing a radio collar. It was a wolf that had been followed for at least several years, a wolf with a documented history, had been photographed many times, and had its own fan base. Ol’ 1155 had the bad judgement to wander some ten miles out of the Park before blundering into the Guv’s trap.

 As it happens, while the case was first reported by out-of-state media, a Montana journalist, Nate Hegyi, of Missoula, was the reporter who developed the story. He told Slate, an online news magazine, that he had gotten a tip that the governor had trapped and killed a Yellowstone wolf on February 15, Presidents Day, and had been issued the warning citation for not completing the trapping course.

 The wolf trapping and shooting happened on private property, a ranch owned by Robert E. Smith, an executive with Sinclair Broadcasting Group which owns, among many other outlets, the NBC Montana TV stations. He has also been a financial supporter of Gianforte’s political campaigns. The ranch manager is also vice president of the Montana Trappers Association, and his name, as well as Gianforte’s, is on the trap’s required tag.

 Slate raises some questions about how it all happened. Did the Guv make a quick trip down to the ranch for the federal holiday weekend, set out a trap or two and 1155 immediately blundered into it, conveniently meeting his demise before the Guv had to go back to the capitol? Another scenario might be the ranch manager setting traps, finding a catch and then calling the Guv to come down to the ranch to dispatch the critter. If that was the case, it would be in violation of regulations, as an uncollared wolf must be dispatched immediately. A collared wolf must be either released or dispatched immediately.

 The New York Times reported that Gianforte told a news conference that he has been trapping wolves since he was a “tot.” This is remarkable, considering he was born in California and grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before going to college in Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s no wonder that he was almost 60 years old before he finally found success.

 Of course, all this happens in the middle of a legislative session in which a multitude of bills have been introduced to greatly increase harvest of wolves, as well as try to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list. Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.

 We might also wonder who got to issue the warning citation to the Guv. Will there be books written about the warden? There is a best-selling series of mystery novels by Wyoming author C. J. Box about a fictional Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett, who, as a rookie warden, fearlessly issued a citation to the governor for fishing without a license.

 On a personal note, I’ll mention that, back on the Minnesota farm where I grew up, I occasionally ran a trapline for pocket gophers.

It was not one of my more successful endeavors.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Early Flyfishing amid Mass Shootings

Trophy of the day.

There’s something special about that first fishing trip of the season.

 While we’ve had a relatively mild winter, it was still cold and snowy, and there’s a season for everything, and since January, after hunting seasons dragged to a close, I’ve been happy to build cheery fires in the fireplace after fun days of skiing at Discovery.

 As the days lengthen and get warmer, however, I start looking at weather forecasts and making plans for fishing, not skiing. Writing about flyfishing in Ireland, as I did a couple weeks ago, certainly put me in a mood to quit thinking about fishing and actually go and do it.

 Part of the rituals of that first trip is to collect gear from its various storage areas in the garage and house and then to organize my collection of fly vests, gadgets, rods, reels, boots, waders and all the other paraphernalia we think necessary for fishing. I like to think that flyfishing is simpler and less complicated than other types of fishing. I don’t have a boat, motor, fish-finder, and other such toys that a bass or walleye angler might consider necessary. Nevertheless, after many years of flyfishing, the pile of stuff continues to grow.

Over the years, the Beartrap Canyon area of the lower Madison River has gotten to be a favorite for early season fishing. The river gets a lot of pressure; I’ve never been there when there weren’t other people fishing, whether wading or boating. Still, it’s remarkably productive, especially when we consider how warm the waters get in summer. The canyon is also notorious for poison ivy and rattlesnakes in summer, but in March and April that’s not an issue.

 The Madison River is also notorious for wind, and that was the case on this first outing. The weather forecast was for breezy conditions and so it was, with gusts that make one question the whole enterprise. The temperatures were actually pretty mild, but the wind coming off the icy river was cold.

Canada geese keeping an eye out for me.

 My expectations for fishing success were low, as these first trips of the year are more to get out than to expect a lot of fish action in the icy waters. It was a pleasant surprise, after about ten minutes of casting, to feel a fish on the end of my line, a small rainbow trout that grabbed my beadhead pheasant-tail nymph. About ten minutes later I caught a small whitefish. The trophy of the day was a 14-inch rainbow that put a nice bend in my 3-weight rod.

 I caught my first fish about 11 a.m., and the third fish just before noon. After that I never had a nibble.

 Still, I had enough action to call the outing a success. I got out on a favorite river, caught some fish, and my waders didn’t leak. Can’t ask for much more than that.

 Alas, since that happy outing, the news has been dominated by mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. While those events drew the most headlines, there were also mass shootings in Stockton, California, Gresham, Oregon, Houston and Dallas, Texas, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They didn’t have the death toll that the Atlanta and Boulder had, but that’s small comfort.

 According to Wikipedia there were 35 mass shootings in January, 41 in February, and 31 in March (as of March 23), with 122 deaths and 325 wounded. A mass shooting is defined as when three or more people are killed or injured by firearms violence.

 The Boulder shooter reportedly used an AR-type rifle, purchased the same day as the Atlanta shooting. Ironically, Boulder had, for the last two years, a ban on AR-type rifles, following the Margery Stoneman Douglas high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Less than two weeks before the shooting, a judge barred the City of Boulder from enforcing the ban, because of an older state law that barred municipalities from making their own firearms rules.

 The National Rifle Association cheered the ruling, “A Colorado judge gave law-abiding gun owners something to celebrate.”

Tell that to the ten grieving families.

 Paul vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

Winter Reading Book Report

The vernal equinox happened last Saturday at 3:47 in the morning, meaning that most of the world had approximately 12 hours of daylight, marking the beginning of astronomical spring. From now until June 20, our days will continue to get longer. We’re currently gaining time of daylight at the rate of about three minutes per day.

 One of my gauges of the arrival of spring is when the garlic I planted last October begins to emerge, and, sure enough, I saw the first shoot of garlic bravely make its appearance on March 4. A couple days later I heard the calls of a robin from somewhere in the neighborhood. Both were right on schedule.

 I went skiing on March 12, and when I got home I put my ski equipment away for the season, not because the skiing was bad, but because I decided that on my next outings I’d rather be standing in a river with fly rod in hand.

 During the winter months I’ve been doing a lot of reading, as usual, and I’ll share some notes on some books.

 Over the years, there have been a lot of books written about ruffed grouse hunting, and most of them have been set in eastern states, especially New England. A new exception is Idaho Ruffed Grouse Hunting by Andrew Wayment. In his day job, Andy is an attorney, based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He also has serious hunting and fishing addictions and loves writing about it. While there is quite a bit of variety in upland bird hunting in Idaho, he is first and foremost a ruffed grouse hunter. Over the years, he has found a number of favorite spots, or coverts, where he finds ruffies, plus blue grouse, sharptailed grouse, even some occasional pheasants and quail.

Andy pays tribute to the traditional grouse writers such as William Harnden Foster and Burt Spiller, but his stories of dogs and birds are solidly set in the West. It’s published by The History Press.

 On the other hand, I had some interesting reading from author Jerry Hamza, who is definitely from the East, upstate New York, to be specific. He has a somewhat unusual background for an outdoor writer, as he spent some 30 years as a road manager for the late comedian, George Carlin. During those years of almost incessant travel he generally packed fishing and hunting gear, and in the process accumulated a lot of experiences. He also put in a stint as president of the Cat Fanciers Association, and in that position got to hunt and fish around the world. Yeah, who knew? I wasn’t kidding about his unusual background.

More to the point, he’s a heckuva writer and has written a couple books.  His first was Outdoor Chronicles – True Tales of a Lifetime of Hunting and Fishing, and more recently, The Zen of Home Water. This guy can write! In Zen, there’s a chapter about his joining a golf club just to get access to a golf course that has a pond on the 15th hole, known to have big largemouth bass. That story, alone, is reason to get his book. It’s published by Skyhorse Publishing.

 I’ve also been re-reading some older books, including A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, which I referenced in a recent column. Leopold’s writing bears up well, even after over 70 years since his death. One certainly gains an appreciation for his recognition as the father of scientific wildlife management and as an early thinker on ecology.

 I also re-read Hill Country and Mostly Tailfeathers, collections of essays by Gene Hill, who was a longtime editor and contributor to Field & Stream magazine, after years as an advertising copywriter for several Madison Avenue advertising agencies. He died in 1997. I had always regarded his writing as some of the best there was. Sorry to say, his writing back in the 1970s, when those books were published, actually seems dated. Excellent writing, but it seems out of date.

 Of course, I’d best not complain!

 Paul vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.

For St. Patrick’s Day – Go Fish!

A modern day angler latched on to an Irish Atlantic salmon. (photo by flyfishinginIreland.com)

On this St. Patrick’s Day, and every other St. Patrick’s Day in recent memory, if you check TV listings, there’s a good chance that on one or several channels, you’ll find yet another showing of the classic John Ford movie, “The Quiet Man.” It was made in 1952, and tells the story of Sean Thornton, an Irish-born retired boxer, played by John Wayne, who returns to Ireland to buy the family farm, and, of course, falls in love with the beautiful redhead, Mary Kate Danaher, played by Maureen O’Hara. The movie was filmed on location in County Mayo, on the northwestern coast of Ireland.

One of the characters in the movie is Father Lonergan, a Catholic priest played by American actor Ward Bond. Father Longergan is a dedicated fly-fisherman, and in a memorable scene, the priest has finally hooked a big salmon, only to lose it during an angry confrontation with Mary Kate. 

So, if you’re inspired to go fishing in Ireland, what will the traveling angler find? Assuming, of course, that one of these days Covid will be under control and international travel will, again, be feasible.

The traveling angler should find an angling paradise, if the Irish angling websites aren’t grossly exaggerating the opportunities.

The island nation, the western edge of Europe, is, first of all, a wet country, with a lot of rain. There are many lakes, rivers and small streams all across the country, and that includes Northern Ireland, as well as the Republic of Ireland, even in downtown Dublin. 

An Irish brown trout. Photo by flyfishinginIreland.com

The native trout of Ireland is the brown trout, with half a dozen subspecies or watershed variations on brown trout. Some brown trout go to sea and return to rivers and estuaries as big, well-fed, strong fish. Some lakes have an American import, rainbow trout. Atlantic salmon return to coastal rivers and tease anglers such as Father Lonergan.

Pike are another important sport fish in Ireland, and Ireland is known for large pike, that grow relatively quickly in the country’s mild climate. There is also a whole set of non-game native fish that have their devotees.

Of course, as the country is an island, the surrounding ocean waters open up another whole set of fishing opportunities.

There are many options for the traveling angler. If you want the luxury experience of full-service lodges and guided angling there are services that provide those amenities. 

If you’re on a smaller budget, do-it-yourself angling is also quite feasible. 

An Irish travel writer and angler, Eoin Bassett, in a 2013 Huffington Post story, says that the traveling angler can do quite well just by asking around for information. He says, “Start in the local tackle store. In Ireland these are more like private clubhouses. And if you’re a fellow angler you’re a member.” He goes on to say that if you’re visiting a town without a tackle store, stop at the local pub.

Keep in mind that access to rivers and streams is generally not free. However, it’s fairly easy to buy a day license from a local fishing club. Again, start at the local flyshop or pub to find local contacts.

Bassett also suggests to not worry too much. If you’re crossing over a bridge and decide to look down to see if any fish are feeding, and you just happen to have some time to kill and have angling equipment, just go fishing. The worst that can happen is that someone might come along and ask you to leave.

He tells of making one of those stops, and an elderly farmer came along to run him off. They actually have a pleasant conversation, ending with the farmer giving him some favorite flies and inviting him to fish his favorite pool. He told the farmer he saw feeding fish and couldn’t resist, and the farmer, a fellow angler, understood.

Incidentally, Ireland’s trout season begins today, on March 17, which seems altogether appropriate. Many Butte people make pilgrimages to Ireland to reconnect with their ancestral roots. Why not go fishing, too?

Legislating Wolves!

Wolves – always controversial.

Last year, Montana said farewell to Jim Posewitz, a much-loved biologist, ethicist, angler, hunter, and philosopher. 

Poz, as he was widely known, literally wrote the book on hunting ethics, Beyond Fair Chase. Poz also founded Orion, the Hunter’s Institute, which, as is stated on the organization’s website, “exists to protect the future of hunting by providing leadership on ethical and philosophical issues and to promote fair chase and responsible hunting.”

There’s also a famous quotation from Poz, “I wanted people to know what a great privilege hunting is, and how much work it took to restore America’s broken wildlife system. By the time I was born, we had cleaned this place out of wildlife. Now we have urban deer, bears in orchards and goose poop on every golf shoe in Montana. That’s no accident. It was a choice people made.”

Another hero in wildlife and hunting ethics is Aldo Leopold, considered the father of modern scientific wildlife management, and author of A Sand County Almanac, a book published posthumously after his death in 1948.

As a young man, Leopold worked for the Forest Service, and part of his job, while stationed in Arizona, was to kill predators.  In a short chapter, titled “Thinking Like a Mountain,” he tells of spotting a wolf with pups and opening fire on them, mortally wounding the mama wolf. 

He writes, “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes…I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”

Now, I wonder what Poz or Aldo Leopold would think about the Montana Legislature and an apparent effort to push wolves back to endangered species status, if not extirpation. 

Last week, at the halfway point of the legislative session, there was a pair of wolf bills, SB-267 and SB-314. 

SB-267 has been described as a “bounty bill,” which would allow groups to pay successful wolf hunters and trappers a fee to reimburse them for expenses. This is modeled on a program in Idaho, where an organization raises money to pay successful trappers $500 to $1000 per wolf.

SB-314 directs the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to consider more aggressive actions to reduce wolf populations, such as unlimited harvest by hunters or trappers, use of bait for hunting, and, on private land, night hunting using artificial light or night vision scopes.

Supporters of the bills point to several elk units in northwest Montana where there has been a decline in elk hunting success, and blame wolves for having a major impact on elk populations. As reported by Tom Kuglin of Lee Newspapers, elk populations in other units are stable or over goals, and biologists have not drawn a definitive link to wolves and reduced elk harvest in those northwest units. I suspect Chronic Wasting Disease may be a bigger factor.

Currently, hunting for wolves is permitted from September 15 to March 15, and trapping from December 15 to February 28. Except in a few units, primarily in areas adjoining Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, there are no bag limits or harvest quotas, other than a five tags per person limit. While baiting is not permitted, hunters may use scents to attract wolves. Night hunting is not allowed.

In short, for six months out of the year, Montana already has a long and liberal wolf hunting and trapping season across the state. The rules, while liberal, are within a kind of loose definition of fair chase.

If hunters think wolves are the reason they can’t find elk, they already have the tools they need to harvest wolves to their heart’s content. They shouldn’t need or expect payment, either. 

The essence of fair chase hunting is the privilege and opportunity to be in the great outdoors and participating in the hunt, and we shouldn’t expect further reward other than organically-grown food, or, in the case of wolves, the animal’s pelt.

Fish & Wildlife Board Issues

Andrew McKean (far left) with some of his hunter safety class students

As people often like to point out, “Elections have consequences.”

And how!

People who presumably consider themselves a hunter or angler, and might have voted for Greg Gianforte for governor last fall, because of campaign commercials showing him in hunting regalia, and boasting of his stances on gun rights, will now have four years to watch Montana’s famous hunting and fishing resources go down the tubes. 

Before the election, Gianforte’s opponents warned that Gianforte would accelerate trends to privatize wildlife and turn the management of hunting and fishing over to big landowners and outfitters.

Those fears are materializing.

There have been rafts of bills in the legislature that clearly go against the interests of rank and file hunters and anglers. One bill would have permitted outfitter-guaranteed hunting licenses, though later modified to allow early application for non-residents for an additional fee. Another would give up to ten elk permits to large landowners to sell to hunters. Still another would transfer supervision of fishing access sites and wildlife management areas from the fish and wildlife managers at FWP to the Parks people. So far, there have been no indications that the governor would veto these bills if they arrived on his desk.

The latest, however, is Gianforte’s appointments to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the public board that provides oversight over Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Of particular interest is Andrew McKean, of Glasgow. Former governor Steve Bullock nominated McKean to the commission to replace a previous member from Region 6 who had moved. Bullock’s nomination needs senate confirmation and the new governor first signaled that he supported McKean staying on the board.

Andrew McKean is a uniquely qualified person to serve on the Fish and Wildlife Commission. He worked six years as the FWP Region 6 information officer. He has been a newspaper editor, a Fishing and Hunting News editor, and is a former Editor in Chief of Outdoor Life magazine. He’s a hunting and bowhunting instructor. He was one of the founders of Highline Sportsmen, a volunteer organization dedicated to conservation and improving communications between sportsmen and landowners. I’ll note that I met Andrew at an outdoor writers conference, though I’ve never gotten any magazine assignments from him. McKean has a passion for the prairies and rivers of northeastern Montana, and the wildlife resources of the region.

Governor Gianforte has reversed his previous support and now wants Leslie Robinson of Dodson, Montana for the Region 6 member of the Commission. Ms. Dodson is a landowner and politician, a member of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, and a county commissioner. She was Gianforte’s running mate when he first ran for governor in 2016.

Gianforte’s other nominees include KC Walsh, Executive Chairman of Simms Fishing Products, Brian Cebull a Safari Club International-Montana board member and an oil and gas executive, and Pat Tabor, a retired accountant turned outfitter and outdoor business consultant. Pat Byorth of Bozeman, who was confirmed in 2019, is a holdover member. Cebull and Walsh were major donors to Gianforte’s campaign.

According to a story in the Missoula Current, Tabor has five FWP citations on his record for illegally using state land. There have also been complaints of Tabor’s business dumping manure from his corrals and other garbage on public land. Tabor has also been accused of failing to submit accurate reports to the Board of Outfitters.

Brian Cebull’s affiliations with the petroleum industry make him suspect in my eyes. His affiliation with Safari Club International doesn’t necessarily make him an advocate for rank and file recreationists. Safari Club International is a big promoter of trophy hunting around the world, and that describes Cebull, too. He is on record as an opponent of the Endangered Species Act, especially regarding grizzly bears and sage grouse.

While I’m not enthusiastic about what might happen to Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, I will note that it’s now March, and it’s time to get that new fishing and hunting license for the 2021 license year, as well as to apply for special deer and elk permits, or apply for moose, sheep, goat and antelope licenses. You can do it all online.

Snowstorms & Blizzards!

Aftermath of the great North Dakota Blizzard of 1966

So, it turns out that we do get snow this winter.

Until that snowy first weekend of February, things were looking pretty bleak for winter snowpack. We needed snow, though it was a nasty surprise to get up on Sunday, February 7, with a foot of snow. We’d had snow the day before and we got things cleared and then had to start all over again on Sunday.

I took it easy that morning, having a better plan. I’d crank up my snowblower, which usually gets used about once a year, and move the snow without the big workout. 

I had it gassed up and ready to go, but the machine didn’t get the memo, and for the first time in the 30+ years I’ve had it, it refused to start. So, it was back to Plan A, and shoveling, with that Kenny Rogers tune, “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, “ running through my head.

Not too much snow for Kiri, our black Lab, to want to play ball.

The biggest snowfall we’ve had during the 32 years we’ve lived here in Butte was the Christmas Eve of 1996 snowstorm that dropped an official 16 inches, though it seemed more like two feet.

When it comes to heavy snow, I vividly remember a storm that hit southern Iowa in December 1961. We were living in Des Moines for three months while I was going through a new employee training course with the Social Security Administration. I drove to work on a Friday morning at the end of that three-month period. It started snowing in the morning and it snowed all day. There was even thunder and lightning during the storm. At the end of the work day I tried to drive out of the parking lot and promptly got stuck. I gave up on that and started walking towards home. Luckily, somebody picked me up and gave me a ride. 

It stopped snowing by morning and my wife and I walked several miles to downtown. I was able to buy a snow shovel in a pet store, of all places, and found our car where I’d left it, with snowdrifts just about up to the level of the hood. It took a couple hours, but we shoveled a path out to the street. Then we went to a tire store and got a set of chains so I’d be able to drive into our apartment house, three blocks off from the nearest through street, with the U-Haul trailer we’d rented for our upcoming move to Fargo, North Dakota.

We spent the weekend packing and on Monday, Christmas Day, we ate a can of chicken noodle soup, right out of the pot, for our first Christmas Day dinner together, then got in the car to leave town. Six blocks later, I took the chains off and never used them again.

The biggest storm we’ve experienced was in March 1966, when a monster blizzard hit North Dakota. I was on crutches at the time, having fractured an ankle on my first try at downhill skiing a few weeks earlier. On a Wednesday, it started snowing. Co-workers gave me a ride home after work, promising they’d pick me up the next morning. The next morning, the snow was knee deep and nothing was moving. Then the wind started blowing, and for several days we could barely see across the street. 

Strange things happen in blizzards. Our landlord had a basement apartment in the house we rented and his son, who lived in California, was visiting, and parked his new Ford Mustang in the driveway. He’d grown up in Fargo and was there for a reunion with old high school friends, and while the winds howled, he stood by the back door looking out, muttering, “I’m never coming back here again.”

On Sunday, the winds subsided and people started digging out. As for that Mustang, the wind had blown the driveway clear, but the engine compartment was packed solid with wind-blown snow. 

That wasn’t bad. At married student housing at North Dakota State University on the northwest edge of town, drifts were up to the rooftops. 

Beating the Covid!

Your intrepid reporter, getting a Covid shot.

While many in the country were watching or listening in on the opening of the second impeachment trial of former president Trump, my wife and I were able to get our second covid-19 immunization. 

There are advantages to being geezers, in this case being near the front of the line of Phase 1B of the covid-19 immunization program. Even better, assuming we’ve survived whatever after-effects of the shot, and I did have some, we are now pretty confident that the coronavirus isn’t going to get us. We know we won’t live forever, but we’re now pretty sure that we won’t be hooked up to a respirator in an ICU, gasping for air, wishing we’d gotten those shots.

I’m all too aware that some people resist the idea of vaccinations—any vaccinations—for a variety of reasons, most of which are, in my opinion, ridiculous. 

For those of you who pass on vaccinations, especially now the covid-19 vaccinations, I’ll point out that this is the way out of what we’ve been going through this past year.

If you’re sick of wearing masks, tired of social distancing, missing out on hugs and handshakes, the lack of a social life, not being able to go to athletic events, or church or concerts or family reunions, and every other thing you’ve hated about this past year, as have I, this is our way out. 

If you’re tired of living in fear that you might catch it, or that a loved one might catch it, or that a loved one might catch it and not survive, this is our way out.

Our local health departments are the heroes in this long uphill slog to make us safer during the pandemic. My advice is to follow their instructions and don’t try to crash the lines as they work their way through occupation, age and health groups. This race to immunize our local communities, our nation and the world is not a sprint; it’s a super marathon. It’s a super marathon in which all of us can be winners.

Moving on to the latest from Montana’s loony tune legislature, I have to echo comments from my good friend, and former Montana Standard reporter, Nick Gevock, the Director of Conservation for the Montana Wildlife Federation.

Nick wrote about, and it was widely printed in Montana newspapers, one of the dumber things (and there are many!) to come out in the session, House Joint Resolution No. 5, introduced by Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Lolo. Mr. Tschida’s proposed resolution asserts that taxes on firearms constitute an unconstitutional infringement on American citizens’ right to bear arms. 

Mr. Tschida’s bill is, first of all, nonsense. A state cannot unilaterally declare a federal law unconstitutional. It’s an attempt at nullification, a notion long discredited through our nation’s history, though the idea never really goes away.

Second, his bill attacks one of the nation’s great success stories, the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, often referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act, in which a federal excise tax is levied on firearms and ammunition sales for wildlife conservation. The Act was later modified with the Dingell-Johnson Act to also levy a tax on fishing equipment to help fund fisheries projects.

Sportsmen and women, over the years, have proudly pointed to those excise taxes as something we are happy to pay because it helps fund wildlife management, acquisition of property for wildlife management, and to provide public access for outdoor recreation.

A few of the many pheasants I’ve successively hunted on public lands funded by Pittman-Robertson revenues.

Over the years, I have spent many happy days tramping across public lands in Montana and North Dakota that have been acquired or improved, or managed through Pittman-Robertson funds. Some signage has noted the property was a P-R Project, which I once thought it meant it was a public relations project. Nope, it was from the Pittman-Robertson excise tax that we hunters have cheerfully paid so that, hopefully, wildlife could thrive on these lands.

I’ll close with a quote from Nick’s article. “Don’t let anyone who supports this measure tell you they’re for hunters. In fact, they’re working to destroy our sporting traditions.”

Enjoy the Great Backyard Bird Count!

We have a big weekend coming up. Sunday is Valentine’s Day; don’t forget to do something special for that special person in your life. Monday is the Washington’s birthday holiday, or Presidents’ Day, as many of us call it. 

Those landmark days mean that this weekend, Friday, February 12 through Monday, the 15th, is also time for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).

This will be the 24th annual GBBC, when citizen scientists around the country and around the world break out of the house and take a walk around the neighborhood, or to a local park, and see what birds are out there, and then go online to report sightings.

Last year’s Bird Count set records for the event, with some 250,000 lists of birds submitted, from more than 100 countries, identifying nearly 7,000 of the world’s estimated 10,000 bird species.

We’re having an unusually mild and warm winter, or at least it was until last week when I started writing this column. That means there’s a chance we might find some birds that aren’t often around during a more typical winter. 

There was a morning, back in January, when I was surprised to hear the sound of a robin calling in my neighborhood. As far as I could tell, it was alone, because no other robins were returning its calls. So, I don’t know whether it was late to the southward migration, or if it decided to stay the winter, or if it was taking an early flight north.

About a week ago, I heard some different birdcalls coming from high in an aspen tree next to our house. It was mostly white with some black markings. I’m afraid this one stumped me, as I couldn’t find it in the field guides on my bookshelf. 

At any rate, the GBBC is designed to get a snapshot of where the birds are at this point of late winter, before spring migrations start. 

It’s easy to participate in the GBBC. Go for a 15-minute or longer walk in a favorite area, perhaps taking a camera or binoculars. Keep track of the birds you see and, hopefully, identify. Then go online to birdcount.org and submit your list. 

It’s a good project for a family, or a Scout group, or a class. Naturally, during this pandemic year, if you go out in a group, wear a mask and maintain social distancing. 

The Presidents’ Day holiday, again, is officially Washington’s Birthday, and is observed on the third Monday of February. 

George Washington was born in Virginia on February 11, 1731 on the then-used Julian calendar. In 1752, Great Britain and the British Empire, including the British colonies in North America, adopted the Gregorian calendar, which had the effect of changing Washington’s birthday to February 22, 1732. 

George Washington served as Commander in Chief of the fledgling new nation’s army in our revolt against British rule from 1775 to 1783, with rebel forces eventually wearing down the resolve of King George and the British Parliament to continue hostilities.

Washington was among the first leaders to recognize the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and urged a constitutional convention to come up with a strong constitution. He became our first president, and later set the precedent of serving just two terms as president.

Unfortunately, like many of the Founding Fathers, Washington left a mixed legacy as he was a Virginia landowner and counted his wealth in the value of his land and slaves, and there were over 300 slaves at Mt. Vernon at the time of his death, though under the terms of his will, they were all freed by 1801.

Nevertheless, George Washington is the only Founding Father who was regarded as “godlike,” and was referred to as “Father of his country” as early as 1778, long before the end of the revolution and his later service as president. After almost 250 years, he is still considered among our best, if not the best, presidents. 

So, this weekend it’s Hail to the Chief, kiss your special Valentine, and check out some birds.

NRA Files for Bankruptcy

AP News photo

So, this business owner was going broke. He was losing customers, and creditors were circling like a flock of vultures. In desperation he went to his pastor for counseling.

The pastor listened to his tale of woe and then advised him, “Sometimes, when I’m troubled about something, I’ll go to the beach with my Bible, sit down, close my eyes, and open the book and let the wind blow the pages, and when it stops I’ll look down and read. You may find your answer that way.”

So, the businessman followed his advice and a year later he came back to the pastor with a big donation to the church, as well as a gift certificate for dinner at the finest restaurant in town. He explained that his business was now thriving and he wanted to express his appreciation for the wise counsel he got the year before.

So, the pastor, overcome by the generosity, asks, “So, when you went to the beach, what did you read when the wind stopped?”

The businessman smiled and said, “Chapter 11.”

I doubt that Wayne LaPierre came on the idea of Chapter 11 for saving the National Rifle Association in quite that way, but that is the NRA’s tactic right now, as the gun lobby group tries to cope with lawsuits filed against the organization from New York’s Attorney General, Letitia James.

A.G. James sued the NRA in August, seeking to dissolve the non-profit corporation because of mismanagement and corruption. Accusations of corruption, I’ll note, are not just from so-called gun-control advocates, but from former NRA president Oliver North, as well as other disgruntled board members.

The NRA announced, in January, that the organization would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to protect its assets, and then seek to re-charter the NRA in Texas. In a New York Times report, Bob Barr, a former Georgia congressman and NRA board member, commented, “It has nothing to do with the NRA’s financial posture, which is very, very strong. It is simply a legal vehicle to move under protection of federal laws to escape the abuse by the New York authorities.”

The Times story notes that the NRA isn’t “under water,” with more debts than assets. The NRA reports assets worth $50 million more than its debts.

David Dell’Acquila, a former NRA supporter and donor, is suing the NRA and would presumably try to intervene in the bankruptcy proceedings. His lawyer said, “We believe that the NRA’s bankruptcy case is a bad faith attempt to block New York State’s effort to monitor the NRA’s corporate governance.”

I will continue to follow the developing NRA story, but back here in Montana, we have a different kind of firearms issue at the Montana legislature. HB 102, which appears to be steamrolling its way through the Republican-controlled legislature, would largely repeal almost any and all kinds of restrictions on firearms in Montana. 

The bill, carried by Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, would reduce legal restrictions governing open and concealed carry that supposedly reduce Montanans’ ability to defend themselves.

The bill further restricts the Montana Board of Regents and the University System from regulating the carrying of firearms on college campuses in Montana.

From what I’ve seen, about the only restriction that the bill would put on a college student having a gun on campus would be consent from a roommate to have firearms in their dormitory room.

The University System’s current rules go back 30 years to when a Montana State University student shot and killed another student. 

From what I’ve seen, University System administrators and faculty widely oppose the idea of students packing guns around on campus. The ASUM, the student government of the University of Montana in Missoula, has gone on record opposing it.

From my standpoint as a lifelong gun owner, hunter and shooter, I really am disturbed by this push to have everybody carrying guns around. Would you feel comfortable having people carrying assault rifles in the state capitol, such as happened in Michigan last year, or college students, full of beer and testosterone, carrying concealed handguns?

I certainly don’t.

Let Keystone XL Die!

Protesters in Lincoln Nebraska in 2019. AP Photo.

The announcement, a week ago, that one of the first actions President Joe Biden would take would be to reverse the previous administration’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, received a predictable reaction from Montana’s politicians.

For better or worse, Montana politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, have, by and large, supported the Keystone XL pipeline project, primarily from the jobs standpoint, temporary as they are. There was also the possibility that the pipeline would carry some crude oil from the Bakken oil field of North Dakota and eastern Montana.

The pipeline has had a controversial history. The Keystone pipeline system plan came into being in 2010, and it’s co-owned by TC Energy, a Calgary, Alberta energy company, with a presence in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., and the Government of Alberta. 

Several phases of Keystone are operational, with a pipeline running from Alberta, through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, then entering the U.S. in eastern North Dakota, going south through the Dakotas and Nebraska, where it branches off to route crude oil to refineries in Illinois and the Gulf Coast.

The Keystone XL pipeline, if completed, would run a larger pipeline through a shorter route, crossing across northeastern Montana, with a connection in Baker, Montana, where it would also take on crude from the Bakken oil fields. 

While crude oil from the Bakken is part of the project, crude oil from tar sands in northern Alberta would be the main product.

The XL project has been controversial, with many starts and stops. Issues have included giving TC Energy rights of eminent domain to run the pipeline through private property, over objections from private property owners. In 2015, Congress approved construction of the line. President Obama vetoed that action. In later developments, Secretary of State John Kerry determined that the project was not in the public interest, and President Obama denied a federal permit for XL.

In his first week in office, President Trump issued a memorandum to revive the XL pipeline, and in March 2017, he signed a presidential permit to build XL. Despite this, there have been numerous legal challenges and the most recent court decision came when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from the Trump administration to allow construction of parts of the pipeline that had been blocked by a Montana federal judge, Butte native Brian Morris.

While Keystone XL may currently be stalled because of court actions, economics may be a larger factor in the long run.

According to a New York Times story, economists estimate that producing petroleum from Canadian tar sands is only profitable when global oil prices range between $65 and $100. In 2020, global oil prices averaged around $40 a barrel, and are projected to stay below $50 a barrel through 2022, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration, the statistics office of the Energy Department.

The Times story quotes Kevin Book, of ClearView Energy Partners, a research firm, who says, “The Keystone XL has been pending for a decade. If you can go one decade without it, investors might reasonably question if you can go three.”

While the Biden Administration was expected to cancel XL approval from the standpoints of climate change and of moving away from an oil-based economy, reversing Trump policy, there are many issues with XL. 

The pipeline would cross both the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers in Montana, with serious risks of oil pollution in both Montana and North Dakota if a pipeline ruptured. In 2019, the existing Keystone pipeline ruptured and caused a big mess in Walsh County, North Dakota, where we lived prior to our move to Butte in 1988.

Producing petroleum from the Alberta oil sands involves injecting steam and chemicals deep into the tar sands to melt and extract petroleum. It’s costly and environmentally damaging.

Something I often wonder is why can’t Canada refine the petroleum and export the gas and oil, instead of sending crude all the way to the Gulf Coast?

In short, I applaud the new Biden Administration’s actions to let Keystone XL wither on the vine. It’s not worth it.

Our Nation’s Capitol

Our nation’s capitol, a shrine of democracy.

“Awe and reverence. I remember the first time I entered the U.S. Capitol. I was 14 or so. I came down from Pennsylvania by train, and I was overwhelmed by the glory of the place. This was where Lincoln and Henry Clay had worked. This was where the 13th Amendment was passed, the Land Grant College Act, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Act. It was such a beautiful building, I was stunned.” David Brooks, New York Times, January 9, 2021.

David Brooks, an opinion writer for the Times wrote those words to preface his disgust at the invasion of the nation’s capitol on January 6.

Those words resonated with me. In May 1962, I was among a number of relatively new employees of the Social Security Administration to go to SSA headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, for three weeks of training, in addition to three months of training we’d had just a few months earlier.

On our first weekend, a group of us decided to rent a car and go see the sights in Washington D.C. 

We started the tour by doing something we couldn’t do now, for more reasons than one: we took the steps to the top of the Washington Monument. It was a warm, humid and sunny morning and after that climb, the only thing we could do, after getting down, was to find an air-conditioned bar and drink some cold beer.

After recovery, we did some serious touring, visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, Arlington National Cemetery, with the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Iwo Jima memorial, the Lee-Custis Mansion (now renamed Arlington House), overlooking the peaceful hillside where, a year and a half later, John F. Kennedy would be laid to rest.

We walked up the steps of the Capitol Building, taking in the majesty of the “People’s House,” where our laws are made, and where so much history has taken place. We went to the visitors’ galleries above the House of Representatives and Senate.

All in all, for a day trip, we did a pretty good job of seeing the sights of our nation’s Capitol. 

In 1976, we went to a conference in Washington D.C. and that time we got to tour the White House, where a tour guide explained that President and Mrs. Ford were gone that day, “Because they didn’t want to spoil our tour.”

While I have been to Washington D.C. several times, I’m by no means an expert on the city but like David Brooks, I cherish those visits and the opportunities to see and walk where our nation’s leaders have served and made history.

Also, like David Brooks, I was angry when news bulletins started coming about the mob scene at the Capitol, especially considering that our President, Donald Trump, incited riots to intimidate Congress from accomplishing the normally mundane counting of the Electoral College votes. 

Angry? Maybe enraged would be more accurate, and I was enraged at Senator Steve Daines and Representative Matt Rosendale, for their roles in aiding and abetting Donald Trump’s attempts to overthrow the election. In earlier messages to Sen. Daines, I asserted that he and his Republican colleagues should be telling Trump to face up to the truth that he lost the election, instead of playing along with and encouraging Trump’s fantasies.

Today, most likely before you’ve read this, we have witnessed history again, with the inauguration of Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President.

I’ve been reading “A Promised Land,” President Obama’s autobiographical account of his early years and first term as president. He wrote, appreciatively, of how, in sharp contrast to Trump, President Bush facilitated an almost seamless transition in power from his administration to Obama’s. I recall President George H. W. Bush’s gracious handwritten note to President Bill Clinton, welcoming him to the Oval Office. 

At this time of transition, we might remind ourselves that all these presidents and politicians will, at some time, be part of that “ash heap of history.”

For Donald Trump and his lackeys, I suspect it will be the dung heap of history.

Filling that Gap Between Hunting and Flyfishing

Riding the lift at Discovery Ski area in western Montana.

If you’re looking for more hunting outings, you’d better hurry up.

The waterfowl hunting season in the Pacific Flyway areas of Montana closed, temporarily, on January 10. It will reopen for one more weekend, from January 16 through January 20, and then it will be finally over, the last of the general hunting seasons.

Then, after shotguns and rifles have been cleaned and put away, gear re-organized and stowed, and other end-of-season rituals have been done, the question then becomes, “Now what?”

From the standpoint of writing about the outdoors, this is the challenging part of the year, this long stretch of time between hunting and fly-fishing.

Of course, this is an odd-numbered year, meaning that the Montana Legislature is in session. I hope I’m proved wrong, but with both houses of the legislature controlled by Republicans and with Republican Greg Gianforte our governor, I fear that there will be a lot of whacky legislation emerging from the legislative sausage making machine, as there won’t be a temporizing influence from the governor. I fear attacks on public access to public lands and waters. I fear political meddling in our highly professional and highly regarded Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks agency. 

I fear whacky legislation on gun issues. College students bringing AR-15s to class? No vetting or permitting of concealed carry? That’s just starters, I fear. What could go wrong? Consider the rioting in Washington D.C. last week.

With Covid-19 cautions, it’s going to be a challenge to get people to go to legislative hearings to comment on potentially bad legislation. 

With Covid-19, having a public rally for our public lands, as we’ve had in recent legislative sessions, would be a super-spreader event. 

Of course, the best antidote for depressing news is getting outside and doing things.

Lots of people enjoy ice fishing, and for many, winter is the best season of the year. Georgetown Lake, west of Anaconda, Clark Canyon Reservoir, Ruby Reservoir, and Willow Creek Reservoir, also known as Harrison Lake, are popular destinations for local ice-angler enthusiasts.

I’ll confess that, while I have done a fair amount of ice fishing, it doesn’t really appeal to me. I regularly drive by a lot of anglers on Georgetown Lake on my way to Discovery Ski Area. It’s a great place to ski, whether on the groomed downhill ski runs or on the many cross-country trails in the immediate area. With covid precautions, it’s going to be a little different, especially for food service. Check their website, www.skidiscovery.com for details. Packing your own lunch may be a good option. You might also do a snow dance, as snow cover is still pretty thin.

While I don’t particularly enjoy fly-fishing when it’s really cold, it’s still an option on many area streams, especially streams with relatively stable temperatures, such as Poindexter Slough, just outside of Dillon, or the Madison River at Beartrap Canyon. As always, it’s a good idea to check the regulations for seasonal rules regarding closures, catch & release rules, etc.

Hunting is still an option. There are elk shoulder seasons in a number of areas, and seasons can be open until February 15.

Rabbit hunting is an option, as well. There are no closed seasons for bunnies in Montana, whether cottontail rabbit or jackrabbits and snowshoe hares. In addition, cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares are really good eating. Jackrabbits (which are also a hare) are also edible, though it usually takes a different preparation. I recommend Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook online (honestfood.net) for tips on cooking almost any wild game, especially some of the lesser–known critters, such as rabbits. Incidentally, I’ve met many people who made it through the Depression, thanks to the lowly cottontail rabbit.

Bunnies also come with an abundant supply of fly-tying material, a nice bonus in addition to food on the table. 

That brings me to one of my favorite winter activities, tying flies for the next season. There’s nothing like tying flies on a cold and blustery afternoon, and thinking of warm summer days when we can use them on area trout streams.

One Last Pheasant Hunt

Kiri searching for pheasant scent.

A rooster pheasant flushed from a clump of grass. My shotgun was at the ready, but that clump of grass was about 50 yards away, well out of range, so that pheasant lived for another day.

I lived for another day, as well, but as far as pheasants are concerned, that next day of pheasant hunting will most likely be next October, as Montana’s 2020 pheasant season closed at sunset on New Year’s Day.

My record on end-of-season pheasant hunts is pretty dismal. To be sure, I have brought pheasants home from December hunts, but it’s not often. Wild pheasants, at the end of the hunting season, are seasoned survivors. They managed to survive the summer, a time when pheasant chicks are fair game for a whole variety of predators, from snakes, to skunks and foxes, to hawks and owls. Life is a challenge when you’re at the bottom of the food chain.

Pheasants that survive to adulthood soon learn about other predators—the ones carrying shotguns, following bird dogs of one kind or another that follow their noses through thick grass, weed patches and brush in search of pheasant scent. The pheasants that stick around to be sniffed out by dogs are, by late December, considerably thinned out.

Pheasant hunting is in my blood. I grew up on a farm at a time when pheasants were plentiful in southern Minnesota. My first hunting, as an innocent teenager (assuming there is such a thing) was for pheasants. I’ve lived my entire life in states that offer pheasant hunting. I’ve hunted pheasants on bluebird days in early October, in snowstorms, and in subzero temperatures. Even when the odds are stacked against us, I enjoy being out there.

I couldn’t blame the weather for my lack of success on that last hunt of the 2020 season. The temperature in the early morning was below zero but by late morning it was in the mid-20s when I started walking. The sunshine felt warm and, unusually, there wasn’t any wind to speak of.

The first pheasant my Lab, Kiri, flushed was clearly a protected hen pheasant. I watched it fly off, keeping an eye on Kiri’s whereabouts, hoping she’d also sniff out a rooster. 

A little while later, Kiri flushed another pheasant. I couldn’t tell, for sure, whether it was a hen or rooster, though as it sailed out of sight I couldn’t help but think it might have been a rooster. 

A handsome whitetail buck bounded out of one brush patch. He seemed pretty casual about it, however. He evidently understood he was out of season and didn’t have to worry about me. 

I watched Kiri work a weed patch and finally give up on it—a moment too soon, as a rooster flushed from a distant corner of the patch, safely out of range.

A little bunch of mule deer sensed danger and moved out of the sagebrush where Kiri and I were walking, bouncing their distinctive way to a hillside a couple hundred yards away. Then they stopped and looked back, as mule deer often do, a behavioral trait that has turned many mule deer into packages of steak and hamburger in hunters’ freezers. They had no reason to fear me on this day.

A frozen “waterfall below a beaver dam.

Finally, as the sun was starting to drop, and the air was starting to feel chilly, Kiri and I finished our walk, empty-handed.

I made a stop at the landowner’s house to say thanks for letting me hunt, once again, and then we drove home in the setting sun.

It seemed like a long time since Kiri and I made our first walks of the season on some high mountainsides in search of blue grouse. Since then, we’ve walked golden aspens for ruffed grouse, and prairies and grain fields for pheasants. 

While I was disappointed at not bringing home any birds, I have pheasants in the freezer and in coming months we’ll be enjoying some gourmet pheasant dinners, as well as fly-fishing with some pheasant tail nymphs made from bits of pheasant tail feathers.

Farewell to 2020 and Farewell to Some Outdoor Heroes

Joel Vance, outdoor writer/editor, mentor and beloved leader among outdoor communicators.

We’ve just about made it to the end of 2020, a year that many people regard as “annus horribilis,” the Latin for Horrible Year. It was a year for bitter politics, an impeachment, and to top it off, a global pandemic that has now killed (as of a week ago) over 320,000 Americans, with deaths continuing at the rate of 3,000 or more per day. 

A surprise for the year was how Americans re-discovered the great outdoors during the pandemic. After people found themselves in lockdowns, working from home, learning about Zoom calls, they found that they could escape many of the pandemic frustrations by heading for the outdoors. People bought recreational vehicles and hit the road for fishing, touring and fresh air. It now remains to be seen if this surge in popularity for the outdoors sticks, or if people will return to their usual more-organized recreations after people are immunized and we can go back to pre-pandemic pursuits.

2020 marked the passing of heroes of the outdoors. Among the departed is Gen. Chuck Yeager, the WWII fighter ace who became the test pilot who first broke the speed of sound, among the many accomplishments of his long career with the Air Force. He also had a long love of the outdoors and is remembered fondly by the many people who had opportunities to hunt or fish with him.

Here in Montana, we lost Jim Posewitz, a giant of conservation, as well as a leader, author and ethicist. Posewitz died on July 3 at age 85. In addition to his body of work, he left behind living monuments, such as the free-flowing Yellowstone River and the Wild and Scenic Missouri River through the Missouri Breaks.

I’ll also note the recent death of one of the greats in the world of outdoor writers. 

Joel Vance, who died on December 9, at age 86, was a beloved leader, teacher and mentor to outdoor communicators around the country.

Joel grew up in Missouri, and earned a degree at the University of Missouri Journalism School and his first job out of J-school was at a newspaper in Montgomery, Alabama, covering civil rights. 

His journalism career was interrupted by military service, fulfilling obligations after Army ROTC in college. 

After completing military service, he returned to journalism, first as a sports writer, before embarking on a long career as an outdoor writer. While he wrote stories about hunting, fishing, bird dogs, especially French Britannies, and even church lutefisk dinners during grouse hunting trips to Minnesota, for many magazines, along with a bunch of books, he is best remembered as editor of the Missouri Conservationist, the publication of the Missouri fish and game department. 

Joel was an active leader of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), serving as president and over the years earned about every award and honor OWAA has. He led or taught many writing workshops, and was introduced at one of them as “the editor from hell.”

Joel had a regular column with Gun Dog magazine for many years until declining health forced him to mostly retire from freelance writing in 2015. Joel continued to write weekly blogs, musing on many topics, until a couple weeks before his death. 

I got to know Joel when I first went to an OWAA conference, and introduced myself to him, first because I’d read his work for many years in Gun Dog, and also because we were next to each other, alphabetically, in the membership directory. 

When I recently published a new book, Joel was one of the first to order a copy, insisting that he pay the full price, not wanting a complimentary copy, which I had actually planned on. He wrote me a brief note, “Savoring the book. Fine writing. I’m envious of your proximity to legendary hunting and fishing and the many years you have to enjoy them. With admiration, Joel.”

To be honest, I don’t know how many more years I have for hunting and fishing, but from Joel, the editor from hell, “Savoring the book. Fine writing,” is something I’ll treasure.