A moment of beauty is where you find it, all around. Today I saw it in this work of wildlife sculpture by Gene Adcock and Jeanie Renchard, found below the twin summits of Mount Sopris near Carbondale, Colorado.
“Golden Bears” Sculpture By Gene Adcock and Jeanie Renchard. Photo By Michael Patrick McCarty
“All but beauty will pass – beauty will never die. No, not even when the earth and the sun have died will beauty perish. It will live on in the stars.” – William Robinson Leigh, Frontiers of Enchantment, 1940
“The country knows. If you do wrong things to it, the whole country knows. It feels what’s happening to it. I guess everything is connected together somehow, under the ground.” – Lance Williams, Koyukon Elder, 1975
“When you see a new trail, or a footprint you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing.” – Uncheedah, The Grandmother of Ohiyesa
Animal signs and tracks have always fascinated me, no doubt encouraged by the knowledge that a living, breathing creature just laid them down and might be standing just over the next rise. Tracks are a record of nature’s wanderings and little doings, scratched and scribed on mother earth’s own back. They are placed there, as new each time, for those who wish to follow and investigate.
Temporary and ephemeral, they sing with animal promise and life eternal, bursting of meanings far greater than their small impression would indicate. They speak of purpose and plan, reward and desire, and adventure for all.
Tracks lead, I must follow. I aspire to ponder the possibilities of their message, and to attempt to practice what they may wish to teach. I wish could read them better. Maybe I can decipher them in this lifetime. I am determined to try.
I am a particularly fond of elk, and I am a dedicated student of elk tracks. Their shape intrigues me, and I like the way they cut deeply into the ground as if searching for the planet’s center, releasing the earth’s rich, dark aroma to mingle with their heavy musk. There is nothing subtle about the way that an elk marches through life, churning and slinging dirt and mud while becoming even more solidly rooted to the ground. It grounds my wandering boots as well. They pull me deeper into the ground with each step. I feel freer, calmer, and more fully connected to my life.
Their tracks tell their story, and I gain insight and know the characters more intimately through the added layers of each successive chapter. It is a long and complex tale. I have trailed along wherever and whenever I could. Later, my mind wanders, and I am on the move again, reliving old trails and experiences even when my body is somewhere else.
The characters in this tale are many and varied, each with their own unique qualities, motivations, and point of view. I can read the developing plot on the ground, at my feet, and just ahead. Here are tracks large and small, first meandering slowly, then running. Some are evenly spaced and calm, some are random and hurried. Yearling elk lay them down, as do old dry cows, new-born calves, and antlered bulls small and large.
They document the every day struggles, their hopes, their fears, joys, and occasional sufferings. I can picture in my visions the upturned head of an alert mother, nostrils quivering and searching for unwanted and dangerous scents. Ahead of her, I see a battle-scarred old warrior bull, standing tall in its last footprint, bugling and aching for a fight. It’s all written upon the ground, in the signs of animals and tracks.
Tracks have led me to vibrantly green, sundappled forests so beautiful it was difficult not to cry. It was tempting to lie down there forever, quiet and unmoving, until my body turned to stone, left to weather and crack and fall upon the earth.
I stood again, to wind my way through sage covered flats, with pounding rain and fog so thick that one is forced to look only down, watching the rain drops from your hat land squarely in the elk track below. Shielding my eyes from stinging, wind-driven snowflakes, I have waded through the unbearable snows of a terrible winter to find a calf’s last struggles against barbed wire and fence, too high.
More than once I have explored an anxious trail of tracks patterned by a solitary elk, and observed the paw prints of a mountain lion, or a bear, on top. Moving on intently, I have found only piles of hair or a few shards of bone in the last impression, with no elk left to pursue.
Backtracking upon tracks I was stepping on, I have been confronted with the reality of mountain lion or bear tracks covering my tracks, in turn. Tracks have led me to the center of nowhere, and back again. On the way I found myself, staring back. I am always looking for the next track to chase, eager to discover where it may lead.
My life is surrounded by elk and their tracks. apparently, I’ve made sure it worked out that way, without fully realizing it. Tracks lead past my house on their way to hay fields below, and I often stand in them on my way to our garden. Even at work, I look for them out of the corner of my eye, knowing that they are often just yards away from my comfortable shoes.
I work as a security guard, and my “office” is a “shack” at the main entrance of a golf course, country club, and home development. The sprawling property is interspersed with large homes on small lots, with much open space, and for now, many vacant house lots. A river runs through it. Public lands are near and expansive. Elk and mule deer are a commonly seen, along with a variety of smaller animals, birds and waterfowl. I am a most fortunate person.
You might say I have a room with a view. Red rocky ridges, sparkling clear water, and manicured greenery wrap around and fill the big windows of the small building. To the south, Mt. Sopris looms above us and refuses to be ignored. Broad shouldered and solid, with a long, deep blanket of shimmering snow fields below her twin peaks, it is one of my favorite and most comforting friends. The Ute Indians revered her first, and named her “Mother Mountain”.
Somehow I feel that she is watching, and that she is caring and protective of the many beings down below. I look to her often, and wonder what she would have to say about our human doings. She already knows that all is not always well in paradise.
“Mother Mountain” has a grand view of the “eagle tree” on the property, and a section of the development has been declared off-limits to all activity in an effort to honor the pair of bald eagles that raise their young here every summer. It is a grandfather of all trees, a towering ponderosa with heavy, thick branches, perfectly placed on the bank of a sweeping curve in the shallow river.
The eagles have been raising their young here for decades, perhaps millennia, or more. They have seen a lot, these eagles. The place would not be the same without them and it is a credit to the developer and others who planned it.
In the spring and summer people talk of them and wish to see them. They call for the daily eagle report. They are famous, they are legend. Homeowners and club members can see them whenever they wish. Outsiders cannot. We must protect the eagles from disturbance, we say. To appease the general public, we occasionally host a coordinated observation tour to show everyone that all is well in eagle world. It’s the least we can do.
However, limited and brief access does not satisfy the public demand. Most of the excited, would be visitors arrive by vehicle unannounced, without appointment. They wish to watch the eagles and they want to see them very badly. They are curious about their eaglets and they can’t wait to take their picture. One of the parent’s may return with a freshly caught and wiggling trout to feed the young, and they want to encourage them on. For their own reasons they are humans who want to be part of something else, something wild.
Birders and eagle lovers can be very determined folks, and they do not like to be turned away. But we do, because we must, and we can. After all, it is private property, you see. Members only, I’m afraid.
The private in private property can define and expose some harsh realities. It means that something, in this case the eagles, belongs to someone else. They are not for you. When I deprive someone of the eagles, I know that it was not my idea and that I am only doing my job, but that does not make me feel any better. I must wonder, as I turn to Mt. Sopris and ask, what would “mother” say”?
My head is out of the office as much as it is in, and when I slide the door open to greet a guest I cannot help but look in the direction of the river and the eagle tree. Perhaps I can catch a glimpse of that distinctive white head flashing in the light of a low sun, as it soars calmly over the back of an elk on its return to the comfort of the family nest.
After sunset, the night belongs to the elk, particularly during the long, cold nights of winter. I often can hear them calling back and forth to each other, conversing in a language as old as time. They paw and crunch through the snow just out of range of approaching headlights. On moonlit nights I can spot them weaving around the trees near the building, a ghostly apparition that begs me to leave my confines and join them. Unobservable to the casual traveler and yet so close, it is our little secret, the elk and I.
During the worst days of our long winters, the elk congregate on the property to escape the heavy snows of the high country. Skiers on their way to Aspen, most of them apparently from elkless places, slam on their brakes and leave the highway. They can’t believe their eyes. They shower me with questions. Is that an elk? How many are there? Where did they go? How long will they be here? They want to see the elk, and they want to see them very badly. They need to see them. Why are the elk here, they ask? I do not know the answer to that last one, but I am glad they asked. That is the million dollar question, after all.
I want to grant the them access, because I love the fact that they are so completely enthralled with an animal that I love too. Instead, I must say no, and turn them away. It is that private property thing again, rising to rear its ugly head. The elk are standing on private property, I explain. It is a private subdivision and a private club. The message is clear. They are “our elk”, not yours. They may wander about on public land most of the year, but they are “our elk” now. They are not for you. I cannot let you past. I cannot accommodate your request.
Most of the time they look past me and through me as if I’m not there, eager for another elk sighting. They plead and they reason, hoping to gain some toehold to hang on to and work a crack to break my resolve. They cannot believe I am blocking their way, incredulous at my lack of compassion and understanding regarding their need. I stand uninvolved, professional, resolute. They do not know that I wish for them to see them too. I cannot let them see the inner workings of my conflicted mind. If I only could…If they only knew…
The west is not the west that I came to 35 years ago. More populated, yes, but different in ways apart from the addition of people. Attitudes have changed. Colorado has become more and more like…other places. It has never ceased to amaze me how people come here to escape the problems of the place they have come from – and then promptly try to change the new place back into the old place they just worked so hard to escape. Too often our stunning views become valued most for the picture through the picture window in the great room of the palatial house on the new hobby ranch estate.
Here, as in many areas throughout the west, the trophy houses perch like sentinels above the river, on guard against the boatman who pass on the public waters below. In Colorado only the navigable and flowing water is public; the river bottoms and shorelines are private. May the heavens part and jagged thunderbolts smite the poor, unwashed soul who touches the river bottom with the metal of boat or anchor, or wader covered foot. They are watching, and the fish policemen are but a moment away. I should know. I am one.
The fish, of course, belong to the public. The finny creatures are managed by people who work for a public wildlife management agency, which is funded with public funds, paid primarily by private citizens who purchase a public fishing license with their private dollars, which pays for the public fish managed by the public wildlife management agency. Yet, there seems to be some confusion over who owns the fish.
The private property proclamations and numerous no trespassing signs are placed strategically and obviously to remind the boatmen not to stop. The signs imply the desired message. You may pass but do not enter. Wet your lines and be on your way. The area is designated as catch and release, the sign says, so put our fish back too. Like the elk, and the eagle, they are “our fish”, and not for you. I blissfully fished on these river banks many, many times over the years, with the eagles over my shoulders. There were no signs or houses then. I quit fishing here, a lifetime ago. Somehow all of the joy has long since been squeezed out of these troubled waters.
I like my job well enough. Like many people I have too many bills to pay, a mortgage to service, and promises to keep. I must work, but the duty does not particularly suit me. I struggle with my inner wranglings, and find it difficult to relate to people on equal or near equal terms, in an effort to provide what they need. Mind reading and the decoding of a person’s unspoken and true desire is not one of my strong suits. Oh how I wish that it was.
On the other hand, my desire is clear. I would prefer to be glued to a hot track, or directly connected to a pulsating and surging fish. I want to be the eagle, to fly away, circling ever upward and screaming fiercely in a bold, blue sky. I do my best to smile. No one has ever asked my opinion about anything substantial. In the end, I am a glorified Walmart Greeter, waving contentedly like a trained and tethered circus monkey, guarding a lifestyle at my back that I could never attain financially, but would never chose if I could.
To be fair, many of the residents love the elk and respect and cherish the gift of wildlife around them. They wish to help much more than harm. Most of the rest are nice enough. Some of the others, not so much. Some of the not so nice have long since moved away. Selling out, they were eager to move on to the next better place and conquer new-found worlds. Godspeed. I wish them well.Still, innocents abound. Only recently, a woman stopped to talk to me on a chilly and uneventful evening. She wanted to tell me her story of a deer, closely reliving it as she spoke. It was standing on her drive as she left the house, passing very close to her driver side window as she drove away.
Se had my undivided attention, as I am happy to talk deer. I was happy that she was happy to talk about a deer. She was captured by the sight, describing the encounter with wide-eyed animation. Then she exclaimed, “scarrreeeeey!”. Scary, I thought. You were scared….of a deer. A pie eyed yearling doe, harmlessly chewing grass and ready to bound away at the slightest provocation. Did I hear correctly?
I stood speechless and dumbfounded, and I am sure it read on my face, though I tried to hide it. What could I say to this nice lady? How could I respond in a manner that would make any sense? My mind could not work fast enough to process the statement or understand all of its pregnant ramifications. We were two ships passing in the middle of the impenetrable black night, and our cargoes could not be interchanged at sea. I had no frame of reference to draw from, no common ground to reach for, nor stable platform to commiserate from. I could only offer a curious smile, left to cock my head, and ponder how anyone could be so tragically out of touch from the natural world.
It reminds me of a similar story, from a similar place, told to me several years ago by a security guard who had manned his lonely outpost for more than a decade. The gated community was unfenced and surrounded by tens of thousands of brush and forest and home to a variety of rocky mountain wildlife. The entry gate was not a security gate at all, consisting of one bar which could be raised or lowered by the guard. He told of a homeowner who called late one night to inquire if he had perhaps had a sighting on her cat, which had been missing for several days. He jotted down the information for his report, doing his best professional security guard imitation. Trying to help, he sadly and patiently informed her that, since the cat had been missing for an extended period of time, she might want to consider the possibility that the cat had been captured and killed by one of the area’s many coyotes. She grew quiet on the other end of the phone line, than disconnected. The guard felt bad that he had been the one to broach the subject of bad news.
A short time later, the woman called back to yell and scream expletives, and then added “How dare you let that coyote through the gate”. She demanded the phone number of his supervisor, which he promptly passed along without additional comment, not wishing to add any additional flame to the fire. He never forgot about the incident though, and laughed gleefully as he told it, still not quite believing himself that it was true.
He said he wished he had told her that he would now be sure to interrogate all coyotes arriving at the gate. By the way, this is the same man who tracked Ted Bundy, a noted serial killer, through the snow at night after he had escaped from the county courthouse in Aspen, but that’s another story.
Coyotes are bad actors as far as many people are concerned. They receive a lot of press in our neck of the woods, most of it not favorable to the coyote. Not long ago our security office received a complaint. A coyote had grabbed a small dog from an unfenced yard in full view of the owner. There was nothing they could do. The dog was not seen again, and it was a traumatizing occurence for all concerned, particularly the dog. apparently, there had been a report of a suspicious coyote submitted the previous month. The homeowner wanted to know why the security staff had not been on top of the situation. Why had we not done more to prevent the incident? Why, indeed? It was just being a coyote, and doing what a coyote does.
It can be said that gated communities have complex and conflicting issues all their own, mostly because they lack exactly what is most obviously missing – community, and the comforts and security of it. People often become isolated, separate, and disconnected from each other. Money only magnifies the distance between them and it cannot save you from yourself. A pile of currency may humor the fantasies and massage the ego, but in the end the burdens of wealth may make real things worse.
You cannot contain nor confine the natural world, no more than you can hold it out. You can try to hold her at bay and at arm’s length, but in the end fences and guards cannot accomplish the desired effect and will only delay the inevitable. Humans can deny their interconnectedness to nature, but that does not make it true.
I think about these things while on patrol. I can not help it. Perhaps I think too much, and read too much meaning into circumstance. I see a vacant lots with elk standing on them, and think about the homeowner who sent in a photographer to take a picture of his property. He thought it would be a great selling point to pass around to prospective buyers. I wonder if he had considered that once sold, and house built, there would be no room left for the elk to stand. I drive about, stop to rattle doorknobs, check windows, look for coyotes and other suspicious characters. What do I say when I find one? Will they listen? What would they like to tell me?
I wonder what other people see and why they see it. They see elk tracks on expensive turf, ripping away and tearing at their summer fun. They see elk chewing on expensive trees and ornamental shrubbery. They see a sales pitch, a paragraph and photos in a glossy brochure in a carefully crafted promotional campaign. They see a nuisance, or an asset, depending on the need. They see competition, and not cooperation. They see profit, but only for themselves. Elk are something they own and can do with what they choose.
I see an animal having more and more trouble finding solid ground on which to live. I see an animal searching for the critical winter range of a valley floor, wondering where it has gone. I see a field where tall grass once waved in the wind, now smothered over with choking and lifeless asphalt. I see an animal staring at a tall wire fence near the shoulder of a busy highway, dodging cars and trying to find a way to put its nose in the river for a drink of water.
In my mind’s eye I see a mystical creature walking in a frost covered autumn meadow. I see young elk calves frolicking and playing tag on the green grass of summer, some with light spots on their skin. I see hunting camps and friends, animated and laughing. I see tired men sweating under heavy loads of meat and horn, winded and worn out from a hard day, but energized. I see steaks sputtering on a hot aspen fire, with good, smoky whiskey and cold, clear, creek water to wash it down. I see a young boy, now a man, describing his first kill while beaming with a grin so wide that it fills the sky. I see a father standing behind a boy who is so proud that he can not speak, but says it all with one look. I see more than I can comprehend. I do not have the words. I see way too much, and maybe not nearly enough.
Some time ago I walked around to the back of an empty, imposing house and came upon the sight of elk tracks on the concrete patio and walkways of a protected, hidden yard. Tall evergreen trees surrounded us like a natural cathedral. It had just snowed, and the tracks stood out like a beacon in the dazzling sun.
The sight stopped me quite dead in my stride. It was as if I had walked squarely into the solid concrete walls of some plainly obvious yet unseen building, as a great hand with extended finger descended from heaven to point them out in quivering disgust.
Kneeling in the snow by a gleaming steel barbecue, I felt light-headed and unsure. The earth moved beneath me as I did my best to control my revulsion and rising anger. Why the full force of it hit me so hard that day and at that particular moment I do not know. But it was real, and it was painful.
There is something terribly striking about the placement of elk tracks on concrete. It is an assault on the sensibilities of common sense and a great festering wound upon all that is spirited and free. It screams of wrongness and wrong-headedness, and of cleverness driven past it’s acceptable limit. The tracks document a trail of horrible mistakes and destructive paths. It is a unconscionable sacrilege.
No man should have to witness it, nor bear it. No man should have to try. The snow will melt and the tracks will disappear, leaving behind them only the promise of what might have been. I can read meaning into most kinds of animal tracks, but no matter how hard I may try I can find no sign on the cruel and heartless soul of concrete walks and driveways. I am, and have always been, a hunter. I must have fresh tracks to follow.
At that moment I see through other eyes, from some other time. A hint of memory flashes and reveals this place as it looked long, long ago. I see the ancestors there, huddled in the mist beneath heavy robes of fur, watching, waiting. I see their spears and primitive weapons, eager to sink their sharpness into hide and flesh. I feel their footfalls and their labored breath heaving in their chest. I feel the spear’s blade upon my hand, at the razor’s edge of all things. They are but a heartbeat away. They walk upon sacred ground and I can see no concrete under their feet. They may wish to look you squarely in the eye and disagree with your opinion as to owns this place. They told me so themselves.
This I know. The earth is the most patient of all living beings. She measures time in a fashion quite incomprehensible to our limited and mortal minds. The putting greens of the once great golf course will soon vanish into the recovering landscape, reverting to more normal flora and natural grasses as tall as a man. The houses will fare badly in the coming storm and other elements, and will eventually succumb to leak and decay as they list and slide to their knees upon the welcoming ground. Even the unforgiving concrete will crack and crumble, to be pounded into sand by the hooves of countless four leggeds, then carried away effortlessly by the healing winds. The land cannot and will not be owned, only borrowed for a brief moment along with the nurturing grace of god.
We do not own the elk, the eagle or the fish. Left to their own devices, they will remain here long after we are gone. Yet, if we are not careful they will disappear on our watch, to die the death of a thousand cuts and little insults. Our race will leave behind only the foul memories of a petulant child. Our legacy will be defined by the actions of disrespectful tourists, scratching impetuously and carelessly atop an improbable blue ball as it hurdles and spins through the limitless universe. How can we be so unaware of the magic at our feet?
Mother Earth asks only that we treat her with reverence and respect, and she is happy to provide all that we need in return. “It’s not to late”, she whispers. Can you hear her? Her heart is our heart. It is our choice.
Either way, life on this planet will continue in one form or another, with or without the puzzling, and sometimes troubling beast, called human. I will follow her track until then.
“one of the best aspects of our community is that we have the freedom to control access” (anonymous homeowner). Categorized under the ever more popular category – “You can’t make this stuff up!’.
“You live in a place full of light bulbs and chrome and rare fillets and box top contests. But when you die, you die in a place of mountains and sky, earth and fire, stars and the sea.” – John D. MacDonald, All These Condemned.
*This unique collection of new nature essays forthrightly addresses the environmental conditions and concerns of the 1990s. The contributors include an anthropologist, a filmmaker, and several novelists and fly fishermen and women as well as established nature writers like Wendell Berry, Gary Nabhan, and Bill McKibben. Subjects range from hiking in Alaska to viniculture in France, and the tone and style vary from the Swiftian satire of Robert F. Jones to John Murray’s personal meditation and Wendell Berry’s passionate biblical rhetoric. Yet these diverse essays are bound by a single theme summed up succinctly by Mary Katherine Bateson: “Ethics follow efficacy.” Because we humans have become so many and so powerful, we must become environmentally responsible; we must reform our greedy, exploitative relationship to the natural world and learn to share the planet’s wealth with other species and future generations. – Joan S. Elbers
Love him, or not, old news or not, can the prosecution and subsequent guilty plea of Ted Nugent for illegally taking a bear in Alaska in 2009 be considered fair, or just? Looking back, has anything changed, for the better, or worse, as a result of that fact?
Watch this video, in Ted Nugent’s own words, and you be the judge.
I, for one, say absolutely, not…I would also add that it’s not only about Ted. It’s about you, and us, and outdoorsmen everywhere. In the end, it is an underhanded backdoor attack on personal liberty and the fulfillment of our hunting heritage by an unelected and vindictive administrative state.
Shame on them!
How would you feel if this had happened to you on your long dreamed of, and expensive, hunting trip? Are you prepared to punch your tag and go home, should your arrow cut the hair of a bear – a hit that obviously has done no mortal or permanent damage? *Would you think it equitable to lose your hunting privileges in the United States and Canada for a number of years because you continued to hunt out your trip.
It’s certainly getting to the point where one must consider long and hard before ever loosing a shaft, or sending a well aimed bullet downrange. Obviously, that has always been the case if you are a thoughtful and ethical hunter. Yet, the consequences of a poor hit on a game animal are more serious than ever.
Could a law as illogical and dangerous as this come to my state of Colorado, for example, or the state in which you live?
Perhaps it already has. If you doubt that, you might want to take a long look at the regulations associated with the legal constructs of “Failure To Pursue”, “Dead-head and Shed Hunting Laws”, “Illegal Possession of a Big Game Animal”, and “Donation of Game Meat”, to name just a few. I can assure you that it will be an eye opening experience.
You might also ask yourself when the agencies of power, and the people within them, initially wrote, or rewrote, the laws in question. Do they really work in the field, in the real world…our hunter’s world? I am a biologist who has bowhunted for fifty years, and no lawmaker ever asked me for my opinion. And apparently I did not get the memo on the true meanings of the updated regulations, either. You?
And while we are at it, have you ever considered the subject of who really owns the wildlife of the realms? It would seem such an easy question to answer, particularly if you are a private land owner. Again, I can assure you that the answer may surprise you, though that is a topic for another time.
So, be careful out there! Know that your actions can and will always be scrutinized, for better or worse, by yourself, the hunting community, the non-hunting public, and the courts.
And don’t forget to study the latest round of game law regulations, no matter how voluminous, or confusing, they may be…
I have recently been accused of “beating a dead horse with a dead camel” for revisiting the trouble with Ted. Maybe that’s true, but this type of insufferable, bureaucratic harassment is an issue that is very much alive for me.
Because I hunt. A lot…and I would like to continue to do so until I can hunt no more. It would be nice to do so without constant threat of fine and penalty for violating some new, obscure, and poorly written regulation that has no grounding in common sense or sound wildlife management.
One thing is also clear. It’s also about time to stand up and be counted, as my pioneering, bowhunting father used to say. I can still hear him now – everyday!
*The Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (IWVC) is a United States interstate compact (an agreement among participating states) to provide reciprocal sharing of information regarding sportsman fishing, hunting, and trapping violations and allows for recognition of suspension or revocation of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses and permits in other member states resulting from violations concerning hunting, fishing and trapping laws in order to prevent poaching across state lines.
Illegal activities in one state can thus affect a person’s hunting or fishing privileges in all member states. The IWVC obligates members to report wildlife violation convictions to Compact members, gives the members the capability to honor each other’s suspensions, and provides the method to exchange violator data between member states. A conviction in one Compact member state may cause them to be barred from participating in hunting, fishing, and trapping in all member states, at the discretion of each state.
Below is Ted Nugent’s full statement regarding his guilty plea on Tuesday in Alaska of illegally killing a bear. It’s entitled “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
“Not a day goes by where an American outdoorsmen doesn’t confide in me that due to the increasingly complex, illogical hunting and fishing regulations across the nation, that it would not surprise them that they have unintentionally violated a game law at some point in time. Other outdoorsmen routinely express their frustration about regulations that serve no purpose and cannot possibly be explained in terms of wildlife management.
“America is increasingly drowning in just such strange, goofy regulations and requirements. As logic crusader John Stossel recently exposed, our federal government releases roughly 80,000 pages of new regulations each year, confusing, ambiguous, weird illogical regulations that serve no meaningful purpose other than to feebly attempt to justify bureaucracies already off the rails. It’s way past bizarre.
“The ‘you don’t need to read it, you just need to sign it’ health care bill argued before the Supreme Court was almost 2,000 pages long of extraordinarily complex rules and regulations. Sarcastically, Supreme Court Justice Scalia stated that reading the bill was a violation of the 8th Amendment’s (protection against) cruel and unusual punishment clause.
“Regrettably, state hunting regulations have also been ravaged by the over-regulation beast. In Alaska, the hunting regulation book is 128 pages long. Alaska trapping regulation is 48 pages.
“Alaska is not alone. Numerous other states have seen incredible expansion of their hunting regulations over the past few decades. In Texas, the summary of hunting and fishing regulations is 85 pages. The hunting regulations in California are roughly 140 pages long.
“Even with an increasing mountain of often confusing and complex hunting and fishing regulations to abide by, sportsmen have a legal and ethical obligation to know and abide by these regulations, no matter how goofy they may be. I have said this for decades and will continue to do so as we fight to make them sensible.
“I have hunted in Alaska for almost 40 years. It is a spectacular, beautiful place that offers incredible big and small game hunting cherished by sporters from around the globe.
“In 2009, I returned again with my sons to Alaska to hunt black bear. What I was unaware of is that the specific region where I hunted had a new and unprecedented requirement that a bear hunting tag was considered to be “filled” even with a non-lethal hit on the animal. For sixty years, every “tag” regulation in every state and Canadian province has declared that you tag the animal upon taking possession of the animal.
“The first arrow I shot on that hunt was obviously a non-lethal shot where the arrow literally glanced off the animal’s rib, as seen clearly on stop action video. The bear leapt, stopped, looked around, and slowly ambled off, confused but unhurt by the disruption. After diligent effort by my son and I, we were convinced that this bear was alive and well. We then continued our hunt and ultimately killed a beautiful black bear.
“I filmed the entire hunt including the first non-lethal arrow and put it on my television program Spirit of the Wild on Outdoor Channel for tens of millions of viewers to witness. Airing the hunt on television proves beyond all doubt that I had no willful intention to violate any hunting regulation.
“Was I negligent in not knowing the Alaska bear hunting rule for the specific region I hunted that year? Absolutely. For my negligence, I have been charged with a violation and I plead guilty. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person ever charged with violating this new, unheard of law. Lifetime AK hunters, guides, outfitters, even the resident judge at my hearing were unaware of such an unprecedented regulation.
“While I disagree with Alaska’s requirement that a tag is considered to be “filled” even on a non-lethal hit, that was the requirement at the time of my hunt. Had I known of that requirement, I would not have hunted that region because I fundamentally disagree with it, and I certainly would not have hunted another bear.
“I have promoted the grand, honorable hunting lifestyle all of my life and will continue to do so. Hunting, fishing and trapping are the epitome of true conservation.
“What I also pledge to American outdoorsmen is to work to repeal onerous, unscientific, counterproductive rules and regulations that make no sense such as the seven states where hunting is banned on Sunday, making 50% of the season illegal for the average hunting families in those states. Idiotic laws such as these are a hindrance to real conservation and the critical need for recruiting new hunters. Such arbitrary laws serve no scientific purpose that benefits the management of wildlife value whatsoever.
“The outdoor lifestyle cannot be preserved for future generations of sportsmen by constructing such a labyrinth of confusing, unscientific and oftentimes counterproductive regulations and rules. Reversing this trend is my focus.
“While I have never intentionally violated a hunting regulation, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and I am truly sorry, and have paid dearly. There is even less of an excuse for ignorant laws.”
“One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am –a reluctant enthusiast…a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still there. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards”.– Edward Abbey
*I recently became a member of Hunter Nation, and just received this welcome letter in my inbox. Like many things, it’s all about the message, and I could not agree more with the sentiments expressed so passionately to us all.
I thought that you might like to read it too:
Messages from Mark
Mark DeYoung, Hunter Nation CEO
Support of All Legal Hunting Methods
Hunter Nation supports all hunting and all methods of legally harvesting game. At a time when hunting is misunderstood and under attack around the world, we as hunters cannot continue to fight amongst ourselves. Hunters are a proud and usually self-reliant set of individuals. Some of us enjoy bow hunting, others long-range hunting, some prefer the challenges of a muzzleloader, while others are all about shotguns. Some hunt whitetail deer, some hunt elk, and still others are driven by the quest for mule deer or a variety of wild sheep species. Then there are the bird hunters who pursue turkey, pheasants, waterfowl, quail, dove and more. All too often these different pursuits are compared to each other in a kind of competition about the difficulty or which hunt takes more skill. Does it really matter what our game of choice is or how we hunt? Isn’t it much more important that we all come together as a united band of hunters dedicated to protecting and preserving our right to hunt? Shouldn’t ALL hunters stand as one and support each other in defending ALL legal and ethical hunting?
Our national hunting community is also divided into organizations dedicated to a species, a region, a method of hunting, etc. These self-imposed divisions can weaken our overall influence and the strength of our voice as hunters. Various conservation and hunting organizations are important, and they are focused on doing good work for their constituents and the species they are focused on supporting. Hunter Nation applauds their efforts, accomplishments, and commitments. Hunter Nation also realizes that unless hunters and conservation organizations come together and form a broad coalition we risk being overwhelmed by the powerful and well-funded anti-hunting community. Hunter numbers continue to decline, and hunting continues to suffer from attacks by the more organized and more influential animal rights and environmental groups. Sadly, we even have hunting groups that fight against proven conservation techniques, multi-use public lands, and traditional hunting methods.
Here at Hunter Nation, we are committed to helping create a more influential and powerful voice for all hunters. We appreciate and value the traditional hunting heritage of this great nation and believe that action is required NOW to ensure hunting’s future. We are working to support the delisting of wolves and return all predator management decisions to state agencies who are best able to manage their herds and flocks. We are working to educate hunters and legislators across the country on the benefits of hunting as a key conservation tool. We are working to form partnerships and build coalitions to enhance the influence of hunters in both state and national level legislative processes.
We encourage you to get engaged in hunting-related issues, speak up for hunting and our traditional way of life, and get educated on the threats and opportunities facing hunting and hunters. Hunters must stand united and proud in our commitment to God, Family, Country, Conservation and Hunting.
As you enter the woods, plains, and wetlands in pursuit of game this fall we wish you safety, luck and success, whether that means harvesting an animal or just enjoy the hunt with friends and family.
Thank you for being a member of Hunter Nation. Together we can win the fight to preserve and protect our hunting heritage.
“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher “standard of living” is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech”. – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
“If they keep exposing you to education, you might even realize some day that man becomes immortal only in what he writes on paper, or hacks into rock, or slabbers onto a canvas, or pulls out of a piano”. – Robert Ruark
“The Poet is the kinsman in the clouds, who scoffs at archers, loves a stormy day;
But on the ground, among the hooting crowds, he cannot walk, his wings are in the way.”
Sportsmen argue EPA ignored sound science, prioritized advancement of Pebble mine over fishing industry.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited CEO, (571) 274-0601
Nelli Williams, Trout Unlimited Alaska program director, (907) 230-7121
ANCHORAGE, AK – Trout Unlimited, represented pro bono by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its recent decision to withdraw protections for the Bristol Bay region of Alaska. Called the Bristol Bay Proposed Determination, the protections would have limited the scope and scale of impacts from the proposed Pebble mine to the world-class salmon, trout and water resources of the region.
“The practical effect of the EPA’s decision was to help out a mine that would devastate a fishing and hunting paradise,” said John Holman, who grew up in the area and is a second-generation owner of No See Um Lodge, a Trout Unlimited member business. “I cannot in good faith pass a business down to my family that will become a financial burden if the Pebble mine is built. Who does our government work for? This decision made it seem like the EPA and our elected officials are writing off thousands of American jobs, and businesses like mine so a foreign mining company can obliterate the land I depend on, then walk away.”
Trout Unlimited’s lawsuit alleges the EPA ignored science and the potential impacts of developing the mine when it withdrew the Bristol Bay Proposed Determination, and in doing so violated the Administrative Procedures Act and Clean Water Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot issue a permit to Pebble if the EPA’s decision on the Bristol Bay Proposed Determination is overturned.
“Billions of dollars have been spent in attempt to restore salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, Bristol Bay sets records for its salmon returns year after year. All we need to do is have the humility and common-sense to leave this landscape alone,” said Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Sacrificing a place as such as Bristol Bay for some gold is a short-sighted fools-errand. We are not a litigious organization, but we and millions of other sportsmen and women will not allow greed to compromise the most important salmon fishery on the planet.”
The Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska supports the world’s most abundant sockeye salmon run, Alaska’s best Chinook salmon run, and a world-famous trophy rainbow trout fishery. These fisheries are the foundation for a robust sportfishing industry, a rich cultural history and subsistence way of life supporting more than 30 Alaska Native Tribes, and a valuable commercial fishing industry. Bristol Bay fishing—including sport, commercial and subsistence—accounts for thousands of sustainable local jobs and more than $1.5 billion in annual economic activity.
Citing this unique and wild character, and the economic and cultural importance of the region, the EPA prepared the Bristol Bay Proposed Determination after years of scientific research and multiple peer reviews, with many thousands of Alaskans and millions of Americans voicing support for protecting the region.
“Any action that jeopardizes this fishery and extremely unique place is unacceptable,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “The proposed Pebble mine is widely opposed by anglers and hunters across Alaska and the country. This lawsuit is a step to hold the EPA accountable to their own science and American sportsmen and women, not a foreign-owned mining company.”
“Look at what’s at stake and the maddening progress Pebble is making here at our expense,” said Nanci Morris Lyon, local resident and owner of Bear Trail Lodge, a Trout Unlimited member business. “Contrary to science, the will of the people, and common sense, Pebble is advancing toward their key permit, thanks in part to agencies giving them handouts. This lawsuit calls that out. We can’t afford Pebble in Bristol Bay, and that means we need science, oversight, integrity and persistence.”
“Removing the Proposed Determination was one of the most poorly justified decisions in the history of the Clean Water Act and is an affront to the fisheries, local communities, and sportsmen and women around the world,” said Wood.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. In Alaska we have worked in the Bristol Bay region for almost two decades along with thousands of members and supporters including dozens of businesses that depend on the fishery of the region. Follow TU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation. For more information on the Save Bristol Bay campaign go to SaveBristolBay.org.
Major overhaul of state, federal hunting regulations to simplify rules to address safety and wildlife management is essential…Hunting and fishing regulations should be as simple as possible, Nugent writes.
Recruit, retain, reactivate is known as the 3R battle cry for the future of conservation in America. With the tragic (and what I believe to be the self-inflicted) decline in hunter numbers across the country over the years, if those of us who truly cherish this extraordinary American conservation heritage and vital lifestyle fail to step up and get cracking to reverse this scourge like we mean it, believe me when I tell you, all is lost.
We know all about the dramatic change in the geographical population drift from rural to urban. We all know about the intentional dumbing-down of America by left-wing dingbats in academia, media, Hollywood and government to deny the necessity of annual hunting season harvests.
It is painfully apparent that certain technological advances in the world have attracted more and more sedentary homebodies to avoid the great outdoors.
There are many dynamics at play against us here, but I am convinced that with a genuine, united effort by those of us who care, these unacceptable, culturally suicidal trends can be reversed.
I recently wrapped up a cross-country musical tour where I met with an average of six to 20 (or more) hunting enthusiasts per night for 42 nights in 38 different cities.
Coupled with the last 50 years of doing the same for 6,756 concerts, I can assure you that I have met with and listened to more hunting families face to face and up close and personal, than maybe any human that has ever lived.
First and foremost on everyone’s mind are the mind-numbing volumes of nonsensical regulations that literally scare sporters en masse out of the sport. Would-be hunters are scared to death of getting busted for such ridiculous arbitrary rules as bow case and gun case laws.
It has been stated many, many times that the average state hunting and fishing regulation booklets are so voluminous and confusing, oftentimes illogically contradictory, that one would require a team of wildlife specialist lawyers to translate them for us.
And we would still get in trouble!
We all need to relentlessly hammer our elected employees and state and federal game departments to demand a major overhaul of state-by-state and federal hunting regulations to simplify the rules, which ought to address safety and wildlife management 101, and nothing else.
Hunting and fishing regulations should make the activities as attractive and simple as possible, and what works in one state should be the model for all states.
Wildlife biology does not change at some mysterious line between regions. Habitat and population dynamics, along with annual game counts should dictate harvest rates and policy. Period.
If you are sick and tired of bureaucrats wasting our hard-earned tax dollars hiring so called “sharpshooters” to kill our deer, bear, elk, cougars and wolves for us, start that essential, American, activist fire in your deer-hunting world to demand accountability and fairness in our sport.
The list of absurd rules and regulations ruining our sport across the country would take up an entire “Gone with the Wind” tome, and we all know what they are.
Fire up your fellow sporters to get engaged with the We-the-People, do-or-die political process. Do it now!
Visit us at HunterNation.org to unite and galvanize the most powerful voting force in America: the licensed hunting families of the United States.
Are you a wimp on the sidelines? Or are you a real American in that swirling dust in the arena?
Let’s get it on.
Michigan’s Ted Nugent is an award-winning musician and writer, with numerous best-seller books including “Ted, White and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto,” “God, Guns and Rock ’n’ Roll,” and “Kill It and Grill It.”
*And may I add, that I could not agree more, …and don’t get me started. You…?
MISSOULA, Mont.—A recent thinning treatment designed to enhance wildlife habitat in New Mexico marks the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 12,000th lifetime conservation project.
“This milestone is a credit to our volunteers, members, partners and all others who support our mission,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “Without them we simply could not do what we do to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.”
The project took place in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish on BLM-managed land approximately 120 miles southwest of Albuquerque. Crews used chainsaws to remove pinion and junipers encroaching into grasslands, meadows, canyon bottoms and established mature tree stands.
Such encroachment blocks the growth of diverse natural forage for elk, mule deer and other wildlife. It also triggers soil erosion and watershed impairment.
“The Pelona Mountain area is a region we are very familiar with,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “Dating back to 1994, RMEF worked with our partners to carry out 15 different projects there including thinning, prescribed burns and the construction and repair of wildlife water developments.”
The projects benefitted nearly 21,000 acres of wildlife habitat within Game Management Unit 16E, an area used for hunting and other recreational activities.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Founded 35 years ago, fueled by hunters and a membership of nearly 235,000 strong, RMEF has conserved more than 7.5 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org, elknetwork.com or 800-CALL ELK.
You can see the original press release, as well as a video Here.
To Cell Or Not To Cell, That Is The Question. Photo By Michael Patrick McCarty
Use them, or not. Love them, or not. Game trail cameras have revolutionized the way hunter’s hunt. It didn’t take long.
They can be extremely effective in pinpointing and patterning game, and they can provide visual insights into your hunting area that are not possible through other means. The results are often eye-opening; the entire process can be fascinating, and fun. Proper use can greatly increase the odds of success.
All things considered, it would be safe to say that game trail cameras, in one form or another, are here to stay.
The fairly recent advent of “Wireless” or “Live Action Cameras”, on the other hand, present an entirely new set of considerations, both practical, and ethical. It may take some serious contemplation to sort them all out.
Standard trail cameras collect and store images on a SD, or Secure Digital Card, which requires a periodic visit to the camera location to retrieve or download the images on the card.
Wireless technologies allow for the transmission of images from single or multiple cameras directly to a cell phone or computer in real time , without the necessity of a physical visit. It is also now possible to create a wireless mesh network consisting of multiple trail cameras, which can then transmit their images to a single SD card on a “Home Camera”. This allows a hunter to source all images from a single collection point, rather than visiting each camera location over an area of several square miles.
Ethical considerations aside, and tabling the issue of Drones, for now, Wireless Cameras can provide real “on the ground” benefits. Once installed, the system greatly reduces the number of intrusions into an animal’s home range, and perhaps most importantly, the disturbing presence of human sound, or scent.
Fish and Game regulations are unique to each state across the country, and each can choose to address, or not address, the issue of Standard and “Live Action” game cameras as they see fit. It does appear that some states have been slow to react, though, in some cases, it may be that available technology has moved so fast that the appropriate agencies have simply not had time to catch up.
Wherever you hunt, the first question you might wish to ask of those who know is: Are trail cameras, particularly “Camera to cell phone, or computer capable” cameras, legal? The answer may be more complicated, and confusing, than you might think.
A quick look at the regulations for my state, found in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2019 Big Game Brochure, for example, lists under Illegal Activities, #4, page 14:
“It is illegal to …Use the Internet or other computer-assisted remote technology while hunting or fishing. This includes unmanned or remote-control drones used to look for wildlife. Hunters and anglers must be physically present in the immediate vicinity while hunting and fishing”.
Clear as mud, right?
A call to the headquarters of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Office left me even more bewildered, after a customer service representative informed me that live action cameras were legal except during the hunting seasons, when all cameras must be removed.
Truth is, rules governing the use of all game trail cameras in Colorado can be found in The Code of Colorado Regulations, Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The issue is specifically addressed in Chapter W-O-General Provisions 2CCR 406-0; Article IV – Manner of Taking Wildlife, #004 – Aids In Taking Wildlife; Section 3, Other Aids; Section E., Live-Action Game Cameras.
““Live-Action Game Camera” means any device capable of recording and transmitting photographic or video data wirelessly to a remote device, such as a computer or smart phone. “Live-action game camera” does not include game cameras that merely record photographic or video data and store such data for later use, as long as the device cannot transmit data wirelessly.”
It also states:
“No person shall use a live-action camera to locate, surveil, or aid or assist in any attempt to locate or surveil any game wildlife for the purpose of taking or attempting to take said wildlife during the same day or following day.”
The question is, what exactly does all of that mean?
For one thing, it is clear that the use of standard trail cameras are legal throughout the year, including the hunting seasons, because the device stores images on a SD card and does not transmit data wirelessly.
That all changes when the camera can transmit data wirelessly. Surprisingly, (at least to me) this also applies to the use of a mesh network of cameras that tie in to a home camera with a SD Card. Even though the images on this type of network are not transmitted to a cell phone or computer, the network cameras collect and compile their images and then send their data to the home camera and it’s SD Card “wirelessly”, and therefore would be subject to the “same day or following day” provision.
With this being said, it is obvious that a “live action” camera can be used during the hunting season in Colorado. It would then be the timing of the hunt, after the receipt of downloaded, or collected images, that becomes the issue.
I have heard it said, for example, that one could not hunt for 48 hours after receiving an image of wildlife on your live action camera. At first look that reads about right, but actually… no.
The regulation states that you could not take or attempt to take wildlife during the same day or following day, which means that depending on the timing, could be much less than a 48 hour period.
For the sake of argument, let’s say, an animal could show up on your trail camera at one minute to midnight, which means that one could not hunt for the remaining minute of that day. A hunter would then need to wait out the next full day, and then could legally hunt the early morning of the day after that. In that scenario, one could hunt about 30 hours or so after the “surveillance” of game.
The timing of your hunt can also become tag specific, which means that you should be very aware of any “wildlife” that you may legally harvest with whatever tags you have in your pocket. “No person shall use a live-action camera to locate, surveil, or aid or assist in any attempt to locate or surveil any game wildlife for the purpose of taking or attempting to take said wildlife during the same day or following day” covers an amazing amount of unplanned contingencies.
Should you find yourself anxiously prepping to hunt a particular bull elk, for example, keep in mind that the waiting period required by the “same day or following day requirement” provision would change if a cow elk traveled by that same camera at a later hour, and you held an either sex elk tag. You might not, then, legally, be able to harvest that bull at that time.
I can easily think of several other potential conflicts with the regulations, but for now what I can simply say is that “gray areas” abound when it comes to the use of Live Action Game Cameras. The speculations, in fact, could go on forever, and possible infractions in the field may or not be easily defensible.
Perhaps in the end, my first contact at Colorado Parks and Wildlife was more right than he knew. At the very least it may not be a risk that you are willing to take, as game law violations have become an ever more serious matter.
Depending on your state regulations, it may in fact be much smarter to remove all wireless cameras from your hunting area during the hunting season. It would be far less confusing, and much more preferable than the possibility of staring directly into the investigative barrel of the courts and justice system.
We shall save a look at the ethical considerations…for another time!