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Universal Sound

By Tyler Ross

” I focus on my breathin’ and the universal sound
I let it take me over from the toenails to the crown
Of the body that I’m in till they put me in the ground
And I return to the chorus of the universal sound….

I’ve been up on the mountain
And I’ve seen His wondrous grace
I’ve sat there on a barstool and I’ve looked him in the face
He seemed a little haggard, but it did not slow him down
He was hummin’ to the neon of the universal sound…”

Every year at this time, it seems there is something spiritual happening. From migrations with butterflies and birds to the start of the bugling of the Elk, to the first glimpse of a leaf beginning its journey back to the ground. Its something that I long for and want to hold on to every single year.

As I write this, I am reflecting on what all I have been privileged to experience and see over the past few weeks. See, for my job I have to do some training’s and then some more training’s and then even more. Its “gubment” life and is what it is. A few weeks ago I went through a technical training that focused on Soil Health. The science that we have observed shows us the benefits of viewing the soil as a functioning ecosystem and how when we focus on it, how well it sustains the new life of plants and other biota that we as humans rely on. A really cool thing to learn about and even cooler to see implemented. Ill nerd out on Soil Health later.

But the training that I had that shook me the most was about how we work with other communities and user groups with my job and my federal counterparts work. The training I went with was focusing on the Native Tribes and their people here in our country. I was privileged to meet some awesome folks who are tribal members of different tribes across our nation, as the facilitated and instructed the class. From their history to their culture to their stories I was hooked. But the part that I could not get enough of was when they spoke of their faith. See, we have such a odd view on that in the world we live in. Faith has been perverted and twisted into a bad word and viewed as oppressive by a large majority of the population. But with the people and communities I learned about last week, it is a part of their day to day and even hour to hour. I wont delve into many of their beliefs because it is a privilege that is given by each tribes elders on what can be shared to folks outside of the community. Not in a “us vs them” or “outsider” sense, but more of a respect of the integrity of their people.

One thing I will talk about is how many of the tribes speak of Creator and the charge that was given to them for how they interact on the landscape and with each other. Its primal and a feeling that you feel to your core. The feeling that you get when you look at a creek bottom after the leaves have fallen and the deer trails are popping. The feeling you get when you are on a ridge looking over Creation. The feeling you get when you hear a turkey fire off with a gobble that shakes not only the hills, but your being. The feeling that starts stirring and keeping us up at night, or causing us to stare out the window as we begin to prepare to participate. That feeling comes from the same place and may even be the same thing as when you are with the one you love. Hear your childs first laugh, and even their first cry. The feeling you get when you are with your tribe and your people. The feeling I felt when I watched a Godly woman raise her hands in joy while tears streamed down her face praising God for the good news of a premature baby being alive and well. The same feeling one gets when they have to let a love one pass and think of the times with them. I cant help but think it is a primal connection we all share.

That same feeling is currently pulsing from my heart through my fingertips as I write this. See, in a few hours, I will climb into the back seat of a Suburban and head West with 3 of my best friends; 3 of my brothers. We started the planning for this awhile ago and as the day draws near to where it is actually about to happen, that primal feeling of love, anticipation, excitement, some anxiety and some others is radiating throughout me. I cant contain my excitement. I cant relinquish my nerves. I am getting ready to go and interact on the Creators handiwork. Its time. Its happening across the land. Man, I wish I could bottle this up.

As we head out, I cant help but think if those who came before and those who will follow behind. I hope those that follow keep this flame burning. I also hope that I can honor those who came before. The best way I know to honor an icon and innovator from our community that just passed is to do my part to make sure that 4 Kuiu Icon Pro 5200s are hauling Elk out of a canyon. Rest easy Mr. Hairston.

I hope you all have a great start to your season and have the time and ability to light that flame in someone else.

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The 21st Century Conservationist Approach

By: Chad A. Rischar

Let’s go ahead and air out a singular issue that effects the 21st century conservation approach, the public is a fickle mistress. Working forward, we must accept that the public is hell-bent on recreational public outrage, most notably when the keyboard is involved. Let’s set aside the “fickle” aspect and come to terms with what appears to be constant reality- conservation values are often viewed in a negative perspective. Conservation values are quite subjective, so I’ll qualify my definition for the record. Conservation, as it relates to this post, is grounded in wanderlust, an educated framework of desired future outcome, and simply a mindset of a multi-generational vision of quality fish and wildlife habitat. If you didn’t experience wanderlust at a young age, I invite you to make room in your soul and schedule for the next chance to experience waderlust- if only for a weekend. Conservation is what you endow to achieve and the general plight to realize success for generations in the womb of time. Conservation should be considered a long-term approach to land stewardship, natural resource management, and equitable sustainability.

Conservation is just as simple as voting. Those that participate in the process are ultimately engaged in the final results. Sorting through random issues of politics often results in a sour palate. Such the same with conservation practices and values. The struggle is quite real and palatable. Let’s collectively overcome those hurdles, and move forward with an individualized approach to 21st century conservation values. Conservation is bi-partisan and should be accepted as an economic gain. No shortage of GDP and eco-tourism data to support the commentary. The economic value of the outdoor industry is a substantial and sustainable source of our gross domestic product. Don’t just take it from me, research the value of the outdoor industry from sources such as the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).

Why is conservation viewed in a seemingly negative light? It’s quite frustrating because it should be a copper grounded for folks engaged in the outdoor lifestyle. Not just hunting and angling, but stargazing, mountain biking, backpacking, and anyone who simply enjoys the North American Wildlife Conservation Model. If you enjoy vistas of glacier till mountains, longleaf pine flatwoods, or water scoured creeks- this concept of conservation resonates. I invite you to become engaged in the conservation movement and thread your personal needle of success. The majority of folks I spend time with enjoy their time in the field viewing natural landscapes, pursuing fish and game, recreational fitness challenges, and simply unwinding from the daily grind.

Education and awareness is undoubtedly the initial plunge to success. Choose a pathway of conservation wisely and a corridor that suits your personality. Research local non-governmental organizations, national conservation groups, and everything inside the pie of engagement. Set a personal goal to be a more informed and participate organizations that you believe add value to your thread and nodes of conservation. Consider stepping outside your comfort zone a touch and perhaps realize that you’ll dial in on your tribe of like-minded folks. If you’re not making an effort to conserve future access and outdoor opportunities, you’re basking in the principle of neutrality. We must all allocate the time and resources to progress the mutual gain of conservation values. If our society wishes to enjoy the pleasures of public lands and access to the capacity we do today, we must be proactive and vocalize our resounding message of conservation.

Self education and a focused awareness of conservation are valuable approaches to engaging with conservation values. Several noteworthy congressional acts are important to be aware of, especially as it relates to context of funding sources in the firearm, hunting, and angling sphere. The following congressional acts are commonly viewed as “ use knows”. The Land and Water Conservation Fund established by Congress in 1964 is a powerful program that provides substantial funding opportunities both locally and nationwide. The Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 is an 11% excise tax on firearms, archery equipment, and ammunition. The taxes generated are directed from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to the Secretary of the Interior and apportioned to States on a formula basis for paying up to 75 percent of the cost approved projects. The extensive list of successful projects and immense funding to support hunting, firearm safety courses, and land acquisition projects, etc. is vast and impressive. If the aquatic lifestyle resonates with your lifestyle, the Dingell-Johnson Act of 1950 provides Federal aid to the States for management and restoration of fish having “material value in connection with sport or recreation in the marine and/or fresh waters of the United States.” In addition, amendments to the Act provide funds to the states for aquatic education, wetlands restoration, boat safety and clean vessel sanitation devices (pumpouts), and a nontrailerable boat program. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Law Digest website maintains a digital and searchable catalogue for relatable Federal laws and acts.

Define and determine your conservation approach and spread the good word. I invite you to conduct your own research and become aware of national, state, and local policies that may affect your conservation values- both positively and negatively. Be mindful that supporting what you determine to be valuable conservation-relaated issues can often result in a more powerful outcome that recreational public outrage through social media outlets.

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896

I went on a run this morning. Nothing too crazy. Not a lot of miles done (3.4 miles) in a pretty sweet little town here in WNC called Weaverville. I grew up here and even though I didn’t have a Weaverville address for a long time, it’s part of my greater neighborhood, and was instrumental in the path I have found myself on.

As some of you may know, I have been participating in the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Hike to Hunt in addition to a training regime to prepare myself for my first western hunt on public land in the West (I know, fitness…. I promise you will be alright reading about it) in Idaho for elk this September. I have been primarily hiking weighted as well as doing some running on occasion. The primary point being that I do this on lands that are held in the public trust. I have logged miles on Pisgah and Nantahala, and State owned game lands and parks. This morning when I was stretching I checked my mileage for the challenge. I was at 97.35 miles. This run was going to get my 100 miles. In anticipation of that, I went to Weaverville and to Lake Louise.

I grew up going to Lake Louise for birthday parties, walking down to it while visiting my Papaw John and Aunt Rose, to wet a line on a lazy summer day, and also to get ready for a Yellowstone Backpacking Trip in my youth. If there was a GPS tracker that followed my upbringing, Lake Louise would be a frequent stop. A most recent treasured memory of mine that occurred on this little body of water happened last summer. We went to a birthday party celebrating a friend of ours youngest, and while we were there, we got to take the kids fishing. 5 kids ripping lips on some little bream and pan fish is one of the greatest things to witness. My best friend since the first grade helped my oldest bring in about 5 fish in a 10 minute time span. When it came time to cut the cake, we had to drag the kids away. The words to describe what I felt while watching that escape me. If I had the vocabulary of an accomplished author and editor, I think they would still allude the experience.

The Lake was a donation in 1936 from Louise Moore Hornady and her husband, to the town of Weaverville. The donation of land for public use is, in my opinion, one of the most selfless acts we can witness. When I get to the other side, I look forward to thanking Louise for her gift to WNC.

Another really cool thing about Lake Louise is the park that goes around it. Built in the early 1980s, this park has been a place for tons of swinging competitions, kid races, faster-down-the-slide tournaments, young love, heart breaks, celebrations and I am pretty sure it is heavily revered by the senior waterfowl feeding aficionado’s of the Southeast. But what’s really spectacular about this park is how it came to fruition. See, this park was not the product of some crazy tax by the county or town on the tax base. This park was not part of some referendum or bond. This park was made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, also known as the LWCF. I won’t delve into the history of the program but will yield to much smarter folks than I. This info can be found here from the good folks at the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Currently, there is a non-partisan (see, it’s a thing, that can happen) bill out to permanently reauthorize the LWCF sponsored by Maria Cantwell out of Washington and Richard Burr from my state, North Carolina. Currently S-896 has only been read twice and has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. I urge folks to contact their senators and other federally elected folks and ask them to fast track addressing the re authorization on LWCF, which is due to expire on September 30, 2018. Here is a list of projects from RMEF that were supported by LWCF.

If you do not have the time or the words to reach out to your elected folks, I encourage you to go here and use BHAs’ form, or edit it to your liking, to reach out to your representatives.

As always, get in the arena

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Backcountry Strutter… Part 2

Part 1 can be found here

I had bought my hammock the evening before at Wal-Mart, which was Mistake #2 .  We set up our hammocks up aways from the fire ring and started laying out the plans for the morning. Brandon talked about how it might be difficult to get up and get back to the spot we heard them fly up at. I laid down and put my fleece blanket over me. Mistakes 3 and 4  are together right here. I brought a fleece blanket, not a sleeping bag. Because I “didn’t wanna burn up” and guess what? I didn’t! I froze! It was 37 degrees that night with a nice crisp wind. And to add to it, I didn’t have any form of insulation between my back and the ground. Just the hammock. I laid on the hammock with nothing underneath me.

I tossed and turned and then got up to put ALL my clothes on. And then a lone whippoorwill noticed me. It decided I needed company, and began to talk to me. He had some buddies come over as well. It was 2 am and I was shivering and listening to a chorus of Whippoorwills as I tried to sleep. It did not work. After fighting it, I decided my wake up time would be at about 4 am. Sun still had some time to come up, heck, Brandon and Johnathan still had an hour so before they wanted to be up for breakfast. So I just walked around. I wasn’t happy. I was freezing. I had a newly found hatred for nocturnal songbirds.

Brandon woke up soon after, because I was tromping around. Johnathan got up when he aimed to and we had a quick breakfast and I believe some coffee. We got our packs and gear and guns and started up to the spot. Not gonna lie, I was not in great spirits. I wanted to go home and sleep. I already assumed this hunt was going to be horrible. Mistake 5, I assumed.

Upon arriving to the edge where we had “pinned” some birds, we got a few things out and started waiting on some of the woods to wake up. We agreed to a 15 minute window between calls if nothing was gobbling. We then went silent as the tomb. On private land, we probably would not have been as cautious or quiet. We knew what to expect there, however on this part of Pisgah, we had no idea what to expect. Sun came up. Nothing. Johnathan let out some light yelps. Nothing. I did a bit of a fly down and we roughed up the grass behind us. Nothing. Brandon started yelping. Nothing. We then went to my favorite move. Before I tell you the move I want to lay something out. We had done every hen call and action you ever hear. We yelped, did some cackling, a kee-kee run, ruffled leaves, all of it. Yelped while another yelped and another just kept doing occasional clucks. It was the 3rd week of the season. This was public land. I opted for a Hail Mary. I told Brandon to start yelping and I pulled out my favorite call. It is a walnut Down-N-Dirty Outdoors Haint Gobble call. When Brandon started his second cadence of yelps, I thundered over him with a gobble. He started into his 3rd and I hammered the call again. Across the far distance we heard a lonely gobble, Im talking every bit of 200 yards or more on the other side of a huge draw with lots of timber. I started to look to Brandon when I heard another gobble that came from right at our camp. All 3 of our eyes lit up and we took off running towards camp. While we were running I told Brandon and Johnathan to set up while I threw some decoys out on a logging road.** I know, not smart to use decoys on public land. I know, some of you view decoys as cheating. Come here and hunt. Ill guide you. Then tell me about how unfair it is, or unsafe** Johnathan and Brandon set up along the bank and I put the ole trusty Funky Chicken and 2 hens out on the logging road and got back behind them. The bird gobbled again and I told them I would get further behind them in the case he hung up at when he saw the decoys. Maybe I would be far enough behind them that he would come in closer.

I called and the bird fired back one more time and then he stopped talking. Brandon and I texted back and forth and after about 45 minutes I got the “We are going to go look at the last place we heard him” I responded that I was going to hunt back near where we started that morning out. I eased back and found a spot where I assumed (refer to Mistake 5) I could see and be fairly concealed. After about 10 minutes I let out a yelp. I waited and was about to grab my slate when I heard that Thunder we all chase. He had to be in the 125-175 yard range and I answered with a gobble while yelping on my slate (slate was on the ground, one hand running the slate, the other working the Haint. Its tough, but a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then). I hadn’t even got the call out of my mouth when he gobbled at 70 yards and I started to look in his direction. My shotgun had been resting across my midsection down to my toes and was nowhere near being ready to rock. Only thing I had in my favor was that it was aimed in the general direction the bird just gobbled in. I grabbed and started easing up when I saw the tip of his fan, coming up the hill. The tail dropped and his head crested the hill, staring right at the tree I was at the base of, and probably right at me. He started to do the head bob that anyone who has chased these birds knows all too well; he was about to putt and take off.

The second I recognized  that he was wise to my presence, I went into a zone. It seemed time slowed for him and gave me just a hair more speed. I remember getting the bead on his head. I assumed (#5) 55-60 yards. I punched the trigger, didn’t squeeze. I could see him then I couldn’t. He disappeared from sight and I jumped up. While I was getting up and looking I heard “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” and watched as he started gaining altitude. I didn’t even think of my gun, I didn’t even think of giving it a pump and drawing up on him. My heart sank as he hit about 30 feet off the ground. I assumed ( yep, #5 again) that I had just hit him bad, if I even hit him and that he was flying off. Then, he started a rapid uncontrolled descent as only one wing seemed to be working. He hit the ground about 90 yards from where I stood in a tree line. My heart bolted back into my chest and a primal surge pulsed threw  my body as I hit my knees and started giving thanks! I had just killed a bird on Pisgah! I assumed (#5) he was down and began to bow my head. As I was closing my eyes I noticed a black blob limping up the hillside from the treeline to some big timber. That joker was running with one wing flapping in the wind! That sucker had about 90 yards on me and I started sprinting!

In most seasons, you have to have a plug in your shotgun. I keep a plug in mine, so I only had 3 shells. One had been spent already, so I had 2 left. I got to what I assumed to be 35 yards (#5) from the gobbler and fired. He never stopped. I ran and got right at 15 yards and let that Remington sing out and rolled him.

Where he took his last breath

I walked up prepared to use the 870 as a club in the case he was still with it. As I sat there reflecting, I became aware of a buzzing from my pocket and grabbed my cell phone. “You alright?” ” Yea man, I got one!” “Awesome! did you miss or something? We thought you were under attack or something.” “Ha. Close. Ill meet you guys where we roosted those birds” I hung up and called my buddy Jordan. He answered and I told him all about the hunt. We laughed and I still couldn’t believe it. Had to call Daniel and my wife as well. I took the turkey and my vest and shotgun and set them at the spot I told Brandon to meet me at and started back to get my shells. When I started heading back, I saw that I incorrectly assumed at the vantage of the spot I chose to sit at. That bird had all sorts of cover coming from the bottom of that hill. I didn’t realize how much it dipped off. I walked to my 3rd shell and picked it up and passed by where the bird was when I missed with the second shot. I stepped it off to where the 2nd shell was and saw that I was off by about 10 yards on that shot…. I guessed 35 and he was dead at 45. I walked back to the tree I sat at and walked off to where I found feathers. Lets just say, it was in that moment I realized why I didn’t kill that bird with his first shot. When you are shooting a bird while assuming it is about 55 yards off, when it is actually 70 yards off… it isn’t going to go how you planned. Assuming, it will get ya.

Pisgah Bird before we headed out.

Brandon and Johnathan arrived and the high fives and back pats commenced while I laid everything out about the tale to them. We started hiking back to camp to break it down and stopped and grabbed my decoys. Johnathan carried the bird a little ways and then Brandon switched back to it. Between the 2 of them we determined the bird was probably in the 18-19 pound range and his beard was just short of 8″. His spurs had just started to turn at 7/8″. He was a two year old bird, by no means the biggest or oldest I have been blessed to kill, but he was my first bird on NF land. Getting him out was a bit of a chore as my pack is not conducive to game recovery. I had to call and get his number before I could start cutting on him so we strapped him to my back and I gained a new appreciation for awkward pack outs.

A little string and some prayer.

Remember how I had been freezing? Well, I put on a lot of clothes, and a lot of warm ones at that. In the picture above I am wearing fleece lined pants, a t-shirt with a cold gear base layer, than my sweatshirt. I had been wearing a jacket and some pants base layers prior to the harvest, but took them off and put them in my pack after walking around to get my shells. I had no other pants and no other shirts with me. I took off what I could and started the trek out… Spring time here the temps swing pretty good. I got up that morning in the 30s and hiked out in the high 50s/low 60s. Needless to say, it was a hot one.

Had my wool socks pulled down and my pants pulled up while we headed out. Unbearably hot.

When we got to the parking lot, I remembered I had jeans and a t-shirt in Brandons 4Runner. The “parking lot” here was the end of an old dirt road with a turn around and a spot to pull off the road. We all started loading up and changing while I knelt down and called in the bird. With my knife waiting patiently I scribbled the letters down as Johnathan and Brandon changed. After writing down my confirmation number I exclaimed “Alright, time to cut this sucker.” Johnathan laughed and Brandon smiled, but the couple who were hiking on the AT and happened out of the woods at that moment gasped. They walked on a burly man with a beard half naked, with another man in mid change and a flunky on his knees with a knife about to cut into a turkey. We all smiled and the husband looked nervous as he asked the proximity of a town off the AT that a lot of hikers frequent. I think he then tried to make some small talk about the turkey, but the look transfixed to the face of his wife is what held our attention. She looked from Johnathan to Brandon to my knife to the turkey. I almost committed Mistake #5 again before she spoke up and said “Thats a good bird” with a smile on her face. I put the knife down and started putting my tag and license up as they went on their way. After they were gone we started cleaning the bird and found a few BBs in the breast. A very few. But that wing that was broke bore the brunt of the Winchester XR Long Beard. Broke in 2 places, one from the shot and the other from the fall. After getting the breast out and the legs off, we wrapped the rest of the bird up and headed out. I looked back to the woods we had just left and heard Brandon say “See you next year”. Truer words have never been spoken.

Get out amongst it folks. Its no elk hunt in the great vast wilderness of the West. But it is a freaking good time. Follow it up with some fishing and you have a great weekend for the spring. Look forward to hearing from calla bout any turkey adventures this spring!

Also, don’t assume, practice yardage, think for warmth…

 

 

 

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Backcountry Strutter

My buddy Brandon walking in for our first backcountry turkey hunt last April on Pisgah NF

Since the turkey podcast and articles are popping up, I figured I would share a turkey hunt from last April that occurred on public land here in WNC. Enjoy!

I am very fortunate to work with some cool folks across NC, but even more so for working with one of my good friends Brandon. He and I grew up together in church and back packed Yellowstone when were in highschool. The tale of how we ended up working together is pretty swell as well, but that is for another time.

At our annual meeting for work, we struck up conversation with one of our colleagues from another county, Jonathan. We started taking about some past hunts and Jonathan started reminiscing on his days at the greatest university in the world in Cullowhee, NC (GO CATS!!) and how he missed the trout fishing and the mountains in general. He started talking to us about some stories from his time at Western and how bad he just wanted to get back up there. Brandon offered up the idea of a weekend of backpacking, turkey hunting and fly fishing. All of us agreed that it sounded like a great idea. After the meeting ended and we all went back to our respective field offices, we told Jonathan that we would figure out a spot if he would let us know a date. He has 2 boys that are in their early teens/tweens and that would be a busy time of year for them.

Finding a spot wasn’t too shabby for me and Brandon. We work in a county with 50,000 + of Pisgah NF, and knew the hot spots in other counties for trout. But we were skeptical about birds on federally managed land. Not a lot of edge on the lands here, and even less ESH (Early Successional Habitat) which would make a tough hunt, even tougher. We finally settled on a spot and left one day after work to go scout where we were going. Found some deer sign, saw a few squirrels nest and no turkey sign. I think we found a feather, but cannot remember. It was a speed trip and our optimism was very minimal. But, we called Jonathan and let him know the where, as he relayed to us the when.

The day arrived and I brought in my Remington 870 12 gauge and hunting pack, newly acquired hammock, fleece blanket and other stuff for our hunt. Checked our food, water and phones and started in. We walked through some awesome deer bedding and sign as we went to the spot we had decided on through some e-scouting.

Heading in.

Total hike in didn’t take too awful long and we started getting camp set up. As we walked in, a rare thing happened; a grouse drummed the whole time. We actually bumped it a few times, but it stayed around us and drummed throughout the day. Jonathan had about a 3 hour commute, so Brandon and I did some exploring and scouting to see what we could see. After checking out our surroundings and getting dome rocks so we could build a fire ring, it occurred ot me that I needed to send Jonathan something so that he could find us. Mistake 1, I sent him our coordinates as a pin through Apple Maps. Close to us was a very large burn/salvage cut that was in approximately its 5th year of regeneration. Now, in the Southern Apps, that is thicker than a bamboo patch and one of the primary species that grows back is greenbrier. Other species that are around during this time are raspberry, blackberry and the invasive we all know and hate, multiflora rose. All this stickiness goodness was growing on that hill, and guess what? The pin I sent Jonathan was located directly at the top of this hill.

After about an hour after sending the pin, I heard clanking of pots bouncing on a pack like someone was walking down the trail. I let out a whistle and the sound didn’t stop. I whistled again and the clanking stopped and I assumed Jonathan had heard us and was headed our way. Brandon and I started building a fire ring and messing around the campsite and about another 45 minutes went by. Still no Jonathan. I walked up the hill to where I had reception and called Jonathan. He answered and sounded like he had just invaded Normandy on his own. Brandon set out up the trail hollering for him and Jonathan started making his way back down.

To do justice to what the next scene is, I must describe Jonathan. Brandon and I are of medium height and build fluctuating on the scales in the 155-165 region at about 5’9″. We have an athletic build with a little loving around the waste from our appreciation of certain red meats and craft beer. Jonathan shares those appreciations, but he has a different build. Jonathan exceeds 6′ and weighs about 200lbs or more. The amount of body fat on his body is directly proportionate to the amount of honest politicians in this world; maybe 3%. For fun, Jonathan picks up boulders in his yards and moves them around. Boulders people, flipping boulders. He follows a fairly strict work out regiment and is a freaking beast. He keeps his head shaved and has a fairly majestic beard that is reminiscent of a Tolkien novel. Generally has a very pleasure disposition, and his only fear is me. I joke, but seriously, he would never back talk me….

Brandon found Jonathan, or rather Jonathan found him. I heard Brandon give a little shout as Jonathan popped out. When they walked up, I could tell why. Jonathan had followed my pin to the top of the thickness. He was dripping in sweat, he was covered in scratches and he had just gained 500+ feet in elevation over a 1/2 mile. Brandon’s word to describe Jonathan popping out of the regeneration were along the lines of “All of a sudden I saw these 2 huge eyes and Jonathan appeared and he was covered in scratches, had some blood, dripping sweat and he wasn’t smiling. His beard and eyes were possibly the scariest thing I have ever encountered in the woods.” I could speculate that was very accurate. Lord knows I would have no desire to have that walk up on me!

After he called his wife and told her that he was safe he just looked like he had been “raped by a honey badger” we set up hammocks and started out to see fi we could roost one. We walked a bit from camp and came close to a clearing and let out a few yelps. Nothing. We waited and laid up against a bank as the sun sank over the horizon. The beauty of these mountains is indescribable, my attempt to compliment the Makers handiwork would fall short and most assuredly be blasphemous to the beauty of the landscape. I was snapped out of my trance by the sounds of wings beating. I gave a soft yelp and looked in the direction of the wings. We had found where the hens were roosting.

As we headed back to our camp, I spoke with Brandon and Jonathan about how we would get on those birds in the morning. I rambled on and on and was quieted only when Brandon gave me my Ramen Noodles. We sat there and told tales as the fire was glowing and the flames were adding to the story in a language we couldn’t speak fluently, but somehow we understood.

 

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..

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What Are You?

The following is a piece by my dear friend Sean Clarkson. Recently, I started a Facebook group called “Talkin’ Conservation”. The following is a post that I hope to immortalize through this website as well as the FB group. Feel free to look us up. – Tyler

 

What are you?

When someone asks that question in the context of conservation and our pursuit heritage, how do you answer that question? Among all the challenges we, as conservationists and sportsmen/women, face how you answer that question is perhaps the greatest of them all.

One of the most ancient paradigms in warfare and in social politics is captured by the Roman maxim “Dīvide et Imperā”; “Divide and Conquer”. Sun Tzu, Phillip of Macedon, Caesar, Napoleon; one can trace throughout history the effectiveness of this maxim in defeating and ruling their opponents. The opposition is identified, divisions identified or created within them, exploited, and victory then is assured. We see examples of it around us today in geopolitics, in social politics, and in sports. It is undeniably effective. And we, conservationists and especially “sportsmen/women”, have divided ourselves. The single act that those who oppose conservation and our heritage need most to accomplish has been done for them by us, willingly and unwittingly. We are no longer “conservationists”, or “sportsmen/women”, and not even merely “hunters” or “anglers”. We are “deer hunters”, “sheep hunters”, “elk hunters”, “turkey hunters”, “duck hunters”, “bear hunters”, “bowhunters” (made even worse by the “traditional bowhunter” vs “compound bowhunter”, etc., divide). We are “bass anglers”, “trout anglers”, “flyfishers”, “saltwater anglers”. We are “public land/water” hunters and anglers. We are “mountain hunters”, and “swamp hunters”; “dog hunters”, “still hunters”, “tree stand hunters”, “spot-and-stalk hunters”; “solo hunters” and “team hunters”; “meat hunters” and “trophy hunters”. The same goes for anglers. We divide ourselves on every tool, and habitat, and species, and facet or factor we can find. We’ve broken ourselves out into these camps, and we’re extremely proud of our separateness to the point of aggressiveness to and defensiveness against all other camps. This goes well beyond the championing of our totem species with magazines and banquets, apparel and bumper stickers; it goes into fighting among ourselves for special seasons, regulations, legislation, management and allocation of resources, and anything else we can possibly pull into “our camp” to the detriment of the “others”. If you don’t believe me, please attend the next meeting of your state’s legislative committees overseeing game management, or simply pick up any number of glossy magazines in your local book dealer. Or, just peruse social media. You’ll quickly find that we, as what used to be known as conservationists and sportsmen/women, are now locked in “battle” not against any groups or organizations that seek to diminish conservation or our heritage but among ourselves.

Teddy Roosevelt knew that we, as sportsmen and women, inherited and hold in trust for those still in the womb of time our most ancient human legacy of pursuit and of the demand of conservation. And yet, today, we are closer than we have ever been to losing it all. Yes, we still do amazing work for game and non-game species. Yes, we still collectively put hundreds of millions of dollars into conservation and on-the-ground, in-the-water every year. Yes, we still have our abilities to do these things. For now. Every year there are less and less of us. Every year, we lose a little bit more of our heritage and of management of habitat and resources in places like California, New Jersey, British Columbia, and across the globe. And, I can assure you that this happens wherever you are as well. Each of those loses, both in numbers and on specific issues, brings us one step closer to losing it all. Rome was not built in a day, nor did it fall in a day, but “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Luke 11:24-25). Instead of standing against each of these loses, together, we turn inwardly to our own camp and write it off as the problem of one of those “other” camps. Instead of looking at the decreases across our combined ranks, we worry only about whether we have what we consider “enough” within our own camp. When trapping is attacked, where are the turkey hunters? When the use of hounds is attacked, where are the sheep hunters? When the numbers of license sales fall 2 MILLION over the course of a half dozen years, are we all collectively working to figure out why and reverse the trend, or are we looking within our own camp and talking about how many of “us” there are? Did not Martin Niemöller warn us sufficiently about this?

Yes, we must police our own ranks. Yes, we must figure out how to better present ourselves and our heritage. Yes, we must once again take control of the conversation about the management of our resources, wresting this away from the equally misguided preservationists who seek to lock everything away and the destructionists who seek to extract maximum short-term gain at the expense of posterity. Yes, we must do all manner of things to improve what we do and how we do it, for the heritage we hold in trust and for the conservation of the species that we love beyond our limited ability to express. Yes, these things are true, and so many more.

Yet, we are going to lose the chance to do any of these things because we have divided ourselves so effectively that we no longer even see other sportsmen/women as our own. Instead of our prideful independence as “____ hunters” and “_____ anglers”, we need to recognize our dependence on all those “other” groups and realize that the only divisions between us are created by us for the benefit of none of us. We’re all conservationists and sportsmen/women, and that is who and what we should be first and last, for our heritage of pursuit and for our legacy of conservation. Can we once again simply be a “hunter”, an “angler”; a “conservationist”, a “sportsman/woman” instead of some needless faction within? I say that we can, and in the words of Benjamin Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

To the question of “what am I?”, I answer “I am a hunter; I am an angler; I am a conservationist; I am a sportsman.” What say you? – Sean Clarkson

Sean Clarkson is a devoted father of two daughters, and husband to an incredible woman. A native Virginian with roots several centuries deep in that red clay, Sean is an avid outdoorsman pursuing whatever is in season by whatever means he can. A career conservationist with more degrees than necessary, he would most want to share a campfire with Aldo Leopold, Fred Bear, Teddy Roosevelt, John Colter, Harry Selby, Derzu Uzala, and whomever was first across the Bering Sea land bridge.

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5 ways to Honor our Conservation Heritage

 

Davidson River Transylvania County NC

It is a weird time isn’t it? Last night the government shut down again. A dude who didnt pay his fees and was acquitted of charges is being paraded as a hero of civil liberties and private property rights. But there are some constants that we should all know by now; folks in office are still pointing fingers every which way but at themselves, and people still turn into keyboard warriors over fixed blade versus mechanical. What a time to be alive.

With all this going on, its easy for us to slip into the mud slinging and flag waving in the “us vs them” scenario that is found in almost every single issue. For example, Cliven Bundy is on tour across the country starting in Montana today. As well all know Mr. Bundy and others held up at a Wildlife Refuge (that is yours) in protest of “Federal seizure of land” and other atrocities he claims have happened due to federal oversight. He ran the flag up of “us vs them” facing off with the federal land managers. Which is his right (to protest, not take over our land), and the rights of those who joined him. However, he did so with half truths and flat out lies. If you have not heard the facts about public land ownership, particularly in the federal realm, there is loads of information out there. Factually accurate sources like Randy Newbergs Hunt Talk Radio where he covers the laws and history of the lands and statehood of Western states. Randy is a model for how we as conservationist should act. He recognizes that in order to honor our heritage of being the most devout conservationist on this Earth, we are called to be efficient and honest.

How do you and I do this?

1.) Be knowledgeable – In today’s age of technology there is so much information at our fingertips. Google is an excellent tool. Online forums are also excellent ways to gain knowledge. But, they also have one major flaw; a lot of the information is derived from emotion and opinions. There are keyboard warriors all over and armchair biologist just waiting to rage out on the keys. I myself, am guilty of this. Probably still am.* But, if the issue is based on a practice or requirements of a species or anything along those lines, I put a “scholar.” in front of Google. This resource sends you to a plethora of peer-reviewed articles based on scientific research. Now, some require a subscription and what not, but abstracts can hit a lot of the study. Also, if it was performed at certain USDA Research Stations, the article in its entirety is available. Language can be somewhat complex, but I hope emojis and the acronyming of everything has not won out yet. Also, if it is a bill, there is generally a way to find it written out. This is a spot where folks lose their minds. This is a place for speculation and emotion and crazy assumptions. Some may be well founded. Some, not so much. Read, discuss, research, discuss some more.

2.) Let emotion fuel the desire to find the facts- One of the coolest things about those of us who participate on the landscape is that we are so emotionally charged and invested into the resources. From clean air and clean water and protecting soil to providing wildlife habitat, we are at the fore front. And it is something that swells me up with pride watching folks come together to do our part for that which we love. But dont let that emotion get out of control. Use it to grasp a better understanding of an issue, but above all, to find the facts. In my career and my personal volunteering on conservation measures I have seen folks come from a place of emotion and speculation.  Their heart was in the right place, but they did not come from a place of facts. Their credibility has eroded. They created divisions that are still not mended and have slowed down progress on many fronts. We owe it to our predecessors and those who come behind us to come from a place of facts. Facts matter.

3.) Be respectful- Dont be that guy/gal. When I say that I am referring the guy/gal who starts the personal attacks in person or on the keyboard (a lot of that lately) and completely regresses to some schoolyard punk. You can have a civil discussion with folks. If they change their tone and raise their voice or they begin the personal attacks, its best to just acknowledge the point you are making and take the high road. Even if they deserve a good cussing or beating.

4.) Leave the party line out of it- This times a million. If you still think that either party cares about you as a hunter, as a conservationist, as an individual; I would argue you have had blinders on your whole life. The left primarily hates the 2nd amendment and is not as friendly to hunters as one would think. The right wants to transfer your land and limits conservation work and agencies abilities to function. They do not care about you. I am sorry if this hurts. But it is true. Recently, I was having a beer with some folks and one of the gentlemen made the statement “Hunters dont vote for folks who value public lands”. Instead of responding with a quirk about the 2nd amendment or constitutional amendments to protect hunting and fishing, I pondered on it for a while. Here is the truth of the matter; we need public lands to hunt and we need someone to protect our ability to do so (in every way). A candidate who does that may exist, but some folks also claim they have seen Bigfoot. Or we could just get Mr. Rinella to start a new version of the Bull Moose party….

5.) GET IN THE ARENA!!!!-  (this times a trillion)I am often fascinated by the comments I see in forums and groups on post about broadheads, which truck, measure my buck, QDM vs. TDM vs. Traditional. They hit the thousands in some venues. In those same groups though, I have seen (and made) post that are more about issues in the conservation and policy realm. Issues that directly impact your ability to pursue game. Public meetings, calls to actions and so on. It may hit 50 comments, very, very rarely have I seen any with 100 or more comments. Now, there are forums that are created just for these discussions, and they are great resources. However, not too many folks participate or are a part of these forums or groups. It hurts us all to not be involved, to not be engaged, to not USE YOUR VOICE! I hate going to meetings. I love being at home with my family. But, because of them I go to the meeting. Not saying I do not enjoy meeting and talking with fellow conservationist, I do, but I want to be home or in the woods. They may be an inconvenience, but it is a privilege to participate. If I do not go and speak on behalf of my sons, who will? If we look at what our predecessors endured, it is our DUTY.

With all of these points, try and think about what message it does for hunting and fishing. There are less and less of us. We need to recruit and retain. How are we going to add to our numbers and appeal to those who do not hunt if we engage in the same style of rhetoric as those we oppose?

Join a NGO like the RMEF, BHA, QDMA, NWTF or so on. Go to a meeting. Ask a question. Reach out to folks you see who are getting out there. If we do not do this, our future is looking pretty bleak and dismal.

Get in the Arena.

*I recently did this in a discussion (this morning) on the TRCP Facebook page. Had to go make a note in an edit. I made an assumption. But, I corrected it after learning I was wrong. Part of it

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CRP: What is it? Why does it matter?

As many of you have seen in the past few days, and in some cases, the past few months, there has been a push about CRP and the need to increase its funding and capabilities in the future Farm Bill. CRP stands for the Conservation Reserve Program and is administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). It is the largest private lands conservation program in our nation.

According to the FSA website, CRP is an agreement between the FSA and a landowner/farmer in which “in exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat…” Land also has to be deemed eligible and the applicant goes through a process in order to enroll their land. The FSA will and has partnered with their sister agency the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), NGO Conservation Agencies and their local Conservation Districts on developing the plan and implementing the program.

 

All in all, it is a great program that is very beneficial to multiple resources. It goes without saying that this program is beneficial to wildlife, especially deer. But with acres coming out of enrollment, deer numbers have seen a decline. Loss of habitat has led to population decrease which the Quality Deer Management Associations Kip Adams has been talking about for some time. In a 2015 article that Kip authored on the QDMA’s website, he cites habitat loss as number 5 on the list for factors causing deer decline. As a hunter on the most deer deficient area in the Southeast, I agree wholeheartedly. The loss of habitat is, in my opinion, one of the greatest limiting factors to multiple game populations; especially the whitetail. Kips article is a must read and he goes into the details about the amount of CRP coming out.

CRP is not just beneficial to the whitetail. In fact, it has many initiatives that target other species across the landscape. One of the initiatives is geared towards Duck Habitat, another for Honeybees, Upland Bird Habitat, and another for the long leaf pine. A list of the different initiatives can be found here. Another hot topic right now is the Sage Grouse and its habitat on both public and private lands. According to a 2011 study done by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sage Grouse nesting in CRP saw drastic increases over the course of the programs life span.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, CRP saw a drastic reduction in funding. The program was essentially crippled and millions of acres came out. For myself, I have noticed the lack of wildlife in other states I hunt. I have spoken with folks and read comments on social media and other forums on the lack of numbers folks are seeing. The time to act is now, especially as the Farm Bill debates start up. Check out crpworks.org and get involved with groups like the National Deer Alliance (free to be a member). This is an opportunity to get involved. This is our duty as conservationist to speak on behalf of the resources.

I’ll leave you with a video of Melissa Bachman talking about the CRP and the North American Wildlife Model. Check em out. Make a phone call, write an email……

As always, Get in the Arena

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Talking Points for the hunter

In my youth, I would engage in arguments or justify my actions in ways that lack maturity and understanding. I would regurgitate things that I had observed others use to defend their actions and/or decisions. I would just take these arguments as truths, because it is what I had heard, from folks who may have been older than me, or seemed to have more in common with me than other folks. In the hunting realm, I am seeing this on a daily basis. Resistance to so many different notions and ideas that go against the grain or what we have heard from others that we may look up to, or that we hold in high regard. Look, there is nothing wrong with looking up to those who took the time to teach or mentor you. I get it, we put those individuals on a pedestal. It’s a common occurrence.  But its starting to hurt us as a user group, way more than help us. Allow me to expand on the “truth” we have been told and we use to justify our actions in taking the life of an animal.

Hanging out in a stand of Chamaecrista fasciculata, commonly known as partridge pea on some state-owned game land. This plant is utilized by many game species and has been rarer on the landscape.

“If we do not hunt, the wildlife will populate at an unstable rate and then spread disease and die off. So, we help by keeping them in check.” This justification has played itself out. The examples of where this is legitimate is few and very far between. In fact, there are very few cases where overpopulation to the extent of disease is a thing. If it was, why are certain areas sterilizing deer to reduce the herd? Wouldn’t they rather just “Let nature take its course”? And rid themselves of the deer infestation with the mythical die off from the disease that allegedly is looming out there? The entire discussion is flawed and not one that is shared by many hunters, or biologist. I recognize that there are areas where this is a thing, (Connecticut, NJ, etc…), but not as widespread as one would believe after scouring social media. And it really is not a good conversation piece for those who do not hunt, or are opposed to hunting.

According to a  2011 National Survey  by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 6% of the nation participate in hunting, and the largest majority that hunts were the 45-54 age class. 6 % of the nation is now estimated to be around 5% now. The contributor to that decline covers a few variables, with people “aging” out, lack of access for hunters, habitat degradation and fragmentation, and so on. Why does that matter? Because on the other end of the spectrum sits an estimated 5% who are severely opposed to hunting. And the 90% that is in between are being suited hard by those who oppose. We see it in the mis-information of land management. We see it in the advertisements and “documentaries”. And we also see it when a decision is made that is less than admirable for hunters. So why does this matter? Because many know that hunting is in fact a privilege.

So what am I saying? I am saying that we need to get away from the close-minded, finger-pointing, name-calling, middle finger in the air attitudes that cause the division. I am not bashing certain campaigns on social media over hunters (primarily huntresses/female hunters) being bullied. But we need to be bigger and rise above. We have many examples on how to do that. Engaging in the old banter and holding “the line” of mis-information and ignorance is harming us on so many levels. I am all for voicing opinions, or sticking to your beliefs. I have a blog. And anyone who knows me will tell you, I don’t shy away. However, I have been able to keep my mouth shut and my ears open in my older age. Voices like Shane Mahoney, Randy Newberg, Steven Rinella, Kip Adams, Lindsay Thomas, Craig Harper, and others are where we as hunters need to gather information to have actual intellectual conversations. We need to recognize where someone is coming from and then, in a respectful way, present our views on why we do what we do.

Unless you live under a rock, or just hate social interaction with fellow hunters, Steven Rinellas “Meat Eater” is a show that has done so many things to change the negative image of a hunter. Another excellent resource from Rinella and company is The MeatEater Podcast that comes out on a weekly basis. One of my all-time favorite podcast from Meat Eater is Episode 53, where they discuss the 5 talking points that we as hunters generally use and their overall effectiveness. To listen to the discussion (its pretty sweet and very informative) click the link above to give it a listen. They also discuss Pittman-Robertson, Dingle-Johnson, and other contributing factors to conservation in our country. They ranked them in order of effectiveness based off of the study, but instead of delving into each point, I am gonna go with my big 3. I am probably going to be way off of how they are categorized in the podcast, but I will go with what my thoughts are on the conversations we have.

Elk Scat found on some recently acquired gamelands. This is a testament to what we as hunters accomplish through conservation.

 

 

1.) We care so much about the resource and being ethical that we follow rules and guidelines while buying license and taking classes to be certified to pursue game. Many folks who do not participate in the pursuit of wild animals realize what all goes into being legal. In NC, after a certain birthdate, you have to take Hunters Safety. If you buy a license as a non-resident you must have your Hunters Safety Certification. We follow ethical pursuit of the game out of respect for the animal. Some folks take it a step further and restrict the equipment they use, or the age of the animal they are after.

2.) We pay an excise tax from Pittman-Robertson. The tax came from a time when we had NOTHING and we opted to take the burden on. It’s no secret the US was in bad shape in the 1930’s. even with all the financial burdens, even with the lack of food, jobs, etc… a group of folks told FDR they would bear the burden of restoring wildlife and wild places by placing a tax on themselves. Our predecessors asked for a tax on themselves to restore what had been wrecked…. Let that sink in. How many of you just jump at the idea of additional taxes? We went to war in 1776 for a 2% increase on tea. Our conversation forefathers had an 11% tax to restore wildlife and habitat degradation. In 1999 other user groups were asked to do the same through the Conservation Reinvestment Act. Introduced on February 10, 1999 the CRA would have a tax on other outdoor equipment similar to the Pittman-Robertson or Dangle-Johnson. The bill passed the House on May 11, 2000 and went to the Senate. It died there due to groups claiming that their users “paid too many taxes already”. Others had the opportunity and chose not to.

This is an older Elk rub on some gamelands in NC. This is the first one that I have seen with my own eyes in my own state. Hunters brought this species back. Hunters made the habitat available. Whats not to love?

3.) We use the meat harvested to sustain ourselves and our families. The meals provided are the healthiest forms of protein we can harvest. And for those who do not enjoy the taste of wild game (weirdos) there are many food banks who will take that meat and give it to those in need. Many conservation organizations, hunter organizations and farmer groups work together to provide for the less fortunate in their communities. Our primal call as hunters is to be a provider.

In closing, I would like for you to read and take to heart the words of renowned conservationist and one of my heroes Shane Mahoney.   “Wildlife and wild places no longer exist by accident or without the intervention of those that truly and deeply care.” This is a talking point. This is what is constantly left out of the discussion.

Get in the Arena.