Blown Radiators and Backcountry Muleys

I was already way behind schedule when I arrived at the trailhead in the middle of nowhere in central Nevada for my first archery mule deer hunt. A blown radiator had left me waiting several hours for a truck to tow me 60 miles to the nearest town for repairs. By the time I hiked the four miles to camp, it was 2:30 in the morning.

Needless to say, first light came quickly. After a bite to eat, I hiked up to a steep vantage point overlooking the canyon where I would be hunting.

I had seen a group of bucks in this canyon a few weeks earlier with my good friend and mentor Larry Johnson with Nevada Bighorns Unlimited. After three days of hunting, neither Larry nor I had gotten close enough to make a kill, and we both left empty handed. I had come back alone with the hopes of filling my tag.

After glassing a bit, I spotted some bucks feeding on a hillside several hundred yards up the canyon. I watched for a while and figured they would bed down in one of several stands of mahogany trees scattered throughout the canyon. I sat tight, hoping to intercept the bucks as they came to bed down.

As the sun rose higher, the group went downhill to some trees about 200 yards below where I sat. There was no way to sneak in on them without being seen, and at this point my lack of sleep was catching up to me. I took a rest, hoping the bucks might move later in the day.

When I awoke, I crept back up to check on the bucks. They were gone. Trying to stay calm, I scanned the canyon and eventually spotted the deer disappearing into trees on a ridge a thousand feet above me on the opposite side of the canyon. I wasn’t exactly sure where they were headed but figured they were going to bed down again somewhere where the afternoon breezes would be cooler.

Grabbing my pack and bow, I began the long hike across the canyon. A light rain was falling by the time I reached the other ridge. The sound of the rain masked my footsteps, and a steady southwesterly wind allowed me to move into the trees and search for the deer undetected. I moved slowly through the mahogany, stopping every few steps to glass. I was looking for movement – an ear twitch, antlers or the silhouette of a bedded buck.

I made several passes through the area with no luck and began to think that the deer had outsmarted me again. Finally, I glanced uphill and saw the unmistakable shape of a deer. I pulled out my rangefinder to check the distance: 32 yards.

Nocking an arrow, I moved to get a better look and see if antlers were attached to the deer. Just then, deer began standing up one by one in surrounding trees. They had seen me.

I froze as a buck stepped out into the open. He was a shooter. I instinctively drew my bow and released the arrow. I heard the thwack of the arrow hitting as the buck jumped and ran across the rocky hillside. After 20 yards he slowed, then stopped, began to stumble and fell to the ground. I later discovered that the broadhead had gone through his heart. It was over very quickly.

My first Nevada archery mule deer hunt makes me extraordinarily thankful for the abundant and unique hunting opportunities that abound in the West. Mine was the type of hunting about which every sportsman dreams – a spectacular setting, far from any roads or signs of civilization, lots of deer and few hunters. I was able to hunt in some of the greatest remaining mule deer habitat in the nation. Nevada has a lot of undeveloped backcountry, but even here, mule deer habitat is threatened.

Mule deer need large areas of undeveloped backcountry in order to thrive. As we lose habitat throughout the West, mule deer numbers decline as do our hunting opportunities.

Sportsmen recognize the importance of conserving these areas, but in order to ensure healthy wildlife populations, hunters and anglers must spread the word. Sportsmen must let federal land management agencies know what is at stake and that we are paying attention. High-quality hunting opportunities on public land comprise the backbone of America’s sporting heritage. It is staggering to think about how much great habitat has been lost in the last 30 years – and the ramifications if this trend is allowed to continue.

This is why the TRCP is working hard to conserve high-quality, intact habitat throughout the West. Get involved today and sign up as a TRCP Western Sportsman Advocate.

Tackling Fiscal Responsibility for the TRCP

Bob Hale

TRCP Financial Director Bob Hale makes sure that 82.2 percent of TRCP revenue goes to conservation programs.

It’s the end of the year, and a dozen holiday emails are likely waiting in your inbox.

This note is different.

I’m not going to try and pull your heartstrings or appeal to the policy experts out there.  You’ve seen other posts like that already.

I’m the director of finance at the TRCP and I’ve got a different perspective on how we fulfill our mission.  It’s my job to develop the annual budget, keep the organization fiscally responsible and run each year’s audit. As you have probably guessed, I’m a numbers guy.

My work here at the TRCP is vitally important. I want to share two of the TRCP’s accomplishments from the past year: The TRCP earned a spot in the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance and the GuideStar Seal of Accountability.

These two accolades show that the TRCP maintains the highest level of transparency and accountability among other businesses and  non-profits. We know that in order to gain trust and remain effective, the TRCP must focus on providing relevant and reliable information to our stakeholders in a way that is free from bias, comparable, understandable and focused on stakeholders’ legitimate needs.

All of us here at the TRCP work together to cut down costs and establish our credibility as a transparent and accountable organization. By displaying the Better Business Bureau and GuideStar seals on our website, we hope to show the public that we are proactive in ensuring the highest levels of fiscal responsibility.

Overhead costs such as rent, computer network, admin salaries and benefits comprise 17.8 percent of the budget.  That means that 82.2 percent of revenue goes to conservation programs directly related to our mission.

If you choose to donate to the TRCP, you can do so with the knowledge that your money will make a difference in helping us fulfill our mission of guaranteeing you a place to hunt and fish. I’ll make sure of it.

United We Stand: A Serviceman Reflects on Freedom, Family and the Outdoors

Sometimes you have to leave something behind to truly appreciate it.

I find I relearn that lesson each time I deploy to a foreign land. I miss my family and friends the most, as is expected. Thanks to technology I receive emails from home, discussing everything from kids to the change in seasons and excursions into the woods to hunt. I am grateful for these snippets of daily life because they make me appreciate how much freedom we have.

This Veterans Day, I am deployed once again on foreign soil in support of our national interests. I am proud to serve, but at the same time, I am thinking of home and longing to be with family.

Lieutenant Colonel G. Brent Cummings with his dog Tucker after a hunt for lesser prairie chicken in Kansas.

An image that comes to my mind when I think about home is stepping out into the cold morning with my loyal black Lab. I watch him excitedly chase some type of feathered creature that always seems to land just out of range or flush just a bit too low for a safe shot.

I can taste and feel the bite of cold as I take a deep breath and enjoy the fellowship of the hunt with a close friend as we map out the best strategy to move through a field or drop out decoys. So often we know our grand plan will fail, but simply being outside is the magic that makes the day.

Those memories represent the opportunity to share the moment outside, in a free country surrounded with the beauty of a magnificent landscape. Being deployed reminds me again how special that freedom is.

Enjoy Veterans Day and the freedom it represents. I support organizations such as the TRCP and other like-minded conservation groups. They are our guardians back home while we guard from afar. Because of their efforts, when I come home I have a place to hunt and fish. I encourage you to take the time to call your brother-in-law, uncle, friend or whoever you like to hunt with, and head out. Don’t worry whether you bag some game or not. Just enjoy the day afield and the freedom that has been earned.

I want to acknowledge how deeply grateful I am for the men and women who have served before me and laid the groundwork of freedom upon which I currently stand. Without their stewardship and professionalism, I wouldn’t have the freedom I cherish and expect as a U.S. citizen. In honor of Veterans Day, I encourage you to step outside with a friend or a family member and enjoy the freedom that has been granted to each of us.

Lieutenant Colonel G. Brent Cummings

United States, Army

Beginning in 2007, Lt. Col. Cummings served nearly 15 months in Iraq as part of the 2nd Surge Brigade with the 216th Infantry Brigade.  He then served as Commander of as the U.S. Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning.  He is currently deployed in the Middle East.

Taking a Stand for Waterfowling and the Pastimes We Cherish

If the voices of hunters fall silent, it won’t be long before the voice of the waterfowl we cherish goes quiet as well. Photo by Paul Bramble.

I was driving down a back road on Maryland’s Eastern Shore when I pulled my truck over to let a tractor pass. The farmer tipped his hat in appreciation and was on his way to the next field. Before heading down the road myself, I took a look around; fields of crops gave way to the Chester River in the distance and a place I am proud to call home.

With tall corn and soy hiding goose pits and the vivid summer woods obscuring tree stands, it is tough to see the importance of hunting during a hot and humid Chesapeake summer. But just a few months from now, the days will get shorter and crisper, and homes across the Eastern Shore will come to life earlier than normal as decoy bags and gun cases are tossed into trucks and Labs wag their tails with the kind of anticipation only a gun dog can muster.

Waterfowl hunting means a lot to this part of the world. On the highway into town, geese adorn the welcome sign, and we have waterfowl festivals to celebrate the autumnal return of the birds. You may find yourself raking leaves in the backyard or picking out the perfect carving pumpkin at the local patch when you hear your first flight of Canada geese returning. It is a sound that compels your eyes skyward and makes many of us reflexively reach for our goose calls.

But the memory of the 2011-12 season remains stark in the minds of many hunters. Winter’s cold weather never came; nor did the birds. Some estimated that less than one quarter of the typical population actually made it as far south as the Chesapeake. The lack of snow and ice gave the birds no reason to venture to their normal southern grounds. The warmest winter anyone can remember gave way to the warmest summer, and hunters can’t be blamed for asking, “Will the birds return?”

More than a few hunters I’ve talked to are considering letting their blind leases lapse.

“I’m gonna give it one more year,” is a familiar refrain from waterfowlers pinched by a slow economy and slow days afield. Visit Higgy’s Diner on any Saturday morning during duck and goose season and you will see just what hunting means to the local economy. It’s not just about license and ammo sales; hunters open their wallets at motels, gas stations, watering holes and sub shops, as well as for guides and gear. As the birds go, so go the hunters.

Conservation is an essential part of hunting’s past – and future. Whether addressing global issues like climate change or local issues such as land use, hunters have a responsibility to become knowledgeable and participate in finding workable solutions. If the voices of hunters fall silent, it won’t be long before the voice of the waterfowl we cherish goes quiet as well.

Learn more about the TRCP’s work in the Chesapeake Bay.

Fishing A High Desert River

Malheur Country, Ore. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Southeast Oregon high desert is rugged and compelling country with over 4 million acres for the public to access. From the breaks of the Owyhee and Malheur Rivers to the rugged mountains of the Oregon Canyon Mountains, the topography is rich with sagebrush and native grass ecosystems supporting abundant wildlife.

Big game such as mule deer, California big horn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, as well as upland birds such as sage grouse, chukar, California quail and native trout are present here.

Redband trout. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

The redband trout population in the Malheur River is thought to be derived from the Columbia Basin redband trout when a lava flow isolated the basin from the Malheur River drainage 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.

I set out to explore the countryside and fish the rivers for trout. After hours of driving, a dusty stretch of road emerges where there’s no fence line blocking an entry to the river. It’s almost dark, and I set up camp and fall asleep to the sound of the river at my feet.

The call of a western meadowlark wakes me up at 5 a.m., reminding me of my childhood days in church listening to the choir hum Amazing Grace. I rise out of bed, brew some coffee, and change my fly to a subsurface beadhead because the river is moving fast and the visibility is about two feet.

The Malheur River. Photo by Mia Sheppard.

The bank is green with tall native grasses; I analyze the river, determining where a fish might lie. There’s a small pool whirling behind rocks and a soft seam hugging the bank. My first cast is to the grassy cut bank. I make a cast up stream, strip the line fast to stay with the current, take a couple steps up stream and cast again.

To find an aggressive fish, I keep covering the water. My next cast is behind a rock where the current is moving at a considerable pace. The trout explodes; cart wheeling and breaking the surface. She’s strong, pulling, not giving in. After a few minutes I get her to the bank, remove the hook and release her back to the cool waters of the high dessert. This is what I came here for.

Experiences such as this keep me coming back and fuel my enthusiasm to see these special places conserved for future generations. I’m proud to be working to ensure the conservation of these resources through my work with the TRCP.

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Photo by Mia Sheppard.

Mia Sheppard is TRCP’s Oregon field representative. She lives in Brightwood, Ore., with her husband and daughter. In her free time, she fishes for steelhead and trout throughout the Pacific Northwest.