Sharing the sportsmen’s experience

Like many Americans, when my wife and I sit down over Thanksgiving dinner and reflect on what we are most grateful for, family and good health are always at the top of the list. Nothing makes this point more clearly than spending time with folks who don’t have those luxuries.

Photo courtesy of Neil Thagard.

Over the recent Thanksgiving weekend, my wife Catherine and I were privileged to participate in a hunt for javelina and Coues deer in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona. We were volunteering as spotters and guides with Outdoor Experience for All, or OE4A, an organization that offers outdoor experiences to young people diagnosed with life threatening illnesses, children of fallen heroes, and children with disabilities. While the youths in the program are the hunters, their entire families are encouraged to attend and participate in the hunts.

According to Catherine, “This weekend was one of the highlights of our hunting careers. It didn’t seem to matter that although many deer were seen, few were taken, as a great time was had by all.”

Photo courtesy of Neil Thagard.

We can’t speak highly enough of OE4A’s founder, Eddy Corona. He is a true humanitarian who selflessly provides these great experiences to some very deserving people. We commend him and all of the dedicated OE4A volunteers for their efforts.

OE4A’s mission is “to change lives one adventure at a time.” They believe that everyone who participates in an OE4A adventure, including volunteers, sponsors, parents and siblings, leaves camp with a new outlook on life. We echo that sentiment – and will definitely be volunteering for future OE4A hunts, as I’m pretty sure we gained as much from this experience as the participating families.

To find out more about OE4A go to www.outdoorexperienceforall.org

Experiencing the John Day River in Oregon – and addressing threats to public lands

Southeast and central Oregon are known for vast landscapes of sagebrush steppe and basalt rim rock. This wide open country provides important habitat for numerous species of big game, upland birds and trout. It also offers access to outstanding public lands hunting.

As a sportsman, outfitter and mother, I believe that one of the most important challenges of our time is to ensure that these places are conserved so that when my daughter grows up, she can enjoy the same experiences and opportunities that I have had.

Some of the state’s best hunting for mule deer and chukar, as well as fishing for steelhead, trout and smallmouth bass, occur on rivers and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

For example, the John Day River is the third longest undammed river in the Lower 48. It also is a stronghold for wild steelhead. The John Day is in my “backyard,” and, as a local fishing outfitter, I take pride in sharing this river with visitors and other anglers.

My husband and I have outfitted on the John Day River since 2001 and annually bring close to 180 people to the local area where they fish, shop, stay in hotels and eat at restaurants. Visitors are mesmerized by the rim rock canyons, the smell of juniper and the solitude experienced on a John Day River float. These experiences connect visitors with something greater than themselves while supporting a major component of Oregon’s rural economy. Public lands are a boon for those who travel from across the country and world to enjoy them, as well as those who call these places home.

As ardent public land users, we know firsthand that public lands in Oregon are faced with increasing pressures. Growing demands for renewable energy resources, uncharacteristic wild fires, fire suppression, invasive species, loss of public access, excessive road and trail densities, and contentious political debates have the potential to diminish the value of public lands for fish, wildlife and sportsmen.

Photo by Mia Sheppard.

These issues aren’t easy to deal with, but it’s our duty as sportsmen and recreational users to be a smarter, more powerful voice in the natural resource policy debate in order to ensure that the special places where we recreate are conserved, restored and enhanced. We must communicate to state and federal decision makers that the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat – and high quality hunting and fishing –  needs to be a management priority.

Intact and unfragmented public land habitats offer some of the best remaining hunting and fishing available on federal lands in the state of Oregon. These unique areas are valuable national resources that should be managed and conserved for future generations. Our hunting and angling heritage, as well as Oregon’s $12.8 billion outdoor recreation economy, depend on it.

Contact the BLM and let them know your public land is important for your hunting and fishing opportunities. 

Opportunity taken

The author with her bounty.
Image by Mia Sheppard.

I love the game of chasing chukar and watching bird dogs work the sagebrush of arid ranges in my home state of Oregon. Earlier this month, I decided to take my chances on another upland bird: the greater sage grouse. With the controversy surrounding the bird and its possible listing in 2015 under the Endangered Species Act, I decided to apply for a controlled hunt permit with the hope that this wouldn’t be my last opportunity to pursue the bird.

The sage grouse is a Western icon, known for its unique, breast-inflating courtship dance. It inhabits sagebrush rangelands throughout the West. State and federal agencies, ranchers, environmentalists and sportsmen are working diligently and cooperatively to prevent the bird’s ESA listing, which would eliminate any future opportunity for sportsmen to hunt sage grouse – and would have significant implications for other resource uses across 11 states.

The sagebrush ecosystem where these magnificent birds thrive is also home to more than 350 species of plants and animals, including many pursued by sportsmen. Mule deer, pronghorn, elk and other species all need healthy, intact sagebrush habitat for their survival. If we imaging a huge tent or umbrella with all these species protected beneath it, conserving sage grouse habitat translates into good wildlife and rangeland conservation. Sagebrush conservation is good for our nation’s economy, too, especially in rural communities.

Sustaining and enhancing large, intact sagebrush ecosystems is vital for sage grouse and conservation of more than 350 species of plants and animals that rely on these habitats.
Image by Mia Sheppard.

Oregon is one of the few states a person can hunt sage grouse with a controlled hunting permit, with a two-bird limit per permit. In 2013, 659 people hunted sage grouse throughout Central and Southeast Oregon. Each of these sportsmen spent money on gas, food, lodging and gear for each hunt, and those dollars get distributed across rural areas all across the state.

After the postcard arrived in the mail validating that I drew a permit, the pre-planning began. My shotgun had not been fired for months and needed to be fitted, so I delivered it to a local gunsmith. Next, I had to decide where to go. The area I drew was in the Lakeview Bureau of Land Management district. Within that unit there is more than 1 million acres of public land available for hunting. I called the district biologist and a couple ranchers for their recommendations on places to go. I studied the BLM district maps for access roads and coordinated meeting a friend who also drew a tag. The trip was coming together.

Image by Mia Sheppard.

With my gear packed and the dog ready to go, I began the five-hour journey to my destination. Some might wonder why I would hunt a bird that only has a bag limit of two and only a weeklong season. I see this as an opportunity to hunt a new place, experience wide-open spaces and watch bird dogs do what they do best – find birds!

The next morning we woke up early to get the dogs ready and drink that first cup of joe. Driving down the bumpy road anticipating the first bird, the dogs could sense our excitement. We parked near a spring, got the collars on the dogs and dusted off the guns. The sagebrush aroma filled my lungs, and Cedar, my pudalpointer, started working like a veteran. Though he never had hunted sage grouse before, he worked with authority searching for birds. This wasn’t his first rodeo.

We walked miles covering a flat, and after a few hours, we saw movement in the distance. It was a covey of sage grouse. The cover was low, and we were exposed, just like the birds, so we decided to walk a wide circle around them and approach them up wind. Keeping our eyes on the birds, we slowly moved in. They quickly spotted us and started walking. Soon they were out of shooting range, eventually flying off, splitting in two directions and landing a couple hundred yards away.

We decided to break apart and ambush the birds. Cedar and I worked the near side while Mellissa and her dogs worked in the distance. We eventually spotted the birds and moved in. They held, and Cedar crept in. The sage grouse looked at us. I moved in closer and closer. Finally they took wing. I took a shot, and a bird fell. Cedar circled around for the retrieve and pranced back with the smile of success.

Image by Mia Sheppard.

Sportsmen can’t afford another loss of opportunity if the sage grouse is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Nor can sportsmen remain silent – our voices must be heard, and we must advocate for solid state and federal conservation plans for sage grouse that also will protect other species we enjoy pursuing. With hunter participation declining across the West, we must act and get involved to ensure sage grouse habitat is conserved and a listing is avoided. Sportsmen must define our own destiny and help conserve wildlife to retain all our opportunities – as well as those for future generations.

TRCP holds annual Western Media Summit Sept. 7-11, 2014

More than 60 members of the media and other stakeholders concerned about pressing sportsmen conservation issues attended TRCP’s annual Western Media Summit in Great Falls, Montana. The 10th annual summit explored public lands issues and water topics, including federal water budgeting, the “waters of the U.S.” rulemaking, BLM backcountry conservation and the agency’s Planning 2.0 process, and ongoing efforts to conserve sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems. The following are highlights from the event with short presentation recaps and photos.

Monday, September 8 (Welcome Dinner)

Audience at 2014 TRCP Western Media Summit.

The opening night dinner followed a balmy day during which summit attendees toured the renowned elk hunting territory of Montana’s Missouri Breaks a small planes piloted by EcoFlight’s Bruce Gordon. That evening, TRCP CEO and President Whit Fosburgh welcomed guests at the dinner: “You guys – the writers, reporters and bloggers – are the first to get the word out on the issues we’re discussing here. We want you to leave the summit with plenty of stories that you can write about next week, next month or later this year.”

TRCP’s President and CEO Whit Fosburgh.

Dave Perkins, TRCP Board Chair, and Vice Chairman of The Orvis Co.: “Getting the word out is an important part of why we’re meeting this week.”

Dave Perkins, TRCP Board Chair/Orvis, Vice Chairman.

Laura Ziemer, Senior Counsel and Water Policy Advisor, Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project: “The Sun River is a story of enduring conservation success. It’s with great pleasure that we have the opportunity to tell this story.” [ED: summit attendees will tour the site tomorrow]

Laura Ziemer, Trout Unlimited.

Jimmy Hague, TRCP’s Director of Center for Water Resources: “We need a unified voice in the sportsmen community to get our positions known (about water resources).”

Jimmy Hague, TRCP’s Director of Center for Water Resources

Joel Webster, Director of Center for Western Lands, TRCP: “Public lands are increasingly important for the sporting public.”

Joel Webster, TRCP’s Center for Western Lands Director

Leon Szeptycki, professor at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, was the evening’s guest speaker. He spoke extensively about the severe drought conditions in the west, especially California, and contrasted with other regional droughts over the last 150 years. He noted that 80 percent of water usage in California is for irrigation. “The basic problem is we’re experiencing a bad drought, and it’s likely it will increase in severity and duration,” he said. Szeptycki offered several solutions to managing droughts including water markets, conservation and desalinization.

Leon Szeptycki, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Geoff Mullins, Chief Operating and Communications Officer: “We try to make the media summits interesting and fun.  We try to get everyone out in the field with a gun or a rod.”

Geoff Mullins, TRCP’s Chief Operating and Communications Officer

Many journalists brought their dogs to the TRCP event. Wyoming freelancer Chris Madson traveled to the summit with Flick, his Brittany spaniel, who made an appearance at the conclusion of the dinner. And Montanan Jack Ballard frolicked in the hotel lobby with Percy, his English setter.

Chris Madson

 

Jack Ballard

Many thanks to our sponsors for making this event a success: Remington Arms Company, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Patagonia, Inc., Costa, The Orvis Co., Outdoor Industry Association, Simms Fishing Company, Trout Unlimited, Great Falls Tourism Business Improvement District, and Bowser Brewing Co.

 Learn what happened at Day Two of the 2014 Western Media Summit.

A Spring Turkey Hunt with the TRCP

TRCP Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard, a Minox Optics Adventure Team member, recently got the opportunity to chase Merriam’s turkeys in Wyoming in an area where he has arrowed numerous birds. This spring, Neil (along with his wife Catherine behind the camera) experienced cold weather with high winds and snow. On the few days he was able to hunt, he found birds, though he never connected.

However, this opportunity would not have been possible without access to public lands. The cooperation of private landowners and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department through the Access Yes program provides hunters and anglers access to otherwise inaccessible lands. For every dollar donated to the program, nearly 4.6 acres of access is provided to all hunters and anglers who hunt and fish in Wyoming – residents and non-residents alike. Many other states have similar access programs.

Watch a video of Neil’s hunt below. How important is access to you? Let us know on the TRCP Facebook page.

Thanks and Good Luck

Thagards with Wyoming mule deer.

The Thagards with a mule deer taken on National Forest land in Colorado. Sportsmen’s dollars are the most significant contributor to state fish and wildlife agencies funding. Photo courtesy of Neil Thagard.

When my wife Catherine and I look for places to hunt, “off the beaten path” is near the top of our criteria list.  Public lands where we can backpack and not see another human soul for days are a magnet to us.  Recently we found ourselves hunting an area of National Forest which contained both the mule deer we were seeking and a popular hiking trail to a spectacularly scenic waterfall. We decided that we’d willingly share the canyon with others for the opportunity at one of the big bucks we knew were there.

Shortly after sunrise we were sitting at a great glassing spot near the trail when we heard human voices approaching. As the hikers came into view we saw a large group wearing the trendy clothing of the young and environmentally conscious; Catherine and I were in full camo with weapons in hand. I saw my wife inwardly brace for the anticipated disapproving stares and “Bambi-killer” accusations.

We made a point to be friendly, commenting on the beautiful day.  After some small talk on the trail conditions, I heard the inevitable question, “Are you guys hunting?”

“Yes,” I answered as Catherine held her breath, “We are looking for deer.”

“Well,” said the apparent leader of the group, “thanks and good luck.”  Then they headed off down the trail.

That was it – thanks and good luck. Could the complex interconnectedness between hunters and anglers, and the communities in which they pursue their game be summed up in that simple sentence? I’d like to think the young hiker we met that day on the trail understood the essential role that hunting plays in conservation and local economies, and that he was directing his thanks to us for that.

While hikers, mountain bikers and other nature lovers are able to enjoy that spectacular canyon and the wildlife it contained for free, we spent hundreds of dollars on the tags and licenses required for the opportunity to hunt there. Our money goes directly to the state game and fish agency and pays for a wide spectrum of conservation programs.

Sportsmen’s dollars are the most significant contributor to state fish and wildlife agencies and support everything from habitat improvements and fish stocking to scholastic educational programs and disease research. Through their financial contributions, hunters and anglers even support non-game and endangered species management efforts.

However, when we look at the big picture of hunting’s impact from an economic perspective, it’s not just about what hunters spend on permits. It’s also about the local motel that relies on pheasant hunters to extend their season.  It’s about the mom-and-pop coffee shop that sees a significant proportion of their business in the early morning hours as deer hunters head out. It’s about the jeweler who specializes in elk ivory, the taxidermist putting his kids through college and the second generation fly-shop owner carrying on the family business. It’s about the rancher who receives compensation when he loses livestock to predators and the countless other ways in which sportsmen’s dollars directly and indirectly bolster local economies.

In my home state of Wyoming, the hunting and fishing industry contributes $1.1 billion annually. That’s second only to oil and gas, and is no small number when you consider there are only about a half a million people in the entire state. In a state like Wyoming that is dependent upon the oil and gas industry, our abundant wildlife helps to provide a diversified economy that is able to withstand the booms and busts associated with natural resource extraction.

Most people do not realize that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has not had a hunting license and tag fee increase since 2008, even though the cumulative inflation rate since then has been 8.5 percent. They have also been required to spend more of their existing budget on legislatively mandated costs, such as health care for employees. The 2013 Legislature rejected the agency’s request for a modest fee increase, forcing a multi-million dollar budget cut. This has hit Wyoming families and the small businesses that depend on our outdoor industry the hardest.  It’s not hard to see how these severe funding cuts limit the state’s ability to actively manage fish and wildlife, which in turn reduces the number of visitors to the Cowboy State whether they are hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, nature photographers or simply conservationists.

The good news is that we have the opportunity to restore what has been lost, and with it the jobs and economic strength Wyoming derives from our outdoor industry.  Two bills have been introduced by the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee of the Legislature to provide a modest fee increase that keeps pace with inflation, and to share some of the financial burden of the Game and Fish Department with the non-consumptive user.

Both bills will need to pass the budget session in February, and I encourage every Wyomingite to contact their legislator and express your support for the bills. But it’s not only locals who hunt and fish in Wyoming – sportsmen come here from across America to experience our world-class hunting and angling opportunities. Every sportsman who has ever even dreamed of chasing Wyoming elk, antelope, bighorn sheep or cutthroat trout has a stake in how these resources are managed – contact the Wyoming state legislature today and let them know you are a sportsman who supports the bills.

Redefining the Hero Shot

My husband Neil and I take a lot of vacation photos.  Most of them are pretty typical: a smiling couple, breathtaking scenery, a group of friends around a campfire. Less typically, some feature one or both of us with a dead animal.

You see, we are hunters. While other couples are taking the kids to Disneyland or relaxing on a beach, we spend the summer eagerly anticipating September, that magical month when hunting seasons are open in the Rocky Mountain West. It is no exaggeration to say that as an archer who does not participate in rifle seasons later in the year, Neil lives for September.

Photo by Neil and Catherine Thagard.

Often referred to as “hero shots”, sportsmen commonly take pictures of themselves and their quarry at the conclusion of a successful hunt. The concept is not new; people have been taking hero shots since photography was invented. What has changed is how we share these pictures. Until recently, the people most likely to see a hunter’s photos were those close to him who, for the most part, understood why the picture was taken.

However with the emergence of digital technology and social networking sites that allow anyone to instantly email or post pictures on the internet, today’s hunters are facing new ethical questions regarding the images they share. The reaction of a non-hunter to having one of these pictures show up unexpectedly on their computer screen is often as predictable as it is inaccurate – that the pictures are gruesome, perhaps even disgusting, and that the hunter is an insensitive braggart flaunting his or her bloodlust.

Photo by Neil and Catherine Thagard.

Neil and I take these so-called “deadhead” or “grip & grin” pictures because they are an important part of our vacation memories. As the image of someone’s toddler with Mickey Mouse reminds them of a day spent at the magical kingdom, so our pictures remind us of our time spent in the great outdoors, and the many wonderful experiences we shared before, during and after the hunt.

And while this may seem like a contradiction, we take pictures out of respect for the animal. They illustrate the brief moment in time when we experience both gratitude for the sustenance it will provide, and humility at the magnitude of the decision we made when we chose to end its life. We take a picture of every animal, whether it’s an antelope doe, spike bull elk or giant bighorn ram. One is no more or less deserving of respect than another according to the presence or size of antlers, horns, or any other trophy quality. The smiles you see in our pictures reflect many things – from pride at successfully putting hunting skills developed and honed over many years to use, to the knowledge that we have provided food for our own table. But never, ever, do they imply a joy in death.

Photo by Neil and Catherine Thagard.

When we have spent days or weeks on a hunt, capturing the memory is well worth a few extra minutes to thoughtfully compose a photo.  We take the time to position the animal in its natural setting and clean up any excess blood before pulling out a camera. Nothing is more cringe-inducing to me as a hunter than seeing a picture of a dead deer laying in the back of a pickup, legs splayed, tongue hanging out and blood pooling on the tailgate. Is that scenario going to happen as you travel home from your hunt?  Perhaps, but that is not the moment to preserve or publicize.

Some will disagree, arguing that they have nothing to hide and that anyone who does not appreciate their pictures can choose not to look at them. I maintain that there is a distinction between hiding your pictures and not rubbing people’s noses with them. There is a difference between a private email to a friend or a post on a hunting website and uploading an image that is going to appear on your vegetarian Aunt Susan’s Facebook page. This goes back to the respect issue, in this case respect for your audience. Every hunter must be cognizant of the fact that we are ambassadors for our sport, whether we choose to be or not, and that it’s not just like-minded individuals who see our pictures when they are made public.

My husband and I have our “hero shots” framed in the hallway of our home and in a private online album shared with hunting friends. Collectively, they reflect a lifetime’s passion for wild things and wild places. We often look through them, and I am always struck by the same thought – killing a deer, elk or any other game does not make you a hero – it makes you a hunter.

 

Video: Improving Hunting Access

  • Sportsmen must travel farther than ever to access public lands.
  • Public lands can be rendered inaccessible by adjacent private land owners.
  • The federal Open Fields program incentivizes land owners to enable sportsmen access to privately owned lands, including otherwise inaccessible hunting grounds.

Visit our partner sites to find out more about Open Fields and public lands access:

Pheasants Forever
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies

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.

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.