So Long, Patrick F. McManus

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 20, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Patrick F. McManus has been on my mind. You are aware, no doubt, that Pat went on to his well-earned reward on April 11 in Spokane, Washington. He was 84. As our very own Northwest-grown humorist, and as a man whose conversations I treasured, it somehow seems appropriate to make him the focus of this column – number 1,000 for the Ellensburg Daily Record.

Some decades ago (in the mid-1980s), I had an outdoor talk show, “The Rockies Outdoors,” on a radio station in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I also had a syndicated daily outdoor radio gig, “Inside the Outdoors,” in nine western states. I interviewed McManus for those shows, and during the next twenty-some years, we caught up a few times.

I loved talking to the guy. He was a fairly sober, contemplative fellow, with a very natural, easy, humor. I never quite knew where an interview or phone call might start – or end.

The first time I interviewed him, I organized my questions, and asked him where he wanted to start. “Well,” he said, “let’s start at the beginning. Like many people, I started life as a small child…” (I’m not sure I ever got to my questions.) “My mother was a country school teacher so from my earliest memory I was in school rooms… [S]he would put me in one of the back desks and I would sit there and color pictures and so on. …All of my early memories are of these little one room schools way off in the woods some place. We owned a small farm near Sandpoint, Idaho, but for the first seven or eight years of my life we lived in a very remote area far back in the mountains. Eventually, we lived on our farm where we had Sand Creek running through one side and I could step out the back door and go fishing or hunting in the mountains…”

McManus’ father died when he was quite young, and times were often tough on that small farm. Teenager construction work let him save enough to get through an English program at what is now Washington State University. After a stint with newspapers, he returned to WSU for work and a Master’s Degree, took a job teaching at Eastern Washington University and retired as Professor Emeritus after 23 years – a decision made when he realized he could make a living as a writer, with a little side work in television and public relations.

At some point in one of our early conversations, Patrick and I compared notes on the number of rejection slips we’d received for our early writing – and on the coaching we got from a couple renowned editors at Field and Stream Magazine. He wrote daily and sold a few things (like nature and travel stuff, and a piece on funny lookout tower stories). One day, with an hour of writing time left after completing a Sports Illustrated article, he figured “well, I’ll just write a nonsensical thing. I wrote about the use of telemetry, extended it to absurdity in which all of the animals and wildlife were hooked up with radios. I sent this off to one of the magazines – Field and Stream as a matter of fact – and an editor, Clare Conley, bought the story. I thought, ‘Gee this is a pretty easy way to make money, knocking out these quick little humor pieces!’” A dozen or so rejection slips later Clare was still encouraging him. In the late ‘60s, he finally found his humor groove, and Crazy Eddie, Rancid Crabtree, and the others (all based on real people, he claimed) began to appear.

My connection was with Ted Trueblood (also a Field and Stream editor) a regular guest on my early outdoor radio programs at KATN in Boise. He encouraged and coached me after eight or ten pink slips, and my writing got better enough that I later earned recognition from the Colorado Press Association for columns in the Douglas County News Press. Still, I moved more into broadcasting as McManus got more serious about his writing.

“I started at Field and Stream in the late ‘60s,” he said, “ and I did a monthly humor piece, at least six a year the last five years I worked there, but the regular humor columnist was Ed Zern and a column called ‘Exit Laughing.’” Patrick wrote his humor pieces for Field and Stream until about 1981, when “Clare Conley…became an editor at Outdoor Life. Clare called me up and invited me to become a regular columnist for them, with a column right on the back page of the magazine, similar to the position that Ed Zern had in Field and Stream.” Eventually, Outdoor Life fell on tight budget times, and Patrick’s back page column, “The Last Laugh,” ended with the April issue of 2009.

Our last conversation was in early ’09, as I recall. We talked a little bit about my humble efforts in Paradise and his larger world writing goals. “I could probably write humor directed toward [a] sophisticated audience, but I try to avoid that… I would much rather aim at the general population, but I am always pleased when someone from an English Department [likes my writing].”

For our continuing pleasure, Pat leaves behind a body of rich, skillful writing; that 40 years of humor columns, two dozen books (including “The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw,” “Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink!” and several darkly-humorous mystery novels), six one-man plays, and several kid stories. The work of great writers (and I would make that argument for McManus) goes ahead forever.

Thanks for sharing all the life and laughter, Patrick. RIP

Of Earth Day, Trash, Pigs and Wild Hogs

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 13, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Funny, all the contexts within which the spirit of Earth Day appears. For nearly 50 years (since 1970), April 22 has been set aside as a time to honor our Mother Earth. Some will argue that the environmental movement had its birth on that day, while others point to much earlier times. Be all that as it may, for some weeks before and after 4/22, huge numbers of us devote time to cleaning up out-of-control messes.

A couple weeks back, Son in Law Chris Kolakowski and I found ourselves in a small town outside Wichita Fall, Texas. We were seeking the high adventure tucked inside quiet nighttime waits at bait stations for feral hogs.

Our rancher host was very serious about his property and established hog stands. We were to use the red (invisible to most wildlife) varmint flashlights attached to our rifles only when critters were on the bait. Specific preparation directions for sitting in these maybe-all-night-long stands included: brushing teeth with only baking soda; no deodorants, aftershave or other scents, and carry a pee jug (“‘cause you can’t relieve yourself anywhere out there on that ground”). We would wear rubber boots and spritz them and our pants with a cover scent – diesel fuel (since it is a normal smell on these working farms). “Anything you carry in, you gotta carry out, so plan accordingly, “ he said. “And shoot some hogs ‘cause Texas has now got somewhere around six million out of control hogs to clean up, according to the Game Department.”

Very heavy rains had preceded us, flooding creeks and isolating large numbers of hogs in other places on the ranches we were sitting. We were pretty sure to see hogs, but no guarantees how many, and we were only after the small and mid-sized “meat hogs.” Through our three moonlit nights we watched wild turkeys, rabbits, raccoons, deer, bobcats and coyotes hanging around or passing by the bait stands. We also saw hogs – including a huge, probably 350-pound, boar which stayed 50 yards out from me for over an hour – but nothing that wanted to come home and feed our families. By our third night, the ground was drying and hogs were returning to their normal patterns. Our host offered us a couple more nights, on him, but Christopher had a job waiting. With a promise to see him next year, we wrapped up one of  our most enjoyable ever hunting adventures.

Our rancher host is a talented guy. I brought back samples of some remarkable writing he has never shared with anyone. (Yes, it did occur to us that the writing may have been why God sent us there in the first place – and his books may be well worth the wait.)

Before we left, he and I talked about his determination to keep his ground clean. “It’s like Earth Day cleanup, only there’s nothing left around to clean up,” I said. He looked puzzled, so I told him about our annual Durr Road cleanup – all the trash and garbage that some people leave after their shooting. “Wow,” he said, “so we got feral hogs and you got pigs!” Apparently that was funny – he chuckled for several minutes.

And here we are now, just a week away from the social event of the spring: our Annual Durr Road Cleanup. With help from Waste Management, Kittitas County Solid Waste, Kittitas County Public Works, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and volunteers, the event is organized by the 99-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. Our chefs prepare a hot dog and hamburger lunch for all volunteers. (Did I mention the morning’s doughnuts?)

Most years, 60 to 80 pickers come to play. We pick up rifle brass, bag upon bag of spent shotgun shells, paper, cardboard, shot up computers, shattered glass building blocks, tires, cans and plastic bottles, brazillians of broken beer and wine bottles and pickup loads of almost anything else a fool could carry to the hill, shoot up and leave. We have several times filled the 30-yard dumpsters provided by Waste Management, with somewhere between two and three tons of shooters’ irresponsibility. Our cleanup is an appropriate way to celebrate – after all, as we rake and pick up, we literally groom Mother Earth.

Consider the possibilities: meditating on Earth and its web of life; taking outdoor work and play action; and eating food with joy, gusto and laughter. All that just has to be good for the planet. Join the party. You will be able to tell your grandchildren that you played alongside the outdoor heroes of Kittitas County, Washington. Watch their eyes light up when you mention collecting trash alongside icons like Gordon “Keep That Road to Wild Places Open Forever” Blossom, Lee “Small Streams are the Answer to All Fishing Blues” Davis, Bill “Dances with Rattlers” and Deborah “Bird Whisperer of Paradise” Essman.

By the way, things will be improving along Durr Road. The Wenas Target Shooting Advisory Committee and DFW will be doing some Firewise clearing in the area, and building better backstops for target shooters. Expect to see a new information/safety pamphlet, a bit more engagement with law enforcement, and new eyes on the shooting areas.

Come play next Saturday. 9 a.m. on Durr Road – look for the signs south of Ellensburg. Happy Earth Day, 2018…

About the NRA Foundation

Written by Jim Huckabay on April 6, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Over the half-dozen decades since The Old Man dragged me and my kid brothers to the National Rifle Association (NRA) range in East Wenatchee, “NRA” has always been a good conversation. Depending on where I might be in this country, or another, the association was responsible for millions of adults and kids learning to safely and responsibly handle firearms, or for Americans developing life-long marksmanship skills, or responsible for every bad thing any fool had done with a firearm in the previous whatever-number-of years. Few good pictures have ever been painted with a broad brush, yet there seems to be a number of them these days.

When I was a youngster, every kid I knew was in one or another NRA certified shooting program. Through match seasons over the years, we fired thousands of rounds of .22 caliber ammo under safe and controlled conditions. The Old Man always said it was his job to make sure we were safe around the firearms with which we were having so much fun. The NRA made that possible, and I have been ever grateful for the training.

Several years ago, I was talking with one of my fellow profs about the upcoming Kittitas County Friends of the NRA banquet, and its support of the NRA Foundation for firearms safety training, local shooting facilities and other programs for all ages across the country. Somewhere in there, I mentioned my strong support of the Second Amendment and my long-held belief that every kid and adult in the country ought to have training in the safe handling and use of firearms.

My friend got pretty worked up, listing tragedies involving firearms in the hands of unstable people. In his opinion, the firearms were the problem. He was dismayed at my support for firearms rights. “You’re an ordained minister, for God’s sake,” he said, “so how can you support these ‘firearm rights?’”

Hmmm. In 1991, the Colorado State Legislature was debating a bill to limit the ability of some churches to practice their religions as they saw fit, and deny them recognition unless they met some new standard. On a warm sunny day, a couple hundred of us were on the street outside the Capitol, representing denominations and practices from Wiccan to Catholic.

I had just returned from a trip to St. Louis and a series of interviews with NRA officials, during which I had just been hired to fill a newly-created field rep position in Denver. I would finalize the paperwork in Washington, DC. One of my fellow picketers overheard part of a conversation about the job, and moved out of his place in our picket/protest line to rag on me about it.

His initial comments were pretty raw. The NRA, as he saw it, was the greatest evil on the planet, and to work with them on behalf of firearms rights – even if my job was more about education and safety training – clearly put me in bed with the devil himself.

Others gathered. When he paused, I asked him why we were all in the street. “It is our right,” he said, “and these guys are messing with our First Amendment rights to freedom of religious practice!” I finally asked, “So, what is the Second Amendment?”

“It’s that gun stuff,” one of the women said, “but it’s only for the army, but a lot of people disagree.” That debate raged until someone opened a pocket book of the Bill of Rights (the first ten of our 27 Constitutional Amendments). “Okay,” Antagonist said. “So it’s a right, but we don’t have to support it. It’s not why we are here. Let’s get back to business. And,” he looked at me, “you really ought to be thinking about your priorities…”

As he turned, I said, “So, it’s okay to stand for religious rights and freedom of speech, but wrong to stand for the right to bear arms? I can’t help but wonder why the First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech are immediately followed by the Second Amendment declaring our rights to bear arms… Maybe it’s to ensure the first? Don’t we have to stand up for all our rights, if we expect to keep any of them?” He sighed, “Yeah, okay… I just never thought about the NRA as some kind of ally – that’s weird.”

As it turned out, Wayne LaPierre reorganized the NRA before I went to DC. We never opened that Denver office.

May 12 is our local Friends of the NRA banquet. In partnership with many others, it will support ranges, equipment and safety training. Get tickets and info from Brian Huss (509-607-1677) or kcfnra@gmail.com. No more than half the money raised will go to meals and production costs, and all net proceeds will go to qualified local, state and national programs. Our state programs annually raise nearly half a million bucks – half of it coming back to shooting safety and training in our Washington. The rest goes to national programs such as Eddie Eagle (teaching firearm safety rules to youngsters), Y.E.S. (Youth Education Summit), and other educational and safety shooting programs. Since 1990, the foundation has awarded nearly $369 million in grant funding in support of the shooting sports. See for yourself at www.nrafoundation.org.

Plenty of people are still conflicted about firearms and the NRA, but I wonder what would happen to firearm accidents and firearms violence if safety and marksmanship programs were required of every kid in the United States?

There is a seat for you at the banquet and in the discussion. Come play on May 12.

Of Feral Hogs, Feral Cats, and Other Western Invaders

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 30, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Funny how things converge at odd moments. Three or four weeks back, I was reviewing arrangements for the trip son-in-law Chris Kolakowski and I have been putting together for a Texas feral hog hunt. The TV news story at that moment was about the just-released Western Governors’ Association (WGA) list of the top 50 invasive species in the West.

The Association is headquartered in Denver, and includes the governors of 19 western states and three U.S. territories in the Pacific. This invasive species stuff is a big – and growing – deal; The Nature Conservancy estimates that management of invasive species in the U.S. exceeds $120 billion annually and impacts an area the size of California. The West’s forests, rangeland, water and cropland are under siege by seemingly limitless numbers of invading species. Most all of the states have invasive species councils. To get an overall assessment, the Association surveyed coordinators in each member state and territory. The resulting composite list of the top 50 species (25 aquatic and 25 terrestrial) is intended to help state managers better understand regional risks and improve cross-boundary management strategies.

The aquatic species list starts with 1) Eurasian Watermilfoil, 2) Quagga and Zebra Mussels, then works its way down through 7) Northern Pike, 10) Whirling Disease, 19) Nutria, 21) Grass Carp, and ends at 25) Western Mosquitofish. The terrestrial species at topped by 1) Salt cedar, 2) Cheatgrass, 3) Canada thistle, then down through 6) Feral Hog, 13) Feral (or spay-neuter-release) Cat, 16) Yellow starthistle, and ending at 25) Little fire ant. (The whole list and more information can be found by googling “WGA Top 50 Invasive Species.)

This report provides an interesting look at issues facing the West as a region, but from state to state, and county to county, of course, the rankings will vary greatly.

For example, feral cats are at the middle (#13) of the list of 25 regional invasive terrestrial species, but in Hawaii they are at or near the top of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council’s list. They are identified as major instinctive predators of native birds and insects – even if well-fed. The Council notes that “feral cats on islands have contributed to the extinction of 33 species and are the principle threat to 8% of critically endangered birds, mammals, and reptiles.”

The risks of feral cat damage in the West are a reflection of national trends. The American Bird Conservancy notes that the number of domestic cats in the U.S. has tripled in the last four decades. It has long labeled the “feral and outdoor” portion of that growing population an invasive species, killing well over a billion birds annually – an unsustainable predation level for many already-declining species. (See abcbirds.org/threat/cats-and-other-invasives/.) According to a 2010 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Report, “Feral Cats and Their Management,” the outdoor and “ownerless” cats account for $17 billion in economic loss from annual predation on U.S. birds alone. (Losses related to small mammals, reptiles and amphibians are calculated separately.)

Feral hogs are slightly higher on the WGA list (#9), but their damage to economies is far more obvious to most observers. In Texas, the million and a half wild hogs are near the top of the list. Here alone, the hogs cause an average of $52 million damage annually to the agricultural industry. This damage includes rooting of pastures and rangeland, consumption of native vegetation, negative impacts on water quality, predation on other wildlife, and more.

In California, at least 45 counties report wild boar or feral hog damage, with estimates of up to and beyond 100,000 animals. Costs of agricultural damage range up to a billion dollars annually, with a much higher potential as the critters continue to increase. Oregon estimates wild pig numbers in the 5,000 range, is seeing agricultural economic damage, and has instigated an aggressive effort to eradicate the animals. While Washington has yet to see an established population of feral hogs, the Washington Invasive Species Council considers them a serious threat to the state’s agriculture, livestock, and natural resources, with many billions of dollars at risk. In early January of this year, the Council held a public meeting to share and assess the feral hog threat. (Learn more at www.invasivespecies.wa.gov/feral-swine-information.shtml.)

None of the 50 species identified by the WGA are to be taken lightly. They pose grave threats of one type or another to our livelihoods, our recreation, and our future. We must all do our part as new ways of managing the risks are developed.

In the meantime, if you are reading this the evening it posts, hits the newsstand or your delivery box, know that Chris and I are sitting in the dark somewhere outside Wichita Falls, with the intention of trimming Texas’ feral hog population. Amazing, isn’t it, to have a red flashlight that reaches out to 200 yards? We are doing our best to help. I will be filing a report.

 

Special Hunt Permits – Luck of the Draw (or NOT?)

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 23, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Drawing a special big game hunt permit in Washington (or most states) isn’t quite as simple and straightforward as it seems – or as a good many of us think it ought to be. How is it that homeys with well over a dozen preference points in each year’s permit drawing seem to have diminishing odds rather than increasing odds of being drawn? The weighted draw system is honest, but it appears that we complicate it ourselves. How? Come to the Hal Holmes Center in Ellensburg on 9 April – the monthly meeting of the 99-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club – and find out why the system fails some of us and what we might be able to do about it as we move ahead.

Times have changed. While a hunter can still purchase an over-the-counter general big game license in most states, there will be some sort of lottery for high-demand hunting permits. The pros operating those lotteries are working to make or keep their systems fair and honest. Yes, in some states, there will be leftover licenses after the draw. (For example, we still buy “leftover after the draw” licenses for our annual Wyoming deer and antelope safaris. And decades ago in Colorado, after the draw, we would line up outside the Division of Wildlife gate the night before leftover licenses were handed out on a “first come-first served” basis.) Today, such opportunities are ever fewer and farther between, or just gone. Alas, in Washington, as in most states, there are no leftover permits – simply too many applicants.

This is a sacred thing. During the weeks before late May, a good many of us who hunt begin seriously weighing possibilities. We think about hunting some critter we have long dreamed of pursuing, in some season or place we have long dreamed of hunting. Getting a license for one of these “dream” hunts is like winning the lottery, and chasing those almost impossible permits can drag across decades. We chuckle through the frustration and ask each other questions like “So, what are the odds this year?”

Here’s the process. In April, the Washington Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations booklet shows up online and at license outlets. In it are the dates and conditions under which we can purchase a license for big game in one of the “general” seasons. In that same booklet, however, are nearly one thousand “special” hunts – those areas with limited access (by age or ability or training or…) and limited numbers of deer, elk, sheep, or so on. On the row for each special hunt in the booklet will be a) the number of permits available this year, b) the number of applications for those permits last year and c) the average number of “preference” points used by last year’s successful applicants. (One gets an additional preference point for each year one is not drawn – a sort of additional “ticket” in the drawing for each point – thus, a “weighted draw” system.)

One purchases an application, for the specific hunt(s) chosen from the many hundreds mentioned above, and submits it online by late May – a date set by the State Wildlife Commission. Once each application is submitted, with preference points, one may offer a series of prayers, perform a traditional ritual, prepare a lucky meal, and/or wait. The drawing results are released by the end of June. A similar scenario plays out, pretty much, across the US.

We are optimists, and this is sacred stuff. Most of us already know that 2018 is the year we have enough points to finally have a great adventure hunting moose, or bighorn sheep or a big bull elk, or a big buck, or… This is all in spite of rather long odds. Let me give you a couple examples; I now have 17 preference points for moose, and last year more than 14,000 hopefuls applied for twenty-some permits; my 15 points for a bighorn permit are iffy, given last year’s 5,000+ applications for the four permits in my dream area. We live with long odds, and cling to the notion that NOT being drawn for a treasured hunt simply means that our number will come up next year.

Reality is a stern master, however. Washington Fish and Wildlife pros are working very hard to keep our weighted (preference point) draw system fair. While an applicant with many points has better odds of being drawn than one with less points, the simple fact is that in many of the draws fewer of the available permits are drawn by those of us with a large number of points than by those with only a few points. The system is legit, but it suffers increasingly from its popularity.

It is a complicated issue. If you want to better understand “the draw,” your odds, and how it all fits together, be at the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club presentation at the Ellensburg, Washington, Hal Holmes Center at 7 p.m. on 9 April. That evening will also be an early step in putting together the public conversations needed to find solutions to a system suffering from the weight of its huge number of users. Your thinking could help find fixes along the path ahead.

Oh, yeah. Good luck in this year’s draw!