“So,” Homey observed, “our Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights looks like it is back to the drawing board – again. Geeez, it’s just to encourage youngsters to get out and connect and protect their own future… If this is so hard, think what it would take to get a right to hunt and fish into our constitution. …Some states have them, right?”
Duty called; I started digging.
In Kansas, an amendment to the state constitution added paragraph 21 to the Kansas Bill of Rights. It reads: “§21. Right of public to hunt, fish and trap wildlife. The people have the right to hunt, fish and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights or water resources.” It passed in November.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/state-constitutional-right-to-hunt-and-fish.aspx), Indiana and Kansas just became the 20th and 21st states to guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions.
Of the twenty-one states now including those rights in their constitutions, twenty were approved by voters. Vermont adopted the rights in 1777. The others (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming) began with the elections of 1996.
In general, Alaska’s constitutional language (“Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use”) is seen as equivalent to a state constitutional guarantee. Florida and New Hampshire have statutory protections for the right to hunt and fish, but not constitutional amendments. Thus, twenty-four states have stood up to protect the right of the public to engage in lawful hunting and fishing.
The constitutions of California and Rhode Island guarantee the right to fish, but not to hunt.
Several states are in the queue. Nevada passed language in 2015 to amend its constitution for the right to hunt and fish, but it becomes official when passed by the 2017 Legislature and approved by voters in 2018. Legislation asserting the constitutional right to hunt and fish is on the table in Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.
Last year, legislation relating to the constitutional right to hunt and fish was introduced in Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia. All failed.
When Mississippi became the 18th state to establish a constitutional right to hunt and fish, 88 percent of voters approved. That year, almost 80 percent of Alabama voters added language affirming that hunting and fishing were to be the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”
So why all the interest – particularly in these past two decades – in making hunting and fishing a Constitutional Right? Think about it; every year across America, new firearms regulations are promoted for “safety.” Almost invariably, they do – or would – interfere with the legal, traditional and safe use of firearms afield – by folks who’ve all been through training programs. It feels like harassment.
According to a 2008 article in the “State Legislatures” magazine, sportsmen feel under attack. In many states, they “increasingly feel as if they are the ones outside…turning to state constitutions to ensure their hallowed pastime will continue in perpetuity. Increasing urbanization, decreased habitat, declining numbers of sportsmen, and more restrictions on hunting are common factors in the quest to assert the right to hunt and fish in a state’s most basic and difficult-to-amend document. On land that has been traditionally open to sportsmen, development of farmland and forests, along with pressure from other recreational groups such as hikers and off-road vehicles, is putting the pinch on the available land for harvesting game and fish.”
As we have from time to time seen in Paradise, animal rights groups, and their impact on methods, seasons and bag limits for certain game species have pushed many hunter advocacy groups to lobby for hunting and fishing righta. Sportsmen and a wide variety of folks work to get kids outdoors – and connected with nature – so that they will be advocates for an outdoor future for themselves and their own kids. In the meantime, louder and louder voices work to inhibit their fishing and hunting opportunities. The call has been heard across the country, and at least half of our states have taken steps to guarantee that future.
We may yet get a bill through our legislature to officially create a Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights.
Would voters of Washington pass a constitutional amendment for hunting and fishing? I don’t know really, but it is an interesting fantasy isn’t it?
(Speaking of fantasies, the trip to the Yakima SunDome will be worth the short drive. See you at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show this weekend – you can realize almost every outdoor fantasy you ever had.)
No doubt you have heard that several wildlife wintering areas have just been declared off-limits for visiting humans. This is an important – if not critical – move. Over the years, we have from time to time discussed the issues around winter and wildlife. This winter is a reminder of our roles and responsibilities.
DFW has closed much of the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area (Asotin County) to all use until April to protect wintering deer and elk. Wildlife Area Manager Bob Dice and District Wildlife biologist Paul Wik are dealing with the worst winter conditions in the Grand Ronde River drainage in two decades – snow measured in feet and ongoing sub-zero temperatures. “Deer and elk observed in this area have physical signs of undernourishment, including exposed hip bones and eating shrub bark,” Wik noted. He added that they have “already seen a few dead animals with no signs of predation. Conditions remain harsh, so we need to avoid disturbing these animals to boost their chances of survival.”
To minimize the disturbance of wintering wildlife and, in some cases to keep animals from damaging nearby private lands, there are other wildlife winter closures. Those include parts of our local L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, the Oak Creek Wildlife Area (Yakima County), W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area (Columbia County), Asotin Creek Wildlife Area (Asotin County), and Sherman Creek Wildlife Area (Ferry County).
In surviving even a normal winter, deer and elk may lose a quarter or more of their body mass. A loss of just under a third of fall body weight will generally cause death, even if food becomes available. (Biologist Wik also reiterated a fact often noted across the country in the midst of a hard winter; feeding deer and elk is not useful now, because it just takes them too long to adjust to diet changes.) As they fatten up in early fall, wild ungulates develop thicker, longer coats with many hollow hairs providing even more insulation with “piloerection” (the ability to make the hairs stand up and trap more air). Deer and elk also have large, round, bodies providing a greater volume to surface area ratio, minimizing heat loss. They move around less and rates of metabolism drop a bit, lowering caloric demand (probably why people often consider deer and elk Aless wild@ in the winter). Still, even with these built-in survival mechanisms, severity of winter is the major factor controlling most wildlife populations.
Then there are our impacts. It does not matter if we think we pose no danger, animals act on their perceptions. (I often think of the expression “Facts are facts, but perceptions are reality” handed me by former Sinlaheken Manager Dale Swedburg.) During our winters, stress of any kind will drain an animal=s energy supply. If a critter just watches us so long that it loses valuable foraging time, its health may be compromised – especially now, when every bite counts. Wildlife photographer Leonard Lee Rue III once reported studies showing that eastern white‑tailed deer distracted from feeding on winter grounds for just a few hours at a time over a dozen weekends may lose a month’s worth of survival ability. In a hard winter, then, deer could die just from their reactions to being watched.
The bottom line of all this is that we have an obligation to observe critters from a distance comfortable to them, not us. There are safe distances, and wildlife will show you what they are. Just as you and I have our individual “comfort zones” and “flight” distances, so do deer and elk. A head‑up, ears‑forward posture, with obvious nervousness, is enough to make me sit still, avoid eye contact, or back off quietly. The next level of warning signs might include: flicking of tails; jumpy response to noise; skittishness; moving away; hairs on neck and shoulders standing up; snorting or slapping the ground with a foot or paw. Any additional pressure will cause flight – and more loss of needed energy.
Staying in your rig can be non-threatening. Binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto lenses will let us get close enough for a good look without disrupting critter activities and bankrupting their energy reserves. If you opt to take a casual walk around wildlife, of course, you will want to leave pets in the car. Consider the comfort zones of fellow watchers, too.
Expect to find wild things all around the valley and down the Yakima Canyon this winter, on most any drive. Joe Watt Canyon is a favorite sledding area, often with a fair number of elk nearby. You might head south and then out of Yakima to the Cleman Mountain Bighorn feeding area (just north of the intersection of Highways 12 and 410). Then go a couple miles south on Highway 12 to the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. You could see a hundred or more bighorns and deer, and a thousand or more bull, cow and calf elk.
And watch all around our snowy winter roads. Hitting a deer or elk can mess up the whole day for both of you.
“So we found those rams again, with a fifth one I really liked. Joe was about to head back to work, and I’d be on my own. I guess it occurred to Joe that he hadn’t been on an actual sheep hunt and if I wanted to go up after that ram he would go and take pictures – if I wanted him to. Wow! That would be great.
“We got ready to go up the mountain and see if we could locate them. Joe grabbed my pack and I grabbed my Forbes 25-06 and up the mountain we went. When we finally got to where I thought the rams were located, Joe said he thought they were over one more draw. We continued working our way south and sure enough, over the next ridge we located the four rams feeding and laying down.
“We decided to just watch and see what they were going to do. We finally picked out the one we thought was the largest – lying down off in front of us. We stretched out over that rocky ridge, and waited for them to get up. After a time, Joe quietly said, ‘I just found the ewe and the big ram…they’re off to your left.’ I found the ewe and then the ram. Sure enough the right ear had that orange tag. We discussed the situation and decided that since the ewe was up, the ram would soon be getting up, and that would be my best shot.
“We watched. Finally the ram got up and started moving out. Just before it disappeared over the crest, I squeezed the trigger. The ram wheeled over the edge, headed downhill. I said. ‘Joe… The good news is I made a good shot. The bad news is it may have been a little too far back.’ He shrugged and said, ‘Well, you know what we have to do. Let’s get on it.’
“We started across a rockslide to a rock outcropping on the next ridge, where we could probably locate the ram. Moving as quickly and carefully as we could, it still took us 10 or 15 minutes to cross over that unstable slide. Joe and I quickly spotted the ewe heading up the draw. I watched her carefully to make sure the ram wasn’t following, while Joe slipped down around another rock outcropping. Suddenly Joe said, ‘Bring the rifle and shoot!’
“I worked my way to where he was, but I couldn’t see anything, since I was blocked from some of his view. I was also looking for a standing ram, and I told him I couldn’t see it. He yelled back, ‘Shoot the coyote!’ ‘What? Where?’ ‘The one pulling hair out of your ram,’ he said. At that instant the coyote was off the ram and running over the ridge. I couldn’t believe that the ram was dead and the coyote had gotten to it that fast. We both laughed and climbed down to the ram. We high-fived each other and I said, ‘The good news is the ram at least went downhill and was now closer to the Yakima River and our trucks.’
“We read the orange ear tag, which said to notify WDWF before consumption. Neither of us knew what this meant. Joe examined the horns and told me he thought the ram was at least 9-1/2 years old. I field-dressed the animal and we set about skinning, caping, and deboning it. Joe had done this before; he was quick and good with the knife. Just before dark we loaded the cape and head into my backpack and Joe took the meat which was now in a large game bag and threw it over his shoulder.
“What was supposed to be a scouting trip had turned out to be a spectacular hunt. What a day it was and what a ram!
“At dark and our trucks, Joe headed home and I headed into Selah to take the head to Peyser Taxidermy to be mounted. Before Joe left, he gave me the name and number of Will Moore, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist. I called Will to arrange for the check-in and plugging of the horns (all bighorn sheep rams harvested have a metal “plug” inserted into the horns for registration and tracking purposes). Turned out that Todd Peyser could arrange that task at his taxidermy shop. I still wanted to know what the tag in the ear was all about, and Will told me that there were some rams tagged a number of years ago during a pneumonia outbreak. At that time the game department wanted to monitor them; mine was definitely a survivor and not to worry about the meat as it was good. I will keep the tag with the head mount as a reminder of the hunt.
“A couple final thoughts. I found out later that, as we were out on the hunt, Joe was taking pictures and texting and sharing the hunt with our mutual friend Jim Huckabay as he traveled across the South. Most importantly, I couldn’t have asked for a better person to show me around than Joe Rotter. I am looking forward to doing some fishing with Joe and the guides at Red’s Fly Shop. Friends are made through fishing and hunting experiences like this one! I couldn’t give a higher recommendation to anyone: if you’re looking for a fishing guide and/or sheep hunting information, stop by Red’s Fly Shop on the Yakima River.” Brian Talbott
One other bit of information, since several homeys have asked. Brian’s 9 ½ year old California bighorn ram was measured – as are most rams taken in sheep herds around the state. The measuring system totals length and several circumferences of each horn. While not official until the end of a required 60-day drying period, his ram totaled right at 159 inches – placing it among the 35 largest California rams measured over the past 50 years in Washington.
I’m certain that 2017 will be my sheep-hunting year – I just have to be one of the two or three hunters drawn from the three to six thousand others wanting to hunt my chosen sheep unit.
Photos by Joe Rotter
In Washington, as in most states with bighorns, there are long odds against being drawn for a hunting permit. Relatively few permits are issued; in the 2016 special permit drawing there were 14 ewe permits and 26 ram permits statewide. If you draw a tag and harvest a ram, you may no longer apply in Washington. Each year I apply unsuccessfully, I get another preference point. Some of us have two dozen or more points. This increases our odds, but anyone can draw. We are all optimists; we pay a few bucks to throw them into a drawing with up to 6,000 others hoping to draw one of two or three permits available in a specific unit.
In the Lower 48, we have three subspecies of bighorns: Rocky Mountain, Desert and California. In Washington, we have a handful of Rocky Mountain bighorns and a fair number of California bighorns. Our local sheep are the California subspecies.
Some decades ago, I somehow drew two licenses over three years for a Rocky Mountain bighorn in Colorado. With those two licenses, I hunted some 25 days before I took my lifetime Colorado ram. Talk to enough sheep hunters and you find out that is pretty much the norm.
Now, let me introduce you to Brian Talbott. We grew up together in East Wenatchee, and spend odd moments hanging out, talking family, hunting and fishing. Brian’s been applying for sheep for many years, too, but only submits an app when he knows he won’t be out on business – which he has happened most sheep seasons. He figures he had four or five preference points.
“My hunting season always starts in spring, when I apply for everything I am eligible for. Of course, I know the chance of receiving a draw is slim at best. However, part of the fun is to be able to call my old classmate Jim Huckabay to see if he was drawn. He would always say ‘This will be our year!’ Then we would wait for next year. This year when I heard the drawings had taken place, I immediately picked up the phone to call Jim. Midway through the dialing I stopped as I realized the first thing Jim would ask me was ‘Well what did you draw?’ I jumped on the Internet and checked.
“Lo and behold! There it was, a once in a lifetime Bighorn Ram Sheep tag. I was stunned and immediately called Jim to see how he had done, share my good luck and seek his assistance since my draw was in the Selah Butte Unit in the Yakima Canyon. Of course, Jim was excited about my tag – even as he muttered about ‘not drawn’ – and offered to help in any way he could.
“As usual, work was causing a lot of traveling around the country. In addition, I had a moose hunt in October with Babine Guide Outfitters out of British Columbia. Before I knew it, November was just around the corner and I called Jim to ask for his help. He had been talking to people, so get back to him and we would do some scouting. Once again, time ran out and I called Jim in the first week of November, only to catch him and wife Diane on a genealogy search across the country. He had, however, made access arrangements for my hunting on the Eaton Ranch through Joe Rotter (Jim calls Joe one of his ‘outdoor heroes’) at Red’s Fly Shop on the Yakima River.
“I called Joe. He said if I came over on Friday, November 11th, he would show me how to access the area. He said to arrive mid-morning. Now ‘mid-morning’ to me meant 9 or 10 a.m. I arrived around 9:15 and asked at Red’s Fly Shop if Joe was available. They said, ‘Not unless you’re Brian Talbott… He’s about two miles away watching some sheep. He has a big 4×4 truck and he should be looking through a spotting scope.’ Joe had been spotting sheep since daylight, according to the guys at Red’s. …Not exactly mid-morning!
“I headed down the Yakima for my day of scouting before I would get really serious about my hunt (which ran until the end of the month). Sure enough, Joe was along the river, with an outdoor photographer, watching four California bighorn rams way up on the mountain. I introduced myself and he showed me the rams. Since I had never hunted sheep they all looked nice to me. After a while Joe suggested we look at how to access the area. I quickly realized Joe was a skilled hunter with a great eye for game. We drove around behind closed gates, watching several bands of sheep and looking around the top of the ridges. I learned it wasn’t easy judging the various rams’ horns.
“Joe mentioned he needed to get back to work, but kept putting it off as we both got more interested in sheep. After we had explored for a while, we agreed to go back and see if the four rams from the morning were still around. We could look them over, and I could be on my own.
“The rams were still in the same place – busy fighting now that a ewe had joined them. As we watched, we could hear the noise of butting heads ricocheting off the rock walls. I was totally enthralled by how they pushed each other around, trying to see which ram would dominate. It became obvious how much Joe’s high-powered spotting scope helped; even my 10×42 Swarovski binoculars were not nearly as clear.
“A fifth ram showed up – bigger than the other four. It had an orange tag in its right ear, which seemed a little strange. After watching them all I said, ‘Boy, that ram really looks nice.’”
…To be concluded.
(Joe Rotter Photos 11/11/16)
You still have a little time to get your own outdoor adventure submitted. In the meantime, the judges have unanimously awarded sets of sportsmen show tickets to two local writers, Dwight Bates and Ed Marshall. Each of their stories offers insight into the interweaving of human and nature.
Dwight Bates submitted “A B-17 Airplane Saved My Life.”
“On a fire in Wyoming in 1964, I was told by the fire leader to take my crew down into a canyon to put out hot spots. I told the inexperienced fire leader that the canyon was a death trap if the wind came up. (I had been on 40 fires by then.) The fire leader said, ‘Take your 30 men down there or I will send you home.’ I put my men in the canyon but climbed to the rim of the canyon to watch for the wind coming up – which it did.
“I ran down into the canyon and yelled to my men to throw down their tools and run for it. The fire crowned to about 100 foot flames and chased us all the way up to our vehicles. One guy was walking slowly until I told him to look behind him and see the flames. He then ran like hell to the top. At the vehicles, all 30 of my men panicked – one after the other. One guy even tried to drive off with people under the truck before we could grab the keys away. We called on the radio for any fire bomber in the area to drop fire retardant on us as it was our only chance; we were surrounded by fire.
“A B-17 said he was near us with a full load. We said drop in as soon as possible without a ‘bird dog’ guide airplane and gave him directions. Then I yelled for my men to take cover and looked up into the bomb bay as the retardant came out. It hit all of us but no one was hurt. It knocked a gap in the fire and we quickly drove out. You could later tell all my men in the food line because they had red backs.
“In 1992, I did the MRB Engineer work on a B-17 I was helping restore at Boeing. The stringers in the bomb bay were corroded so I knew it had been a fire bomber. I called the Greybull, Wyoming, firebase with the hull number but it was not the B-17 that saved me. They said that B-17 was in a museum in Chino, California. It would have been a good story if I was restoring the same one that saved me. (It saved me and now I was saving it!) But it was not to be. Find photos of the brick I put in the Wild Fire Fighter Memorial in Boise, Idaho, on Wikipedia. The brick says ‘A B-17 dropped on my crew saving us in the Wheatland, Wyoming Fire in 1964.’”
Ed Marshall’s introspective piece is “In Awe of Nature: Dog Ethics.”
“Quite a long while ago, I was walking out of the field, head down and empty handed except for my cold, unused over-and-under, following a weekend of bird hunting in Eastern Washington.
“Eastern Washington has a big sky and lots of public land. No houses or trailers or barns or anything but sage and marshland and crops within a 360° view of where I was taking my retriever for this late Sunday afternoon walk in the sage.
“It was getting close to the official daily end of shooting. I was alone with my dog and she clearly was finished hunting for this day. The sky was fading into dark blue as the sun had gone below the horizon. It was cold and totally silent, getting on into twilight. Everything below the horizon was dead, brown or tan, dry and still.
“Gently, a very subtle noise in the sky grew increasingly louder with occasional high bird voices and wing beats as a thin and twisting horizontal tornado of birds randomed its way over my head at about 500 feet. It was a migratory string of redwings that had lifted out of the thousands and thousands of acres of cattails and marshlands and crop lands long before I was aware of it. The black rope stretched from one horizon to the next and it was growing in size with redwings subtly lifting off in the distance – but within my view – from the enormous marshland all around me.
“I saw no beginning nor end to the bird tube for however long it took me to finally walk out of the field (maybe a half-hour or more) and back to my truck and on until dark. The tube of birds varied in thickness as it passed overhead but was never smaller than ten or fifteen feet in diameter. Stragglers or newcomers held together the occasional breaks in the uniform density of the serpentine.
“As the tube wiggled around and passed overhead many times, I could hear the bird droppings, like raindrops, following their wanderings.
“Pause. Reflect. Consider.
“No, I didn’t shoot at those birds. My dog would have disowned me.”