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!

The James Gang at Cooke Canyon

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 16, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Last Saturday, we held the Eighth Annual James Groseclose Memorial Pheasant Hunt out at the Cooke Canyon Hunt Club.

You may recall that our buddy Jim Groseclose (aka J1) suddenly went home just about eight years ago – March 21, 2010 – during the Sweet Sixteen. Two weeks before that day, Jim Davis (J2) and I (J3) joined him on a James Gang Pheasant Adventure on some of the Cooke Canyon Hunt Club ground. We enjoyed an armed walk, through good pheasant cover, on a nearly perfect almost-spring day. His beloved Labs were in top form. We still miss him, and each year, during the NCAA Tournament, we take an armed walk at Cooke Canyon in his memory. Whenever we were around J1, a sense of impending adventure hung in the air – no doubt yet another reason for our annual memorial hunts.

Groseclose, of course, was founder and leader of the James Gang, with Jim Davis and me being J2 and J3, respectively. At 7:30 a.m. on a crisp November ‘07 day, we were driving up I-82 over Manastash. As licensed HAM radio operators, we had checked in to the Kittitas County round robin network. Groseclose checked the three of us out from his truck’s mobile radio, rattling off our three legal names and call signs. He had noted that we were heading to the Yakama Rez to chase birds with shotguns. Without hesitation, Gloria Sharp said, “Oh my God. The James Gang is armed and heading out of the valley!” And so it was.

J3 and a rooster (Gloria Sharp photo)

Being part of the James Gang, chasing pheasants, ducks, quail and chukars with two great Labs and two true gentlemen added a richness to my life I had been missing since my grad school days with Freebe the Wonder Dog – a black lab who happened to be the best four-legged human I ever knew, with an unmatched sense of humor. (I first heard Freebe chuckle after I missed a bird at the North Star Game Bird Farm in Colorado. But, I digress…)

This year’s memorial hunt fell on another near-perfect almost-spring day. J2 and I were joined by his grandson, Doren Berg, and Gloria Sharp, Official James Gang photographer. Classic German shorthair Maisy brought her human, Homey Bill Boyum, to manage our bird-finding. We had arranged for the release of a mix of roosters and hens in our hunting unit.

Maisy waits on Doren and J3 (Gloria Sharp photo)

None of us had been busting cover for some months, but Bill, Maisy, and the rest of us quickly found our hunting rhythm. There is something magical – almost breathtaking – about watching a dog work the cover and the breeze, finding bird after bird as he or she was born to do. Maisy was near-perfection, and, with the exception of that one hasty and (mostly) unchallenged departure of a rooster, we did our part, too.

The last bird up was one of the hens. Maisy pointed it, I made the shot, and it hit the water (Water!?) 30 yards out. Maisy, who had flawlessly retrieved all our birds, danced back and forth along the edge of the cattails, put a foot of two in the water and looked at the bird floating in the middle of the pond in a skim of ice. “C’mon, Maisy,” I kept thinking, “get the bird! Freebe would already be back with it!” She just looked at me with those big soft brown eyes. I swear I could hear her thinking “Well, I’m not that ‘Freebe Whatever.’ I don’t do ice. Let me know how this works out for you…”

Human retriever in ice water (Gloria Sharp photo)

What could I do? Bill handed me the dog towel from the truck. Then he, Doren and Maisy went looking for that bird we had missed. Okay… Fine. Off with the boots, off with the pants, into the chest-deep ice water. As I grabbed the bird, I’m sure I heard J1 and Freebe cheering.

Just after Noon, following a few final pictures, a round of thanks to Maisy and Bill, and words on behalf of our absent and always-missed James Gang leader, we retired to the Cooke Canyon Clubhouse. Following cleaning of the birds to be shared with family and community, a couple possibly-true hunting stories, and a few so longs, we took our leave.

I know Freebe would approve of Doug and Alice Burnett and their Cooke Canyon Hunt Club. Members pay an annual membership. Add in a handful of released birds and it still runs less than what it would cost to find a couple limits somewhere else in the state. Hunters choose a unit (a field), make a reservation, bring friends and dog (some are available) and take an armed walk. You can find more at www.cookecanyon.com or 509-933-1372. (A membership and bird package will be on the block at next week’s Chukar Run banquet, by the way.)

The Eighth Annual James Groseclose Memorial Pheasant Hunt was a success, in all the ways we had hoped it might be – even if it was a little wet and cold for one of us. “Now,” J1 would say after our final hunt of the season, “it’s time to think about salmon fishing.”

About the Bald Eagles of Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 9, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

It was an impromptu outside-Arnold’s-Ranch-and-Home meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog and Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association on South Main in Ellensburg. The only agenda item was bald eagles – specifically those visible on drives up and down and around the county, or perched from time to time at town edges.

Both fellow attendees were excited about bald eagles. Why not? It is, after all, our national symbol and striking in appearance. Of course, had Ben Franklin succeeded, our national bird would be the wild turkey. In his argument, Ben described the bald eagle as “a bird of bad moral character: he does not get his living honestly… besides, he is a rank coward!” He almost pulled it off, missing by one vote in Congress in 1782. The bald eagle has been our icon ever since.

Today, probably, most of us see the bald eagle as a beautiful, strong, independent creature. In some Native American traditions, the soaring eagle could touch the Great Spirit, and its sacred feathers might then teach one to fly above the mundane – to see the truth as Great Spirit might see it. Most of us, I think, feel a bit of awe just seeing these birds.

That was not always the case. For a century we did not well honor our national bird. Until the federal protections of 1940, bald eagles were widely shot, trapped and poisoned by sheep ranchers worried about predation, shot by fishermen intending to protect the fish resource and electrocuted by power lines. Beyond that direct abuse, eagles (and many other raptors) suffered the effects of DDT.

That pesticide washed into waterways, accumulating in fish the birds were eating. DDT, its breakdown products, and other chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides (and hydrocarbons such as PCBs) posed an insidious threat to birds. Since the chemicals are persistent (they don’t break down) they tend to concentrate as they move through the food chain. Hydrocarbons accumulated in fatty tissues in females’ bodies, particularly in the fatty tissues of the ovaries, and eggshells became thinner or nonexistent, so eggs broke while being laid or during incubation. (This is not unlike the concentration of arsenic and other metalloid poisons in the fatty tissues of humans’ reproductive systems – thus early arsenic treatments for syphilis and the lack of children of young ranchers settling along certain water sources in western arid rangelands. But I digress…)

In 1976, the Feds and most states placed the bald eagle on the endangered species list. Once DDT was banned, and the killing was stopped, bald eagle populations rebounded. On August 9, 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

Here in Central Washington, we get a fair number of wintering bald eagles dropping in from the country north of us, and returning north in mid-spring. There are also several nesting pairs in our part of the state, so we have a few year‑round birds.

As our meeting degenerated, eagle tales were flowing like cool malt beverages at The Tav. A young rancher stopped for a second. “You know, we feed a lot of eagles,” he smiled. At one member’s protest that eagles hunt their own food, he chuckled, “Yeah…but mostly what the flocks of eagles find is the afterbirth left on the ground when our calves are born!”

In keeping with the wishes of our little think tank’s Science Education Committee, I include the following. Bald eagle’s scientific name is Haliaeetus leucocephalus. It may reach 12 pounds and have a wingspan of eight feet. As with most raptors, the female will be larger than the male. This eagle favors open waterways and riparian areas, where it finds the fish on which it generally makes its living. In addition to the smorgasbord provided by the valley’s calving cows in late winter into spring, it will also eat waterfowl, rabbits and the occasional small dog or cat.

If you want to travel a bit, you will likely still find a few eagles around the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center at Howard Miller Steelhead Park near Rockport, on the west side of the north Cascades. If you want to see them from the comfort of home or office, google “eagle cams,” or keep an eye on Fish and Wildlife’s site, wdfw.wa.gov/wildwatch/, for the updated eagle cam (along with several others for fish and wildlife).

Locally, bald eagles will be found in riparian areas up and down the Yakima River. As local cows drop more calves, they will be commonly seen around the Canyon entrance and across the Kittitas Valley. This is a perfect time to gather family and friends, cameras and binoculars, and go get some fresh air while enjoying the bald eagles of Paradise.

Happy almost-spring.