Archive for December, 2018

So Long, Joe Meuchal

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 12, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Several dozen of us gathered Saturday afternoon at the Fairgrounds here in Ellensburg, Washington, to remember our friend Joe Meuchal (as in “Michael”). True to his nature Joe wanted no fuss made over him, so we just made a small fuss and spent a couple hours sharing memories, laughing, and celebrating a good man who will be well-remembered.

You probably crossed paths with Joe at one point or another over the past decades. He was one of those great story tellers and loyal friends you can’t forget – and wouldn’t want to forget, anyhow. He went to his well-earned reward on his 91st birthday.

Joe was an outdoor guy from the moment he could find his way out a door. He grew up on a homestead on the North Dakota prairie and then in Montana after the Great Depression took the homestead. As a young man he spent summers as a fire lookout for the U.S. Forest Service, times of which he spoke and wrote often. He was a WWII and Korean Conflict vet. He worked forests and spent much of his adulthood as a rancher. Fresh air, sunshine, plants, wildlife, horses, and change were the constants in his life – all of them, he said, fueled his passion for knowledge about the world around him and the forces that shaped it. As long as he was able – as close to the end as possible – he took long daily walks.

If you were there Saturday, you heard about his work with Audubon and the many places – roundtables, committees and boards – where he made certain that someone was speaking on behalf of them. You also learned that even as he was speaking in great detail – scientific names and all – about birds, animals, native plants or weeds, he was devoted to seeing them in the context of a healthy habitat, within the big picture. He often noted that when we restore or maintain a healthy environment, with its variety of habitats, the plants and wildlife will find their proper balance.

I first crossed paths with Joe during the Big Game Management Roundtable (BGMR) – a group of some 50 stakeholders dealing with big game damage to agricultural ground in the Kittitas Valley of Washington in ’03 or ‘04. He was a strong voice for open space and the holistic management of wildlife and livestock. His insatiable appetite for the natural and cultural history of the valley and the region – and his nearly perfect recall of what he had learned from archive after archive – supported the roundtable in finding workable solutions to some fairly intractable problems. When he spoke about the BGMR and his role, he was speaking of his own values: “People are talking; trust is developing… Open communication… A diverse group of people collaboratively seeking solutions to the elk problems within the whole environmental picture.“

Over the years, he often spoke about the importance of kids being free to explore the outdoors without constraint. Only in this way, he insisted, would they fully develop their innate desire to learn all they could about wild things and wild places. A decade or so ago, when we were talking about one of the columns I was writing, he reminded me that without that passion for nature future generations will not do the work for a healthy natural environment that we are doing. On Saturday, a couple of his other friends reminded us of his strong opinions about the importance of outdoor kids.

Joe put together half a dozen books of his well-written and entertaining stories. Copies of various of them are in the hands of friends, but they were never widely distributed.

I thought I’d pass along a couple of the notes folks sent me about our friend.

Marc Eylar described him as an “old hand of many subjects, experienced and well read. Not only could he tell a good story but his ability to just listen and converse with you always left you feeling fortunate to be in the conversation. His laugh would warm your heart and when you were in his company you were content…and so was he.”

Robert Kruse wrote that Joe “possessed a  breadth of knowledge, experience and interest in sharing with others encyclopedic knowledge and recollections in natural science, landscape arts, agriculture, horsemanship and cultural history, to name a few. Joe took us back with him to days long ago and allowed us to experience moments in the past with colorant, spices and humor…to make the flavor just right.”

Maybe the best way to summarize how so many of us felt about Joe is just to let you read the words of his friend Charlie McKinney. “I feel like Joe, in his own way was a kind of Renaissance Man. If it had to do with plants or animals, wild or domestic; land, especially the American west or how people have lived on it or still do, then he was interested. He had a wealth of practical, hands-on experience because he had lived it. But he was amazing in that he could stay right up with you in a discussion of modern range management, forestry, wildlife management or environmental issues. Joe was steeped in the traditional ways but also knowledgeable about modern science and management. Joe maintained a wonderfully open mind to the end.”

A wise man once said to me, “A person is only as big as the number of things to which he or she attends with interest.” Joe Meuchal was a big man.

Safe and Fun: Family Recreational Shooting

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 5, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Tomorrow evening, Dec. 6, at 6:00, the Light Rifle Class League for winter family recreational shooting starts at the Kittitas Valley Rifle & Pistol Club range here in Ellensburg, Washington. The 16-week league happens at the range at 608 West 15th (immediately west of the city shops).

It still surprises me a bit that, no matter where or when I mention the this or any other family-oriented small-bore shooting league, someone has a story to tell about learning to shoot with an old .22 rifle and some adult family member – and a wonder about why we don’t all give ourselves that sort of fun anymore.

The way the world looks at firearms has changed – as we see pretty regularly. Yet, an innate sense of the need for people to learn to handle firearms safely – and with the pleasure so much of our population took from recreational shooting just a generation or so ago – still burns in parents and families. Maybe it’s true that every kid who learns to safely enjoy handling and shooting a simple firearm makes society’s future a bit more secure.

I regularly hear parents talking about wanting their youngsters to learn to be safe around all sorts of firearms. It’s nothing new, really. The last of the Hucklings and I were on one of Captain Don’s boats out of Westport a decade plus back, chasing sea bass – rockfish – on the Pacific Ocean. On the boat with us was a woman and her 12-year-old son. We were enjoying the fishing; her son and the Hucklings were nuts about it. Over sandwiches she explained that the boy’s father split when he was born, and she was determined that the boy grow up with what she called a “solid foundation for life.” The men she most admired – solid and balanced in their lives – fished and hunted and cooked what they harvested. As a city girl, she said, she hadn’t had much of that, but determined that her son would, and enrolled every mentor she thought worthy. He had done a bit of .22 shooting with a friend and his wife, and she was now looking for an organized, regular target shooting opportunity, so he could grow up “relaxed and safe around all the guns that surround us these days.”

There were not as many of those organized ranges as she expected, but I heard she found the kid a shooting home. I’m guessing she got her boy reared to be one of those men she admired.

I don’t pretend that learning to shoot well and safely is the only way to a solid adulthood. I am certain, however, that every kid who has proper training in a fun and relaxed setting will be better able to deal with potential firearm problems down the road than one who hasn’t. Our good luck here in Paradise is that the Kittitas Valley Rifle & Pistol Club offers – in the midst of its competitive league activities – its family-centered Light Rifle Class League for winter shooting.

If you have a .22 or a good air rifle and want to involve your family in a winter-long program of inexpensive fun, instruction and good shooting, this is your opportunity. Come to the club’s HQ (608 West 15th Avenue) tomorrow and meet the range and those who operate it. If you can’t make it tomorrow, you will still be able to sign up for the winter league. I can assure you, based on a long history of shooting and countless conversations with other shooters, the training and shooting pleasure of this winter will still light your youngsters’ eyes a half dozen decades down the road. You will make a family memory that will never fade.

Here is an opportunity for you and your family to develop the skills, patience, discipline and confidence that family recreational shooting programs promise and deliver. It starts just in time to be one of the best Christmas gifts you will ever hand your household.

Hal Mason and other officers will tell you that KVRPC’s Light Rifle Class League is a “do your own thing night under a rangemaster’s watchful eye, and a lot of fun. We have swinger targets and paper targets, and at times we set up some steel critters. All in a warm safe environment. Cheap too.” The 16 week league program starts tomorrow. Bring your favorite .22 caliber rifle or .17 or larger air rifle (under 10 pounds) or even BB gun, ammo and a desire for safe fun. Everything else will be waiting for you; regulation 10-bull NRA targets, a modern heated range facility, the direction of a qualified range master and coaching as needed/desired.

One other family-related opportunity at the KVRPC range is the NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting for Women class, taught by Marilyn Mason. No previous experience or NRA affiliation is needed to learn the skills and earn a course certificate. Reach Marilyn at 509-962-3002 or

The KVRPC range is at 608 W 15th in Ellensburg. Everyone who enjoys shooting light rifles is welcome to come, learn about, and take part in the 18-19 shooting season. Call Mel Goudge at 509-925-4285 or Hal Mason at 509-962-3002 for more details

This range and opportunity is for you and your family. This is for you to discover (or rediscover) the joy of safe recreational shooting and the deep pleasure of watching kids or grandkids develop skill and confidence as they punch little round holes in paper. This is for lifelong pleasure.