Hunting and R3 Initiatives

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 7, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

We had this conversation a year ago – about diminishing hunter numbers and what that means to our local and national economy and the future of wildlife conservation. The efforts to stem the slump are commonly called R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) Initiatives.

The good news is that informal reports from around the country indicate that a number of new hunters went afield this fall. The rest of the story is that new hunters still lag well behind the loss of older hunters. For a number of reasons, this ought to concern all of us who care about wild things and wild places, whether or not we hunt.

I came across an article in the October issue of Safari Times (the montly newsprint publication of Safari Club International – SCI) by Dennis Schemmel, Board Member of SCI’s Iowa Chapter. Dennis has been looking at the state of hunter recruitment across North America. I thought you might like to hear his take on the importance of hunters and hunting – see some of what he wrote.

“Many have heard of the North American Conservation Model and how well it has worked in preserving and increasing many species of wild game in North America. But did you know that 80 percent of the dollars that go into wildlife conservation in North America comes from various taxes on on the sale of hunting, shooting and fishing related items? Individually a shooter provides more conservation dollars than does an average hunter, and individually a hunter provides more conservation dollars than does an average fisherman. With respect to overall economic effect on a community, an average hunter stimulates substantially more economic effect than does an average shooter of fisherman. Knowing that, it is easy to see when hunter numbers decline, the loss to both wildlife conservation and community economic benefit is devastating.

“You have heard that hunter numbers in the U.S. are rapidly declining – that is a fact. The latest (2016) USFWS Report just released reported hunter numbers are down to approximately 11.5 million as of 2016, which is about 5.6 percent of the U.S population, with new hunter recruitment at about 3.5 percent. Further, there are legitimate estimates that in 2018 hunter numbers in the U.S. are closer to 10 million hunters, and that any further decrease will make the extended viability of hunting as we know it very questionable.

“You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to realize that old hunters are dying off at a much faster rate than new hunters are being recruited. This is a recipe for total disaster for wildlife conservation and hunting unless hunter recruitment and participation are substantially increased immediately. This is where the R3 Initiative comes into play.

“R3…is a national initiative by most of the state DNR departments, the USFWS, numerous conservation groups and private industry retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers to rapidly increase hunter, shooter, fishing, trapping, boating and other outdoor participation in the U.S. so as to remedy and alleviate the devastating trend set forth above.”

Here are a few of Dennis’ strategies for R3 success: “Reallocate dollars to the implementation of R3 and make it a priority; determine our target market in addition to youth – millennial, Gen Z, women, minorities, inactive gun owners (50 million), and market to them with the realization eight out of 10 U.S. citizens live in urban areas; Develop evaluation tools to ensure dollars invested do in fact increase participation; [all] groups must work together and develop strategic long- and short-term partnerships…’

So, how is our Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife responding to these trends?

A formal organized R3 Initiative, with a growing number of partners across the state, is well underway. We are seeing increasing recruitment and outreach each year. And will see more activity in the next twelve months.

Our DFW and Fish and Wildlife Commission’s October, 2013, Youth Outdoors Initiative program is still growing, focused on getting youngsters off their digital habits and into outdoor connections. Activities, including fishing, hiking, hunting and other ways of connecting with the earth, are part of increasing numbers of programs in schools across Washington.

Recruitment of hunters – youth and otherwise – is still largely in the hands of DFW’s regional Hunter Education & Volunteer coordinators, such as our Region 3 guy, Aaron Garcia. Aaron has increased his partnership outreach with turkey hunting clinics, mentored first-time hunter activities for turkeys, pheasants and other game, along with mentored shooting training and increased opportunities for hunter education. Many more clinics and hunts are planned and coming.

This is important to the future of our outdoor heritage – and it is only a start. As more and more R3 activities become available, we all need to be there.

Nature-Deficit Disorder and Humans

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 31, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

You may recall that I have mentioned author Richard Louv a time or two. He is the author of the best-selling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and one of my heroes. Richard was the 2018 speaker for the Doug Walker Lecture Series, an annual lecture within the University of Washington’s College of the Environment. The topic of this year’s lecture was “Our Wellbeing: Nature’s Role in Human Health & Happiness.” That lecture happened one week ago, at Benaroya Hall, and Diane and I took a run over the Cascades to hear it.

Louv has written several books which illustrate his devotion to nature interactions for humans of all ages. Consider The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, and his upcoming book about the importance to humans of connections and relationships with animals.

Louv’s serious advocacy of getting children back into nature started at least a couple decades back, when he asked a fourth grader why he didn’t play outside after school. “I like to play indoors better,” the kid said, “‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are…” His “Last Child…” book triggered world-wide responses, including the wildly successful international Children & Nature Network (, organized in 2006.

Richard’s focus on the importance of kids’ outdoor connections and interactions has evolved with his study. He remains a strong advocate for children and nature, while now speaking of what he calls the “New Nature” movement – one which involves all ages with a clear focus on adults. This New Nature focus was the topic of his lecture/talk in Benaroya Hall last week.

More is constantly being learned about the importance of nature to all of us. In Scotland, physicians are now prescribing periods of outdoor activity for patience with depression, loneliness and a variety of physical ailments. The World Health Organization is now considering loneliness as a major contributing factor in human mortality – in some cases actually outweighing smoking and obesity. People do not want to be alone, and Louv (along with many others) consider time spent with wildlife, plants, and nature in general to be an antidote for loneliness.

The ability to freely access nature and its components is now being addressed as a human right – as opposed to a legal right. IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) is pushing across Europe and other regions for access to nature to be seen as a world-wide right. The issue of access to nature is increasingly seen as a world health issue.

In the U.S. and abroad, several large outdoor-oriented companies – REI is among the leaders of them – have pledged large sums of money to programs committed to the improvement of outdoor access, earth connections and nature interactions for people of all ages. These programs range from kids’ outdoor programs and outdoor schools (starting with preschools), to the efforts now underway in 18 U.S. cities to provide “equitable access” to the outdoors across all neighborhoods, from poor to affluent.

So, how do we humans connect more intimately with nature (somehow becoming more empathetic with it)? Louv’s new book about our relationships with animals will address the question, with a number of stories of people’s often unexpected heart-opening and life-changing experiences. And it also, apparently, will devote space to the growing number of new scientific studies involving our ability to empathize and understand (and more effectively study) our fellow life forms.

One of the more interesting aspects of this is termed “critical anthropomorphism.” (A common definition of this, from ethology and comparative psychology, involves using the observer’s senses to generate hypotheses about the perceptual and ecological world of the species being observed.) My reaction to Louv’s mention of this new science was “It’s about time.” For millennia, Native peoples have spent enough time meditating with bison, deer, whales, birds, snakes and other wild things to know how they perceived their habitat and lives – yet that knowledge has long been refuted by “trained” scientists. Interestingly, those of us who’ve studied meditation and interacted with Native American friends have long spoken of human senses far beyond the five (sight, hearing, etc.) we all learn. Researchers in this “new” science have identified as many as 30 human senses which can be opened in the process of developing deep connections with other life forms.

Richard Louv’s talk was rich and fascinating. I particularly appreciated the way he brought it to a close.  He noted that most people, when asked to look into the distant future, see desolation and destruction (that world we saw in the Mad Max movies). His summary went something like this, “If we are to inspire humans to preserve nature and biodiversity and good health through connections with wild things and places, our culture must provide a beautiful future vision. Without a beautiful future – well imagined and pictured and ‘nature rich’ – we fail our children and those who come after us.”

He left me to work on my responsibility for that vision.

Why You Should Support WDFW Budget Requests

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 24, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

A couple months back, I addressed the budget hole our Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) was facing in the upcoming 2019-2021 biennium. I also made my argument that, while the department would be asking for license increases, we would still be paying less – relative to our incomes – than we paid in the 1950s (those “Good Old Days”).

DFW has now narrowed down its requests. I thought it may be of interest to you to see what changes are likely to happen, and how the department, with guidance from our Washington Wildlife Commission and the DFW Budget and Policy Advisory Group, has responded.

You already know that the Wildlife Commission is an eight-member board appointed by the governor from citizens across the state. It has supervisory authority over the department, and was created in its current form two decades ago. (See for more information, members, and its work.)

You are likely not familiar with the more recently created Budged and Policy Group (BPAG), made up of representatives from 19 Washington State stakeholder groups. Members include the Mule Deer Foundation, Washington Wildlife Federation, the Hunters Heritage Council, Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Association of Counties, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, representatives of outdoor businesses, forest associations and a variety of other user groups. You will find details about members and specific representatives for this citizen advisory group at

There are three important things I want you to know about the BPAG. First, this 19-member advisory group was created at the highest levels of DFW management in response to the need for much greater transparency in, and support for, the critical process to deal with the $67 million shortfall in the next biennium. Second, you probably already know that a number of the BPAG members have been strong critics of our wildlife department over the years. Third, many of the recommendations that have emerged from the DFW struggle for budget solutions were proposed by BPAG, and virtually all of them have been vetted by the advisory committee. This group of our peers from across the state was not just a public relations effort on behalf of DFW; its nearly two years of serious work was taken seriously and incorporated into proposals now on the table.

In review, here’s a bit about how our DFW got to this $30+ million annual ($67 million for the biennium) shortfall. DFW is still below funding it had a decade ago; license sales and general fund allocations have fallen behind management costs and are well below legislature-approved spending limits; and several one-time funding band-aids are expiring.

So, here’s a brief look at some of the hunting/fishing/recreational license changes you will see when the DFW Legislative Proposal (Request) goes to the Legislature at the end of this year. Proposed fees will vary from license to license, but overall expect to see an average increase of about 15%. You will see, also, that DFW is asking for authority to take some new approaches to licensing, which will benefit you or one or more of your hunting or fishing buddies and families. A couple examples: DFW is asking for authority to bundle licenses (families, multi-year, buddies, etc.); new hunter ed graduates could receive 20% discounts on purchase of their first license(s); new hunting and fishing license “bundles” at limited and reasonable cost; adjustments – more flexibility – in dealing with costs of licenses for disabled hunters and fishers. Housekeeping cleanups include aligning the ages of defined youth hunters with those of youth fishers at 16; and extending the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement which is about to expire. About a quarter of the $67 mil would be filled with fee increases and adjustments, and the rest would be (frankly) long-overdue money from the general fund.

Bear in mind that this budget challenge belongs to us all. This is our wildlife on our lands, managed by the folks in our wildlife agency – folks we have asked to keep wild things and wild places for those who come after us. We will continue to help our DFW develop its priorities, but it must be healthy enough for those arguments. When the Legislature takes up these budget questions, our voices must be heard.

Recall that I like to think “context.” In the late ‘50s, I made anywhere from 80 cents to a buck an hour for full-time work. My hunting and fishing licenses cost me 10 to 13 bucks. Today, similar licenses to hunt and fish cost me 10 or 11 times that. Yet, I, and most all of us make more than 10 or 11 time those 1950s wages. Our recreation licenses are – and will remain – a good deal.

Explore for yourself this whole budget process. Find a look at the future in the “Draft Long-Term Funding Plan” at (or Google “long term funding plan WDFW.”) The site will give you more insight into the current budget process and request. When DFW’s formal request reaches the legislature, we will have further discussion in this space about our roles in keeping our wildlife department healthy. And remember that the DFW budget request was largely created, and is fully supported, by a strong and effective advisory committee of our peers.


The Mystery of Disappearing Elk

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 17, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Fellow master hunter and homey Wes Clogston and I have been doing our part to protect the ag ground of Paradise. Master hunters are essentially advanced hunter ed graduates who have passed an extensive exam over rules, statutes and ethics, who have completed a significant number of volunteer conservation hours, have demonstrated shooting skill and have a clean criminal record. One of our challenges is to deal with trouble-making wildlife. Wes and I are currently committed to removing a couple of the renegade elk which raid said ag ground nightly, then return to the Yakima Training Center to rest up for their next night’s work. Thus far this fall, we have managed to remove one of those wapiti.

In the process of finding these renegade wapiti, we have made a startling discovery – one which may serve as a cautionary tale for you if you plan to hunt elk in Washington’s general season which opens in a bit over a week – or elsewhere around the West.

What we experienced took me back to an eye-opening conversation I had with Utah brother-in-law Jerry Johnson nearly two decades ago. We had gathered at a long-overdue wedding in Bow (north and west of Mount Vernon), Washington. Jerry believed he had solved a mystery with which he had struggled through decades of Utah elk hunting.

As you know, the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association holds the finest minds in the West. Thus, mysteries often lead us to the forefront of wildlife science (though some see only accidents of timing and bumbling). In my role as RCRGWD&OTTBA Wildlife Research and Update Chief, I broke the news of Jerry’s stunning research in this space in August of 2000, the Biennium.

In your own study, you have found, no doubt, that there are only two recognized species of wapiti in North America. Cervus elaphus includes three subspecies (or “races”); our Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt elk, and the Manitoba wapiti, of Canada. Cervus nannodes is the mule-deer size critter known as the tule, or dwarf, elk of California. To achieve recognition of a new subspecies of elk has long been thought impossible.

Enter brother-in-law Jerry. Jerry makes custom knives, and has long studied southern Utah’s wildlife. He has an eye for detail, and this is the story as he told it to me.

Some decades ago, he began to see distinct differences between many of the wapiti taken on his turf and most Rocky Mountain elk. For example, the antlers of a number of local bulls looked like leafless woody shrubs. The ears of both bulls and cows were covered with long hair clusters, resembling dried bunch grasses. They had thicker and longer dew-claws than most elk, and most of them had dust and sand in their coats.

Over the years, fewer and fewer elk were being taken in Jerry=s country, and those harvested were taken mostly at first and last possible light. A few normal looking elk were still being taken during mid-day hunts, but the Adusty@ elk, as he began calling them, virtually disappeared.

In September of 1999, during a pre-dawn scouting trip, Jerry spotted a cow and a calf moving quietly into a sandy opening in the sage. “I still don=t know quite how to describe it,” he said. “Did you ever watch a burrowing toad in the desert, as it wriggles its legs and body and sort of >settles= into the ground? Well, that=s as close as I can get to it.” Shaking his head in some still disbelief, he continued. “So the cow dropped onto her belly, with her calf right next. They started moving their legs – like they were loosening the ground with their dew-claws – and wriggling so fast they literally shook themselves into the ground… A dust cloud hung for a minute or so right over where they=d been. I, uh.. I never saw anything like it.”

Jerry said he began seriously studying the elk. In the dark, he sat over the sage and brush flats, pinpointing the tiny dust clouds at first light. Once the elk were in the ground, he found, they absolutely would not move, and were almost impossible to find. Their ears covered the tips of their noses, and they breathed in what appeared to be clusters of dry bunch grasses. Documenting their habits required weeks of sitting silent and motionless until dark, when they would literally “shake” themselves out of the ground.

Jerry’s observations and copious notes earned him just recognition. He was notified that biologists with the High Order Lobby Yegga, Congress of Wapiti Studies, recognized his subspecies of the Rocky Mountain elk – officially to be known as Cervus elaphus johnsonii. Its common name would be “burrowing elk.” (Somehow, his elk is not yet listed in the scientific literature. …Another mystery.)

Time after time, as we beat the bushes for marauding elk on the Training Center, Wes and I saw elk we’d been watching literally disappear – impossibly. The only logical explanation is that some of our local elk have developed (evolved?) habits not unlike the burrowing elk of Utah.

Given our astonishment at the tactics of those disappearing elk, we will now be examining with great care the ground and brush where elk disappeared. Wes and I strongly recommend that you do the same each time an elk literally disappears from where you expect it to be. It=s time, we think, for a serious scientific survey of the disappearing elk of Paradise. Report your findings here.

Wes and I, as have all master hunters, signed an oath pledging to always act in an ethical manner. How we react to truly remarkable scientific theories abour elk evolution, however, is apparently up to us. Good luck. Happy hunting.

Opening Days and Food Traditions

Written by Jim Huckabay on October 10, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Saturday opens the general modern firearm deer season in Washington State. We have several openers in the state – for archers, muzzloaders, master hunters and various special hunts – but this is the big one, with some 150,000 of our closest friends heading afield to make deer meat. It’s a special day.

I was fourteen when I was first invited to be part of the deer hunt on Uncle Ed’s place, up the Little Chumstick out of Leavenworth, Washington. I remember having a tough time sleeping that pre-opening night, with visions of the buck which would give itself to me so that I could help feed my struggling 1950s family. I remember being terrified that I might somehow screw up, but more than anything, I remember the breakfast Aunt Evy fixed before we headed out for each opening day from that one on – ham and eggs and pancakes. I remember savoring them until The Old Man got cranky about “burning daylight.” It was all part of the tradition.

I was twenty-one when my mom and step-dad Ray handed me the sourdough starter I still use today. I made breads and rolls that went with me on every hunt for decades. A great tradition.

I think each hunting and outdoor family has its rituals and traditions – carefully nurtured to set success in our minds – for season openers of whatever stripe.

There are many moments that tell us the time of year and the state of our lives. Times like canning and freezing and putting up meat, or places and people without whom we could not truly welcome begin an annual fishing trip or hunting season. These icons or traditions represent key aspects of our lives. They may change a bit over time, but they are always important.

I was barely a grownup when I attached to the first real tradition of my adult outdoor life…and not much older when I felt the loss of it.

“Uh, oh…” Buddy Rick muttered. “This is not good… This is a bad omen.” We were halfway down Crow Hill on U.S. 285, southwest of Denver, headed for trout fishing in South Park. Dark-thirty breakfast time on a Saturday; summer of 1969.

There was a note on the door of the darkened diner.

Rick and I had discovered the diner in 1964, a year after we met at Lowry AFB, following our overseas duty. We had quickly found each other’s outdoor spirit, and partnered up for all our hunting and fishing. At the time of discovery, we were on a pre-dawn drive to deer hunting in the hills around South Park. Our drive had been filled with youthful talk of big bucks and well-fed families of successful hunters. We planned to grab a quick bite in Bailey, at the bottom of the hill. Then we saw the lights of the diner.

The old wood-slab diner sat alone on the outside of a carved-out turn on the west side of the road. It had a clean, well-worn linoleum counter smoothed by the sliding of a million plates of eggs and sausage and flapjacks. The tall, lean old-timer behind the counter had probably cooked every plateful. We were struck by his ease and the hand-rolled smoke that somehow stayed lit while clinging to the farthest possible corner of his mouth. “Well, what’ll it be boys?”

Over the years, the Old-timer’s Diner became the start of our outdoor play – our tradition. We could pass up every food joint out of Denver, because we knew that the old boy would have the coffee and the grill and good humor ready when we got there. Plenty of others knew the place, too, but it was OUR place. “Huntin’ and fishin’ keep you young,” he said once, “and I love ta get out… But first, I gotta feed my boys and get ‘em on their way.” Some days, we had a better time over breakfast than in the woods or on the water the rest of the day – but we counted every day that started with his breakfast a success.

Then came that 1969 morning, and the hand-scrawled note. The old-timer had gone to his reward – which, we figured, could not possibly be enough to repay him for all he had given. We stood for a moment outside that worn old building with the shiny new “For Sale” sign. We wiped tears we were too manly to have, and wished the old man a happy hunting and fishing ground.

They built a bank there. Our South Park fishing and hunting was never again the same. Within a year, my grad school and Rick’s new career and crippling accident changed us, too. Still, any mention of the old timer put us back in a safe and sacred time.

We need our traditions.

Saturday, hundreds and hundreds of us will find our way to the 31st Annual Hunters Breakfast at the Swauk Teanaway Grange on Ballard Hill Road on the way up the west side of Blewett Pass (signs at SR 970 and Teanaway Road). Many will do a morning hunt, come refuel on ham, eggs and hotcakes (with homemade apple butter, coffee and orange juice), then head out to a day afield. Busloads of West Side folks will be there, too. The Hunters Breakfast is an icon – a tradition.

In two weeks, Friday the 26th, the annual Free Elk Hunters Breakfast will happen at PSE’s Wild Horse Visitors Center off the Old Vantage Highway, a few miles east of Ellensburg. In company with DFW folks and members of co-sponsor Kittitas County Field & Stream Club, hunters will swap ideas, hopes and stories over a variety of eggs, sausages, potatoes, biscuits, pancakes, fresh fruit, coffee and juice. It’s becoming a  tradition.

Welcome to the start of the primary 2018 hunting seasons.