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We are currently losing more hunters and anglers than we are creating. This decline is a huge problem that extends way beyond the bow or rod. Hunters and anglers pay a big part of the conservation debt. Therefore, one of the ways we can perpetuate public lands, access and our sporting heritage is by exposing non-hunters to hunting in the best ways possible. Typically food, a love of the outdoors, and explanations of game management are the most effective avenues to creating a positive impression of hunting.
This past April, at the annual Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Rendezvous, First Lite co-founder Kenton Carruth and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard had the opportunity to sit down and discuss bringing the various branches of outdoor recreation together under one roof in defense of the places we all value. In the Rocky Mountain West, your average hunter is also typically a hiker, biker, skier and/or angler. Though some organized special interests wish for a different reality, rarely do outdoor recreationists fall into neat, categories. Moreover, whether you’re a kayaker or a pheasant hunter, we head for the woods and mountains for the same reasons.
Do Kenton and Yvon agree on every issue? Of course not but they are certainly ready to discuss their differences. More critically, First Lite and Patagonia are committed to ensuring that future generations will have the same public land opportunities we've so enjoyed. With that in mind, we sincerely hope that every member of the outdoor recreation community can take the time to educate each other in the woods for the betterment of our mutual playground. Sometimes all it takes is a little trailhead diplomacy.
Ryan Callaghan is the Director of Conservation and PR at FLHQ.
On Saturday July 29th, I found myself standing on the fringe of a road junction outside Las Vegas, New Mexico. Despite an early meeting time, the temps were rising and you could tell the day was going to be a cooker. To my back stood a severely weathered grave yard and to my front a seemingly endless mesa covered in juniper and piñon. From what I could gather, I was likely standing in one of the biggest social scenes this particular part of the country had ever seen. Our group included members of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, New Mexico Game and Fish, and the Bureau of Land Management. It also included commissioners of San Miguel County, the New Mexico Bowhunters Association, Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, and a few cowboys to wrangle horses for the main event. I watched as three shiny suburbans and a few state police cars pulled up, escorting in the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.
Secretary Zinke came to this corner of New Mexico to fulfill a promise to Senator Heinrich and the people of New Mexico. That promise included taking a tour of the Sabinoso Wilderness, some 16,000 acres of prime game habitat, to determine if an addition to the Wilderness would be possible. Never heard of the Sabinoso? Truthfully, neither had I until I received a phone call a week prior to this meeting. Don't feel bad; there is a good reason you are unaware. You cannot legally access the Sabinoso Wilderness, as the entire area has been landlocked by private ground. By virtue of being a Wilderness area, the Sabinoso must be managed by the Department of the Interior as a resource for the "use and enjoyment of the American people”, yet you and I are barred from entry. However, there is a silver lining: the Wilderness Land Trust, an organization that acquires and transfers private land to public ownership, currently holds 4,000 acres of land called the Rimrock Rose Ranch that could provide legal access to the Sabinoso. The Trust will donate this land to the people of the United States; all that is required is the signature of Secretary Zinke on the final agreement.
Why does this matter from a hunting perspective? Why the hell was I there? Turkey, elk, mule deer, black bear, and Barbary sheep can be found in the Sabinoso Wilderness. It is a place that can push you to your limits and will make the great hunting gear you own necessary. The canyons are prime nesting areas for raptors like the peregrine falcon and the intermittent stream is home to catfish, panfish and the largest concentration of amphibians in Northern New Mexico. Along these streams, you will find sandy deposits perfect for pitching a tent.
My brief time in the Sabinoso left me with the all too familiar pangs of opportunity lost and fear of missing out. How do I get back to properly explore? How do I apply for tags? The truth is, those thoughts are fanciful. They are just day dreams unless we can get access, and access now lays in the hands of Secretary Zinke.
Please use one or both of the links below to urge Secretary Zinke to do his job and manage the Sabinoso Wilderness for the "use and enjoyment of the American people”.
- Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
- New Mexico Wildlife Federation
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Ryan Callaghan is a BHA life member and the Director of Conservation and Public Relations at FLHQ.
Born and raised in northern Michigan, my opportunities to hunt the West growing up amounted to a few rifle hunts near my uncle's cabin in Montana. Although the trips were eye-opening, the regimented course of daily events largely followed the same pattern I experienced hunting whitetail in my native state. Up early, hit the woods, search for game, then back under a roof at night for a good meal and hot shower. Rinse, repeat. The same process engrained in many a young hunter.
Fast forward a decade, or two, I found myself a permanent resident of the left coast. About the time I settled in to my new life as an Oregonian, thoughts of chasing elk, blacktail, and bear had crept in. One afternoon I found myself staring at large green rectangles on a map and flipping through the pages of a bowhunting magazine. Prominently, displayed on the cover was a successful hunter, pack bulging with antler and flesh from a trophy bull. In that moment, I struggled to connect the dots.
A path from my couch to the top of the mountain was unclear. Unsure of myself, or where to begin, I saw a few more seasons slip past before I started the climb. I now know I was not alone, as more recent conversations with both hunter and non-hunter alike regarding my passion for the backcountry are met with questioning looks and lost stares. I believe all possess a desire to connect with the wilderness, yet the false need for convenience and familiarity often overpowers.
As I eventually discovered, there is no secret. Make a conscious decision to get out and experience whatever the mountain has to offer, tackling your fears and questions head on. Be warned, the path will present adventure and challenge guaranteed to invoke a full spectrum of human emotion. Joy. Pain. Solitude. Enlightenment. Each extremely rewarding in its own right, and lending to an addiction for the experiences that can only be discovered where few care to tread. Unfortunately, I cannot help tackle the individual mental barriers associated with making this choice, but I can share some resources I found helpful in my journey.
Ask, and you shall receive.
Regrettably, interactions with hunters outside my circle of family and friends were largely adversarial growing up. A relationship bred from too many people, too little land. It was not uncommon to spend half the day hunting, and the other patrolling a property line. As a result, I was hesitant to seek help from others when an interest in western hunting piqued. I am pleased, and proud, to report my concerns eroded with each conversation, tip, and question answered from the hunters who were well-versed in the practice of mountain hunting. As they well knew, and I have come to understand, educating others is the best way to protect our hunting heritage, and ultimately is the foundation of conservation. There is strength in numbers, and through welcoming others into the family we will preserve the opportunities backcountry hunters are passionate about and live for. Whether novice or expert, do not be afraid to ask for advice from veterans who live and breathe the lifestyle.
If you are fortunate enough to live "out west," the local watering hole may be a great place to strike up a conversation, but there are other resources full of useful information readily accessible to all. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is a great place to start. BHA is an organization of sportsmen committed to protecting public lands, public access, and the wildlife within through education and promoting ethical use. BHA is also a great way to connect with hunters of a shared interest. With chapters across the country, from New York to Oregon, there are regular opportunities to meet & greet in your neck of the woods. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about backcountry hunting to seek them out, and start making those worthy connections
Do your homework.
An invaluable resource I was fortunate to discover early in my quest for knowledge was the Rokslide community (www.rokslide.com). Particularly the forums were, and continue to be, the best location on the web to review and share all aspects of western DIY style hunting. There is virtually no limit to the amount information at your fingertips, increasing daily, available via the dedicated contributors who frequent this digital “camp fire” style venue. As a source supported and frequented by many of the top companies and hunters in the industry, it is simply the premier backcountry resource for up-to-date gear information, hunting tactics, or debates regarding the existence of Bigfoot.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention the top result returned when I first searched the term "backcountry bowhunting" several years ago, and in fact remains true to this day. Backcountry Bowhunting: A Guide to the Wild Side by Cameron Hanes. One of the first publications of its kind, tailored to a specific audience of hunters interested in learning how to hunt, scout, and mentally prepare for the challenge of backcountry bowhunting. In large part this book is responsible for my first solo hunting trips, and continues to be a great read for anyone starting the journey.
While on the topic of literature, the works of Steve Rinella come highly recommended. Although I fumbled through many of my first attempts at hunting unfamiliar game, boning meat, and preparing wild meat, you will have better luck after reading The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game. It is a valuable tool I have referred to many times since release. If only it had been available when I began, a few of my early blunders could have been avoided. The remainder of Rinella's collection caters to the soul, offering insight into the history and circumstances that make-up the modern hunter. Take one along on your next trip to pass the time in camp, and you will not be disappointed.
It makes no difference where you reside; resources are at your disposal waiting to bridge the gap between uncertainty and confidence. It is up to you to seek them out.
I hold great admiration for the pioneers who pushed the boundaries of this country toward the Pacific. In fact, my growing interest in backcountry hunting led to a thirst for knowledge surrounding the legendary hunters and trappers that opened up the west. Colter, Bridger, and Beckwourth to name a few. The feats performed by the men of this era, despite resources of the time, are nothing short of amazing. I would be lying if I did not admit romanticizing about being born a century earlier; where not only was it possible make a living off hunting and trapping, but those skills were a necessary part every American’s life. Of course, reality sinks in upon recalling the average life expectancy during this tumultuous time was a mere 37 years, and much lower for those enduring the mountain. Yet, I still believe there is great value in remembering the lessons of a more primitive world as we reap the rewards that culminated as a product of its success and failure. Technology.
In truth, we are living in an amazing time for the aspiring backcountry hunter. Just in my lifetime, the explosion of hunt specific equipment is unprecedented, as improvements in everything from navigation to clothing have opened up new opportunities for anyone seeking
to explore those hard to reach locales and return home safely. In a relatively short period of time, the progression of my personal gear rivals the antler growth of a trophy bull. Each season adding, or upgrading, key pieces that mark lessons learned along the way. Some may shun the idea of these new tools available to our trade, and while I would agree that no amount of gear can guarantee a fruitful harvest, the right equipment is essential for those who measure success based on miles traveled and time spent in wonderful places.
I advise you invest wisely, as often times the items carried on your back are the only resources available once your hunt extends beyond a day’s reach of the closest road or trailhead. A pack comfortable handling a heavy load, supportive boots, warm sleep systems, and clothing that lends versatility to any foreseen environment. I believe that gear should never hold you back, and you get what you pay for. Although there is some value in learning the hard way, the right equipment is worth its weight in venison backstrap. If I had better words, I would use them here, however, First Lite’s vision “Go Farther, Stay Longer” sums it up perfectly. Utilize the tools at your disposal to push personal limits, and unfold the mysteries of your wilderness.
In closing, I hope this inspires and helps. As difficult as it once was, I am now comfortable admitting the obstacles that prevented me from engaging in a pursuit I can no longer live without. Do not fall prey to those same mistakes. I do not know it all and, in fact, take comfort that I never will. For the same challenge and anxiety once holding me back, is now the motivation to discover what is upon the next ridge, at the bottom of an adjacent draw, or simply beyond the next two pines in my path.
Pro Staffer Chad Harvey lives in Oregon and hunts across the Northwest.
Recently we were notified that the board at Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), had voted to award First Lite the 1st ever Larry Fischer award. To fill everyone in, BHA is a conservation group that advocates for responsible practices on public land amongst many other things. Larry Fischer was a co founder of Traditional Bowhunter Magazine. 1st ever award, because Larry passed away last year after a long battle with cancer.
The natural person in our company to accept the honor on behalf of First Lite is our founder Kenton Carruth. Kenton and Larry had established a connection over the years, in fact we would on occasion, hear Kenton almost whispering into the phone, in a conspiratorial type of way that would only relate to that of keeping an extra lady on the side. The person on the other end was Larry and the topic was always traditional archery, arrow weights, broad-heads, and shooting styles. We compared schedules, Long story short I, Ryan Callaghan would have to accept the honor on behalf of Kenton and First Lite. I felt seriously that this was almost an inappropriate thing to do.
- The day of, Blake Fischer, son of Larry informs me (via giant bear hug complete with swinging me around like you would a small child) That he is going to introduce his fathers award. If you do not know Blake, he is now a Fish and Game Commissioner representing the SW Region, a public servant, call and torment him over an issue of your choice, please.
- Meridian, ID 83642 (208) 867-2703 email@example.com
Feeling better with Blake making the intro, I dug Kenton' words out of my pocket.
"I first met Larry via the telephone in about 2008 when inquiring about advertising in Traditional Bowhunter magazine. About an hour and a half later he had a new advertiser and I had a new friend, albeit a new friend that made me feel pain fully inadequate for shooting a bow with wheels on it. From then on I would talk to Larry regularly and see him a few times a year at shows. Not so gradually Larry wore me down until last year I made the switch to a traditional bow, I practiced and practiced all through winter, spring, and fall eagerly anticipating hunting season. Once the season was over, for the first time in a long time…I didn’t kill a damn thing. What Larry had neglected to tell me was, that the beauty of the trad-bow is that you get to hunt so much more. Then it all started making sense to me, the reason all these trad-bow guys are so good at hunting is because they get to hunt so much more. While some guys tag out in a week or a day, trad-bow guys get the entire season to hone their craft, from the first day to the last, Learning hard fought lessons of misery , disgust and self loathing until the season ends. Then like any reasonable glutton for punishment, you sell all your compound gear, while eagerly awaiting the next season and convince yourself how great next season is going to be and, with a little bit of luck you will be wearing a path to the taxidermist. Seriously though, Larry was a larger than life individual who was deeply committed to bowhunting the outdoors and accessibility to public lands. It is a huge honor to be given an award in his name, and First lite will do the best we can to help maintain his legacy. Thanks Larry" - Kenton Carruth, Founder.
Larry Fischer was among many other things a big man, he started a successful irrigation business, a magazine, and reared up some kids. Talk to most folks and they would say Larry did not mess around, he got things done. Larry also hosted a semi-invite only 3-D shoot every tuesday. During this shoot as the stories go, Larry would impart some wisdom, joke and generally mentor those around him. Kenton nor I, ever made the time to go to one of these shoots. Insert the stereotypical carpe diem of your choice when reading a story involving death.
We truly believe First Lite will set an example for other businesses to carry on Larry's legacy. We may have taken our opportunity to shoot with a traditional bowhunting legend for granted, but we will not make the same mistake with our commitment to public lands and wildlife. After all, we have the Larry Fischer award as a reminder that outdoor businesses have a commitment to the outdoors.