Good evening everyone. It is truly a blessing that we are all here tonight and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. I want to give the good lord thanks for allowing us to be here with our friends and family for a fun filled night that kicks off a great weekend for the Montana Guides and Outfitters Association.
Thank you to everyone at MOGA that has worked so hard arranging and organizing this event. Tonight would not be possible without your dedication and support. And I believe I speak for everyone in the fact that we all appreciate your time, effort and energy.
Having the freedom to be here, that is priceless. To all of our servicemen and women, thank you all for your sacrifices that have been made in the name of the freedom of the United States of America. To your families that have also sacrificed, thank you as well. Freedom, as we all know, is not free and we are all grateful for the price that you all have paid to serve, protect and defend this great country.
This great country is exactly why we are all here tonight. We are all here because we value our time honored traditions and we have each individually taken it upon ourselves to help create a strong future for wildlife and improve our wild places for the next generation of hunter.
There are so many beautiful places in this great nation of ours and Montana, the home of Big Sky Country, features landscapes that are sacred to the heart of our great nation and iconic wildlife that some only read about or see on television.
Tonight we are here to celebrate women and youth in the great outdoors. The awe inspiring dawn of a new day as the sun crests over mighty mountain peaks, the giggle from an excited youngster on their first hunt, mesmerizing a young child with the sights and sounds of wildlife- all of these things create and foster a lifelong commitment to this great nation, its natural resources and a purpose to conserve and protect them for the next generation.
Rachel Carson says it best;
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
For me that person was my father-
I grew up in a small Oregon logging community, my mom, a waitress and my dad a millwright in our local sawmill. Growing up, we didn’t have much money- we never went Disneyland for our family vacations, instead, we spent nearly every weekend camping packed into the backcountry riding our mules, fishing the high lakes and enjoying a warm campfire, hot cup of cocoa, s’mores and family. We hunted for meat because we needed it for our family to afford quality meals.
Having my father teach me how to hunt, how to be independent and overcome adversity is the greatest blessing that I have ever been given. It is a blessing that each and every one of us as citizens of this great nation, owe the next generation to pass along as well.
My parents always included me in our family outdoor pursuits- Learning the value of setting goals and creating my own success started with small moments afield; As a 2 year old, I didn’t want left behind at Grandma and Grandpas, too tiny to ride alone, I used to fall asleep on the front of my dad’s saddle, by the time I was 5, I insisted on haltering and leading my mule Bullet to graze and water.
I am not a parent, but I can imagine the worry that a parent might have seeing a tiny child strike out, mule in tow with the fear of being stepped on or trampled. I would be lying if I said that I did not get stepped on or trampled. Both happened at one time or another, but that is what taught me to dust myself off, choke down my tears and keep going. A lesson that many kids benefit from learning- as we know this world is rough and can be unkind.
At that same time in my life, clearly, a strong willed child I insisted on saddling my mule Bullet as well. After brushing him and putting on his saddle blanket, having physical limitations, I would allow my father to throw the saddle over Bullets back.
Under watchful eye, my dad gave me the freedom to try and figure out how to correctly cinch my saddle secure it to my mules back. When I would grow frustrated, he was there to guide me, but never take over and do it for me. After all, I wanted to learn, I wanted to be independent and I wanted to be self-sufficient. This required a commitment of time and patience from my father as it would have been much faster for him to do it for me- but what would I have learned?
As a 5 year old, I would take off across the meadows jumping creeks in delight of the freedom felt atop my mule Bullet. A feeling of accomplishment and confidence. There are so many kids these days with low self-esteems and lack of confidence that would benefit from a moment like this one. A feeling of freedom and accomplishment like this.
There is not a time in my life that I do not remember wanting to go with my father- everywhere on every hunt, however, my earliest memories of the hunt did not come from being on the mountain. They came from my living room. I remember my dad would put in a VHS cassette of elk hunts in and grab his bugle and rubber band cow call and he would replicate the bugling that was showcased on TV. His eyes would bug out, his face would turn red and with every chuckle, it seemed his entire body would also chuckle- belly and all. The sound that came out of that bugle. Oh my word was it loud.
At the time, I was so thankful that we lived in the country. I think I would have died from embarrassment if any of my friends had heard my dad carrying on in our living room. Anyone else have this memory?
All of that embarrassment went away one day when my parents and I packed our mules into the Wilderness of No Return in Idaho for an elk hunt, I was 13 years old. My dad and I headed out in search of elk and we got into a herd where I witnessed first-hand the magic of elk calling and hunting. There was a bull bugling and my dad got out his tube that he had been practicing with in our living room and chuckled back at the bull.
Within moments a spike bull was less than 30 yards from us, coming into the call and on his heels was a larger 5x5 branch bull. My dad had made him real mad with that chuckle and he was running in screaming, head tilted back and I am quite certain had my dad not have taken careful aim and fired his rifle that bull would have ran us completely over.
Right there in that moment, my life was forever changed and there will not be a rut that passes me by that I don’t return to the woods to hear the sound of the bull elk bugle.
Those moments created the core of who I am today. What my family had then and still have today is a love for wild places and wildlife.
We are all gathered here tonight for that very love and desire to share the intoxicating moments afield with others- creating a child’s place in this word, building a community, creating a sense of belonging and a legacy that is first built within each and every one of our homes and our communities.
These moments are blessings and are the foundation of our hunting heritage. I believe that life’s hardest lessons are best learned in the field with your family and friends by your side, helping you to develop sound personal character and values. The time that I spent in the backcountry as a kid with my family transformed my life and created the entire core of who I am as an individual. My dad always taught me that there was no such thing as goal or a dream that is too big to make into make a reality.
Sharing is caring and although I am not a mother, I am a mentor. There is a big disconnect in our culture from the land and the wildlife that calls it home. We see the dissolution of the family unit- urban city kids that have never seen the stars in the sky let alone know the feeling of waking up at 4 am for a hunt. This reconnection to the land is the key to ensure the future of our time honored traditions and the relevancy of hunting in today’s ever changing world.
Going to the grocery store to purchase meat is not the only way to provide for a family- the value and lessons that come from the hunt are priceless.
In Oregon, I participated in a youth hunt where kids from single parent households were invited afield to hunt black tail doe. Some kids had a parent that was incarcerated, some had fathers that had simply vanished from their lives. All of them deserved the time, effort and love of someone to help them experience these valuable lessons under the watchful eye of the good Lord, good friends and mentors.
It was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Victoria a 13 year old was grinning ear to ear having successfully taken her first doe. She was now an experienced hunter with a new found confidence and feeling of accomplishment.
For our afternoon hunt, filled with anticipation, ten year old Lexi climbed into my truck along with Victoria. Lexi talked about her fears- she looked up to Victoria and was looking for reassurance. I sat and listened to her and thirteen year old Victoria discuss the upcoming hunt. Hearing Victoria, who is now an experienced hunter talk to Lexi about what to expect, how she is going to feel and most importantly letting her know that she is going to do great.
As Lexi headed into the green valley, Victoria and I stood on the sidelines silently cheering her on. Another mentor took Lexi into the field where she practiced her trigger squeeze until she could break the trigger on an empty round five times without disturbing the penny that had been laid on the barrel. That afternoon, Lexi filled her tag on a black tail doe.
When Lexi returned, she was greeted by her mom, new friend Victoria and me. We were all there for her to share her hunt success story with. Everything had gone perfectly, spot, stalk and now she is now an experienced hunter, just like her friend Victoria. And, she had provided the tremendous asset of valuable meat for her family’s table.
Kids helping kids- encouraging one another-helping one another. That is what this is all about. Lexi was an insecure girl going into the field and she emerged triumphant and successful. Feeling the same way that I had trotting around the field as a child atop my mule. Freedom-Confidence-Accomplishment.
Hunting enables kids to set goals, and work towards them. It allows them to define themselves by nature and by good deed. Helping others, enriching the lives of those around them.
Not only kids benefit from this kind of nurturing and care- we ladies do too. And the female component is necessary in order to ensure the continuation of the hunting legacy for future generations. There is nothing more exciting than watching a woman become empowered to start hunting and get into the outdoors.
I did not develop the skills to hunt solo on public land overnight- it started with small moments of success. When my dad and I would go hunting, I would lead the way, often times unsure, but I had him right there with me to help guide me, let me make some mistakes and help me when I needed it.
I wanted to learn more, so I united my community by organizing GPS and survival clinics where I brought in experts to teach how to navigate and survive in the backcountry. When I wanted to learn to call elk, I purchased DVD’s from Bugling Bull Game Calls- listening carefully to Rocky Jacobsen’s instruction, I learned to successfully call elk.
I remember the first time that I hunted elk solo- My dad had tagged a bull with me the day before and it was the last day of Oregon’s archery elk season. We needed to pack out the bull on our mules, but I did not want to miss my morning hunt, so I had to go alone. My father was to join me in the early afternoon affording enough time to pack his bull off the mountain and enough time for me to get in a solid morning hunt.
The fear and anxiety that I had that morning- trekking out solo, cross country on public land by myself. I kept thinking- okay if I sit down right now, in a few hours my dad will be here. Even though he was not directly over my shoulder guiding me, his words were still with me, giving me the courage and confidence to continue the hunt.
When I reached the meadows edge that I had patterned elk moving through, I sat down and started my call sequence as I had practiced. I would bugle and cow call and the herd bull below would respond, back and forth for what seemed like hours we called to each other. I couldn’t get closer as he had moved onto private land. My only hope was to call him in.
There I sat in the beauty that I was actually doing it by myself, this stunning bull elk was actually answering my call- when I saw them. The bulls antlers coming over the rise in the mountain side. The satellite bull came in without making a sound and stood there at 45 yards. I was simply put awe struck and though I held up my bow, I neglected to draw it and the bull walked away as silently as he came in.
When my dad met me later that afternoon, even though I had not taken the bull, it was the greatest day of my life. I had done it. I had called in my first DIY public land bull-solo. I dreamt about that day for the next year and one year later nearly to the day, my dad and I returned to that spot and I tagged my first archery bull- a beautiful 5x5. Just like I had dreamed about for an entire year. This was a milestone, a turning point for me, a marker in my road of confidence.
You see dreams really do come true and ladies, I encourage you to take the time to learn some new skills that will give you confidence to get out in the field.
We are never too old or too young to learn these life lessons, to experience this feeling of freedom. Now is the time for all of us to stand up as leaders of our households and communities.
Hunting is still relevant in today’s society and culture. Now more than in any other time in history, there needs to be an understanding by everyone of the importance of conservation and our hunting heritage. This is not just for the provision of meat for the table, but how hunters and good folks like you and like me are working hard to improve, conserve, enhance and fund more land projects that are directly benefitting wildlife and wild places than any other group or organization in the world.
We are all here in this room for a purpose. A very important purpose. Tonight is about the wildlife and wild places that each and every one of us hold so dear. It is about ensuring that the little ones that we all love have the opportunity to hunt, fish and hear for themselves the life changing sound of a big bulls bugle as it echoes across the mountain.
The family bond and friendships forged on the mountain and the memories that are created, are priceless. This is the greatest gift that we can give, this is our legacy in action. I encourage you all to do something different- inspire, educate and mentor. We must reach the non-hunters of the world and educate them on the value of hunting, for the entire family, for the economic benefit to our nation and how hunters are truly the first crusaders in conservation. The growing involvement in women and youth is the key to the success of our future. Thank you all for being here tonight. Let’s make a difference and have some fun while we are at it!