Why I Hunt: Thoughts from a Wolf-Loving, Elk-Killing Tree Hugger

by David Stalling, Guest Blogger, August 2013

“When the buffalo are gone, we will hunt mice, for we are hunters and we want our freedom.” — Chief Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, 1831-1890.
I’m a wolf-loving tree hugger and I hunt. I kill and eat wild elk.Does this seem contradictory? It’s not if you consider our Nation’s conservation heritage, and see that most of our conservation heroes–including Theodore Roosevelt (who created national forests and wildlife refuges), Aldo Leopold (author of the conservation classic, “A Sand County Almanac“) and Olaus J. Murie (founder of The Wilderness Society)–were all hunters.

I can understand people’s disdain for hunting. As Edward Abbey (himself a hunter) once wrote, “Hunting is one of the hardest things even to think about. Such a storm of conflicting emotion!” I can’t speak for all hunters, but will try and explain why I choose to hunt.

I love elk. They are a magnificent, mysterious and powerful animal. I spend all the time I can in elk country, year-round, hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, observing and admiring elk. And yet, each year during bowseason I head into elk country with the intent to kill one. Why? Partly because I can think of no more ecologically-sound way to live in my part of the world. I cherish wild elk meat; it’s healthy, and it’s derived from healthy, native grasses and forbs in the wilderness near my home.

I like to think I’m a vegetarian of sorts, living off the the wild grasses, sedges and forbs that grow near my home. Most these plants are not directly palatable to humans, so I let elk convert them to protein for me. Perhaps someday I can travel through the digestive system of a grizzly and fertilize the vegetation that elk eat: Seems only fair considering all the elk I’ve killed and eaten.

We’re all part of this land.

I hunt to experience and celebrate a fundamental connection with nature, because we must all kill to eat, and eating elk nourished on native grasses and forbs has as low an impact on the environment as any of the alternatives. Even eating soybeans and soy-based products supports an agricultural industry that displaces and destroys wildlife habitat to grow a non-native plant, requiring irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuels, trucks, roads and industry to be shipped around the country. Not to mention the thousands of deer and other wildlife killed to protect valuable agricultural crops. Most people are not aware of the impacts of their lifestyles and actions, or they choose to live in denial. Aldo Leopold wrote: “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

We all kill to eat.

Everything we do has consequences. Whether we choose to eat vegetables or meat, store-bought food or homegrown, cattle or venison, we all contribute to the death of animals so we can eat. I choose to eat the wild meat of elk, mule deer and antelope. And the money I spend in pursuit of these wild animals, through license fees and excise taxes on hunting equipment, helps protect the wild places that sustain them and sustain me. It’s the most efficient, environmentally sound and sustainable way I know to live in this somewhat arid western landscape we call Montana. And the countless days and hours I spend pursuing elk and mule deer through the rugged mountains in the wilderness area where I hunt have provided me with a keen understanding and awareness of these incredible animals and their habitat, which has fueled a passion for the protection of wild elk, deer and other wildlife, and the wild places they roam.

North America’s system of wildlife management, of which regulated hunting is an integral part, is a tremendous achievement. The value of wild elk and deer to hunters supports the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat for an array and abundance of wildlife, including large predators and threatened and endangered species, and supports ecologically-based research and management. It’s a sustainable system that gives many hunters a stake in wildlife, and fuels public understanding and concern for conservation.

I am growing increasingly angry over the ongoing loss of crucial wildlife habitat from human subdivision and development; the people who want to mine and drill our last remaining wild places; the people who deny and evade critical topics such as climate change, and the people — and a society — that seems to put greed, profit and money above all else. Throughout the West, homes are rapidly replacing critical elk and deer winter range, calving and fawning habitat and migratory corridors. Not only elk and deer suffer, but all wildlife that depend on that habitat, including everything from ducks and trout to grizzlies and pine martens. My love for wild elk and deer provokes a strong desire to protect their habitat; That desire is fueled, in part, by my passion for hunting and the meat that sustains me.

Hunting has a large ugly side, to be sure, which seems to be growing larger. I sometimes feel like an anti-hunter who hunts. Far too many hunters reveal a disturbing lack of knowledge of, or concern for, wildlife and wild places and actually promote efforts — and support the politicians and organizations who push for efforts — to erode and degrade our wildlife and last remaining wild places. They are as detached from the wilds as as most Americans are, and increasingly replace knowledge, skills and effort with technology and other short cuts; They selfishly do everything and anything they can to boost their egos and overcome insecurities by killing other creatures; They fear and hate wolves, they fear and hate grizzlies, they fear and hate wilderness, they fear and hate the wilds; They fear and hate to actually hunt. They just love to kill.

Several national surveys have shown that only about 10 percent of hunters fall within a “naturalist” group of hunters who seek an intimate bond to the wilds and cherish and fight to protect wildlife and wild places. Having worked for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen Conservation Project and the National Wildlife Federation; Having served two terms as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation (Montana’s largest and oldest hunter-angler conservation association); Having helped found Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, and being a part of a great dynamic group called Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, I am fortunate to have met and worked with many dedicated, conservation-minded hunters working hard to protect our fair-chase hunting and angling heritage and the wildlife and wild places we all cherish. I’m also grateful to live in a place like Missoula, Montana, where even hippies hunt and fish.

I can think of no better lifestyle than roaming wildlands as a participant of nature, taking responsibility for the deaths I cause, and securing my own sustenance. In his essay, “A Hunter’s Heart,” Colorado naturalist and writer David Petersen summarizes it nicely:

“Why do I hunt? It’s a lot to think about, and I think about it a lot. I hunt to acknowledge my evolutionary roots, millennia deep, as a predatory omnivore. To participate actively in the bedrock workings of nature. For the atavistic challenge of doing it well with an absolute minimum of technological assistance. To learn the lessons, about nature and myself, that only hunting can teach. To accept personal responsibilities for at least some of the deaths that nourish my life. For the glimpse it offers into a wildness we can hardly imagine. Because it provides the closet thing I’ve known to a spiritual experience. I hunt because it enriches my life and because I can’t help myself . . . because I was born with a hunter’s heart.”

to read more of David’s blogs visit http://thoughtsfromthewildside.blogspot.com

Hungry Bears are on the Move

It is spring and Northwest  black bears are once again on the move. Hungry bears are emerging from their dens looking for ready sources of food to replace the calories lost during a winter of hibernation when bears can lose up to 1/2 their body weight.

Bear cubs are born in the winter during the mother’s hibernation. She frequently rouses to feed and care for them. When she first ventures out with new cubs in tow, she is particularly anxious to find enough food for the family group. Recreationalistsand those living near bear country should keep in mind that bear mothers can be extremely protective.

Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said field staff have already received reports of black bear activity in North Bend, Issaquah, and Chelan County.

“Black bears usually emerge from their dens in mid-to-late April, but warm weather can cause them to stir earlier”, Beausoleil said.

Lorna Smith, Executive Director of Western Wildlife Outreach, advises that anyone encountering a sow, or female bear and her cubs should keep a safe distance.

“If a close encounter occurs, stand tall, make noise, and back away slowly. Bear spray such as that produced by Counter Assault and several other brand names, contains capsaicin in a concentration formulated to be effective against any large carnivore and is an important tool to keep close at hand when in bear country. Carry it where you can reach it easily, like in a belt holster, and be prepared to use it when a bear charges or approaches too closely. However, black bear attacks on humans in Washington State are very, very rare. “

When black bears first emerge from their winter dens, they eat new spring greens supplemented with any winter-kill carrion which is easily located via the bear’s super keen sense of smell, many times more efficient than that of a human. Typically this diet is insufficient to help bears regain the body weight lost during hibernation and any food sources are potentially attractive to bears at this time.  A bear’s sense of smell may lead it to hone in on human-provided food after a winter spent hibernating.  Following are a few tips for preventing bear problems in your home and neighborhood:

  1. Garbage – Store garbage and animal feed inside buildings or in bear-resistant containers. Keep your garbage secured until the morning of your scheduled pickup. Encourage neighbors to do the same.
  2. Gardens and Compost – Plant gardens out in the open, away from cover. Avoid composting meat and turn your compost over frequently. Finely chopped fruit and vegetable matter will decompose faster and is less likely to attract bears. A quality electric fence used properly can keep bears out of gardens and compost piles, and  away from buildings and domestic animals.
  3. Livestock and beehives – Domestic animals, including chickens, may attract bears. Secure your livestock behind electric fences, as well as bee hives.  Bears will eat both the bees and honey.
  4. Bird feeders – Bears love to eat birdseed and suet. Take down bird feeders from April through October. Clean up dropped seeds and hulls.
  5. Barbecues – Regularly clean barbecue grills, especially the grease trap, after each use.
  6. Pets – Feed pets indoors or pick up excess and spilled food between meals and clean all pet dishes.  Avoid overfeeding chicken and other fowl so that no food remains on the ground.
  7. Freezers – Keep freezers locked in a secure building or otherwise out of reach of bears.

A new Washington State Law prohibits the feeding of carnivores, including bears, either intentionally or negligently. Involved parties may be subject to a $1000 fine.  Bears that become habituated to humans and the food they provide are labeled as “problem bears”.  If such bears cannot be successfully relocated far away from human food provided sources of food, they can become repeat offenders. “A fed bear is a dead bear”.

Keep your family and Washington’s bears safe: Be Bear Aware.

Nature Deficit Disorder


Today’s children are growing up without many of the nature-derived benefits I experienced as a child.  One of the most important aspects of my childhood was the freedom I had to roam our neighborhood on the shores of Puget Sound for hours on end without parental supervision.  My friends and I embarked on fishing voyages in leaky boats, waded streams, sustained the pain of stinging nettles and blackberry vines, pedaled our bikes miles away from home and climbed trees with abandon.  We discovered on our own the strangeness of sea pens and gumboot chitons, the fierceness of robins defending their eggs and nests, and the mystery buried in mountain beaver burrows beneath rotten logs.  All wondrous, exciting and most importantly, our own secret world.

These childhood discoveries and experiences left me with a life-long sense of adventure and discovery, a never-ending fascination with nature that very much shaped my career path and my avocation.  I find myself frequently wondering what opportunities the children of today have to go adventuring in nature on their own, or with limited parental supervision.  Our newspapers are full of headlines about the dangers awaiting our children around every corner, lurking on the internet and in the hallways of their own schools.  There is a growing sense that our children must be constantly monitored, tied to cell phones or pagers in order for us to keep them safe.  Our world is losing something important, something critical to our very survival: our sense of place in the world of nature.  We ARE part of nature, and yet it is so easy to forget this elemental fact when bombarded with all things electronic and wonderful, all day long.

There is too much fear in our society today, almost all of it misplaced.  In fact, here in North America, our world has never been more safe.  Children are safer, less fearful and  healthier if they are encouraged to develop their own awareness of their natural surroundings.  Western Wildlife Outreach spends a lot of time and effort taking our message of how to coexist with carnivores to public events of all sizes. Over and over again, we hear from parents and families who are fearful to take their children out in the woods.  Won’t they get eaten by a bear, a cougar, or a wolf?  We explain the almost non-existent risk of any such thing happening, and teach them about the true behavior of our large carnivores.   That is, they are very fearful and wary of humans, they go out of their way to avoid human contact, and the chances of even catching a glimpse of these animals outside of parks such as Yellowstone are very small.  We also teach them a few simple things to do should they ever have a close encounter with a large carnivore:  look big, back away slowly,  talk to the animal calmly and carry bear spray that is readily accessible.  Stow food and garbage away from sleeping areas when you camp. We have found that some simple information like this can often give a family the confidence and knowledge they need in order to believe they will be safe from carnivore attacks when they recreate outside.

Children need nature,  adults need nature.  It is part of our nature as humans to take part in the natural world, to study and explore, to marvel and appreciate, to be humbled by the fact there are things in this world bigger than we are, and that we are not always in control.  Let your children and grandchildren play outside, take them outside and let them explore on their own. Let them learn self-reliance and to respect nature.  They will be much richer and wiser for it.

For more information on this important subject,  I recommend reading Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.


Busy interstate highway through critical habitat: wildlife crossings and monitoring

Have you ever traveled by car in the Pacific Northwest? Interstate-90 intersects the rugged Cascade Mountains in Washington State’s Snoqualmie Pass region, which has been identified as a critical link in the north-south movement of wildlife. I-90 Wildlife Watch is a citizen-based wildlife monitoring project that invites motorists to report wildlife sightings along I-90 in the Snoqualmie Pass region of Washington, and to bring awareness to the region. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, “Wildlife habitat on either side of I-90 will be reconnected with the installation of new bridges and culverts, protecting both animals and the traveling public.” I-90 Wildlife Watch is gathering this information to help inform highway planning. 

Read more: I-90 Wildlife Watch and  Washington State Department of Transportation

I-90 Wildlife Watch poster.

Cougar-Smart Efforts in British Columbia

The town of Squamish in British Columbia, our neighbor to the north, has the highest number of conflicts between humans and cougars of any town in British Columbia. That doesn’t mean that people are threatened by cougars. It means that cougars are reported coming too close to where people live and recreate or where they keep their livestock and pets. Squamish already has a very active Bear Aware Program, which they are now expanding to included cougars and other wildlife.

On Friday, June 22, Meg Toom wrote in the The Chief, the Squamish home-town newspaper, “Those statistics highlight the importance of expanding our awareness to include additional wildlife such as cougars. By reducing the availability of attractants for cougars, we can create a safer community for both humans and wildlife.”

“If we leave attractants (i.e. pet food or bird seed) accessible outdoors, we could be attracting small rodents to feed, which attract small domestic pets which, in turn, attract larger predators like coyotes and cougars. We all need to think of the food chain that we create within our own backyards.”

The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project endorses these steps for reducing human/cougar conflicts. Cougars are present throughout many parts of Washington State where conflicts with cougars occur most often in areas where subdivisions have been spreading out into former prime cougar habitat. GBOP has also expanded educational outreach efforts to include information on cougar awareness and tips for co-existing with cougars. Click here to go to our Cougar Page
for more information on the adaptable and secretive cougar.

New Bear Safety Information – Yellowstone National Park

Safe travels in bear country begin before you get on the trail. Learning about bears before you go to the park can help you avoid a confrontation. Read about bear spray and what to do if you encounter a bear. When you arrive at the park, check at the nearest backcountry office or visitor center. The link below has information to help visitors travel safely in bear country. 

The information on this site can be applied in other regions that have grizzly bears, including Idaho, Washington and Montana. Know before you go! 



Cougar Story with a Happy Ending

Cougars are an important part of our natural heritage. Sleek and graceful, cougars are solitary and secretive animals rarely seen in the wild. With neighborhoods encroaching into wildlife habitat, the number of cougar sightings may increase, but a cougar sighting does not mean that there are more in an area. The cougar’s ability to travel long distances occasionally brings these cats into seemingly inappropriate areas, even places densely settled by humans. Such appearances are almost always brief, with the animal moving along quickly in its search of a suitable permanent home.

Photo: Mark Mulligan / The Herald

The young cougar in this news article was safely trapped and removed from such a place. “She could be at an age where she’s learning to hunt on her own. Her mother likely ran her off to encourage her to establish her own territory.” Such inexperience gets some cougars into trouble, but in this case good practices in non-lethal wildlife control techniques by state wildlife agents may help assure that this cougar will have no interest in anything human. Karelian Bear Dogs, which work to deter and repel bears, are being used to conduct similar work with cougars. Read the article, look at the photo gallery, and find that even an officer many years in the field can still be deeply moved to appreciate a magnificent young cougar.

Click the link to read the HeraldNet news article:


Cougar prowling Arlington caught, released in wild

$10,000 Reward Offered for Grizzly Bear Shootings in Northern Idaho.


Contact: Jason Holm, 503-231-2264   Jason_holm@fws.gov
Contact Phil Cooper, 208-769-1414      Phil.Cooper@idfg.idaho.gov

$10,000 Reward Offered for Grizzly Bear Shootings in Northern Idaho.

Investigation continues in shooting of grizzly and her nursing cub.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) law enforcement agents and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) are investigating the fatal shooting of a federally protected grizzly bear and her nursing cub in northern Idaho. A reward of $10,000 is being offered for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible.  

The dead adult grizzly was discovered on the morning of May 18 by a hiker from Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  It was located in a clear-cut in Boundary County on Hall Mountain.  Hall Mountain is located east of the Kootenai River valley and northwest of US Highway 95.

The adult bear was a large female that was lactating, an indication she was nursing a cub (or cubs) produced during her recent winter hibernation. A subsequent search of the surrounding area by an Idaho Fish and Game Biologist turned up a dead cub that had also been shot.  Both bears appeared to have been dead a few days when found on May 18.

Both carcasses are being flown to the US Fish and Wildlife Service lab in Ashland Oregon for necropsy and further retrieval of evidence.

A black bear season is currently open in Idaho; however, hunters may not shoot grizzly bears and may not shoot black bears with cubs.  A bear identification program to train hunters to differentiate the species was posted last year and is available on the IDFG web page. 

Grizzly bears are classified as a threatened species in the lower 48 states and are protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. Killing a threatened species protected by the ESA carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Anyone with information about this incident should contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent in Spokane, Washington, at 509-928-6050; the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at 208-769-1414; or the Idaho Citizens Against Poaching Program at 1-800-632-5999. Callers can remain anonymous.  

No additional information is being released at this time pending further investigation.