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Open Season 2019

Hunters Helping the Hungry program targets venison to needy families

Several Nebraskans will be less hungry this winter thanks to hunter donations for the Hunters Helping the Hungry program. The premise of this program, directed through the Nebraska Game and Parks Commmission, is for hunters to harvest a deer and donate it to a participating local processor.

“The processor then works with a charitable organization getting that benefit out to the community,” said Teresa Lombard, who is the coordinator of the program. “Hopefully, it will make the whole community feel involved in the process. It is not a matter of the hunter donating deer in Bayard, and the meat going to Lincoln and Omaha to feed the needy there. Our goal is to keep that local involvement,” she said.

Hunters can use any valid Nebraska deer permit, and through the HHH program, donate a field-dressed deer to a participating processor. The processor skins and debones the deer, and grinds it into 2 pound packages of venison. The meat is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to ensure it was processed safely, and is up to food quality standards. “Charitable organizations within the state then distribute it to qualifying individuals and families. A few organizations may even prepare it for people at places like an aging center or the veterans home,” Lombard said.

First year participant Jordan McAllister of JM Pack is enthusiastic about the program. The previous owner of the Bayard, Neb., processing plant had participated in the Hunters Helping the Hungry program for some time. It is a tradition McAllister plans to continue. “There are no other places around here to donate deer, and we think it’s a good program. We are proud to do our part to help people and keep the program going,” he said.

Hunters Helping the Hungry was created by the Nebraska Legislature through LB928 in 2012. When signed into law, the Nebraska Games and Parks Commission was tasked with overseeing the program. Since the first deer were accepted in 2012, donations by hunters has increased by nearly 20 percent a year. Lombard said 200 deer were accepted in 2012, and 734 deer were accepted last year. “Hunters love it because they can harvest a deer, donate it, and feel good about it,” she said. “They don’t have to pay a processing fee, so if they want to buy a permit to hunt another deer, they can do that.”

McAllister said JM Pack has a contract to accept 20 deer for the HHH program this year. “We require that the deer has to yield at least 40 pounds of meat after we debone it. Deer that is donated for this program can only be field dressed. It can’t be quartered, skinned or missing any of the meat. It has to be the whole deer and harvested in Nebraska,” he said.


Despite the increase in deer donations, Lombard said the program struggles to get enough donations from individuals and businesses to cover the $90 per deer processing costs. “While the popularity with the hunters has continued to grow every year, unfortunately, the funds that pay for the processing have been going down the last few years,” Lombard said. “If we don’t get more donations, we may have to restrict processors to what is in their contract, which is only about 475 deer statewide. That is about two-thirds of what we took in last year.”

“Any individual or business can make donations for processing for the HHH program any time throughout the year. The donations are tax deductible, and can be made through the outdoornebraska.gov/hhh website. “They can also write a check and specify it is for the Hunters Helping the Hungry program and mail it in,” Lombard said. “What many people don’t realize is they don’t have to donate a large amount to help. They can donate anything from one cent on up. The dollars given for the program can not be used anywhere else. Basically, for every dollar donated, it creates two meals for someone in need. Sometimes, people don’t realize that $1 really does make a difference.”

Anywhere from 19-22 processors in Nebraska participate in the program. “We give them the opportunity to nominate a charitable organization they might like to work with locally,” Lombard said. “If they don’t have a specific organization in mind, The Food Bank for the Heartland is our fallback because they have a statewide network of food distribution in Nebraska. We know we can depend on them to distribute to the pantries that are local to the processor. If the processor nominates an organization, we contact them to make sure they want to participate.” JM Pack will be distributing the donated venison it processes to the Potters Wheel Ministry in Scottsbluff. “From there, they will distribute it to the churches and the food pantry,” McAllister said.


When the program first began, Lombard said food pantries were skeptical about venison and if consumers would embrace it. “What we found out, is it’s very much in demand,” she said “We have food pantries who call and request it. Venison is a healthy meat. It’s very lean, and processors don’t add any beef fat to it. Some people seek out venison because they can’t eat some of the other meat products out there.”

“It is also very easy to prepare. It is ground venison, so it is naturally low in fat and doesn’t need to be drained after it is browned. You can put it in a skillet, open a jar of spaghetti sauce and you have a meal. You can add it to salsa to make tacos or you can even make venison stroganoff,” she said.

“Our goal with this program is to never turn a hunter away who wants to donate a deer, because it is food Nebraskans in need can make use of,” Lombard said. “The program also helps us keep the deer population in the state under control.”

For more information about Hunters Helping the Hungry or to donate, Lombard can be reached at (402) 471-5430.

— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at tclarklivenews@gmail.com.

Changing times: Landowners increasingly rely on hunting lease managers

Many ranches throughout the country are a hunter’s paradise. Ranchers’ efforts to conserve the land and optimize it for cattle operations also result in prime habitat for wildlife and a cooperation between hunters and landowners can be mutually beneficial.

Cardinal Charolais on the Prewitt Ranch near Hillrose, Colo., is home to about a 60-acre augmentation pond and the native grasses typical to the Colorado sandhills nearest the river. Pat Gebauer has hosted a hunting club for more than 20 years. The group of hunters invests in the club for the privilege of hunting the ranch ­— mostly for waterfowl — and Gebauer invests the funds back into habitat on the ranch.

One of the things that makes the arrangement successful, Gebauer said, is the third party who oversees the club. The manager ensures that the hunters are aware of the expectations and communicates between the two. The club on this ranch adds new members infrequently, as most of the members have been hunting Gebauer’s ranch for years, but new members are added only through existing members. Even then, he said, they’re on a trial basis until it’s clear that they’re a good fit for both Gebauer and the other members of the club.

“They all know when they join, they are on a trial basis and they have to do things the way we want or they don’t get to come back,” he said.

If and when someone isn’t allowed to return, Gebauer said the manager is especially valuable as he takes care of the details and leaves Gebauer free to tend to the business of ranching. The manager began as one of the first hunters on the ranch rather than through a traditional property management service but Gebauer said the relationship and his job make hunting on the ranch easier for everyone.

Gebauer has been intentional in keeping the club’s size small, he said.

“We found the members who could afford to pay a little more money and to have fewer members rather than needing to have 20 members to raise the same amount of revenue,” he said.

That revenue has been invested back into habitat, electricity for bubblers on the ponds, and other improvements. Gebauer added augmentation ponds years ago and, rather than adding multiple, small ponds, the property lent itself to a larger pond which has been a natural fit for hunting.


In Nebraska, Jordan Maassen is managing and selling properties for recreational hunting through his job at Lashley Land Brokers.

Maassen sells recreational hunting properties and said it’s not a sign of a declining number of ranches but a sign of differentiation.

“It’s more along the lines of finding some other opportunities for some income potential,” he said. “Maybe they don’t utilize the ground themselves during hunting season and someone else is willing to and pay to do it.”

Maassen said, much like on Gebauer’s ranch, groups of hunters will contact his office to secure a lease on a piece of property prime for hunting. By having a group of hunters, Maassen said the hunters are oftentimes able to secure a larger lease and it’s a more beneficial relationship for both hunters and landowners.

By utilizing his office, Maassen said both parties see a benefit. Most of the hunting properties Maassen deals in provide hunting for waterfowl, turkeys, and some upland birds like pheasants and quail. He said he’s even seeing an increase in coyote trapping and calling which can also be a benefit for livestock owners who are seeing an increase in the predators.

“When we put together leases on hunting properties, the landowner is protected liability-wise,” he said.

Through this lease, the landowner’s expectations can be better communicated to hunters who are, oftentimes, not from the local area. This is one of the benefits of using a management group to secure a hunting lease, according to Russell Spencer, a turkey hunter from Colorado. By depending on a local expert, he is more able to secure the best lease for his purposes and budget so his free time can be used for hunting.

“Before, when hunters were neighbors, they got along pretty well and both sides had a pretty good understanding of what was expected from both sides,” Maassen said. “Now, a lot of out-of-staters are coming in to hunt and either they don’t know the rules of the state they’re coming into or they don’t care. Not all of them are completely respectable but that’s only a few.”


Maassen said many of the landowners who hire him to manage their hunting leases in their stead do so to avoid conflict and inconvenience. Through Maassen’s land management, items are in place to keep the hunter and landowner on the same page and protected.

“If (hunters) are going to put a little money down, they’re going to want to come back again,” he said. “They’re not going to want to spend the money and then blow their opportunity to come back out here.”

Different types of hunting leases are dictated differently. Turkey hunting leases, he said, are often by the bird while waterfowl is often per limit or even per gun, per day. If a landowner is interested in professional lease management, Maassen said he will visit the property and design a package specific to that property and what it can offer hunters.

Lease management also eases communication so someone like Maassen can communicate to the landowner when hunters will be on the property.

“It’s peace of mind,” he said. “It makes sure the landowner is protected from someone trying to manipulate the situation. It puts a third party in charge so you don’t get any hostility toward each other. Plus, the landowner is protected and the hunters have a pleasant experience and success.”

While some landowners provide lodging, the majority Maassen deals with do not, which he said is one more way revenue is funneled into small towns. With Nebraska’s popularity with outdoorsmen, many hunters contact Maassen directly to take advantage of his network rather than knocking on doors asking permission to hunt without any background knowledge. ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.

Open Season 2018: Hunting, Fishing & Outdoor Recreation

Bird Weather: Weather factors affect bird populations and hunting success

The hunting season that brings $200 million to South Dakota is kicking off soon. Pheasant hunters will be flocking to what some call “the pheasant hunting capital of the world” this October for what is expected to be a great season.  

Travis Runia, a senior upland game biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department (GFP) says he doesn’t like to predict a season, but has high expectations for hunting numbers this year.  

In 2017, more than 67 thousand people came to South Dakota for the Pheasant season. The bird count for last season was down 45 percent from 2016 and the number of birds harvested was poor as well.  

“It was the lowest we had in a really long time,” said Runia.  

Part of the reason for a poor hunting season could have been the weather. The summer of 2017 saw widespread drought, leaving little cover and less insect population for pheasant chicks. Runia says the drought last year was nearly devastating to the pheasant population. 

This spring, the tables have turned; 12 counties in southeast South Dakota have received almost too much rain. Too much rain in the peak hatch season (June) can tremendously reduce chick survival.  

The above-normal moisture is great for vegetation, but it isn’t great for pheasant chicks. Runia says the biggest impact on the 2018 brood count index will be the weather. Long-term population trends are affected by habitat availability, and habitats are affected by weather conditions. Biologists at GFP hope for normal precipitation for most of the state to see thriving pheasant habitats. In the central part of the state, where it is a little more dry and thick with pheasants, biologists like to see precipitation a little better than normal.  

Lush vegetation throughout the growing season means bountiful habitat for pheasants. Runia says in the past 25 years, numbers have been good, but short-term, weather is what drives big changes. 

While the perfect weather conditions would give pheasants an ideal place to hatch and grow, they also present hunters with better opportunities when the season comes along. Without good cover on the ground, it is hard to get near pheasants or run dogs on the hunt. Runia expects the 2018 hunting season to be better because of the lush green grass we are continuing to see at this point of the summer season. 

When it comes to hunting season, the weather can really affect hunters and their dogs. Runia early in the season, when the weather tends to be a little warmer, it is important to watch dogs carefully. Runia advises taking plenty of water and plenty of breaks. 

Ideal conditions for a good hunt are cool enough to run dogs to their full potential, with just a bit of moisture in the air. Runia says the added moisture makes it easier for dogs to keep a scent track.  

In the western part of South Dakota, hunters may be after prairie grouse and ruffed grouse rather than the infamous pheasant. Runia says those birds thrive under the same conditions as pheasants, finding habitat in lush green grasses. While there is no index survey for these birds, he expects those to be plentiful as well this season.  

Hunters will have a better idea of what to expect after the Pheasant Brood Survey is finished this summer.  

The 2018 Pheasant Brood Count Survey will conclude on August 15. Biologists drive 30-mile routes counting every bird they see every ⅛ mile. They drive 110 routes throughout the state every year. 

“Our survey is done the same way every year,” said Runia, “The same route, with the same conditions, driven the same way.” 

The index will give a state-wide bird count, but will also be broken down into local and regional counts to give hunters a better idea of where pheasants are located. South Dakota offers an abundance of public lands, open to hunters and thick with pheasants.  

The 100th South Dakota Pheasant Season kicks off on October 20. Youth hunters have the opportunity to hunt October 6-10, and residents October 13-15.  

Out of state residents who are looking to pheasant hunt in South Dakota should be sure to contact the SD Game, Fish, and Parks Department for information. You can also download an interactive map and app for a guide while in the field. Be sure to register and hunt safe this 2018 season. 

“This pheasant season is just something to be really proud of,” said Runia. 


The dog for the job: What to look for in a canine hunting partner

Bird dogs are essential to pheasant, duck, and goose hunting, and like most every other sport, a competition has been adapted from it, allowing dogs to rank within their breeds. Hunt tests were designed for all-around bird dogs like Labrador retrievers, German shorthaired pointers, and other common hunting and retrieving breeds. 


Hunt Tests 

Kent Shelton, South Dakota’s Third Circuit judge and the owner of Hunt’EmUp Kennels in Huron, uses hunt tests to keep his dogs in shape throughout the off-season, as well as adding credentials to his breeding program. Hunt tests allow his labs to rank among three levels, junior, senior, or master. 

“It’s not a competition, but we’re seeing if they meet a standard. If they can do the test, they will pass,” he said. 

The tests are judged by two judges. At the junior level the tasks include retrieving a dead duck thrown into heavy cover after a quack is called from a blind, then deliver it to hand, not drop it on the ground in front of the owner. The next task is to retrieve a live flying duck that is shot on the spot. From there, they may attempt a similar test requiring a dog to retrieve a duck from the water or pass through the water to retrieve on land. 

At the senior level, challenges are added, such waiting on a designated line without being held before retrieving, and they will retrieve two ducks at once, retrieving first one, then immediately going back for the other. Dogs will also be required to “honor,” which requires sitting while a different dog runs, and not take off when another dog goes to do its retrieves, Shelton said. 

The same goes for the master level of hunt tests, with the added challenge of more duck blinds and triple retrieves, making it harder for a dog to reach the master level. Dogs don’t compete against one another in hunt tests, rather they are judged on a pass/fail basis. 


Conformationally and genetically sound 

While each breed shines slightly in different areas of hunting, pointing, flushing, and retrieving, it really comes down to finding that perfect pup from the litter, no matter the hunting dog breed. 

Shelton chooses the finest labs he can, looking for dogs with solid conformation, sound hips, elbows, and eyes, and no history of energy-induced collapse (EIC). 

“With EIC, a dog acts overheated and the back end wobbles,” he said. “It’s a genetic issue that has to do with the glycogen in the muscles that depletes so quickly that it doesn’t have the strength to walk. Then 15 to 20 minutes later it will be fine.” 

He continually tests his dogs to be sure they are sound, healthy, and primed for pheasant, duck, or goose hunting. 

Gereth Stillman, of Stills Kennels in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the president of the Western South Dakota Bird Dog Club, performs tests required for his AKC registered German shorthaired pointers, including eye and hip tests, but also heart tests. He, too, is adamant that his dogs are structurally correct, and while Shelton desires a medium-energy dog with a high prey-drive, Stillman is after a high-energy dog with a high prey-drive. 

Since 1973, Stillman has raised German shorthairs, a dog that will go all day, all hunting season, without rest, a good fit for the large prairies in western South Dakota. 

“They are a breed that is made to hunt all day. If you’re hunting pheasants with other breeds, they need rest,” he said. “Some people will ask when I’m going to rest my dogs, and I tell them the end of the season. It is what they’re bred for, and if they’re properly conditioned, they will do that.” 


The best of the best 

Labs’ strength falls in their all-around ability to flush or retrieve, and they are hardy enough for cold conditions and rough, thick brush, and chilly ponds. 

“I found labs to be the best all-around and can take this kind of weather; it can be really hot or really super cold,” Shelton said. “They have a dense undercoat and thick outer coat that sheds water.” 

When choosing a pup for any type of hunting and retrieving dog, there are certain traits that catch the eyes of both Shelton and Stillman. In addition to impeccable conformation and the battery of tests, both typically seek the puppy that isn’t the most timid, nor the most bold. 

“I want one that will come out and investigate. The most bold can be a little hard to handle or strong-willed, though I don’t always mind that,” Shelton said. “I want one that doesn’t shy away and will follow you around; maybe not the most dominant, but holds their own.” 

A trick that Shelton tries when choosing his next lab is to hold it just a few inches off the ground on its back. The ideal puppy will squirm and fight for just a little bit before finally conceding. 

“If they fight, fight, fight, then give in, they’re trainable,” he said. 

In choosing a German shorthair, Stillman is after the pup that never stops moving and exploring, indicative of dog that will later hunt with its nose. Puppies that interact well with their litter mates or other dogs while still being comfortable being independent also catches Stillman’s attention. He also likes a dog that will point. 

“The German shorthair is hardwired to hold a point,” he said. “When I go out and start training a dog, something in his brain tells him to stop and hold. We do not want them to flush; we want them to hold that point until we catch up, and we’ll flush and shoot it.” 

Both breeds typically make fine family dogs, integrating into the household seamlessly. 

“German shorthairs fit into the family just like it’s their pack,” Stillman said. “In today’s world, you need a dog with a nice temperament.” 


Creating the perfect hunting partner 

Quality versus quantity helps shape a hunting dog that doesn’t tire of constant retrieving required later in its life. 

“If you spend 10 quality minutes two times per day conditioning it, you can have one of the best hunting dogs,” Shelton said. 

An example of constant conditioning that Shelton supplied is when he puts his lab puppies in the kennel, he says the word “kennel,” or each time a puppy potties, he says “Be quick, be quick.” After enough time of his consistent conditioning, the pups perform the associated action without realizing it. 

“It doesn’t matter if my dogs just went to the bathroom, they’ll go again, which is really handy when you’re traveling or they’ll be in the kennel for a bit,” he said. “Puppies don’t know what that means, but you’re conditioning them to words.” 

Along the same lines, Stillman doesn’t expose a puppy to a gunshot unless he is already fully engrossed in a live bird. The dog then begins to associate the gun shot with the reward of a bird, and, the first time that dog hears the gun shot, it is more excited about the bird and less reactive to the sound. 

“When a dog is on birds, it gets adrenaline running. Because of that, the hearing shuts down partially, they get tunnel vision, and the sound of the gun doesn’t hurt their ears,” he said.  

He also starts with a blank shot then builds up to louder shots. Before introducing the puppy to gun shots, however, both start with small retrieves only a few times per day. 

“The first thing I start with when they’re a little bitty puppy is a paint roller,” Shelton said. “They’re fairly large for a puppy to get their mouth around, but it is nice and soft; it teaches them to open their jaws.” 

He calls the puppy back to him and loves on them, but doesn’t take away the roller until an opportunity presents itself to do so in a sneaky manner. If he were to take the roller when the puppy brings it back, they fail to return to him for fear Shelton will take their toy.  

From there, Shelton moves to retrieving a live pigeon that can’t fly away. 

“I’ll get some pigeons and tie their wings so they can’t fly away, and they sniff it and bring it, then we stop for the day,” he said. “I put blue painters tape on their wings, and it doesn’t hurt the pigeons. I do that while working on sit and heel.” 

Frozen birds are next up for the puppies, now about 12 weeks old. He throws the birds out for dogs to retrieve and uses a leash to pull them back if they get the urge to run off with the bird and chew on it, typical of the age. 

“I won’t do any serious training until a dog is about a year old. You’re putting a little more pressure on him, and he needs to be mature,” Stillman said. “If you push a puppy too hard, you can take away their enthusiasm or their drive. You want to develop it, not suppress it.” 

With proper training, puppies can develop into a fine retrieving dogs, making hunting far more enjoyable. After hunting for so long, one of Stillman’s German shorthairs is able to tell the difference between a rooster or hen pheasant. 

“When he was on a rooster, he was intense and locked up to the point of quivering. He knew we were going to shoot it and he would get to get it,” he said. “With a hen, he would wag his tail and do what we called a soft point, because we would say ‘No bird,’ and we wouldn’t shoot it, and he wouldn’t have a retrieval.” 

Wyoming’s Roosevelt fire strains ranchers an their herds and harms hunters

While Mike and Tara Miller with Miller Land and Livestock near Big Piney, Wyo., lost no cattle directly to the Roosevelt fire, the immense intake of smoke has left the ranchers’ calves with pneumonia, similar to a dust pneumonia. “We lost seven of them just this week,” Tara said. They’re grateful that’s all the damage that has resulted from the blazes. They also lost, at the least, several miles of fence.

Like other area producers, their cows, heifers and calves were in their summer and fall pastures in the mountains when they were moved further down several times, and while their two cow camps were evacuated, they still stand up in the mountains.

“It could have been a lot worse if it was earlier in the year,” she said. “Once it got out of the horrible, thick timber, it kind of quit. They had a lot of artillery in the sky; they did a wonderful job. The homes they did save was unbelievable. They can’t fight it in that thick, thick timber.”

Tara is an advocate for thinning out the timbers to give the Forest Service a fighting chance at stopping wildfires, and recognizes their efforts.

“They take a Cat and dig trenches for fire lines, which leaves a really ugly scar, but they’re fixing it as best they can. The fire never reached those lines,” she said. “That timber is the biggest fire hazard in the state, and it gets worse and worse. If they could get in and harvest some, in the long run, the forest would be healthier for it.”

The forest couldn’t last forever, she noted, and would be consumed by a lightning fire eventually had this fire not taken it.

“The houses that are standing, most of them had Aspens around them. Aspens hold enough moisture,” Tara said. “That’s what will come now; the forest will become predominantly Aspen. Pine takes so much longer.”


She is concerned, as well, that the elk who find their homes in the Bridger-Teton National Forest will have a hard time bunking down this winter.

The Wyoming Public Media said the fire was caused by an abandoned campfire. More than 60,000 acres and 55 homes have been consumed by the fire, and it is still burning. As of Friday morning, the fire was at 85 percent containment, though rain was likely help put the fire out totally.

Two Wyoming hunters were up close and personal with the fire several times.

On the opening day of rifle deer hunting season Sept. 15, Steve Knezovich, of Rock Springs, Wyo., spotted a small fire a ridge away. He and his son Dakota were hunting deer, and had camped at a favorite spot in Bridger-Teton National Forest near Bondurant, Wyo.

He tried reporting the fire and was repeatedly disconnected or put on hold. His wife Debi Knezovich was able to get through and report it, relaying GPS coordinates from a photo Steve had taken. They assumed the Forest Service would handle it, seeing helicopters flying over the area, but not water or retardant being dropped.

The next day, Steve and the rest of the crew were informed they had a three-hour window to get out. Then the fire encroached. The wind came up. The fire was quickly consuming its way across the ravine.

The Knezoviches kept up their heightened pace, on foot, following a few other hunters on horses. They thought they were going to make it out unscathed when two trees that had been burning combusted. Steve and Dakota had no direct contact with fire, but the heat from those trees near them caused so much damage that they were unsure they could get out.

Father and son made their way to the river bank, then the river with flames licking from each side, before finally, painfully, arriving at their pickup, awaited by Steve’s brother Paul and nephew Hunter, who had been ahead on horses.

Steve endured the most damage, mostly third-degree burns; his hat had blown off while on his hurried way out and his backpack was on a horse ahead of him. Seventeen-year-old Dakota had his backpack and hat on, which protected him from the inferno off the trees, yielding second- and third-degree burns. Steve is still at the University of Utah Medical Center, expecting at least one more surgery, while Dakota is in outpatient services and has a long road of recovery and physical therapy ahead.

“The way I look at it, when it was going on, it was pretty scary,” Dakota said. “I didn’t know if we were going to make it out or not, we thought that might be it. The pain is fair, it’s not so bad that I can’t manage it. Watching what my dad goes through is harder for me than the pain is. Me and my dad have always been close; we keep pushing each other forward.”

Steve’s level of calm in the horrific situation helped them remain in control and get out safely. He told his son they couldn’t run for fear of going into shock.

“He told my son, ‘If I go down, you leave me,’ and he said, ‘Dad, I will not leave you,’” Debi said. “Steve told me, ‘Debi, I knew he would die carrying me out if he had to.’”

Dakota left the hospital earlier this week, after initially receiving a treatment of Nexobrid, a burn cream approved in Europe, but still experimental in the United States. He was placed in a pool of hopeful recipients and was the first name drawn out to be eligible for the research program.

“It chemically burns the areas, so he was heavily sedated, and had a pick line put in and nerve blocks,” Debi, Dakota’s mom, said. “Basically, it turns to gel, and they scrape it all off. They started my son’s treatments in 82 hours.”


Dakota’s passion for music coupled with his dad’s calm and positive manner has helped him continually heal. As lead singer and guitarist for the band Wyoming Raised, playing the guitar became in integral part of therapy.

“A friend donated a guitar while they were in town. The therapists were concerned from his wrist and hand, I had never thought of it,” Debi said. “I thought he couldn’t play the guitar, but it has been a blessing.”

Dakota’s music has been a source of comfort to his dad, who has already had skin grafts to his back, arm, elbow, and leg, and will also have further grafting to another spot on the back, neck, ear, and left hand.

“They said they expect a full recovery in a year with physical therapy,” Debi said. “He probably won’t be on the mend until a week or two into November. He has an additional surgery in October. There are some areas they left, his ear and stuff, and they knew he was going into a second surgery, and they wanted to give it a chance, but it is still not doing well.”

“We’re counting our blessings,” Debi said. “They’re going into recovery; they’re blessed to be able to recover. I could have buried both my husband and my son.”

The family has a GoFundMe page, Knezovich Family Fundraiser, and accounts have been set up at Trona Valley Bank and US Bank in Rock Springs.

Open Season 2018

Increasing wolf, grizzly bear populations present challenges for ranchers, hunters

Hunting season can’t come quickly enough for some ranchers and farmers whose livestock have had meetings with sharp-toothed adversaries this summer. Wolves, grizzly bears and even mountain lions sometimes find calves, lambs, sheep and horses worthy of their attention, often with devastating consequences, perhaps worse this year than in the past.

Some wildlife groups called on the Wyoming Game and Fish to amend its fall grizzly hunt to exclude the Demographic Monitoring Area — the core of the Yellowstone ecosystem habitat where grizzlies are counted annually to ensure the species persists there after a 2017 female death was recently confirmed, said Angus M. Thuermer Jr., a writer for Wyofile.

Wildlife groups said this year’s discovery of four grizzly bears that died in 2017 — including at least one critical breeding-age female — meant the numbers had exceeded a threshold and should stop hunting in the DMA this fall.

But state Game and Fish Department director Scott Talbott wrote last month that collaborators had expected news about additional deaths so the numbers were not surprising. The long-term survival of the grizzly bear is not in question, he wrote.

According to Wyofile, “The debate centers on the 19,270-square-mile Demographic Monitoring Area in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. One female and up to nine male bears could be killed there under Wyoming’s regulations. No hunting is planned in the parks.

“Wyoming also authorized a hunt of grizzly bears outside the DMA where as many as a dozen additional bears could be killed. The six groups, including Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Wyoming Untrapped, WildEarth Guardians and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates recently were protesting only the core-area hunt,” the Wyofile story reported.

The Montana Livestock Loss Board posted on its Facebook page recently that “predation from wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions is at an extreme high volume.

“Their (U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services’) specialists are backed up two to four investigations deep and it is increasing daily. Please be patient with them, leave messages and do what you can to protect the evidence of the kill such as placing a tarp over it. Take pictures of the animal including bite marks up close and further back so they can see the location. Also if you see tracks take pictures of them and if possible lay a tape measure across the length and width of the tracks with pictures to help the specialist know their size,” the post said.


Jim Allen of Allen’s Diamond Four Ranch has been outfitting since 1973. He also raises cattle. The home ranch is close to Lander, Wyo., while the mountain ranch is in the Shoshone National Forest on the southeast side of the Wind River Mountain Range at an impressive 9,200 feet. The family runs their cattle and horses in the summer on a U.S. Forest Service lease.

Allen said the increase in the population of wolves and grizzly bears has had a major effect on the ungulates (elk, moose, antelope), which are moving out of the mountains to head to safer ground further east.

“I’ve been outfitting since 1973, and have seen the population of grizzly bears expand beyond their carrying capacity,” said Allen, a Wyoming legislator. “What I find especially concerning is that the expansion of grizzly bears is now a safety concern in areas that it wasn’t before. The Wind River Mountain Range has 1,000 lakes. I’ve always heard these mountains were family friendly with families backpacking to the lakes with their children. There were never grizzly bears to worry about, but now there are and it’s just not safe for those families. That is just wrong.”

He adds that the grizzlies have expanded their range beyond the formerly agreed to recovery area. “I really feel for the ranchers in the Green River Grazing Association because their livestock is really getting hit hard. Even if there is a problem bear, they just move it elsewhere. The density is far greater than the areas can handle. I see that as the plan from the beginning of the federal agencies and the environmental groups. They want more grizzlies in more areas so they can expand their reign of terror on livestock.”

Wolves are another problem having expanded their territory since being “introduced” and having a devastating impact on wildlife and livestock. “Our ranch is only four miles from Lander. We now have elk on our ranch in our hayfield because they are hiding from the wolves. We have never had elk on our hayfields before the wolf re-introduction. They make the elk very jittery and raise the stress levels so the mother elk abort.”

Allen said that being an outfitter, it’s difficult to guide hunts now because the elk have become unpredictable. “Outfitters in Dubois, Wyo., have had a hard time because of the wolves. “What happens is you have a productive elk camp and suddenly the wolves come along and after a decade there are no elk left so you can’t sell a hunt. In my situation, I can’t sell a hunt in my corn field.”


Hunting wolves is difficult because of their elusive nature. “You shoot at a wolf and they all disappear,” the rancher said.

Because of the wolves and grizzlies, Allen said the Forest Service has ramped up the rules and regulations. “There is added work and added costs outfitters and ranchers have incurred because of the ever-expanding, onerous regulations, now because of the grizzly becoming de-listed. The rangers feel they can come into our private camps and go through our tents and equipment. Of course, you have to sign a paper that they can do that because if you don’t you can’t operate. I say it’s breaking the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution regarding unlawful searches and seizures.”

Allen believes the quota for killing the predators is way too low. “The government is too cautious. We’re losing a lot of ungulates to the predators.”

Tim Bowers, long-time owner of Bear Paw Outfitters in Livingston, Mont., offered horseback rides, pack trips and hunting trips. Bear Paw Outfitters are under permit to operate in Yellowstone National Park and in the Yellowstone Ranger District — Gallatin National Forest adjacent to and in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, which makes for stunning scenery — but also possible encounters with predators.

“There are definitely precautions one must take when camping in predator country,” Bower said. “Putting an electric fence around your camp works well. It’s important to have a a clean camp. Wipe everything down when you’re done cooking, use bleach water to wash dishes and put gray water away from camp. Don’t take any food into your tent.”

Hang food and other items with strong odors (such as bug repellent and soap) out of reach of bears. Hang items at least 10 feet above the ground and if no trees are available, store your food in airtight or bear-proof containers.

The veteran outfitters said they don’t conduct any wolf hunts because of the nature of the predator. “Certainly wolves have made a big impact on the other animals. But unless you have access even to special areas to hunt them, keep in mind they are not vulnerable animals. Once they get shot at, you won’t get one. Even if you can shoot at five you won’t get them.”

USDA Wildlife Services Contact information: The Western District Supervisor is Kraig Glazier, (406) 439-5943 and the Eastern District Supervisor is Dalin Tidwell, (406) 200-2180. If you can’t reach your local specialist, call the supervisors or their main office in Billings, Mont., (406) 657-6464. ❖

Hunting lodge near Brewster, Kan., will be ‘John Deere industrial chic’

“It’s all about John Deere-green,” said Tom Gold, a Boulder, Colo., building contractor as he prepared to begin a whirlwind remodel of an historic rural western Kansas hunting lodge in colors familiar to John Deere green and yellow.

“I’m calling my contractor and we’re going to make up a material list, and line up my crew. We’ll roll in and start jockeying everybody’s schedules,” said Gold, a store manager with County Line Lumber Co. located on the county line between Boulder and Weld counties in Colorado.

Gold calls the hunting lodge renovation “John Deere industrial chic.” He said some of the top designers in Boulder are helping renovate and give TLC (tender loving care) to the historic house, which is located south of Interstate 70, about 15 miles south of Brewster, Kan., on the Sherman/Thomas county line. “It sits in the middle of nowhere; out in a corn and milo field between Goodland and Colby, Kan.,” Gold said. “We are heavily endorsed by the Colby chapter of the Pheasants Forever organization, who all make the habitat and bird-hunting better.”

“I’m really, really excited about the project. The exterior field will be John Deere green, all window trim will be John Deere yellow, all other exterior components will be John Deere Blitz Black, and the garage will be done in galvanized architectural metal,” Gold said.

“We’re pretty proud, God bless America. Is there a bigger element, than John Deere green,” Gold said.

Amazingly, the project is expected to be completed in a week’s time, and due to a recent snow delay — they hope to start the renovation by mid-April. “One of the designers worked with me on a $6 million home in Boulder,” Gold said. “I’ve worked with others who are the framing and exterior crews. I do the construction of the group.”


The lodge, Gold said, is in need of a new exterior and new windows. “The outside has been kind of let-go, and now these guys have time to do the job.” In addition to Gold, three of his partners with County Line Lumber will assist with the remodel. Bill Dowde, the accountant for the property, farms 120 acres in Boulder County, and will help by doing the accounting for the project,” Gold said. “It’ll be our ‘little house on the prairie.’ We’ve had birthdays out there, and other celebrations and events.” Cedar Creek Corp. based in Englewood, Colo., is donating some of the materials.

Other than being used for hunting, the house, which sleeps 12, has been sitting fairly quiet for the last 15 years. “We bought it from the Crumbaker’s over 15 years ago,” Gold said. “That’s the family who built it in 1926. They held a lot of church retreats there.” The owners, Ray and Linda Crumbaker sold it and moved to Kansas City, Mo., to be closer to family.

Interestingly, the structure is one of the well-known longtime Crumbaker’s houses, and sits on Crumbaker Conservation Reserve Program land. The Crumbakers were the original family owners of the house.

The lodge is an original Sears Catalog house from the 1920s. “There were house kits offered by Sears Roebuck and Co. that you could purchase from one of their catalogs and you modularize them,” Gold said. “They resemble a square box structure with a pyramid roof, and they were pretty sturdy.”


From the Sears website, the Sears house kits are described in detail. “A family arrived at a railroad station to welcome the first shipment of their brand-new house. An entire home was delivered by railroad including all the pre-cut lumber, nails and varnish, even the carved staircases, and instructions to assemble and build. Many families built them, after selecting a particular house from choices in the Sears, Roebuck and Company’s catalog. One such choice came with two bedrooms and a cobblestone foundation, and a front porch — but no bath. Other more expensive house kits came with an inside bathroom.”

The website www.searsarchives.com/homes/history.htm, noted that, “Sears provided all the materials and instructions, and for many years the financing, for homeowners to build their own houses. Sears’s Modern Homes stand today as living monuments to the fine, enduring and solid quality of Sears craftsmanship. No official tally exists of the number of Sears mail-order houses that still survive today. It is reported that more than 100,000 houses were sold between 1908 and 1940 through Sears’s Modern Homes program. The keen interest evoked in current homebuyers, architectural historians, and enthusiasts of American culture indicate that thousands of these houses survive in varying degrees of condition and original appearance,” according to the Sears website.

Gold remembers the day he had the revelation to turn the quaint, sturdy, but worn old Sears structure into a proud, shiny new exterior with gleaming John Deere tractor colors.

“It was January 15, 2018, my dog was diagnosed with bone cancer, and I was outside and wondered how I could make my stand in this world. I saw a John Deere tractor, and thought, ‘You can’t get much more American than John Deere tractors,’ and so we were already in the process of re-doing the exterior of a bed and breakfast, which has been called, Inn the Fields, LLC.”

Keeping the lights on, and the furnace running — is important to Gold. “There’s a big stone fireplace. The only thing I’ll completely re-do is the outside facade, all new siding, new trim. The inside will stay the same,” Gold said.

“I feel there will be more people who will enjoy seeing it. Inn the Fields will still be a private facility,” Gold said. “But, when others drive by just to see the new look; showcasing John Deere colors, I feel, what will stand out the most, will be preserving American pride and our expressionism — that’s the purpose.” ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at: rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.