The Great America Outdoors Act – Signed!

Published on 08/04/20

The Great America Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law today by President Trump. The Act provides full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year and appropriates $9.5 billion to address backlogs in federal maintenance and development on federal lands such as national parks, forests, rangelands and wildlife refuges. Montana has benefitted greatly from LWCF, receiving more than $600 million over the last 50 years for fee title and conservation easements on wildlife habitat, fishing access sites, securing public access, municipal swimming pools and tennis courts and shooting ranges. Increased LWCF funding could be critical for funding programs such as conservation easements on corporate timberlands recently purchased by Southern Pines Plantation.

Over the years funding for LWCF has fluctuated greatly. Passage of the Great American Outdoors Act follows on permanent reauthorization of LWCF last year and should pay dividends for future Montana generations.

Flathead Wildlife, Inc. thanks Montana’s congressional delegation including Senator Steve Daines, Senator Jon Tester and Congressmen Greg Gianforte for their leadership in getting LWCF permanently reauthorized and funded.

Click on this link to see an article from NBC Montana. (photo above from this site)

The Great American Outdoors Act

Lost Trail Conservation Area

Published on 07/15/20

Flathead Wildlife, Inc. (FWI) strongly supports the proposed Lost Trail Conservation Area. FWI is the oldest (64 years) and largest sportsmen and women group in northwest Montana. Our primary goals are preserving our hunting and fishing heritage, protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat, preserving and enhancing public access to public lands, and involving youth in the outdoors. The proposed Lost Trail Conservation Area could support all those goals.

The 9,225 acre Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge provides excellent habitat for a significant elk herd along with whitetail deer, moose and waterfowl. The area also sustains mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, lynx, coyotes, wolves and black and grizzly bears. The NWR is a key part of linkages for movement of animals. But the Lost Trail NWR is essentially an island, surrounded by mainly private land. The recent sale of the bulk of those lands to Southern Pine Plantations raises concerns about future development and associated loss of habitat, linkages and public access. FWI strongly supported the proposed conservation easement of 7,274 acres of Weyerhauser lands by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks immediately south and adjacent to Lost Trail NWR. That CE effectively nearly doubled the potential of the refuge. The proposed Lost Trail Conservation Area would build on that with the goal of protecting up to 100,000 acres within an 116,000 acre area. CEs would exclude residential development while protecting traditional uses such as timber harvest, grazing, wildlife habitat, wildlife linkages and public access.

This proposed Conservation Area is well timed hopefully to take advantage of increased funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund if the Great Outdoors Recreation Act to permanently fund LWCF passes Congress. Flathead Wildlife commends USFWS for your foresight and strongly supports moving ahead.

Jim Vashro, President, FWI

Find notice and documents at:

Scoping Comments accepted until August 6. Comment to:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Attention: Ben Gilles

922 Bootlegger Trail
Great Falls, MT 59404

President’s Message – February 2020

Published on 02/09/20

President Jim Vashro

Hunter and Elk

Most of us grew up surrounded by family and friends who helped us learn hunting and fishing. Mentoring is the fancy term for taking someone under your wing. It’s really hard for someone without support to learn the necessary skills, the learning curve is steep and daunting. In this age of urban living, single parent families, hectic schedules and video games many give up early or don’t even try. That’s why the numbers of hunters and anglers are flat or falling. That’s why it’s important for all of us to turn around, reach back and help someone along like we were helped.

A friend, Bob, was recently called on a damage hunt in SW Montana. Call it mentoring or just going to help a friend, I have a few more years’ experience hunting elk than he does so I volunteered to tag along. We left Kalispell at 5 am, by noon we were looking at a LARGE herd of elk with no cover. Long story short, they proceeded to mosey us into the ground so we backtracked and found about 100 straggler elk. They were 400 yards away with only heads showing and no cover over one ridge. After looking at options, there was a herd of horses between us and we gambled the elk wouldn’t notice a few more legs. It worked like a charm, by the time the horses got squirrelly, we had bellied within 100 yards of the bedded elk. It took a lot of arm-waving, several cows finally stood and Bob proceeded to shoot his first – and second – elk (two tags – seemed like a good idea at the time). Earlier this fall Bob had shot 2 antelope, when we drug the cows together his comment was “WOW”. That was followed by a marathon of quartering, game carting and sledding a mile to the road, 8 miles hiked total, 18 hours awake by the time the elk were in the back of the truck at 11 pm, gourmet dinner at Town Pump at midnight. In other words, a typical day of elk hunting.

Bob is very capable and probably could have pulled this off by himself but having some extra ideas, extra help and a lot of encouragement made for a successful hunt, good memories and a pile of meat. I hoped I helped, thanks, Bob, for letting me tag along. I’m almost healed up. In my haste to get going, I forgot to throw my GPS in my pack. Walking out in the dark, the map app on Bob’s phone led us straight to the truck. I’ll have to have Bob teach me how to do that, mentoring goes both ways.

Mentoring can take many forms. FWP is exploring the idea of pairing experienced hunters with young hunters who have no hunting adult in their life. Warden Sergeant Jon Obst is teaching an adult ed class at FVCC called Let’s Go Hunting to give first time hunters the necessary skills and confidence. Flathead Wildlife will be helping with a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman ice fishing workshop and a Let’s Go Fishing Open house aimed at beginners. See details later in this newsletter.

Take a youngster or adult hunting or fishing. It will help them get started right. It will enlist more people to protect and preserve our hunting and fishing heritage. And it will help you find that spark you felt when you first started hunting and fishing.

The preceding opinions are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the goals and policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message – January 2020

Published on 01/08/20

President Jim Vashro

While I’m writing this a 30 MPH wind is driving rain and 36 degree temperatures. Not exactly great ice fishing weather! A couple of early cold snaps laid down some ice but this weather is thinning it out. So far this is a repeat of 2019. Then mild weather limited ice fishing options early, then heavy snow in March produced miserable slush. Despite all that we had some fun ice fishing.

Ice Fishing Fun

Ice fishing is a great break in the winter, some exercise to work off those holiday pounds, a chance to get outdoors with family and friends, and a chance for non-boaters to get to fish perch and kokanee. Add to that, a combination of low oxygen at depth and brighter light from above will compress fish like kokanee into a narrow layer. If you can figure out where that band is, you can have unbelievably fast fishing and the fish out of cold water are tops for eating. Northwest Montana is a top ice fishing area. Although the fish aren’t always large, action can be fast. One-third to ½ of all the fishing on some lakes occurs during winter. Perch and kokanee are the most sought after but anglers also chase pike, lake trout, rainbows and cutthroats, crappie and lake whitefish.

Always practice Safety First! Cold water really decreases your ability to function. What would be an inconvenient dunk in summer can become life threatening in a few minutes in winter. First and last ice provides some of the best fishing but also marginal conditions. Two of our party broke through the ice near shore on our last ice fishing trip last spring, we cut it a little too close. But the kokanee bite was hot.

Always let someone know where you’re going. Better yet, go fishing with a friend. Stay apart walking out and stay to the beaten path. If you explore, drill test hoes as you go. Carry lifesaving ice picks around your neck, they won’t do you any good in your sled. Carry a throw rope. Commercial models are available but you can make ice picks out of wooden dowel, cord and cut-off nails and a throw rope out of 50’ of polypropylene rope (it floats) tied to a plastic jug. Carry – and use – ice creepers. I’ve seen people with broken arms and head concussions from spills. On a recent rip the lake looked like an ice rink and creepers were the only way to move.

If you already ice fish, introduce someone to the sport. Pictured are FWI members Kendal and Shelly Bortisser, daughter and boyfriend, all on their first ice fishing expedition. Tony Anderson provided the expertise, we both provided equipment and they all caught fish, had fun and enjoyed fresh fish for dinner. FWI’s Bill Nyberg, wife and I took some other beginners out on another first trip. The weather was pretty nice but the chill eventually set in for some. A portable ice shack and heater quickly warmed things up.

Introduce new people to the outdoors. It makes the trips more fun and attracts more people who will help fight to protect our outdoor heritage. I’ll be teaching a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) ice fishing workshop this winter. I really enjoy teaching the women, ranging from age 18 to 80. Younger women are looking for new outdoor opportunities. Too often raising a family limits opportunities to get out. So I get a lot of women who have raised their families and are now looking for new activities or looking to take up where they left off 20 years ago. Many fished with a boyfriend/husband/Dad that are now gone. Guys don’t always make the best teachers, we tend to “Do” instead of “Teach”. So many women want to learn the skills so they can be more self-sufficient. They welcome the confidence to know they can go on their own and be safe and successful. Two women from last year’s BOW ice fishing workshop really took it to heart and made numerous trips afterwards, catching a pile of fish and having fun. That’s what Success looks like. Introduce someone to the outdoors.

The preceding opinions are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message – Oct 2019

Published on 10/07/19

President’s Message by Jim Vashro


Through a lot of hard work and luck, my family has basically lived on wild game for nearly 50 years. Other than an occasional beef steak for the grill, we eat deer, elk and antelope. We like the taste and health benefits of wild meat. That’s why an x-ray of lead bullet fragments in a deer, scattered well beyond the entrance hole and bloodshot meat, gave me pause. Standard bullets will commonly lose 30-40% of their lead on impact. Lead is nasty stuff, causes kidney and brain damage, weakness, and memory loss. I figure I need all the brain cells I have at this point. Initial tests didn’t show hunters to have higher lead levels but a follow-up study did show increased lead levels after eating hunter-killed venison but the levels subsided over time. Lead has been banned from gasoline, paint and plumbing and, of course, waterfowl ammo. I don’t reload, for many years I shot common factory ammo. Hoping for better accuracy and performance, I switched to premium ammunition. It costs about 50% more but accuracy did improve. After seeing the x-rays, I tested non-lead (copper) ammunition. My Savage can get fussy about what it is fed, the first brand didn’t group well. But the second brand, Wow! I was shooting MOA groups. Even more impressive was performance. On a quartering shot on a cow elk, the bullet busted ribs going in, drove through the lungs and far shoulder and was under the hide on the far side. The cow made a few wobbly steps and collapsed. The 180 grain recovered slug had mushroomed perfectly and weighed 179.6 grains. 99.8% retention. A similar angled shot with a 20 gauge 240 grain slug on a whitetail buck yielded the same results. And that 20 gauge slug gun shoots 2” groups at 100 yards with copper sabots. All my other shots on 20-30 animals have been pass through. An interesting thought is that copper bullets need speed to mushroom. Since copper bullets penetrate well with retained weight, it is possible to shoot a lighter bullet (150 gr. or 165 gr. vs 180 gr. 30 caliber bullet) for more speed and a flatter trajectory while still getting great penetration.

There are other positive points. Local bird rehabilitators Kari Gabriel and Beth Watne have taken in sick raptors with lead poisoning from bullet fragments, presumably from scavenging carcasses. California and some refuges have now banned the use of lead-based ammunition for big game hunting. And, of course, starting in the early 1990s, lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting. Duck hunters had to adapt but have found steel and other options to be lethal when used correctly.

Downsides? Copper ammunition isn’t stocked everywhere. You’re not going to find it in a gas station in eastern Montana so you have to buy ahead. It’s about the same price as other premium ammunition, sales and rebates can help. More ammo manufacturers are adding copper bullets to their line-up, watch for prices to fall and availability to increase as happened with waterfowl ammo. Shooters also complain about increased copper fouling and a loss of accuracy. When you think about it, all rifle ammo is copper clad and produces copper fouling. Some claim that jacketed bullets add about 5% tin, reducing fouling but that isn’t much. Good old Hoppes No. 9 is good for removing powder residue and crud but it takes a lot of brushing and soaking to really get any copper fouling out. Better to use a different solvent specifically made to remove copper. I should probably clean my rifles better anyway.

The previous statements are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message – Sept 2019

Published on 09/09/19

FWI Photo of President with deer in pickup

On September 11, 2001 I was driving to bowhunt in SW Montana when news came over the radio about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York. After several phone calls to my wife we decided I would go ahead and hunt. The next day I ran into a bowhunter from New York state. He hadn’t been listening to the radio, I told him he needed to call home! At the same time some friends had been drop camped to hunt caribou in Alaska. One mentioned to the others “Have you noticed there are no planes flying?” That is highly unusual in Alaska, they hadn’t rented a Sat Phone so they had no idea all planes had been grounded. Their outfitter tried to sneak out and get them, he was intercepted by two Air Force F-16s who indicated he needed to land NOW. It was several days before planes could retrieve hunters, even then commercial flights were still grounded so they ended up buying a pickup and driving home nonstop. 9/11 was a Game Changer.

Now another Game Changer has hit in the form of CWD in Lincoln County. CWD is no longer just something happening over east of the mountains, it is on our doorstep. It’s just a matter of time until it works its way east to areas we hunt. There is no drug or vaccine for CWD, currently the only strategy is to dramatically reduce game populations in infected areas. That reduces the chance for animal to animal contact and pressure for animals to outmigrate. That means lower game numbers in infected areas, both through CWD mortality and increased harvest. CWD also hits bucks and bulls harder so that could change game management strategies. FWP established a CWD Management Area around Libby and put out 600 whitetail doe B tags, they sold out in 2 hours. The hope is to harvest and test 200 whitetails to determine the prevalence and distribution of CWD. To date CWD has been found in 7 out of about 117 animals near Libby but those were high-probability animals, visibly ill or road kills.

Other game changers, hunters will be allowed to remove only boned meat and clean skull plates from CWD areas, not carcasses. It is always a good idea to wear gloves when butchering and to avoid contact with spinal fluids. Hunters everywhere need to stop dumping butchered carcasses and scraps in the woods, everything should go to landfills. Dumping an infected carcass from elsewhere is the most likely way CWD got to Libby. Don’t shoot an obviously ill animal, report it to FWP.

CWD has not been shown to infect humans but it is recommended to not eat infected meat. Instead, dump them in landfills and apply for a replacement tag if the season is still open. FWP will test animals taken in CWD areas but outside that you will need to pay yourself if desired. Tests currently cost $17.50 per animal. That doesn’t pencil out when deer licenses only cost $16 so FWP is losing money needed for management. But testing takes up to 2 weeks so you may have already butchered your game.

Prions aren’t alive so they can’t be killed in conventional ways. Bleach doesn’t touch them, it takes 1300 degrees heat, a little higher than I usually BBQ. You can bleach and rinse equipment but there’s no way to know they’re completely clean if you’ve gutted an infected animal. CWD is a Game Changer.

Jim Vashro
FWI President

The preceding comments are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message May 2019

Published on 05/06/19

Jim Vashro
May, 2019

work projects

“The world is run by those that show up.” Flathead Wildlife’s day to day business is run by 4 officers and a Board of Directors. They manage a budget, formulate FWI comments on outdoor issues, and organize meetings, work projects and fun events. It is important work to keep Flathead Wildlife, Inc. relevant and to protect our natural resources. You can help in several ways.

First of all, join and/or renew your membership. Second, recruit friends and relatives to join. Having more members means Flathead Wildlife can educate more people and have more influence on decision makers. Third, volunteer for projects. There are a lot of projects that agencies aren’t doing or where agencies need help. Projects are an investment in our, and our children’s, future. Projects can be a lot of fun and they make the Flathead a better place to live. Last of all, consider stepping up as an officer or on the Board of Directors. That requires one 2-hour meeting on the last Wednesday of the month and possibly reading some materials. It’s a small investment in our outdoor heritage. We currently have several vacancies; Jim Cross, Scott Johnson and Doug Bolender have decided to step back after years on the Board. I thank them for their years of service, and I know they will continue to show up as needed. So FWI needs candidates for secretary, treasurer and at least one Board member, we will have elections at the annual meeting and BBQ on May 8 at Lone Pine State Park starting at 6 PM. Please consider stepping up. Don’t worry, there’s a good Board and officers still in place, we can do on-the-job training. ☺ You will be more involved in resource decision making and shaping our outdoor heritage. It means investing a few extra hours each month to read materials and attend a meeting. Without you, agencies will make their own decisions and you may not always like the outcome. And I thank the remaining Board members and officers for their continued dedication.

The picture above is a good example. Landowners blocked a county road leading to 65 acres of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (your) land on McGregor Lake in 2001. FWI originally joined in a lawsuit with Flathead County and FWP in 2009 against the landowners, resulting in a court ruling to reopen the road. When the landowners didn’t comply, Flathead County plowed one lane open but did nothing more. It was up to FWI to bring suit in 2017 to restore the road. Last July FWI signed a settlement agreement that fully reopened public access. In the interim, FWI joined FWP in clearing the right-of-way of encroaching trees. That’s your FWI Board of Directors in the picture at work on your behalf. It was a fun and satisfying day.

Sportsmen’s and service clubs are seeing a decline in membership in general. Facebook and social media seem to be where it’s at. Let me tell you, you can post a picture and a comment, but Facebook won’t be organized enough to bring pressure on government agencies, file a lawsuit, clear a right-of-way or do habitat enhancement. The Flathead Wildlife Board organizes meetings, comments and work projects. It’s a small investment in your outdoor heritage and your children’s heritage. Otherwise, the next time you drive up your favorite road, you may run into a gate. Or find your favorite season has been cancelled or drastically changed. The keynote speaker at our annual meeting on May 8 will be the always entertaining Jim Posewitz who will talk about the role of citizen groups in managing our natural resources. Come join the fun. And join the Board.

The preceding comments are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message April 2019

Published on 04/08/19

A friend ran into a guy he knew coming out of a gas station/convenience store. The other guy had just bought his fishing license and was griping about the cost ($21 resident season). Jerry was quick to point out the 18 pack of beer under the guy’s arm had cost almost that much but would be gone in a day or two except for a lingering hangover while his fishing license would be good the next 11 months. I think hunting and fishing licenses are one of the best bargains going. Of course, my white hair now qualifies me for a senior license at $10.50. The 6 fishing trips I’ve taken already have amortized to $1.75/day. My goal is to get it down to 25 cents/day which works out to 42 trips. A worthy goal.


Like many of you, when I started fishing the statewide regulations were printed on the equivalent of one newspaper sheet or 4 pages. And 1/3 of that was a map. The 2019 fishing regulations run 100 pages. That draws lots of complaints about complexity. Well, I’m biased because for nearly 40 years I was one of the guys who used to dream up those regulations. Despite the grumbles, Montana’s regulations aren’t too bad and in fact, won a national award a few years back. I fish in several states and Canadian provinces. Believe me, Montana’s regulations could be worse. But I’m sympathetic, when I go to another region or state, I have to spend some time studying the regs.

Regulations could be much simpler. But the focus would be the lowest common denominator, the regulation that protected the scarcest species. Around here that would be bull or cutthroat trout so the regional limit would be 1 fish or catch and release. That would do away with a lot of opportunity. Native fish regulations are usually conservative and make up about half the exceptions. The alternative is getting a species listed under ESA, that would not be good.

For all the pages of regulations they really break down into 6 categories beyond standard limits and seasons: closed seasons; catch and release or lower daily limits; more liberal daily limits, minimum length; maximum length, or a slot limit. FWP tries to standardize the sizes within any limit type. And, of course, you need to be able to identify fish species since limits may vary between species within the same water. If you know where you’re at, can identify species and spend time to understand the limit, you could come home with 50-100 fish a day if that’s your goal. The alternative is 1 fish daily. One of my former colleagues used to joke we should just set a regional size/number limit, say 30”. Each day you would lay all your fish nose to tail and when you reached 30”, you quit. So you could have one 30 incher, two @ 15”, a 14 incher and two 8 inchers, etc. It kind of works out. Every year everyone could wrangle over what the number should be for that year. It would sure make the regulation book slimmer.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks does a major review of fishing regulations every four years, starting now. So think about regulations that could be clarified, that you don’t think are doing any good. Also, identify fisheries that might benefit from a change in regulations. Most people just offer up a regulation: e.g., catch and release or a 12”-16” slot limit. That’s a solution that might not fit the problem. It is better for FWP if you identify what the problem is (fish are too small or catch rates low) and what your goal is (12” average size or catch 1 fish/hour). The reason for doing that is to identify the best regulation alternative and there might be a non-regulatory solution. I had one angler (25 years ago) who wanted catch and release for lake trout on Flathead Lake. His complaint was the fish were too small. The actual problem was that the fish were too abundant, we actually needed to harvest more to let the remaining fish grow better. His proposal would have actually made the fish smaller. But I could never convince him that raising the limits was the better solution. FWP will be setting regulations for 2020-2024 so contact them or FWI.

Jim Vashro – FWI President

The preceding comments are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies and goals of Flathead Wildlife, Inc.

President’s Message March 2019

Published on 03/28/19

Dreams. Right now I’m dreaming of bare ground (or mud), maybe even green grass. After an easy December and January, Old Man Winter descended with a vengeance in February with snow and cold and it’s lingering into mid-March. Let’s hope the deer and elk saved enough fat reserves to make it through this latest nasty weather. The 1st day of Spring is only 11 days away!


It’s also time to start dreaming about hunting and fishing in the coming months. March 15 is the deadline for what’s commonly called “Bucks and Bulls”. There are some restricted hunting districts in Montana that can yield outsize mule deer and elk – if you’re lucky enough to draw a permit. Permits modify your general tag to let you take an animal that is not under general regulations. The odds of drawing are long, sometimes under 1%, but someone has to draw and you won’t strike it rich if you don’t apply. I had a Breaks bull tag several years ago, I’m hoping strikes twice because it was an outstanding hunt sighting multiple 6 point bulls. Be aware this year that some districts that offered B tag (antlerless) elk tags last year in Regions 1,2 3 and 6 have gone to antlerless elk permits and you have to apply by March 15. Unfortunately, the Big Game Regulations haven’t been printed yet due to some goof but are available online so check so you won’t be sorry. Next up will be moose, sheep, mountain goat and bison applications by May 1, then antelope, deer and elk B tags applications by June 1.

The other dreamers are young would-be hunters. After years of watching Mom and Dad, big brothers and sisters go hunting and maybe tagging along, now they’re eligible to hunt themselves. I attended a FWP Hunter Education Instructor workshop yesterday. Looking at the years of dedicated experience in the room, the future of hunting is in good hands. Hunting accidents in Montana dropped sharply when Hunter Education was made mandatory in 1957. Region 1 has 3 instructors who taught those first courses. Hunting garments with 400 square inches of hunter orange above the waist became mandatory in 1972 and caused another major drop in hunting accidents, particularly where hunters were mistaken for game. Flathead Wildlife, Inc. supports this important safety factor by partnering with Flathead Electric’s Roundup For Safety to ensure every Hunter Education graduate in Flathead County receives a hunter orange vest like the one pictured above. You’ll see lots of those vests in photos of young hunters in our fall “Preserve the Tradition” ads.

The other interesting statistic from the workshop is that Montana is bucking the nation-wide trend of dropping hunting license sales with increased participation. One of the prime factors is the increasing number of women hunting. So, dream of warmer days, some fishing, maybe some camping. But don’t get so lost in your daydreams that you forget to apply for next fall’s hunting licenses. And, by the way, it’s time to get all your 2019 licenses so you don’t get stalled on a last minute trip because of no license or you’re watching a warden walking towards you and you’re desperately trying to remember if you bought your new licenses. Here’s to turning dreams into memories.

Jim Vashro

The preceding statements are mine alone and don’t necessarily reflect the policies of Flathead Wildlife,Inc.

Bluebird Nesting Boxes

Published on 03/26/19

Spring is coming and so are the bluebirds. Have you seen any?

Now is the time to purchase bluebird nesting boxes. The Flathead Wildlife Inc. have put together hundreds in preparation for their return.

Builing Bluebird Nesting Boxes BBNB display at Murdoch’s Bluebird Nesting Boxes Display

The Kalispell FWP made a display to honor Warren Lamoreaux who built thousands of these boxes for FWI.

BBNB are on sale at Murdoch’s (Kalispell and Columbia Falls) and at CHS Cenex for $10. Bluebirds