The aroma of mountain lion meatballs and duck soup filled the air of the Heritage Hall at Fort Missoula as sportsmen and women filled their plates with wild game appetizers, traded hunting and fishing stories and bid on gear and other silent auction items at the Hellgate Hunters and Anglers’ (HHA) inaugural banquet Saturday, Feb. 17.
“We were wondering if we would get 35 people to show up,” said HHA Treasurer Tony Hoyt as he took tickets at the door. “We’re totally thrilled about the number of people.”
The banquet sold 196 tickets, according to Hoyt, and each ticket includes a year’s membership with HHA.
A year and a half ago, the HHA, formerly the Missoula Wildlife Association, was brought back to life with a new board of directors and Missoula County’s outdoor community got a new voice.
Enthusiasm for outdoor ethics and traditions was a big reason for Saturday’s turnout, but concern about public land access was evident as well.
Sen. Max Baucus sent a letter saying he wished he could have been there. Access to public lands is a top priority, Baucus wrote, and he’ll continue to fight to open padlocked gates across the state.
Keynote speakers Jim Posewitz, author of Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting, and Steve Doherty, chairman of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, seconded Baucus’ statement and underscored the need for groups like the HHA.
“The areas I went to as a kid [to hunt and fish] now charge fees,” Doherty told the standing-room audience. “And it’s only going to get worse.”
“Who wouldn’t rather be sitting in a duck blind waiting for that flock to come in instead of knocking on doors and educating people,” Doherty said. “But we’ve got to get out there and talk about this stuff.”