Mountain High 

Sunday, Nov. 28, is a watershed day for those of us who enjoy running around Montana’s namesakes, a day when nearly all aspects of outdoor adventure become quieter and less dangerous. A half-hour after the sun sets this Sunday, the big-game hunting season ends, and with it the flying bullets, hunters orange and magpie-salvaged gut piles will become a thing of the past.

And although a handful of Montanans did experience the great displeasure of bullets ripping through their flesh this season, most hunters stalked the wilds without damaging anyone else’s hide or property.

In Texas, however, the skills required to be a solid marksman and successful tracker aren’t necessarily a prerequisite to bringing home the meat: According to recent press accounts, deer living on a Lone Star State ranch might soon be taking bullets from folks sitting at their computers.

The shoot-from-home website currently offers online target practice with a .22 and might soon include the hunting of deer, antelope and wild pigs. A $10,000 remotely controlled rifle/camera is already taking aim at targets on the owner’s 330-acre ranch, controllable by Internet users anywhere. The owner anticipates popularity with disabled hunters, and would have an on-site attendant “retrieve” shot animals, taxidermize the heads and ship out the meat.

Texas game officials are wary of the plan and are considering banning the practice before it begins.

Meanwhile, a whitetail deer was sedated and captured last week in America’s busiest airport—Chicago’s O’Hare International. The animal had apparently entered the terminal through an insecure freight door and headed to the baggage claim. Although the young buck was determined to not be a terrorist, he was sedated and removed from the area.

Montana’s hunters typically avoid hunting on airport grounds, preferring instead to pursue the kill in Montana’s large swaths of state and federal land, where animal populations, campgrounds, trails, roads and streams are managed with already-paid tax dollars.

Hunters throughout the country might be surprised to hear that they—along with anyone else recreating on public lands—may soon have to pay for the experience.

A $388 billion omnibus appropriations bill was approved by Congress Nov. 18, carrying a piggy-back rider calling for public land users to pay additional fees to access public lands.

HR 3283, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, was attached by Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, the only U.S. senator with absolutely zero public land in his district. The bill claims to “improve recreational facilities and visitor opportunities on federal recreation lands” by charging visitors.

Regula also authored the original Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, a controversial program that has, on a trial basis, charged visitors for using public land in certain locations nationwide, but which was slated to expire later this year. Instead, HR 3283 was attached to the giant spending bill, and is expected to take effect as soon as the fee demo program expires.

As it stands, HR 3283 will implement a permanent “recreation fee” for all land managed by federal agencies, including national forests and the Bureau of Land Management.

Non-payers can be jailed for up to six months and/or face a $5,000 fine, and owners of vehicles not displaying a proper pass will be presumed guilty without the government having to prove their guilt. A national, interagency pass is slated to cost users about $100 annually, although multiple anti-fee user groups are vowing to fight the bill just as aggressively as they have the initial fee demo program. Not one single Western senator, representatives of the largest assemblage of public lands, supported the bill in an earlier form, but its attachment to the must-pass spending bill assured its passage.

In other words, there’s no time like the present to get out and enjoy those natural places that exist without any need of management, like the glorious mountain known as Little St. Joe’s Peak.

The New Rocky Mountaineers are heading up this (false) summit in the Bitterroots Nov. 27 for a ski or snowshoe adventure, and if you haven’t been there, rest assured that it’s a true alpine gem. While the route lacks technical difficulty, it is a sustained climb up the 4,700’ east face. If there’s enough snow, the upper reaches provide excellent glade skiing and killer views to boot. Wood stove lovers take note: If a day trip will only serve to whet your appetite for more powder turns, consider spending the night in a toasty warm cabin right on the edge of the wilderness, too. Call Gerald Olbu at 549-4769 for more information. Steve Niday of the Rocky Mountaineers is also heading out on a ski trip Nov. 27, and he’s aiming at a not-yet-disclosed location. While the location may in fact be condition-dependent, seasoned backcountry skiers will recognize the word “undisclosed” as a not-uncommon code word for “secret powder stash.” Call Niday at 721-3790 to start the backcountry season off right.

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