Be thankful for a wild Front

By Tony Porcarelli

I parked my truck at a trailhead along the Rocky Mountain Front. After a couple of miles, the sign for the Bob Marshall Wilderness appeared, and I knew that I was getting close to where I’d be hunting. There was fresh snow and some good elk sign in the area.

Around one o’clock in the afternoon I watched some elk coming out to feed. I was on them by 2:30 and kept moving with them as they fed; my chance came as the bull stepped into the open. He was a nice, five-point bull elk. He stood at 80 yards, certainly close enough to make a clean kill. I fired, and he dropped.

Then the work started; I dressed him out and was back down to the trail at dark. The next day my wife and I were back to quarter the elk and move him down closer to the trail where we could get horses in to pack him out.

This kind of experience is what I live for – snow falling in the wilderness, the hush that falls over everything as it becomes blanketed, the hard work and sweat of packing your elk out. When it was all said and done, we were soaked, tired, cold and pretty darned content. This is part of the hunting ritual that keeps me coming back to the Front. The Italians have a word for a place that rejuvenates a person’s soul. They call it quisisana. The Rocky Mountain Front is my quisisana. It’s where I go to be primitive, where I go to be wild. And I am not alone.

For 100 years, hunters have recognized the importance of the Rocky Mountain Front when it comes to wildlife and wild country. Sportsmen and sportswomen lobbied to establish the Sun River Game Preserve in 1913. In 1948, two men recognized the need to provide winter habitat for elk and purchased what is now the Sun River Game Range when Fish, Wildlife and Parks couldn’t come up with the money fast enough. Later years saw the establishment of the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area and the Ear Mountain Wildlife Management Area, both designed to provide winter range for the Front’s iconic elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer herds as well as provide access and opportunity for Montana’s hunters.

In 1964, Congress worked to pass the Bob Marshall Wilderness Act, creating what is one of the wildest, most wildlife laden areas in the lower 48; an area we all simply refer to as The Bob. In 2006 and 2007, Sens. Conrad Burns and Max Baucus stepped up to the plate, and worked to pass landmark legislation that kept the Front intact and functioning as the premier wildlife habitat that it is.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spends millions protecting the agricultural lands along the Front and the state of Montana has worked tirelessly to maintain ecological diversity on their lands on the Front. People have been working to ensure that this landscape stays the way it is, the way it has been for centuries, and now, there’s a new proposal that will continue that legacy as Montana faces new challenges from a growing population, and new demands on our clean air, water and wildlife.

As I reflect this holiday season, I am thankful for these permanent protections for wildlife. I am thankful that the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front is working to ensure future generations of sportsmen will be able to access a permanently protected Rocky Mountain Front that our wildlife needs to prosper. I’m thankful that the Front remains intact, and that we still have nice, big bull elk, ample opportunity for those who are willing to work a little bit. Finally, I’m thankful that we’re continuing a 100-year tradition of protecting the wildlife habitat that makes the Rocky Mountain Front so special.

Tony Porcarelli lives on the Fairfield Bench, and is an avid hunter, angler and mountain biker.