McKean Minute: This Easter, Plant Potatoes

I love planting potatoes, but only partly because of the promise of creamy, tummy-filling carbohydrates later in the year.

To me, planting spuds is a metaphor for life, and death, but in reverse. You first prepare a grave. In my case this spring, it’s a new spot, between the ashes and rusted roofing nails of an old homestead barn that burned down a decade ago. You dig deep enough to give tubers room to descend and fruit. Then you bury parts of a body, in my case the swelling eyes of seed potatoes that were given to me by a neighbor. They’re heirloom Duke of York varieties, pink as a May strawberry and only slightly larger than a spark plug.

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McKean Minute: The Perfect Shot

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to return to the theme of last week’s McKean Minute, this ground-breaking podcast in which I collaborated with Dylan Ray to bring hunter education to the audio masses.

The idea for the podcast, which is called Hunting 101 and can be found here ( is devoted to the foundational principles of various aspects of hunting. Dylan has podcasts devoted to hunting in general but will have episodes on turkey hunting, deer hunting, small-game hunting, and more as the year ticks by.

My collaboration was even more foundational – Dylan and I riffed, for six whole episodes, on the ideas behind our hunter education courses, required by every state in order to certify a hunter as ready to buy a license and take a gun or bow into the field.

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McKean Minute: Hunter Education 101

Spring is Hunter Education season in most states and communities across the country. It’s the time that volunteer instructors set up impromptu classes in church basements, school libraries, and municipal buildings and help certify a new generation of licensed hunters.

Nationwide, something like 600,000 new hunters are minted every year, but tens of thousands more don’t take mandatory Hunter Ed classes because they’re too busy, or they’re intimidated by the topic, or they simply don’t understand what hunter education (or even hunting) is all about.

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McKean Minute: TPI – A New Way to Measure Hunting Trophies

We’ve all been there. You show a buddy a picture of your latest buck. His first question: “What’d he score?” The quantity of antler and horn has become established shorthand for the relative value of the animals that carry headgear.

Even those hunters who understand that there’s more to a hunt than a Boone and Crockett or Pope & Young score routinely assess the dimensions of an animal with a number. There’s a reason: it’s a yardstick that we all know and recognize, even if we don’t always recall how a trophy’s score is calculated. We like numbers. We like rankings. In that way, a buck’s B&C score is like a thermometer. It’s one thing to say to your buddy, “It’s nice out. Sunny and warm and seems like a great day.” It’s another to say, “It’s 72 degrees.”

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McKean Minute: Grassroots Conservation – A User’s Manual

Last week in this space I told you about our Hi-Line Sportsmen group and the third annual fundraising party we threw last month. A couple hundred of our neighbors packed into the St. Raphael’s Catholic Church gym here in Glasgow to eat prime rib and bid on guns, donated art, and sporting goods.

By the time we paid for the firearms (purchased at our local gun shop), the bartenders, and the kids who helped serve food and clean tables, we were left with a pretty good balance of cash. That’s the idea. Hi-Line Sportsmen exists to put the funds we raise back on the ground in our community to help with everything from processing venison donated to our local food bank to funding boat docks at fishing access sites in our county.

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McKean Minute: A Recipe for Local Conservation – Pt. 1

We had a party last Saturday night here in my hometown of Glasgow, Mont. A couple hundred folks showed up at the Catholic Church gym. We ate tasty prime rib roasted by members of the Knights of Columbus. We drank beer, including a smooth amber ale from our local brewery, the Busted Knuckle. Glasgow High School students and their parents served food and cleaned tables to help fund this spring’s trip to Washington, D.C.

This wasn’t just a small-town social event, though. We were gathered with a purpose. It was the third annual fundraising banquet for the Hi-Line Sportsmen, and on a night when the west wind howled, blowing around a foot of drifty snow and sending temps well below zero, inside the warm church, we raised a trove of money by auctioning or raffling guns, homemade knives, donated hardware, and even leftover prime rib.

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McKean Minute: A Hat Tip to the Counter Clerks

Jerry Ketchum died this week. You don’t know him, but I sure did. He presided behind the counter of D&G Sports and Western in my hometown of Glasgow, Montana as long as I’ve lived here. And a significant time before that.

Jerry could be cranky, if you swaggered in assuming you knew more about guns than he did. You didn’t. He could be short, if he sensed you were a tire-kicker who didn’t intend to drop a dollar in the classic High-Plains hunting and fishing store that presides over the eastern edge of Glasgow’s retail district. But he could be as gentle as a .257 Roberts if you were a beginning shooter or hunter, or if you were a kid or a “lady,” as he tended to call members of the fairer sex.

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McKean Minute: Accidental gun discharges – More common than you think

Last year’s hunting season was deadly in my home state of Montana. Two hunters were wounded when they were accidentally shot in the field; two others were killed.

One of those victims was Mike Drexler, an elk hunter who was shot by his best friend for the worst and most common reason: his friend, Jay Maisano, loaded a live round in the chamber of his rifle as they approached a downed bull elk. Maisano slipped, the gun went off, and Drexler died in the field.

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McKean Minute: When Mentoring Becomes Enabling

A few years ago, Josh invited a neighbor who had never hunted before to join him on the family place. The mentoring relationship stuck, and the neighbor became an accomplished hunter. Then last year, the neighbor showed up with his four kids. Could Josh please teach them how to hunt, he asked?

“I didn’t really know how to respond,” Josh told me last week. “I mean, I’m happy to do it. I really enjoy taking new people out, and besides, I like these people. They’re my neighbors. But we don’t have that much room at my family place, and besides….” Continue reading McKean Minute: When Mentoring Becomes Enabling


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