All posts by Andrew McKean

McKean Minute: My county is better than your county

Chambers of commerce in flyover country grasp at any opportunity to market their communities to the wider world. That’s why you get such curious designations as World’s Largest Frying Pan (Rose Hill, North Carolina), and Biggest Ball of Twine (Cawker City, Kansas). My friend and fellow Powderhooker, Eric Dinger, tells me that his hometown of Luverne, Minnesota, plans to build the world’s largest nutcracker.

In my case, my hometown (Glasgow, Montana) had the unfortunate designation last summer of being named the most remote town in America. For most rural places, that’s the fast lane to oblivion, but chambers of commerce being what they are—unapologetic promoters—mine embraced the distinction by printing banners and shirts proclaiming Glasgow as the official “Middle of Nowhere.”

But I’d like to propose a new and more meaningful distinction. I’d like to nominate my county—Valley County, Montana—as the huntin’est, most game-rich jurisdiction in America. I submit this claim mainly to establish my legitimacy as a hunter in this era of polarization and chest-thumping bravado, but it’s also a source of pride and curiosity. Can any other county, parish, or borough in America beat the diversity of huntable species in my homeland?

Just last week, the first legally harvested wolf was shot in my county—actually, about 3 miles from my house—in at least 50 years. We also have mountain lions in the Missouri River Breaks. We have coyotes and fox (both red and swift) here, too, along with bobcats, but I’m talking here mainly about designated game animals. A black bear may occasionally roam through Valley County, but they haven’t stayed long enough to qualify for this list.

On the big-game side, we have: mule deer, whitetailed deer, elk, bighorn sheep, moose, pronghorn antelope, and buffalo (though they’re not designated as wildlife in Montana. Weird, I know). For upland species we have: sage grouse, sharptailed grouse, pheasants, Hungarian partridge, and wild turkeys. I won’t get into all the waterfowl species that you can hunt here, choosing instead to simply categorize them as ducks, geese, tundra swans, and sandhill cranes. On the small-game front (for which you don’t need a license), we have: jackrabbits, cottontails, and—arriving just a few years ago—red squirrels. We also have raccoons, badgers, muskrats, mink, beavers, and a whole bunch of ground squirrels, but nobody really categorizes them as huntable species.

So, if I’m counting, and I surely am, that amounts to 8 big-game species that you can hunt if you have the license or permit, another 5 upland species, and if you really want me to enumerate the duck and goose species, I’ll add them to the comments.

Mainly, though, I’m curious. I’d love you, dear reader, to name another jurisdiction with more hunting opportunity than mine. If you can, then I’ll sic the chamber of commerce on you, because to a hunter, Huntingest Town in America is a much more significant designation than Largest Ball of Paint (Alexandria, Indiana).

McKean Minute: Step Up – Become a Hunter Education Instructor

Over the next few months, nearly three-quarters of a million Americans will be certified to become hunters. They’re the graduates of each state’s Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education programs, and the numbers are impressive. The rolling  average for the past 10 years is that somewhere around 650,000 new hunters are certified annually through state-delivered courses, many of which are held in the winter and spring months.

Who teaches these beginning hunters? I do, along with some 50,000 fellow hunter education instructors. Continue reading McKean Minute: Step Up – Become a Hunter Education Instructor

McKean Minute: Resolve to Mentor in 2019

I’ve been on an evangelistic roll in this space for the past month or so, extolling the virtues of mentoring new hunters. Hopefully my one-note chorus hasn’t turned you away from the subject, because I have one more post on the topic before I return to our regularly scheduled programming of bad dogs, good kids, and the hard-won rewards of late-season roosters and ice fishing. Continue reading McKean Minute: Resolve to Mentor in 2019

McKean Minute: To Mentor Is To Give. Literally

Anybody can look like an ace deer hunter when there are plenty of deer around. Thanks to an abundance of cervids, I looked pretty good to my apprentice hunters this fall. Each of the beginning hunters I took out shot deer. Maybe not trophy bucks, but after all, that wasn’t the goal.

Then my longtime friend Chris asked me to take him goose hunting. Chris is an accomplished big-game hunter, but he’s just never been in the right place at the time the geese were there, and because he’s seen my occasional success with honkers, he asked me to show him the ropes. Continue reading McKean Minute: To Mentor Is To Give. Literally

McKean Minute: Unwritten – The Secret Code of the Outdoors

My friend Pete asked to borrow my 870 Wingmaster for a weekend. He had been invited on a pheasant hunt and didn’t have a shotgun.

So I loaned him one of mine. When I got that Remington back fully two years later, the receiver was rusty and the stock so scratched and dinged that I’d guess it had bounced around a pickup bed filled with fencing supplies. Continue reading McKean Minute: Unwritten – The Secret Code of the Outdoors

McKean Minute: Grip and Grin 3.0

We call them “grip-and-grins.” You’ve seen them, and probably participated in more than a few, that pose with our quarry after a successful outing. I’ve seen you too, beaming like a flashlight while hoisting an outsized fish or thrusting the antlers of a deer or elk to the camera as though they were the Stanley Cup.

We hunters and anglers have been gripping and grinning as long as we’ve had instruments to record the moment. Whether faded tintypes in a museum or time-bleached Polaroids from the family album or digital photos shared by social media, these images have in common the electric joy of unexpected success. The best of these photos draw you in. You want to know more about the moment—where and when it happened? Who took the photo? The story of the hunt? Continue reading McKean Minute: Grip and Grin 3.0

McKean Minute: Hunter Education 2.0

It’s full-on hunting season here in eastern Montana, but I haven’t been out much for myself. Instead, I’ve spent the last couple weeks guiding brand-new hunters to their first deer.

It’s been alternately rewarding, frustrating, euphoric, and deeply memorable. But here’s my biggest take-away in these first days of real-world mentoring: this is really a working version of hunter education. Continue reading McKean Minute: Hunter Education 2.0

McKean Minute: Butchering Woes in the Age of CWD

When it comes to how I sleep (on my left side), how I drink my coffee (black and strong as crankcase oil), and how I carry a pocketknife (left front pocket), I’m a creature of habit. Same with how I butcher my family’s meat. The species may vary by the season or the mix of tags in my household, but it’s invariably wild—antelope, elk, goose, walleye, swan.

What doesn’t change is my process, honed over years of habit-forming butchery. Continue reading McKean Minute: Butchering Woes in the Age of CWD

McKean Minute: Feeding ‘Demetri’

My family and I have a hunting-season tradition. After we’ve butchered an animal—whitetail, mule deer, antelope, or even elk—we drive the meatless carcass out in a pasture on our place where there’s a giant willow tree along a creek bank.

We unload the carcass—the rattling white cages of ribs with ledges where backstraps once rippled, the unjointed hips and naked femurs, the pelvic bones with rump roasts carefully carved off their convex curvature—and we toss them down the creek bank underneath the spreading branches of the willow. Continue reading McKean Minute: Feeding ‘Demetri’

McKean Minute: A long view on the value of mentoring

My dad was as stoic as a cornerpost. He could certainly be animated, but when it came to hunting and guns, he was serious, severe, and solitudinous.

Because he was my mentor, the person who introduced and personified hunting to me, I grew up thinking that’s what hunting was: lonely, serious, and grim. When it came time to introduce hunting to my own kids, I approached it in much the same way, scolding my twin boys to quiet their loud footfalls and to quit having so much giggly fun. Continue reading McKean Minute: A long view on the value of mentoring