Hoorah! Hunting season is here. Deer tags, elk tags, supertags, waterfowl stamps, rejection letters from FWP, all the things that make the season what it is.
Bow season, bear season, bird season, rifle season — all either open now or soon to be. Mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, grandparents, cousins, friends, rivals out in force for the next two months or so, spending time with each other, building relationships, and if fortunate, filling the freezer or the empty wall above the fireplace.
What is your weapon of choice? Rifle, shotgun, handgun? Long bow, compound bow, cross bow, recurve bow? Atlatl? What?
Two weekends ago, Havre hosted the 9th Annual Atlatl Competition at the Wahkpa Chu’gn Buffalo Jump. The photo spread in the Havre Daily on Friday was excellent. Little Levi Karren’s face and form and Spiderman shirt said it all. It was a great event. More than 125 people visited the buffalo jump for the competition, and 75 people competed in it. I was one of them. It was my first time competing. When I went to the jump site, I wasn’t expecting to participate. I was planning on watching my friend’s dad compete. He plans his vacation and travels here from Illinois specifically so he can attend this event. He is retired and spends a lot of his free time studying historic weaponry and crafting weapons of his own to practice with and share with his kids and grandkids. He has a great time in Havre shooting the course and talking with other enthusiasts about the style of his atlatl versus theirs, or the best length of dart, or the type of tip he uses. He won the competition this year after coming in third two years ago.
We were the first people to arrive at the course on Saturday and the organizers were still getting the atlatls and darts organized for the expected visitors. One of them saw me looking curious and invited me to try it. I did and after a little coaching, I managed to score a few points for my round. What I really liked about it, though, was that it didn’t hurt my shoulder. A sports injury has made it hard for me to draw a bow. But I could throw this dart with the atlatl. I got to thinking about whether I could get good enough at it to take a deer with it.
However, in Montana, taking a deer with an atlatl isn’t legal — not for now anyway. Last session a bill was introduced in the Legislature that would have allowed a “hand-thrown spear” to “be considered a lawful means of hunting. ” It was a very simple, three-line bill that would have allowed Montanans a new and interesting opportunity during their autumn adventures.
Alas, it was not to be. The governor called the bill “kooky. ” He called Republicans who supported it “nutjobs. ” The Missoulian said the bill was for a “subgroup of hunters who hunt like prehistoric man” giving the impression Republicans wanted to release a loin-cloth-wearing band of hunchbacked knuckle-draggers into the FWP offices to snatch up their tags with grunts and bad breath (which may be what a lot of hunters do anyway — but that’s beside the point). The bill was mocked and scoffed at in committee hearings. The sponsor was derided. But the fact of the matter is, normal Montanans asked him to carry that bill because they wanted to be free to test their skills against nature. They wanted to practice and prepare for hunting season just like everybody else, but they wanted to take their chances with a spear or a dart instead of a bow or a rifle. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think it is a travesty that the bill failed in committee because of the mockery that was made of it.
Did you know that Montana already allows spear fishing? A spear is defined as “any sharp-pointed instrument, with or without barbs, used to capture or kill fish by penetrating the body. ” I don’t see a remarkable difference between that and spear hunting. Both are legitimate and difficult means of taking prey. They take skill and practice and patience. Making your own weapon and ammunition takes study, practice, and craftsmanship. These are qualities we should encourage not disparage.
Republicans were accused of being too “tea party, ” too “extreme, ” and plain ol’ stupid for some legislation that was introduced last session. Last week the governor told Democrats at their state convention that the Republicans are “bat-crap crazy. ” Next time you hear that accusation, think of the atlatl competition, and consider it carefully. What is blogged about and twittered about and reported in the newspapers might not be as crazy as you thought.
(State Rep. Kris Hansen is a Republican from Havre.)