By Chris Avena
In the Spring Edition of American Outdoor News we speak to the voice of public land hunting and the host of Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg. Through his own perspective and experience he has become the leading advocate of self-guided hunts throughout the United States. His tireless conservation efforts will help to preserve our hunting heritage of tomorrow. Randy shares his vast experience with us to help us to better understand public land hunting and what steps we should take to achieve a successful hunt.
Chris: Hey Randy it is so nice to finally meet you.
Randy: Well, honored to be here. I have a friend who says Randy, the fact that anyone invites you to be a guest or anything shows you how far a line of BS can get you in America.
Chris: What first got you into public land hunting?
Randy: Well, I grew up in northern Minnesota. My parents divorced when I was 11. And my dad had moved to Montana. He had moved out here to work in the oil patch for a little while. And everybody in my little logging town, the goal of every young kid was, I want to be a hunter. I want to be a hunter. And so here I am, I just get to the point where I can take hunter education. And my parents divorced. And it was a hard time. But you know, that being what it is, I was able to leave the trailer house that we lived in, me and my mom and my two younger siblings, grabbed my 410 and my 20 gauge, walked out the back door and shoot grouse, squirrels and rabbits because there was public land right there.
I took it for granted because I grew up around all these state forests. Well, then I move away and I started seeing no trespassing signs. I am thinking, what is that all about? I can't remember seeing a no trespassing sign growing up as a kid. So, it started dawning on me how important having a place to hunt was to my evolution and my growth of being a hunter and someone who supports conservation and wild places and wild things.
So, my life has pretty much been public land hunting. Don't get me wrong in my other life, I'm a CPA, and I have a lot of tax clients who used to invite me out, “Hey, you want to come hunt here.” And I tell people, I don't care if it's public or private. Just go hunt first of all. We built our platforms based on the notion that there is nobody out there promoting public land. So, it was just good trade.
Chris: There's a big difference in types of public land hunting, I know. For me in New York, if I'm going to hunt public land, I'm going to see 50 other people. Where you might go public land hunting, you might not see another soul. Can you help us understand the difference? And just how much public land is available to us?
Randy: In your state of New York, you guys have that big state forest, the Adirondack. Is that correct? That is state land. It's one of the bigger chunks of state public land in the country. But you get out west where I live in Montana, I hunt all the Rocky Mountain states. We have 640 million acres of federal public land that we are talking about the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation. 640 million acres is a lot of ground to spread out on. So out west, yeah, you're right. And this is where I tell people, I always say what a country that we live in, right?
I mean, we live in the greatest country in the world for so many reasons. I could leave my office right now. If I had the energy to do it, I can hike from my office to Yellowstone National Park and be on public land from the trailhead all the way to Yellowstone. Well, in hunting season, I would do that. I would see a lot of elk and grouse, I'd see deer, I'd see all kinds of wildlife. So, there's so much land out there that we really are spoiled in the West. It is way more crowded in the Midwest or back where you're at in the northeast just because of the population density of people and how hard it is to find places to hunt. You are going to see a lot More people when you go out than I do.
One of the things that my platforms does is we try to show the person from New York or where I grew up in Minnesota that this stuff that you see us doing out in the West is actually quite doable. If you can save some money for the drive out and the tags and such. I grew up thinking the only way I'd ever get to elk hunt is if I won the lottery. Well, then I move out here and I start thinking, you can do this. Anybody could. If I could shoot an elk, anybody can shoot an elk because I am so far below average that I need to start showing other people how you clear some of these hurdles and dispel some of the myths that it's only for rich people. That's kind of how that mix of public land and the difference of the east and the west, kind of falls into the message that we put together.
Chris: For a new hunter looking to do his own “do it yourself hunt” on public land, what kind of steps should they take before they actually get out in the field? Because once they're out there, it's a lot different than watching it on YouTube.
Randy: Oh, yeah, way different. There are a few things to do. One is the logistics. The other just the mental preparation for what it takes. I grew up whitetail hunting, I was not mentally in the mindset of what it took to hunt huge, vast landscapes. With whitetail hunting you're hunting an 80-acre patch. Well, that is not very intimidating. If there are some deer in there you had a pretty good chance to see something. Then you come out here and you have a drainage that is 20,000 acres. You are thinking, “Where do I even start?” And it's such a foreign landscape, and it takes a lot of mental adjustment to understand that the densities of animals are lower, you're going to have a wilder country, if you want to call it that. I had zero concern that I was going to stumble into a solid grizzly bear and cubs back home in Minnesota.
Here, it is on my mind when I'm out in the woods. There are just a lot of things there and then comes the elevation difference. you start feeling it at 10,000 feet. You are thinking “Where's the oxygen around here?” You guys hide all the oxygen on me. So, there's a lot of things from the actual hunt itself. But the other part that I think is a big challenge for folks who I grew up with. We just went down to the hardware store, Gordon’s hardware and we bought our deer tags.
In the West, if you're a non-resident, you got to be ahead of the game. Right now, we're doing all these videos, it's application season. You have to participate in these crazy elaborate schemes that all these western states have come up with. And if you don't do that, you're not going to get a tag. And the first step to getting a chance to go hunting is acquiring that tag. So, we spend a lot of time talking about how you can get a tag. It sounds pretty elementary, but the western states have mastered the art of making it really complicated.
Chris: I think that's with any state. It is revenue driven and how much can we get. Even though it does go towards conservation. But this helps to segue into my next topic here. I know you had a pretty close relationship with Jim Posewitz. Can you tell me a little bit about his work? Conservation and what kind of influence he had on you?
Randy: Yes, I think any of us can look back at our lives and say, boy, there had been some important touch points along the way. And we're blessed to have just encountered certain people that you build a relationship with. Jim passed away last summer. But he was well known as being one of the one of the giants of conservation. Anyone who, in most states, if you've taken hunters education in the last 30 years, you got his little book called Beyond Fair Chase. There are millions of copies out there.
When he left Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and retired, he started a group called Orion the Hunters Institute. He was doing a seminar right over here at Montana State University near my office, and this was in 1993. He just started and I went over and said, “Hey, I loved your presentation.” Let me know if ever I can help. He said, “Well, what do you do?” I said, “Well, I'm a CPA.” He's like, “We could use some accounting help.” So, I started doing that. Two years later, he asked me to be on his board.
I sat on his board for 12 or 13 years and in the process, got to see somebody who really had been through the challenges in the battles of conservation, he'd done it from the side of trying to be a state employee and representing the hunters and anglers and their voice for the wild places and wild things that we love. And then watching him do that in the nonprofit world. I just got to hear a lot of really good stories to get to meet some amazing people. And to call Jim a friend, has been one of the one of the blessings in my life for sure.
Chris: Every once in a while, there's somebody that comes along that guides you in the direction you didn't think you'd be.
Randy: Right. Chris, I'm sure you if you sat down and wrote that you'd have a long list of people who touched you in some way. And at the time, you have no idea that this relationship is going to guide you down a certain path. And oh, there you are.
Chris: Exactly! Now, you serve on several boards for conservation. Can you tell us a little bit about your own conservation work?
Randy: Yeah, I've just termed out now of my most recent Conservation Board position, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, I served on their board for six years. I've served on lots of local rod and gun clubs. Like I said, I was on the board of Orion hunters Institute for 12 or 13 years back. So right now, after I termed out on the board of the Elk Foundation, my wife said, “Can you take a little break from that for a little while?” Yeah, so I've officially taken a break from it. But I'm still heavily engaged. And that's what I use my platforms for. The why of our platforms is to promote self-guided public land hunting, and create advocates for that cost.
So, in today's world, where all of our issues get drawn over into Congress or state legislators, we need advocates, we need people who understand how this process works. This isn't the old day when everything was handed over at a Fishing Game Commission. There weren't controversies about firearm ownership or conservation or access. Now, all this stuff is a political game. So, part of my job is to take this 30 some years of advocacy experience I have and teach others how they can be an advocate for the things that are their passion and their interest.
Chris: Currently, the West is covered with preference points for almost every single species. What do you think we should do in regards to the preference points programs across all the states to make the playing field a little more level?
Randy: There are only three western states that don't have some sort of elaborate point scheme. Idaho, New Mexico and Alaska. Every other Western State, you got to subject yourself to these crazy schemes. I'll just say this as an old gray-haired guy, no offense to us old gray-haired guys, but I can now say that because I got plenty of gray hair. But I have a lot of points in a lot of states. I've got double digit points for many species in many states. And what I would prefer, if Randy was king for a day, I'd get rid of them all. I'd give up my 20 sheep points in Nevada and Arizona. I'd give up my almost 20 sheep and move points in Montana.
Because if you think about preference points, or bonus points, whichever it is, the pie really stays the same. But how do we readjust the pie so that the old gray-haired guys like me get a bigger piece? Well, if you cut a pie and someone gets a bigger piece, that means everyone else gets a smaller piece. And it just frustrates me to no end. But I'll use an example Wyoming made $12 million dollars off non-resident points last year. So, the evolution of these has become a money stream. I'm not saying that Wyoming operates just for the money. The point of that is, we've built systems that have been accepted now, Colorado's system has been in place for over 30 years. We have built systems that agencies feel that their constituents have an expectation. There's also some sort of value proposition that creates a revenue stream. So, I don't see them going away, unfortunately.
Chris: It all comes down to the dollar at the end of the day.
Randy: Yeah, so I wish it was different, but I don't see it changing. So, I tell people if the landscapes are not going to change, how do you adjust your plan and your strategy for that unchanging landscape? We do a video on our YouTube channel for every state, Wyoming, Arizona have already released we just filmed in New Mexico and Utah, those will be releasing so that people who aren't familiar with these elaborate schemes, these states come up with that they have a little bit of a head start about “Okay, this is my budget. Where could I get started in this??
Chris: Well, I think we could move on to a little bit of a hot topic now.
Randy: Uh-oh, what are we going to talk about now?
Chris: Well, there is a romantic image of the wolf and then there is reality. What is the reality of the wolf as a species interacting with us on our public lands in our own backyards?
Randy: Yeah, when I was growing up in northern Minnesota, a little town called Big Falls right in the middle of Koochiching County. So, if you look at a map of northern Minnesota, the place that looks like it would be hard to get to, that little logging town is where I grew up. Wolves never disappeared from there. So, I might have a “take it or leave it” attitude about wolves. It's not that big of a deal. As one of my friends says, wolves don't have rainbows shooting out their asses. And they're also not the villains of the world. They're wolves. But you and I both know, they are highly controversial topics. On one side, you see these videos that wolves have saved Yellowstone from destruction. Well, Yellowstone Park is right southeast to me here about 80 miles. That was one of the places that wolves were released in 1995.
I have no problem with Wolves being on the landscape, as long as the promise that was made that we would get to manage them like we do all other wildlife. If you look behind my shoulder hanging on the wall. That is a wolf pelt, taken here in Montana. But to make promises to the citizens of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming as they did that, okay, when you reach certain levels, you're going to get the chance to manage them. Then through the infrastructure of our political and court system, litigate, litigate, litigate, litigate.
So, in 2001, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming we met the delisting criteria. So, within the next few years, we had our plans all submitted, and then it was just lawsuit after lawsuit, after lawsuit. Finally, it took an act of Congress, a literal act of Congress, for Montana and Idaho to get management control of the wolves that had been promised to them in 1994.
Chris: How have they changed the landscape of Yellowstone National Park?
Randy: They have an impact. In Montana, they say, at a minimum, we have 650 wolves running around. It's probably at least half again that high. You know, they're eating some deer and they're eating some elk, they love to eat elk, and they're kind of like me, you know, they like elk. But they don't have a centerfire rifle to do it. They only have their teeth to do it with. So they have had some impact in the total numbers. In some places, where elk are in their marginal habitats, the consequences of predation are amplified greatly if they're in prime habitat, predation isn't that big of an issue.
So, we have some places where elk aren't in the premium habitats. We are seeing some impacts there. We are also seeing instances where the elk are using the landscape has changed. They prefer certain places where it's harder for wolves to catch them. Well, if you have hunted elk and spotted them for 30 years, you and dad and grandpa, and here comes some wolves on the landscape and now the elk change their behaviors significantly. It's like the elk are all gone. Well, they're not all gone. They're just now using a different part of the landscape because they don't want the wolves to find them.
So, I hunt wolves. I make no apologies about it. I think they're just like every other animal that we as a society that It has impacted the landscape to the degree we have, we have a responsibility to manage both sides of that equation. This idea that there is some big happy balance, that Mother Nature finds its happy balance is a steaming crock of dung. The only way that is ever going to get back to how it was, is if 330 million Americans decide we are going to pack up and leave this continent and restore the landscape to how it was before we got here.
That is the only way because right now, all of our wildlife lives on the fringes of the remaining habitat. And we have to manage that. We have to manage them. I know that some people don't like the term manage, whatever. The reality is, we as a society collectively have huge impacts on the ability of wild things to use the landscape as they traditionally had. That applies to every species and wolves are not exempt from that. So, I'm willing to do my part to go and help manage wolves.
Chris: So, we could manage wolves as an apex predator like we manage bears?
Randy: Like we do bears, like we do everything. I mean, we ate that wolf that I showed you earlier. We ate it. And people are like “you've lost your mind, Randy”. I probably have but it's not because I decided to eat a wolf. My mind was probably absent for years and years before that. But my point to show for eating the wolf was for my own personal interest in wondering how it tastes. I have a bit of an ethos of, if I'm going to shoot something, I'm going to at least try to eat it and see if it's salvageable. But also, to just give this normalcy to wolves.
Wolves are not Little Red Riding Hood, they're not going to come and eat the kids at the school bus. But they're also not the savior to the landscape. You have watched these videos, as they call it trophic cascades that somehow the wolves to Yellowstone solved all the landscape issues. There were so many complicated landscape issues going on in Yellowstone at the same time and they’re still going on today. To try to simplify it that it's just wolves, is laughable. It's like we are going to solve world hunger by some simple one topic thing. No.
Chris: Funny. I read an article today. Long Island, for the longest time, has been the only North American landmass that did not have Coyote. Well, coyotes are starting to make their way onto Long Island, whether they're crossing bridges or swim the hell of it, they get in here, they’re. Yeah. And the article was basically saying, treat them, you know, with respect, let them grow. If you see them coming into your yard, yell at them, squirt them with a hose. And I'm thinking all right, if a coyote is trying to eat my cat, I'm going to squirt it with a hose. That'll do the trick.
Randy: Yeah. Good luck with that. Yeah.
Chris: Even wolves will scare coyotes out of the area, they'll claim their domain, they’re the apex predator.
Randy: Yes. Canines do not like other canines. In Yellowstone, if you are a coyote or a red fox, you have to have your head on a swivel. In Montana, it's just when one comes in, it displaces others. I suspect you'd see significant decline in the number of other canines, since wolves have become the dominant canine on the landscape. And, again, that is my point of you can't throw wolves there and think that they operate in a vacuum. You know, now, Colorado passed a ballot initiative this November, that the citizens just barely passed it that said, we're going to reintroduce wolves in Colorado.
Well, folks like to think that if you just put them there, they will mind their manners, they have this pact with the elk of “hey, we're going to do this humanely but we have a deal sorted out here that you are going to let us eat you”. In a fairytale world, everything's going to be fine. They have no idea what kind of complication and changes are going to impose on the landscape. But I'm not saying that. You know, maybe that is something that would have naturally happened because they're already in southern Wyoming. But I don't think any species or any landscape benefits from ballot box biology. Okay. Let the professionals who know this stuff make it their life's work. Let them provide us the recommendations of what's best for the landscape in the species out there.
Chris: Well, they don't acknowledge borders or fence issues it is free rein.
Randy: Yeah. You are not going to find too many wolves or coyotes running around with a mapping software on their cell phone.
Chris: How smart are they? How smart is a wolf?
Randy: Unbelievable. It probably takes us 15 to 20 days of hard mountain hunting 10 to 12 miles a day to get one encounter with a wolf.
Chris: Are they challenging?
Randy: I tell people that I would fill five or six elk tags in the time it takes us to get one shot at a wolf. They're just that remarkable. And I don't care what your feelings are about wolves, if you hate them, and think they should all be gone, which is not my position. If you hunt them hard, spot and stalk like we do, you're going to respect them, you're going to have a huge amount of appreciation for them. Right now, it's 10 below zero here in Montana. They're out there making a living. They are catching dinner with their teeth. These are 70 to 100-pound wolves, and they are looking at this bull elk over there that 600 pounds with these sharp antlers and hooves, and they are really hungry, because the cold is just tapping your energy and they have to jump in there. They don't have any choice. So, you end up with a high level of appreciation for them. You realize how remarkable they are, how adaptable they are. But they're just another animal. Like I feel elk are equally remarkable. Every species we have out there fascinates me to know about and we get to manage them.
Chris: There is a durability about them that makes you think. You are not a Stand Hunter. I hunt from a stand here in New York. I do my scouting and what not. But ultimately, I'm sitting there waiting for them to come through their funnel. You are on the ground; you're chasing and stalking and you're trying to outwit your prey, it's a completely different thing.
Randy: Yeah, they're so smart. The first year that we are allowed to hunt and trap them, they weren't that well educated. But it did not take long before they understood that they should staying away from roads and trails and makes a big loop. So, the wolves that I hunt, they're usually making 30-to-50-mile loops over the course of a week looking for elk. Elk are concentrated this time of year. So, they're checking out on this herd, check in that herd, check in this or check in that herd. They're pretty remarkable animals, love them or hate them. You got to respect them.
Chris: They have their own grocery store.
Randy: But it's good winter exercise for me to go out and do it. And it really is more like taking your firearm for a walk. And you get some good exercise.
Chris: Back in what was it 2013-ish you suffered a heart attack?
Randy: Yeah, I have a weird blood clotting condition. I've had four major blood clots, and the biggest one that affects me, I had a fairly large blood clot in my liver that pretty much messed up all the plumbing in my liver. So, some days if you're watching my video footage and I look hungover is because they have a very high toxin load and my liver hasn't been able to clean things out. So, I also ended up with a blood clot in my heart. It wasn't atherosclerosis or anything like that. I'm lying-in bed one night and I thought “what is that?” So being the knot head that I am, I'm like, I'll get through it. My wives like you sure you're okay, yeah, I'll be fine. Next morning, I go grab my black lab and we're going to just jog this out. I'll fix this. I got to the end of the high end of the driveway and I was on my knees. I'm thinking that I am going to die of a heart attack in my driveway. And I've known I've had this for eight hours. So went to the cardiologists? He said that there's a pretty invasive way to find out that your arteries are like those of a 30-year-old. You just need to figure out that blood clotting thing. So, I'm trying my best.
Chris: Do you approach your hunts in a different way now? It hasn't affected the way you hunt?
Randy: Not, not really. I'm on a blood thinner so when I'm doing my field dressing, I try not to jab myself with the knife. I pay attention because since then I've also had another blood clot in my brain. TIA, they call them, I guess. I woke up on the floor. If you want to get your wife blood pressure worked up, be standing there and collapse on the floor. But it all keeps going back to this blood clotting thing that they can't figure out. So, it really hasn't changed my hunting.
I would say if anything, it lit the fire even more. Because you come to realize that health is such a valuable gift. It's a blessing to have high quality health. I don't want to take it for granted. Any day that my health allows me to go out and do the things I love. You know what work will take care of itself. I always say to hunt when you can because you're going to run out of health before you run out of money. We all know somebody right or multiple people that said, someday I'm going to do this, someday I'm going to do that and they run out of health. Either they're gone or that right now they're in a, the level of infirmity of their health is they can't go do it.
So someday I'll be at that point. But if anyone does come to my funeral, my grandma always said that the number of people who go to your funeral is determined by the weather that day. If anyone does come to my funeral, I hope they say dang, I wish I would have hunted as much as that guy did. That's my goal in life.
Chris: How would you like to be remembered as an outdoorsman?
Randy: I don’t know, that's a weird question Chris. I saw that question on there and I skipped past it because I didn't really have a good answer. And now you bring it up again. I still don't have an answer. Because I don't really think about it in that context. I just, I want to know that to myself. How am I going to remember myself someday, When I'm on the porch, sipping coffee and not able to go do the things I love? I want to have no regrets. I don't want to say boy, I wish I would have done that. Why didn't I do this? Or, gee, I wish I wouldn't have given all my effort that I could have to conservation or to public lands or to access or teach new hunters.
I just wake up every day and say, I'm blessed to live in the greatest country in the world and have the greatest daily task in the world. How do I make the most of that so that I don't ever have regrets and whatever other people remember that for, I guess, it is what it is.
Chris: Well, what would you say your crowning achievement has been up to this point?
Randy: Well, being married for 32 years, that's a huge accomplishment.
Chris: You got my respect.
Randy: I worked with a guy at the sawmill when I was going to college. And this is again, a little side note. Don Bowman was his name. He pulls me aside he says, Randy, I hear you're getting married this weekend? I said yep. He said, look, I've worked with you for three years here at the sawmill. Just remember, there's nothing you bring to the table that she couldn't replace by noon tomorrow. Behave accordingly. So that's probably one of my crowning achievements is to have such a wonderful life, raising a wonderful son. He's 30 years old. That's a crowning achievement. I don't know. I really don't measure anything that way.
I'm very proud of the work we do. And the platform's we've built the advocacy that we're able to create for hunting on public lands and in conservation. And I, you know, I look around a lot of my office even though you see some European mountains here, a lot of my office, are little plaques of conservation projects I've been involved in. And those conservation projects are really important to me because if someone doesn't step forward, or groups of people don't step forward, those deals don't get done. We lose access here or we lose that habitat or we lose whatever and not that we can save all the world in one big swoop. But I'm very proud of the work I've done and conservation and public access.
Chris: I appreciate everything you do for us, it's you know, has not gone unnoticed. And I want to thank you for taking the time here today to speak to me and my readers, and where can we find you?
Randy: Well, we have multiple digital platforms for a while as you know, we were for nine years, we were on the outdoor channel and sportsman's channel and we migrated all that to digital platforms. So, we have a TV show on Amazon Prime called Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg and then we have a big YouTube channel called Randy Newberg Hunter. We have two podcasts one called Hunt Talk, one called Out Talk, social media, Instagram, Facebook, we're on all that stuff. And then I have a very large hunting forum called www.hunttalk.com. And usually, you can find me out on the hill somewhere. That's where I'd prefer to be.