Hunting ethics, survival skills, and “enough brains to tan a hide”

By Stacy Walenter

The Yaak Valley Forest Council (YVFC) hosted its third Hunting Ethics Workshop for youth on Saturday, April 14 at the old Sylvanite School in the Yaak.
While children in the area can take hunter safety classes, these workshops focus on the importance of ethics in hunting.
Game warden Taylor Rockafellow went beyond the legal basics to address respect. He urged kids to not showcase dead animals in the backs of vehicles paraded around town. Rockafellow suggested deference to the life being taken.
Ben Valentine of David Thompson Search and Rescue shared survival tips with the audience, in the event they should become lost while hunting. He taught the “Rule of Threes,” which states that humans can survive up to three minutes without air, three hours without shelter (in extreme conditions), three days without water, and three days without food.
Valentine also outlined essential items that every hunter or hiker should pack before going out into the wilderness.
Archaeologist Becky Timmons, who is retired from the United States Forest Service and has presented at all three workshops, introduced children to the hunting techniques of the natives, who can be dated back 8,000 years in the Kootenai Valley.
Timmons displayed an atlatl and discussed its decrease in use after the introduction of horses to the area, when the weapon of choice became a bow and arrow. The children were able to test their atlatl skills as part of Timmons’ presentation.
When asked why he was attending the workshop, Troy student Winter Sedler said, “I went to the hunting ethics workshop because ensuring ethics in young hunters helps to preserve wildlife for future generations.”
After Timmons, Tom Oar, of T.V.’s Mountain Men fame, and Will Stringfellow, who owns a trading post in the Yaak, showed attendees how to utilize the entire animal once the meat is removed.
The pair discussed brain tanning, which is the use of the animal’s own brain to tan its hide, resulting in a velvety soft material. When asked if one could run out of brains while tanning, Oar replied: “Every animal has enough brains to tan its own hide.”
A tanned hide is not actually tan, but white. To achieve the tan color associated with tanning, the hide must be smoked.
Throughout the day, the group discussed why they hunt. Many hunt because they want to know the source of their food.
“It’s like an old, inner instinct,” was Oar’s answer. “I was born 200 years too late.”
“I like the hunt, the chase, and trying to figure it all out, trying to figure out what the animal might be doing, Stringfellow said. “You try to get into the head of the animal.”
To close the workshop, Chris and Pat Hanley instructed the children on how to shoot a bow and arrow. The husband and wife team also volunteer at Morrison Elementary’s After School Program and offer weekly archery lessons.
The YVFC will continue to offer innovative programming to area youth during the summer season. Children can join Shawna Kelsey every Thursday once school is out from 10am to 12pm for gardening at the Morrison Elementary garden.
Kelsey encourages children to use the garden as a healthy snack bar all summer.
There will also be a Girls’ Hiking Series, which will feature 6 different hikes. Every other week during the summer, girls can visit local hiking areas like Alvord Lake, Shannon Lake, Old Highway 2, and Callahan Creek.
Water Camp will offer an overnight, three-day, two-night experience at the Sylvanite School.
The YVFC will also sponsor a limited number of children who want to attend the Montana Natural Resource Youth Camp in Greenough.
For additional information on any of these programs, please contact Shawna Kelsey at or call the Yaak Valley Forest Council at 295-9736.