Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tri-State Veterans Stand Down In Plains, MT Expected To Draw A Large Crowd

Photo Above - Plains, MT In The Spring

The State of Montana is now home to more than 1,000,000 people. Did you know that approximately 108,000 of those people are military veterans? That's right, per capita Montana has more veterans than any other state in the Lower 48. Only Alaska has a population with a higher percentage of veterans.

Many of Montana's veterans live within easy driving distance of Plains, MT, which is a good thing. On May 5 and 6, 2012, an event to be known as the Tri-State Veterans Stand Down is being organized by Sanders County resident Billy Hill, of Trout Creek. Already on hand to be redistributed to military veterans is more than $1.2-million of surplus items.

The material goods to be given freely to any qualified veteran include hi-tech modular sleeping systems, extreme cold weather sleeping bags, aluminum pack frames with rucksacks, wool Navy pea-coats, wool socks, wool blankets, insulated underwear, boots, and other surplus military gear. When Veteran Stand Downs were first widely organized, they were geared to serve the homeless veteran who found "camping out" a new way of life. With so many people now strapped by a struggling economy, barely being able to stretch one paycheck to the next, or having no job at all, today's Stand Down events are now open to all military veterans. Those who call western Montana, northern Idaho and eastern Washington home are largely outdoor people by choice, and much of the surplus clothing and gear to be handed out at the Tri-State Veterans Stand Down will make weathering the elements a bit more comfortable.

For those who are in need, haircuts and showers will be provided, so will hot breakfasts and lunches both days.

On hand will be Veterans Administration officers and staff to aid with V.A. claims and benefits. Also there will be veterans service organizations - and both physical and mental health providers to address individual veteran's needs. Those seeking employment will be able to receive employment counseling, while other community organizations will be there to help in any way they can.

The Tri-State Veterans Stand Down takes place at the Sanders County Fairgrounds, 30 River Road, Plains, MT on May 5th and 6th, from 0800 Hrs. (8 a.m.) to 1600 Hrs. (4 p.m.) each day. Event organizer Billy Hill says all veterans are welcomed, whether they come for the surplus clothing and gear, the food, to learn more about V.A. services and benefits, for health services, to seek employment, or for the camaraderie and being with many other military veterans. Just be sure to bring your form DD-214, discharge, V.A. or military I.D.

This event is being sponsored by the Tri-State Veterans Stand Down, Noxon Community Center Fellowship, Thompson Falls Food Bank, and the Montana Food Bank Network. - Toby Bridges, Missoula, MT

Media Contact - Billy Hill at 406 847-2407

(Note: Sanders County, MT is one of the western Montana counties that have been hardest hit by wolf depredation. Toby Bridges, founder of LOBO WATCH, will be at the Tri-States Veterans Stand Down to help in any way possible. If an out of control wolf population robbed you of putting your family's winter meat supply in the freezer, or has negatively impacted your ability to raise livestock or earn a living, please look me up and share a thought or two. I also expect several candidates for Montana governor, and other elected officials, to show up. Please do not hold back in letting these people know what we've lost...and what it will take to put an end to the wolf idiocy. )

Monday, January 30, 2012

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

This was very likely the first poem I ever memorized...and that's because I have a special connection to it.

At the age of 13, I ran a trapline in west-central Illinois, which I checked three days during the week and both days of the weekend. On Saturday morning, my father would drive me out to the creek bridge on Possum Hill Road and drop me off, about 3 miles from home. I'd then worked upstream, running trap sets already made, and always tried to get in at least 5 or 6 new sets. About three-quarters of a mile from the bridge, a smaller creek and valley turned back toward town. The first half mile of that creek, I commonly had four or five good, and often productive, sets for mink and raccoon. By the time I made it home in late afternoon, I'd cover close to four miles.

One Saturday, the temperature was just barely above freezing and the heavy cloud cover could not decide whether to rain or snow. As I headed back to town after runnng my last mink set, the precipitation turned to a cold, cold hard rain. I was close to an old abandoned coal mine, and took shelter in what had once been the owner's home. Even though most of the windows had been knocked out, the roof was still good enough that it only leaked in a couple of spots.

As I took shelter from the rain, I spied a stack of old books against a wall. To wait out the down pour, I thumbed through the books...then spotted a loose single page laying on the floor. On one side was this poem by Robert Frost. As I read it, it dawned on me that the rain had turned back to snow. I folded up the page and slipped it inside a shirt pocket, zipped up my jacket, slipped into the shoulder straps of my trap pack basket and walked home through the woods on a snowy winter afternoon and and early evening.

When I snapped the above photo along the Clark Fork River, about a mile from where I now live in Missoula, MT, a few days after this past Christmas, for some reason Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" came back to me. Before I finished my walk with our dogs Bob and Tully, I had almost remembered all the words. - Toby Bridges

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Something Old Is Something New...

Between hiking with the dogs...hunting in the fall and spring...camping most of the when I can...trying to capture Montana's beauty through the lens of a 2 websites, 3 Facebook pages, and 9 blogs...writing a few magazine articles through the year...and still taking care of the real work I have to churn out to keep the lights on and food in the refrigerator...I honestly do not have any time for anything else in my life. But, it's going to happen anyway. I know that before 2012 winds down, I will be the proud owner of a vintage sniper rifle...pretty much like the one seen in the photo above.

I'm sure there are plenty of you who readily recognize the rifle, a military Springfield Model 1903 in .30-06 caliber. Likewise, I'm sure many of you will recognize the individual holding the rifle, Jack Hoffman of the very popular GOLD RUSH television series which airs on the Discovery Channel.

I ran into Jack Hoffman at the 2012 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show, held at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, January 17 thru 20. We chatted for about ten minutes, about guns and wolves. During that conversation, two other cast members of the show walked up - Jim Thurber and Dave Turin. I had just gone up to the upper level of the show (a 630,000 sq. ft. monster) and was on my way back to the Leatherwood Hi-Lux Optics booth, carrying one of the new-made 8x USMC Sniper model scopes I had taken up to show my good friend Glenn Hatt, product manager of Winchester Repeating Arms. The scope had caught Jack's attention, prompting our discussion...which led to talking about wolves. Seems Jack is an elk hunter in his home state of Oregon, and with wolves now moving in from neighboring Idaho, like many sportsmen in that state, he does not want the elk herds destroyed as they have been in Idaho and Montana.

I had to get the scope back to the Leatherwood Hi-Lux booth, which was just down the aisle from where I had enjoyed visiting with the three cast members of GOLD RUSH - and to realize they are just common folks like most of us. Jack wanted to know where the booth was located, and I just pointed it out to him. And about ten minutes later the crew came for a second visit. Jack and I had the photo above taken, with him holding an '03 Springfield sniper rifle with one of the new Hi-Lux USMC Sniper scopes mounted on it - just like the rifles used by the Marine Corps during WWII, Korea and the first half of Vietnam.

When Jack picked up the rifle, his comment was, "Now, here's a real rifle!" He added that he'd sure like to own a rig like that.

"Well, have you found enough gold to pay for one?" I asked. But before he answered, I blurted out, "Don't tell me...don't tell me...I have several more episodes to watch this season!"

I had played a role in getting Hi-Lux Optics to recreate the scope used by the Marine Corps from 1941 until the late 1960s, and was extremely pleased with the quality of craftsmanship and the optics found in the reproduction. The originals of this scope were produced by the old Unertl company. USMC marked scopes in excellent condition have sold for $3,500 or more in recent years. But Leatherwood Hi-Lux Optics has made owning an authentically styled and built scope of this type far more affordable, retailing the Wm. Malcolm version of the USMC Sniper scope for $549.

I love shooting. I love shooting 1903 Springfield rifles. And I love great rifle optics. My fear is that in the foreseeable future, I will also own a scoped rifle very, very similar (if not identical) to the one Jack Hoffman is holding in the photo above. And I just don't know where I'll find the time to get out and fully enjoy sniping at 500 to 600 yard targets - but I'm sure I will. It's a good problem to have. - Toby Bridges

For more on the Wm. Malcolm 8x USMC Sniper scope, go to -