On Saturday, June 22, 45 guests spent a fun-filled day outdoors at Springhill Ranch near Wibaux at the inaugural “BBs & Bows in the Badlands” event for youths and their families. The kids shot BB guns and bows, used radio telemetry to track swift fox collars, learned how to identify wildlife tracks, handled live snakes, prepared Dutch oven desserts and enjoyed a campfire supper.
The youths and their families were hosted by the Stenson family, who teamed up with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; Mule Deer Foundation; Wibaux 4-H; MSU Extension in Wibaux County; Natural Resources Conservation Service; Mark and Sara Taliaferro; and several area volunteers to put on the event.
Organizer Adele Stenson is a former Montana State University Extension agent, a 4-H leader and currently splits her time between working on the family ranch and teaching Family and Consumer Science at Wibaux High School. Over the years, she has had the chance to work with many organizations and educators who bring science alive through the outdoors and encourage youth to be active in positive ways. Her husband, Kip Stenson, helped in the 4-H shooting sports program for years, and all three of their daughters also participated. The Stensons wanted to bring those experiences to kids in the Wibaux area, using the ranch as a backdrop.
“The goal of the day is to provide youth and their families a chance to unplug and learn a little more about the eastern Montana ecosystem and some of the many opportunities to recreate in it. Participants also learn how agriculture contributes to healthy wildlife habitat,” Adele said.
Activities were geared to people of all levels of expertise. Stations highlighted the unique badlands environment of beautiful eastern Montana, and a conservation message was woven throughout the day.
“For the Stensons to take it upon themselves to put together an educational and fun youth event and hold it on their ranch says a lot about the family,” said Travis Muscha of Miles City, who brought his son, Caden. “I enjoyed the entire day and learned a lot, too. Caden enjoyed it all but said his favorites were the BB guns and the 3-D archery range. Then to top it all off, Stensons invited everyone to their home and provided a great meal to end the day. Top notch.”
Muscha said his son went home and spent much of the next day shooting with his bow.
“I was just very impressed with the day and the partnerships as a whole,” Muscha said. “It was a fun and educational day on a beautiful ranch in Southeastern Montana; you can’t beat that.”
The Stensons reached out to people they knew with expertise in wildlife and/or shooting sports, and those people reached out to others, and over the course of a few months all of the pieces fell into place.
“Since we completed a conservation easement with Fish, Wildlife and Parks, our family felt like an event such as this was a natural fit for us,” Adele said.
Although Adele was the ring leader, the whole family chipped in to help. Her mother was even called into service when high winds prevented cooking the “campfire supper” over a fire, and food for 45 people had to be shifted into ovens at the last minute.
The day was very windy, sometimes rainy and cool, but families still came from Wibaux, Glendive and Miles City to participate. Youths were able to shoot BB guns at targets mounted inside the Mule Deer Foundation trailer and see their targets reeled back out to them for inspection. Montana Mule Deer Foundation volunteers came from Glendive, Baker, Three Forks and Florence to share their experience with participants. The kids honed their archery skills with 4-H shooting instructor Katrina Johnson by shooting paper targets and then negotiating a 3-D archery course along a trail through the brush and buttes. Also assisting with archery were longtime 4-H shooting sports member Garrett Johnson, former 4-Hers Naccona Birnell and Skylar Stenson, and FWP Game Warden Zach Phillips.
Kids shadowed FWP Nongame Biologist Brandi Skone in using radio antennae to pick up signals sent by collars previously used to monitor elusive swift foxes. They also learned how to identify wildlife tracks and made their own plaster track molds with FWP’s Marla Prell. Heather Nenninger, a range and wildlife conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Forsyth, brought her western hog-nosed snake and milk snake so the kids could learn about snakes hands on. Nenninger also discussed prairie plants.
Wibaux Extension Agent Danielle Harper and volunteer Dave Bertelsen led participants in assembling four different Dutch oven desserts, which they later enjoyed after their supper of grilled hot dogs and campfire potatoes and mac and cheese.
There was no participation fee for the event, which was funded through donations. CHS Farmers Elevator in Glendive donated the groceries for supper. Besides the many prizes provided by participating organizations and individuals, Ranch and Farm in Glendive and the Montana Wildlife Federation contributed door prizes.
The Stensons were thrilled with the positive attitudes of the participants – even when the weather was fairly miserable – and with the support of the parents and the enthusiasm and willingness of volunteers. They would like to offer the event again, providing outdoor opportunities to more families while keeping it small enough to focus on individual skill building. It also provides an opportunity to let participants know about the hunting and hiking opportunities on the ranch and how to acquire permission if they choose to do so, plus it’s a good chance for young sportsmen and women to see how agriculture contributes to wildlife and healthy habitat.
“We’re already planning how to make the next event even better,” Adele said.
(via MT FWP)