Meeting the Visionaries Face-to-Face
By Bob Speirs, RMEF Volunteer and Member-Outfitter
I’ve had Charlie Decker and Bob Munson’s picture hanging on the wall of my den for the last six years. I feel like I know them, though until March 29, 2014, we had never met.
In the painting, the Visionaries by Larry Zabel, Charlie is leaning with a knife over a fallen bull elk and Bob has his eye on another herd far across one of those beautiful high-mountain Montana valleys that you can only reach by horseback. There is a handsome mule ground-tied and standing patiently in the background. She steals the show from the hunters and the elk in a manner that only those of us who love a good saddle mule can truly appreciate.
I suppose I enjoy the print most because of that mule. Or perhaps it is the setting and the mood of camaraderie shown on the faces of the hunters that all remind me of why I hunt. Then again there is the hypnotic beauty of northern Montana where my daughter Maggie was born. She and I shared our first hunts together there near Kalispell, as she quietly stared out in awe from her baby carrier through long walks in those forests.
I’ve donated a hunt to the RMEF’s Denver Mile High Chapter for seven years now, and when I heard that Charlie and Bob would be attending Denver's 17th annual banquet, I decided to take my print. They, along with Dan Bull and Bill Munson, founded the RMEF back in 1984. It is amazing what the organization has accomplished over the last 30 years, and I hoped I could persuade Charlie and Bob to sign the work of art they had inspired.
At the banquet, RMEF president and CEO David Allen shared a few stories about the struggles associated with founding an organization entirely on the backs and bank accounts of four individuals. They pooled their savings and mortgaged their houses and businesses for that first mailing of 43,000 brochures. It garnered them only 233 initial members. When the first copy of Bugle magazine came out, the quality was so low that they doubted anyone would ever buy it. At Saturday’s banquet, I saw a single signed copy of that initial magazine sell for over $300.
The most inspiring story is the scope of RMEF’s success. The organization has enhanced or protected from development over a square mile of wildlife habitat every single day over the last 30 years. Thousands of volunteers have been inspired by the idea that we all might be able to leave something better for our children and grandchildren. In my home state of South Dakota alone, RMEF and its partners have completed 215 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects with a combined value of more than $35.2 million that opened or secured public access to 11,472 acres.
This year’s Northern Hills Chapter banquet in my hometown of Spearfish was the first I’ve missed in over 20 years, but three of my children were there and volunteered in my absence. My father was once a volunteer. So many grandfathers have been inspired by the RMEF’s vision that it is now common for the grandchildren of members to receive a life membership as one of their first birthday gifts.
As Charlie and Bob took time to sign the back of my painting, I was struck by the appreciation I had heard them express that evening to the more than 700 people who attended the auction and dinner in Denver. They may have gotten the dream rolling, but they are humble enough to know that the RMEF’s momentum over the past three decades is a direct result of the thousands of members and volunteers who have committed time, effort and money to ensuring wildlife, wild country and hunters have a brighter future.