Documentary on Durfees raising awareness of local sportsmen’s achievement

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

Doug Krings, left, and his daughter Emma were a large part of Elliott Woods’s documentary, “The Durfees,” about Central Montana Outdoors’ fight to “keep public lands in public hands.”

Photo courtesy of Elliott Woods

Persistence pays off.

That’s the theme of “The Durfees,” a new documentary by Elliot Woods.

Woods, a journalist based in Livingston, has traveled to Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico and all over the United States covering a wide variety of social, political and economic issues. His latest work – directed and filmed by Greg Cairns – takes place right here in Central Montana, where it sheds light on Central Montana Outdoors’ fight to keep 3,000 acres of prime elk hunting land in the Little Snowies out of private hands. This land, known as the Durfee Hills, was included in a land exchange Wilks Brothers LLC proposed to the Bureau of Land Management in 2015.

“Any baby on the sidewalk who has a lollipop is always at risk of having that lollipop taken away by a bigger kid,” the late Ron Moody says in the documentary, which premiered in Bozeman last spring. It made its Lewistown debut at the Elks Lodge in August.

Moody and others led a fight to “keep public lands in public hands.”

“We need to protect these lands,” Central Montana Outdoors co-founder Doug Krings said in the film. “There is nothing that compares to the Durfee Hills.”

Originally, Woods said he expected the documentary to be a 5-10 minute short about the effort to “save” the land, but it became much more.

After Woods and Cairns joined Doug and his daughter, Emma, on an elk-hunting expedition in October of 2015, they had more material than anticipated, and they found themselves mesmerized by the setting. Woods said the flight alone was inspirational.

“It’s an Alaska-style fly-in hunt that happens to be in Montana, and I think that’s pretty cool,” he said.

Such a flight is part of what makes the Durfees unique, Woods added.

“It’s a destination habitat,” he said, “which means that there is sufficient food, shelter and water for the elks to survive in large numbers year-round.

Early on, Woods understood why Doug has such an affinity for the Durfees, and he was honored to take part in Emma’s first “real-deal elk hunt,” which ended up being quite the adventure.

“The emotional intensity – of getting near an elk and busting it, then being very disappointed and physically tired, and then finding another group the next day and sneaking up to make the kill – all of that was very interesting and touching to witness between a father and a daughter,” Woods said. “It was an experience that could have happened on private land, but in this case it happened on public land and that makes it somehow more special. Emma wanted to kill her first elk in the Durfees specifically, so, if she hadn’t wanted to do that, we wouldn’t have been there.”

This was an unforgettable –albeit nerve-racking – experience for Emma, who was 12 at the time.

“It was kind of intimidating with all the cameras,” she said. “I got frustrated a lot and I felt a lot of pressure to get my elk.”

This is one reason she cried after shooting the elk.

“I felt pretty shocked when I saw the elk fall, knowing that I shot and killed it,” she said. “My dad helped me a lot, though. I couldn’t have done any of it if he wasn’t there.”

Despite the strange feeling she had being around the cameras, Emma said she had a lot of fun. It meant a great deal to her to kill her first elk there, largely because of her father.

“My dad had been talking about the Durfees and fighting for it, so I thought I’d do it there,” she said. “Plus I thought I’d be the ‘cool kid’ if I did it.”

Emma wasn’t the only “cool kid” to kill her first elk on that trip.

“I killed my first elk the day before Emma killed hers,” Woods said. “The meat was spectacular and the memories of the hunt are worth infinitely more than brow tines.”

This hunting trip changed – and shaped – the documentary, which Woods said is not a hunting film but “a film about civic engagement told through a hunting story.”

 

The people have spoken

Looking back on the experience and reflecting on the documentary, Doug can’t help but feel a sense of pride.

“We set our minds on something and saw it come to fruition,” he said. “It means a lot [Elliott] filmed and is using us as an example.”

The land exchange did not go through, and the Durfee Hills – which is only accessible by plane – remains a popular hunting spot for people who want to use it.

Woods said he admires Doug, Ron Moody and the other members other Central Montana Outdoors for their organization and persistence.

“They got involved, they got educated, they got strength in numbers and, most important, they stayed involved after the headlines faded,” Woods said. “Over the course of almost four years, they never dropped the ball. The power of their opposition was most clear to me when Al Nash at the BLM said something to the effect of ‘we’re not likely to consider any exchange of this sort when there’s a high probability of controversy.’”

According to Doug, he and his fellow Central Montana Outdoorsmen didn’t have a choice; they stood up for what they believed in.

“Democracy should decide what’s done with these lands,” Doug said. “It shouldn’t be about who has the most money.”

Moody, who passed away last summer, agreed with such sentiments and was proud to be part of a movement that helped keep public lands in public hands, as indicated in the film.

“In this case, we eventually came to an outcome in favor of the public hunters’ interest, so we’ll call it a victory,” he said in one of the closing scenes.

“The Durfees” – which is now available online at www.vimeo.com  – is dedicated to Moody.

 

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