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Badluck Way

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Badluck Way includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


    After some postgraduate wandering, Bryce Andrews fondly recalled his boyhood and teenage summers spent on a Montana ranch where he would proudly “work for nothing, or next to nothing, finding recompense in the little calluses on my palms.” Those memories inspired him to apply for a seasonal job on a sprawling Montana ranch near Yellowstone National Park—a conservation-minded spread where livestock grazed beside a vast and seldom-traveled wilderness. Soon, Bryce’s days are filled with the physical demands of managing hundreds of cattle upon thousands of acres. At the margin of his busy, pastoral world, a pack of wolves trots through the foothills and high valleys of the Madison Range. Once on the brink of extinction, the American gray wolf’s numbers surged back in recent years, bringing relief to environmentalists and others passionate about wild creatures. For ranchers like Bryce and his colleagues on the Sun Ranch, the wolves present a much more complex set of issues. Though the ranch abounds with elk, deer, and other wild game, the wolves begin stalking the herds and regularly killing heifers. The ranch crew struggles to protect their stock and livelihood, sleeping in pastures and using noisemaker shotgun shells to deter the wolves. When nothing seems to work and the ranch hands shoulder their rifles in earnest, Bryce’s life veers into a moral gray area as he considers the necessity of striking back at the wolves while respecting their natural inclinations as predators. Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West is a memoir of a young man firmly entrenched in many of the environmental issues facing our wilderness areas and consciences, all of it set against the biologically diverse, occasionally violent modern American West.  

    Topics & Questions for Discussion 

    1. What was your reaction to learning that you would be reading a book about the ranching lifestyle in remote Montana? Are you at all familiar with that region of the country?
    2. Before heading to Montana, Bryce suffers from a case of wanderlust, traveling through the United States and Mexico by train. Was there a point in your life where you felt similarly? Did this period lead you to any major decisions or revelations?
    3. What do you think of the efforts and use of technology to prevent the wolves from attacking the herd? Are those efforts thoughtful and commendable, in spite of the fact that they fail to prevent conflict and violence? Can you suggest any new measures or strategies?
    4. Consider Bryce and his colleagues’ daily duties as well as some of the atypical projects. Could you keep up with the Sun Ranch staff? What tasks do you think you could carry out, and maybe even enjoy?
    5. Later in the book, Bryce and another Sun Ranch employee take a paying client on an elk hunt. How do you feel about that hunter’s interaction with his quarry and the land? Is such hunting ethical? Why or why not? Contrast that hunt with the hunting Bryce engages in as well as your own definition of hunting.
    6. Animals such as wolves and grizzlies were protected by the 1973 Endangered Species Act, although wolves as of this writing have been delisted. As a result of the protection afforded by the 1973 act, their populations have regrown. What do you think about the debate over overhauling the act? Consider this article from the Denver Post, and others like it.
    7. Many of the core principles at Sun Ranch concern sustainability, but ultimately the ranch itself is not financially sustainable. What was your reaction to Roger’s three-point plan and his statement that “A place like this can’t survive by breaking even on cows” (p. 131)? Are you familiar with any places that operate on a similar plan, one involving ranching/farming, ecotourism, and real estate?
    8. How do you feel about the decision to get two kill permits for the wolves (p. 167)? Was this necessary to save the herd?
    9. Part of working the ranch is protecting the herd and, if warranted, killing a predator that threatens it. Was it surprising to see Bryce feeling remorseful after he shoots the wolf? Did he have any alternative? Is it a feeling that might abate over time as he gets more accustomed to protecting a herd and ranch life?
    10. Ranchers/farmers sharing the land with predators is a conflict as old as time. As resources and wilderness become scarcer, the conflict intensifies. Do you think there is any chance that common ground can be reached?
    11. In the book and later interviews, Bryce asserts that wolves and cattle can share space, though the balance is sometimes a bloody one. He contends that wild creatures and livestock share a common dependence on open, ecologically intact landscapes, and that irresponsible development is one of the great and pressing threats to the American West. How do you feel about this statement? Have you watched the land around your hometown change? Should we take action to forestall the development of our wild and fertile places? If so, how?
    12. In the Epilogue we learn that Bryce earns a master’s degree in Environmental Studies and continues to manage ranches. Some further research reveals that he is working on a spread contaminated from mining waste as well as starting a ranching program with the University of Montana. Did you envision Bryce becoming a career rancher?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Visit a conservation site in your area––solo or as a group––and learn about local efforts to protect and preserve the land. Speak with a naturalist or ranger, walk the trails, and note any flora and fauna unique to the area. Take careful note of the ecosystem around you and how all the elements––landscape, animals, humans––interact and impact one another. Compare and contrast them with the methods employed at Sun Ranch. Although it’s unlikely your destination will be as vast as Sun Ranch, some of the conservation principles may be very similar.
    2. The vivid, immersive descriptions of Sun Ranch and the rugged yet picturesque Montana landscape are just one of the strengths of Badluck Way. Find a favorite outdoor place or remember one from your past and write a paragraph or two about it to share with the group. Provide a sensory experience of your place: its sights, its smells, its climate, its meaning to you. If you like, mark a passage from the book to share with the group in conjunction with your own work. Even better, share a photo of your place.
    3. A quick Internet search of “Endangered Species Act repeal” brings back a variety of opinions. Review some and, along with what you have learned from Badluck Way, craft an opinion in defense of the Act or arguing for its overhaul or outright repeal. Please be respectful of other people’s positions.

More Books From This Author

The Lives of Others: Discover the Hidden Lives of Some of Our Favorite Atria Authors

Socrates boldly proclaimed “the unexamined life is not worth living.” At Atria, we think that the examined life is worth sharing. With that in mind, we present The Lives of Others, a free collection of excerpts from some inspiring memoirs by Atria’s award-winning authors.

Selections include:

Badluck Way by Bryce Andrews
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About the Author

Bryce Andrews
Photograph by Bob Howell on B Bar Ranch

Bryce Andrews

Bryce Andrews was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He studied at Whitman College and the University of Montana, and has managed several cattle ranches in the West. He lives in Montana.