Outdoors

Hunting Season is Here

Hunting season prospects, tips for safety and reminders

A new hunting season has arrived in Montana.

The arrival of autumn marks the beginning of big game hunting season, a beloved time of year for the thousands of Montana residents who partake in the tradition.

Montana boasts one of the longest hunting seasons in the U.S. This corner of the state has the second largest tract of public land — 6.2 million acres — and hosts a diverse suite of free-ranging wildlife, including deer, elk, bears, wolves and mountain lions.

Wildfires burning across the state are casting a pall over the new season and likely won’t fully disperse until snow falls.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say the hunting season will open as planned, starting with archery-only this week. Montana’s archery-only hunting season for deer, elk, antelope, black bear, wolf and mountain lion began Sept. 2. Most upland game birds seasons opened Sept. 1. The bighorn sheep archery season began Sept. 2. The general big game season is Oct. 21-No. 26.

Several counties have implemented fire restrictions prohibiting campfires, and hunters should be keenly aware of the locations where they plan to hunt.

About 5,000 Montana archery hunters can head afield beginning Aug. 15 with their 900 series antelope hunting licenses.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks urges hunters to check in with the regional FWP offices or online about potential closures before making final plans.

“Hunters have a big responsibility to be fire conscious,” said Andrea Jones, spokeswoman for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Helena. “It is a matter of human safety and protecting private property and the resources of Montana.”

Last year, Northwest Montana enjoyed a relatively solid season despite mild conditions. At the six regional check stations, a total of 17,656 hunters checked 1,494 whitetail deer, including 1,069 bucks, according to the FWP. There were also 146 mule deer and 72 elk for a total success rate of 9.7 percent. That was slightly higher than the 8.2 percent of hunters with game the previous year. The number of hunters reported at local check stations was down 4 percent.

Once again, the U.S. Highway 2 check station reported checking the most whitetail deer with 591. The Olney station ranked second with 347, followed by the Swan station with 219. The North Fork station had 16 fewer whitetail deer with 45, compared to 61 the previous year.

Hunters who haven’t already asked permission from private landowners to hunt need to do so as soon as possible. Montana law requires hunters to obtain permission for all hunting on private land. Whether pursuing upland game birds, coyotes, gophers or any other wildlife, hunters must have permission from the landowner before hunting on private property.

Landowners may grant permission in person, over the phone, in writing or by posting signs that explain what type of hunting is allowed and under what conditions hunting may occur on land owned or controlled by the landowner.

2017 Northwest Montana Outlook

In the northwestern corner of Montana, the story for 2017’s hunting season really started last winter with deep snowfall across much of the region.

The snowpack in some areas was exceptional, making for low survival rates in some areas for elk calves and deer fawns.

For elk, calf recruitment was lower than in previous years, so the number of antlerless licenses was reduced for the 2017 season. However, the impact of the hard winter didn’t seem to be as dramatic as initially thought. Bull and cow ratios across the region remain stable.

Northwest Montana is unique whitetail deer country. While most of the state is dominated by mule deer, that’s not the case up here. Whitetail deer can be found from river bottoms and agriculture land to evergreen forests and high country.

However, fawn recruitment was impacted by the winter. That’s the bad news. The good news is that adult survival was good, and if we see a normal winter this year, hunters won’t notice a dip in deer numbers.

Whitetail deer numbers were most impacted in the North Fork Flathead River.

Mule deer counts in the region remain at about their long-term average.

— Greg Lemon, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Upland Bird Numbers Appear Good

Just the thought of wings exploding into flight across the prairie or through the pine forests is enough to get the average upland game bird hunter’s heart racing.

And fortunately, from end to end, corner to corner, Montana has upland bird opportunities for the casual to the die-hard hunter.

Upland season starts Sept. 1 with mountain, sage and sharptail grouse along with partridge. Pheasant hunting starts Oct. 7. All seasons end Jan. 1, except sage grouse, which ends Sept. 30.

It has been extremely dry in most of Montana this summer, particularly in the northern part of the state in Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 6. Although conditions were pretty good earlier for nesting and hatching, the effect of the drought on insect and forb production, important foods for young birds, is unknown at this time, but could lead to poor survival of birds hatched this spring.

— Greg Lemon, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Block Management Program

For the 2017 hunting season, over 1,300 cooperators have enrolled about 7.3 million acres in Montana’s Block Management Program.

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks program provides hunters with public hunting access on private and isolated public land, free of charge, while assisting landowners in managing hunter impacts.

FWP publishes one statewide Block Management Hunting Access Guide that includes information for all Type 1 and Type 2 Block Management Areas (BMAs) in all seven FWP administrative regions.

While many BMAs do not require reservations, some do. Hunters can use the Hunting Access Guide to determine how permission is obtained for specific BMAs.

Due to Montana’s extreme fire seasons and dry conditions, some BMAs are currently closed or restricted. With the dry conditions, hunters should be prepared for BMA restrictions until the extreme conditions subside. Landowners participating in the Block Management Program can restrict access for fire danger concerns as they feel necessary. For restrictions and closures, go online to www.fwp.mt.gov.

Additional tools to help hunters plan for hunts on Montana’s 93 million acres of private and public land can be found online at fwp.mt.gov. Click “Hunting” and then view options under “Hunter Access.”

— Greg Lemon, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Protect the Resources: Turn in Poachers

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks toll-free hotline for reporting wildlife poaching, property damage and violations of fish and game laws is in operation 24 hours a day.

Poaching includes:

— Hunting out of season or at night using spotlights

— Taking more than one’s legal limit

— Nonresidents who purchase resident licenses

— Professional and commercial poachers who illegally offer outfitter and guide services

If you witness a fish and game violation, or property vandalism, you can report the crime by calling 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668); or report a violation online at fwp.mt.gov and then click “Enforcement.” Callers will remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.

Prepare to See Bears

With Montana’s upland game bird season opening Sept. 1 — and the bow hunting season set to open Sept. 2 — remember that slow-moving, quiet or game-calling, scented and camouflaged hunters will soon be sharing the landscape with the state’s even stealthier bears that may be stalking similar prey.

It may not be an encounter one hopes for, but all hunters must be aware there is that potential. Grizzly bears are found throughout the western half of Montana, not just the Rocky Mountain Front, Bob Marshall Wilderness complex and the Yellowstone ecosystem.

The past few years, grizzly bears in central Montana have been venturing into country they haven’t been documented in for several decades. This includes the Sweetgrass Hills, Highwood Mountains and Big Belt Mountains. Bears can travel many miles a day in search of food or just looking for new range. That means as their population continues to grow, it is likely their range will continue to expand.

Given the uncertainty of where and when these dispersing bears might show up, hunters should:

— Carry bear spray, be prepared and know how to use it

— Hunt with a partner and let someone else know your plans

— Get harvested big game out of the woods quickly

— Upon returning to a site where harvested game is left unattended, study the site at a distance for any movement or changes and signal your approach by making plenty of noise

— Never attempt to frighten or haze a bear from a carcass

— Contact FWP if a bear has consumed a carcass or covered it with debris rendering it unsalvageable

For more on bears, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov and then click “Be Bear Aware.” Bear resistant products are described on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s website at www.igbconline.org. A “How to Hunt Safely in Grizzly Country” brochure is also available at FWP regional offices.

— Greg Lemon, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

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