Bills Intended to Strengthen Montana Hunting

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The 2009 Montana Legislature wants people to go hunting.

A dozen or so bills passed during the Legislature’s 3 1/2-month session make it easier to go afield for a sport that has been in decline nationally, but appears to be holding its own in Montana. For the most part, the bills broaden the licensure of hunting or lift administrative barriers.

“Accommodating some additional folks” is how Ron Aasheim of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks sums up the measures.

They include one written for people who have Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities, can understand the content of a hunter education course required of license applicants born after Jan. 1, 1985, but cannot pass the written exam. The new law, effective in 2010 and similar to one in Minnesota, allows the disabled person to seek a provisional hunter education certificate, which may be presented when requesting the license. Hunting must be with a parent or other designated person.

Other bills include mechanisms to ease the licensing of students who come to Montana for college; to let chiropractors certify people as disabled so they may get permits to hunt from cars; and to guarantee that military personnel who forfeit hunting licenses or permits because of deployment will get that license or permit upon returning to Montana.

Legislation dubbed “Come Home to Hunt” encourages hunting by Montana expatriates who visit the state to see their relatives.

Nationally, the number of hunters 16 and older fell to 12.5 million in 2006, down 10 percent from 1996, according to Census Bureau surveys conducted for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But the surveys found that in Montana there were 197,000 resident and nonresident hunters 16 and older in 2006, compared to 194,000 in 1996. The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks says its numbers, based on automated licensing established in 2002, indicate a stronger margin; they cover hunters between the ages of 12 and 16, as well as those older. In 2007, resident hunters alone totaled 193,500, and there were 47,000 from out of state, said the agency’s Aasheim.

The National Wildlife Federation says influences in the U.S. decline of hunting include growing competition for the time of young people, whose diversions may include video games, team sports, music lessons and an array of other activities.

The stability of hunting in Montana is tied to the state’s rural character and the hunting opportunities it provides, plus the significance of hunting in Montana cultures and traditions, said Chris Smith, deputy director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

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