Sunday, October 24, 2021
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Making sense of FWP hunt proposals

| October 7, 2021 12:00 AM

Wow, fall is finally here!

One of the great aspects of early fall is that we can still do most of our full range of summer outdoor activities, plus now we have the additional fall activity of hunting.

Some hunting seasons have been open for more than a month, but October ushers in the primary rifle hunting seasons for antelope, deer and elk.

Rifle season opens for general antelope hunting in just two days, Saturday, Oct. 9. Today and tomorrow the eastbound traffic on U.S. 2 will pick substantially as hundreds, perhaps thousands of hunters from Northwest Montana head to the prairie country of Eastern Montana to hunt antelope.

For the many retirees of Northwest Montana, today will be the day to drive to their antelope hunting districts and set up camp.

Tomorrow, the day before antelope season opens, will be a “scouting day” trying to locate antelope, especially big bucks. Lots of hunting stories will be told and retold about the hunts of previous years.

For those hunters still working, Friday night will be their time to drive to their hunting districts. They will set up their camps in the dark. But the excitement of the hunt the next day will make it worthwhile.

Since general antelope season lasts about a month and overlaps a couple of weeks into deer season, many antelope hunters will wait two weeks until they can combine an Eastern Montana trip for both deer and antelope.

While there is some great deer and elk hunting in Western Montana, the open plains of Eastern Montana gets into a hunter’s blood.

One of the big advantages of hunting in Eastern Montana prairies is the lack of tree cover. So, most hunters will see more game in a day on the prairies than a week of hunting in the densely forested mountains of Western Montana.

Anyway, the glory days of 2021 hunting are just beginning.

If you have some extra time, you may want to visit the FWP website and comment on Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park’s proposal to shorten and change hunting regulations.

To say that Montana hunting regulations are complicated would be a gross understatement. So, FWP’s goal of simplifying hunting regulations is a very worthwhile goal. I wish them well.

But saying you want less complex hunting regulations can be a two-edge sword. Can you really shorten hunting regulations without reducing hunting opportunity?

My review of FWP’s draft proposals to streamline hunting regulations indicates the streamlining will mostly be accomplished by combining hunting districts.

Smaller hunting districts generally allow wildlife managers to fine-tune game harvests to fit local hunting pressure, habitat and game numbers. When several hunting districts are combined, frequently the most restrictive hunting regulations for one of the smaller hunting districts will now cover all the new larger hunting district.

This will reduce hunting and harvest opportunities. My review of some of the new hunting district proposals includes a comment by FWP that says, “Some loss of hunting opportunity would result.”

One example of the proposal for simplifying hunting regulations is to eliminate Deer Permit 130-50 in the Swan Valley. This permit is for antlered mule deer bucks in the Mission Mountain Wilderness portion of the Swan Valley.

One example of combining hunting districts would be to combine HD-102 and HD-103. HD-102 are the mountains northwest of the Flathead Valley or the Tally Lake Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest.

HD-103 is the East Fisher-Pleasant Valley area, west of HD-102, and extending west to Libby. My knowledge of these two hunting districts is that they have similar terrain, habitat types, weather and landownership patterns open to hunting.

It seems logical to combine these two adjacent hunting districts. But the current hunting regulations for each of these two districts are a little different. The current HD-103 hunting district allows the issuance of 25 cow elk tags for rifle hunters, while the current HD-102 allows only the issuance of 5 cow tags for rifle hunters.

Will the combined new HD allow 30 cow tags or 25 or 5? Don’t know. If HD-102 could only sustain the issuance of 5 cow tags in the past, what will be the impact of harvesting more cow elk due to the much larger number of cow elk tags in the combined hunting district, many of which could be harvested in the old HD-102?

If my preceding discussion and analysis seems confusing, I agree. The more I study the hunting regulations, both current and proposed, the more questions are raised.

I encourage you to venture into commenting on the proposed streamlining of the hunting regulations. Just go to FWP’s web site and look for the Comments part of their website.

I have been on the Comments portion of the FWP website several times in the past few days, but continued to have trouble navigating my way back for a second or third look.

Perhaps the only thing more complicated than the hunting regulations is FWP’s website.

Good luck and happy hunting.