Opening day, it's here at last
On this coming Saturday, before daylight, my wife and I will leave the comfort of our eastern Montana farm house and head to our favorite deer coulees to hunt deer.
Our 640-acre farm has plenty of deer, but we will start the deer hunting season by hunting the thousands of acres of nearby wild public land.
Over 100,000 other Montana hunters and non-resident hunters will enjoy Montana’s millions of acres of public land and private land open to public hunting this Saturday.
We will be hunting wild deer and elk, similar to what our ancestors have been doing for tens of thousands of years.
Our ancestors hunted wild food in order to eat and survive. We modern hunters hunt for the pure joy of pitting our hunting skills against native wildlife.
Putting some good tasting wild meat in the freezer is a bonus. We also hunt for the fun of exploring wild country with few, if any, of the overwhelming rules and regulations of modern urban American life.
As I wander across the prairie landscape, I generally move from vantage point to vantage point, then stop and look for game. Most of the time the landscape will appear to be vacant of deer, but more careful looking
and examination of landscape with my binoculars will reveal deer.
Hunting in Western Montana is similar, except the terrain is mountainous and the landscape forested. My prairie hunting environment has some deep coulees, some up to 300 feet deep.
But that is much easier terrain to hunt than mountain environments with thousands of feet of elevation change.
On opening morning, I will likely have several sightings of deer, mostly doe and fawn groups.
Some younger bucks will likely be seen hanging with the doe groups.
All these deer will be carefully examined with my 10 power binoculars. One bonus attraction of the morning hunt will be the usual spectacular prairie sunrise.
Every hour or so I will take a long break, pour a cup of hot coffee, chew on a snack, lean back and simply enjoy a morning of hunting on the wild Montana prairie.
I will likely not see another hunter all morning. I will have thousands of acres of public land for myself.
By noon I will have covered 3-4 miles, climbed up and down several hundred feet of elevation change and have seen a dozen or two deer. My wife will pick me up at
noon at a pre-selected spot for the drive back to the farm house for some lunch and a well-deserved nap.
Then in mid-afternoon, we will head out again, probably to bag a doe and begin building our winter meat supply.
Most of the big bucks will likely remain hidden in some remote niche in a coulee. Buck hunting will become much easier in about three weeks when the deer rut shifts into high gear.
Then, the normal shy mature bucks lose much of their normal wariness and will be roaming the open prairie looking for a pretty doe. This is what is known as the deer rut. That is when mature bucks become much easier for the hunter to find and harvest.
My opening weekend hunt will include a long-time friend, Todd, from Missoula and his teenage son. They are both experienced hunters. A newcomer to our hunting camp this year will be Todd’s brother and 12-year-old niece from California. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to hunting and the wild prairies of Eastern Montana.
If you are planning to go hunting this season, a must take-along reference is the 2021 Hunting Access Guide. Montana has over 30 million acres of National Forest land, State FWP land, State DNRC land and other federal land such as BLM land and National Wildlife Refuges open to hunting.
Each of these agencies publish maps showing their land ownership and explaining any of their special land use rules.
But the 2021 Hunting Access Guide I had in mind is primarily for FWP’s Block Management program. This very successful FWP program opens over seven million acres of private land for public hunting. This guide is available free from any FWP office and perhaps some hunting license vendors.
The guide has numerous maps that direct hunters to
these private lands open for hunting. This guide is especially valuable if you are heading east of the mountains.
Also, this guide shows the pattern of corporate timber land in Western Montana open for hunting. Hunting this corporate timber land was easier when there were only two major timber land owners, Plum Creek, and Stoltze Land and Lumber.
But the former Plum Creek lands are now owned by Flathead Ridge Ranch, Green Diamond Resource Company, Southern Pine Plantation, MKH Montana and Stimson Lumber Company.
Most of these company lands are open to public hunting, but there are some minor use differences between these timber owners, so read the access guide.
Continued public access to these private timber lands is crucial to continuing the historic free public access for hunting these vast timber ownerships.
Respect all private lands to better ensure their continued availability for public hunting. Most corporate timber land in other states are leased for hunting with some private timber land owners requiring a hunting permit that can cost several hundred dollars.
We, in Montana, are lucky to have free access.
So, get out there and enjoy Montana’s rich diversity of wild outdoor landscapes while preserving one of mankind’s oldest traditions, hunting.