Sunday, March 26, 2023

Early fall hunting, fishing awaits

by Warren Illi
| August 25, 2022 12:05 AM

For the outdoor person or family, the coming weeks will offer many more outdoor recreation opportunities as the summer season winds down and we move into early fall hunting. Some weekends you can combine fishing, hunting, hiking and camping. Wow!

Most of our lakes are open to year-long fishing. So, fishing doesn’t change with the approaching fall season. If you like to hike to a backcountry lake to cast your lure for a feisty rainbow, brook or cutthroat trout, you can now add a .22 pistol to your belt and perhaps find a grouse or two pecking for gravel on the trail. So, you may come home with both a grouse meal and fish meal in your day pack.

In the past, one of my favorite early fall activities was to hunt for mountain goats. Our goat hunting camps were almost always on a small mountain lake. Several times I’ve come home with no goat meat or trophy, but some mountain grouse in my pack. So, I always packed a .22 pistol while hunting for mountain goats. The same for archery hunting in September for deer and elk, why not carry a .22 pistol as a grouse gun.

September first is the opening day for the mountain grouse hunting season in Western Montana. In September, virtually every open logging road gets driven by hunters looking for grouse that love to pick fine gravel for their gizzards on logging roads. In the early fall, if you see one grouse, your will likely see a family of grouse, so getting multiple birds at one time is possible.

Other early season hunting in Western Montana include archery hunting for deer and elk which opens on September 3rd this year. More than once, I’ve been archery hunting for elk in the fall when I ran into a covey of grouse and bagged a grouse with a stone. Sometimes grouse are really spooky and flush wildly ahead of you. But some grouse species such as Franklin Grouse are not usually very wary and will let you approach within stone throwing range. Now that I think of it, I really don’t know if stones are a legal means for killing grouse! The current hunting regulations say that archery equipment, shotguns and rifles are a legal means to take grouse in Western Montana and all other means are illegal. So perhaps killing a grouse with a stone was not legal. Guess I may have sinned!

Montana grouse hunting regulations differ slightly between Western Montana, west of the Continental Divide and Eastern Montana, east of the divide. You can legally shoot grouse in Western Montana with a rifle, but not in Eastern Montana. You need to always check the game regulations for the area you are hunting. Montana hunting regulations booklets should be a standard item in your truck every fall.

Hunters should also always carry a copy of the Montana’s Hunting Access Guide in your vehicle. This guide is available on-line or you can pick up a hard copy at FWP offices and many license vendors. There are two access guides, one for big game and another guide for upland birds. Sometimes we sportsman have been known to be critical of FWP decisions or operations. But one thing FWP does first-class is providing good information about private lands open for public hunting. The hunting access guides include good smaller scale-colored maps which show private land open to public hunting. Once you have selected the general area you want to hunt, larger scale maps are available on-line or at sign-in boxes located on major roads as you enter private land. Some landowners ask that you sign in with them prior to hunting and some landowners ask you to just register at the sign-in box as you enter their property.

This FWP program is known as “block management.” It is a great program that opens over seven million acres of private land for public hunting.

Hunting on private forest land, usually corporate timber land in Western Montana, is a little more complicated because of the extensive acreage of these corporate ownerships and how they are intermixed with state and federal lands. Essentially, all are open to hunting, but some have different rules with respect to camping, firewood gathering, motor vehicle use and other recreational activities. So, it is important to know where you are. I, like most other hunters, have the OnX Hunt ap on my cellphone. That ap will tell you exactly where are at on a topographic map, satellite map or land ownership map. This ap works even if you are out of cell phone coverage, if you pre-loaded the map where you intend to hunt. This is a worldclass ap for outdoor people.

So, get out there and enjoy the great Flathead Outdoors as summer winds down and we get into hunting season.

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