Three things are guaranteed in Montana: Death, taxes and game damage hunts in the winter. And not always in that order.
The current cold and snowy weather has ranchers concerned and hunters eager. In tough winter conditions mostly deer, but elk, too, often head en masse to the nearest haystack for a bite to eat.
Game damage hunts are not the same as Montana’s elk shoulder seasons, which attempt to ease a statewide elk problem.
Nor are game damage hunts the first step Fish, Wildlife and Parks takes to help a landowner to alleviate a wildlife issue. In anticipation of deer and elk paying a visit to a haystack, FWP often provides stack-yard fencing material, offers scare tactics and may even issue a kill permit for a landowner to remove a couple of animals.
Game damage hunts are about the next steps employed when fencing and such are not adequate due to the severity of the weather and the number of animals moving in.
Where 8 to 12 inches of snow may force deer to move, elk are much bigger and not threatened by a little snow. Elk move because of deep and crusted snow and bitter cold.
Guess what? Most of those conditions are on the ground now in north central Montana.
State law requires FWP to respond within 48 hours to all game damage complaints. The complaint starts locally with the landowner contacting the area biologist or game warden.
A landowner may be eligible for game damage assistance if he, or she, allowed the public to hunt during established hunting seasons or at least did not significantly restrict public hunting.
Public hunting must have been allowed during the five-week general season in October and November to aid in managing area game populations efficiently.
And those landowner-imposed restrictions? They could include: the species or sex of animals that hunters were allowed to hunt; what portion of the land was open to hunting; the time period the land was open to hunting; whether fees were charged; and any other restrictions that rendered harvestable animals inaccessible.
If the landowner complaint is deemed acceptable by the local warden and wildlife biologist, and is approved up the chain of command, a hunt can take several different paths. Here’s a rundown:
- Supplemental Game Damage License Hunt – In this hunt, the target is to remove a few, maybe a dozen, animals, antlerless only and the landowner gets to pick from 75 to 100 percent of the hunters. It’s all about a quick, localized action.
- Game Damage Hunt – Here the goal is to remove more animals, say a dozen up to 100. Still, it’s typically a single landowner who has the problem. The animals are usually antlerless, and the landowner can pick up to 25 percent of the hunters.
- Management Season Hunt – This happens when multiple adjacent landowners have a problem, though the hunt area is treated as one big unit. Each landowner can pick up to 25 percent of the hunters. And the land involved can be private and public.
Whereas the first hunt is about a quick reaction, allowing the landowner to select most of the hunters, the last two hunts are bigger and allow the public to take a greater role.
More information is available on the FWP website: http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/landowners/
Hunters who want a chance to be randomly selected for such hunts must sign up each year on the FWP website from June 15 to July 15, to pick a hunting district and species. Hunters selected are notified by mail.
That’s all there is to it.
So, hunters all: pay your taxes, worry about the Great Beyond and wait by the mailbox. Definitely, in that order.
Source: FWP, Bruce Auchly