Commission Seeks Comment on Tentative Hunting Regulations

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The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission is seeking public comment on tentative 2004 big game hunting seasons and regulations, upland game bird seasons and 2004 and 2005 black bear and spring turkey hunting seasons and quotas.

According to wildlife managers, this year's proposed changes are aimed at offering more hunting opportunities during these times of abundant game populations. Across the state, proposals include more opportunities to hunt antlerless elk and deer, and doe/fawn antelope. Also, new youth hunts for deer and wild turkeys are proposed in several areas and the general season for most upland game birds would extend an additional two weeks through December.

The commission is also seeking comment on proposals to create a hunting-season extension policy and to open the general big game hunting season on Saturday, instead of Sunday.

Comments may be made by attending one of the regional public meetings scheduled around the state, or by submitting written comments to the Wildlife Division, Montana FWP, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701 Written comments on the tentative regulations will be accepted through Jan. 26, 2004.

Here is a brief summary of some regulation changes tentatively adopted by the Commission:

Elk

* To address the equitable distribution of special elk hunting opportunities, hunters who obtain a special elk permit in one of more than 40 hunting districts where fewer than 25 percent of the applicants draw a permit would have to wait five years before applying for a similar permit. The hunting districts are located in FWP Regions 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

* To keep elk populations in line with the state's elk plan objectives in parts of western and southwestern Montana, the first eight days of the five-week-long general elk-hunting season would also be open to antlerless-elk hunting in about 30 hunting districts. The hunting districts, which are generally in secure elk habitats, are located in FWP Regions 1, 2, and 3.

* To reduce elk in portions of southwestern Montana where populations are above elk plan objectives, the first eight days, and the last nine days, of the five-week-long general elk-hunting season would be open to antlerless-elk hunting in 10 FWP Region 3 hunting districts. Each of the hunting districts is generally in secure elk habitats.

* To increase the elk harvest in targeted areas, especially on private lands, without increasing the number of hunters, a new state law gives the Montana FWP Commission authority to issue a second elk license for antlerless-elk to some hunters who receive an elk permit through the special drawings. The law also allows for some permits to be sold over-the-counter. Most of these additional antlerless-elk hunting licenses would be available in FWP Region 3 and portions of Regions 2 and 4 via the special drawings. In addition, some permits would be sold over-the-counter.

* To reduce expanding elk populations in portions of eastern Montana, additional antlerless-elk, or either-sex elk, hunting opportunities would be offered in portions of eastern Montana’s Region 5 and in hunting district 703 near Glendive.

* To provide additional opportunities to harvest a brow-tined bull elk with a general elk-hunting license, a new hunting district—HD338--would be created from the northern portion of HD339 near Wolf Creek. Regulations currently allow general season spike-bull hunting, with either-sex permits offered through the special drawing. Deer

* In western Montana's Regions 1 and 2, young hunters, ages 12-14, would be offered additional opportunities to hunt antlerless white-tailed deer throughout the season. In addition, Region 1 would open the final four days of the general hunting season to either-sex whitetail hunting.

Antelope

* To reduce rapidly expanding antelope herds, up to two additional doe/fawn licenses would be offered during the Archery-only season in FWP Regions 5, 6, and 7.

* To increase archery-hunting opportunities, the commission is requesting comment on a Montana Bowhunters Association proposal that the multi-region 900 series Archery-only season open on Aug. 15 and close on the same day as the general archery season for deer, elk and antelope.

Bighorn Sheep

* To allow hunting through the sheep rut, the season in western Montana's HD123 near Libby would close Nov. 28 instead of Nov. 15; and the season in HD216 along Rock Creek southwest of Missoula would close on Nov. 15 instead of Oct. 31.

* In response to a new herd of more than 70 bighorn sheep, a new hunting district would be established south of Drummond. The area would become HD212.

Upland Game Birds

* To provide holiday-season hunting opportunities, the pheasant, Hungarian partridge, and sharp tailed grouse seasons would end Jan. 1 instead of Dec. 15.

*In response to growing wild turkey populations in the Flathead Valley, over-the-counter, either-sex hunting licenses would be available.

* To increase young hunter participation, special wild turkey hunting opportunities are proposed for the spring in Ravalli County; and in the spring and the fall in Park County.

* In response to growing wild turkey populations, a new turkey hunting area is proposed in Park County with a quota of 20 male turkeys in the spring, and 30 either-sex turkeys in the fall.

Copies of the tentative regulations will be available the first week of January at all FWP offices or by writing to the FWP Wildlife Division, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.