Montana Hunter Harvest Survey Going High-Tech

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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' annual hunter harvest survey, underway now, is going high-tech and that is a good thing for hunters, the survey interviewers, and the wildlife managers who need this data to track trends and propose future hunting season quotas.

In the past, the state's big game harvest was estimated on the basis of local calls that more than 80 interviewers made from their homes. They recorded hunters' responses by hand on the survey forms and mailed batches of completed surveys to FWP in Bozeman to be entered into a database.

FWP has overhauled the survey process in the past two years. Now, about 40 seasonal FWP employees in computerized call centers in Bozeman and Helena fill out electronic surveys with harvest statistics supplied by the resident and nonresident hunters who are contacted by cell phone.

The front end of the application that appears on the computer screen is designed to make the interview process a pleasant experience for the hunter and easy for the interviewer to follow and complete.

This year, the survey team will complete about 900,000 species-specific surveys and collect data from about 183,000 hunters. So far, about 705 hours have been spent talking to hunters, and about 116,326 surveys completed.

Roger Bacon, an FWP survey interviewer in Helena, said the computer system is even quicker this year than last. Now the toughest work is identifying the location of the harvest, he said.

"They might have hunted in September, while we call in January or February. Last year's calendar has been tossed, and some folks can only remember the general direction they took out of a small town," Bacon said.

Bacon said experienced hunters were more likely to be able to pinpoint where they harvested game.

"All hunters need to be informed that where they harvest their game is very important in the process of setting next year's quotas," he said. "It is worth writing down the district for every game animal taken."

Other interviewers said they like the new system because it is simple to use and allows them to have a conversation with the hunter. If the hunter isn't home, the interviewer leaves a message and the computer places that survey back in line so the hunter can be called later.

Bacon said that nonresident hunters sometimes don't believe a real person is calling them about their Montana hunt.

"That personal touch surprises people, they really appreciate it," he said.

Hunter's be warned—this is a random survey. Though you may have drawn the tag of a lifetime and harvested the biggest bull elk of your career, the computer randomly selects hunters to be interviewed for a certain type of tag. You may be asked about your antelope hunt but not be among the hunters interviewed for the elk harvest.

Nonetheless, you are virtually assured that your interviewer will be delighted to know that you had a great elk hunt.

With about 25 percent of the necessary surveys completed, call center managers anticipate that the hunter harvest survey will be finished in late April or early May.