Hunters hoping to set their sights on sandhill cranes in the Central Flyway portion of Montana this fall should note that this year they must enter a drawing for permits if they wish to hunt in Sweet Grass and Wheatland Counties.
In 1997, hunters wishing to hunt in these two counties will need to apply in writing for one of 30 permits available through a drawing at the Fish, Wildlife & Parks headquarters in Helena. If successful in obtaining one of these permits, a hunter will be allowed to take one(1)crane during a season which extends from September 13\_21, 1997.
Last year, hunters hoping to bag a crane in these counties could pick up a free Central Flyway sandhill crane permit that allowed daily bag and possession limits of three (3) and six (6) cranes, respectively. The hunting season extended from September 28 through November 25, 1996. Last year's hunting season framework was established primarily for the large MidPopulation of lesser sandhill cranes.
However, sandhill cranes in Sweet Grass and Wheatland counties, as well as the Pacific Flyway portion of Montana, are part of the much smaller Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) of greater sandhill cranes. This change in the season framework for 1997 will bring the crane hunting in these two counties into compliance with the remainder of the Pacific Flyway.
Hunting of RMP cranes also will take place in three areas of western Montana--specified portions of Madison and Beaverhead counties near Twin Bridges and Dillon, in the Warm Springs area of Deer Lodge County and in the Ovando-Helmville area of Powell County--on two consecutive weekends, September 13-14 and September 20-21. Tentative quotas of 65 permits for the Madison-Beaverhead hunting area, 15 for the Warm Springs area and 15 for the Ovando-Helmville area have been set. Hunters will be limited to taking one (1) crane in any area during this season.
Hunters interested in hunting cranes in these areas of western Montana, as well as in the Sweet Grass-Wheatland area, must apply in writing to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, attn: Special Licensing, 1420 E. 6th Ave., PO Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701 by 5 p.m. on July 1. Applicants must include their printed name and their signature, their address, their 1997 Conservation License number, a $3 nonrefundable drawing fee and an indication of the hunting area for which they seek a permit: the Madison-Beaverhead area,the Warm Springs area, the Ovando-Helmville area or the new Sweet Grass-Wheatland area. Applicants may apply for a permit in only one area.
As in previous years, hunters will continue to have the opportunity to hunt sandhill cranes this fall in other areas of the Central Flyway portion of Montana simply by stopping into FWP offices in Billings, Glasgow, Miles City or Helena in late August and picking up a free permit. Permits also will be available at the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge just east of Malta and the Medicine Lakes National Wildlife Refuge south of Plentywood.