With more than 100,000 hunters heading afield for the opening of Big Game season Oct. 22, many will see the nearly one million acres of land burned this summer in Montana, and signs of the drought that is impacting much of the state to one degree or another.
"Even with our early fall snow, it is bone dry," says Gayle Joslin, FWP biologist in the Helena area office. "While we've had precipitation, it will take much more moisture than we've had to penetrate to the root zone. That means late season fires are still possible."
One significant danger is the common hunter practice of building fires under tree canopies, on or near tree roots or in stumps. If an abandoned warming fire smolders at all, it is not out and can be rekindled. Also, warming fires during a hunt can easily migrate down into the tree roots or the dead roots of a stump where they may lead to fires days or weeks later.
Joslin says the recent rains or a few inches of snow should not give hunters a false sense that they are hunting on lands that escaped the drought. FWP wildlife biologist Mike Thompson who manages the Blackfoot/Clearwater Game Range agrees.
"The surface moisture we've received can't do much in this short time to change the underlying situation," Thompson says. "The consequences of being careless this year may be more serious than in the past."
Looks can be deceiving. The best policy is to be alert and avoid common mistakes that lead to late season fires.