A special game-damage hunting season for deer and elk in northeastern and north-central Montana will begin Monday, Dec. 1 and extend through New Year’s Eve.
Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ Region 6 Supervisor Jim Satterfield has approved three separate hunts, but they have the same aim: reducing numbers of big game that have descended on landowners’ hay and crop land because of drought conditions and early winter weather.
Here are the hunt details:
* Antlerless White-tailed Deer: Hunters can buy up to two antlerless white-tailed deer licenses valid in the eastern half of Region 6, roughly from Saco east to the North Dakota border. Specifically, the game-damage hunt includes hunting districts 670, 630, 631, 632, 640, 641, 651, 650 and 652. All unused deer licenses and permits that were valid anywhere in Montana during the 2003 regular season will be valid for this antlerless whitetail damage hunt, including unused Deer A licenses and any unused Deer B permits, even those issued for mule deer. In addition, FWP will issue another 750 antlerless whitetail licenses valid in the hunting districts detailed above. Each hunter can buy up to two of these additional tags, which will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. While the licenses will be sold at full price to residents ($8) and non-residents ($75), the 10 percent quota on non-residents does not apply to this damage hunt.
* Antlerless Mule Deer: Game damage in the Bear Paw Mountains south of Havre and Chinook has prompted a late hunt for mule deer in hunting districts 680 and 690. Hunters will be allowed to use any unused 680 or 690 antlerless mule deer B license issued in the drawing for this late hunt, which also runs Dec. 1-31 but is limited to private lands only in those hunting districts. An additional 300 antlerless mule deer licenses will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Hunters can buy a maximum of two of these additional licenses.
* Antlerless Elk: Elk hunters in the Bear Paw Mountains are also being asked to participate in a special game-damage hunt that will run Dec. 1-31 in hunting districts 690 and 680. The hunt is open only to those hunters who drew an elk permit for District 690 in the special drawing. Unused either-sex and antlerless permits for archery and rifle hunting are both valid, but hunters will be allowed to harvest only antlerless elk. Those 690 permits are also valid in Hunting District 680.
These special game-damage seasons are designed to reduce numbers of ungulates that are eating hay bales, winter wheat and alfalfa on agricultural land. The combination of prolonged drought and early winter conditions has reduced available habitat, even as populations of deer and elk have recovered from the winter of 2000-2001. While depredation on private land may intensify if winter conditions worsen, Satterfield says that a December special season is preferable to a late-winter hunt.
“We need to get ahead of game damage now, rather than react later,” he says. “We prefer that hunters harvest these animals rather than having department staff or landowners kill them later. In December, hunters can differentiate bucks and bulls from does and cows, so we shouldn’t get any incidental harvest of male animals. Plus, deer and elk are still in good physical condition, which may not be the case by the end of the winter, so they provide better table fare.”
Satterfield noted that FWP contracts for Block Management cooperators extend through Dec. 15, so hunters can still be steered toward Block Management properties.
Additional licenses for the antlerless whitetail hunt and for the Bear Paw mule deer hunt will be available for purchase at any ALS provider statewide starting Monday morning, Dec. 1. All normal big-game regulations apply to this late season, including the requirements to wear hunter orange, obtain landowner permission and properly validate licenses and tag carcasses.For information on the game-damage hunts, valid hunting areas or licensing, contact FWP’s Glasgow headquarters at 228-3700.