I returned to Montana this summer with a full time job and hopes of enjoying my passion for real hunting and fishing, the kind I knew as a youth in Georgia.
But, where to start in Montana? I knew in this state your best friend is more likely to serve jail time for you than to give up information on his sacred hunting spot.
As a new Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologist, I thought a colleague might have some inside information. However, he surprised me when he suggested that I go where a lot of other hunters do, to the “hunt planner” on the FWP web site at www.fwp.state.mt.us .
The hunt planner? Visions of a high paid consultant measuring me for a new camouflage shirt came to mind. “The FWP web site has topographic maps, animal distributions, and aerial photos organized by region and hunting district,” he said.
I knew I had a place to stay in hunting district 285 near Seeley Lake, so I looked at topographic maps of that area. Given the predicted warmer than average season opener, I targeted streams or meadows with water at slightly higher elevations. I also checked the ownership maps to ensure I was looking at accessible public land.
I selected two or three of the best locations and zoomed in on the aerial photos. I could see the harvested timber and the riparian areas, and picked what appeared to be the best site and a back up. I printed the maps and headed downstairs to start packing.
The day before opener, I set up camp and drove to a hike-in point to scout my first site. It was pretty neat looking at the actual site after first locating it on the Internet. There was no doubt this was it. The characteristics on the topographical map and the aerial photos were there, but with some forest re-growth.
Early the next day, I was at my new secret spot and ready to hike in, only to find four vehicles parked at the side of the logging road, with enough hunters to make it a community event.
The hunt planner worked. It helped me find a spot other hunters thought would be good.
Once I recovered from my road rage, I remembered—I had a backup spot. It didn’t look quite as good as the first one did, but it was a little further off the beaten path.
I spent the morning scouting the new spot. In fact, it turned out to be better than I thought. My planning paid off that afternoon when I pulled the trigger. “Short of measuring my sleeve length, the hunt planner had done his job,” I thought to myself as I began to field dress my deer just before dusk.
Next year, when a friend asks me where to hunt, I will introduce him or her to my new hunting friend, the hunt planner. The hunt planner is easy to find at www.fwp.state.mt.us on the left side of the main “Hunting” page.