MILES CITY, Mont. - For over 20 years, Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory has participated in the block management program in cooperation with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to facilitate public hunting. This has provided hunters opportunity to hunt in an area that is rich in wildlife and that readily accessible. Most noteworthy is the fact that Fort Keogh is the only federal research station of several hundred in the country that allows any kind of public access. It is important that sportsmen who use the facility recognize that public recreation on Fort Keogh is a special privilege to be respectfully cherished.
In order to accommodate public access for any kind of recreation, Fort Keogh staff must first obtain permission from national Agricultural Research Service office in Colorado. This requires filling out several applications for public access and the use of firearms for hunting on the premises. These applications must be renewed on a yearly, non-guarantee basis. Unlike common agreements with landowners, Fort Keogh does not receive monetary compensation from FWP for the impacts of allowing public hunting, such as time spent dealing with hunters, road maintenance and land use by hunters.
Despite the lengthy and often time-consuming requirements for keeping Fort Keogh open to public access, the block management program has proven to be beneficial to the research facility and the surrounding areas. One of the primary objectives of the block management program in connection with Fort Keogh is to keep wildlife density at a healthy and sustainable level. This helps prevent Fort Keogh from harboring an overabundance of deer, which could otherwise have the potential to negatively impact local farms. Whitetail deer, mule deer, antelope, turkeys and upland game are species that can be hunted on Fort Keogh. Brad Eik, the Fort Keogh ranch manager, noted the positive impact hunting has had in connection with agricultural harvests in the area.
“Some nearby landowners harvest a lot of corn and have haystacks that attract a lot of deer,” Eik said. “There are a lot of people who are satisfied that we’re keeping the deer population at a manageable level. This is especially important during times when there’s little else for deer to eat.”
Block management at Fort Keogh consists of two main areas which are designated for hunting. One area located in between the Yellowstone River and Interstate 94 is designated for archery hunting only and is open to hunting seven days a week during hunting season.
The second area is a general hunting zone that includes land north of the Yellowstone River and south of Interstate 94 that is typically open three days a week, Friday through Sunday during hunting season. The four-day rest period each week allows wildlife to move back into the general hunting area, helping to maintain favorable hunting conditions Friday through Sunday. Areas that contain cattle on Fort Keogh are closed to both archery and general hunting.
During the fall of 2012 hunters that plan on hunting on Fort Keogh must first obtain a monthly access permit from the Fort Keogh office, including the monthly combination for gate locks. Hunters must then obtain written permission from the Region 7 FWP office in Miles City. Block Management permission will not be given to any hunter that does not present a monthly access permit issued by the Fort. Block Management personnel will give each hunter/party a map detailing the designated areas and access points for hunting, as well as pastures and areas closed to hunting. Hunters must read and understand the rules and regulations set for Fort Keogh and the block management program. Hunters will also be given a window display tag for their vehicle. This helps FWP and Fort Keogh staff to identify hunters. It also serves as a harvest card which helps to support and justify the efforts made by Fort Keogh staff in allowing hunting. The allowable number of hunters in some areas may be limited and permission to hunt in those areas is issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
The block management program at Fort Keogh is a unique opportunity for hunters, as well as others who enjoy outdoor recreation.
“We encourage people to come out and enjoy Fort Keogh,” Eik said. “It’s kind of a hidden treasure. We feel it’s important to be part of Miles City and the community and hope that they would support us too.”
Public users can show their appreciation for Fort Keogh as a unique resource by continuing to respect the facility and following all hunting regulations. Cooperation from public users of Fort Keogh will help to facilitate continued public access for hunting and other recreational activities.