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Montana proposes big changes for Region 2 hunting districts

Montana proposes big changes for Region 2 hunting districts

Photo credit: Dreamstime

Get ready for some substantial changes to hunting elk in Montana. Last week, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (Montana FWP) introduced a proposal that would change how hunting is handled in Region 2, making “it more difficult for hunters to harvest elk,” according to The Missoulian. The proposed changes would affect the Spotted Dog Wildlife Management Area (SD-WMA) as well as hunting district (HD) boundaries in the Upper Clark Fork and Philipsburg valleys. Proposed changes could also eliminate region-wide elk B licenses.

Mike Thompson, Montana FWP’s Region 2 wildlife manager, said the agency has recommended that SD-WMA returns to offering elk antlerless permits due to “pretty severe” congestion in HD 215. The elimination of elk B licenses is also due to too many hunters who then tried to gain permission to hunt on private land.

“We offered that and 10,000 people in 2018 and 2019 bought that license, so there were 10,000 people looking for a place to hunt, and it turns out there’s not that much opportunity on private land in Region 2,” said Thompson. “Everybody was getting phone calls from people looking for a place to hunt, and they probably should have gotten permission before they bought the license.”

Region 2 shoulder seasons could change, too. While Montana FWP would keep the early shoulder season that runs Aug. 15 through the start of general season, the agency would end Region 2’s shoulder season on Jan. 15, which is one month earlier than other districts. Those end on Feb. 15.

“That’s been really handy for landowners because it seems in that early part of the season the hay and grain crops haven’t been harvested yet, and the elk like to come in and eat, then lay down so it’s unharvestable,” Thompson said. “So if they can get a couple hunters come in and kill an elk, it scares the rest off. That seems to be really reasonable.”

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Also, up for public comment is the newer legislation passed in 2019 that gives hunters permission to purchase a third elk license. According to The Missoulian, the reason behind this is to increase the number of successful elk harvests; however, “only about 20% of elk tags are filled…so it’s not clear what the impact would be from the extra license.”

All of these proposed changes are part of Montana FWP’s regular two-year review of ways to “help manage the size of elk and deer herds to meet population ‘objectives’” and include a variety of factors, including landowner preferences and “carrying capacity of the land,” according to The Missoulian. With about 134,000 elk in Montana—which is roughly 20,000 over objective—Montana FWP had used the shoulder seasons to manage the population; however, some hunters thought the extended season led to pressure on pregnant cow elk or nursing calves. Further, many hunters said that the elk were not over objective on public lands—only private land. 

Montana FWP will hold nine meetings in Region 2 in order to collect public comment on the proposed changes before the commission’s February meeting. Public comment meetings will be held at the following places:

  • Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Missoula Doubletree Hotel at 100 Madison St.
  • Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Lambkins Café at 460 Main St.
  • Jan. 9 at 6 p.m. at Hamilton’s Bitterroot River Inn at 139 Bitterroot Plaza Drive
  • Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Drummond Community Hall at 52 East Broad St.
  • Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Superior High School multi-purpose room at 410 Arizona Ave.
  • Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. at Philipsburg’s Granite County Museum at 135 So. Sansome St.
  • Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Ovando school gym at 108 Birth St.
  • Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Anaconda Metcalf Center at 115 Pennsylvania
  • Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Deer Lodge Community Center at 416 Cottonwood Ave.

If you can’t attend a meeting and still would like to comment, you can send comments to The deadline for all comments is Jan. 22.

The proposed changes will be finalized during the commission’s meeting on Feb. 6. 


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Chad M. - posted 2 weeks ago on 01-10-2020 08:36:47 am

I'm admittedly an outsider to Montana (living in Missouri), but I find it mildly amusing that Montana feels anything over 115,000 elk statewide is too many, while Colorado has 280,000 elk and would love to have more. It seems to me that agribusiness drives elk management in Montana; hunters drive it in Colorado. It's interesting to see the differing perspectives.

George J. - posted 2 weeks ago on 01-07-2020 12:58:22 pm

By the way FWP...
Your proposed remedies are merely an attempt to roll back a small part of the changes of the last 4 years. Sounds like an attempt to diffuse a crisis that is based on a completely different factors that are not under discussion currently... Stresses to the traditional ranching communities are driven by Demographics and land values not Elk who don't deal with these matters.

George J. - posted 2 weeks ago on 01-07-2020 10:42:48 am

The complexity of this issue is difficult to overestimate. First of all FWP has two masters ...the public and the landowners... Both of these groups have various splinter groups the public being comprised of newcomers and native Montanans... The landowners are divided between ranchers and others with different interests and motivations.
I for certain feel that to make equitable decisions in this is close to impossible.. FWP has managed to mismanage to a maximum degree... ( no pun intended). The development and non development battle is highlighted in this already overheated debate , putting landowners in focus .
By selling excessive numbers of Elk B tags FWP has flooded our phones with requests from literally everyone in a growing population that feels entitled to share in whatever...Choices range from shutting off access which doesn't serve anyone's interests to trying to talk some sense into FWP which is unlikely to be successful.
The simple fact is that the Elk B tags are only good on private land deletes any legitimate enforcement attempts in many areas. FWP knew that when they implemented this program..There is generally a low level of confidence among ironically all groups mentioned in how this debate is materializing and for that matter the Science which seems to rule these decisions of the last several years..
Side effects to landowners range from economic expenses like fencing, posting ,road repairs, weed control and other pretty irritating experiences to numerous to list..
I would remind everyone to tread lightly here because this can migrate into other issues and already has.. It could be the process we are seeing is incapable of resolving all this and needs to be ratcheted up to a different level altogether including redefining FWP totally...

Orion H. - posted 3 weeks ago on 01-04-2020 05:58:54 am

Montana Fish and Game needs some serious change in management. It is past time to fire Martha Williams for her horrible management of her agency. Its purpose is about selling tags and making money, not protecting ALL wildlife. The goal is to sell as many tags for deer and elk, but then protect wolves and bears. I think everyone can agree deer and elk are over hunted by humans and animal predators. I agree with what has already been stated. Montana's elk population not over objective on public land, especially in Region 1, which has little to no elk. Just look at the "data."

As for landowners, they have the choice to open their lands up to the public. If they chose not to, so be it. As taxpayers and hunters, we should not be trying to solve their problem when the solution is simple-landowners allow more hunting and the elk will move off your property. As it currently stands, landowners get to make agreements with the state to get paid for BLM ground, damage hunts (cows only), then sell bull hunts. Money, money, money for the landowners, which is smart on their part, but dumb on the public's part.

Damage hunts should be eliminated all together. The landowners can open their lands or deal with the costs of having elk eat their crops. However, Montana Fish and Game is too preoccupied with creating new game population numbers with their multipliers and continuing to oversell tags all in the name of profit.

So as I said in the beginning, fire Martha Williams and get management that will run Montana Fish and Game for the animals, not profit.

Ethan P. - posted 3 weeks ago on 01-03-2020 10:31:45 am
Deer Lodge, MT

There was more people than you could shake a stick at in there this year!

Thomas R. - posted 3 weeks ago on 01-01-2020 07:18:55 am

Don’t blame the land owners. They don’t make much off of those $10k bulls. The lion’s share goes to outfitters. Outfitters have ruined many ranches that used to be open to hunters.

JAMES R. - posted 3 weeks ago on 12-31-2019 12:08:17 pm

Montana elk are most definitely not over population objectives on ANY public land in MT. If they are over objective anywhere its the massive private ranches that don't allow public access or charge upwards of $10000 to hunt! So tired of this state catering to wealthy landowners that complain constantly and don't allow access, except for the rich.

If you want to make the landowners stop complaining, allow access, and balance the elk population between public and private, then change the tax codes. When you start leasing or outfitting your land for countless thousands of dollars is it really considered farm and ranch land anymore, not in my opinion. Also if you want to get more landowners to allow public access then give the cooperating owners the incentive to do so.....state tax breaks would be a massive incentive to allow public access!

Instead lets shoot elk on public land August through February with rifles and then ponder why 95% of the elk end up on private ranches where the feed is better (because the public is grazed to the dirt for pennies on the dollar), they are shot at for 6 straight months, and they in many instances get hazed back onto private ranches so the landowners can continue to make $10k a pop on trophy bulls.