It began in the basement of a Bitterroot houndsman in February 2016. Local mountain lion hunters in region 2 weren’t happy with the way the hybrid season has been going during the past few years but noone seemed to have an answer about how to fix it.
Up until 2008 the winter lion season began with a quota. Opening day and the snowy days that followed found too many trucks, snowmobiles and hunters from across the U.S. all vying for the limited mountain lion harvest.
Then a permit system was introduced with the idea that permit holders would have more time to enjoy the season which runs from December 1st through April 14th. The problem was that people without the means or ability to drive along mountain roads or trekk into the places mountain lions go were drawing the permits and the necessary removal of lions wasn’t happening.
Permit numbers were adjusted while deer and elk numbers continued to struggle. Outfitters weren’t able to provide their services in such a limited system and local houndsmen were frustrated when noone they knew drew a permit.
A solution was found in 2011 by creating a hybrid season where permit holders are the only hunters who can harvest a lion for the first two months of the season. After 8 weeks anyone with a general season license may begin hunting until regional quotas are met. This opens the opportunity for local houndsmen and outfitters to help meet specifically prescribed quotas.
This season structure worked better by allowing a more enjoyable hunting experience for those hunters drawing a permit. But, if they don’t fill the permit then they’d better be ready for the onslaught of houndsmen from all over. The general season in this structure is referred to as “a second start”.
Issues with this system where the second start occurred on February 1st were identified by local houndsmen. The issues are that by February 1st the snow conditions often become unfavorable making access and tracking difficult. Also, wolf activity and danger to their hounds safety became more of a concern as wolves become more territorial.
THE NEW RECOMMENDATION
After four – three hour long meetings which included outfitters, houndsmen, sportsmen groups and FWP Biologists who offered to assist the group with information requests – the newest change in the evolution of Bitterroot lion hunting is two fold: firstly, the recommendation is that the hybrid season structure be kept except that the second start date be rolled back to January 5th instead of the current date of February 1st. This would provide a positive experience for permit holders for the first 5-6 weeks but would allow local houndsmen and outfitters to help the Montana FWP achieve harvest quotas.
Secondly, the group recommends that Montanans take a look at their neighboring state of Idaho which has a nonresident hound handlers permit to limit the number of houndsmen in specific regions. Such a change would require legislative action but outfitters and local houndsmen agree that such a system could help generate revenue, reduce the local hunting pressure and provide a better hound hunting experience.
The group recommendations are for region two specifically and would not apply statewide. This comes ahead of a statewide mountain lion management plan expected to be drafted by the fall.