MT. FWP reported seeing and surveying fewer hunters this season. The checkpoints and field encounters were greatly reduced but hunter harvests seemed to be within average limits. Fewer than a couple hundred hunters stopped at the any of the FWP checkpoints across the area.
Weather seemed to play an important part in the decline. Early snow and winter conditions encouraged animals to migrate to private lands early. The harsh conditions also limited more mature /aged hunters and blocked access to more remote areas. Throw in the closures due to Grizzly Bears and even more hunting opportunity declines.
Hunting and fishing ranks are changing. With the budget for FWP coming from license sales, future enrollment to our sporting ranks is important. Sportsmen foot the bill for our parks, accesses, open spaces, management, agencies, and public lands.
Much of our public lands, 1.5+ million acres, are blocked from public access due to private neighbors. Outfitters are also leasing huge areas and blocking public use of historical public areas. Good luck getting permission to hunt on private land. How can the average hunter compete with an outfitter’s fat wallet? Much of our private land is owned by people that do not live in Montana. Guides also exploit our public lands.
Like it or not, much of our wild big game ends up on private land where they have sanctuary, food, and shelter. Watershed land offers these needs and are owned by people that also want privacy and no trespassing. These are also the most desired acres for private ownership.
It is simply becoming harder to hunt! Public lands are large but in more remote areas. Access to the higher mountains requires gear and equipment that is costly and demanding. Animals migrate to more comfortable quarters when the weather gets tough. You can hunt these vast public areas, but the nomad critters are along the river feeding off the hay bales and pivot irrigation crops.
Block Management areas look good on paper but are inconsistent. Some require sign ins, others come from a lottery, or permission is issued only if you know someone. Shoulder hunts are also about who you know. Rural areas offer more access than more urban areas. Many of these areas are not accessible in bad weather, snow, or mud.
The responsibility to access of our public lands falls on the hunter. It is their responsibility to prove access. Landowners and outfitters have more rights than the average hunter. Even with written permission, if the landowner changes their mind, the hunter will lose every time.
Montana is Big Bucks Country. Money talks and sportsmen walk. You can see this with fly fishing along the Madison and other famous rivers. Public access to watersheds is better thanks to the “high water line” regulations. These laws do not apply to hunting.
At some point, someone will need to foot the bill for the FWP. Baby Boomers are leaving our sporting ranks. Hunters are simply not as welcome on “Private Parts”. New hunter enrollments are down. More women are joining our ranks and license sales are steady, but… What happens next is up for debate. Will hunting thrive for all in Montanans or will it become the sport just for kings?
Hunt hard, hunt harder!
For more Montana Grant, find him still trying to hunt at www.montanagrantfishing.com.