By Montana Grant

Posted: December 22, 2019

ELK Shoulder season is MTFWP’s way to manage elk harvests. Certain areas are targeted for late season hunts, usually on private land. This cow only hunt happens outside traditional elk habitat. Hunts begin in August and end in February. This means 7 months of private hunting pressure!

Data shows an increased harvest of 4,559 animals, in the past 5 years. This is only 10% of what is needed to control elk populations. The Shoulder Hunts are not solving the elk management dilemma. Licensed hunters tag success is only 17-25%, depending on seasons and weather.

The problem is simple. Wild, Public elk end up on private land that is not accessible to public hunting. Private landowners benefit from having elk on their land. Many charge a fee for access. Some charge as much as $1000 per tine, for a trophy bull. Elk are often shot off the hood of a truck, while the sanctuary elk are feeding on a hay bale. Not very sporting. The Shoulder Hunts target area where winter herds migrate to feed on pivot wheat, grass, or crops. Complaining landowners also get crop damage permits to get rid of these nuisance elk, and deer. Sheds also create a revenue source.

“Gittin Yer Elk” is tougher these days! Average resident hunters must compete with outfitters, guides, exclusive private access, wolves, bears, coyotes, lions, poachers, weather, disease, anti-hunters, nonresidents, etc.

Landowners complain of damage to their fences, crops, stored hay, and potential Brucellosis risks. The state pays them a nominal fee for allowing access. The landowner controls who can access their land. Its all about who you know. Other private landowners do not even live in Montana and simply block access. Some areas offer a lottery for access.

The solution is not simple. Greed, money, and politics are all in play. With CWD, Bovine tuberculosis, Blue Tongue, now an issue, hunting may become at risk, choosing cattle and livestock, over wild game. You need to only look at the issue with Bison to understand.

Why do we not allow our hunting seasons to happen earlier? Winter often pushes elk off of remote, public, mountainous lands, and onto wintering areas along the private watersheds. These prime acres are the farming, and recreational private parts, with limited or zero access. Throw in the 1.5 million acres of no access public land surrounded by private areas, and hunting opportunity becomes even more dismal.

“Big Bucks” often lease vast areas where wintering elk stack up. Public land is available, but the critters migrate off these areas. Outfitters, guides, and private parties love this arrangement. The average elk hunter gets screwed. You can draw a tag but good luck knocking on doors for permission. Areas around more populated parts of Montana are highlighted with limited access. Many also block or lease access to School Trust and public land, while being allowed to graze cattle or exploit the public land for their own wallets. Private landowners make bank off of public wildlife.

Why don’t we have more expanded hunting opportunities when elk are still on public land? What about an early Muzzle loader season in the end of September or October? A resting week of no elk hunting wastes early season huntable weather. Once the snows arrive, much of our high country is no longer accessible. Grizzly bears cause closures. Bow hunters want exclusive access, and seasons without competition. We need to have hunting seasons when we can all hunt! Maybe start the Archery hunt in Mid-August. End hunting season at Thanksgiving weekend. Allow a Shoulder hunt on private land earlier, instead of through February.

We should be using our Heads and not our Shoulders!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find his head and shoulders at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

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