By Montana Grant

Posted: November 21, 2020

Recently I have noticed an uptick in violations of hunting along watersheds that are privately owned. The hunters claim that they are below the “High Water Mark”, which they assume means that public access is legal.

The Stream Public Access Law only applies to fishing in Montana. The Stream Access Law states, “public access for hunting of game animals is not allowed between the ordinary high-water marks of streams and rivers without landowner permission.”

Islands, that are not part of a Public Access area, are also considered No Hunting unless you have landowner permission. I have not been able to get a written or verbal response as to hunting from a canoe or boat. Jump shooting waterfowl, or game animals from the water, within the High-Water Marks appears to also be against the law, unless you have written landowner permission from both banks of the watershed.

FWP determines that it is the “Responsibility of the hunter to know who owns the land, any access restrictions, or have written permission.”

This becomes a challenge when an Outfitter leases land. An Outfitter Lease supersedes any predated written permission. They are not required to post or sign the property as to their lease. State and School trust Property that is within private land often has no public access. Over 1 ½ million acres of Public Land are off limits due to private access only. Not fair but…

Railroad Access is also an issue. These are Private Right of ways. Therefore, they are private property and closed to hunting. You are also not allowed to cross or use railroad property to access other public or private lands, without written permission from the Railroads.

Public land blocks that connect at their corners are also not accessible by jumping the fence, or boundary, at the corner. This law and other similar laws are enforced differently from county to county.

Things get complicated in a hurry. Hunters are often at the mercy of the landowners, Wardens, Sheriffs, or Police. All may have a different interpretation of the law. It all falls back on the Hunter to know the laws, landowners, or any other issues that may arise. Good Luck.

Therefore, many of our accessible Public Hunting Areas become crowded with hunters. Even with Technology that identifies property owners and boundaries, Hunters discover it is not always up to date. Any discrepancies are the responsibility of the hunter.

Access onto any Tribal lands requires a Tribal License to non-members. Limits, rules, and guidelines are different on these Private Lands.

Public Roadways are also off limits. “You may not hunt, or attempt to hunt, game animals from, on, or across the roadway. The right of way, berm, shoulder, maintained ways, the entire width between boundary lines, and borrow pits” are No Hunting Allowed areas. Ironically, many hunters hunt from their trucks or vehicles, along public roads, spot the game, then shoot from the fence or boundary. Unless you have a special permit, due to a handicap, hunting from public roadways is against the law.

Hunting in Montana, like many other States is more challenging than ever. Well meaning and honest Sportsmen are at risk. It is always their responsibility to know, understand, and follow changing laws and restrictions.

Good Luck!

Montana Grant