By Montana Grant

Posted: April 6, 2023

Hunting is becoming harder to do. Ammunition and guns are more expensive and restrictive. License fees are increasing. Restrictions and regulations are growing. The hardest challenge is finding a legal place to hunt. Wealthy landowners, most of which are from out of state, want No Trespassing and want to keep the residents out.

Thank you to the landowners that join the Block Management access program or allow hunters to hunt on their land. We all appreciate your generosity and the privilege of sharing your land. I always enjoy helping the landowners in return for their allowing me to hunt. Sadly, these landowners are becoming rarer as new generations inherit the land and shut down the hunting.

The public land in Montana and other states has been paid for through the Pittman Robinson act. This tax on all things hunting has paid the bill for buying, protecting, and managing public land, parks, places, and its resources.

This land is generously open to all citizens, even if they hate hunting. Hunting only happens for short seasons in the Spring and Fall. A similar act called the Dingell/Johnson act taxes all things fishing for the same opportunities. Access , boating launches, campgrounds, and most outdoor facilities and public outdoor sport areas are paid for from anglers.

Montana’s wildlife and fisheries are FOR SALE! The law is supposed to prevent privatizing wildlife and fish in Montana, but… Wealthy out of staters are circumventing the law by purchasing huge tracts of land and posting them. The lands are then leased to outfitters and guides that have exclusive access for non-residents or other wealthy friends. Land Trusts also become ways to make money by charging trespass fees.

These land grabbers would like nothing better than to remove the Stream Access Law, that Montanans are so proud of. Each year, this law is challenged. Even though the Fishing Access law does not apply to hunting, it allows water access to landlocked public areas. The challengers are wealthy landowners that want complete control over their piece of Big Sky Country.

Montana is a few signatures away from making our state a private Hunting and Fishing Preserve. If you think that this is not true, you are wrong. Hunters with great private access forget how hard it was to hunt without that hook up. I was able to hunt for years on superb land until the landowner died.

Our accessible Public Lands are already crowded. Migratory Big Game moves to private lands where they can only be hunted by private access. Then the state pays the wealthy landowners for crop damage that the wild critters create. Brucellosis is a big problem with elk and buffalo. What happens when these diseases kill off wealthy landowners’ cattle? Who reimburses landowners when wolves kill their cattle, pets, and critters? Who gets to pay for the damages? Public funds designated for public places, management, and enforcement get spent on private lands where no hunting or access is allowed.

Public hunting pressure is not allowed in these sanctuaries, so the wild animals gather. Sheds are harvested by the landowners or charge a fee for antler gathering.  Weather determines how long of a hunting season we might get. Non-Residents are getting more and more special tags and permits. The wealthy landowners make a profit in each season off of public land, agriculture, cattle, or other farm animals, so they can get tax breaks.  Many landowners market the elk for a fee, usually $1,000 a tine for Bulls. Then they get paid to not develop their land so we can just look at what we can’t access. The public has to pay to look at the wealthy landowner’s property but dare not step foot onto it. Wildlife Wardens end up as the security police for these wealthy landowners.

Montanans live here because we love having Big Sky Country to roam in. Tourist season, hunting season, skiing season seem to have become harder for residents to enjoy. Campsites are full, parks are crowded, rivers are floater full, the stress on wildlife and citizens is only increasing. Open spaces have become expensive and more limited.

Almost a third of our public lands in Montana are not accessible. Even though our State School Trust lands generate over 50 million dollars a year, a Montana citizen can’t hunt land locked sections. Neighboring landowners can run cattle on them, use them and enjoy them, while making a profit. You may not cross a corner onto public land from public land if the other 2 blocks are private. The wealthy landowners strategically buy/ or swap bordering blocks to block more access, then charge a fee/lease for access to public land!

Sportsmen appreciate that the MTFWP is expanding Block Management and other programs to help with access. We shouldn’t have to buy access to public land. Every section of public land should be accessible, otherwise, what is the point of the land being “public”, if it only benefits wealthy landowners? It’s like they get Free Land and sportsmen get locked out. The legislature could take the lead with these concerns but many of them are themselves wealthy landowners or influenced by out of state interests.

Montana needs proactive and current policies to ensure that the wealthy can’t take over our hunting and fishing access. The root of the problem is control and money. Montana is the #1 destination for people moving away from crowded cities and overpopulated places. Vistas, open spaces, and beauty are the commodities in demand. Hobby home owners buy land and ranches as second or third properties.

Montana’s special wild places, access, sports, opportunity, and Big Sky Country dreams are going up in smoke. Pay attention to what our legislature is doing, educate yourself about public lands and the sports we love. ALL sportsmen need to collaborate and work together if we want to have a future with public access.

Montana has a population of a million citizens, but vast areas of our state are not owned by residents. It’s amazing that so much Montana land is owned by so few, who don’t even live here.

Everyone else wants what Montanan’s have.

Montana Grant

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