uggs for sale uk Proposed shoulder season newest attempt to thin Montana elk population
BILLINGS With pressure mounting from landowners and lawmakers to increase the elk harvest, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials have spent months devising a new method that they hope may increase hunter success and remove more elk from the landscape.
Called an elk shoulder season, the plan is to allow rifle hunting in certain districts or portions of districts before or after the regular seasons to give hunters more opportunity. Montana already has a five week rifle season that is preceded by a six week archery season one of the longest deer and elk seasons in the nation. In addition, the department can hold damage and management hunts outside the regular hunting seasons in specific areas or on private land by dispatching hunters who have placed their name on a call list.
“We’re looking at what tools we can implement to get elk numbers down in districts where we’re over objective,” said Ken McDonald, wildlife bureau chief for FWP.
As of 2014, the last date for which numbers were available, more than 70 hunting districts or portions of hunting districts were over objective, or about 40 percent. Those places where populations are over objective can range from as little as 40 elk in HD 570 between Reed Point and Harlowton to 3,200 in HD 322, between Dillon and Twin Bridges.
“So a lot of times we may be over objective but within the population range,” said Quentin Kujala, wildlife management section chief for FWP.
McDonald will present the shoulder season idea to Fish and Wildlife Commission members at their meeting on Thursday in Helena. The length of the shoulder season could be short, only a couple of days, and could come before the regular season or after as long as it falls between Aug. 15 and Feb. 15. The shoulder season could also target either cow or bull elk. One of the main objectives is to reduce elk numbers quickly where they are over objective.
“In order for it to work, though, there has to be buy in and participation on the landowner side of things,” McDonald said. “It will take cooperation and collaboration from landowners.”
In fact, one of the stated objectives of the shoulder season is to “Enhance landowner flexibility to manage elk hunting on their property.”
Some landowners, hunters and lawmakers successfully lobbied for the passage of a bill in the last legislative session that would re establish late cow elk hunts that had been dropped when FWP adopted a new elk management plan. Although the bill passed the Legislature and wasn’t opposed by FWP, it was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock in May. In explaining the veto, Bullock wrote that reinstating late cow elk hunts would “inadvertently constrain new harvest management options, and interfere with an ongoing, comprehensive review and implementation of new tools for addressing elk population concerns.” Bullock seemed to be speaking specifically about the shoulder season proposal.
McDonald said the success of the shoulder seasons will be closely monitored by FWP to ensure they are successful, as well as when they can be the most successful. The reason for the close monitoring is that the department wants to ensure that the new seasons increase the elk harvest in other words that the extra time on the ground for hunters means more elk are harvested annually.
The main problem FWP and hunters continue to face is that many elk congregate on private land during hunting seasons and now sometimes year round avoiding harvest by the majority of hunters. Such concentration of animals tears up landowners’ fences, causes crop damage and increases the likelihood for the possible transfer of wildlife diseases. Large concentrations of elk has also resulted in some hunters unethically shooting into herds and killing more than one animal.
With some herds protected from hunting the main means the state has to regulate wildlife numbers the state’s elk population continues to grow and expand. In 2014 it was estimated at 158,000 elk compared to 138,000 in 2004.
Getting elk to cooperate in the reduction of their population is no easy task. These are wary, smart animals, evidenced by the elk hunter success rate. In 2014 the cumulative success rate for elk hunters was 15 percent a harvest of about 25,700 more than half of which were bulls. Wildlife managers would rather see more cow elk harvested in order to reduce the elk growth rate.
Low hunter success
Interestingly, the resident elk hunter success rate of just over 13 percent is about half of nonresident elk hunters’, even though they outnumber nonresident hunters about four to one. Nonresidents also harvest more bull elk than cow elk. Some of the nonresident’s success level can probably be attributed to the fact that many of them hired guides, had access to private lands leased by outfitters or simply dedicated more time in the field to hunting.
Also, even these seemingly low hunter success rates are skewed. Looking at individual hunting districts, many show success rates of less than 1 percent. A few highly successful hunting districts, like HD 632 in northeastern Montana along the Missouri River where nonresidents scored a 26 percent success rate to residents’ 11 percent, bump the average higher.
“That’s a reality in elk hunting we don’t have a real high success rate,” Kujala said.
And he noted that some areas like the Missouri Breaks may see a higher success rate simply because they are more popular with hunters.
So FWP is hoping to increase the success rate of hunters by providing a chance to spend extra days in the field or by moving elk out of safe havens onto lands where there is public hunting.