HELENA -- Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will hold a meeting in Helena Thursday as it considers changes to statewide big game licenses and seasons, including several for the Helena area.
The department is holding public meetings throughout the state in January to provide information, answer questions and gather input on the 2018-19 hunting season proposals adopted by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in December.
Proposals for the Helena area include changes to antlerless elk hunting north and northwest of Helena, in the Elkhorns, and in the Big Belts east of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
Among the proposals are combining antlerless elk licenses in districts 339 and 343. Hunters ages 16 and older holding the permit would be prohibited from hunting antlered elk in the districts.
Area biologist Jenny Sika said the proposals come as part of a change in approach to management.
“Along with district 293 that makes up the elk management unit for 339 and 343, we’ve been within objective for 20 years,” she said. “But in my areas all the elk have to do is move across the highway and we’re over objective in one unit. This would allow us to look at it from a population level rather than district by district.”
The “highway” Sika referenced is Lincoln Road, which makes up the boundary between 339 and 343.
District 293 lying to the west across the Continental Divide would see some changes as well. Area biologist Scott Eggeman said FWP proposes dropping antlerless permits from 150 to 100, but making the licenses valid district-wide. The licenses are currently only valid in the southern portion of the district.
The goal of the 293 proposal is also to oversee at the elk management unit level, rather than the smaller district level, he said. There would also still be some antlerless licenses for private land in the south, Eggeman added.
For hunting district 380 in the Elkhorns, FWP proposes reducing antlerless elk licenses overall, but allowing targeted private land hunting in some areas with a general license.
From Oct. 20 to Nov. 1, general license holders could harvest an antlerless elk on private land in the defined north and south portions of 380. Area biologist Adam Grove explained that while the overall district is within population objectives, the area from Boulder wrapping around the Elkhorns to East Helena is made up of a lot of small tracts of private land.
“The proposal would focus more harvest pressure on those elk associated with private land, and having it the first part of the season only reduces the potential of a big storm pushing elk that are more traditionally migratory onto private land,” he said.
The land ownership makes harvest challenging, with some areas, including subdivisions, acting as a refugee for elk during hunting season, Grove said.
With the new general season opportunity in the Elkhorns, antlerless licenses valid on public and private land but specific to the northern and southern portion of the district would be reduced from 350 to 150 and 325 to 175 respectively. The district-wide antlerless license would be bumped up from 125 to 150.
In hunting district 391, which includes lands west of Canyon Ferry into the Big Belts, FWP proposes raising antlerless licenses from 350 to 400, and instituting a shoulder season from Nov. 26 to Jan. 1. The shoulder season would be restricted to private land south of Duck Creek, and hunters must possess one of the antlerless licenses.
For the existing shoulder season in districts 393 and 391 south of Townsend, FWP proposes opening BLM and state trust land to the hunt.
For deer, FWP also proposes 50 private land antlerless mule deer licenses in the York area for district 392.
For more information on the proposals and to offer public comment, go to http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/default.html#publicComment.