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The public can weigh in on a proposal to expand Montana’s youth-only deer season.

On Thursday the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, while noting some reservations, advanced a proposal to add days to the youth deer season and expand the age to all eligible hunters under the age of 18.

The proposal calls for a four-day youth hunt that would coincide with students receiving days off during the Montana Education Association conference, but only in years when those days do not come immediately before the general big game season. When they do immediately precede the beginning of the general season, it would remain at the current two days. 

The change would mean years with a four-day season would entirely overlap the end of archery season.

The proposal also calls for adding 16- and 17-year-olds to the list of eligible youth hunters. Current regulations permit only hunters aged 12-15 and 10- and 11-year-olds under the apprentice program.

FWP brought the proposal to the commission earlier this year when Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, agreed to withdraw a bill expanding the season.

FWP game management bureau chief John Vore pointed out the several licenses contain special provisions for 12- to 15-year-old hunters, and more changes were “likely to add confusion.”

Commissioners indicated their concern about expanding the age limits.

“It seems like the closer we’re getting to 18, we’re getting away from what we were trying to accomplish” with the youth season, said Chairman Dan Vermillion of Livingston.

Other commissioners expressed some safety concerns, noting that older youth hunters would be more likely to hunt without supervision. Hunting with firearms during archery season also presented a safety issue, they said.

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Representatives from the Montana Bowhunters Association and Traditional Bowhunters of Montana had the same concerns.

“We don’t have a problem with extra days, but keep them during the early part of rifle season where they belong,” said the association’s Marlon Clapham.

Representatives from Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and the Montana Wildlife Federation indicated support for the measure, citing benefits of getting youth hunters in the field.

Public comment on the measure runs through Jan. 24 and the commission with take final action in February.

The public can comment at http://fwp.mt.gov/.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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