A group of volunteers is launching a new program aimed at improving the image of hunters and hunter ethics after a series of high-profile events marred the 2014 big game season in southwest Montana.
“This kept rearing its ugly head and everybody just felt like they wanted to do something about it. Rather than just talk about it, we wanted to do something,” said Mike England, a member of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' region 3 citizens advisory committee.
Over the last few years, hunter ethics and public access have dominated CAC discussions, but when the big game season was over last fall, the focus switched predominantly to hunter ethics and hunter image, England said.
In response, the region 3 CAC is launching a campaign called Hunt Right to raise public awareness and promote ethical hunting.
The incidents that gained the most publicity last fall were a series of “shootouts” in the White Gulch area in Broadwater County, near Canyon Ferry Lake. And though similar incidents have been problems historically in the Paradise Valley south of Livingston and in the Madison Valley south of Ennis, the White Gulch events were what England referred back to.
The White Gulch problems included two separate incidents of hunters surrounding and shooting at herds of elk near a county road. The events led to a few citations, several meetings and even legislation during the 2015 legislative session. Several elk were taken and by most accounts the majority of hunters in the area purported themselves legally, but as elk were surrounded by hunters who competed with each other for shots, ethical lines were blurred and sometimes crossed.
After the hunting season was over, the region 3 CAC began to focus in on a campaign to raise awareness about hunter ethics and improve the public image of hunters and hunting.
“The future of hunting depends on public acceptance and so the events that were more visible to the public are the ones we want to address,” England said.
The Hunt Right campaign is slated to launch in parts during the summer and into the fall. The goal is to gain momentum with the campaign heading into big game season, England said.
The effort has gained support from organizations around the state. A donations website is currently being hosted by the Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation, he said.
“This just seems to be coming to a head and it’s time to act,” England said. “Talking doesn’t seem to be doing anything. It’s time to act.”
The campaign will include public service announcements, advertising, social media efforts, a website, stickers and brochures. He anticipates the cost of getting the program fully launched by the 2015 general big game season will be about $30,000. The group has raised about a third of that so far. They hope the general public will get behind their effort.
“What we’re hoping is that given our short time frame we can get a whole lot of people to chip in 10, 20, 30 bucks whatever they can afford to help with our hard costs,” England said.
The group’s dedication has impressed FWP region 3 supervisor Sam Sheppard.
“I think that they’ve been tackling this and putting in all this effort makes this a success already,” Sheppard said.
An effort like this is a big undertaking for a volunteer group, he said, but it’s obviously important to a broad cross section of Montanans and certainly the citizens in region 3.
“I think it’s going to be very effective for people to hear from their neighbors, from other sportsmen,” he said.
The agency has given the group total creative license to formulate its message and plan, Sheppard said. All he’s done is make sure the effort stays within the guidelines of the CAC.
But along with the Hunt Right campaign, FWP is working on its own efforts to curb unethical hunting like what it dealt with last fall, he said.
Just exactly what the FWP effort looks like is still in the works, Sheppard said. But he anticipates it will include a change in hunter and access management, landowner coordination and education and outreach.
FWP officials have held meetings internally and with various groups since the end of the 2014 big game season with the focus on decreasing or eliminating conflict in areas that are prone to problems, like White Gulch, he said.
Part of the issue is identifying the contributing factors such as access, public land interspersed with inaccessible private land and animal proximity to public roads. The other part of the issue is trying to figure out if fixing one part of the problem can eliminate the problem altogether. It’s a complex issue, Sheppard said, and any solution will have to be multifaceted.
“Clearly, our intent is to make some real differences this fall,” he said.
For England and the Hunt Right campaign, education and outreach are keys of the puzzle they’re focusing on with an effort they think can go across Montana.
“The biggest issue is awareness, and that comes in primarily two forms: reminding hunters to do the right thing and reminding nonhunters that most hunters do the right thing and care about doing the right thing,” England said. “The message is the same for an elk in the Bridgers or an antelope in the CMR.”
Editor Greg Lemon can be reached at 447-4080 or at email@example.com.