Hunting in Montana is a sacred right and each year the Legislature deals with several bills looking to tweak Montana’s hunting laws. One bill working its way through the Legislature will make hunting less safe for everyone.
Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, introduced Senate Bill 154 late last month in the Senate Fish and Game Committee. The bill would essentially gut the law Montana passed in 1971 to require big game general season hunters to wear at least 400 inches of hunter orange. Sales’ bill would only keep this requirement for hunters under the age of 18.
When introducing his bill, Sales called it the “Hunter Liberation Act of 2015.” However, hunter safety is a serious concern and one we hope Sales and the Legislature take to heart.
Anyone who has hunted in Montana knows about hunter orange. Sometimes, quite honestly, it’s an annoying law. Particularly on those frigid pre-dawn mornings when you realize you left your hunter orange vest hanging in your closet.
But many hunters also have experienced the benefits of hunter orange and have near-miss stories to share.
Stories about tromping after whitetails through willow thickets, hearing the tell-tale crashing of brush and putting the crosshairs on a healthy buck only to see the glare of hunter orange in the background and not pulling the trigger.
Or how about the story about glassing for elk on a far ridge and finally spotting a small herd and preparing for the stalk, only to see another hunter clad in orange already on the ridge with the elk.
The fact is Montana’s hunter orange requirement is a safety issue. Why in the world would our Legislature pass a law to make hunting less safe, particularly in a time when fewer new hunters are getting involved in the sport and fewer adult hunters are passing on the tradition? Why not keep hunting as safe as possible and more welcoming for nonhunters?
And the numbers don’t lie.
From 1972 to 2014 (the years Montana’s hunter orange law has been in place), there were seven mistaken identity hunting incidents in Montana. That’s a rate of about 0.166 a year. From 1900 to 1971, there were 60 mistaken identity incidents, for a rate of about 0.833 a year. Seems obvious the law is working.
Sales’ bill has passed out of the Senate and is now under deliberation in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee. We hope the bill stops there. We hope the representatives of that committee see the wisdom in not removing laws that make hunting safer for everyone.
This issue isn’t one of personal freedom; it’s one of simple safety. And there is no doubt that hunter orange makes Montana’s big game general season a bit safer.