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Throngs of people scoured the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area

Throngs of people scour the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area in search of shed antlers.

May 15 is a special date for many Montanans.

Not only is spring (hopefully) in full swing, but at noon many of the state’s wildlife management areas open following winter closures, and that means it’s time to hit the ground in search of antlers.

A “horn hunt” falls somewhere between an outdoor pursuit and a cultural event. Where wildlife management areas offer winter range for deer and elk, hundreds of antler enthusiasts line up for the noon opener. Prime locales such as the Sun River, Blackfoot-Clearwater, Beartooth and Ear Mountain WMAs have garnered a cult-like following of antler hunters who come year after year to scour the hills for the sight of tines sticking up through the grass.

While many do it for fun or to add to their personal displays, antlers have commercial value, as well. Whether for furniture, art, knife handles or shipped to Asia for use in traditional medicines, collecting antlers can be lucrative as well as enjoyable.

Venturing out on wildlife management areas also comes with a healthy dose of caution. Animals are on the upswing following a long winter and bears are also on the prowl.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks offers the following safety tips for safely recreating in bear country:

  • Inquire about recent bear activity in the area.
  • Carry and know how to use bear pepper spray for emergencies.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Travel in groups of three or more people whenever possible, and plan to be out in the daylight hours.
  • Stay on trails or rural roads.
  • Watch for signs of bears such as bear scat, diggings, torn-up logs, turned over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses.
  • Keep children close.
  • Make your presence known by talking, singing, carrying a bell, or other means, especially when near streams or in thick forest where visibility is low. This can be the key to avoiding encounters. Most bears will avoid humans when they know humans are present.
  • Use caution in areas like berry patches where bears occur.
  • Don't approach a bear; respect their space and move off.

For more information about wildlife management areas, visit fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/wma/.

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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