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Helena-area hunters to see several changes this year

A bow hunter

A bowhunter enters a clearing while archery hunting for elk last season.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted multiple changes to elk hunting licenses and permits, including several changes coming to the Helena area.

While elk “shoulder” seasons featured some of the liveliest debate during Thursday's meeting, the commission also updated regulations for the general and archery seasons as well for all big game species. In December, biologists proposed a number of changes to elk and deer regulations in several districts around Helena with goals of increasing hunter opportunities but also balancing that with animal populations and access.

Hunting District 215

The commission eliminated a regulation allowing antlerless elk hunting with a general license in favor of an antlerless elk permit for the district. Permit holders may hunt for cow elk but must tag them with a general license. Those without the permit may only hunt brow-tined bulls. The commission also added an extra antlerless license that begins Aug. 15 and is not valid for national forests.

The reasons for the changes include slowing the antlerless elk harvest rate as the population drops toward objectives and addressing game damage on private land, according to biologists.

Hunting District 293

HD 293 includes the Avon and Helmville valleys north to U.S. Highway 200 and the mountains making up the spine of the Continental Divide. The commission voted to remove elk B licenses for the district in favor of cow elk permits valid only on private land, excluding Weyerhaeuser, Stimson and Nature Conservancy land. The permit is valid from Aug. 15 through the general season.

Hunting districts 318, 335, 339 and 343

The districts near Helena have a combined antlerless elk permit, which allows hunters to harvest a cow elk and then punch their general license to tag their animal. The old regulations restricted hunters from taking a bull legal to non-permit holders in 343, 318 and 335 or spike in 339, but the new permit changes that to allow either.

Hunting District 391

In an effort to reduce elk numbers for the district, the general license has been valid for both brow-tined bulls and cows districtwide. The commission voted to change that regulation to eliminate the antlerless provision on national forest land.

The shoulder season for the district is removed in favor of an over-the-counter antlerless elk license for HDs 390, 391 and 393 valid south of Duck Creek and only on private, DNRC or BLM lands. The license is good from the beginning of rifle season to Jan. 1.

The HD 391 antlerless elk license is also only valid south of valid south of Duck Creek and only on private, DNRC or BLM lands.

Hunting District 392

For the hunting district that includes the York area, the commission voted to remove the opportunity for youth hunters or hunters with disabilities to harvest antlerless elk on their general license. The number of antlerless elk licenses also dropped from 50 to 25.

The proposals aim to increase the elk population in the hunting district.

Bighorn sheep

In other Helena-area hunting news, the commission voted to allow a single bighorn sheep tag for the Elkhorns.

The ram permit is the first in more than a decade following a disease-related die-off in the mountain range. In a herd that should have numbered 220 or more, by 2008 90% of the wild sheep died of pneumonia. The limited hunting permits offered also ended at that time.

While sheep number about 50 today, and the herd includes a number of older rams. 

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


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State Reporter/Outdoors Reporter

Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.

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