Hunters and anglers will not have a formal grace period to purchase licenses as Montana makes changes to its licensing system, but officials say they will take into account intent when issuing citations.
Licenses expire at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29, but unlike in past years when licenses could be purchased before expiration to avoid a lapse, new licenses cannot be purchased until 5 a.m. on Sunday, March 1. That means a five-hour period when no valid license is technically available.
FWP spokesman Greg Lemon says game wardens have discretion as the new licensing year begins.
“With all game laws the intent is not catch people doing something wrong but to protect the resource,” he said. “So the license expires Feb. 29 and the 2020 license may be purchased March 1, so that’s the law and we understand that will be a little difficult for a handful of folks. We’re sympathetic to people’s frustrations and if people for whatever technical reason do not have a license we have the latitude to take that into account.”
As hunting season is closed in Montana for most species, the main license holders that could be impacted by the lapse are anglers and trappers. FWP offices are closed on Sunday but licenses will be sold online at www.fwp.mt.gov as well as license vendors for customers eager to purchase.
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Lemon said FWP will not implement a formal grace period that would allow a designated amount of time to purchase 2020 licenses once they become available. Officials have concerns that such a grace period would only create more problems with enforcement and compliance, he said.
“There’s going to be some figuring out on our standpoint but we believe the convenience and other changes outweigh the overlap issue,” he said.
FWP made a number of changes for the 2020 licenses both in an effort to add convenience and out of necessity.
Previously licenses were printed on thermal paper, but now licensees will print them on their own on 8.5 X 11 computer paper. Those purchasing online will receive a link to the license, which may be printed a single time. The license comes with a watermark that does not replicate if copied, so any replacement licenses must be purchased at a license provider for $5.
Due to obvious potential issues with paper and weather, FWP recommends carrying licenses in a plastic bag. Electronic versions of licenses may be stored on smartphones, but carcass tags must be printed and properly validated.
One reason for the change is convenience, but evolving technology has also made the printers for the previous licenses essentially obsolete. Replacement parts are no longer available.
Montana looked at other states before finalizing the change and Lemon says FWP did not find significant issues.
“Other states that have done this have not seen an uptick in license fraud,” he said. “For people that are inclined to break the law, they aren’t going to see the changes we’ve made and say ‘this is the year I’m going to break the law.’ We’ve put the safeguards in place, but you may never stop ne’er-do-wells from trying to game the system. No licensing system is perfect so it takes a warden or a fair-minded hunter turning them in.”
Also new for 2020, FWP has done away with paper applications for special draw licenses and permits. Additionally, all applying must have a valid email address. Those without a computer must apply at an FWP office.
March 1 is also now a particularly important date for hunters as it is now the new opening date for applying for all special hunting permits. That means that unlike in the past when application periods differed for various species, the openings all begin at the same time.
Closing dates still vary by species and license or permit type. The deadline for elk and deer permits is April 1, moose, sheep and goat is May 1, and elk and deer B licenses is June 1.
Drawings will take place approximately two weeks after close of application period.
Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin