Hunting season comes to a close

A few hunters around the county earned bragging rights this hunting season. However, the sight of legs hanging out of the truck bed and the smile of the hunter celebrating at the bar with friends while other hunters look on with elk envy has not been commonplace.

On paper, overall numbers of hunters through Region 3 check stations during general deer and elk season with a success were slightly down from last year, by .8 percent, according to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks check station summary.

Considering that the Gallatin check station only operated the first and last weeks of this year, and that the Livingston check station was not open at all last year, in reality, 2012 did not fall too far behind 2011.

Even though percentages seem to be steady, the number of actual hunters through the check stations from last year is down by almost 3,000.

This past weekend, and the last, of big game hunting definitely showed a rise of hunters with successful kills from week five. However, compare this past year to 2010, and there is a drastic decrease.

Overall success was down 2.2 percent and the total number of elk killed was down by 452. And what most hunters come for, and want to leave with, is a cow or bull elk.

Ennis resident, Doug Pauline, spent about 25 days of this hunting season out in the Gravelly and Madison ranges. He filled his antelope and deer tags, but no elk.

Pauline agrees that the weather for the past few years may not have been conducive to the hunt; however, he is not complaining about the amount of elk he saw this season.

“I probably saw as many, or more elk than last year,” says Pauline. “I had to go way back in there; a lot higher, a lot deeper and a lot further. I could have shot a lot of cows. “

All in all, word around town is that this season was a struggle for most hunters. Snow fell later this year than most years, leaving the elk up high and harder to track. New FWP hunting regulations also came into play this year. In the past, cow elk could be shot during any of the five weeks. Late season tags were also available.

This year, hunters were limited to one elk. And, if they wanted to shoot a cow, they needed an antlerless elk license. The one week, during the five week general season, they could shoot it, depended on the tag they drew.

“My biggest gripe is that we can’t shoot a cow during the whole five week period,” says Pauline. “If they are trying not to harvest elk, they are doing a good job.”

According to news release from Andrea Jones, FWP Education Manager for Region 3, the new antlerless regulations came about through a group effort by FWP, landowners, hunters and outfitters who were interested in better documentation of the elk harvest in Madison County.

The Madison Valley Ranchlands Group in Ennis started participating with the Elk Working Group in 2001. They were asked by the FWP to help spearhead elk management, according to Project Manager, Lane Adamson.  Mainly, at that time, the issues were brucellosis and managing elk on private lands.

“The underlying problem to elk management,” says Adamson “was that eight to nine thousand elk were wintering in Madison Valley on private land.”

There is no way to keep elk off private property, and they eat a lot of grass, compromise fences and threaten livestock with little compensation for the ranchers from government agencies.

“90 percent of the landowners in this valley would let you hunt on their land if you had permission,” states Adamson.

Adamson used to be the person in charge of contacting the 200 individuals who had after season (A7) cow elk tags. He coordinated them to come and shoot a cow only on private land. Landowners were able to take out at least a small part of the elk population living and feeding off their property.

The current regulations may limit access to elk in late season, and certainly limit the opportunity for hunters to shoot a cow elk. However, harvesting less elk does not seem to be the ultimate goal. Regardless, most elk stay up high until January or February, and stay down low until June.

“If all the elk are here from Jan. 1, until Feb. 15, maybe that’s when we should have hunting season,” comments Adamson. “I think they’ll keep toying around with regulations. Trying to appease people that want access to all the land; trying to appease people that want to shoot bulls.”

Until then, hunters should hope for early snow, or get into shape to head higher in the mountains to find their elk for next year.

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