Controversial elk hunting regs revised, out for comment again

Public comment due Jan. 21, Fish and Wildlife Commission meets Feb. 4

By: - December 30, 2021 5:06 pm

Elk between Canyon Village and Norris in Yellowstone National Park (Wikimedia Commons)

A revised set of proposed changes to elk hunting regulations is out for public comment, and the Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet on Feb. 4 to make a final decision on the 2022-2023 regs following a controversial start to the update.

This time around, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks took a different strategy to a regular update of its elk hunting regulations, said spokesman Greg Lemon. He said the goal was to use biologically based proposals to simplify regulations and complex permit structures — and get high elk populations back down to the department’s objectives.

“The idea was, let’s just use the filter of science and simplicity and see where we end up,” Lemon said.

After an initial round of public comment in the fall, FWP started crafting proposals with special attention to eight hunting districts which were 200 percent over the objective in elk numbers and limited either-sex elk permits, Lemon said. Permit availability varied, with some districts having just 20 and others hundreds, but all were limited.

“Which meant you had to apply for the permit, and not everybody got one,” Lemon said.

So he said the director’s office released an initial proposal that offered a different approach in those hunting districts to help get elk numbers to objective, as FWP is charged to do by statute.

“That proposal generated a lot of consternation, a lot of concern, a lot of comment,” he said.

In a column published by the Daily Montanan, hunter and lawmaker Marilyn Marler outlined some of the opposition to the changes, including a reduction in randomly drawn bull permits by 50 percent for hunters on public lands, but unlimited harvest of “trophy” bull elk on private land.

“The proposal is a boon for private landowners and commercial outfitters at the direct expense of Montana elk hunters,” said Rep. Marler, D-Missoula.

In response to the feedback, Lemon said the Fish and Wildlife Commission took a couple of different tacts at a meeting in December, and the revisions are out for public comment until Jan. 21.

Comment on proposed hunting regs

Follow this link to comment on the revised 2022-2023 proposal by Fish, Wildlife and Parks:

First, in those eight districts over objective, the commission proposed to increase the number of either-sex permits by roughly 50 percent, he said.

Secondly, the commission proposed to unbundle archery-only either-sex permits from certain districts and offer either a general license or unlimited permits, he said: “That’s a pretty significant change on the archery only permits.”

Another change under consideration is offering an elk B license, for antlerless elk, over the counter for 15 hunting districts on private land that are over 200 percent objective. 

“That would be valid in those hunting districts all the way through the end of the shoulder season on private land,” he said, noting Feb. 15 as the final day of the season. “So the commission thought, in these areas where we are so far over objective, let’s be as opportunistic as we can in letting hunters hunt elk. In some of the districts, that’s going to mean that hunters would be able to shoot three elk a year, which is legal in the statute.”

He said one of the changes that drew objection earlier, to reduce randomly drawn bull permits by 50 percent on public lands but allow unlimited harvest on private land, is no longer on the table.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”