For thousands of Flathead area hunters, hunting season is now moving into high gear.
Grouse, black bear and archery season for deer and elk opened last month. Saturday rifle season for antelope season opens, and on Oct. 22 rifle hunting for deer and elk will open. On that day, more than 100,000 Montana men, women and young hunters will take to the field.
Most of Montana’s prairies and mountains will see more recreation use during the next two months than during any other time of the year.
In the Northern latitudes such as Montana, Mother Nature is frequently the architect of big game populations, more so than habitat management or game regulations. Since we’ve had several consecutive “easy” winters, deer and antelope populations are at record highs for the last several years.
One aspect of Montana’s storied hunting is the vast amount public land and private land open for public recreation, including hunting. Montana is blessed with a wealth of public land, with more than 16 million acres of National Forest land, 8 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land and 5 million acres of Department of Natural Resources and Conservation or state school trust land. Almost all of this land is open for hunting and very few hunting restrictions apply to these lands.
And best of all, all those lands are open at virtually no cost to hunters. National Forest lands and BLM lands are open to free to use for hunting. When you buy your Montana hunting license, there is a small additional fee included which allows hunters to hunt state land.
To this vast acreage of public land already mentioned, add in a million acres of National Wildlife Refuges open to hunting and several hundred thousand acres of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Management Areas open to hunting.
Now if those vast acreages of public land aren’t enough to satisfy most hunters, FWP operates a program called Block Management. Myself, like many other hunters and fishermen, like to complain about some FWP programs, but I’ve never heard any complaints about the Block Management program which opens 6-7 million acres of private forest and ranch land for hunting. This is simply a great win-win program. Funding for this program mostly comes from license fees from non-resident hunters. Opening these private lands for public hunting and access also opens access to lots of public land that does not normally have legal public access.
In Western Montana, most block management lands, about 1.4 million acres, are owned by timber companies such as Weyerhaeuser (formerly Plum Creek), F.H. Stoltze and Stimson.
For those lands, the timber companies generally receive no cash payments, but FWP uses game wardens to patrol these lands to reduce timber theft, public damage to logging roads, enforce road closures and do other recreation use monitoring.
Most Block Management lands, over five million acres, are located in Eastern Montana on private ranch lands. Ranchers are paid for this public use. Block management hunting areas are as small as 45 acres, probably a farm for game bird hunting, to ranches and grazing association lands sprawling over 50,000 acres.
So if you are headed out to hunt, especially to Eastern Montana, don’t leave home without a copy of the Block Management Hunting Access Guide booklet. This is a free booklet that is very well organized with everything you need to know about what private lands are open for hunting under the block management program. Data is broken down by FWP region, county and individual ranches. The guide includes colored maps showing the general location of private land open for public hunting.
When you get to the private land you wish to hunt, Block Management sign-in boxes or the landowners will have detailed local maps.
Overall, Montana offers a wealth of public and private land hunting opportunities. You can literally have thousands of acres to hunt, often with little or no competition from other hunters. This is Montana hunting at its best. Enjoy!