When does ‘immediately’ become a violation?

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Recently, a friend of mine gave me a front-page news article from the Duluth News Tribune titled, “Ticket Ticks Off Hunter.”

Northern Minnesota has very high quality deer hunting but virtually no elk hunting, so many hunters save their money to take once-in-a-lifetime elk hunting trips to Montana, Wyoming or Colorado. That is exactly what one 65-year-old Minnesota gentleman did last fall. He hunted for elk near Bozeman with his brother who lives in Montana.

After spending nearly a thousand dollars for a Montana elk and deer license, he bagged a nice bull elk on opening day. When he and his brother reached the dead elk, they took photos, congratulated each other and said a prayer. Little did they know the violation clock was ticking.

A short while later, a Montana game warden spoiled the occasion by giving the Minnesota hunter a ticket for not “immediately” tagging the elk. According to Montana statute, “Immediately after killing a game animal, a hunter must cut out the proper month and day of the kill from the appropriate license and attach it to the animal in a secure and visible manner.”

The Minnesota hunter promptly cut out the appropriate day and month on the tag but didn’t immediately attach the tag. Nowhere in my review of Montana statutes or in my dictionary could I find a numerical definition of “immediately.”

Unknown to the hunter, this Montana game warden was situated nearby watching the hunter through his high-powered binoculars. The warden noted the exact time the hunter reached the elk and the exact time 26 minutes later the tag was attached to the antlers.

For that game warden, 26 minutes did not meet his definition of “immediately.” The warden indicated a ticket would be issued and the elk confiscated; however, the warden did not take the elk until the hunter and his brother had moved the elk from the wet kill site to a farmstead.

The fact that the warden recorded the exact time the hunter reached his elk and the exact time the hunter attached the tag to the elk seemed to imply he was looking hard for a reason to issue a ticket. The Minnesota hunter said he felt the warden’s judgment was influenced by having a video camera man with him filming an episode for the “Wardens” TV program.

The following week, the county attorney dismissed the ticket and allowed the hunter to reclaim his elk antlers. But the elk meat had already been given to a food bank. I think the fact that this questionable Montana game violation made the front page of a large newspaper indicates many other folks thought that ticket was not justified. The Duluth newspaper, which is read by over 100,000 people each day, probably left many Minnesota and Wisconsin readers, and potential Montana visitors, with a poor image of Montana and hunting law enforcement.

Last fall I shot a nice mule deer buck that immediately dropped. For various reasons, it was over an hour before the deer was tagged. A few years ago I shot a nice bighorn ram. It took me over an hour of climbing to reach the animal. Should I have been cited for those delays?     

Pending Montana legislation (House Bill 279) would change game animal tagging regulations. The word “immediately” would be dropped. Instead the tag must be attached before the hunter leaves the kill site or when the game animal is moved from the kill site. The new language is more understandable and definable.

While researching this column, I found that, along with 99 percent of other Northwest Montana hunters, I am probably breaking another obscure Montana game law. But that is another story for another day.

Elk Foundation Banquet

Feb. 21 is the 30th Annual Flathead Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Banquet.

This is usually the biggest annual gathering of hunters in Northwest Montana. There will be games, a silent auction, a live auction and a fine meal. Lots of rifles and hunting gear will be sold.

This annual fun event usually raises nearly $100,000 for elk habitat projects and elk management. I find this a great time to meet old friends and talk with other elk hunters. The foundation is a made-in-Montana organization with over 200,000 members who have conserved and enhanced over 6 million acres of wildlife habitat.

If you haven’t already signed up for the banquet, call Kim at 406-257-9110. See you there!

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