After session, changes ahead for hunters, anglers

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The 2015 legislative session is over. Our legislators passed and modified a wide range of hunting and fishing laws that will affect every person in Montana who hunts and fishes.

Probably the most important new law for outdoors people is House Bill 140. That law is 30 some pages long and is so complicated that it will take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure it out. It is a combination of new law and modification of old law.†

One clear fact is that hunting and fishing will be a little more expensive. HB 140 is the primary legislation that increases hunting and fishing license fees. The fee increases are designed to provide adequate funding for Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the next several years. None of the new fees will go into effect until the next license year that starts on March 1, 2016.

The cost of a general fishing license increases from $18 to $21, a very modest sum. If you are a senior citizen, age 62 and older, 2015 is the last year to get a free fishing license. In 2016, you will have to buy a fishing license, but the cost is half price or $10.50.

If you are a hunter, most of the license fees for upland bird, deer or elk have not increased. But all hunters will have to buy a new basic hunting license for $10 prior to buying a deer or elk tag.

Seniors get hit a little harder. This year, if you buy a $8 conservation license, you will get a free fishing license, free upland bird hunting license and free state waterfowl license. Next year those same hunting and fishing privileges will cost you over $30. †

One important change in hunting rules is the passage of the Families Afield legislation.†

Sometimes this is referred to as the apprentice hunting legislation or youth hunting bill. First, it lowers the age of young hunters from 12 to 10. It also allows youths up to age 18 to try hunting under the apprentice hunting program for up to two years prior to taking the state course for hunting safety.

As mentioned in previous Flathead Outdoors columns, the number of hunters in Montana and the United States is going down. The 36 states that have enacted this type of youth hunting programs have shown increasing numbers of hunters, especially young hunters.

The concept of the youth hunting program is to get youths into hunting before they become involved in the vast number of other youth activities available today.†

Now hunters as young as age 10 and 11 can hunt but only if accompanied by and closely controlled by a responsible adult mentor. Some concern hunter safety has been expressed. But the states with over a decade of similar youth hunting programs have shown a hunting† accident rate only one-fifth the accident rate of other hunters.

Actually, the most dangerous part of most hunting is the highway drive to your hunting area.

Young hunters ages 10 and 11 can only hunt upland birds, turkeys and deer. They cannot put in for limited-draw licenses such as for sheep, moose or mountain goats. They cannot hunt elk, which usually takes a more powerful rifle.

Passing this youth hunting legislation was not an easy task. It originated as SB 395 and passed the Senate by a comfortable margin, but failed to pass the House by two votes. For some reason, which I donít understand, Republicans tended to favor this bill while Democrats tended to vote against it. I fail to understand why hunting and fishing legislation seems to have a political aspect.

But due to the legislative skills of our own Sen. Mark Blasdel, the youth hunting bill was attached to a House bill favored by the Democrats. The amended bill passed the House and Senate and was signed by the governor. Thanks, Gov. Bullock!

This fall, several hundred (perhaps well over a thousand) young Montana hunters will legally take to the field to hunt with their families and learn the challenges of hunting wild game similar to their ancestors. They will also experience the joy of providing food for the family table.†

We all owe a great deal of thanks to Blasdel who carried this legislation. If you see Sen. Blasdel today, give him a big hug.

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