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Few but weighty new elk regs affect Region 1

by JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
| February 8, 2022 7:00 AM

Elk hunters sighting the northwestern reaches of Montana already tagged a brute ahead of the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

In opting to hunt Region 1, they will avoid a hearty belly-crawl through most of the scrub of hunting regulations proposed, tabled, amended, passed or carried over Friday by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission — who at times, appeared to confuse even veteran hunters and outfitters.

The bulk of those elk hunting changes and related debate this biennial round affects districts east of the divide in central and southeast Montana.

Many Friday urged the commission to nix new elk management proposals and simply revert to its 2021 regulations. A number of others called an incoming update of the state’s dated elk management plan ahead of implementing new regulations.

Meanwhile, just two statewide elk hunting measures will serve the greatest impact to Region 1 hunting in Lake, Sanders, Lincoln and Flathead counties.

Albeit few, these statewide changes still carry meaningful weight.

Namely, the commission unanimously approved a measure that in part, releases complex limits on hunters pursuing antlerless elk.

These permits for 2022 and 2023 hunting of either-sex elk or brow-tined bull antlerless elk, however, will limit antlered elk hunting to within only the designated district or portion of districts and time specified by the permit.

Antlerless elk will not be limited. Hunters could use a general license to hunt in any open district during dates outside of those identified by their permit.

In 2021, the state offered a general elk license valid for one elk. Hunters could hold only one general license, available over the counter for residents and by limited lottery for most nonresidents, both atop required conservation and base-hunting licenses.

Additionally, a lottery-drawn “Elk B” license meant to control elk populations was offered to hunt an antlerless elk within a specific period and hunting district or group of hunting districts.

Hunters needed only the state’s conservation and base licenses to apply for the Elk B license, which consisted of limited and unlimited licensing variations.

Of note, many Elk B licenses were valid only on private land. Overall, hunters could hold up to three elk licenses per year, only one of which could be a general license.

A separate lottery-drawn elk permit required resident hunters to hold a valid general license, with separate licensing requirement for nonresidents. The permit may have been for antlered or antlerless elk.

It did not allow an additional elk kill but did allow a hunter into a restricted area or period where harvest restrictions had otherwise been imposed on general license holders.

Lastly, holding an antlerless elk permit prohibited an antlered elk kill within the same hunting district. But granted hunters held a valid general license, elk permit holders were not restricted from hunting in a different district.

Also Friday, the commission unanimously approved a second statewide measure extending late-season antlerless elk hunting for individual districts on private and certain public lands.

The option will extend antlerless elk hunting to as late as Feb. 15 for the next two seasons.

Such shoulder seasons were allowed regionally in 2021 for Hunting District 101 from Aug.15 to Feb. 15, and for hunting districts 109 and 121 from Nov. 29 to Feb. 15.

Late-season elk hunting will continue in those districts for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, according to the approved proposal.

The commission could add late-season elk hunting elsewhere to meet population objectives.

The commission additionally cleared Friday scores of related individual hunting district changes, carryovers and elk quotas for the next two seasons.

In Region 1, aside from the brow-tined bull and varied antlerless elk hunting revisions, district changes mostly included boundary changes.

Of those, the commission approved combining hunting districts 100 and 109, and 102 and 103.

A complete list of the revisions and elk quotas set by the commission are available at fwp.mt.gov.