By Dillon Tabish, 9-13-12
||Caption: Hunting season for grouse began Sept. 1 across the state. - Photo courtesy of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
For many Montana residents, the opening days of September signal the onset of a three-month hunting fever.
Big game archery hunting season is underway Sept. 1 through Oct. 14. The upland bird season runs Sept. 1 through Jan. 1.
“There are a lot of happy hunters right now,” said Jim Williams, the Region 1 wildlife manager with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The “big opener,” the general big game season, is Oct. 20 and runs through Nov. 25. That’s when “you can feel the electricity in the air,” Williams said.
Montana has the most hunters per capita in the country, 19 percent, according to FWP.
“(Hunting is) a big part of our culture,” Williams said. “We enjoy the outdoors and pursuing game. It starts now and doesn’t end until December.”
Waterfowl season begins at the end of the month, and early forecasts are extremely positive.
“It’s going to be a great duck season this fall,” Williams said. “It could be one of the best years in a decade.”
Local waterfowl populations have flourished in favorable prairie ranges and ample wetlands. Forecasts also show a possible record number of ducks arriving in the fall flight.
Williams highlighted three popular local bird-hunting locations — along the Flathead River and North Fork and Ninepipe Wildlife Management Area.
“There is phenomenal hunting here locally,” he said.
Mountain grouse and pheasant populations have taken a hit because of another cold, wet spring this year. Pheasant season begins Sept. 22 for youth and Oct. 6 for everyone else.
Big game hunters could see more action this fall after a difficult season last year. The percentage of white-tail fawns that survived winter is the highest since 2006 in Region 1, according to FWP. Mule deer and elk populations also gained ground in almost all areas.
The excitement of hunting sweeps the U.S. this time of year, and a recent survey shows the number of hunters has increased in the last five years.
Last year 13.7 million Americans went hunting, an increase of 9 percent from 2006, according to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. The survey, based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, is conducted every five years and coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wildlife officials inspect bucks at a game check station during a previous hunting season. Archery season is underway. General hunting season begins Oct. 20. Photo courtesy of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
The number of big game hunters rose 8 percent. Migratory bird hunters increased 13 percent.
Hunters spent an average of 21 days pursuing wild game, according to the survey. Big game, like elk and deer, attracted the majority of hunters, 85 percent.
Along with increasing hunting numbers, a 10-year comparison of two separate surveys showed a substantial increase in hunter-related spending.
The total amount of hunter-related spending rose 30 percent between 2006 and 2011. Equipment purchases, like guns and ammo, hiked 29 percent. Trip-related spending spiked 39 percent. The amount of money spent on land leasing and ownership costs doubled.
A recent story in the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review highlighted the importance of states like Montana attracting out-of-state hunters, particularly for agency funding but also for communities that reap the benefits of hunter-related spending.
Nonresident hunters pay up to 15 times more than residents to hunt, the story said, and there is a surplus of nonresident big-game combo license tags for just the second time in 30 years. Roughly 700 licenses remain for sale, as of Sept. 7, according to FWP. Those licenses used to sell out by March.
The Spokesman-Review story reported the loss in revenue for FWP equaling a $3 million shortfall, although FWP expected to sell more tags through October.
“But we’re still concerned,” Ron Aasheim, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman, told the newspaper. “We’re talking about a lot of money.”
The drop in nonresident tag sales could be related to a difficult 2011 hunting season. Of Montana’s seven regions, only one showed above average harvest numbers for both whitetail and mule deer, according to final numbers reported at FWP check stations last year.
Nearly everywhere in the state saw significant declines in both animals harvested and hunters in the field, especially in eastern Montana. All but two regions reported a below average number of hunters last season.
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