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Landowners Deserve
Our Thanks...

December 9, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson,
Wildlife Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder

The breeze blowing in the Seeley-Swan and Blackfoot country these days feels to me like a collective sigh of relief from many ranchers and other landowners.

For the most part, another Montana hunting season is behind us.

Sure, there are still a few special elk permits valid in the East Garnets (Hunting District 291) until January 1. Archery hunting for elk and deer stays open across the flats between Ovando and Helmville (Hunting District 290) through December 15. Grouse hunting also stays open through December 15, goose hunting is open through January 9, and duck hunting continues through January 15. And, of course, the winter hunting season for mountain lion opened December 1.

But, these pale in comparison with the impacts of the general big-game hunting season on the lives of rural landowners. We owe Montana landowners a debt of gratitude for putting up with it, year after year.

Yes, I am very much aware and proud of Montana's hunting heritage. I am a hunter myself. And, I do understand that landowners who cooperate in allowing reasonable hunting access to manage big game populations are benefiting themselves and their neighbors as much as hunters.

However, I surely see no hypocrisy in admitting that we hunters can be a big pill for landowners to swallow, day after day, week after week, year after year.

It's not hard for me to put myself in a landowner's shoes after flinging the cats off my lap and hustling to the phone in an otherwise quiet evening at home, only to learn of an opportunity to send my money to a telemarketer. Just think of factoring dozens of additional hunter phone calls and drop-ins into this equation.

And, unfortunately, just like the telemarketers, there are always a few hunters who don't understand "no" or "not today." This kind of encounter with a salesperson can get under my skin and ruin the rest of my evening at home. It doesn't happen very often with hunters, I'm sure, because if it did, there would be no private land open to hunting today. But, it only takes one or two belligerent hunters to really tarnish a hunting season for a landowner.

For enduring the hassle, for taking the time, we at Fish, Wildlife & Parks thank you.

Although we especially appreciate landowners who allow hunting access, this acknowledgment is not limited to them. We also realize that landowners who don't allow hunting suffer much the same trouble in hunting season. Maybe these landowners have concerns about crops or livestock or safety. Maybe they just want to enjoy some hunting for themselves on their own property. But, whatever their reasons may be for closing their land to hunting, these landowners generally do not escape the traffic, phone calls, and occasional vandalism associated with hunting season.

And, the impression left by trails of candy wrappers and toilet paper at every wide spot on a country road does nothing but help reinforce many landowners' decisions to keep their land closed. After all, how would you react to a pickup load of people who park on the edge of your property and throw their sandwich wrappers and pop cans on your lawn? Would you invite them in, or run them off?

Landowners who participate in Montana's Block Management Program receive some monetary compensation for the hassles and headaches associated with opening their land to the public. It's a lot better than a kick in the teeth. But, the dollars don't wipe away the disruption of a country life that occurs when thousands of people from all over Montana and the United States descend upon us each fall. Block Management Cooperators, please accept a sincere thank you.

If you think I'm being a little hard on hunters, I don't mean to be. As a subset of the human population, we hunters are no worse than any other. Most of us like to think we are thoughtful, considerate people who respect other people and the land.

However, I think hunters are held to a higher standard by the public because of the nature of our avocation. We enter public and private lands in large numbers. We are handling loaded firearms and occasionally firing at living animals. We are conducting our activities among other land uses and other people in the outdoors. And, if we want to continue hunting, and hunting on private land, hunters need to hold themselves to a higher standard of responsibility and behavior than the average person on the street.

The fast-food wrapper on the roadside in July is a nameless reflection on the general public. The bullet hole in a "Hunting by Written Permission" sign is a specific reflection on hunters. That's the difference.

With some limited hunting still going on for a few weeks, maybe this would be a good time for hunters to rededicate themselves to a more stringent hunting ethic.

The landowners in your favorite hunting areas will thank you for it.

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