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Big Game Hunting
Opens October 24th


October 21, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

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


Saturday morning dawned cold and still, a perfect day for hunting. With only two or three hours elapsed in the 8-day special deer season in Hunting District 282, one hunter found me posting signs around the hunting district boundary, and had already killed a whitetail doe.

"Boy, there don't seem to be many deer around this year," he said. "I only saw a couple and thought I'd better take this one. What's the matter?"

I guess when you live in paradise, you develop high expectations.

A couple hours later, another hunter stopped me to say thanks for his hunting opportunity and for FWP's management of local deer and elk populations. He saw a few whitetails and passed up a small 3-point near the old Dreyer Ranch. He also got to watch about 50 elk before he finished the morning hunt.

And, there you have our first reports on the 1999 hunting season in Hunting District 282. From this, I predict that hunters whose proverbial glasses are half empty will suffer through another disappointing season on the Game Range. Those whose glasses are half full will enjoy glorious days afield, and will likely put some meat in the freezer.

Saturday was the first day that a special permit was required to hunt on the Game Range in Hunting District 282. Even now, and through November 10, it will be legal for anyone to drive and hike on the Game Range, or hunt upland birds, black bear and waterfowl. But, from now through Saturday, October 23, the only hunters who may legally hunt deer in HD 282 are those lucky 50 who were randomly selected by computer in the annual statewide drawing last August. And, beginning this Sunday, October 24, until the annual winter closure begins on November 11, only 50 hunters with special A-7 licenses for HD 282 may hunt for elk and deer on the Game Range.

If weather conditions stay as they are, I would expect a relatively light harvest of elk and deer in HD 282. Normally, it takes snow and cold to push migratory elk and deer from the high country to the Game Range, and we just haven't had enough of either, so far.

As they read this, savvy hunters without special permits for HD 282 are doing cartwheels and backflips.

Because, you see, once elk and deer migrate to the Game Range, they tend to stay there for the rest of the hunting season. And, every elk or deer on the Game Range is one less elk or deer available for the rest of us to hunt in surrounding districts.

There have been hunting seasons in recent memory when most of the elk population migrated to the sanctuary of the Game Range by the end of the second week. In years when this happens, it greatly reduces hunters' odds of success across most of adjacent Hunting District 285.

Fortunately, we've not seen this phenomenon in the past couple of years. But, Mother Nature's sword cuts both ways. Mild weather will hold lots of elk off the Game Range, and on publicly accessible lands open to general license-holders, but it will also make elk hard to find wherever they live.

Seeley Lake elk hunters are hoping for a series of moderate snow storms (maybe one or two per week), dumping a few inches at a time, spread over the course of the hunting season. This will bring elk to the Game Range, and across accessible hunting areas, a few at a time throughout November. Too much snow and cold too early will shove too many elk to the Game Range all at once. Too little snow too late will keep the big bulls in the high country, away from open roads and gentle terrain.

We're not asking for much.

Whether we'll get the perfect weather pattern is beyond FWP's control. But, I can assure you there are elk and deer to hunt. Elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer populations are on an upswing from the lows we saw in 1997. In particular, there should be a good supply of young whitetail bucks to hunt for this year after the good fawn production and survival we experienced last year.

Ready or not, it's hunting season again!

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