by Mike Thompson,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Sunday, October 24, 1999.
3:01 A.M. Clock-radio broken. It's blasting in the middle of the night. Turned light on and investigated. Appliance in good working order. Oh, no! It's opening day of hunting season! Gotta get up.
3:30 A.M. Stumbled into 4B's restaurant. It's too early to be responsible for my own breakfast. Coffee arrives just in time, but waitress is perky. Can't stand perky at this hour of the morning. Wolfed down my French toast and left a generous tip to make up for my flagging personality.
4:15 A.M. Headed up the Bitterroot. Big moon on the western horizon. Coffee must be working. I'm surprisingly wide awake and enjoying the drive. No traffic.
4:45 A.M. Entering Threemile Wildlife Management Area (WMA), east of Florence. Looking for flashes of headlights on the mountainside where headlights shouldn't be (no driving allowed off roads). Thankfully, I see none. But, there's a flash of taillights on the road up ahead. Hunters are here already.
5:20 A.M. I take my position in the south parking lot. "The People Corral," as our neighboring rancher calls it. Only one vehicle beat me to the spot. Checking for occupancy, but it appears the hunters have already taken their stands afield. Ten more vehicles join ours before daybreak. I hand out maps and regulations. Discuss property boundaries to help the hunters avoid mistakes. A few seem more interested in swapping stories than going hunting.
7:35 A.M. Legal shooting hours begin. Dead silence. Then, first shots fired at 7:51. I wonder if the wardens are on top of it. A "saturation patrol" is planned to provide an extra margin of safety where quite a few elk live along property boundaries between the WMA, private land with regulated public access, posted private land, and a State "School Section."
9:00 A.M. No signs of chaos. No more hunters arriving. I'm free to continue with my patrol. (I'm not a trained enforcement officer. For me, "patrol" means to make sure people understand and are complying with WMA rules and regulations that protect habitat and hunting opportunities, such as "no driving off roads or on closed roads." Patrol also means to learn how the hunt is going and answer questions when I can. These activities help reinforce the positive actions of hunters who want to help, and deter violations by others. On occasions when I happen upon a violation, I record all pertinent information and request the assistance of a warden.)
10:50 A.M. I've talked my way back across the 8-mile road system on Threemile WMA. Counted 86 vehicles, which amounts to at least 170 hunters in an area about 1/4 of the size of Hunting District 282. People are asking me when we're going to go to hunting by permit-only.
11:30 A.M. Arrived at Calf Creek WMA, east of Hamilton. Ten vehicles in the parking lot to this walk-in (or horseback) hunting area. Two with horse trailers. Talked with five hunters as they came out. No one saw elk on the WMA, but a couple heard of one being taken on the adjacent Block Management Area. Everything going smoothly, according to the hunters I talked with. No 4-wheeler trespass like we've had in the past. Maybe it helped that we left a FWP Blazer in the parking lot Friday. Need to remember to remove the "decoy truck" from the lot on Monday.
1:30 P.M. A break in the action at Calf Creek, so I make my break toward the next destination. Need to check the public parking lots on the Bolin Conservation Easement. FWP and the Bolin family agreed on a guarantee of limited public access as part of the conservation easement. Hunting pressure is limited by available parking spaces. A maximum of 3 vehicles is allowed in each of two designated parking areas. Whenever I'm in the area, I fill the brochure boxes at the parking lots (hunters are required to read and carry a copy as their permit to access the Bolin Ranch).
3:00 P.M. Stuck in traffic, working my way through Missoula. Road closed, no detour marked. Starting to feel like a hunter. Truck veered into the Burger King drive through. Whopper, fries and shake jumped into the cab. Squeezed out the other end of Missoula, headed up the Blackfoot.
4:00 P.M. Driving in the west gate of the Blackfoot-Clearwater WMA. Talking to a few hunters, but most seem to be waiting for some colder weather. Can't help noticing the network of vehicle tracks across the fescue winter range where powerline right-of-way maintenance was performed earlier this month. Wonder how many hunters will see this and think it's an open road. I'm reminded of $42,000 spent on weed control in this place last year. Need to find a better way to access the right of way. Otherwise, the winter range looks like Monte Dolack painted it. I hope it begins to look more like the way Conrad Rowe photographed it, soon. We need some moisture!
5:30 P.M. Arrived at the Blackfoot-Clearwater headquarters and the Hunting District 282 check station. Counted 29 teeth turned in from deer killed since October 16. Not bad, but no elk yet.
6:30 P.M. Bumped into a hunter who just happened to mention he's taking his time filling his deer permit. I said I'd better have a look at his deer permit. Oops, just as I suspected. His deer permit expired yesterday. Probably ought to pay a little more attention to the fine print in the future. Explained that the road closure across the top of Boyd Mountain was implemented by Plum Creek to control access to corporate timberlands. He gave me a tip on some FWP gates down below that weren't locked. Spent an extra hour fixing those up.
8:30 P.M. Almost home. Business looks to be slowing a bit at Bonner Check Station. That big moon is up again. Looks like another opening day is in the bag.