Ten Years Later,
Game Range Still opens May 15

Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder


May 10, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson


It's hard to believe that May 15th never meant anything special to me until 1988.

Come to think of it, it's getting harder and harder to remember anything at all about my life before 1988.

May 15th, 1988 was my first May 15th as manager of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range and other Wildlife Management Areas in the Missoula area (FWP Region 2).

And, coincidentally, this article marks the tenth Anniversary of the "Game Range Ramblings" column in the Pathfinder.

That first column heralded the same news that I will repeat now for the eleventh consecutive year:

"The Game Range opens to the public on May 15th!"

That's next Tuesday, for those of you who don't have a calendar handy. And, it's 12:00:01 on Tuesday morning for those of you who want to be the first to find the biggest shed antlers on Boyd Mountain.

You will find three gates open to allow access by motorized vehicles at that time. These are located near the 3-mile marker on Highway 83, about 3 miles east of Clearwater Junction on Highway 200, and along Cottonwood Creek at the Game Range headquarters. If you drive into the Game Range, please keep your vehicle (car, truck, 4-wheeler, motorcycle or anything else with a motor on it) on the road, and avoid driving off roads or on closed roads.

And, you can give us a call at 542-5500 if you'd like a map of the road system on the Game Range, as well as the regulations that apply.

Or, you might choose instead to park in a safe place along Highway 83, Highway 200 or Woodworth Road and hike or ride a horse onto the Game Range from there.

This is a good time of year to express our appreciation to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (State Lands), U. S. Bureau of Land Management, and especially Plum Creek Timber Company for putting up with our annual winter closure and grand spring opening on their lands within the Game Range. Because of their cooperation, you don't really have to pay a lot of attention to whose property you're on when using the Game Range, as long you make sure you don't stray onto adjacent private land, and as long as you're carrying your State Lands Recreational Use Permit.

You might even see a few elk, although most will have drifted off the Game Range by then. Elk chase spring wherever it goes, and in Montana spring starts at the lowest elevations and advances to the highest elevations between March and July. So, the elk follow, primarily to take advantage of the most succulent plant material that emerges as the snowpack melts away. They drop their calves along the way, mostly just before or soon after June 1.

It continues to surprise me how often I meet people who don't realize that the Game Range is ever open to the public. That's good in one way because we don't have to contend with the potential for resource damage that comes with heavy public use. On the other hand, we want people to know that we welcome their presence on the Game Range from May 15th through November 10th.

After all, you bought the place. There was the original purchase in 1948, the Dreyer Addition in 1989, and most recently the 50th Anniversary Additions (Phase I) in 1999 and 2000. When the elk are gone to their summer range, it's more than appropriate for you to come inspect what FWP holds and manages in trust for you and your wildlife. And, if you have questions or suggestions after you look things over, please feel free to offer them to me at 542-5523.

As for the 10 years of "Game Range Ramblings," well, I am very grateful to Gary Noland. I don't know if all of you realize how rare it is for any newspaper publisher to give a column to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Just to make a point, I'll admit that I have approached other papers over the years with the idea of expanding the scope of this column, only to be rejected. Gary immediately recognized the value of establishing a regular dialogue between the community and your wildlife agency, long before that value was proven.

I also want to take time out to thank those of you who read the column. It's been really nice when someone introduces himself or herself as a "Ramblings" reader and goes on to discuss points I might have made in a recent column. That level of interest is the ultimate compliment. And, I also appreciate your tolerance when I occasionally blunder and step on toes without meaning to.

Writing this column has become a very important part of the way I do my job. It helps me make management choices because I would hope to be able to write about everything I'm doing on my work time. I think this column makes us just a little more accountable.

Most of all, it's fun to write "Ramblings." I only regret that I'm not finding as much time to put into it as I would like. I think the hurriedness shows in the scope of material I write about. When I'm in a hurry, I can't take the time to gather a lot of information that I don't already have in my head or at my fingertips.

So, the annual "May 15th" column is something of a vacation from feeling the need to present new information. And, speaking of vacation, I'm going to take a real one for a couple of weeks. I'll see you again when the elk are calving.