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Mike Thompson

Sign at the Game Range along Highway 83

"This Management Area was purchased by the Fish & Game Commission to provide a big game wintering range, thus relieving adjoining private lands of serious game use. The project was paid for by sportsmen through hunting and fishing license sales and wildlife restoration funds derived from the sale of sporting arms and ammunition.--MONTANA FISH AND GAME COMMISSION.

Something for Everone on the Game Range

by Mike Thompson, biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

(Thompson writes a weekly column, "Game Range Ramblings" for the Seeley Swan Pathfinder. The column below appeared in the May 23, 1996 issue of the Pathfinder.)

It seems like more people are interested in access to the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range than anytime in recent memory. (By the way, recent memory seems to be the only memory I have nowadays). Wintering elk and deer have had the place pretty much to themselves, but we counted 21 vehicles on the main Range road when the seasonal closure expired on May 15th.

The people who've been phoning FWP for information seem to have a good grip on the things they can't do. They know they can't drive off open roads or on roads that are posted closed. They know they can't litter or vandalize property.

They call us because they're not very sure of the things they can do on the Game Range. And, they're often surprised how much freedom is granted to people who are willing to act responsibly.

Of course, I'm talking about Game Range property owned or leased by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, including lands owned by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Plum Creek Timber Company within elk hunting district 282. With the purchase of a State Lands Recreational Use Permit, you may feel free to walk anywhere on these lands, anytime between May 15 and November 10.

Likewise, you may pedal your mountain bike or ride your horse wherever your trusty mounts will carry you.

You may drive your car, pickup, motorcycle, or 4-wheeler on any established road that is not gated or posted closed. You may park on the road shoulder, leaving room for trucks and horse trailers to pass. You also may refrain from driving off the road shoulder and across the bunchgrass to scenic overlooks, and instead may park and walk a short distance to take in those same inspiring views.

You may walk your dog, or you llama, or your cat (Like Sharon and I used to). If you can control it, you may unleash your beast and exercise it. You may shoot in the air, throw your dummy in the water, and yell at your retriever when he hides under the truck. You may call me at FWP's Missoula office for advice on ways to recreate around ponds so that disturbance to nesting birds is minimized, and you may read and report the license plate number of any owner whose dog is chasing wildlife.

You may roast a wiener over a small campfire built with dead and down wood. If your meal makes you drowsy, you may pitch your tent and spend the night. When you pack up in the morning, you may drown your fire dead out and leave no trace of your fire ring or camp. Feel free to pick up any litter left by others, and claim it as a good deed.

You may find a safe location and an effective backstop for sighting in the rifle you bought over the winter, and you may make a point of bringing that bullet-ridden can or paper target home with you when you leave. If you are so inclined, you may shoot ground squirrels and leave them for the red-tailed hawks and coyote pups. And, if you value your freedoms, you may report those who shoot birds and other protected wildlife.

For those who like to stick together, you may contact FWP's Missoula office to obtain a group-use permit and plan your gathering of more than 30 people. Now that fishing season is open, you may walk across the old Dreyer haymeadows to catch brook trout in Cottonwood Creek.

You may carefully release any cutthroat or bull trout you happen to catch and leave these creatures for your grandchildren to enjoy. You may mark the progress of antler growth on all those whitetail bucks along the Woodworth Road this spring.

Be sure to remember that there are other lands owned and managed by FWP in the Seeley Lake area that are not part of the Game Range, and are not managed under the same rules. For example, the Harper's Lake Fishing Access Site is an area of concentrated human use that could not sustain the diversity of recreational opportunities that the Game Range offers today. You'll find more restrictive regulations enforced there, and at similar FWP-managed sites.