Montana’s Biggest Festival – Hunting Season Begins Saturday

The photo is from a late November hunt a few years back. It was 20 below that morning, but a successful hunt for whitetail deer.

The wait is almost over.

Yes, for people who live for the annual celebration of carrying a rifle and walking across Montana’s mountains and prairies in search of deer and elk, it’s time to celebrate.

On Saturday the statewide festival we call huntin’ season begins at dawn, and for the next five weeks, until sunset on November 26, people across Montana will be setting alarm clocks for what would be considered alarming times most of the year. It’s a time for big breakfasts, then hitting the road in hopes of opportunities to bag a deer or elk and fill freezers with locally sourced, organically grown wild food.

The season opens on Saturday, though the next two days, October 19 and 20, legally licensed hunters, age 10 through 15, and accompanied by an adult, may hunt deer wherever they are licensed to hunt.

It’s a hectic time in the backcountry. Right now, there are all sorts of hunters already in the mountains, or hauling camping trailers, horse trailers, and other gear and paraphernalia that become part of hunting camps.

If the deer and elk seem alert and skittish on Saturday, it might be because of so much activity these last few days before the season begins.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but this might be a better than average year for many hunters. We’ve been getting mountain snow off and on for the last month and forcing elk and mule deer to go to lower elevations for food. I hesitate to make predictions, of course, because that might bump us back into Indian summer weather. Weather is always uncertain, though it’s almost certain that we’ll be making the transition from autumn to early winter during these coming weeks and that means don’t be surprised at anything that happens.

As we begin another huntin’ season, here are a few reminders.

Montana law requires all hunters, or anyone accompanying a hunter as an outfitter or guide, to wear a minimum of 400 square inches of hunter orange above the waist. During the general season that includes archery hunters, as well. For your own safety, don’t ignore this rule. Wearing orange can save your life. If you watch hunting programs on TV you probably see hunters wearing camouflage. There are some states that don’t require hunter orange. Montana isn’t one of them. Personally, I advocate that anybody that’s in the outdoors this time of year, such as farmers, ranchers, upland bird hunters, and hikers, should wear orange.

Montana law requires hunters to have permission to hunt private land. This applies to upland bird hunters and big game hunters alike. It doesn’t make any difference whether a landowner has or has not posted their land, or painted fence posts orange. You have to have permission from a landowner, lessee or agent.

If hunting on private land you can’t drive off established roads or trails without landowner permission. Off-road travel on public lands is prohibited unless roads or trails are designated as open to motorized travel. There are no exceptions for game retrieval.

If you have a successful hunt, you must validate your tag by cutting out the notches for the date, and attach the tag to the carcass before removing it from the kill site.

Many cooperating landowners provide hunting access to millions of acres of land in Montana through the Block Management Program. FWP offices can provide directories to those lands. There are some hoops to jump through, such as getting a signed permission slip from the landowner or signing in at a designated sign-in box.

Finally, it is possible to donate a hunting license to a disabled military service member or veteran. Under this program, the disabled person must be a Purple Heart recipient, with a 70 percent disability rating.

This is a special time of year. It’s a celebration of the outdoors and an opportunity for recreation and filling freezers. For a lucky few, it might even mean a chance at the trophy of a lifetime.

Enjoy, but stay safe and legal.

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