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Montana makes no changes to popular antler-hunting opening day

March 16, 2010 | 10:44 am
Shed elk antler.

Hunting for shed elk antlers has become so popular in Montana that officials have been considering enacting regulations to limit opening day access in some areas, to protect both the landscape and the elk populating it.

Following a public comment period, the state's Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission has decided to make no changes when Wildlife Management Areas reopen to public access on May 15, instead requesting that the issue be further evaluated.

"They want the Missoula, Bozeman and Great Falls regions to take a look at what should be considered," Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department spokesman Ron Aasheim told the Helena Independent Record. "Things like where people should park, whether a three-day walk-in would work, what are the opportunities for less mobile people -- they want us to continue to work on this."

The department proposed that only foot traffic be allowed on the day that Wildlife Management Areas closed for the winter are reopened to the public, and each person be limited to collecting two antlers.

The area of greatest concern is Sun River Management Area. Sometimes compared to the Great Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893, more than 200 people on foot, bicycles, horseback and in vehicles gather at the main gate or along fences around Sun River. At noon on May 15, the gate is swung open and hundreds of people swarm in, spreading out over the landscape to hunt for shed antlers.

Department commissioner Ron Moody received numerous complaints about Sun River’s opening day last year when he attended a meeting of the Sun River Working Group, an organization of landowners, outfitters and sportsmen.

“I got an earful, and brought those concerns back to the commission,” Moody said. “People said that on opening day a large mob of people were turned loose ... and came in from every direction while there were still a lot of elk on the game range."

While collectors aren't grabbing antlers off the animals, they are getting in close proximity to herds, causing the elk undue stress and fatigue.

“People ended up surrounding those elk and they were running back and forth in a panic to get away from the horn hunters. They showed me a picture of an exhausted cow elk,” continued Moody.

Experts say these interactions with the animals don't cause long-term harm, and may actually help disperse elk lingering in the areas, but it's a sharp contrast to the quiet winters.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Shed elk antler. Credit: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

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