cow elk

A pair of cow elk lounge on a hillside in this file photo.

Brett French for the Independent Record

A proposal to conduct limited late-season elk hunting on the Spotted Dog Wildlife Management Area will be replaced with more liberal general season hunting following public feedback, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks says.

FWP had proposed a drawing for winter shoulder season permits good for the 38,000-acre wildlife management area near Elliston. The walk-in hunt aimed to address an over-objective elk population in Hunting District 215.

“Since we purchased Spotted Dog in 2010, elk populations have increased from 1,716 to 2,850, so they’ve more than realized anybody’s vision for growing elk,” regional wildlife manager Mike Thompson said. “It’s so far above objective that we have to reduce this population or mathematically it’s going to get away from us.”

FWP first conducted shoulder season pilot hunts in a few areas in 2015-2016 and expanded the hunts to more than 40 districts across the state in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. The hunts are designed to rapidly decrease over-objective districts through private land antlerless elk harvest before and after the archery and general seasons.

As FWP conducts meetings statewide about proposed hunting seasons, Thompson heard, particularly at a recent meeting in Deer Lodge, some concerns about the Spotted Dog shoulder hunt.

Nick Gevock, conservation director with the Montana Wildlife Federation, noted that opening a wildlife management area would be a “major policy change” from other shoulder hunts. Wildlife management areas have been excluded elsewhere in the state along with the National Forest, in part with the goal of reducing private land game damage by pushing animals onto public land.

“It runs counter to what shoulder seasons are subject to do with wildlife on private ranches and farm lands,” he said. “WMAs are lands purchased specifically for wildlife, and Spotted Dog is prime winter ground.”

Thompson also identified some concerns about access in reconsidering the proposal, and public feedback has skewed toward support for more liberal general season antlerless elk hunting, even if that means more hunters in the district. While still examining details Wednesday, Thompson said a new proposal would open the district to a general license for a brow tine bull or antlerless elk.

Public comment on all proposed seasons is due by Jan. 24. More information is available at http://fwp.mt.gov/.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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