Mule deer

A mule deer buck.

LIBBY — People interested in hunting in Montana’s newest district set-aside for trophy mule deer bucks will need to get their applications in by Thursday, March 15.

Last week, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission unanimously approved a citizen initiative to set aside a portion of Hunting District 103 in the Fisher River area near Libby for permit-only hunting of mule deer bucks.

The new permit area will take effect this year with a quota of five permits.

Before the commission’s decision, FWP’s Region 1 in northwest Montana didn’t have a full-season, limited permit area for mule deer bucks. In other places in the state, including the Bitterroot Valley, those areas have been extremely popular for hunters hoping to harvest a trophy mule deer.

George Mercer served as spokesman for the citizen’s group that supported the proposal.

“It took our sportsmen’s group 16 months to get this proposal to pass,” Mercer said. “We thank the department … for the work they did on this and the information that they provided.”

It likely will take a number of years of limited hunting before the area begins to produce larger mule deer bucks sought after by some hunters.

“The limited draw mule deer hunt will set aside about a quarter of hunting district 103 for permit-only antlered buck hunting and you will have to apply for a permit,” FWP Region 1 Wildlife Manager Neil Anderson said. “Hunters are encouraged to review these and other changes to the hunting seasons and plan accordingly so they don’t miss (the) opportunity this fall.”

The idea for creating a mule deer buck permit-only area in the Libby area began with a meeting of local sportsmen in 2016. A meeting last summer drew 80 sportsmen who agreed on the area that would be recommended by the commission. A petition signed by 454 people, including the Lincoln County Commission, sheriff and state representatives asked the commission to move forward on the idea.

The new hunting district includes about 132,000 acres.

Montana FWP biologists didn’t support the proposal. State biologists said they didn’t think limiting hunting opportunity in the area would make much of a difference in overall mule deer population growth.

The area was popular for hunters looking to fill their freezers with venison. There was a concern that limiting opportunity in that area would shift hunting pressure into other hunting districts.

At last week’s meeting, the commission also:

• denied a proposal to expand the early youth deer hunt to a four-day opportunity and change the definition of youth to be anyone between 10 and 17.

• denied a proposal to allow the use of crossbows as a legal weapon for fall turkey hunting.

• approved the creation of the Swan River Refuge Weapons Restriction Area for archery-only hunting of deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion and wolf in a portion of HD 130 (Lake County).

• approved the addition of a second antlerless white-tailed deer license for HD 170, bringing the number of antlerless whitetail licenses available to a hunter to 2 for the district.

• closed hunting districts 131, 132, 134, 141, 151 (Missoula, Flathead, Lake, Lewis & Clark and Powell counties) for mountain goat hunting.

• approved language making it illegal to take a female mountain goat accompanying a kid or a female mountain goat in a group that contains one or more kids in FWP Regions 1, 2 and 4.

• passed a resolution supporting the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a bipartisan legislation working its way through Congress. The bill, if approved, could provide $1.3 billion in annual funds to state wildlife agencies for conserving wildlife and habitat, increasing wildlife associated recreation opportunities, and increasing conservation education programs. Funding for the legislation would come from revenue generated by existing on and off-shore oil and gas drilling as well as other energy sources developed on federal lands and would require a 25 percent non-federal match.