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Montana outdoors: Mark Henckel

Every year, as the big game hunting season winds down, hunters begin asking the question, "Will the deer or elk season be extended this year?"

The question might arise because fire danger closures or restrictions limited hunting early in the season. It could be that the season was too warm or too wet or too something else.

In the past, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission had no procedure for deciding whether or not to extend a season.

Now, the commission has proposed a rule to cover such situations with procedures to follow to make it happen, or not happen.

In short, the proposal states that the commission could extend a hunting season if deer or elk populations are going to remain too high when the regular season is completed. But to do so, the extension would have to meet this criteria:

• A liberal general season deer or elk management package has been in place for two consecutive years and elk populations are 20 percent or more over the current department Elk Plan population objectives, or deer populations are 20 to 30 percent over the current department Deer Plan population objectives.

• Public hunting access during the five-week general hunting season was at levels necessary to accomplish harvest management objectives, but management objectives were still not achieved.

• And mild weather conditions during the fall hunting season resulted in a harvest that is at least 50 percent below the five-year average for that check station.

The proposal would also allow hunting seasons to be extended if severe winter weather conditions existed and game damage complaints were occurring across multiple hunting districts.

If the commission decides to adopt a season extension, it could start the day after the general fall season closes, but couldn't run later than Feb. 15.

The season extension would also have to affect what it calls "an aggregate of hunting districts" or an entire FWP region. It would have to be an area big enough to prevent hunter overcrowding. If game damage was occurring over a smaller area, game damage procedures are already in place to handle those situations.

Recommendations for extended hunting seasons would originate at the FWP regional level at the end of the fourth week of the general hunting season. The recommendation would then go from there to the FWP director and then be presented to the FWP commissioner for that area. The full FWP commission would make the final decision.

The commission will hold a hearing at 7 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Headquarters, 1420 East 6th Ave., Helena. Written comments can be sent to Gary Hammond, Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 1420 East Sixth Avenue, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701; or e-mailed to, and must be received no later than Nov. 5.

Salmon stocking

A total of 13,600 year-old chinook salmon were stocked in Fort Peck Reservoir last week in an experimental fall stocking effort.

"The fish averaged a little over 7 inches, 9 to the pound. That's compared with our 3.8 inches and 62 to the pound we released in June," said Mike Ruggles, FWP biologist at Fort Peck.

"What we're trying to do is to see if predation is a problem," he said. "At the bigger size, they're better suited to survive predation. They're in better condition and better able to outrun the wily northerns and walleyes out there."

Fall stocking has been done before in South Dakota. Survival was good enough that they had ample numbers of salmon returning to spawn two falls later to provide eggs for both themselves and Montana.

The chinook salmon stocked last week all had a fin clipped. So when both the 180,000 June-stocked and the 13,600 fall-stocked salmon return to the dam area to try to spawn in 2006, anglers and biologists should be able to determine the stocking source of the fish.

Carcass tags needed

Purchasing fishing and hunting licenses online can do a lot of things for you, but if you purchase a big game license today, it does not mean you can go hunting tomorrow.

When someone purchases a Montana hunting or fishing license online, a temporary license can be printed off your home computer.

"Temporary licenses printed from home are convenient to use immediately for fishing or hunting animals that don't require carcass tags, such as upland birds," said Kevin Holland, warden for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "But before heading out to pursue any animal that requires a tag, you must wait for the tag to arrive in the mail."

FWP will mail the carcass tags within 10 days of purchase of a hunting license for species including deer, antelope, elk and turkeys. Until then, you can't legally hunt because you have no tag.

Mark Henckel is the outdoor editor of The Billings Gazette. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be contacted at or at 657-1395.

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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