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State extends elk hunting by 2 weeks
Associated Press

Antlerless elk hunting in southwestern Montana was extended by two weeks Tuesday by the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission in an unprecedented effort to reduce the size of elk herds.

The extra hunting time applies only to antlerless elk and to hunters with an unused 2004 elk license, officials said. This year's general elk hunting season, which has largely been a bust, ends on Sunday. As evidence of the declining harvest, FWP's game check stations have recorded harvest rates 25 percent below the five-year average.

“This is an anomaly to be sure,” FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said.

The extension to Dec. 12 follows the most liberal elk hunting season in southwestern Montana in 30 years. But mild weather combined with good forage in the high country has kept hunters out of the fields, and those that ventured out met with slim pickings. Hunters generally do better when snowy conditions drive elk down to winter ranges where they're more vulnerable.

“It's absolutely ironic that we had one of the most liberal elk seasons in the last 30 years and we wound up with one of the lowest elk harvests that we've ever had,” said Gary Hammond, FWP regional wildlife manager. “It shows how large of a role weather has in hunter success for elk hunting.”

The extension applies to 15 hunting districts west of the Madison River and one district west of Choteau along the Rocky Mountain Front. To participate in the extended season, hunters must have purchased an elk license by Nov. 28.

Kurt Alt, a regional wildlife manager in Bozeman, said hunting in districts east of the Madison River and in the Yellowstone and Shields valleys would have been extended, too, but public access to elk is restricted in those areas.

FWP officials will monitor the extension closely. If conditions warrant, the commission can shut down hunting on 48 hours notice, although Alt said that's highly unlikely because of the high elk numbers.

“We could harvest just as many as we can in the next two weeks,” he said. “It would take something that we haven't seen in a long, long, long time to make it so that we had to close this down early.”

No other general hunting season extensions for deer or elk are planned, Hammond said.

Here are the areas in which the season has been extended:

Bitterroot Valley - Region 2
Hunting District 270. Only hunters who already possess an A7 elk license valid for HD 270 will be allowed to hunt.

Southwestern Montana - Region 3
Hunting Districts 300, 319, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332 and 341. Any hunter with a valid general season elk license can hunt antlerless elk in these districts. The portion of HD 323 that includes the Wall Creek Wildlife Management Area will only be open to individuals currently holding special permits for this area. The permits will be valid for antlerless elk only.

Central Montana - Region 4
Hunting District 442. Any hunter with a valid general season elk license can hunt antlerless elk, as described in the 2004 elk hunting regulations. A9 (resident) and B12 (nonresident) elk licenses for this hunting district are still valid but only on private and state lands.

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