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Trophy – 2017 Montana Hunting Guide


Tooth & Claw

Montana filmmaker and professional houndsman tracks mountain lions Story by Julie Cowan Photos by Tyler Johnerson Tyler Johnerson is an artist, filmmaker and photographer. He’s also a passionate hunter who gets to chase after arguably the most elusive and stealthy predator on the planet. He hunts mountain lions with hounds, and he loves what he does. He loves it for the adventures it takes him on, the freedom it offers and the education he gets from it. Best of all, he gets to make a living while experiencing all of it. “Learning from the greatest solo hunter on the planet is fun for me,” Johnerson tells me after jetting back into Bozeman following a stint filming a caribou hunt in Quebec, Canada. He lives to hunt and hunts to live. “I ‘ate up’ my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines (while) growing up—and all hunting magazines. Now I’m a professional hunter.” When he was young trying to figure out his path in life, Johnerson said he had two goals; one was to hunt every day of his life, and the other was to work for National Geographic. “Now I do both,” he says. Johnerson’s time is in high demand these days. He doesn’t quite spend every day hunting, but it’s safe to say he spends every day thinking about or connected to the hunts he makes. He travels a lot. Film companies want his video footage and photographs. Ranch-

A picture really is worth a thousand words! Although Johnerson only had enough time to capture this one image before the lion bailed and the chase continued, it defines what has been going on since the beginning of time.

ers and homeowners want him to rid their property of problem cats that prey on their livestock. In fact, a photo essay of his work appears in the 14th edition of the Records of North American Big Game from the

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Boone & Crockett Club printing in September 2017. “As a wildlife and hunting filmmaker, I’m continually building that intel,” about mountain lion behavior, he explains. He has worked on a few projects for

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Sunday, September 24, 2017



YOUR COOLER IS NOT THE ONLY MEASURE OF YOUR HUNT Maybe that big buck was just a bit too far away. Or, he might have been just over the fence, on someone else’s land. Perhaps you were close to running out of daylight. Whatever the case, you didn’t take the shot. The only thing you came home with was a smile on your face. But, by any measure, that was more than enough.

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Trophy – 2017 Montana Hunting Guide


(aBove) After a grueling 5-hour trudge in knee-deep snow, the dogs’ chopping barks are music to Johnerson’s ears but not to the cat. She is sleepy and is calmly waiting for them to leave so she can continue her silent march through nature. (RIGHT) A couple of Johnerson’s pups get a welcomed visual in a big Ponderosa.

National Geographic, and he trees about 30 mountain lions a year, though most of those he just takes photos of. “Seeing a predator in the wild is an awesome thing. It’s out of the mind’s eye for most people. “Mountain lions are abundant but very, very rarely do you ever see a mountain lion in the wild without (using hunting) dogs. A person is lucky to see one in their entire lifetime. You have to incorporate hounds into the process.” Johnerson’s hounds, mostly Walker Hounds and crosses with Blue Ticks and Leopard Curs, are an integral part of his hunting success as well as part of his family. Until recently the dogs all slept in his house with him and his family. Now, they’ve graduated in stature and have their very own “house” and fenced yard. He says it’s a misconception that you will ruin a hound dog if you show them much affection. It seems to work fine for Johnerson, who conservatively estimates he has treed 350 cats with hound dogs in his lifetime. He loves his dogs and works with them every day he’s not on the road, training his younger

dogs with his older hounds to hone their natural instincts to track. “I want to challenge me and the dogs to see what we can see,” he says. Sometimes he will see tracks. Sometimes it’s a kill a cat has made. Sometimes he finds a den. Once, he says, a lion leapt right past him out of a den, leaving two kittens behind. That’s different behavior than what one would see from a grizzly bear, which would defend her cubs. The mountain lion’s behavior is based on self-preservation, he says. According to an online account from Rich DeSimone, a Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) mountain lion researcher, “Aggressive behavior by lions toward humans is extremely rare, although female lions become anxious when their young are handled.” Johnerson agrees with the mountain lions’ solitary—but stealthy—nature. “They don’t want to be around you, but in the cover of night, they can be all around you. When dogs pursue a cat, the cat goes up a tree.” Lions “are the best predators on the planet,”

he says. “They eat fresh meat. They will scavenge if they have young, but they are mainly fresh meat eaters. And they’re super-efficient. They even eat bones.” And like many of their smaller domesticated cousins, they won’t eat intestines. Because of their solitary nature, mountain lions are tough to track, and even tougher to count. They’re not like elk or deer, whose herds can be easily seen and counted from the air. Lions are more active from dusk till dawn and unlike their African cousins, don’t even like to spend time around other cats except to mate. While they are territorial in nature, they can sometimes roam a territory hundreds of miles long, Johnnerson says. That’s why professional houndsmen work with biologists to track these stealthy cats. According to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, mountain lions used to be the most populated land mammal in the Western Hemisphere until unregulated hunting took its toll. Today, mountain lion populations are found mostly in the western United States with a remnant herd in Florida. Until as recently as

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Trophy – 2017 Montana Hunting Guide

6 1962, Montana had a bounty on mountain lions. It wasn’t until 1971 that Montana classified mountain lions as a game animal, which has allowed the population to rebound. As with other wildlife in the state, human expansion into once-occupied mountain lion habitat creates more contact between lions and humans. Each year there are reports of cats in outlying neighborhoods around Missoula. The state of Montana is in the midst of developing a mountain lion management plan and putting together a population study based on DNA sampling. The study will enable biologists to get a better handle on mountain lion populations and help them manage hunting quotas as well as human/lion conflicts where their territories overlap with humans. As a professional videographer, hunter and houndsman, Johnerson learns a lot about lions by personal observations. He believes mountain lions should be controlled by hunting so they are brought into balance with their prey base. He also says there is a need for both houndsmen and scientists in the process of finding that balance. “Hunting with hounds is not only the most effective form of managing the lion, but it also serves as an effective role in observing these predators’ behavior. In turn, biologists can be better informed and have a tighter rein on cat hunting quotas region to region,” Johnnerson explains. “Biologists need a guy like me to begin their study. We find and track them. They dart, collar, weigh and measure them. Then it becomes a focus on those cats. My learning comes from a finger on the actual pulse of these cats. Their (biologists’) learning is mostly through science.” Both are valuable pieces to the puzzle of learning about this most elusive species. “Houndsmen that are out there in the field trailing these cats…can actually learn about specific individuals that are targeting populations like wild sheep. That’s where we can step in and actually manage those cats. Ultimately,” he points out, “if we don’t bring some sort of balance, the predator can overtake an ungulate population.” Johnerson says he hunts because of the “passion and fulfillment of the whole process and being recognized for my knowledge and experience. Getting paid occasionally for my expertise is bonus. “I’m not going to be ashamed of being a hunter,” he says. “But at the same time, I have a reverence for them. I don’t have to kill a lion on a hunt.” These big cats can sprint 40 miles per hour and kill and feed on mammals from field mice to elk, says Johner-

son. That is part of his fascination with them. “The mountain lion is an efficient killer and an excellent survivalist.” And they’re beautiful animals. The filmmaker/ artist in him always sees the beauty. The experienced houndsman sees the need to control the predator and protect livestock and humans. “I have so much respect for the dogs and what they can do and what’s bred into them. I also have just as much—if not more—respect for the lion. “I have no problems taking lions because we need to. They have to be managed. With a healthy mountain lion population, everything is healthy—the whole ecosystem is healthy. But some of the biggest cats I have ever caught in my entire life in an open season— I’ve let ‘em go. Once I put that cat in a tree and I look him in the eye and I take his picture, I kinda say, ‘Got you.’ And I can walk away. “The dogs are in the truck until I have a track to trail. Then I hike into where the dogs have the quarry held and retrieve the dogs. This is honing their skills for the next big chase and fueling my knowledge base as well. And, on occasion (about 1 in 10 on average) we will take the cat.” Johnerson strives for it to be a mature male, he says, but he stresses that for a houndsman, “the process you go through to ultimately hold the cat and most often snap a few pics and walk away for the lion to carry on its solitary existence. That is what epitomizes a true houndsman.” As a filmmaker, Johnerson says he gets to capture those moments and carry them on by sharing his love of the beauty of his dogs and the mountain lion with other people. “People that think we’re out there killing off the last mountain lion is just so far from the truth. It’s what keeps you dreaming. It’s knowing that there’re cats like that out there, roaming the mountains. I just would only dream to get another chance to see another one like that in my life.” For a short video background on the mountain lion by Johnerson, go here: Julie Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and digital scrapbook designer from Missoula. She edits for the Boone & Crocket Club’s Fair Chase magazine and, among others, and she serves on the creative team at Contact her at

Nelly has always been a climber and Johnerson doesn’t like it because of the obvious dangers it can bring. In light of that flaw though, her spirit to hunt is contagious.

Walking back home after a long chase is time to reflect on the experience, and savor the time on the mountain with your pack.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


Perspective, fire, and a good south wind By Julie Cowan A little direction in life is often what one needs to find success. In Steve Felix’s case, it was a strong south wind blowing directly in his face. That meant the elk he had in his sights didn’t have a clue he had human company. It was Felix’s 2016 archery season in eastern Montana, a little more than a year since he had undergone major shoulder surgery the previous May. Felix had worked hard at rehabbing his shoulder for a strong, steady draw on his bow. Yet, while he was confident in his range at 60 yards, his shoulder performance was still a bit of a question mark as he headed out for a solo hunt. When Felix’s hunting partner Chad couldn’t make it for the weekend’s hunt, Felix set out by himself in hopes of at least seeing a big bull cross his path. On that historical morning, the occasional elk bugle kept him moving, searching for what he hoped to be a Boone & Crockett year for him. Was it ever—and then some. Oh my. When his hunt ended that first morning, the Seeley Lake resident had arrowed the largest typical bull elk ever taken on an archery hunt, but he really had no idea how large this wapiti would eventually measure up. “Well, I knew he was an exceptional elk,” Felix says of his first glimpse at his trophy bull. “He was just ripping up this little ponderosa. But it never even entered into my mind this was a world-record elk.” Felix was no stranger to big elk. He says he and his hunting partner had harvested some 355-class bulls. He had even done some guiding in the 1990s in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. But this year, Felix had set his sights on getting a 370-inch bull just to raise the bar. Even he was guessing he had a 380-class bull. All he knew was the antlers were big. Big would be a good adjective here, if not a bit understated. Felix’s bull was announced on September 16, 2016 as the potential new world’s record elk for archery. The Missoula-based Boone & Crockett Club (B&C), together with the Pope & Young Club (P&Y) announced the official score of 430 points in a joint news release in January 2017. Felix’s bull is listed as the new typical American elk world’s record in the P&Y record book, the official repository for records on bowharvested North American big game animals. B&C maintains the universally-accepted scoring system and

Photo courtesy of Steve Felix Steve Felix and girlfriend Darla Smarz is framed by the antlers from his world-record bull elk antlers. The final Boone & Crockett score was 430 points, tops in Montana, No. 1 in the world for Pope & Young Club archery, and No. 4 in the Boone & Crockett records.

sets the standards for measuring and scoring North American big game. Besides being the largest archery-killed typical elk on record, Felix’s bull is also listed as the largest Montana bull elk—typical or non-typical. B&C Club Director of Big Game Records Justin Spring gives some perspective on where this bull fits in the club’s comprehensive records program in the announcement on the Club’s website: “This is the fourth-largest bull in our records, which date back to before 1900, the largest since 1968 and the largest from the state of Montana. “Animals of this size do not happen by chance,” Spring continues. “It takes the combined commitment of wildlife managers and biologists, landowners, sportsmen, and above all else, it takes the best habitats we can set aside for elk in elk country.” All those numbers and records aside, Felix’s photos have been viewed well over 3 million times. Once he waited for the required 60-day drying period and his elk was officially scored to determine it as the new world’s record archery elk (Felix’s bull shattered the previous archery record by a whopping 17 inches, so there was little doubt during the two-month wait that his final score would top the list), he gave first crack at the story to conservation organizations before any commercial publication. The fact that he could first tell his story about this

successful hunt in the pages of Fair Chase, Bugle and Ethic magazines means a lot to him. Writing a story and getting on the cover of the September 2017 issue of Outdoor Life wasn’t too bad either. But Felix says all the media attention hasn’t changed what he does, how he thinks about or approaches hunting. The meat he harvests from his hunts is pure and good, and it is just as important as the rack that sits atop the animal. The first thought in his mind after he snapped a few quick photos of the bull upon retrieving it in the field is how quickly he could get this elk field dressed, pack out 400 pounds of meat by himself, and still save it all. He did it—in two days—after a trip to the nearest town to get some extra coolers and dry ice. When Fred King, an official Boone & Crockett measurer came to take the first official green score measurements, Felix quoted King as uttering just two words as he walked up to the trophy sitting in the bed of Felix’s truck. “Oh my.” Felix took that as a good sign. That’s all he could say, says King, who has scored many a trophy elk as a volunteer measurer for the Boone & Crockett Club since 1984, including a few world’s records. King says he looks at two things to size up an elk when he first lays eyes on them—the length of the beam and the mass—circumference—of the antlers. “Those set the tone of my famous quote of ‘Oh my,’” he says. Felix was adamant about making two things clear as he began this interview with me: This was first and foremost a public lands hunt, and it is important to him that public lands remain open to hunting as well as other activities (he’s a multiple-use advocate). The other important point he wanted to make was that the efforts of conservation organizations and individuals are paramount to maintaining optimal habitat for wildlife. “Without the Boone & Crockett Club … and foundations like the (Rocky Mountain) Elk Foundation (RMEF) and Pope & Young Club who promote conservation, opportunities like this would not exist for the average guy,” Felix says. Like many young hunters, Felix started out with a shotgun on his first outing to hunt ducks at age 14. He smiles when he recalls the anticipation of that first hunt; after that, he says, he was hooked. He was successful bowhunting deer in his early years. While at South Dakota State University, where “hunting was phenomenal—duck and goose hunting was off the

Trophy – 2017 Montana Hunting Guide

8 charts,” he says—continued to fuel his hunting passion. These days, he hunts anywhere from 30 to 45 days a year in Montana and often travels back to Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota where he hunts with family and friends. His first elk hunt was in Ovando, Montana, in 1988— the year of the great fires in Yellowstone National Park. As we sat talking about this elk hunt, the irony wasn’t lost in the fact that Felix’s house in Seeley Lake was on pre-evacuation notice for the Rice Ridge fire, which that very day and into the night went on a tear that scorched 48,000 more acres, doubling the size of that fire’s wake. His town has spent most of the 2017 summer choked in smoke, with hazardous air quality the norm. The further irony is that while catastrophic wildfires have paralyzed his community and much of western Montana most of this summer, he recognizes that fire is what helped the habitat where Felix’s world-record bull lived. His hunting area had burned a few years previous, and it grew lush with good food for elk. Forest managers often use controlled burns to abate noxious weeds, thin understory, and help reduce the chance of massive insect and disease epidemics, not to mention reducing the risk of the catastrophic


fires. But the dry, tinder nature of the landscape this year combined with some prolific lightning storms has literally created the perfect firestorms. While Felix feels it is going to be a tough winter for wildlife in the burn areas to find food and cover this year, future hunting will probably be “phenomenal” when the vegetation rebounds. His other connection to wildfires is through his job as a maintenance manager for the Montana Department of Transportation, where he works with fire managers to close roads when needed to protect the public and aid firefighting in active wildfire areas. On this particular weekend in 2016, he was more ready than normal to get away to his favorite hunting spot and renew his spirit. Just before he left, he had the heartbreaking task of cleaning up an accident scene after a father and daughter were killed in a highway crash. He couldn’t escape into his hunting nirvana nearly fast enough that weekend. After he set up his tent and drank in the beauty of the sunset and the perfect weather, he looked to the night sky as he always does before a hunt to find the constellation Orion, named after a giant huntsman in Greek mythology. He shrugs as he gestures. It’s just his little ritual.

Apparently, the stars aligned on this particular hunt for Felix. And although he admits that every hunter needs a little good fortune to come his way, he has dedicated his life to a continuum of learning about the animals he pursues and continues to hunt in an ethical, fair-chase manner. Successful hunting is all in one’s perspective, Felix points out. “For the guys I hunt with, it’s about being in the woods and spending quality time. Some of the most memorable times is when we didn’t get an elk, had a close call, or bad weather.” His friends and family, especially his girlfriend Darla who has been by his side through this whole media storm, mean more to him than all of it. The only regret he has about this hunt is that his buddy Chad wasn’t there to experience it with him. Hmmmm…. next goal? Julie Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and digital scrapbook designer from Missoula. She edits for the Boone & Crocket Club’s Fair Chase magazine and, among others, and she serves on the creative team at Contact her at



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Sunday, September 24, 2017


Origins of Fair Chase

How this conservation ethic saved hunting Contributed by the Boone and Crockett Club, Missoula, MT Fair Chase is an ethical way of hunting that enriches human character and virtues, both emotionally and intellectually, with the purpose of fostering the essential relationship between the human hunter and the life/death continuum in a way where hunting is not only in support of sustainable use conservation, but enhances the well-being of the species being hunted. An ethical code of conduct, that which was viewed as the right way to approach hunting, was a concept that originally developed in Europe. This did not, however, carry over with the settlers to the New World. America was the land of abundance and opportunity. A life of independence, free from servitude and filled with promise, was there for the taking. All one had to do is be resourceful and take. How we hunted did not matter back then. There was no need or room for an ethical approach to hunting. Game was plentiful and hunting was not for sport, but for survival and profit. In time, when enough land was cleared for reliable food crops and domesticated livestock, food security became less of an issue for those living in more populated areas. These same human developments and decades of overharvesting had left wildlife population in scarce supply. Hunters had to venture further and further into the wilderness to bag their game. The concept of hunting for sport began to develop at this time, as did the need to restrict the amount of game taken so it could replenish and there would be game to hunt tomorrow. This is when the notion of conservation first began to appear, and along with it an ethical approach to hunting that showed restraint. By the late 1800s, unregulated sport and commercial market hunting had also taken its toll. Wildlife was no longer abundant or even present in all but the furthest reaches of remaining wilderness. Sportsmen already knew what was happening, but the broader public was just beginning to take notice of the extinction of some species and the near extinction of others. The logical solution was preservation and protection, which included an end to hunting. Those closest to the situation had a different idea. Influential sportsmen who valued the game they sought and the spirit of the chase stepped forward; most notably was Theodore Roosevelt. He formed a group of his friends into the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887 to address the rapid decline of big game populations on a national scale. Their solution was to promote a new system of natural resource use they call would call “conser-

vation,” and they promoted regulated hunting as the foundation for this new system. Conservation was based on the fact that people need and will use natural resources, including wildlife, but this use would now have to be regulated and guided by science. For society to accept this new idea over complete protection, Roosevelt and the Club began to promote another new concept: one called fair chase. If public hunting was to continue, not only for the future of wildlife, but to become socially acceptable, how hunting was being conducted would now matter. Fortunately, fair chase became a matter of pride and status among sportsmen. It separated those who hunted for personal reasons from those who hunted for profit, ie., the commercial market hunters who had no code of honor. Fair chase was also a part of an overall conservation ethic. It defined a true sportsman as one who could kill game, yet use self-restraint and stand guard to ensure that wildlife populations would never be threatened again. It didn’t mean hunting was a sport like other contests, but rather its participants used a “sporting” approach. Fair chase defined the rules of engagement that elevated sportsmen to being highly respected members of the community, both for their skill as woodsman and providers, but also for their commitment to something greater than themselves. It cannot be overstated the significance of hunting’s ethical code of conduct past and present. Join the conversation at and sign up to receive a free window decal.

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Trophy – 2017 Montana Hunting Guide

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FWP is Seeking Early Input on Hunting Regulations Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking for early public input and ideas for the 2018-2019 Montana hunting regulations. FWP’s Region 2 Wildlife Manager, Mike Thompson, explains that every two years FWP reviews the hunting regulations and proposes changes as needed. “Early public scoping, which is what we are doing right now, is one of the first phases of this process,” Thompson says. “We don’t have proposals to react to, and that’s what scoping is all about. What we hear now helps us to direct our proposals toward issues that matter to the public

and to avoid tinkering with the things that are already working really well for people.” FWP will present tentative hunting regulations to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in December, which will incorporate input provided by the public during this scoping period. The “tentatives,” as they’re called, are then taken out to local communities for comment in January 2018 and finalized by the Fish and Wildlife Commission in February. To weigh in on the hunting regulations, complete a short survey and provide your ideas now through September 24 at 5p.m. online at by following the link to “2018-19 Hunting Seasons-Public Scoping.”

Turn in poachers call 1-800-TIP-MONT Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks toll-free hotline for reporting wildlife poaching, property damage, and violations of fish and game laws is in operation 24 hours a day. TIP-MONT is the acronym for Turn in Poachers—Montana. Poaching includes: • hunting out of season or at night using spotlights • taking more than one’s legal limit • nonresidents who purchase resident licenses • professional and commercial poachers who illegally offer outfitter and guide services. When it comes to poaching, Montanans are saying, “Enough is enough!” If you witnesses a fish and game violation, or property vandalism, you can report the crime by calling 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668); or Report a Violation online at, then click “Enforcement”. Callers will remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.


Trophy – 2017 Montana Hunting Guide


2017 big game hunting forecast Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks Hunting fever starts early. It might be a few midnight dreams, or maybe you find yourself scrolling through the Cabela’s website after dinner instead of paying bills. Pretty soon you’re thinking about hunting most of the day. Mentally going over maps instead of workrelated powerpoints, pushing yourself out of bed for an early workout, not because it’s good for you, but because you need to get into hunting shape. A key part of your hunting season preparation should be researching animal population trends and data from the past year. That’s where we step in to help. The following big game forecast will give you some very valuable information for planning your hunt. But it’s only a small piece of what Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks offers Montana hunters. On our website you can find information about hunting access, including our very popular Block Management Program, where we coordinate with landowners to provide hunting access to more than 7 million acres of private land. Online we have our interactive Hunt Planner map that allows users to look at information for various species, including hunting districts and regulations. The hunt planner interactive map also is a great way to access our block management information, so if you’re planning a hunt in a certain area, you can see if there are Block Management Areas available to expand your opportunity. And, as always, you can contact our helpful staff at any of our regional offices around the state. They’re happy to help and can often get you pointed in the right


direction with just a few simple tips. Montana is really an amazing state in which to hunt. We have some of the longest hunting seasons in the West, healthy herds of game and access to millions of acres of public land. However, hunters must be mindful of drought and fire danger. With the severe to exceptional drought extending across much of the state, hunters should be mindful of private landowners who are facing grass shortages, poor crop production and fatigue from monitoring for fire. Hunter harvest is helpful during a drought to reduce wildlife densities on

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a stressed landscape, and perhaps to help lessen winter depredation on hay stacks or winter range. A few things hunters can do to show respect for private landowners during the drought include: avoid vehicle use in areas with dry grass in the median, use caution when parking in areas with dry vegetation, report smoke or any signs of fire to local officials, and carry a fire extinguisher or water to quickly snuff any potential fires.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017


Destination: SOUTHWEST MONTANA It’s referred to at times as the elk factory of Montana, and it’s true elk numbers, in general, across southwest Montana are solid, bordering on great. From the Pintler Mountains on the west side of the region to the Absaroka Beartooth, southwest Montana is defined by high mountain rugged country and an abundance of public land. Big game thrives here, particularly elk. Though in general hunter success last year was about average, it wasn’t helped by mild weather. Typically, elk hunter success during the general season improves dramatically with snow, which gets elk moving and makes them easier to track. South of Butte - from Mount Haggin to the Big Hole Valley elk numbers are robust and consistent with last year’s numbers, said FWP Region 3 wildlife biologist Vanna Boccadori. South of Bozeman, elk numbers are also in good shape, with hunters seeing both good success in many hunting districts along with an abundance of access due to large amounts of public land. In several areas, like the Madison Valley, elk numbers remain above population objectives.



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South of Helena elk numbers are also strong. In the area around Townsend, hunters have run into access issues as elk have tended to congregate on private land in recent years, said FWP biologist Adam Grove. He suggests that hunters work on securing access to private lands early. Overall, elk numbers in the area are well over objective. Around Helena, elk hunting is largely weather dependent, said FWP biologist Jenny Sika. If we get snow during hunting season, elk hunter success increases. If not,


hunters have to work harder and success drops. But in general elk numbers are good throughout the area. Several hunting districts in southwest Montana have elk shoulder seasons. These antlerless seasons are focused on private land and are typically outside of the general big game season. Hunters interested in shoulder seasons should make sure they read and understand the regulations. Each hunting district is different. And, as always, hunters must get permission to hunt private land. In general, mule deer numbers are steady across southwest Montana. In some areas, like around Townsend, mule deer numbers are still on the rebound from recent lows. But in general numbers are stable or on the upswing. White-tailed deer numbers continue to look solid across the region. However, much of the best white-tailed deer habitat is on private land – river bottoms or irrigated crop land. For antelope in southwest Montana, the story is similar to deer. Numbers are stable or on the upswing. Antelope hunters this year can expect similar numbers to what they’ve seen the last couple of years. Destination: WESTERN MONTANA Elk numbers in western Montana are robust. FWP wildlife biologists counted 26,226 elk this spring, the second-highest total in 53 years of annual aerial surveys. Numbers of bull elk in the surveys were notably strong, probably reflecting the light harvest last fall. Elk survey results, past and present, for every hunting district in FWP Region 2 are available online at html (Region Two Wildlife Quarterly, Issue #8) and at Region 2 headquarters in Missoula.

Sunday, September 24, 2017 Dry weather and fires in the region will contribute to more elk in irrigated crops on private land. Hunters hoping to participate in shoulder seasons this fall or winter should secure permission on private land now, and purchase an elk B-license now for private lands where B-licenses are valid. Hunting regulations are the same as last year; please read the regulations for your area carefully. White-tailed deer numbers appear to be on an upward trend, owing to the past couple years of excellent fawn production and average-or-better winter survival. It seems that most does had twins, this year and last. Biologists noticed more good bucks in the velvet over the summer. Dry weather and fires in the region will tend to concentrate deer, like elk, in irrigated crops on private land even more than usual. Fresh burns could be good places to hunt if fall rains come and if a fall green-up occurs. Opportunities to hunt mule deer are somewhat limited in western Montana. Many districts require the hunter to have obtained a permit or B-license through the statewide application process. Hunters with buck permits or hunters hunting in districts where a special permit is not required for a buck should plan to go high in the mountains to match their stamina with the biggest bucks. An emerging opportunity for hunters in Region 2 is to hunt mule deer on private lands, where numbers generally are growing. Again, pay close attention to the regulations to make sure you are properly licensed to hunt mule deer. Antelope hunting is a minority sport in western Montana, where numbers have increased to about 400, following transplants by FWP to the Deer Lodge vicinity in the 1940s. Hunting is limited to a few hunters with permits obtained in the statewide drawing process. More information on Region 2 antelope is available online at (Region Two Wildlife Quarterly, Issue #7) and at Region 2 headquarters in Missoula. Destination: SOUTHEAST MONTANA The badlands, farmland and rolling prairie of southeast Montana is home to a vast number of animals, including rapidly rebounding populations of mule deer, nearaverage antelope numbers and a growing number of elk. Mule deer in the region continue to be on a strong upward trajectory from their low point in 2012. Following back-to-back severe winters in 2009-10 and 2010-11, mule deer numbers bottomed out at 61 percent of long-term average. Spring 2017 surveys indicate populations are 45 percent above long-term average. “In just five years, we’ve gone from extremely low to extremely high deer numbers,” said FWP biologist Melissa Foster. “The age structure of the population continues to improve. Early in that recovery, the population was heavily skewed toward younger age classes; we had lots of yearlings, lots of 2-year-olds, but fewer mature deer. That’s perfectly natural. It’s a result of the boom in production following the population decline.” “With fewer mouths on the landscape, almost everyone enters winter in good body condition,” Foster explained. “They’re able to find winter browse and thermal cover, resources are essentially unlimited and fawn production and survival rates are extremely high.” Going into the 2017 hunting season, biologists expect that there still won’t be

15 many old deer on the landscape. Deer in the 6 to 8-year-old range would have survived as fawns or been born following the severe winters when fawn production and survival rates were low. Five-year-olds this year would have been born in 2012, a year with good fawn production but low numbers of deer. Numbers of 3 and 4-year-olds will be better, and there will once again be high numbers of yearlings and 2-yearolds. “We have probably hit a high point for deer numbers,” Foster said. “At 45 percent above the long-term average, habitat degradation is already beginning to occur. The drought this year means that deer will enter winter with fewer fat reserves than prior years. Huge numbers of mouths on the landscape means that it will be more difficult for deer to find good winter browse and thermal cover.” Habitat is important and high numbers of deer can have an effect. “Deer can and do have the ability to eat themselves out of house and home,” said John Ensign, FWP Region 7 wildlife manager. “When deer numbers are high like they are right now, they impact winter browse. As that browse component declines, so does the number of deer that the landscape can support.” “It’s counterintuitive,” said Foster. “But the best thing that we can do oftentimes to improve deer numbers is to harvest more deer.” Good harvests can mean better deer health Photo PERRY BACKUS through the winter and into spring because the habitat can better handle the pressure. “The antlerless mule deer quota this year was increased to 11,000, which means there’s plenty of opportunity for hunters to fill their freezers while helping to maintain herd health,” Ensign said. Whitetail numbers have held steady in southeast Montana. Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) outbreaks have been localized in scale and small in magnitude since 2012. Local hunters will recall the last major EHD outbreak in 2011, which caused heavy mortality in whitetails throughout many parts of Region 7. “We are at a good place right now with whitetail numbers,” Ensign said. “As deer densities increase, the risk of major EHD outbreaks increases. The disease is trans-

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mitted by a biting midge. When you get deer in close proximity, it’s an ideal situation for disease transmission. “It’s impossible to stockpile wildlife, including whitetails,” he said. “Whether in the form of disease, drought or harsh winters, Mother Nature always intervenes.” Hunters who do their homework by scouting and visiting with private landowners should have success locating good areas to hunt whitetails. Montana antelope populations are for the most part continuing to recover and grow from previous years' winter kills and low fawn numbers in central and eastern Montana. Summer production surveys indicate that southeast Montana antelope numbers have increased 74 percent from the low in 2012, and are now hovering near the region-wide long-term average. The total count across the region is slightly below last year. Antelope numbers in the northeastern portion of the region are near long-term average. Populations north of Hysham and Forsyth are still somewhat depressed. Individuals who know that area and typically hunt it may still find success there, but groups looking

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Sunday, September 24, 2017 to harvest does may do better to focus their efforts in the southeastern portion. In the western portion of the region, antelope numbers have improved since 2012 but remain well below historic averages. Antelope numbers are best in the southern portion of the region. This year, just like last, FWP is offering more licenses than in the previous few years, which reflects the improving population. These are good times for elk hunters, as Montana elk populations continue to be strong across most of the state. In many hunting districts, however, access to private lands can be difficult, which can affect hunting success given landownership patterns and distribution of elk. Even if you didn't draw a special permit this year, remember that Montana offers numerous opportunities to hunt for elk with just a general hunting license. The most recent winter surveys indicated that elk in southeast Montana are continuing moderate growth and gradual expansion into unoccupied available habitat. FWP biologists observed strong calf recruitment (52 per 100 cows) and an excellent composition of bulls (40 per 100 cows).

17 The Missouri Breaks (hunting district 700) and Custer Forest Elk Management Unit (HDs 702, 704, 705) remain the two “core” elk populations. Outside of these areas, elk numbers across the region are low, distribution is spotty and elk are primarily found on private land where public hunting access is limited. Bull hunting is by permit only in HDs 700, 702, 704, 705 and the far western portion of 701. In HD 703 and in the rest of 701, hunters can pursue either-sex elk with a general license. New starting in the 2016 hunting season is the 007-00 B license. This license is valid for antlerless elk throughout Region 7 except for the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the Custer National Forest. An easy way for hunters to remember where they can use the 007-00 antlerless elk license is that it’s valid everywhere expect what is green on a Bureau of Land Management ownership map (green being national forest or federal wildlife refuge areas). It is important for hunters to note that there are no elk shoulder seasons in any of the hunting districts in Region 7. Additional antlerless opportunities exist in the region via a general and/or B-license, and hunters are encour-

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18 aged to review the regulations for more details on those opportunities. Hunters should be aware that the Lodgepole Complex fire burned over 225,000 acres in the western portion of HD 700 (and 45,000 acres in HD 701). Much of the area that burned in HD 700 was timbered elk habitat; however, roughly two-thirds of the elk habitat in HD 700 was not burned (the northern boundary of the fire was near Squaw Creek). Further, within the burn perimeter there is a mosaic of small pockets that were not burned, and areas where the fire did not reach the crowns of the pines. Pending additional moisture and some cool-season grass regeneration, hunters might still have success finding elk within the burn perimeter. Destination: NORTHEAST MONTANA Mule deer populations are still on a steady increase across the region but vary depending on the hunting district. Generally speaking, the mule deer are above long-term averages. Areas of note are north of Havre, where mule deer numbers are well above average and in the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, north of the Missouri, where mule deer numbers are below average.

White-tailed deer are on the increase across the region, but still just below average. Populations in the eastern part of the region in more of the prairie/cropland habitats are doing better than populations along the Milk and Missouri Rivers. Although whitetails are recovering in recent years, still expect lower deer numbers in areas along those rivers. In the northeast corner of the state, decline in CRP and habitat changes are moving deer around and may not be in traditional areas. Elk hunting opportunities in most areas in Region 6 are limited to licenses/permits awarded through special drawings. Those hunting districts where elk hunting is allowed on a general license are mostly areas with smaller elk populations and very limited elk hunting opportunity. Regionwide, the weather conditions the past several years have been favorable for elk with milder winters and good spring precipitation, although 2017 has been hotter and drier. Elk populations in the region continue to fair well and have been increasing. Elk numbers are above average across the region. Elk shoulder seasons will occur in northeast Montana from Dec. 15-31. Hunters interested in partici-

pating in this hunting season will have had to already drawn a shoulder season license (License 696-00 or 699-00) to hunt during this shoulder season. General season elk licenses are not valid during the elk shoulder season in FWP Region 6. The Missouri Breaks shoulder season license (699-00) is not valid on the CMR Refuge. Make sure you’re familiar with the regulations for the area you plan on hunting. In general, antelope populations are stable to increasing across the region, but in most cases still remain below long-term averages. Antelope licenses are distributed through the drawing system. Major reductions in licenses were seen following the winter of 2010-11, however some increase in licenses have been seen since that time. Those who have drawn licenses should have a very good opportunity to harvest an antelope. Fire danger is higher throughout the region so please be careful while hunting and camping and avoid driving or parking in taller vegetation. Please also check all local fire restrictions prior to hunting

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Sunday, September 24, 2017


The Last Retrieve By Land Tawney

5th Generation Montana, Father, Husband & CEO Backcountry Hunters & Anglers I headed north in pursuit of Hungarian partridge and pheasants. With me were three trusted colleagues and my two loyal labs, Gabriel and Turk. We started hunting around 1p.m. on some new ground. We worked a creek with lots of cover, perfect pheasant habitat. Together we kicked up a few roosters but had no real shots. The brush was thick and the birds were jumpy. So we turned to the foothills in pursuit of Huns. Then it happened. After working up a hillside, we turned down following a ridge. Eleven-year-old Gabriel’s tail started to wag in the familiar way. He’d found a bird’s scent and, by the frequency of his wagging tail, it was fresh. A Hun exploded with a squeak, right in front of the old boy’s nose. I mounted my Benelli and dropped the bird. The race was on between Gabe and Turk, with Gabe arriving first. Swaggering proudly, he brought the bird back to hand and the symphony was complete. In a moment, Gabe’s hunting career and home life flashed before my eyes. His first retrieves, his best retrieves, that bond only understood by those with gun dogs. I didn’t know it then, but that was Gabe’s last retrieve. When we arrived home, I cleaned the plump Hun and put the it in salt water to cure for later. Gabe was already showing aches and pains from our day afield. He had arthritis in both hind legs, brought on by hundreds of cold entries and exits from the duck marsh. I gave him some buffered aspirin, a healthy dinner, a

Photo courtesy of land tawney

bowl full of water and an extra pat on his head. That night he woke me up twice. The pain in his eyes was palpable. Twice I sat with him and told him what a good dog he was. He wagged his tail in acceptance. The next day he worked out his stiffness and looked to have recovered. Gabriel lived to hunt. It was the apex of decades of breeding and thousands of hours in the field. The next morning I again headed north, this time in pursuit of waterfowl. Gabe stayed home and six-year-old Turk made the trip, a changing of the guard that didn’t sit well with the elder statesmen. We had a great day with Turk making a 200-yard retrieve on a mallard and a triple blind retrieve on the last three widgeon we shot. The latter was the culmination of a summer’s work on the command “BACK” – a victory in its own right.

When we arrived home, Gabe sniffed us with disgusted interest, having not recovered from the insult of being left behind in the early hours. As I cleaned the birds, Gabe hung around but seemed to eye me in a different way. “Really Boss, this is what it has come to?” The look was painful, but true. Two years ago, I put down my best friend. I held on to Gabe’s ashes, not wanting to let him go and then returned him to a spring creek down the Bitterroot valley. . I took him back to where we hunted many a time, Teller Wildlife Refuge, a resting place next to where my father’s ashes were laid just over two decades ago. In honor of Gabriel and all great gun dogs, I wanted to share my memory of his last retrieve. But I know he’ll be there with me in the duck blind and pheasant brush, so long as my own legs can still carry me out there. I’ve got a new black lab pup, Tule. She is 9 months old and I took her and my six year old out earlier this fall to chase roughed grouse. While we found grouse and I promptly missed, setting both my son and my young pup up for a lifetime of disappointment with dad afield, the cycle of another gun dog has started. We will make plenty of new memories together as she walks in the footsteps of those dogs who came before her. Land Tawney is a 5th generation Montanan who lives in Missoula, MT with his wife, two young children and two black labs. He works as the President/CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the sportsmen voice for your public lands, waters and wildlife. BHA works every day to make sure all Americans have access to our public lands and the fish and wildlife habitat when you get there.

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Trophy - Hunting Guide 2017