Autumn in the Bitterroot—the tamaracks and alders turning yellow, nights chilling down to that first frost, crisp, clear blue afternoons, and in most years, if you’re so inclined, the sharp report of a .30-.30 and the resulting bounty of bone, blood and backstrap, filling the freezers of fortunate hunters near and far. Like many other things, however, this year may be different, due to of the far-reaching effects of wildfires and land closures. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Bill Thomas advises that if visions of barbecued buck are dancing in your head, you may have to hold your fire. Bountiful hunting ground throughout the state is closed to all public access, and won’t re-open until conditions change for the better.
“We want to remind people that none of the hunting seasons scheduled for the fall have been cancelled or closed,” says Thomas. “Right now the thing that’s keeping anyone from doing anything on all federal and state lands and waters in the governor’s executive order. As soon as the order is rescinded, we’ll resume all our programs, including the hunts.”
But for the time being, you can count on a delayed seasons for mountain grouse, and, for Ted Nugent types, a delayed bow season for deer, both traditionally slated for opening around the first of September. While springer spaniels and retrievers continue flushing the crows in town, and bow-hunters continue their target practice to the strains of “Cat Scratch Fever,” Thomas predicts the usually dependable change in seasons will come to the aid of hunters of all types.
“One thing we want to make clear is that there’s a very good chance that a lot of these seasons will end up taking place,” Thomas says. “I’d almost bet my paycheck on it. By the time the rifle hunts get into full swing, we hope that cooler weather and maybe a little rain will open things up.”
However, If the fall proves to be unusually dry, it’s plausible that hunters could be faced with fewer weekends in which to chase game. “One thing we won’t be doing is extending any particular hunt season,” cautions Thomas. “Most of our hunts take place from now up through the middle of January for the latest hunts. Historically, we’ve never extended a hunt for any reason, but we may have special tag seasons later in the year as we have in the past.”
As for the delayed openings, Thomas says there’s little to nothing to do about them, especially if the hunting ground of choice is in the western part of the state. “We’re encouraging hunters, if they have the flexibility, to look at some of their options, especially for grouse, in the eastern part of the state,” says Thomas. Hunters should check with the appropriate land agency for new closures before heading east.