Packing out meat

Tom Kuglin, left, and Nate Ranstrom pack out elk quarters during the 2016 Montana hunting season. 

Thom Bridge, thom.bridge@helenair.com

The upcoming hunting season in Montana will be a little different this year because of hot, dry conditions across the state and numerous wildfires causing a few closures to public access.

However, Mac Minard, the executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, said many hunters have not canceled reservations for guided services.

“Most of those people have made their arrangements well in advance,” he said. “But most sportsmen going into the field are going to have a little bit of heightened awareness of game spoilage and the dangers of fire cause by catalytic converters (on the undersides of vehicles) or striking up a campfire."

He also said landowners are going to be hypersensitive to anything that would start a wildfire.

"In fact, one of the bigger issues are landowner decisions, because many of them might say it’s just a little too dangerous for you to be out here," he said.

Montana’s upland game bird season opens Friday, Sept. 1, and the general deer, elk and antelope archery-only season begins Saturday, Sept. 2. Temperatures are supposed to hit the 90s in Missoula Saturday and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Every active fire in Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 2, which includes much of west-central Montana, has associated land or road closures, which means some U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, trails and roads will be off-limits to hunters. Vivica Crowser, a spokeswoman for FWP, said that closures are dynamic, so hunters can check InciWeb online at inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/27/ for current fire closures and maps, or they can call 406-542-5500.

All Region 2 lands are open as of Aug. 30, but updates can be found at fwp.mt.gov/news/restrictions.

There are some private lands enrolled as FWP Block Management Areas that are closed due to fire danger and activity, and the FWP website will have updates on those areas.

“Most places in western Montana are under Stage 2 fire restrictions, which prohibit all campfires and charcoal and welding, explosives, driving off established roads and use of internal-combustion engines from 1 p.m. until 1 a.m.,” Crowser said. “Cooking is allowed on propane devices that can be shut off.”

She said that extreme fire danger likely will persist into late September, and hunters can do their part to prevent wildfires by taking the following precautions:

• Park your vehicle on bare ground or ground completely void of tall grass.

• Drive only on established roads.

• After you leave an area, wait for few minutes to make sure that a fire has not started where your vehicle was parked.

• Bring along a fire extinguisher or shovel, ax, or water-filled weed sprayer.

• Camp only in designated camping areas.

• Smoke only inside buildings or vehicles.

• Check on any fire restrictions in place in the area where you are hunting.

• Consider limiting activity until fire danger lessens.

Joe Ashor, field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s Missoula office, said that his staff oversees 162,000 acres of public land in western Montana, but some of it may be closed due to fires.

“We have several thousand acres involved in the Little Hogback west of Philipsburg, and in fact it’s the biggest fire we’ve ever had in recent memory at our office,” he said. “We’ve got closures there, and we’ve got about 3,400 acres south of the Jocko River closed as a result of the Liberty fire in the Mission Mountains.”

Ashor said there’s seven or eight areas that are going to have closures to public access because of wildfires.

“It’s something hunters will have to deal with,” he said.

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