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Sportsmen ask people to steer clear of wildlife

A small herd of whitetail deer keep a close watch on activity on a nearby road near the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. Local sportsmen organizations are asking people to take a pledge to not venture out into the surrounding mountains looking for sheds during the month of March in an effort to reduce winter mortality.

Foregoing a late-winter antler hunt could earn a Missoula or Ravalli county hunter a new rifle, thanks to the concerns of several local conservation groups.

Mule Deer Foundation Bitterroot Chapter member Scott Falagan on Thursday asked his fellow club members to skip shed-hunting in March to give struggling deer and elk some respite from the harsh travel conditions. Many whitetail and mule deer bucks have already dropped their antlers, and bull elk usually lose theirs in late March or early April.

“My phone has been going crazy this morning,” Falagan said. “People have been calling and texting me to say thank you and offer to take the pledge. I like to believe that everyone is pretty sincere that they'll follow the pledge.”

Anyone in Missoula or Ravalli county who pledges to push back their shed horn hunting efforts, promote awareness of wildlife’s current plight and encourage others to do the same will have a chance to win a Kimber hunting rifle on the first of April. To enter, send a text with a name and phone number to 406-360-3241. And promise to tell at least five other people about the impacts of winter conditions on wildlife. As Falagan puts it, “your entry is your word you are making the pledge; no cost associated.”

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and local Safari Club International chapters have also backed the Mule Deer Foundation call. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Butte Area Wildlife Biologist Vanna Boccadori added her support, asking rod and gun clubs throughout the region to follow suit even if they aren’t participating in the rifle drawing.

“While the original request was directed at Missoula and Ravalli counties, the same applies to our wildlife across SW Montana right now,” Boccadori wrote in an email. “At the very least, I personally want to ask you all to hold off shed hunting until later this spring.”

Falagan said he noticed from his Stevensville home how animals were cutting distinct trails through the deep snow in the hunt for food.

“You could tell that they had their travel routes and they were working hard to try to save their lives this winter,” he said. “If you bump them off the trail and force them to walk in the deep snow, it uses up a lot of energy that they don’t necessarily have right now. As sportsmen, there is a time when we have to self-govern. We don’t always have to wait for the state to say what’s important and what’s right.”

In Missoula FWP Game Warden Aaron Berg added another detail.

“The does and cow elk are trying to keep their unborn babies healthy inside,” Berg said of the wild herbivores. “When we pressure them, we could be harming the fetus as well as the animals themselves.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.

Northwest Montana Reporter

Ravalli Republic Associate Editor