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Across Montana, deer and elk populations are flourishing on private land, while public land populations are declining. Private land game populations are flourishing so much, in fact, that landowners are fed up with game damage and Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking for solutions. Major changes to hunting regulations are proposed for the 2014 season – regulations that, by and large, would greatly decrease public land hunting opportunities while increasing private land opportunities.

At the FWP public comment session on Tuesday night, Missoula area biologist Vickie Edwards said, “We are trying to redistribute elk and deer onto public land by increasing hunter effort on private land while decreasing effort on public land.” Hunters at the meeting agreed that the distribution of game on private land is an issue that needs a solution. The problem is – many landowners want wildlife off their land, but don’t want hunters.

Understandable, right? A person should not just allow anyone with a firearm on their property! So what is there to do? How can we get knowingly safe, responsible, ethical hunters on private land to hunt? Moreover, how can we get these hunters onto private land in a fair way?

One such idea for a private land hunting system follows:

• Create a lottery for B tags on private land only, as proposed currently

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• Compile a list of all the hunters with the proper private-property hunting tag,

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• Break the list down by archery and/or rifle hunters

• Allow hunters to fill out a voluntary “hunter profile” – which may include a resume, references, background check, and a section for landowners to comment and “rate” the hunter on his/her use of the private land and hunting practices.

This system would give landowners the opportunity to cherry-pick safe, ethical hunters. It would also help self-regulate hunters to act responsibly.

Wesley Sarmento, Missoula

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