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Decisions on wolf trapping, Flathead Lake bighorn sheep looming

Hagadone News Network | August 18, 2021 1:15 AM

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Friday, Aug. 20, is expected to decide on a number of proposals of interest to hunters and trappers in Northwest Montana, including wolf and furbearer trapping setbacks, season quotas and other regulations.

The commission is considering a proposal to allow snares for wolf trapping, increase the bag limit and allow a person to take more than one wolf per license.

It also is considering proposals for trapping setbacks in Region 1, the northwest corner of the state. Some setbacks — the minimum distance a trap must be placed from trails or popular recreation areas — would be added and some places would be designated as no-trapping areas.

And the commission will consider a proposal to move bighorn sheep to Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake from other areas of Montana.

The bighorn sheep population on Wild Horse Island was started in 1939 with the release of six sheep from the Sun River area. Two rams from the Ural Tweed herd were moved there in 1987.

The herd has grown and is a source herd for other bighorn populations. A study of Montana's bighorn populations revealed limited genetic diversity and some inbreeding within the Wild Horse Island population, though it was not an immediate concern.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' population objective for the island is 100 to 120 bighorn sheep. During surveys in 2018 and 2019, about 130 to 140 were observed. A survey was not completed in 2020, but to reduce the population observed in the 2018 and 2019 surveys to objective levels, 26 bighorn sheep were removed from Wild Horse Island and relocated to the Tendoy Mountains.

After those sheep were moved, more recent surveys detected about 75 bighorn sheep on the island. Reasons for the apparent decline are unknown, though experts suspect mountain lion predation may be a factor.

Disease sampling conducted during the translocation effort in 2020 detected no pathogens of concern. Hunting is not permitted on Wild Horse Island as it lies within the Flathead Reservation.

Public comment will be taken through Sept. 20. If the commission endorses the proposal, the department will work closely with Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes wildlife staff to secure support for the bighorn sheep effort.

The commission also is expected to decide on a proposal to allow any license and permit that was valid for deer or elk through the general big-game season to be valid for those species during the traditional muzzleloader season that runs Dec. 11–19, 2021.

Hunters would have to follow the conditions of that license and permit and regulations pertaining to the hunting districts in which the license-permit is valid.

There would be some exceptions, and all other general big-game season regulations would apply, including in areas with weapons restrictions.

Some of the exceptions in the proposal include:

  • Traditional muzzleloader hunting would not be allowed in wildlife management areas that close each Dec. 1 to protect wintering animals.
  • Motor vehicle access on many federal lands is prohibited starting Dec. 1 and hunters would have to abide by the rules of each land management agency.
  • Muzzleloader hunters would have to use plain lead projectiles and a muzzleloading rifle charged with loose black powder, loose pyrodex or an equivalent loose black powder substitute, and ignited by a flintlock, wheel lock, matchlock, or percussion mechanism using a percussion or musket cap.
  • The muzzleloading rifle would have to be a minimum of .45 caliber and may not have more than two barrels.
  • Hunters would not be allowed to use a muzzleloading rifle that requires insertion of a cap or primer into the open breech of the barrel, is capable of being loaded from the breech or is mounted with a magnifying scope.
  • Use of pre-prepared paper or metallic cartridges, sabots, gas checks or similar power- and range-enhancing manufactured loads that enclose the projectile from the rifling or bore of the firearm also would be prohibited.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission's meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Capitol in Helena. The meeting will be streamed live on the Montana Public Affairs Network, YouTube and Zoom. Instructions for participating remotely and providing public comment can be found at