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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Hunting Bills Stall In The Legislature

Cow elk.

A debate over the role of money in deer and elk hunting in Montana has fizzled out in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 143 would have created a $300 early drawing system for nonresident elk and deer licenses. It’s likely dead after missing a deadline in committee earlier this month.

Addressing an amendment that overhauled the bill and passed the Senate in February, the policy’s sponsor, Sen. Jason Ellsworth (R) - Hamilton said, "Certainly I’m more than disappointed from where this bill started to where we’re at today."

The bill in its original form would have guaranteed a percentage of deer and elk licenses to out-of-staters hunting with outfitters.

House Bill 505 was tabled last month after a tie-vote in committee. That bill would have given landowners with more than 640 acres up to 10 nonresident elk tags each to divvy out how they please, if elk numbers in their area meet state-determined objectives. That’s a departure from current policy, in which a lottery system allocates elk tags to nonresidents.

Both bills generated controversy in the hunting community. Critics said the bills would create a class system in hunting that privileges those with enough money to buy access. 

Jake Schwaller of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers addressed SB 143 at a committee meeting in March.

"All nonresident sportsmen and women, regardless of financial means, should enjoy the same chances for the opportunity to hunt Montana each year," Schwaller said.

The bills were supported by outfitters and agriculture groups, among others, who said they would help control elk populations in the state and prop up an industry that needs support.

Nick Mott is a reporter and podcast producer based in Livingston, Montana.
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