By PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic
HAMILTON – Hunters serious about shooting a wolf this year will have another incentive to try their luck in the southern reaches of the Bitterroot Valley following Sunday’s end of the state’s general big-game season.
The Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association will raffle a $650 rifle to hunters successful in killing a wolf in the east and west fork of the Bitterroot after Dec. 1.
The association’s president, Tony Jones, said the raffle is an effort to get enough hunting pressure to fill quotas set for wolves in those two areas where elk populations have been declining.
Hunter numbers dropped dramatically in the southern Bitterroot this year, especially in the West Fork where the state virtually eliminated elk hunting opportunities following several years of poor elk calf survival.
A quota of 18 wolves was established for Hunting District 250, which includes all of the West Fork of the Bitterroot. It was the only hunting district in the state with its own quota.
As of Friday, only three wolves had been killed in that district.
The East Fork is part of a much larger wolf management unit south of Missoula and west of Anaconda. So far, hunters have shot 14 wolves in that area. The quota is 36.
“We have had probably half the number of hunters coming through the check station at Darby who are hunting the southern Bitterroot than we normally have,” Jones said. “With that reduced number of hunters in the field, we are in danger of not getting the wolf quota filled.”
That led to the discussion within the sportsmen’s group on what it could do to keep hunters interested after the general season ended.
At this point, the state’s second-ever wolf season is set to end Dec. 31, but the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission is considering the possibility of keeping the season open an additional month.
“It’s been a long hard-fought battle to get a wolf season is this state,” Jones said. “We have a legal quota set by FWP and now our next step is to make sure that we fill it.”
Bitterroot hunters have seen a loss of opportunity with elk, deer and moose over the past five years.
“Bitterroot sportsmen have been great in their response,” Jones said. “Every time that Fish, Wildlife and Parks has requested a reduction in hunter opportunity, they’ve given. Hunters have been more than patient.
“The Bitterroot hunter has given until he bleeds. Now it’s time to start doing something to get the numbers back. Reducing predator numbers is one way to do that.”
The sportsmen’s group will raffle a CZ 527 M1 American .223-caliber rifle to hunters who kill a wolf in the southern Bitterroot after Dec. 1 and choose to put their name in the hat.
“It’s strictly volunteer,” Jones said. “Wolf hunters don’t have to participate. We are not going to spread anyone’s names around. If people want to remain anonymous, we will respect that.”
Hunters will be required to follow the state’s hunting regulations.
“We want hunters to be sure to get a set of regulations and make sure they are doing everything in accordance with the law,” he said.
Successful hunters can get their names entered in the raffle by calling Jones at 381-0587, Linda Havek at 961-1435 or through the association’s website at http://www.rcfwa.org.
“We’ve seen what this lost hunter opportunity has done to the valley,” Jones said. “Fewer hunters mean a big hit for Ravalli County businesses. Half as many hunters out there spending money is a big economic loss.”
“If we can get game numbers up again, it will be good for the whole valley,” Jones said. “A wolf is a great trophy in itself. This raffle just adds a little something.”