By Jessianne Wright
EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – The 2018 Montana hunting season is just around the corner and according to wildlife managers, herds in southwest Montana are healthy overall, but hunters should be prepared for potential hunter crowding.

“Herds are healthy, and there is plenty of opportunity for hunters to have a successful season,” wrote Peggy O’Neill, information bureau chief for the Communication and Education Division of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in an email to EBS. “South of Bozeman, hunter numbers have increased, including during archery seasons, so hunter crowding can be an issue.”

She added that weather is still the biggest driver for successful harvest. “When it’s warm and dry, game hears you coming and will scatter,” she wrote. “If there is snowpack, game will concentrate and can be more easily accessible on winter ranges.”

The general big game archery season opens Sept. 1, as do upland game bird seasons for mountain, sage and sharp-tailed grouse, as well as partridge. The general big game rifle season opens Sept. 15 and will run through Nov. 25, while pheasant hunting starts Oct. 6.

As is true for everyone recreating in southwest Montana, O’Neill said it’s important that hunters be prepared in case of a bear encounter. Hunters should carry bear spray; hunt with a partner or tell someone about their plans; get harvested game out of the field quickly; be cautious and make noise if returning to a harvest site; and never attempt to haze a bear from a carcass, she added.

Montanans who plan to hunt out-of-state are reminded to know regulations and possible transportation restrictions in the state they are traveling to, particularly to avoid the spread of disease.

In Montana, it’s illegal to bring in the heads and spinal columns of deer, elk and moose from states or provinces that have chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease that was found for the first time in Montana’s wild deer populations in Carbon and Liberty counties last year. Within the state, heads and spinal columns from deer, elk and moose from parts of Carbon and Liberty counties may not be moved outside of the area.

Visit fwp.mt.gov/hunting to learn more.