By Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, Mont. (AP) - A special late-season hunt to reduce overpopulations of elk on private land in central Montana is working, state wildlife officials told Gov. Steve Bullock.

“It’s been good for the landowner, it’s been good for the sportsman, it’s been good for the economy and it’s been good to see what we can do as we discuss what we ought to be doing in the upcoming years as well,” Bullock said.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission had approved the shoulder season, on a pilot basis, for five hunting districts.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials told the visiting Bullock on Friday that it’s been a big success for landowners, hunters and the local economy, which is benefiting from an influx of customers thanks to the influx of hunters.

Hunters have pushed big herds of congregating elk hanging out on private property on the valley floor onto nearby public land in Helena-Lewis and Clark National forest and state-managed areas, John Lesofski, a FWP area game warden, said.

“They are back up where they used be,” Lesofski said.

The season, which began Nov. 30, the day after the close of the regular season, ends Feb. 15.

Landowner Bill Galt said he is happy with the extra hunting because elk had been feasting on his ranch’s grass.

“Well elk being mobile and having no restraints on fences love those pastures that we are trying to rest. So they take a third of what I grow,” said Galt

Statewide, the elk population is 160,000.

In central Montana the elk population is 200 percent to 300 percent over objective and growing 15 percent a year in the Castle Mountains, based on the most recent surveys, said Jay Kolbe, a FWP wildlife biologist.

A precise number of how many elk have been hunted this season won’t be known until hunters are surveyed, Kolbe said.

On Feb. 11, the Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on shoulder hunting seasons for 44 additional hunting districts statewide. If they’re approved, many places could see six-month elk seasons, Kolbe said.

Kolbe noted the shoulder season has brought a lot of people to town, filling up motels and restaurants.

“A lot of people have discovered White Sulphur because of this hunt,” he said.

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