Tips for hunters to make the Block Management Program work for them
October 9, 2019
The 2019 Hunting Access Guide is available, directing hunters to more than 7 million acres of private, state and federal lands enrolled in Montana's Block Management Program. 2019 Block Management Area Access Guides and maps are available on the Block Management page of the FWP website and in FWP regional offices.
The Block Management Program is a tremendous benefit for hunters and for Montana's economy. Hunting contributes more than $20 million annually to the area economy.
Many hunters have come to rely on Block Management in Montana, but FWP staff still encounters misconceptions about how it works. With that in mind, the agency offers some suggestions that may help hunters better utilize the program.
Access not about big bucks
Bea Sturtz, Block Management administrative assistant for Region 7, said the most common misconception is the type of information that she can provide to hunters.
"They assume that because we're with Fish, Wildlife & Parks, we're going to know where the big ones [bucks] are, but it has nothing to do with that. We're just here to help people find access to private lands, and I think that gets lost," she said.
As long as hunters have realistic expectations about what the program can do and are willing to put in the time, Sturtz is confident that they can have a very satisfying experience.
Hunters choose where to go
Some hunters say they will go wherever the staff sends them, but it's really up to the hunter to decide where they're going to hunt because there are so many opportunities.
The staff may ask people where they want to base their hunt, how far they are willing to travel and how much they want to walk. And they do call landowners throughout the season, in part to direct hunters toward better opportunities and to disperse people.
Big parcels not always better
Hunters tend to want large parcels of land to hunt, but sometimes landowners limit access within those Block Management Areas. Also, hunters may be overlooking opportunities elsewhere.
"They need to know not to avoid those smaller areas, because sometimes they can be a hidden gem," Sturtz said.
Permission isn't automatic
Access programs can vary from state to state, and Sturtz cautions hunters that access here is not automatic. "You still have to make that step to get permission," she said.
FWP provides hunters with contact information for landowners, and then it's up to hunters to make arrangements. There are two ways to gain permission to hunt: Type 1 BMAs allow a hunter to sign in at a box on site, and Type 2 BMAs require permission from the landowner or a representative. Even then, access is not a guarantee if the landowner is booked or has certain stipulations.
Have a backup plan
Hunters should always a backup plan because a lot of BMAs book up pretty quickly, particularly when game populations are faring well in those areas. It never hurts to get a contact number for a second-choice area, just in case the first choice doesn't pan out.
Remember common courtesy
Hunters are asked not to book more than one BMA per day. If a hunter changes plans or fills a tag, remember to call and cancel a reservation so the landowner doesn't have to turn other people away. Another tip is to call only at the time designated by the landowner, and to remember time zone differences.
It's about relationships
Landowners tell staff that they appreciate hunters who don't take access for granted, are grateful for the opportunity and take the time to build a relationship with them, even if it's mostly by phone. Some think they get a better group of hunters through the program because visitors have to call first.
Do your homework
Block Management offers hunters a lot of opportunities, "but it's still just one tool for access, and hunters have to do their homework," Sturtz said.
"You can still use public land, and you can still knock on a door," she added.
Get a Block Management Access Guide
One thing hunters can do to prepare is order the Block Management Access Guide in advance, which is available in print and online.
Pay attention to variables
Finally, every hunting season is different in terms of conditions on the ground. For example, in Southeastern Montana, fall hunting season and fire danger often go hand in hand. As the temperatures soar and fuels dry up in late summer, hunters should be sensitive to the fact that landowners are concerned about the increasing threat of fires.
Due to varying conditions throughout much of Montana, hunters may encounter BMA closures or restrictions. Some BMA cooperators may be reluctant to make access commitments until weather conditions improve. Hunters should contact regional FWP staff and/or BMA landowners prior to making final hunting trip plans to identify any possible land closures, BMA use restrictions, or other actions which might affect their hunting activities.
The wildlife populations may vary greatly from year to year as well. Last year's drought, followed by a tough winter, impacted both big game animals and upland birds, so hunters having good luck in prior years may not have the same experience this season. Still, if they do their research and put in the time, there are still plenty of opportunities for quality hunts