By Chuck Nottingham
Heard the one about the myopic deer hunter who shot the pet llama this season?
Sorry to say, it's no joke. Some young feller not only shot the shaggy critter -- more resembling Joe Camel than Bambi -- but tagged it,field-dressed it, and took it to his favorite game processor.
To the shooter's credit, when the error was pointed out, he notified Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Then he contacted the llama's owner, with whom he worked out satisfactory restitution.
Even though FWP considered the matter a private "livestock issue" rather than a public hunting issue and all parties declined prosecution, the incident remains a know-your-target and game identification issue.
Other hunters and landowners will hope the shooter continues the honorable course and revisits a hunter education session to refresh his big game ID before going afield again.
Critical observation before pulling the trigger is essential for each and every hunter.
Bear hunters must determine differences in legal brownish-colored black bears and illegal young grizzlies.
Hunters with special whitetail doe tags need to spot subtleties between whitetail and muley does.
Sharptail grouse hunters have to keep sharp lookouts to tell their legal quarry from look-alike -- but illegal -- hen pheasants.
Coyote hunters can get in BIG trouble shooting a wolf.
Scoping antelope last Sunday on the last day of 'lope season, I was reminded how the growing number of llamas in Montana may pose future identification problems.
Biologists advise the wild llama of South America is the nearest living relative to our unique North American antelope, known among other AKAs as "pronghorn," "the prairie flash," and "speed-goats."
Actually, our little 'lopes are neither goats nor antelope (Lewis, Clark, and the Corps of Discovery crew were obviously more familiar with African game when they misnamed North America's fastest animal).
'Lopes are unique. The forward-jutting prongs on the main horns of mature bucks are the only branching horn in the world. All other head-gear that branch are antlers.
Antlers are annual calcium growths on male moose, elk and deer -- although like members of the deer family, 'lopes actually shed their horns. Unique again, they're the only horned animal in the world to do that trick.
Even female antelope grow horns, though without the characteristic prong and never higher than their ears.
So how do we hunters tell immature pronghorn males from mature does? The secret's in a buck's black facial markings. He has characteristic black patches of hair running from his jaw toward his ears. Also, a buck's black nose coloring extends nearly to his eyes. Black on a doe's face is limited to her nostrils.
How do we determine 'lopes versus llamas? Give me a break!!!
"Be sure of your target and beyond" is more than just another hunter ed slogan -- stuff for kids. Looking closely at our intended game is crucial for safety and ethics. The more we know, the closer we're able to look.
Good luck and good hunting as general deer and elk season draws to a close November 28.
P.S. If you enjoyed the freedom to vote a week ago Tuesday, to read this paper today, to hunt, to fish, to enjoy Montana's beautiful outdoors, remember to thank a veteran today.