By Chuck Nottingham
While it's true slob hunters and poaching is on the increase, it doesn't necessarily mean hunting is taking a turn for the worse.
Quite the contrary, the surge in bad people doing bad things may merely indicate more people than ever are hunting. We have to keep in mind the numbers of good, decent, caring hunters are also increasing and they can help clean rotten apples from our collective barrel.
Everywhere we see more outdoor discourtesy. Growing numbers of campers seem to forget leaving the city's the reason for going into the out-of-doors, and they take along obnoxious boom-boxes, street bikes, and surly manners along. Dangerous boaters are literally making more waves. Increases always amplify the negative along with the positive.
Also, it's human nature to remember and recount negative behaviors more than positive ones. That's always been true of hunters. But with greater numbers comes better opportunities and means to reduce effects of slobs and poachers.
One-two-three punches to battle back:
One. While some would have us believe National Rifle Association is nothing more than a single-minded pro-gun lobby, fact is the majority of NRA programs have mainly promoted safe and scrupulous firearm and hunting behaviors. A current NRA educational emphasis is a grass-roots call for the many good hunters to report the few bad people in the field who reflect so poorly on us all. Shaking our heads in disapproval and relating the latest "slob" atrocity isn't enough. Many agencies and organizations are echoing emphasis that it's good to take the initiative and turn renegades in.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is another leader in changing past disprove-but-keep-silent attitudes regarding wrongdoers. Destructive and trespassing slobs close accesses for everyone. Poachers' greed and wastes know no bounds. Poachers steal what we all own and Montana hunters and anglers pay handsomely to conserve and enhance. It's time we all take note and report 'em.
Two. Reporting is more streamlined and affords protection. Warden Sergeant Mike Moore advises, "Sportsmen, landowners, and FWP enforcement personnel working together can put a stop to poaching and protect our wildlife heritage. Anyone observing a wildlife violation is urged to call FWP's TIP-MONT hotline (1-800-847-6668). You may remain anonymous and you may be eligible for a cash reward."
Havre-area FWP warden Shane Reno cautions hunters against confronting the spoilers. Instead, Reno recommends noting as many details as possible times, locations, descriptions, license numbers, etc. Then, promptly phone toll-free 1-800-TIP-MONT. Hunters, anglers, and folks who don't hunt and fish may also notify local sheriff departments of fish and game violations.
Three. Hunting and fishing violations are now more than mere slaps-on-wrists they once were. Fines are increasing to seriously get into pocketbooks of those who profit from stealing wildlife. Many not only forfeit money, but also equipment used in the commission of their crimes.
In addition, hunting and fishing rights are being revoked. Montana has joined a coalition of 11 other states which now circulates names of habitual violators who in the past just went elsewhere to hunt and fish.
This year, a quarter of our sister states refuse hunting permits to convicted violators who have been denied Montana licenses. Montana does the same in return. Very soon, all 50 states and most Canadian provinces may agree to reciprocal hunting-fishing bans for chronic violators.
Protecting what's ours is smart use of renewable but limited resources.