The Montana Master Hunter Program, started in 2018, is meant to help both landowners and hunters.
“The Master Hunter program is one more tool in the toolbox we can give ranchers and landowners, and the more tools we can give them that fit their situation, the better,” said Kelly Beevers, One Montana, who works to find ranchers and other landowners for the Master Hunter Program.
Each landowner has his or her own reason for wanting to work with the program. Some want help with wildlife management; some want to trade responsible hunting privileges for conservation work; and some want to be part of an education program to educate about ranching, soil health and more.
Beevers signed up 19 ranchers in 2019.
“All of our current landowners have agricultural operations, but they don’t need to,” she said.
Hunters must take more than 50 hours of class and outside study: lectures, readings, classroom work and hunter skills testing.
“It is very hard to become certified,” Beevers said.
Some ranch owners need conservation projects done around the ranch, and they trade permission to hunt for work.
One rancher owns a large cattle operation at Snowcrest.
“Snowcrest requires hunters to come and do a day of service and cut down conifers, which are encroaching upon rangeland and creates problems for wildfire management,” she said.
The Ruby Habitat Foundation, owned by the Montana Sand Reliance, is a non-profit education program that takes eight hunters. The Foundation provided a full scholarship to one applicant, and the winner was Lindsey McHugh.
At the beginning of the program, Scott Hibbard, a Cascade County rancher, worked with many other ranchers and the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks Department on developing the Master Hunter Program.
“He met with landowners and hunters, trying to find out how relations could be improved between hunters and landowners and what it would take to improve hunting access and wildlife in the state,” Beevers said. Hibbard worked with such groups as the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Grain Growers Association and the Western Landowners Alliance.
In the program, some 90 Master Hunters have graduated.
In January 2020, the program started in Missoula, accepting 105 participants for three classes in Missoula, Helena, and Bozeman.
After graduation, One Montana’s staff finds them a place to hunt. It is totally up to the landowner how many hunters he or she wants to host, and how many days and for how long they want to let them hunt.
Some require the hunter meet with them first before hunting, but others don’t require that.
Upon successful completion of the course, participants receive a Montana Master Hunter Certificate that is valid for several years.
Instructors include ranchers, farmers, landowners, university faculty, professional shooting instructors, private land wildlife managers, and wildlife biologists, among others.
For ranchers or potential hunters who want to learn more about the program, see https://www.mtmasterhunter.com/MasterHunter.