By Michael Howell
County Commissioners declined a request, made by Hans McPherson last week, to prohibit rifle hunting below the Big Ditch. McPherson, who farms in the area, told the commissioners that rifle hunting in what is essentially an area of “urban farming” and high residential development was a danger and should not be allowed. He said that he had taken his concerns to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and was told that the County Commissioners had the power to prohibit rifle hunting in the area if they determined it was a public safety hazard.
McPherson admitted that the deer population was out of control in the area and constituted a hazard for drivers, but that years of rifle hunting in the area was proving to be ineffective at controlling the deer population. He said bringing in a professional marksman to take out the deer might make more sense and be a lot safer.
Sharon and Jim Schroeder, who own a ranch up on Sunset Bench but below the Big Ditch, raised some objections. They recognized the deer population as a problem and said they allowed bow and rifle hunting on their property.
“I don’t see how you can manage it with bows alone,” said Sharon Schroeder.
Her husband, Jim, said, “I think it just kicks the problem up the hill.” He also claimed that it would infringe on his rights to even target practice on his property and sight his rifle.
Lane Hutchinson, manager of the Double Fork Ranch, said that bow hunting was an effective way to control deer. He said that no rifle hunting was allowed on the 2,500-acre ranch, located between the Eastside Highway and the river, but bow hunters had managed to take 50 deer on the property this season.
Cheryl Disney advocated keeping rifle hunting open and controlling those who violate safety regulations instead.
Lynette and Tony Coller, who own a ranch on Sunset Bench, said that rifle hunters were a problem and a danger to themselves, to other people and to their cattle. They said that bow hunting, which they allow on their property, was an effective means for controlling deer in their area.
Commissioner Greg Chilcott said that he has seen how rifle hunting restrictions in the river bottom had made a safe haven for deer and the population was out of control.
“While I understand the safety issues, there are laws on the books addressing that. I can’t see how hunting restrictions are going to help,” he said.
Commissioner Ron Stoltz agreed, saying that he understands the safety concerns. “But when you start limiting private property rights I can’t go along. I am not for a blanket policy.”
The commissioners came to a consensus that they were not willing to enact any rifle hunting restrictions.