Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Some moose and bighorn sheep hunters will be disappointed to learn that they need to cancel their hunting plans because Fish, Wildlife & Parks made some errors.

FWP this week announced it had made mistakes and awarded too many licenses in a May 12 drawing for moose and bighorn sheep licenses. A FWP release said the licensing staff entered the incorrect quotas for seven drawings, so more licenses were drawn than what biologists have determined is appropriate.

FWP Deputy Director Dustin Temple said the department would be taking licenses back from those hunters whose names were pulled last in each drawing. During a drawing, FWP’s system allocates licenses in order, so the system knows the order in which each hunter was drawn. Therefore, FWP staff can determine which hunters were mistakenly awarded licenses beyond the appropriate quota.

According to the release, on May 16, FWP staff blocked successful applicants from being able to buy licenses and are removing the extra hunters from the drawing lists. Once the corrections have been made, the affected hunters will be notified by phone and email and the successful applicants that remain can then buy their licenses.

The release didn't say what FWP will do if the wrong hunters already bought their licenses prior to May 16.

“This is the fairest way we know to fix this mistake, but it will mean some hunters who thought they were successful in the drawing will not get a license,” Temple said in a release.

In FWP's Region 2 around Missoula, the error affects moose licenses in Hunting District 270, which is basically east of Highway 93 between Hamilton and the state line. The moose quota in HD 270 is two, but FWP gave out three licenses.

The overdraw concerns Bitterroot hunters like Tony Jones, who knows how difficult it is to draw certain licenses. The chance of drawing a moose license in HD 270 is less than 0.5%. But he also knows FWP biologists set quotas to preserve the populations, and moose populations in particular have been struggling in Montana.

“In the East Fork (Bitterroot) where the extra moose tag was drawn, when you’re given only two, it’s pretty fragile. If you kill three, that’s 50% more,” Jones said. “But you finally draw a license, and now they’re going ask people to give them back?”

Other areas for moose that were affected include HD 341 south of Anaconda, which also has a quota of two but three hunters were drawn; and HD 322, east of Interstate Highway 15 between Dillon and the state line, where the quota is six but eight hunters were drawn.

But the mistakes in the drawings for bighorn sheep were much bigger. Getting to hunt bighorn sheep in the Missouri Breaks is a coveted opportunity, but a large number of hunters are going to be disappointed.

The worst error was in HD 482 south of the Missouri River, where the quota for a bighorn ewe is five but FWP drew 40 hunters. The quota for an either-sex tag is 15, but FWP drew 20. Last year, almost 4,800 hunters entered the drawing for the HD 482 either sex tag, while about 2,000 entered for the ewe tag as either first or second choice.

North of HD 482 on the other side of the Missouri River, in HD 680 west of the Stafford Ferry Road, the limit for bighorn ewes is 30 but FWP drew 40 hunters. Finally, in HD 622 on the northwest side of Fort Peck Reservoir, the quota for bighorn ewes is 10 but FWP drew twice that number of hunters.

This isn’t the first time within the past year or so that FWP has made mistakes issuing more licenses than they should.

Last May, FWP reported it erroneously printed and mailed about 1,200 combination deer-elk licenses to nonresident hunters who had opted to return their license because they didn’t draw their chosen permit.

One month earlier, FWP director Hank Worsech, who used to lead the licensing bureau, decided to issue an extra deer and elk permits in four hunting districts that had to be a hunter’s first and only choice, because a new computer system had incorrectly kicked out any hunters who had also entered second and third choice options.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at