Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are Muzzleloader Seasons In Danger Of Being Eliminated?

The biggest threat to hunting are the anti-hunting organizations that tend to hide under the cloak of being concerned about the environment or protecting animals. You know, groups like the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Earth Justice, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Center For Biological Diversity, plus more than a dozen others. Well...they just may have found a way to put an end to hunting as we know it. And that is by pooling their financial resources and keeping another, seemingly not so related, issue tied up in court. And that issue is managing an ever growing number of wolves in this country.

The gray wolf was successfully reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains in 1995-96, with 60 or so Canadian wolves first released into Yellowstone National Park. The goal of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to bring wolf numbers up to 300, then turn managing the wolf population over to the state wildlife agencies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. And when the wolf population reached that level, in 2000, guess what happened...nothing. The same organizations who have always fought hunting went to court to fight removing the western gray wolf from the Endangered Species List...and wolves continued to receive Federal protection for another 7 years...then were delisted. But not for long, thanks to the combined efforts of the same "environmental" groups...taking it back to court again, and having a Federal judge put the wolf back on the list. Then, earlier this year, the wolf was pulled from the Endangered Species List again. But, guess what, those same organizations have now filed another suit to prevent management of a wolf population that is now 8 or 9 times more than the targeted goal.

And, it takes a lot of deer and elk to keep 2,000 to 2,500 or so wolves fed. In fact, some very knowledgeable game managers have established that in the northern Rockies, each wolf accounts for 20 to 36 elk kills a year. Or, in other words, these apex predators are now pulling down between 40,000 and 90,000 or so elk annually - and their impact on huntable elk populations is beyond belief.

In Idaho, before the wolves had gotten a solid toe hold in every area of the state's top elk units, hunters annually harvested around 25,000 elk. Last year, the harvest was right at 15,000. Idaho's elk population is now easily 30- to 40-percent below what it was just 7 or 8 years ago - due to wolf predation. And next door in Montana, this spring wildlife biologists recorded the lowest cow-to-calf ratio EVER...and found that at such low calf numbers it would be impossible to sustain a huntable elk herd. And down in Yellowstone Park, where the northern park herd once numbered right at 19,000 elk...fewer than 6,000 are there now - again due to wolf predation. (2011 Update - This spring, that herd has dropped to 4,400.)

We have our muzzleloading big game seasons because they were implemented as game management tools. These popular seasons (with close to 4-million U.S. muzzleloader hunters today) gave wildlife managers another tool to help keep wildlife populations in balance with habitat and food sources. And when wildlife populations drop to dangerously low levels - hunting seasons will be curtailed or eliminated altogether.

In most states, muzzleloading hunters were the last to get a season of their own. We're the low man on the totem pole. And when hunting opportunities have to be cut back, we'll be the first to feel that tightening of the belt.

What do you think needs to be done to prevent the loss of our muzzleloader seasons?

For more on this, go to

Toby Bridges


2011 Update - Since this was written back in July 2009, wolves have continued to destroy big game herds in the Northern Rockies. Yellowstone's elk herds have been pulled down by more than 80-percent...and many hunting opportunites outside of the park have been eliminated already. The same is happening elsewhere in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Now the wolves are beginning to spread into Washington, Oregon, Utah and Colorado. Without management of wolf numbers, hunting in the West is doomed. Likewise, the Upper Midwest is now home to between 6,000 and 7,000 wolves across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan - where the average wolf kills around 25 deer for food, and about the same number for "sport" (eating nothing) EACH AND EVERY YEAR! Add in the wolves of the West, easily 4,000 now, and it's easy to realize the damage 10,000 wolves can do to our wildlife resources. With each killing 50 animals annually, we are losing right at 500,000 elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and other big game animals to wolves EVERY YEAR! For more on this, go to .


  1. Montana just cut back elk take in the Bitterroot zones because the spring counts were so low. I usually go up and hunt with my cousin, but not this year.

    jim dodd

  2. That's right Jim;

    The cow-to-calf ratio in much of the Bitterroots was the lowest ever - since they started taking that census more than 50 years ago. Quite honestly, there isn't an area in western Montana's mountain country...from the Canadian border to Wyoming...that HAS NOT been affected by wolf predation. If nothing is done to get wolf numbers in this state under control (likely 1,000 in western Montana now), within a couple of years our elk population could be down 30- to 40-percent...the same as it is now next door in Idaho.

    Sportsmen in the Northern Rockies are ready to take the matter into their own hands...and to heck with federal approval. And who can blame them? It took a hundred years of hard work and billions of sportsmen dollars to bring our elk herds from the brink of oblivion back about 1900 to record numbers just a few years ago - before wolves began to seriously impact big game populations.

    It's time for the shooting & hunting industry to stop being so complacent, and to pool its resources, and to slap a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and against the intervening environmental groups which have allowed uncontrolled wolf numbers to impact other wildlife so harshly.

    Toby Bridges

  3. Personally, I believe the reason for the Canadian imported wolves was a measure by the Clinton Administration to ruin hunting. Without game to hunt you have less of a reason for owning arms. In addition people will become more dependent on a system of government aid in a rural area rather than one family taking an elk which could feed a whole family.

    Ok. Enough about my philosophy.

    I hated to see the Canadian wolves imported. Speaking from a perspective on the East Coast( Massachusetts to be exact) many dream of going out West to have the hunt of a lifetime. The endless vistas, the different boimes based on elevation and other features all intrigue a visiting sportsman. With the loss of game due to this mistake( and I believe it was done on purpose) will result in loss of hunting license revenue as well as some people who make a living in such rural environments. Those guides and outfitters who live their own lives will be forced to move out.

    As far as muzzleloading, here on the East Coast is has boomed, for a lack of a better term.

    Many areas are too crowded for centerfire rifle use and in my home state you need a firearms license for a modern arm. I know people who lost their licenses for something like a bar room brawl in their youth. Now in their 50's someone did a more thorough check and they lost their firearms license. Many of these people now hunt with muzzleloaders.