Improving Access

hunting, public land, private land, block management

Improving Access

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E. Donnall Thomas Jr.

Private land, public hunting.

One bitter December day, three friends and I decided to go goose hunting. Below a dam, hundreds of honkers were occupying open water and flying out daily to feed in stubble fields nearby. So, we loaded dogs, decoys, and all the cold-weather clothing we could find into my truck and set out.

It didn’t take us long to locate a field containing dozens of geese, with dozens more circling overhead. As we drove down the county road, I spotted a welcome green sign on a corner fencepost. The landowner had enrolled in the state’s Block Management Program (BMP). The hardest part of obtaining permission to hunt it was getting my frozen fingers to hold the pencil as I signed us in. When we finally headed back toward the warmth of home, four limits of geese rode atop the decoys in the back of the truck—a bonanza we wouldn’t have enjoyed without one of the country’s most innovative hunter-access programs. 

Montana FWP initiated the program in 1985, with a major expansion in 1996. In 2019, the program enrolled over 1,300 landowners and 7.3 million acres of game habitat. The program compensates landowners for allowing public hunters to access their land. Funding is derived from license sales. Individual hunters pay nothing to hunt enrolled land. Landowner participation is strictly voluntary  

Landowners choose between two types of Block Management Area (BMA) when they enroll, and it is important for hunters to understand the difference. Type 1 BMAs are administered by the hunter, usually just by signing in at a box placed in a prominent position along the property boundary. Type 2 BMAs are administered by a second party, usually the landowner or occasionally FWP. Permission to hunt these BMAs may require contacting the landowner or making reservations.

These details are spelled out in FWP’s regional Hunting Access Guides, which are available at departmental offices. Detailed BMA maps can be found at sign-in locations. OnX maps also show BMA locations and boundaries.

There you have it: a program that costs hunters nothing to use, benefits landowners, and opens millions of acres of private land to public hunting. As the Montana Wildlife Federation’s conservation director Nick Gevock told me, the BMP is “a sterling example of the partnership between landowners and hunters that has existed for decades. It has opened millions of acres of private land to hunting and has increased access to hundreds of thousands of acres of adjoining public land.” No wonder hunters in other western states are envious.

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