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Research Projects: 

MPG Ranch’s Public Hunting Program

How to Break into a Crowded Lineup

Dr. Kyle Dunning searches the landscape for pronghorn and deer in fall 2019.

For hunters who have obtained permission, MPG Ranch is open to public hunting of antlerless white-tailed deer and antlerless elk during the general archery and rifle seasons. We’ve allowed access for about 600 hunters since 2014. Commercial outfitting is not part of our program.
Our primary purpose in allowing big game hunting is to manage white-tailed deer and elk populations. Other big game animals on the ranch don’t require management through hunting.
Ranch staff worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to offer late season hunts for the past 6 years, and early game damage hunts for the past 4 years, all for antlerless elk.
Recently, the ranch owner agreed to a limited harvest of bull elk. We plan to harvest 8-12 bulls to reduce forage use where bulls tend to congregate.

Brief History
Our hunt program evolves over time. Most of our hunters in 2014 were ‘strangers’ to the ranch, meaning that we didn’t know each other. We selected these hunters on a first come, first served basis. Other hunters in 2014 worked on the ranch or were co-workers with the ranch owner. We provided access to hunters during game damage or management seasons according to FWP rules. We selected 25% of the hunters from our list of known hunters and 75% from the game damage list supplied by FWP.
We became more familiar with individual hunters with each successive hunting season. As a result, we found hunters who were trustworthy, demonstrated proficiency with their weapon, and appreciated access to private land. We invited those hunters back.
Hunting season structure has changed several times since 2014. The addition of shoulder seasons and use of the unlimited Elk B licenses valid on private land provided us with more flexibility in selecting hunters. This is important to us since good hunters provide an essential tool for quality management of deer and elk.
We’ve built a roster of excellent hunters over the past 6 years. As a result, it’s become difficult for hunters who are strangers to gain access. We continue to allow 80-100 hunters to access the ranch annually. Most of them are not friends or family of the ranch owner.
We’ve found that chaperoning hunters increases their success rate significantly. We now chaperone all of the rifle hunters. We also require rifle hunters to use nonlead ammunition and offer the use of a ranch rifle to hunters who don’t own a suppressor.

Adyn Mayn became a successful youth hunter on MPG Ranch in 2019.

A Diverse Program
Maintaining that core group of accomplished hunters is important. However, we understand the importance of supporting youth, less mobile hunters, and veterans. We offer specific hunting opportunities to these groups.
MPG hosts a Hunter Education Class, instructed by ranch staff, each summer. Graduates of the class who also attend the annual MPG Hunter Field Day earn a chance to hunt antlerless elk. The Field Day involves presentations by professionals in bear country safety, big game management, tanning hides, and other outdoor related topics. All participants spend at least two hours at the ranch shooting range.
Two staff members serve as instructors for One Montana’s Hunter Advancement Program (MHAP). The ranch offers two hunting slots to graduates of this effort.
We schedule hunts with mobility challenged hunters too. These hunts often involve hunters who qualify through FWP with permission to shoot from a vehicle.
We also partner with Montana Wounded Warriors. We offer two hunts for local veterans who qualify under the Montana Wounded Warrior program.
Finally, MPG Ranch selects various local conservation groups to auction antlerless elk hunts for youth hunters. The selected groups keep all the proceeds from their respective auctions.

Firearm instructor Jake Jourdonnais discusses shooting tips with MPG Ranch staff member Mike Ormandy during the first annual advanced shooting course at MPG Ranch on June 11, 2020.

Focus on Firearm Proficiency
Our experience with hunters over the past 6 years has taught us a great deal about the average hunter. Most of them are wonderful people. We appreciate the friendships and acquaintances we’ve gained along the way. However, we found that the accuracy or proficiency of the average hunter with their firearm is troubling.
We’ve taken a step to improve that situation. We’ve offered professionally instructed shooting classes to our staff. These classes were not mandatory for employment. However, attendance is required for staff who desire to hunt on the ranch. It’s a small but important step for us to assist with the improvement of firearm proficiency for hunters in the field. Graduates of the advanced course earn a spot to hunt bull elk on the ranch.
Therefore, more of the ranch staff is becoming engaged in deer and elk hunting. And, as they become involved, there are fewer hunting slots available for hunters outside the ranch.
Do I have a Chance?
Yes, but the chance is slim. MPG Ranch supports a vigorous hunting program. However, we receive substantially more hunt request than we have available slots. We make additions to our core hunter list each year. However, most of these hunters take part in our Field Day event where they prove their shooting abilities at the ranch shooting range.
Your best bet, if you aren’t a youth or Wounded Warrior, is to volunteer at the ranch, attend the annual MPG Ranch Field Day and become a known entity to the ranch staff. Attending the MHAP or one of the established shooting clinics in or near Montana earns you bonus points.

Cherin Spencer-Bower hunted an antlerless elk on MPG Ranch in February 2019.

Final Disclosure
Each hunting season, the MPG Ranch manager experiences unforeseen situations or special requests that require his attention. As a result, some hunting occurs on the ranch that doesn’t fit into any planned or scheduled slot. These situations are uncommon but it’s important to remember that this is private land and the manager retains the right to throw a curve ball now and then.

About the Author

Craig Jourdonnais

Craig graduated with a B.S. in wildlife management in 1982 and completed his M.S. degree in Range Management in 1985 from the University of Montana School of Forestry. Craig worked seasonal wildlife tech positions with U.S. Forest Service, Bitterroot National Forest and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks during his college career. Craig completed his Master’s research using prescribed fire and cattle grazing on a rough fescue winter range to improve elk forage conditions on the Sun River Wildlife Management Area. Results from this research are published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Craig spent the next 33 years working for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He spent one year on the East Front Grizzly Project, 3 years as a state game warden, 15 years as a statewide wildlife video production specialist and his remaining tenure as the area wildlife biologist in the Gallatin, Madison and Bitterroot Valleys.

Craig works as a youth hunt coordinator and big game researcher for MPG Ranch. Craig spends his time away from MPG Ranch with his family hunting, fishing, floating and hiking. He is a competitive swimmer and coaches U.S. Masters swimming, teaches big game management for One Montana’s Montana Hunter Advancement Program, and serves as Big Game Committee Chairman for the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association.