Valley County sportsmen pair new, old deer hunters in new program

Members of the Hi-Line Sportsmen are seeking beginning Valley County hunters interested in teaming up with experienced mentors to learn the basics of deer hunting this November.

The initiative is part of Hi-Line Sportsmen’s “Field to Freezer” campaign designed to harvest deer and contribute venison to hunt participants as well as the local food bank.

The mentoring portion of the project will pair volunteer mentors from the Hi-Line Sportsmen with beginning hunters of any age. The beginning hunters are welcome to do the harvesting themselves, with the assistance of their mentors, or they may simply tag along on a hunt with a mentor to observe a hunt in action. Mentors will help educate the beginning hunters with everything from gear to shot selection to field dressing and butchering of the harvested animals.

The first-time hunters are encouraged to take their meat home, or they can donate their harvest to the local food bank for distribution to local households.

“Deer densities on the landscape are currently in really good shape, especially mule deer,” said Drew Henry, Valley County wildlife biologist for Fish, Wildlife & Parks and also a member of the Hi-Line Sportsmen. “Hunters have the ability to purchase surplus doe licenses, representing a great opportunity for doe harvest and filling a freezer.”

The Field to Freezer campaign is designed to capitalize on the abundance of deer in the county this fall. Hi-Line Sportsmen members plan to use surplus deer tags to harvest does and donate the meat to the Valley County Food Bank. The mentoring campaign takes the initiative one step further, serving as an invitation to beginning hunters who might not have the means or assistance to get out in the field by themselves this season.

“On a national basis but also locally, we’re seeing the number of hunters in decline,” said Andrew McKean, a founding member of Hi-Line Sportsmen. “The number one reason people don’t hunt or stop hunting is that they don’t have someone to take them or show them how. We hope to solve that by helping with both of those needs.”

The focus for the November hunts is on antlerless deer, but participants can use whatever valid tags they possess. If they don’t hold a valid deer tag, they are encouraged to accompany their mentors on the hunt to learn about the basics. Either way, the mentors are committed to serve as unpaid guides, assisting with all aspects of the hunt, from finding a place to go, to locating deer, to making the shot, field dressing, and converting the animal to steaks and burger.

“That’s the definition of a mentor, to serve as a trusted guide who can answer questions, offer assistance, and help with all aspects of a new experience,” McKean said. “Glasgow and Valley County are full of hunting mentors, and it’s our goal to activate them to help a new generation of hunters.”

If you are interested in participating, either as a mentor or as a hunter, contact McKean at 406-263-5442, or Drew Henry at 406-230-0133, or leave a message on Hi-Line Sportsmen’s Facebook page. The Hi-Line Sportsmen will be compiling rosters and pairing mentors with hunters over the next month. Mentors will be in contact with their apprentices to schedule sight-in and hunt days.

Additionally, the Hi-Line Sportsmen and FWP plan a community sight-in day on Sunday, Oct. 14, to ensure that hunting rifles are safe and accurate and that all participants can demonstrate safe gun-handling skills.

At the end of the hunting season, organizers plan to host a wild-game feast where all participants can come together, enjoy a meal, and swap stories and pictures of their experience.