Montana changes big game tagging law

Montana tag validation
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When Minnesota resident Jim Latvala took a six point bull elk last year during opening day rifle season in Montana, he had no idea that the repercussions of the kill would reverberate enough to change big game tagging law for the state. Latvala was cited for his failure to immediately tag the elk, which resulted in a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden confiscating his bull elk, leaving him with nothing to show for the $2,000 spent but an elk head. The meat was donated to a food bank.

Now, after one hunter has been punished for being slow to tag the elk by 20 to 25 minutes that he was already field dressing, the law has been changed after lots of media outlets covered this controversial story. In order to clarify any discrepancies in Montana’s big game tagging law, House Bill 279 (which was signed by Governor Steve Bullock on March 31) removed the word “immediately” from the language for tagging big game animals during hunting, which will hopefully prevent future incidents from happening to well meaning hunters.

“We think it’s a reasonable adjustment,” says Ron Aasheim, Fish, Wildlife and Parks communications and education bureau chief. “And it’s easier to enforce.”

Jim Latvala with his Montana bull elk
Photo credit: Jim Latvala

A previous goHUNT story detailed Latvala’s story, noting that Latvala’s home state of Minnesota does not require a hunter to tag game until it is going to be moved. Montana’s decision to give Latvala the elk head after donating the meat was another slap in the face since Latvala is not a trophy hunter and says the meat would have lasted him two years. Latvala had been hunting with brother Warren on a neighbor’s property.

While Latvala appreciates the passage of the bill, he believes that he was wrongly accused and cited for the previous incident. According to the Billings Gazette, without an official public apology from FWP, Latvala plans to sue the department for the cost of his hunt, which is estimated at $2,000. He also wants a public apology and retraction of false statements by FWP officials in news stories that followed the incident.

“The passage of HB279 into law does ease some of my concerns though, it’s a first step and shows, by their support, that FWP knew the old rule was wrong and would continue to be fought by the public,” says Jim’s brother, Warren Latvala, in an email to the Billings Gazette.


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