A half-hour before sunrise on Saturday, thousands of hunters will be looking for deer and elk throughout Montana, as the general rifle season gets underway.

Education Coordinator Ron Aasheim with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the numbers involved are staggering, both in sheer numbers and the effect on Montana's economy.

"We know that about 150,000 people hunt deer every year in Montana, and somewhere around 114,000 hunt elk," Aasheim said. "They spend a ton of time, in fact, elk hunters will spend a million days altogether.. And, there's an economic impact, too. Deer hunters generate about $150 million and elk hunters around $140 million."

Aasheim said there's plenty of game to go around.

"We've probably got over 300,000 mule deer in Montana right now, over 200,000 whitetail, and potentially on opening day, there'll be anywhere from 150,000 to 160,00 hunters out there."

Aasheim said there are basic rules every hunter must follow.

"First, ask permission to hunt on private land," he said. "The reason is that because the majority of our deer, both mule deer and whitetail are on private land, along with more than half of our elk. So, treat the land with respect, ask the farmer's or rancher's permission and say thank you to landowners."

Aasheim said hunters need to treat all firearms with respect.

"Be sure of your target and beyond," he said. "Treat every gun as if it's loaded. Remember, there will be a large number of people out there so you need to be aware of what you're shooting at, and what's behind it. Be really careful about checking your rifle before you get into your vehicle, because we don't want any tragedies. Gun safety, that's the big deal."

Aasheim said the season officially opens a half-hour before sunrise on Saturday. October 22 until a half hour after sunset.

"The season starts this Saturday and ends the Sunday after Thanksgiving," he said. "We also have elk shoulder seasons that begin immediately in 43 hunting districts. Wolf season is already open. Hunters can take up to a total of five, hunting and trapping combined, and you have to have a license for each wolf you take, and a trapper can take up to five with a trapping license."

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