Champs & Chumps

Champs and Chumps

The good, the bad, and the downright crooked.

Following the recent corner-crossing case in Wyoming (more on this at, public access is a hot topic in the West these days, and now is the time to leverage the momentum for meaningful change. But for everyone fighting the good fight, there are others standing in the way. Here in Montana, the champs are those who actually support public access, be it to public or private land. On the other hand, the chumps inhibit reasonable access. Without further ado:

This season, the chump of all chumps happens to be our very own Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) director. In response to the court’s (rightful) dismissal of the corner-crossing case in WY, Dustin Temple declared: “Corner-crossing remains unlawful in Montana, and Montanans should continue to obtain permission from the adjoining landowners before crossing corners from one piece of public land to another.” Which makes one wonder who FWP is here to serve. Corner-crossing was never unlawful in Montana, contrary to Temple’s assertion. Nor was it ever explicitly legal. That was the whole point of the court case in Wyoming—to determine if an actual crime had been committed. And the judgment was that one hadn’t. When did Montana become more beholden to wealthy out-of-state landowners than Wyoming?

In another strike, Temple sent out a state legislative recap of this spring’s 68th session, in which he conveniently omitted HB 635—which gives nonresident landowners and their immediate family 15% of all big-game combo licenses. Instead, he praised the legislature for raising the Block Management payment cap and for attempting to further enshrine the right to hunt, fish, and trap in the state’s constitution—which are both good things. But HB 635’s absence from the recap speaks volumes about where the man’s loyalties lie.

Worthy of an honorable mention is senator Steve Hinebauch, who called a new bill that increases the fine for illegally blocking county roads an “attack on private property.” Sounds like someone who’s closed off a few county roads himself, eh?

There are plenty of landowners dead-set on locking up access—to their own land, and to public land at public-private corners. But others, like Arthur Blank, are creating new opportunities. Unlike many wealthy newcomers, this feller’s done quite a bit for the average Joes and Janes of his adopted state. In 2019, he purchased the 9,600-acre Paradise Valley Ranch and opened it to limited public hunting. All Montana residents are eligible to apply to the ranch for access, and over 100 cow elk hunters are drawn annually. On top of that, hunters are hosted and led by ranch staff, for free. There’s even one property set aside for youth hunts. In addition, the ranch selects four hunters from Park County to fill their general-season bull tags on the ranch. Whoa—bull-elk hunts on private land, for free, in modern-day Montana? Thanks, Mr. Blank, and keep up the good work. (Learn more about his program at

Also on the champs side are all landowners who enroll in FWP’s Block Management Program, or otherwise allow people to hunt their land. With more and more hunters being packed onto less and less public land, every little bit counts.

Finally, here’s to all the hunters out there who spent the summer knocking on doors. When we politely pay a visit to local ranch houses, offering to fix fence or shovel shit for a day in exchange for hunting access come fall, we maintain the bond of mutual respect between hunter and landowner that is part of Montana’s heritage, and should remain its legacy.