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TOWNSEND - Changing politics and land ownership have combined to make public hunting around Canyon Ferry more challenging. While recent reports have raised questions about hunters’ ethics, the hunters say some landowners should shoulder some blame.

On Monday, 20 hunters converged on the Glass Slipper Bar in Townsend to tell their side of a story that appeared to show public hunters in poor light.

During rifle season, two incidents near Townsend involved several hunters pursuing large herds of elk in the valley bottom, and reports mentioned unethical behavior and wounded elk.

The “shootouts” received a lot of media attention and response from officials, namely Rep. Kelly Flynn. But that’s where the issue of politics arises.

A few hunters challenged Flynn’s claims of hunters hazing elk but were unwilling to speak on the record, saying they feared retribution in the small community around Canyon Ferry.

But longtime resident and hunter Dewey Lyon wanted the hunters’ story told. Once he’d assembled the group, they were emboldened to speak out about the situation that has been developing for 15 years.

As in much of Montana, large ranches in the area have been bought by rich owners who don’t always share Montana’s traditions.

In this case, Dave Greytak bought the Graveley Ranch in 2000 from Gary Graveley, Lyon’s former father-in-law.

Lyon said Graveley had always allowed people to hunt on his property, and elk hadn’t congregated in the valley as much.

But Greytak doesn’t allow anyone but immediate family and friends to hunt the GT Ranch, which extends from the Big Belt Mountains down almost to the eastern shores at the midpoint of Canyon Ferry.

Greytak made his money by owning a number of Humvee car dealerships in the East. So he spends little time at the property, leaving it in the hands of GT Ranch representative Jeff Brozovich, who by all accounts is zealous about his responsibility.

Graveley Lane, a dirt county road, has been the scene of many run-ins between Brozovich and hunters because of the checkerboard layout of private and public land along the road.

Greytak has planted alfalfa and dug two large ponds on his property in an effort to keep elk on his property rather than have them continue on to Canyon Ferry, where they have historically gone to drink once higher water becomes frozen.

But after years of habit, the elk still go to the reservoir, and west of Graveley Lane, they enter the few pieces of public land. So that’s one of the short stretches of road where hunters congregate, waiting for their chance.

But many have reported seeing Brozovich driving along the roads to keep the elk on the GT Ranch side of Graveley Road.

Brozovich has reportedly harassed hunters who have stopped along the public road.

“I was on the road watching the elk. Jeff took a picture of my license plate and then they stopped and said, ‘You can’t park here. The elk are wanting to get up to the mountains. You can’t be hazing them on the road,’” said Don Cunningham, who has hunted the area for 20 years. “But I didn’t leave. They went and hassled someone else.”

Hunter Mike Reinig tells a similar tale about watching elk on opening day.

“We were sitting there with FWP and he was going around taking everyone’s license number, telling them to move along,” Reinig said.

The hunters, who regularly scan the hills for game, say they’ve also seen Brozovich and others moving elk out of nearby gulches to get them onto the GT Ranch.

“They’re not the only ones with spotting scopes,” Lyons said.

It’s not just Brozovich who has hazed elk. Flynn and FWP wardens have also joined in.

Flynn -- an outfitter in addition to being a state legislator who will now head the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks committee – has property adjacent to the GT Ranch and has outfitting privileges on the Galt Ranch to the north of his ranch.

So he has a monetary reason to keep elk on his land, although he also outfits on the public land locked within his land and other land nearby.

After recent reports of hunting shootouts, Flynn fingered public hunters for unethical behavior and said he would support increasing fines for violations. Flynn allows few public hunters to hunt on his land.

But the hunters at the Glass Slipper have seen Flynn driving along the roads in his truck, trying to keep elk off public land where hunters couldn’t kill the bulls he wanted for his clients.

“I took my daughter out there so she could get her cow at 4 in the morning. And here you see Greytak and Kelly Flynn’s guy out there herding them across Canyon Ferry Road to Flynn’s property at 4:30 before any hunters are out there,” said Helena hunter Earl Feist.

Hunter John Sanderson said they do it all the time.

“We get in trouble for herding the elk. But they’re out there on a daily basis,” Sanderson said.

Zach Raymond said Flynn used to allow more public hunters to hunt on his land until four years ago. That’s when FWP took away the hunting licenses they allocated to outfitters and put them in a general pool. So Flynn no longer had a guarantee.

“Now he asks people to work on his ranch for a few weeks before he considers allowing them to hunt,” said hunter Carl Garcia. “And now he’s going to head the FWP (Legislative) committee. He has that much control over land, wildlife and the committee. And they say we’re unethical.”

Hunter Dan Mohn lives off the grid in White’s Gulch near the GT and Flynn ranches and has seen a lot in 30 years. But this is the first year he couldn’t find any elk near his place – they’d all congregated on the GT Ranch.

“It breaks my heart that young people are growing up thinking that this is what hunting is,” Mohn said.

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Laura Lundquist can be reached at llundquist@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2638.

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