In the case at hand, the dogs could hunt. They just didn't know they weren't supposed to go into Glacier National Park in their pursuit of mountain lions.
While the dogs eventually were found, it was not before the park launched a search and rescue mission, one that ended up happily ... except for the fines the dogs' owner was assessed for allowing his hounds to go loose in Glacier.
In this story, which played out on January 6, 39-year-old Bill Sapa, of Columbia Falls, Montana, and Lawrence Bedford, 34 of Martin City, Montana, became separated from their dogs when the hounds picked up a lion's scent and took off. Well, rather than wait to see if their dogs would circle back, about 11 that morning the two men told their hunting buddies that they were going after their dogs.
By 7:30 that evening, when neither men nor dogs had returned, the search-and-rescue crews were called out. The dogs and men were found in the park by rangers shortly after midnight about three-and-a-half miles south of the Polebridge Ranger Station on the Inside North Fork Road along the western border of the park.
The weather that day was not the best for either hunting or searching. Heavy, wet snow was falling on top of 4 feet of unconsolidated snow, and the hunters had no skis or snowshoes. While they did have snowmobiles, those bogged down in snow before the men got far from where they parked their rig outside the park just south of Hay Creek, approximately four miles south of Polebridge Ranger Station.
When the SAR team reached that area, they soon found the two hunters' snowmobiles about 200 yards from their rig. Searchers on skis followed the hunters' tracks, which veered south along the North Fork of the Flathead River and crossed into the park.
The searchers speculated that the hunters might be headed toward the Logging Creek Ranger Station, eight miles south of Polebridge. At that point, given the late hour and the heavy, wet snow conditions, rangers initiated an initial search from the Polebridge Ranger Station south along the Inside North Fork Road by snowmobile.
That first sweep south from Polebridge failed to turn up anyone. Shortly after midnight, though, a second sweep was made and about three-and-a-half miles south of the Polebridge Ranger Station rangers encountered the two dogs the hunters.
The hunters told rangers they had decided to pursue the dogs into the park for fear the hounds might be killed by wolves if left overnight. The men, who said they weren't in any trouble, planned to return to their rig via the Polebridge Ranger Station by approximately 3 a.m. the next morning.
While everything turned out OK in this incident -- the hunters and dogs were found in good condition and none of the SAR members ran into trouble -- park officials said afterward that hunters have to control their dogs at all times.
“There are inherent risks in choosing to hunt adjacent to park boundaries such as river ice, illegal harassment of park wildlife, and dog welfare in areas inhabited by wolves,” said park Superintendent Chas Cartwright. “Individuals hunting with dogs are responsible for insuring that they stay out of Glacier National Park. In an effort to minimize unnecessary search efforts, hunters are also urged to make responsible decisions concerning communicating their plans and itineraries to an accountable party.”
Hunters also are reminded that they are not allowed to pursue, dress out, or transport legally wounded or killed animals that end up within Glacier National Park’s boundaries unless they are accompanied by a park ranger. Persons should call park headquarters at 406-888-7800 to report such incidents and to arrange for a ranger escort.
As for the hunters in this case, they were fined $150 for allowing the dogs to enter the park. No word if they ever spied the cat.