Airboats on the hunt

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Josh Parkinson photo Idaho hunters shoot ducks from a river blind.

Steve Croston has been hunting ducks out of airboats along the Coeur d’Alene River for more than 30 years.

Croston doesn’t often hunt the areas that Idaho Fish and Game has proposed closing — two swaths of swamp near Rose Lake and Medimont.

But he thinks any closure will prevent waterfowl hunters like himself or older (he is 64) from accessing wetlands that are difficult to reach.

The Fish and Game department has proposed prohibiting airboats on two parts of the 8,600-acre WMA, which extends from Cataldo to Harrison along the Coeur d’Alene River and includes wetlands of the lower St. Joe River.

The two pieces proposed as off limits include an 11,000-acre swath on the south side of the Coeur d’Alene River from Cave Lake to Springston, and an approximately 744-acre chunk of wetlands near Rose Lake from Bull Run Road to Black Rock Road.

He hunts the swamp near Rose Lake about three times a year, he said, and rarely sees duck hunters.

“Only once in eight years have I seen a hunter in there,” said Croston, who also raises Labrador retrievers at his home in Kellogg.

Large pieces of the WMA are difficult for duck hunters to access because adjacent land is either private or roadless, he said, and airboats — which have a large airplane-like propeller mounted inside the boat near the stern that allows them to skip across ice and wetlands — have long been used as a way for aficionados to reach their hunting spots.

“You’re already limited on where you can go,” he said. “Anything they take away is just another day you can’t go hunting.”

Fish and Game is considering the two closures to provide a variety of hunter experiences on the WMA, said biologist Norm Merz. Airboat use is possible in most of the rest of the WMA, but there are no areas set aside for hunters who want to avoid competition with airboaters.

“Those areas are not getting a lot of airboat use,” Merz said. “This allows people who don’t own airboats to maintain their desired hunting experience.”

If airboats are outlawed in the two areas, they would help to meet the demand for, and maintain a diversity of hunter experiences in the management area, Kara Campbell of IDFG said.

The department plans an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Medimont Grange Hall to discuss the proposal. The Grange is located along State Highway 3 at Medimont.

Ed Bresnan, who owns Valley Mart, the Medimont convenience store across the parking lot from the Grange Hall, said people sometimes grouse about the noise the boats make in the morning when they barrel through the dark to hunting areas. For the most part, however, he doesn’t hear many complaints.

“I don’t know that they cause any problems,” Bresnan said.

When he hunts, he walks into areas that are accessible and either jump shoots birds or sits in a blind.

“It’s mostly about being in the right place,” he said.

Sometimes on those slow days when the ducks seem to sit tight, he said, “you almost want a boat to come by to get the birds moving.”

Next week’s meeting is meant to show residents what areas are proposed for closure and to get feedback, Merz said.

“And we’ll go from there,” he added.

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