How to get a hunting license in Montana

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I'm relatively sure that Language Log readers have been slavering to get a hunting or fishing license in Montana. So I'll tell you how, sort of. True, this state has been called a hunter's and fisherman's paradise but it an be a bit frustrating when you try to get a license. Locals tell me that this helps keep outsiders outside. But even people who live in Montana have to jump through some confusing linguistic hoops if they want to hunt or fish legally. This problem doesn't affect me personally because I'm a Montana anomaly. I don't hunt or fish at all but I'm amused by the steps people have to take to become legal hunters and fishermen. 

The first step is to sign what the state calls a "Conservation Form." It's a very small slip of paper (about the size of a grocery or gas station receipt) that you can pick up at some hardware stores, among other places. Even though its title might suggest some kind of environmental protection, all it really wants to find out is whether or not you legally live in Montana. You have to sign your name on it before you can move on to the next step, the actual license application form. Here's the total conservation form:

I hereby declare that I have been a LEGAL resident of the state of Montana, as defined by MCA 87-2-102 for at least 180 consecutive days. All statements on this form are true and correct. I understand that if I subscribe to or make any false statement on this form, I am subject to criminal prosecution.

Signature of applicant


MFWP Director: M Jeff Hagener

This seems simple enough, at least until you think about it some.

The first question you might ask is, "How do I know what a "LEGAL resident" means? Okay, the form you just signed refers you to the Montana statute so I guess you're supposed to either already know what this statute says (unlikely) or you're supposed to go look it up (even more unlikely). But you're in the hardware store, you want to get a license, and it isn't convenient to go look it up. So you sign it anyway. How can you possibly be in any jeopardy of "criminal prosecution"

For one thing, you might think you're a "legal resident" but maybe you're not. The fact that you have another home in Iowa in addition to the one you have in Montana puts you smack in the middle of legal jeopardy. Statute MCA 87-2-102 contains a number of behavioral "residence requirements" that you don't even know about, like licensing your vehicle and voting in this state. 

If you happen by chance to have been reading Black's Law Dictionary lately, you may know that Black takes a very dim view of the word, "residence," especially in statutes that really intend to mean "domicile." Under the heading, "residence," Black says:

Personal presence at some place of abode with no present intention of definite and early removal with purpose to remain for an undetermined period, not infrequently, but not necessarily combined with design to stay permanently…residence is something more than mere physical presence and something less than domicile… the terms 'resident' and 'residence' have no precise legal meaning…a person may have only one legal domicile at one time, but he may have more than one residence.

Brian Garner's A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (1995) cites law cases that say "domicile" and "residence" are often confused as synonyms. He says this alleged synonymy is dead wrong:

More specifically, "domicile" means the place with which a person has a settled connection for certain legal purposes, either because his home is there, or because that place is assigned to him by the law.

And what about the definitions in other, more general dictionaries?

OED: Domicile. Law. The place where one has his home or permanent residence, to which, if absent, he has the intention of returning.

AHD: Domicile: a residence; home; one's legal residence

MWCD: Domicile: A dwelling place; place of residence; home; a person's fixed, permanent, and principal home for legal purposes

MWCD: Residence: the act of dwelling in a place for some time; living or regularly staying at or in some place for the discharge of a duty or the enjoyment of a benefit; the place where one actually lives as distinguished from one's domicile or place of temporary sojourn.

From these it looks like the term on this little conservation form ought to be "domicile," not "residence." Are you in jeopardy of criminal prosecution because the form uses the term, "legal resident" instead of "domicile?" If you manage to locate the statute, you'll find that it uses "residence," not "domicile" so the form may not be alone in misunderstanding the legal term. Can statutes be badly written or even wrong?

The form, again reflecting the state statute, also says you "have been a legal resident of the state of Montana for…at least 180 consecutive days." You wonder when those 180 consecutive days are suppose to have started and ended. You also wonder if it's okay to have taken short business trips and vacations during that 180 period, interrupting the requirement to be consecutive. Or what does "consecutive" mean? You've lived in Montana for at least 180 consecutive days (assuming this is defined somehow) during several different years, including this one. But you also lived in your other home in Iowa for at least 180 consecutive days during some of those years. Does this form mean this year only? If so, why didn't it say that?

And what about the fact that by signing this form you've agreed that "all statements on this form are true and correct"? You wonder how you're suppose to know whether the statements made by the unknown person who wrote this form are true and correct. Again you'd have to look up the statute to discover whether the conservation form reflects it accurately. You wonder if this is your responsibility. Or are you supposed to take it on faith that the statements on the form are accurate and true? Already we've seen a non-legal definition of "residence" and a pretty vague statement about "180 consecutive days."

I guess this is one reason not to try to get a hunting or fishing license in Montana. 


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