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Felons banned from guns can get hunting tags

HELENA, Mont. -- Hundreds of people barred from having guns because they are felons on parole or probation are still able to get hunting licenses in Montana with no questions asked, according to state records.

Montana may not be alone. While nearly all states ban felons from possessing guns, only a handful -- including Rhode Island and Maine -- keep them from receiving hunting permits. A few others, such as Massachusetts and Illinois, require hunters to show both a hunting license and a firearms license.

''Our license dealers have no way of checking," said Lieutenant Rich Mann, with the enforcement program for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. ''If someone wants to play with the system and beat you at it, they will."

The Associated Press examination of Montana hunting and correctional records shows that at least 660 felons on parole or probation received tags in the past year. The findings are based on a comparison of unique first, middle, and last names, along with other identifiable information, that appeared in databases of both hunters and felons.

A state probation official said the findings probably would prompt the state to consider its own records search to see if parolees are violating terms of their release.

''Obviously that's a big concern, and it makes me want to look into each of these cases," said Ron Alsbury, Montana's probation and parole bureau chief.

The licenses don't specifically require the use of firearms to hunt, and state officials note most felons could hunt legally using other weapons, such as bows. Several people contacted said they hunted with bows on probation.

However, bows are hardly the weapon of choice for some of the game that felons were issued tags for, such as birds or bison.

Jason Beaudoin of Frenchtown, on probation for a 2002 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, got a series of hunting tags last year, but said he used only a bow and arrow.

''I know I can't own a firearm or be in possession of one. They made that very clear . . . and I agree with the policy," Beaudoin said.

''There are plenty of ways people can hunt even though they are barred from using conventional weapons," added Gary S. Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association. ''My guess is that there are a lot of them that are being perfectly decent citizens."

The problem is, no one knows for certain.

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