By Zach lazarri
Montana is a hunter’s state with liberal laws regarding season length, access and tag availability. Resident hunters have incredible opportunities for hunting in Montana with low cost general big game tags that open many areas for elk, mule deer and whitetail. The B tag availability also means dedicated hunters can harvest more than one animal of the same species if planned properly. Applying for limited draw units also increases the odds of harvesting a trophy with the fallback general unit hunts being guaranteed if you do not draw for a limited section. Non-resident tags are more expensive but combo tag options mean hunters can target multiple species in a variety of productive areas in the state. The general big game rifle season lasts for nearly 5-weeks and archery season is 5-6 weeks, giving hunters a big window to get outside and really put in the time required to harvest a great animal. A general tag is open to the entirety of archery and rifle season as well.
Licensing and Applications
In Montana, you will need a base hunting license, archery license (for archery hunters only) and a license for each species. Non-residents can purchase combo deer and elk licenses in many areas as well. There is an additional add-on license for state lands if you plan on hunting, fishing or utilizing state lands in any way. Big game applications are typically required during the late winter and spring months with draw results announced in early summer.
Elk - The distribution of elk in Montana is impressive to say the least. They occupy the greater Yellowstone region as expected but are also prevalent in most mountain ranges and even the grasslands of central and eastern Montana. The Missouri River Breaks is one of the most prized tags in the state and the area holds world class animals in a landscape almost unaltered since Lewis and Clark passed through on their famous expedition.
Mule Deer - There are a few ways to approach mule deer hunting in Montana. The general tags offer opportunities at quality bucks, especially in central and eastern Montana. The limited units offer world class bucks, many of which occupy public lands. The western regions also have some great mule deer living in very difficult to reach places. Regardless of your approach, there are mule deer spanning most of the state with excellent access and huntable terrain for stalking in nearly every unit.
Whitetail Deer - Whitetail deer hunting in Montana is overshadowed by the other big game opportunities around the state. There are healthy populations and quality bucks scattered around most of Montana. You find them higher than expected in the mountains and also down in the river valleys and agricultural areas. Stalking, hunting from blinds and placing tree stands are effective approaches. The more mountainous terrain lends itself well to stalking these weary deer.
Moose - Like most western states, this is a tough draw. There are some great moose hunts but you will be applying and building points for a long time in most situations. If you are lucky enough to draw one of the few coveted moose tags, the long big game season dates apply so it’s an excellent opportunity.
Antelope - Montana has excellent Antelope hunting in the southwest, central and eastern regions of the state. The northwest region is densely forested and has limited antelope although a few scattered groups do occupy this area. The more open areas east of the Rocky Mountain Front are ideal antelope habitat with a mixture of public and private land hunts. Many of the antelope units are draw only with some having excellent odds. The state also does a 900 Series Archery hunt. This license begins August 15 and allows for an archery only harvest through the general season. It’s a multi-unit tag that opens a large chunk of the state to hunting as well.
Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat - Both are difficult to draw and equally difficult to hunt but Montana has some big rams and billy goats. The Missouri River Breaks has some exceptionally large rams but there are herds scattered around the state. Build your points on these and cross your fingers for a draw.
Bear - Black bear populations are great and a spring and fall hunting season is open for residents and non-residents. The northwest region has an abundance of overgrown logging roads that are bear rich during the spring season. The fall berry patches hold ample bears as well. Other mountain ranges around the state have steep grassy slopes where glassing bears is productive. Grizzly and black bear habitat overlap and Montana does not have an active grizzly bear hunt. Make sure to properly identify the species before pulling the trigger on a Montana black bear.
Upland Game - Wing shooters love Montana for pheasants, hungarian partridge and grouse. The heavy timbered mountains of northwest Montana are thick with grouse. Sage grouse are also present with legal hunts in parts of southwest and eastern Montana. Pheasants hunters will find strong populations on the Hiline and in eastern Montana. There are plenty of pheasant scattered about the rest of the state as well. You’ll be surprised to see birds cruising fields in the upper Flathead Valley not far from Glacier National Park.
Predators and Small Game - Chasing small game isn’t a big part of Montana’s hunting culture but there are plenty of rabbits and squirrels in the woods. Turkeys have also grown in numbers and popularity with strong populations in western Montana. A spring and fall turkey season exists here. Outside of black bears, hunters and trappers also focus on wolves, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. The wolf tag is purchased over the counter and coyotes are open to all hunters. Bobcats are more common among trappers as are species like beaver. Wolves and coyotes are targeted by both shooters and trappers.
Waterfowl - Spanning three flyways, Montana is a major waterfowl producing state. The Missouri River alone is a massive waterfowl resource but rivers, lakes and marshes are major draws for ducks and geese. Freezeout Lake is a major bird and waterfowl watching area on the Rocky Mountain Front. Lookup photos of migrations passing through the lake and you will immediately recognize the abundance of waterfowl in the state. The snow geese migration is especially prolific and hunters can target the big flocks with liberal harvest limits.