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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2015: Montana sheep, moose, goat, bison

 

Montana bighorn sheep
Photo credit: Getty Images

Montana sheep, moose, goat, bison: An overview

If you are not applying in Montana for the big three, you should be. The Big Sky Country now has the cheapest application fees in the West for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Shiras moose, Rocky Mountain goat and bison. Recent changes to the application process means nonresidents no longer have to front $750 per species. For the new price of $50 per species you can get in the game and start building points. If you apply for sheep, moose and mountain goat it will now cost you $150 (plus $10 for a conservation license and $20 for a bonus point) when two years ago you had to front $2,250. Everyone can now afford to apply and build points in Montana. If that isn't enough to entice you, Montana is also the only state where you can buy an over-the-counter "unlimited" bighorn sheep license. Only five areas are available for this special sheep license and quotas are very limited and often close in the first week of the season. These unlimited hunts are very rugged, sheep numbers are exremely low and this hunt should not be taken lightly. 

Montana is widely known as the land of the giant bighorns. Each year a handful of giant rams come out of Montana, making this a state that should be on everyone’s hunting list. The Big Sky Country is also home to great moose and mountain goat hunting. Montana’s mountain goat population is one of the largest in the lower 48, but the moose population is on a slight decline with licenses being cut once again.

Odds are slim for sheep, moose, goat and bison licenses in Montana and there are two things you need to remember when applying for these species in any Western state:

1.) The best way to ensure you will never draw is to not apply.

2.) The only way to improve your odds of drawing a tag in any Western state is to apply and get your name in the hat.

Here is what you need to know about the draw for sheep, moose, mountain goat and bison in the Big Sky state. You can apply online here.

Why Montana for bighorn sheep in 2015
 

Montana Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep harvest
Kirk J. Photo credit: Access2Hunt

Montana has a great population of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep that is spread across the state. There are currently 45 populations of bighorns with 36 sustaining limited hunting. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) estimate that 5,700 bighorn sheep inhabit Montana excluding Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.

Simply put, Montana is the promised land when it comes to bighorn sheep. Each year Montana produces rams that reach that magical 190 and 200” mark. If you have never taken a Boone and Crockett animal before and you draw a bighorn license in Montana, be prepared to have a great chance to make that happen. The Missouri Breaks herds are doing phenomenal, yet several herds in Montana are suffering from pneumonia.
All-time records for Rocky bighorn sheep

In 2014, 489 bighorn sheep licenses were given out in the special drawing. 356 rams and 133 ewe tags. Of those 356 ram licenses, only seven were awarded to nonresidents. Of the 133 ewe licenses, only seven were awarded to nonresidents. With that said, be prepared to apply for a long time if you want to draw a bighorn license in Montana. Although draw odds are slim, do not overlook Montana; the odds for a Boone and Crockett ram are some of the highest you will find in the US and Canada.

Montana's top Boone and Crockett bighorn sheep entries

County

Entries

Hunting Districts within county

Sanders 137 121, 122, 123, 124
Granite 135 210, 212, 213, 216, 261
Blaine 89 620, 680
Fergus 67 482
Missoula 50 203, 210, 216, 283


Why Montana for Shiras moose in 2015
 

Moose populations are not what they once were in Montana. Disease and wolves have both taken their toll on local herds. While that is the trend blanketing the west, Montana is still a great state to apply for. Montana may not be a top producer of B&C class bulls, but hunters should be able to find some 40" wide bull if you put your time in. Most hunters should wait and hunt the bulls during the early October rut. This will be your best chance at locating and calling bulls. 

All-time records for shiras moose

Montana's top Boone and Crockett moose entries

County

Entries

Hunting Districts within county

Lincoln 44 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106
Beaverhead 35 300, 301, 302, 323, 324, 325, 326327, 330, 331332
333, 334, 340
Flathead 32 101, 102, 103, 110, 120, 132, 170
Madison 16 308, 309, 310, 313, 320, 330, 331340, 360, 362
Gallatin 14 304, 306, 307, 308, 309, 310, 311312, 313, 314
315, 361, 362


Why Montana for mountain goat in 2015

Montana mountain goat harvest

Montana is the number one destination when it comes to trophy-sized mountain goats in the lower 48 states and currently ranks number three in North America right behind British Columbia and Alaska, respectively. Although Montana has historically been a top producer for quality goats, over the past ten years it has started to slip and now sits behind Utah and is barely ahead of Nevada. In 2014, Montana had a quota of 282 either sex mountain goat licenses. 257 of those licenses went to residents and 25 went to nonresidents. That is more than any other state in the west. Mountain goats are found in some of the most rugged terrain Montana has to offer. Couple that with lots of licenses and you see why Montana could be the state where you draw your lower 48 goat license. 

All-time records for mountain goat

Montana's top Boone and Crockett mountain goat entries

County

Entries

Hunting Districts within county

Chouteau 17 447, 460
Gallatin 12 314, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328361, 362, 393
Park 11 313, 314, 316, 329, 323, 330393, 518, 519
Flathead 7 131, 132, 133, 134, 140, 141142, 150, 151
Lewis and Clark 6 133, 151, 280, 332

 

Why Montana for bison in 2015

The opportunity to hunt free ranging bison is very rare. Montana provides a great chance at taking a true icon of the west. Licenses are very limited and success is largely dependent on heavy snowfall that will push bison out of Yellowstone National Park. The number of applicants fluctuates yearly. In 2012, 7,834 people applied for 34 either sex bison licenses and in 2013, 10,132 people applied for 44 either sex bison licenses. 

Montana's top Boone and Crockett bison entries

County

Entries

Hunting Districts within county

Park 19 385, 395

 

General herd conditions:

Bighorn sheep
Several herds of bighorn sheep are hurting because of a large pneumonia outbreak. Recently, Montana closed Hunting District 305 due to a giant bout of pneumonia and to quarantine the herds affected. Hunters should keep this in mind when applying and be sure to research areas ahead of time.

Moose
FWP has cut the number of moose-hunting permits by 41% over the past eight years. Since 2007, the number of available permits has dropped from 616 to 365 and FWP has proposed to make even fewer permits available in 2015.

Mountain goat
Populations of mountain goats in Montana are exploding. In some areas FWP officials are struggling to keep the populations in check due to overpopulation. 

Bison
Numbers of huntable bison are all based on weather conditions. License numbers are low, but if you draw, hope for weather to push bison out of Yellowstone.

What's new in 2015?

  • Hunting District 305 is closed to bighorn sheep hunting due to pneumonia killing most of the herd.

URGENT — Update: 4/20/2015 — Hunting District 122 has been closed for bighorn sheep hunting in 2015 following a massive sheep dieoff. Contact FWP to change your application if you applied for this HD.

The draw system: An overview

  • Tag or license: License.
  • Point system: Bonus points are for nonresidents and residents. 
  • Youth: Can start building bonus points at age 12. No specific youth licenses.
  • Draw type: Regular draw.
  • Resident perk: Residents are given the vast majority of licenses, which puts them at a distinct drawing advantage.

2015 tentative nonresident hunting districts

Hunting District choices rotate yearly for sheep, moose and mountain goat. Districts may change when final quotas are set in June. Be sure to check the information carefully to ensure you are applying for the correct hunting district because the area you applied for last year may no longer be offered. 

2015 nonresident sheep Hunting Districts

122-20 122-30 123-20 210-20 210-30
302-30 340-20 423-20 424-20 482-20
482-30 620-20 622-20 622-30 680-20
680-30 680-31      

2015 resident/nonresident unlimited
sheep Hunting Districts

300-60 303-60 500-60 501-60 502-60

 

2015 nonresident moose Hunting Districts

100-50 101-50 104-50 105-50 106-50
110-50 111-50 112-50 121-50 122-50
211-50 212-50 214-50 300-00 300-50
301-00 301-50 302-50 303-00 303-50
308-50 309-50 310-50 311-50 312-50
361-50 362-50 380-00 380-50 382-50
390-50 494-20      

 

2015 nonresident mountain goat Hunting Districts

100-20 151-20 313-20 314-20 316-20
323-20 326-20 327-20 328-20 329-20
330-20 331-20 361-20 362-20 414-20
514-20        

 

Application types and deadlines

Quick tip: Nonresidents no longer have to front $750 per species to apply in Montana. For the new price of $50 per species you can get in the game and start building points. It will now cost you $150 (plus $10 for a conservation license) when two years ago you had to front $2,250. Everyone can now afford to apply and build points in Montana. You do not need to buy a specific hunting license before applying which makes Montana a great state to apply.

Nonresident
application

Online application
deadline
(by 11:59 p.m. MT)

Results
available

License
cost

Bow and arrow license     $10
Conservation license     $10
Bighorn sheep
application fee
May 1 Week of
June 16
$50*
Moose
application fee
May 1 Week of
June 16
$50*
Mountain goat
application fee
May 1 Week of
June 16
$50*
Bison
application fee
May 1 September 8 $50*
Bighorn sheep If successful
in the draw
 
  $750**
Moose If successful
in the draw
  $750**
Mountain goat If successful
in the draw
  $750**
Bison If successful
in the draw
  $750**
Bonus point fee
per species
    $20

*Nonrefundable application fee
**You will pay this amount if you are successful in the draw

Resident
application

Online application
deadline
(by 11:59 p.m. MT)

Results
available

License
cost

Bow and arrow license     $10
Conservation license     $8
Bighorn sheep
application fee
May 1 Week of
June 16
$10*
Moose
application fee
May 1 Week of
June 16
$10*
Mountain goat
application fee
May 1 Week of
June 16
$10*
Bison
application fee
May 1 September 8 $10*
Bighorn sheep If successful
in the draw
 
  $125**
Moose If successful
in the draw
  $125**
Mountain goat If successful
in the draw
  $125**
Bison If successful
in the draw
  $125**
Bonus point fee
per species
    $2

*Nonrefundable application fee
**You will pay this amount if you are successful in the draw

Special limitations to consider

  • There are no archery-specific sheep, moose, mountain goat or bison licenses in Montana. Note: Although there are no archery-specific licenses, Montana allows the use of archery during the general season and sheep licenses allow a special 10 day early season.

Sheep

  • Understand what sheep license you are applying for and be sure to understand their definitions of a legal ram. License choices are: adult ewe, either sex (any sheep) or legal ram. 
  • It is illegal to possess a bighorn sheep head picked up in the wild.

An applicant who receives a sheep, moose or mountain goat license (does not apply to the unlimited sheep) is not eligible to apply for or receive another license for the next seven years (see reference chart).

Seven year wait for sheep, moose and mountain goat*

Year licence drawn

Year to reapply

2007 2015
2008 2016
2009 2017
2010 2018
2011 2019
2012 2020
2013 2021
2014 2022

*An applicant who is successful in obtaining a limited ewe license (first or second choice) is not restricted to the seven-year waiting period.

Bison
Montana gives out roughly 80 licenses each year. Along with the initial draw licences, there is a second choice drawing of up to 200 licenses that are dependant on bison migration.

Montana’s unlimited sheep licenses

A very unique hunting opportunity is Montana’s unlimited bighorn sheep hunt. Chances of harvesting a ram in these areas are very low. These hunts will test you physically and mentally because this is some of the most rugged terrain in the state and sheep numbers are very low. The catch is that quotas are limited in each Hunting District and subject to either a 24 or 48-hour closure. 

There is no limit on the number of licenses sold and these are available from standard license providers, including FWP Online Licensing. An interested hunter has the option of applying by the May 1 deadline through the drawing process.

Unlimited bighorn sheep licenses are available in districts 300, 303, 500, 501 and 502.

An unlimited bighorn sheep license purchased through the special May 1 drawing must be listed as your first and only district choice. If you purchase an unlimited over-the-counter license, you cannot apply for the same species through the special drawing process. (Page 44 of the 2015 Montana regulations.)

The draw: Unlocking Montana’s system

Montana’s application process for sheep, moose and mountain goat is very straightforward. Applicants need an ALS number to apply and you can apply online here.
 

Montana mountain goat
Photo credit: Getty Images

Moose and mountain goat

  • Applicants can only make one selection.

Sheep

  • Applicants can make two hunt code selections.
  • You can only apply for one limited license area and it must be your first and only district choice.
  • Second choice selection is for ewe only.

Montana has a normal draw system: your first choice is awarded before everyone’s second choice. Your first choice is required. Second choice is optional. Second choice licenses will only be considered if there are remaining licenses. If you draw a second choice, you will not lose your bonus points. Nonresident cow moose tags and ewe bighorn sheep tags count against 10% of a region’s quota. A nonresident who draws one of those licenses could eliminate the chances for a bull or ram license to be offered. Note: do not repeat the same hunt code for your second choice.

Make sure you pick the correct five-digit license code for the hunting district. Pay special attention to the two digits at the end. These will correspond to bull or cow licenses for moose or ram or ewe licenses. Failure to list all five digits will result in having your application revoked.

The point system

The more bonus points you have, the more chances you have at drawing a coveted license. Both residents and nonresidents accrue bonus points. You get one point for each year you apply for sheep, moose and mountain goat. The number of chances in a drawing equals the existing bonus points squared plus one. Statistically speaking, squaring bonus points gives an advantage to the max point holders and further separates them from hunters just starting out in the application process.

Montana Rocky Bighorn applicants for HD 680-20

For example, if you have four base bonus points those are squared and you will then have 16 bonus points, plus one for that year for a total of 17 going into the 2015 drawing. All base bonus points accumulate over time until you draw a permit. You may skip two consecutive years without forfeiting bonus points. Bonus points are nontransferable and cannot be transferred between species drawings or individuals. If your application is unsuccessful you will automatically get a bonus point for next year’s drawing if you pay the extra $20 nonresident fee or $2 resident fee for bonus points.

The maximum bonus points for 2015*

Species

Points

Bighorn sheep 14
Moose 14
Mountain goat 14

*Montana does not have a bonus point system for bison.

Youth

There is no youth-specific point system or youth-specific hunt for sheep, moose, mountain goat or bison in Montana. Although a youth can start building bonus points at age 12. 

Party applications

Montana does not allow party applications for the big four species.

Montana big game draw FAQs
 

Shiras moose
Photo credit: Getty Images

Where and how do I apply?

You can apply for Montana’s sheep, moose, goat and bison application process online or through the mail. Applications must be postmarked by US Postal Service, on or before May 1, 2015, to: 

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
License Section - Combo
1420 E 6th Ave.
PO Box 8009
Helena, MT 59604

Is Montana good for building points? 

Yes, Montana is a great state for building points and is now one of the cheapest states to apply for sheep, moose and mountain goat. Bonus points cost $20 per species for a nonresident and $2 per species for a resident. Note: there are no bonus points for bison.

Can I turn my license in if I decide not to hunt?

In some situations, FWP may refund resident or nonresident licenses in full or partial. The appropriate documentation (death certificate, medical statement, etc.) must accompany the unused license and a signed request form certifying the license has not been used. Nonresident license holders should call 406-444-2950 for more information.

Do I have to pay permit fees upfront?

You do not have to pay the fees upfront when applying for these species. The 2013 Legislature House Bill 401 created a $50 nonrefundable application fee for nonresidents and $10 nonrefundable application fee for residents. Bonus point fees were also changed to per licence type from per application. This went into effect during the 2014 application season.

The seasons

Montana’s seasons are very straightforward.

2015 Montana sheep, moose and mountain goat season dates

Species

Season

Start and end date

Bighorn sheep Archery September 5 to September 14
Bighorn sheep General September 15 to November 29
Moose General September 15 to November 29
Mountain goat General September 15 to November 29

 

2015 Montana bison season dates

Hunting District

Season

Start and end date

385-20 (Gardiner) Either sex November 15 to January 15
385-21 (Gardiner) Either sex January 16 to February 15
395-20 (West Yellowstone) Either sex November 15 to January 15
395-21 (West Yellowstone) Either sex January 16 to February 15

 

Hunter opportunity

General information, tips and our insights for hunting sheep, moose, mountain goat and bison in Montana.

Draw odds and license availability

Special features for bison in Montana

  • Bison regulations will be available in the middle of August.
  • To apply you only have to pay a nonrefundable fee of $50.
  • Once drawn you will have to pay $750.

Bison roster

  • After selecting an either sex bison license, you can then apply for the bison hunt roster.
  • If you apply for just the bison roster hunt only, your bison application will be not be valid.
  • The list of names is developed in the sequence drawn and used to issue either bison cow/calf licenses during the general bison season.
  • Licenses are awarded depending on migration or based on bison damage/management hunts for bull, cow or calf hunts as needed.

Problem with Montana lowering fees

Montana now has the cheapest application fees for nonresidents and residents in the West. This means is hunters no longer have to upfront $750 per species in Montana for nonresidents and $75 for the application and $50 if drawn for residents. 

This gives everybody with a credit card and an internet connection a chance at these coveted licenses. Now it is cheap enough that an entire family or a group of friends can start applying, regardless of how little some of these people would want a license, in order to accrue bonus points for the future.

While this may seem like a great idea, it also means that now anyone can apply for sheep, moose and goat in Montana and your chances of drawing a tag are now even slimmer than before. 

A large-scale example that your odds are not getting better.

Montana statewide bighorn sheep application trends

Year

Total applicants

Residents

Nonresidents Percent change of total
2010 23,567 17,164 6,403 NA
2011 23,811 17,145 6,666 1.04%
2012 23,578 16,650 6,928 -0.98%
2013 23,994 16,893 7,101 1.76%
2014 27,661 20,161 7,500 15.28%


As the table above illustrates, your odds have drastically decreased with the reduced fees. There was an increase of 3,667 applicants from 2013 to 2014 or a 15.28% increase. That is a drastic change from a 1.76% increase in applicants from 2012 to 2013.

A finescale example that your odds are not getting better.

Montana HD 680-20 bighorn sheep ram application trends

Year

Total applicants

Residents

Nonresidents Percent change of total
2010 6,289 3,496 2,793 NA
2011 6,820 3,741 3,079 8.44%
2012 7,105 3,870 3,235 4.18%
2013 7,400 4,046 3,354 4.15%
2014 8,322 4,138 4,184 12.46%

 

Wolves

Montana has a large population of wolves that travel across most of the western portion of the state. The current wolf season closed on March 15, 2015. A total of 206 wolves were taken during the 2014/2015 season. 130 wolves were taken during the archery/general season and 76 during the trapping season. The 2015/2016 wolf season dates will be established at the Fish & Wildlife Commission meeting in July of 2015.

Managing points and expectations
 

A giant Montana bighorn sheep
Wayne S. Photo credit: Access2Hunt

I have 0 points. What can I expect?

Rocky mountain bighorn sheep
Your odds at pulling a license are very slim for both residents and nonresidents just starting off. Apply for the area you want to draw because you may get lucky. 

Moose
Odds are very slim on drawing a moose tag with zero points. Apply for an area that fits your hunting ability and hope you get lucky. In 2014, of the people who drew bull moose licenses, 14 or 4.36% of the lucky licenses holders had zero points. 

Mountain goat
Research an area you want to draw a tag and put your money down each year. With zero points you really need to get in the game because the odds are against you drawing for quite some time, but you never know, you could get lucky in the draw.

Bison
There are no bonus points for bison in Montana. Apply for the area you would like to hunt based on the correct season.

What can I do with 3 to 8 points?

Rocky mountain bighorn sheep
You are still a long ways out from getting too excited about drawing a license. It can take quite a few more years of applying before you draw that coveted tag. However, the way that the draw system works with squared points means there is a chance that you may get lucky and draw.

Moose
Like sheep, you are still a long shot to draw a tag with 3 to 8 points. Try not to get discouraged. Keep applying and build those points. 

Mountain goat
Once again, you are a long shot with anything under 10 points. Keep applying since someone has to get lucky and draw a tag.

What can I expect with 10 or more points?

Rocky mountain bighorn sheep
Licenses are still going to be tough to come by, but with 10 or more points your odds are increasing. If you are looking for a 190” plus ram, the Missouri Breaks are your choice. Heavy hitters are HD 680-20 and 482-20.

Moose
The majority of the tags are going to go to the people with most points. Keep applying each year and you may eventually draw. The squared bonus points will greatly help people who have been dedicated in applying for a long time. Region 1 and Region 3 are the top areas in the state for moose. Consider looking at Hunting Districts 101-50, 102-50, 331-50, 332-50 and 333-50.

Mountain goat
Like the other species, licenses will still be hard to come by for both residents and nonresidents. Hunting District 393-20 and 313-20 are very popular areas to consider. If you are set on drawing a tag and have a lot of bonus points, it might be a great idea out search out Hunting Districts with rugged terrain that don’t see a lot of applicants.

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