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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2018: Montana Deer

2018 Montana deer application strategy article

Montana's 2018 deer application overview

Jump to: New for 2018 State Info. Draw System Mule Deer Breakdown Whitetail Deer Breakdown

Montana is a very diverse state when it comes to hunting opportunities for both whitetail and mule deer. Here, hunters will find a wide array of terrain, hunting difficulty and experiences that are sure to satisfy any hunt of a lifetime and provide an unforgettable experience. Montana truly is a sportsman's paradise. After an uncertain winter in 2016-2017, the deer herds came out excellent and were greeted with lush feed and a long spring leading to some great antler growth. The state did experience one of it's most extensive years in wildfires to date, but this has had little lasting effect on the hunting. Managed as an opportunity state, Montana has some incredible hunts in general hunt districts as well as some great limited entry tags that should be on any applicant’s radar.

Note: The application deadline for Montana deer is March 15, 2018 by 11:59 p.m. MST and can be mailed in or completed online here. Application packets for residents can be found here and here for nonresidents.



Why Montana for deer in 2018

Opportunity

Montana is managed for opportunity and hunters will find plenty of that! There are some great hunts that can be had in the limited entry draw districts, but hunters will also be thrilled to know that some incredible bucks are taken off of general districts every year.

Public land

Montana is home to almost 30 million acres of publicly accessible grounds, including an additional 7.3 million acres of private land enrolled in the Block Management Program.

Long seasons

Perhaps the best part of hunting in Montana is the extremely generous season dates. On any of the general tags hunters are granted a six week archery season and a five week rifle season. In many areas, weapon restricted hunts can even extend your season for an additional six weeks!

Hunt the rut!

Montana is one of the few states in the West that allows hunting of both whitetail and mule deer during the rut with only a general tag. While this generally leads to a younger age class, it also offers hunters a unique opportunity to experience some of the best deer hunting there is.

MONTANA STATEWIDE DEER HERD POPULATION ESTIMATES (2010-2017)



New for 2018

Montana runs on a two year schedule when it comes to season changes. In other words, changes to any hunting regulations, season dates or hunting districts can only be made every other year. 2018 is a new cycle year and there are quite a bit of change proposals.

Important Note: At the time of the publication of this article, the proposals have not been set in stone and a hard copy of the 2018 Hunting Regulations will be not be made available until approximately March 4, 2018. If a hunting district you are interested in applying for falls within the changed proposals it would be wise to hold off on submitting your application until the new regulations have been released. If your desired district is not found on the list then simply refer to the 2017 regulations for said district when applying.

Online only applications by year 2020

Montana is moving to an online-only application process by the license year 2020.

Proposed changes

There are a bunch of proposed changes for 2018. To keep down the clutter, please refer to the Montana mule deer species profile and whitetail profile using the buttons below to see the proposed 2018 changes.

Mule Deer Profile Whitetail Deer Profile

New for goHUNT

For 2018, goHUNT has added Draw Odds for all female species. In Montana, there are many opportunities available for both whitetail and mule deer in the way of B licenses, which can be used in addition to your general tag! When selecting your districts to hunt be sure to also check out our Draw Odds details page to see if a few opportunities exist that can be added to your hunt. With the amount of B license listed in the new season’s proposals, it could be a great year to scoop up a few extra tags should everything get accepted. The deadline to apply for B licenses is June 1, 2018.

Antlerless mule deer draw odds

Find your resident antlerless mule deer draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless mule deer draw odds here

Antlerless whitetail deer draw odds

Find your resident antlerless whitetail deer draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless whitetail deer draw odds here



State information

View important information and an overview of the Montana rules/regulations, the draw system and bonus points, SuperTags, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. You can also view the Montana Mule Deer Profile or Whitetail Profile to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.

Montana State Profile Mule Deer Profile Whitetail Deer Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0

2018 season dates

Season

Start and end date

Archery Sept. 1 to Oct. 14
Two-Day Youth Hunt
(deer only)
Oct. 18 to 19
General Oct. 20 to Nov. 25

Backcountry elk only (HD’s 150, 151, 280, 316*)

Archery Sept. 1 to Sep. 14
General Sept. 15 to Nov. 25

* No archery season in HD 316

Important dates and information

  • Applications for deer must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. MST on March 15.
  • Applications can be submitted by mail or online here.
  • An 80% refund can be requested on nonresident licenses if requested by Aug. 1, 2018.
  • A 50% refund can be requested on nonresident licenses if requested after Aug. 1, 2018.
  • Draw results are generally available mid April.
  • Surplus licenses are available for purchase on Aug. 7, 2018.
  • Preference points are available for purchase for nonresidents who did not apply in the general drawing between July 1 and Sept. 30 for a fee of $50.
  • If you're applying for a deer permit that is only valid during the archery only season (410-21, 620-21, 631-21, 632-21, 690-21, 798-21 or 900-20), you must purchase a bow and arrow license before you submit an application. Applications for these districts without the bow and arrow license prerequisite will be removed prior to the drawing.

Other important information to note

It is important for hunters to understand that any deer or elk permit obtained does not allow the taking of a second animal; rather, it grants the ability to hunt bucks and bulls with the use of your general tag in a restricted hunting district. In Montana, hunters who possess a mule deer permit are not allowed to hunt mule deer in any other hunting district in the state regardless of the other hunting districts being limited entry or general. The opposite happens when you draw a special draw elk permit. For example: If you draw a special draw elk permit, you can still hunt all of the general districts, plus that special draw district (during the season you drew the tag for).

Impact of wolves

With the Montana wolf hunting and trapping season well established over the past few years, the amount of predatory activity has definitely subsided to some degree though evidence is still, and will likely always be, visible. With the current winter being mild in most of the state we should see a fairly normal year in terms of winterkill due to predators and likely a good calf and fawn recruitment for the spring.

2017-2018 wolf season

Method of take

Total taken*

Archery and rifle 141
Trapping 78

* As of 2/16/18

Growing grizzly concerns
 

2018 Montana grizzly bear range
Source: Montana Field Guide

Grizzly bear encounters continue to climb in Montana causing major concern for hunters in some areas. Federal protection under the Endangered Species Act has been removed from bears within the Greater Yellowstone area and, because of that, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have all submitted proposals for grizzly bear management plans. Even with the proposal, MFWP has recently announced that they will not endorse a 2018 season when they meet with the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in February of this year. MFWP Director Martha Williams was quoted as saying “Holding off on hunting, for now, I believe, will help demonstrate our commitment to long-term recovery and at the same time allow us the science-based management flexibility we need,”. Time will tell if Montana hunters will see a season in 2019. You can read more on this subject here.

Considered one of the highest densities of grizzlies in the Lower 48, the population found in the northern Rockies is still under federal protections and is not expected to be released from the list for an additional three to four years. Research your hunt area carefully and examine the grizzly population distribution map. If you are hunting in grizzly country it is imperative to practice safe camping and hunting. More information on bear safety can be found here.

Current weather/snowpack
 

Montana snow water equivalent as of February 2018
2018 Montana snow water equivalent update as of February 16, 2018. Source: National Resources Conservation Service

With the major scare of last year's winter, Montana has kept an anxious eye on snowfall for the current year. We are currently trending an average of about 30% higher than last year for precipitation—both snow and rain—though snow levels overall are lower. During spring this past year it was obvious that Montana dodged a major bullet in terms of winterkill when looking at some of the major hits in Wyoming and Idaho. In fact, Montana saw some great antler growth and good feed throughout spring. With this year’s current trend, we should be in store for another great year. Montana saw a very dry summer in 2017—one of the worst on record—so it will be interesting to see how 2018 plays out. If the high precipitation levels continue, it could be a phenomenal year to hold a tag in the Treasure State.

Current chronic wasting disease (CWD) update

CWD was a hot topic among hunters and MFWP for 2017. This past season, the game agency began testing mule deer to check for the spread of the disease. During this timeframe, several bucks tested positive in the south central portion of the state along with one deer in HD 401 in the north central portion of the state. Prompted by this, MFWP initiated special hunts that took place in specific locations. The premise of these special hunts was to take out a predetermined quota of deer to get a better idea on disease distribution and range. Tags for these special hunts were distributed OTC though there were strict quotas and tags were sold on a first come, first serve basis.

The first hunt was broken down into two periods and it took place in portions of HDs 502, 510, and 520. The second hunt, dubbed the Sage Creek CWD Hunt, was located along the Canadian Border and just east of Sweet Grass Hills. A handful of deer have tested positive for CWD in the south central hunts while there have been zero positive results in the Sage Creek area.

It is unclear as to what the future will hold for deer herds in this area, but it is comforting to see MFWP taking aggressive steps to curb the spread of this destructive disease. Based on the definitive presence on the disease and the amount of deer taken during the special seasons, it may be worth to consider avoiding these areas for the 2018 hunting seasons. Hunters will likely still find some decent bucks here, but there are surely more prime opportunities in nearby districts.



The draw system

Understanding the draw

It is important to understand the draw system before you begin. You can find a complete explanation of the draw process along with important dates and fees in our Montana State Profile. Nonresidents must apply for a combo tag for both deer and elk. Since the implementation of this system in 2010 these have been essentially a guaranteed draw. In previous years, leftover combo tags have been available to purchase; however, last year, the deer combo, and big game combo licenses sold out in the initial draw, forcing unsuccessful applicants to cross their fingers for a returned license. When applying for the nonresident combo tags you will also be given the chance to apply for special permits for controlled hunts.

Nonresident tag allocation

In Montana, nonresident applicants are awarded up to 10% of a district’s permits. The 10% quota is not a guarantee, though, and it is possible for residents to be drawn for every permit in a hunting district before a nonresident's name is pulled out of the hat.



Montana's 2018 mule deer breakdown
 

2017 Montana mule deer taken with Lazy J Bar O Outfitters
2017 Montana mule deer taken with Lazy J Bar O Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

Montana is an interesting to state to look at when it comes to mule deer. Montana is not known for consistently producing giant deer, but it does provide great chances at mature bucks and has an incredible amount of opportunity. As previously stated, Montana is one of the few states in the West that allows general tag holders to chase mule deer during the rut in nearly every open hunt district. This not only provides for an exciting hunt, but also increases the likelihood of catching a mature buck on his feet during daytime hours. Hunters will find a wide array of terrain available in the state, which will offer them any type of hunting experience they may want whether it’s high country mountain bucks or the bucks of the eastern plains. Overall, hunters shouldn’t expect to find a 170”+ B&C buck in every hunt district, but, with enough research and scouting, a 150” to 160” B&C is very doable.

Current 2018 mule deer herd condition
 

2017 Montana mule deer population estimate
Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Overall, mule deer in Montana are doing fairly well. The recent breakout of CWD in deer in the south and north central portions of the state has so far been rare and somewhat isolated. That said, this will be an area covered in great detail in the coming years. Populations on the western side of the state are still down compared to historic levels, but herds are healthy and slowly growing. This mild winter is expected to provide great fawn recruitment and also provide excellent feed for the spring, which should lead to awesome antler growth. The 2017 season saw some amazing bucks being taken throughout the state, especially in the eastern half. 2018 will be another great year to have a Montana tag!

MONTANA STATEWIDE MULE DEER HARVEST(2004-2016)

To see a region by region population breakdown of Montana mule deer with graphics, visit our Species Profile for Montana mule deer below.

Montana Mule Deer Species Profile


 

The 2018 goHUNT hit list hunt districts for Montana mule deer
 

2017 Montana mule deer taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters
2017 Montana mule deer taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

Whether you’re looking for the trophy of a lifetime or a hunt to fulfill a dream adventure Montana has something to offer. Most of the state’s biggest deer are taken out of limited entry districts every year, but with enough careful research, hunters can also find some incredible opportunities in general areas. During the 2017 season, a plethora of giant mule deer bucks were taken on general season tags, some even breaking that magical 200” mark!

Montana statewide mule deer 4 point or better harvest (2004-2016)

Note: Montana does not differentiate hunters between mule deer and whitetail hunters which greatly skews success rates. For the sake of providing the most accurate representation of success rates on limited entry hunts we have cross referenced the 2013 tag allocations with the 2013 harvest statistics of mule deer bucks (last year of data recorded by MFWP) for each district.

When looking for a good general hunt district there are many factors to consider such as public lands, terrain and hunter numbers. Use the sliders in Filtering 2.0 to customize your search and find exactly what you are after. The following list is compiled of trending hunt districts that offer good chances at mature deer and great options for accessing public lands.

Top Hunt Districts to consider for 160” or better mule deer bucks on general hunts
(not in order of quality)

Hunt District Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success*
% 4pt or
better
Public land
%
HD 410 170"+ 20% 63% 47.1%
HD 442 170"+ 16% 58% 86.2%
HD 701 170"+ 27% 66% 18.2%
HD 702 170"+ 40% 65% 11.9%
HD 705 170"+ 39% 68% 30.3%
HD 140 160"+ 5% 60% 93.3%
HD 150 160"+ 13% 60% 99.8%
HD 316 160"+ 22% 52% 98.4%
HD 317 160"+ 14% 60% 66.3%
HD 415 160"+ 3% 75% 97.6%
HD 417 160"+ 38% 72% 37.5%
HD 621 160"+ 23% 63% 77.6%
HD 680 160"+ 41% 73% 39.6%
HD 700 160"+ 32% 65% 36.1%
HD 704 160"+ 39% 65% 30.5%
 
*Success rates based on 2013 season as Montana has not published hunter numbers data since that year. Success rates are also based on the total number of deer, both bucks and does, taken.
 

Top Hunt Districts to consider for 160” or better mule deer bucks on limited entry hunts
(not in order of quality)

Hunt
District
Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success*
% 4pt or
better
Public land
%
HD 261 180"+ 60% 100% 60%
HD 270 180"+ 73% 90% 84.6%
HD 291 170"+ 79% 74% 20.2%
HD 300 170"+ 90% 46% 73.5%
HD 210 160"+ 84% 65% 41.5%
HD 215 160"+ 35% 40% 49.5%
HD 250 160"+ 68% 75% 97.3%
HD 281 160"+ 15% 46% 75.2%
HD 312 160"+ 10% 44% 23.3%
HD 441 160"+ 20% 73% 38.7%
HD 455 160"+ 83% 81% 99.5%
HD 530 160"+ 65% 68% 18.1%
HD 652 160"+ 26% 53% 61.1%
* Success rates based on 2013 season as Montana has not published hunter numbers data since that year. Success rates are also based on the total number of deer, both bucks and does, taken.

Special notes on mule deer limited entry hunt districts

At first glance, many hunters may question the decision to even apply for a special permit when so many general districts can produce bucks with the same trophy potentials. While this may be true, many of permit areas possess a much higher percentage of bucks classified as four points or better. What this equates to is a much higher potential of encountering bucks at the top of the trophy potential for a given district. Also, while unpublished, many of these permit areas also hold a much higher buck:doe ratio than most general hunt districts.

When considering Montana as part of your western application strategy it is also important to note that the state is managed for opportunity with only a handful of areas actually being managed for trophy quality. Generally speaking, some of the best deer will only be accessible to high point holders and, even then, odds can be steep. There are some great permits to be drawn in Montana, but many of the general hunts can also provide excellent hunts.


 

How to uncover hidden gem hunt districts
 

Dylan with his 2017 Montana mule deer
Dylan D. and his 2017 Montana mule deer.

While the state's biggest bucks are found in the top shelf draw districts many hunters can find great success and trophy deer in some of the general districts year after year. Utilize our Filtering 2.0 tools and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the districts that offer a legitimate chance at bucks that meet your desires. Customize your search and click on a specific district to access the Unit Profile in order to gain the greatest resource available to thoroughly learn an area. Our Mule Deer Species Profile is another great way to determine other districts and regions of the state to consider. Within the Species Profile you will find a table showing the top B&C producing districts over the years for both typical and nontypical bucks.

About success rates
 

Dave Barnett with his 2017 Montana mule deer
goHUNT writer Dave Barnett with his 2017 Montana mule deer.

The published data for success rates in Montana can be a great tool, but it is important to note that there is one major flaw in Montana’s system: mule deer and whitetail hunters are not split into separate categories. Essentially, what this boils down to is that the success rates for each species are generally higher than what the state publishes

While success rates can be a good indicator on how well hunters do in a given district they are not necessarily the best statistic to consider. Statistics like 4 point percentages and hunter numbers are an absolute and definite fact, but hunting success rates are completely variable and dependant on hunter effort. They are not a reliable number and generally arbitrary.

B&C entry trends for Montana mule deer

Montana mule deer taken with Montana Wilderness Lodge and Outfitting

Montana mule deer taken with Montana Wilderness Lodge and Outfitting — A goHUNT Business Member
 
Hunt Districts listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Hunt Districts in this table are included if any part of the district is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of the Boone and Crockett Club.

Montana's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for typical mule deer

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Ravalli 7 204, 240, 250, 261, 270
Pondera 3 400, 404, 406, 441
Dawson 1 651, 703
Toole 1 400, 401, 403, 406
Rosebud 1 701, 702, 704
Sheridan 1 640, 641
Unknown 1 NA

Map of Montana's typical B&C all time entries 2018

Total number of Typical B&C mule deer entries since 2000 - Montana 2018

Montana's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for nontypical mule deer

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Lake 1 120130132
Park 1 301, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 393, 560, 580
Powder 1 704, 705
Sheridan 1 640, 641
Unknown 1 NA

Map of Montana's nontypical B&C all time entries 2018

Total number of Nontypical B&C mule deer entries since 2000 - Montana 2018

The point system

Montana utilizes a random lottery draw for permits that are weighted through bonus points. While this system is great for applicants with only a handful of points, it doesn't really reward applicants at the maximum point level. The bottom line is: if you have a district you want to hunt then apply! No matter the draw odds you still have a chance at drawing. Every year that you are unsuccessful in drawing the desired permit you will be awarded a bonus point to use the following year. When used, bonus points are squared so an applicant with four points will have 16 total chances in the pool.

If you did not participate in the draws you can purchase bonus points alone anytime from July 1 through Sept. 30. The maximum amount of bonus points going into the 2018 draw is 14.


 

Managing points and expectations
 

Montana mule deer taken with Powder River Outfitters
Montana mule deer taken with Powder River Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

General deer tag in Montana

The beauty of hunting in Montana is that once you have your general tag you are in for a good hunt; there is no waiting for points to accumulate just for a chance to chase mule deer. Montana currently has 38 limited entry tags of which only a handful really provide any real opportunities over what can be found on the general tag areas. Even if you don’t draw your dream tag the general district can offer exactly what you are after, year after year.

I have 0 preference points. What can I expect?

With Montana nonresident combos finally selling out in the initial draw for 2017 it’s time for hunters to start considering the preference point system. Montana utilizes bonus points for license and permit drawings, but employs preference points for the nonresident combos (prerequisite for permits). Under the preference point system the highest point holders will draw the first 75% of the tags. Once that is finished remaining tags will move onto the remaining applicants. Last year applicants saw a 95% success rate in the nonresident drawings and should still see odds above 85% for the coming season. If you plan on making Montana part of your regular routine it would be a great move to start participating in the preference point system.

Find your nonresident deer big game combo draw odds here

I have 1+ preference points. What can I expect?

Coming into the 2018 drawings anyone holding one preference point or higher should draw their combo license without any problem. With the Montana preference point system you have to apply at least every other year or your accumulated preference points will be forfeited. With this system still being new it will be a few years before we see applicants with more than two points; however, point creep is going to become a huge issue very fast. If you are not planning on hunting Montana this year, but wish too in the next two years, it would be very smart to buy a preference point for 2018 to stay ahead of this creep.

Find your nonresident deer big game combo draw odds here

Permit deer tags

2018 max bonus points for deer: 14

Montana resident deer bonus points going into the 2018 draw

Montana nonresident deer bonus points going into the 2018 draw

MONTANA DEER POINTS GOING INTO THE 2018 DRAW

Find your draw odds

I have 0 deer bonus points. What can I expect?

Before beginning your application strategy, it is important to first decide your end goal for Montana. Mainly, do you plan on hunting Montana on general tags or are you only interested in building points to use later? As a nonresident, applicants will need to apply for their combo license in addition to any extra permits. If you are unsuccessful in the draw you are only granted an 80% refund of your total application cost if you are not interested in hunting the general districts. If you wish to hunt other states, you can simply purchase the $50 bonus point and move on. If you do plan on hunting the general season regardless, then put in for your district of choice because with the lottery system there is always a chance of drawing!

One other point of interest to consider is the trade off of spending a lot of money and time over the years in Montana as you hope to someday draw one of the few top tier districts. It’s hard to justify the investment when anyone can spend far less and hunt states like Wyoming or Colorado for bucks just as big and twice, or more, as often as you’ll draw a limited entry tag in Montana.

Residents

At zero points your options are going to be very limited in drawing tags. Some districts can be drawn with unlimited quotas and a 100% chance of drawing, but these will generally have very low trophy potentials and are merely used as management tools. Consider hunting general districts while applying for your desired district. With the lottery system you always have a slim chance of drawing.

Find your resident deer permit draw odds with 0 points here

Nonresidents

As with the residents, many districts with an unlimited quota can be drawn with 100% odds. Consider hunting general districts while applying for your desired district. With the lottery system you always have a slim chance of drawing.

Find your nonresident deer permit draw odds with 0 points here

What can I do with 3 or 4 deer bonus points?

With three to four points both residents and nonresidents will find very few additional districts as they did with zero to two points. Keep your focus on the general hunt districts while applying for your desired district to continue building points.

Residents

If you are holding out for some of the top tier districts keep applying for these and play your odds in the lottery as you continue to build points. General districts can still provide good opportunities at bucks above the 160” mark.

Find your resident deer permit draw odds with 4 points here

Nonresidents

If you are holding out for some of the top tier districts keep applying for these and play your odds in the lottery as you continue to build points. General districts can still provide opportunities at bucks above the 160” mark.

Find your nonresident deer permit draw odds with 4 points here

What can I expect with 10 or more deer bonus points?

At this point level residents and nonresidents are nearing the maximum point capacity. Applying for anything other than some of the top tier districts will merely result in burning points on hunting districts that could be drawn on far less. Odds will still be steep, but your odds simply won’t improve beyond this point with Montana’s drawing system.

Residents

Residents may tire of continually applying for the best districts in the state and not being rewarded for having maximum points. Aside from continuing to apply for HDs 261 and 270 there are a few standout districts that can provide opportunities at bucks above the 160”+ mark including HDs 210, 250, 291, 312, 441, and 652.

Odds of drawing 261-50 or 270-50 with maximum points:

Montana resident special draw mule deer draw odds example

Find your resident deer permit draw odds with 10 points here

Nonresidents

As with the residents, nonresidents are now nearing the maximum point level and really have their hands tied with districts to burn their precious points on. HDs 261 and 270 will still provide the best bucks, but HDs 210, 250, 291, 312, 441, and 652 can be good backups to consider.

Odds of drawing 261-50 or 270-50 on maximum points:

Montana nonresident special draw mule deer draw odds example

Find your nonresident deer permit draw odds with 10 points here



Montana's 2018 whitetail deer breakdown
 

2017 Montana whitetail taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters
2017 Montana whitetail taken with Northern Rockies Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

Montana is home to some great whitetail hunting throughout the state and is home to some incredibly diverse terrain features giving hunters a pile of options for their hunt. On the western half of the state, hunters can find a unique opportunity to chase “mountain” whitetail in some of the heavily forested areas. These bucks will generally have heavier and darker antlers than their plains country counterparts and can offer the slight chance of finding a true giant. In the agricultural areas and on the eastern end of the state, hunters will find lighter antlered bucks with some incredible growth genetics. For the most part, nearly every hunting district in the state can provide opportunities at bucks in the 100” to 120” Boone & Crockett (B&C) range with many holding the potential of 140” B&C and better. Montana allows whitetails hunters to really decide how they wish to hunt.

Montana statewide whitetail deer 4 point or better harvest - 2018

2018 current whitetail deer herd condition
 

2017 Montana whitetail deer population estimate
Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Montana’s whitetail population continues to grow and become healthier. After a good winter this past season, deer were sitting great this season and antler growth was excellent. After our somewhat mild winter this year, we are expecting another excellent year and should see great fawn recruitment. Anyone considering heading to Montana for the 2018 season to chase whitetail should find some excellent hunting and, with some effort, should have a good shot at a mature buck.

MONTANA STATEWIDE WHITETAIL HARVEST(2004-2016)

To see a region by region breakdown of Montana whitetail deer with graphics, visit our Species Profile for Montana whitetail deer below.

Montana Whitetail Deer Species Profile

The 2018 goHUNT hit list hunt districts for Montana whitetail deer
 

2017 Montana archery whitetail deer taken with Powder River Outfitters
Montana archery whitetail deer taken with Powder River Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

As mentioned before, Montana has a lot to offer the whitetail deer hunter. Whether you’re simply looking to fill a tag or looking for the buck of a lifetime, you will have little trouble in finding a few prospective districts. In the following list, we will outline some of the top districts to consider for the biggest bucks in the state. These selections will be based on several factors including trophy potentials, access to public grounds, and harvest statistics.

Top Hunt Districts to consider for 160” or better whitetail bucks on general hunts
(not in order of quality)

Hunt District Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
% 4pt or
better
Public land
%
HD 132 150"+ 31% 67% 53.6%
HD 102 140"+ 24% 55% 63.5%
HD 104 140"+ 24% 60% 77.2%
HD 121 140"+ 33% 60% 82.6%
HD 123 140"+ 19% 60% 89.4%
HD 124 140"+ 36% 61% 64%
HD 130 140"+ 27% 56% 89.8%
HD 200 140"+ 17% 57% 89.2%
HD 204 140"+ 17% 58% 65%
HD 215 140"+ 12% 56% 49.5%
HD 285 140"+ 22% 51% 70.9%
HD 320 140"+ 42% 87% 45.3%
HD 333 140"+ 46% 79% 39.1%
HD 630 140"+ 12% 78% 62%
HD 670 140"+ 14% 88% 44.8%
 

Special notes on whitetail limited entry hunt districts

When looking at the table it can be easy to be deterred when specifically looking at the success rates. MFWP does not differentiate between mule deer and whitetail hunter numbers so actual success rates on mule deer will be much higher.

At first glance, many hunters may question the decision to even apply for a special permit when so many general districts can produce bucks with the same trophy potentials. While this may be true, many of permit areas possess a much higher percentage of bucks classified as four points or better. What this equates out to is a much higher potential of encountering bucks at the top of the trophy potential for a given district.

When considering Montana as part of your western application strategy it is also important to note that the state is managed for opportunity with only a handful of areas actually being managed for trophy quality. Generally speaking, some of the best deer will only be accessible to high point holders and, even then, odds can be steep. There are some great permits to be drawn in Montana, but many of the general hunts can also provide excellent hunts.


 

How to uncover hidden gem hunt districts

While most of the hunting districts in the state can produce some great deer, hunters can find some hidden gem areas that may get overlooked by most through thorough research. Utilize our Filtering 2.0 tools and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the districts that offer a legitimate chance at bucks that meet your desires. Customize your search and click on a specific district to access the Unit Profile in order to gain the greatest resource available to thoroughly learn an area. Our Whitetail Species Profile is another great way to determine other districts and regions of the state to consider. Within the Species Profile you will find a table showing the top B&C producing districts over the years for both typical and nontypical bucks.

About success rates

The published data for success rates in Montana can be a great tool, but it is important to note that there is one major flaw in Montana’s system: mule deer and whitetail hunters are not split into separate categories. Essentially, what this boils down to is that the success rates for each species are generally higher than what the state publishes

While success rates can be a good indicator on how well hunters do in a given district they are not necessarily the best statistic to consider. Statistics like 4 point percentages and hunter numbers are an absolute and definite fact, but hunting success rates are completely variable and dependant on hunter effort. They are not a reliable number and generally arbitrary.

B&C entry trends for Montana whitetail deer

Hunt Districts listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Hunt Districts in this table are included if any part of the district is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of the Boone and Crockett Club.

Montana's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for typical whitetail deer

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Chouteau 1 400, 404, 405, 447, 471, 680, 690
Flathead 1 101, 102, 103, 110, 120, 122, 132, 140, 141, 150, 151, 170
Toole 1 400401403406
Lake 1 120, 130, 132
Gallatin 1 301, 309, 310, 311, 312,
314, 333, 361, 362, 390, 393
Sanders 1 121, 122, 123, 124

Map of Montana's typical whitetail B&C all time entries 2018

Montana's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for nontypical whitetail deer

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Powder 1 704, 705
Powell 1 150, 212, 213, 215, 280, 281,
282, 290, 291, 292, 293, 298

The point system

Montana utilizes a random lottery draw for permits that is weighted through bonus points. While this system is great for applicants with only a handful of points, it doesn't really reward applicants at the maximum point level. The bottom line is: if you have a district you want to hunt then apply! No matter the draw odds you still have a chance at drawing. Every year that you are unsuccessful in drawing a desired permit you will be awarded a bonus point to use the following year. When used, bonus points are squared so an applicant with four points will have 16 total chances in the pool.

If you did not participate in the draws you can purchase bonus points alone anytime from July 1 through Sept. 30 for a fee of $50. The maximum amount of bonus points going into the 2018 draw is 14.

Montana’s whitetail limited entry hunts

When looking at limited entry hunt districts for Montana whitetail hunters can quickly become confused. First, there are only two hunt districts in the state that offers drawings for permits (HD 290 and HD 455). A permit allows a hunter to augment their already existing general tag. In other words, a permit only allows you to hunt a new unit, but does not add an additional tag to your pocket. Hunters can also participate in drawings for B licenses which allow the taking of additional deer. Pay close attention to the regulations as some of the B license are listed as either sex and will allow a hunter to kill up to two bucks in a year.


 

Managing points and expectations

2018 max bonus points for deer: 14

See the point section in mule deer above because whitetail and mule deer share bonus points in Montana. There is no separate points.

Find your draw odds

General deer tag in Montana

99.8% of the hunts for Montana whitetail will take place on the general tag and where hunters will find the greatest opportunity. The general tag is good statewide with the exception of two hunt districts and will provide plenty of opportunity for anyone. After selecting your desired hunt district consider any available “B” licenses in nearby districts as a way to add additional tags, or more chances at additional bucks, to your hunt.

I have 0 general season preference points. What can I expect?

With Montana nonresident combos finally selling out in the initial draw for 2017 it’s time for hunters to start considering the preference point system. Montana utilizes bonus points for license and permit drawings, but employs preference points for the nonresident combos (prerequisite for permits). Under the preference point system, the highest point holders will draw the first 75% of the tags. Once that is finished, remaining tags will move onto the remaining applicants. Last year applicants saw a 95% success rate in the nonresident drawings and should still see odds above 85% for the coming season. If you plan on making Montana part of your regular routine it would be a great move to start participating in the preference point system.

Find your nonresident deer big game combo draw odds here

Note: this is the same big game combo as mule deer.

I have 1+ general season preference points. What can I expect?

Coming into the 2018 drawings anyone holding one preference point or higher should draw their combo license without any problem. With the Montana preference point system you have to apply at least every other year or your accumulated preference points be forfeited. With this system still being new it will be a few years before we see applicants with more than two points; however, point creep is going to become a huge issue very fast. If you are not planning on hunting Montana this year, but wish too in the next two years, it would be very smart to buy a preference point for 2018 to stay ahead of this creep.

Find your nonresident deer big game combo draw odds here

Permit tags

I have deer points, and I'd like to burn them on whitetail hunts. What can I expect?

Really, there isn’t much of a strategy when it comes to points for whitetail in Montana. The two hunt districts (HD 290 and HD 455) available to draw boast great statistics but still offer little more than some of the better general districts. Since Montana does not differentiate points between whitetail and mule deer permits you would be better off to build your points towards a premium mule deer permit.

Find your resident whitetail deer draw odds here

Find your nonresident whitetail deer draw odds here

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