APPLICATION STRATEGY 2018: Montana Elk
Montana's 2018 elk application overview
When it comes to western elk hunting most hunters’ thoughts wander off to the notorious big bull states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah or Nevada. But what about Montana? Anyone can hunt Montana nearly every year, have access to millions of acres of public land, and can hunt nearly statewide on a general tag. Additionally, Montana is second only to Arizona for producing nontypical bulls over 400” Boone & Crockett (B&C) and tied for second when it comes to typicals! Most hunt districts in the state will afford opportunities at bulls at or near the 300” mark and even the slight chance to tag the bull of a lifetime. Bottom line: if Montana isn’t on your application list it absolutely should be!
Note: The application deadline for Montana elk 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 elk in 2018
Great trophy potential
While they aren’t hiding behind every tree, bulls at or above the 300” aren’t necessarily uncommon and nearly every hunt district can produce bulls of this caliber.
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.
Options, options, options
Of the 164 available hunting districts for Montana elk, 130 can be hunted on the general tag. Even if you don't find luck in the drawings you can still have an excellent hunt.
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 extended season for an additional six weeks!
New for 2018
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.
Bonus/preference only period
In July of 2017, Montana made a change to their bonus/preference point system. You can now purchase points from July 1 to September 30. You can read more information here on that change.
New MyFWP portal accounts
There is a new portal account to keep track of your application history. The new MyFWP portal contains enhanced security measures to ensure user information is better protected. You can read more here.
Online only applications by year 2020
Montana is moving to an online-only application process by the license year 2020.
There are a bunch of proposed changes for 2018. To keep down the clutter, please refer to the Montana elk master list using the button below to see the proposed 2018 changes.
New for goHUNT
For 2018, goHUNT has added Draw Odds for all female species. In Montana, there are many opportunities for elk 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 elk draw odds
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 Elk Profile to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.
2018 season dates
Start and end date
|Archery||Sept. 1 to Oct. 14|
|Two-Day Youth Hunt|
|Oct. 18 to 19|
|General||Oct. 20 to Nov. 25|
|Shoulder season (elk)||Aug. 15 to Feb. 15|
|Archery||Sept. 1 to Sep. 14|
|General||Sept. 15 to Nov. 25|
Important dates and information
- Applications for elk 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 and bonus points are available for purchase for nonresidents who did not apply in the general drawing between July 1 and Sept. 30 for a fee. See more information here.
- If you're applying for an elk 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 recruitment for the spring.
2017-2018 wolf season
Method of take
|Archery and rifle||146|
Growing grizzly concerns
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.
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 an elk 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. At this time, CWD has not been found in any of Montana’s elk herds.
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.
If you are not drawn for your deer, elk, or big game combo for the 2018 season, then keep a close eye on leftover or returned license, which occurs, generally, in early May. We will cover the license availability as the year progresses. For more information you can also visit this previous article.
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 elk breakdown
As mentioned before, Montana is a little bit of a sleeper state when it comes to elk hunting. Not only can it produce some giant bulls, but the state also offers a ton of opportunity for anyone looking to fill an elk tag. Elk hunters of all backgrounds will be excited to find a plethora of terrain to hunt in, ranging from the steep and hellaciously thick northwest corner of the state to the famous Missouri River Breaks in the eastern portion. Montana offers no shortage of scenery and elk for anyone willing to hike.
Current 2018 elk herd condition
The elk of Montana are doing very well and have been on an upward trend for population growth for the past few years. Last year’s extreme winter did not claim nearly as many animals as previously predicted and a wet spring provided excellent moisture. With most SNOTEL (snowpack telemetry) sites from around the state averaging about 30% higher than last year, we are expecting another wet spring and again, excellent feed and antler growth. In this recent article, it was actually reported by MFWP that the Yellowstone elk herd—most notably affected by the wolf reintroduction—is up over 40% from last year’s count!
Currently, about two-thirds of the hunting districts are above population objectives as set by MFWP. The above map does a great job of illustrating where the state’s healthiest herds reside, but, when looking at the lower map, you can really see where some of the hot spots are!
To see a region by region population breakdown of Montana elk with graphics, visit our Species Profile for Montana elk below.
The 2018 goHUNT hit list hunt districts for Montana elk
When it comes to hunting in Montana, the general hunts really are the cream of the crop! When applying for limited entry hunts, the odds will also be stacked against you, especially as a nonresident hunter. Instead of hunting once every ten years when you finally pull your preferred tag, why not cash in on Montana’s general hunt districts almost every year? Continue to build points, gain valuable knowledge, and have a heck of a lot of fun in the meantime!
When looking for a good general season hunt district for elk, 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 elk and great options for accessing public lands.
Top Hunt Districts to consider for 320” or better bulls on general hunts
|% 6pt or|
While many great bulls get taken in the general hunt districts every year, it is no secret that the state’s biggest bulls are more consistently taken in the limited entry districts. Most notably being the new world record archery typical bull scoring an impressive 430 0/8” that was taken in the 2016 season. Drawing a special permit certainly won’t guarantee the bull of a lifetime, but these districts generally do see higher bull:cow ratios and a higher likelihood of finding more bulls and an older age class.
Top Hunt Districts to consider for 340” or better elk on limited entry hunts
|% 6pt or|
Side note on success rates
One important factor to keep in mind when reviewing success rates for limited entry tags is that most, if not all, of these districts have some form of general hunt that occurs during the period of a season. The general hunts usually consist of shoulder hunts where cows are targeted. Because of this, hunter numbers and success rates are greatly skewed.
How to uncover hidden gem hunt districts for elk
While the state's biggest bulls are found in the top shelf draw districts many hunters can find great success and trophy bulls in some of the general districts year after year while they accumulate points. Utilize our Filtering 2.0 tools and manipulate the Trophy Potential to display the districts that have a legitimate chance at bulls that score 320” or better. 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 Montana Elk 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 bulls.
The 900 series elk tag
A unique tag for archery hunters to consider is the 900-20 permit. This permit, only good for the archery elk season, is usable in the following hunting districts: 401, 403, 411, 412, 426, 447, 450, 500, 502, 510, 511, 520, 530, 570, 575, 580, 590, 701, 702, and 704. While not every single one of these districts will produce a trophy quality bull, most will offer opportunities at bulls at or above the 300” mark. In previous years, many hunters could grab this permit on their second choice though this has since changed and will more than likely need to be drawn as first choice. Residents can still draw this with 100% odds on zero points though this will likely change in the next few years.
About success rates
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 6 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. If you find a hunt district that you like don’t let a lack of success percentages drive you away.
Five year B&C entry trends for Montana elk
Montana's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for typical elk
|Hunt Districts found within county|
|Gallatin||6||301, 309, 310, 311, 312, 314, 333, 361, 362, 390, 393|
|Fergus||5||410, 411, 412, 417, 418, 419, 426, 511, 530|
|Lewis & Clark||5||150, 280, 281, 284, 293, 335, 339, 343, 380, 388,|
392, 421, 422, 423, 424, 425, 442, 444, 445, 455
|Park||5||301, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 393, 560, 580|
|Powder River||4||704, 705|
|Jefferson||3||311, 318, 333, 335, 340, 350, 370, 380|
Montana's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for nontypical elk
|Hunt Districts found within county|
|Fergus||2||410, 411, 412, 417, 418, 419, 426, 511, 530|
|Powder River||2||704, 705|
|Jefferson||1||311, 318, 333, 335, 340, 350, 370, 380|
|Blaine||1||600, 611, 621, 680, 690|
|Teton||1||404, 406, 441, 442, 444, 450|
|Hill||1||400, 600, 690|
|Lewis & Clark||1||150, 280, 281, 284, 293, 335, 339, 343, 380, 388,|
392, 421, 422, 423, 424, 425, 442, 444, 445, 455
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 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 anytime from July 1 through Sept. 30 for a fee. See the bonus point fees on the Montana State Profile here. The maximum amount of bonus points going into the 2018 draw is 14.
Managing points and expectations
General elk tag in Montana
While not drawing your dream tag is never a fun reality to face, the fact of the matter is that if you’re still left holding a general tag in Montana you’re still in for a treat. Nearly all of the general districts found in the state can provide opportunities at bulls at or above the 300” B&C mark. While this is not a guarantee, it can certainly keep hunters coming back—or at least applying for their combo—year after year. While you continue to build points for your dream hunt, consider gaining some experience, exploring some new country, and seeing all that Montana has to offer.
I have 0 preference points. What can I expect?
With Montana nonresident combos finally selling out in the initial draw for 2018, it’s time for hunters to start considering the preference point system. Montana utilizes bonus points for permit drawings, but employs preference points for the nonresident combo tags (prerequisite for permits). Under the preference point system, people with preference points will draw the first 75% of the tags; once that is finished, the 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.
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. Point creep could become a huge issue very fast. If you are not planning on hunting Montana this year, but wish to in the next two years, it would be very smart to buy a preference point for 2018 to stay ahead of this creep.
Permit elk tags
With Montana utilizing a random draw, it is important to understand that possessing the maximum number of points will never guarantee a tag like other states that utilize preference points. This simple fact can steer a lot of hopeful applicants away, but with the low cost per point it doesn’t hurt to participate.
Montana is a state managed for opportunity and, because of this, does not have the amount of top quality districts as found in surrounding states. Good hunt districts are available across the state with four points or under, but the top tier districts will require maximum points and, even then, the odds will rarely eclipse 40%.
2018 max bonus points for elk: 14
I have 0 elk bonus points. What can I expect?
Before beginning your application strategy, it will be 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 preference point and bonus point and move on. If you do plan on hunting the general season regardless, then put in for your district of choice. Because it’s a lottery system, there is always a chance of drawing!
Many districts can be found in this state with an unlimited quota, which means that your odds of drawing are 100%; however, in drawing these you will not build any bonus points for the following year. These can be great to draw when you have zero points, but will ultimately waste any future points you may accrue if applied for at a later date. As a resident, consider hunting general districts as you build bonus points for some of the top shelf districts. If you are an archery hunter you may also consider the 900-20 elk permit, which carried a 100% draw odds on zero points last year. This is expected to change in the years to come. Along with the 900 series tag, the 620 series archery permit good for 620, 621, 622 can also be drawn to hunt the Missouri Breaks, which offers opportunities at great bulls.
As with the residents, many districts with an unlimited quota can drawn with 100% odds. The 900 series archery tag carries 30% odds for nonresidents with zero points and is not out of the question to draw. If you are saving points for top tier districts, then apply for these as normal and pray for luck in the random draw with a strong contingency of hunting general districts.
What can I do with 3 or 4 elk bonus points?
With three to four points both residents and nonresidents will see very few additional districts (compared to those with zero to two points). However, nonresidents will now see a few more districts available with 100% odds, which can be an attractive use of points. These will primarily consist of archery only seasons with most of the “good” rifle districts taking maximum points to draw.
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 excellent opportunities at bulls above the 300” mark. Archery hunters can now draw HD 632, which can provide opportunities at bulls reaching the 340” mark.
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. Archery hunters can now draw the 620 series archery permit good for 620, 621, 622 to hunt the north side of the Missouri Breaks, which can provide some excellent hunting with great trophy quality.
What can I expect with 10 or more elk bonus points?
At this point level, residents and nonresidents are nearing the maximum point capacity. Applying for anything other than 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.
If you’re after the best bulls in the state then you’ll want to be putting in for HDs 380, 680, or 690. These will provide opportunities at bulls above the 360” mark with several eclipsing the 400” mark every year. Odds will still be incredibly steep here, but you’re finally at the top of the heap and will have the best odds you’ll ever see.
Odds of drawing HD 380 (380-20) with maximum points:
As with the resident applicants, you will want to focus your efforts on HDs 380, 680, or 690. Odds will still be incredibly steep here, but you’re finally at the top of the heap and will have the best odds you’ll ever see.
Odds of drawing HD 380 (380-20) with maximum points: