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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2020: Montana Deer

2020 Montana application strategy

Montana's 2020 deer application overview

Jump to: NEW FOR 2020 State Info. Draw System Mule Deer Breakdown Whitetail Deer Breakdown

The application deadline for Montana deer and elk permits and nonresident big game combos is April 1, 2020 by 11:59 pm MST. The application process is completely online here or in any Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (Montana FWP) office.

Note: We are publishing this application strategy article ahead of the nonresident application packet publish date. We wanted to give INSIDERs a jump start on their application strategy for Montana. Once the nonresident application packet has been published, we can jump back in here and call out anything new as needed. The nonresident packet still isn't available, but the 2020 regulations have recently been published. You can check them out here.

March 1 Update: The 2020 nonresident general combination worksheet can now be found here. And the nonresident deer and elk permit worksheet can be found here. The resident worksheet for deer and elk permits can be found here.


New for 2020

New draw deadline

The draw deadline for deer and elk has been moved back by an additional two weeks to April 1, 2020. Read more here.

No more mail-in applications

Mail-in applications will no longer be accepted in 2020. All applications will now need to be completed online or in-person at any Montana FWP office.

New tag system

Hunters will now be able to print off any tags or permits at home using traditional printing paper. Additionally, items other than carcass tags (hunting licenses) can be carried in electronic form on a mobile device.

Quicker draw results

Because the application process has been moved to online-only, draw results will now be available within two weeks of each respective deadline.


Proposed 2020 deer changes

For 2020, Montana FWP had proposed a large number of changes which are now finalized for the 2020 regs and published. Most of these are focused around unit boundary changes and adjusting quota ranges for antlerless tags.

Some of the more notable changes for deer include:

  • HD 262: Add a 262-52 mule deer permit for youth ages 12 to 15. Quota 10 (range 1 to 25). Remove the 262-03 deer B license. 
  • HD 270: Add a 270-51 buck permit. Quota 15 (range 1 to 50). Special opportunity. Antlers must be 3 points or fewer on one side (not including eye guard). Mandatory check required.

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 Deer 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

Important dates and information

  • Applications for deer must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. MST on April 1.
  • Applications can be submitted online here after March 1, 2020.
  • An 80% refund can be requested on nonresident licenses if requested by Aug. 1, 2020.
  • A 50% refund can be requested on nonresident licenses if requested after Aug. 1, 2020.
  • Draw results will be available by April 20, 2020.
  • Surplus licenses are available for purchase in early August.
  • 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.

Montana deer hunter numbers since 2010 - 2010 app strategy

Cost to apply

Residents

The cost to apply for limited entry deer as a resident of Montana

Item Cost
Conservation license $8
General deer license $16
Deer permit application fee
(nonrefundable)
$5
Bonus point fee $2
Total $31

Nonresidents

When submitting their initial applications, nonresidents will have a few options. First, they must apply for their choice of nonresident combination licenses as a prerequisite. All of the nonresident combination licenses include an upland game bird license, fishing license and bow and arrow license as well as the base hunting and conservation license. Successfully drawing any of the combination licenses will give successful applicants access to the statewide general tag.

The cost to apply for nonresident combination licenses in Montana

Item Cost
Big Game Combination (deer and elk license) $1,065
Elk Combination (elk license only) $905
Deer Combination (deer license only) $639
Bonus point cost $20

While applying for their combination license, nonresidents will also be able to apply for limited entry permits if desired.


Predators in Montana

The predator populations in Montana are often the subject of spirited debates with strong feelings on both sides of the spectrums. Wolf packs continue to maintain healthy population levels and have firmly rooted themselves into most of the western portion of the state. Deer populations are down throughout the state compared to historic levels, but great hunting can still be found.

Predators in Montana 2020

Source: Montana Field Guide

Grizzly populations continue to climb along with bear and hunter interactions. As of now, hunting seasons across the West are still on hold for grizzly bears. Much of western Montana is home to a roaming population of grizzlies and hunters need to be acutely aware and prepared when spending time in these locations.

Even with growing grizzly concerns, hunters can still find plenty of huntable areas where they won’t have to worry about grizzlies. When researching specific areas, a quick call to local biologists can be well warranted.

Current weather/snowpack

2020

Montana current snowpack 2020

2020 Montana snow water equivalent update as of February 26, 2020. Source: National Resources Conservation Service

Overall, this past winter in Montana has been fairly normal in terms of snowfall. Things are looking great for a good spring and fawn recruitment should be good. Montana is often prone to late spring snowstorms although nothing too serious is predicted at this time.

2019

Montana snow water equivalent as of February 2019

2019 Montana snow water equivalent update as of February 17, 2019. Source: National Resources Conservation Service

The Montana draw system

Before delving into the trending hunt districts for Montana deer in 2020, it is first important for hopeful applicants to fully understand the Montana draw system, which can, at times, be very complicated. For the main limited entry permit draws, Montana employs a random lottery that is weighted by bonus points. Additionally, bonus points are squared at every point level. This system heavily favors those with the most points; however, every applicant at every point level has a chance of drawing a tag every year. The bottom line: you’ll never draw if you never apply.

If you are not drawn for your deer, elk or big game combo for the 2020 season, then keep a close eye on leftover or returned licenses, which generally occur in early May. We will cover the license availability as the year progresses.

Montana nonresident big game combo licenses explained

The prerequisite for all nonresidents in Montana will be the big game, elk or deer combination license.

  • Elk combination license: Elk, conservation license, state lands, upland bird (excluding turkey), base hunting, AISPP and season fishing license.
  • Deer combination license: Deer, conservation, state lands, upland bird (excluding turkey), base hunting, AISPP and season fishing license.
  • Big game combination license: Deer, elk, conservation license, state lands, upland bird (excluding turkey), base hunting, AISPP and season fishing license.

The combination licenses essentially act as a general tag for Montana and must be drawn. Unlike limited entry permits, the combination licenses are distributed through a preference point system where 75% of the tags are reserved for the highest point holders. The remaining 25% of the tags are then put into a random draw with the remaining applicants. The first few years of this system saw 100% draw odds and even leftover tags. Over the last few years, the combination licenses were drawn out in the initial draw, leaving hopeful hunters hanging by a thread and waiting for someone to turn a tag back in. With applicant numbers on the rise, the odds of even securing a leftover tag is becoming a questionable proposition. 

Nonresident combo tag draw odds

Big game combo

3 points 2 points 1 point 0 points
100% 100% 77% 55%

Elk combo

3 points 2 points 1 point 0 points
100% 100% 75% 57%

Deer combo

3 points 2 points 1 point 0 points
100% 100% 100% 43%

Limited entry permits

Beyond the general tags and nonresident combinations, hunters can apply for limited entry permits. Successfully drawing a limited entry permit does not grant a second animal, but does augment the general tag to include new areas for hunters. These limited entry districts generally carry higher success rates and more mature animals, but this is not always the case. MFWP also uses some limited entry districts as population control tools where they offer unlimited permits in hopes that the area will see a higher harvest for the year. Out of all of the limited entry districts for deer and elk, less than half actually offer better odds at trophy animals than some of the better general hunts.

Nonresident tag allocation

Montana grants nonresidents up to 10% of a district’s tag quota; however, the 10% is not guaranteed. Some years, the nonresident applicant pool will fill the entire 10% cap and other years it can be significantly less.

Party applications

In addition to individual applications, hunters can also apply for deer and elk permits as a party. The maximum party size is five. When processing a party permit, the state will consider the average number of points between all of the party members and then round to the nearest whole number for a final party permit total. For example, a party with an average of 2.33 points would enter the draw at two points while a party with 2.66 points would enter at three.

When used correctly, party applications can be very beneficial. Residents and nonresidents can apply jointly, but the party will be forced into the 10% pool for available permits.

Points only option

If applicants are simply looking to build points for the current year—both preference and bonus— they can skip the expensive application prerequisites. Bonus points can be purchased between July 1 and Sept. 30 for $15 per species for residents and $25 for nonresidents. Moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat points can be purchased at the same time for $75 per species. Additionally, nonresidents can purchase combination license preference points during the same time frame for $50. You cannot apply for a permit or combination license and purchase a separate point in the same year. Only one point per species can be accumulated per year.

Preference point tip

Montana offers applicants a unique opportunity to purchase preference points prior to the draw deadline for use in the current year application on nonresident combo licenses. Essentially, if anyone is willing to front the extra $50 they can apply with at least one preference point every year.


Montana's 2020 mule deer breakdown

Mule deer populations in Montana could really be best described as “just hanging on.” Populations and densities continue to drop in the western portion of the state while those in the central and eastern parts are doing fairly well. Populations are certainly not where they were in prior years, but hunters are still locating mature deer and some fantastic bucks were taken in 2019.

MONTANA STATEWIDE MULE DEER HERD POPULATION ESTIMATES (2010-2019)

Percentage of mule deer bucks 4 points or more harvested in Montana since 2010 - 2020 app strategy

Current mule deer herd condition

Montana current deer population

Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

MONTANA STATEWIDE MULE DEER HERD POPULATION ESTIMATES (2010-2019)

Trophy potential is not great in Montana; however, hunters do occasionally stumble into some large deer. In general, bucks exceeding the 160” Boone & Crockett (B&C) mark are among the top tier deer for any given unit with the average bucks falling around 140” to 150”. Some of the units in the eastern portion of the state have been known for producing bucks over 180” and hunters will need to work extremely hard or secure private access for these. Some of the more prolific limited entry units have been routinely producing bucks well above the B&C minimum; however, hunters will face incredibly steep odds in securing a tag. 

As stated, private lands throughout the state — particularly those in the east — will provide the best opportunity at trophy-class bucks. Fortunately, there is so much public land available in the state that hunters can really find good bucks anywhere with enough work and boot leather. 

Montana mule deer regions

Montana mule deer bucks taken by Region 2018

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

A quick note about Montana deer success rates

When reporting on data for harvest surveys Montana FWP provides only the number of deer hunters; it does not differentiate between mule deer hunters and whitetail hunters. Because of this, showing accurate harvest success rates by individual deer species is impossible without it being largely skewed.

Montana mule deer populations by region

Region

Population

Notes

1 6,277 Region 1, in particular, has been really struggling in recent years. Predation continues to be a large issue here and that, coupled with the heavy vegetation and extreme terrain, leads to some very tough hunting conditions. Some exceptional bucks have been taken here over the years; however, hunters should expect a hunt with very few deer sightings and low odds of success.
2 11,530 Region 2 is still providing some good hunting opportunities for mule deer although the densities and average age of bucks are low. Two of the best hunt districts in the state (261 and 270) are found here, but the hunting conditions there are vastly different than what is found in surrounding units. Hunters can expect to see a decent amount of deer here; however, targeting mature bucks could lead to several seasons worth of eaten tags.
3 42,836 Region 3 is a great option to consider for your next deer hunt. Bigger bucks can still be found with more consistency in other portions of the state but basing a combo hunt for elk in this area can make for a great trip. During periods of heavy snow, some great migrations will occur in this area and hunting near the dates of the rut can be an exciting endeavor.
4 60,452 Region 4 features a wide array of terrain from wide-open sage flats to rugged mountains. Additionally, portions of the famous Missouri River Breaks are located within the region. Large private ranches are more prevalent here and continually produce some incredible deer. Escaping pressure can be slightly more difficult here; however, unconventional tactics can put hunters in some great and mostly untouched areas. This would be an excellent unit to consider for your deer hunt.
5 37,184 Region 5 produces good numbers of deer although most of the larger bucks will be taken on private lands. The southern end of the region features a greater distribution of public land that can also become very rugged. Game densities are generally lower in the rugged country, but some great bucks have been taken in these areas.
6 47,526 Region 6 is an area that will see large amounts of hunters heading into the famous Missouri River Breaks though some incredible hunting can also be found in the surrounding districts. Private lands dominate much of this area though sections of BLM land can provide hunters with great opportunities to escape the crowds and search for pockets of unpressured deer. The terrain here is mostly comprised of rolling hills with pockets of heavy timber and sage-covered coulees. Glassing is king in this country and optics will play a pivotal role in success for anyone hunting here.
7 91,136 One of the most popular regions for mule deer as it possesses the highest population of deer, this area will experience lots of pressure from other hunters. Pay close attention to sections of public land within the sea of private ranches; this can provide hunters with great opportunities to find mature deer. For hunters only looking to pursue deer, this would be an excellent option.

The hunt choices

General season

The general season units are where the vast majority of hunters will find themselves year after year. The biggest bucks are routinely taken on limited entry hunts, but hunters can find some great hunting in the general areas. Trophy potentials will generally be lower; however, those who invest the time into research and hunting will find good repeatable success in a slew of units across the state.

General season hunts are available as over-the-counter (OTC) for residents, but must be drawn by nonresidents through the deer combination or big game combination license. Different parts of the state will require different tactics and those who are flexible in their approach can find plenty of lightly pressured animals away from the crowds. With the wide array of terrain types offered in the states, hunters should have little trouble in putting together a hunt to meet all of their needs.

Draw odds and patterns seemed to have leveled some in Montana and, for 2020, hunters with two or more preference points should still be able to pull a tag without issue. The random odds at one preference point should still be good, but could see a slight dip.

goHUNT hitlist for general units in Montana
(not in order of quality)

Hunt District Trophy potential Bucks harvested 4 point or better % Public land %
705 170”+ 2556 73% 30.3%
704 170”+ 2313 77% 30.5%
700 160”+ 1636 65% 36.1%
410 170”+ 693 62% 47.1%
447 160”+ 624 65% 21.1%
426 160”+ 570 72% 20.7%
650 160”+ 479 70% 21.6%
417 160”+ 440 63% 37.5%
680 160”+ 413 70% 39.6%
621 160”+ 360 60% 77.6%

Many of the above listed units are found on the eastern half of the state and also include a much healthier distribution of private lands than those found to the west. However, it is important to keep in mind that the sheer size of most of these units can double or even triple other units in the state and there are still thousands of acres of public land to be hunted. Land ownership tends to be very checkerboarded in these areas and knowing the public/private boundaries will be pivotal.

The above list is also more geared towards a hunter who is purely heading to Montana to hunt deer. Keep in mind that if doing a combo hunt for elk you may be looking into different areas. Units in Region 3 will generally provide the best option for combo hunts. 

Limited entry permits

Like many other western states, the biggest bucks in Montana are often the product of a limited entry hunt. It is important to realize, though, that not all limited entry hunts will equate to better deer hunting. Some are used in areas where hunter numbers need to be controlled due to low deer numbers and others could be used where Montana FWP wants to reduce deer numbers.

In general, when targeting the largest bucks in the state, only a handful of units will truly offer hunters a unique hunting opportunity. This small selection of quality units forces long-time applicants into the same hunts year after year. Without a true preference point system for permits you are playing the odds game every year — no matter your point level. 

All things considered, applying for permits is cheap if you are already planning on hunting with the general tag so throwing your name in the hat is a no-brainer.

goHUNT hitlist for limited entry hunts in Montana
(not in order of quality)

Hunt District Trophy potential Bucks harvested 4 point or better % Public land %
261 180”+ 12 83% 60%
262 180”+ 24 79% 1.6%
270 180”+ 49 94% 84.6%
291 170”+ 33 85% 20.2%
300 170”+ 61 79% 73.5%
202 160”+ 85 68% 94.4%
250 160”+ 10 100% 97.3%
441 160”+ 64 70% 38.7%
530 160”+ 321 74% 18.1%
652 160”+ 65 92% 61.1%

HD261 and 262: Both of these units are currently among the most popular for big bucks in the state right now. Bucks eclipsing the 190” mark have been common for the last several years with a decent handful approaching the 200” line. HD261 is comprised of more public land than 262 but nearly all of the big deer will be killed on private lands. Beyond drawing the tag, the biggest hurdle in this hunt is simply gaining permission to hunt a piece of land that is holding a big buck. Hunters interested in trophy deer will enjoy this hunt; those who are also after the adventure will not.

HD270: Still one of the most popular hunts in the state, HD270 has long been known for producing some incredible deer. Trophy size has been down in the past few years, but hunters can still expect realistic shots at bucks above the 180” mark. The area is comprised of a healthy mixture of private and public lands with good bucks found on both. Anyone who draws this permit will be in for an incredible hunt. There is a new permit for HD270 for this season that will limit hunters to bucks with 3 points or less. There is a large 3 point gene currently existing here, along with some giant 2 point bucks. 

HD291: HD291 has been a somewhat undercover big buck unit for a number of years. Trophy potential is decent, but some incredible deer have been taken on private ranches in recent years. Hunters will find a small distribution of public lands although these areas do carry a lot of deer and some good bucks.

HD300: This is an excellent unit to consider for those who still want a big adventure hunt. During periods of heavy snow, this unit will see a good migration of deer from the Idaho side of the border. Glassing opportunities are ample and, during the rut, this can be an incredible hunt. The average buck will land around 170”; however, with the right conditions, some staggering deer have been killed.

HD202: This unit is found in western Montana along the Idaho border. Some good deer can be taken within close proximity of roads, but this unit is largely rugged country and hunters will need to work hard for a mature buck. Locating bucks in the 150” to 160” range is doable with some hard work and the possibility of locating something over 180” is there for those willing to put in the time. This area has low deer densities although they tend to congregate during periods of heavy snow.

HD250: This unit has been on a downward trend in terms of deer size in recent years, but can still provide a good hunt. Some good resident deer can be found here; however, hunters are largely relying on heavy snows to push deer out of the Idaho backcountry and into the unit. The country can be thick and rugged. Bucks in the 150” to 160” range are the norm; however, deer much bigger than that have been killed.

HD441: This unit is found along the famed Rocky Mountain Front. Hunters will find exceptional videos with good hunting opportunities. Public land distribution is fairly low in this area, but good bucks can be found. Additionally, those with the tag can hunt the 6,500 acre Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch. 

HD530: A low amount of public land is found within this unit, but those willing to put in the work and watch boundary lines can find some exceptional deer. The biggest bucks will come off large ranches and hunting close to the rut will see deer traveling great distance every day. Focusing on areas between ranches can pay off big time.

HD652: This small district is located along the the eastern edge of Fort Peck Lake. Excellent deer habitat is found here along with good genetics. With the smaller size of this unit you will bump into other hunters; however, the deep coulees leading off the lake can provide a lot of security for mature bucks. Hunting the last few weeks of the season during the rut will provide the best opportunities for mature bucks.


How to find hidden gem mule deer areas in Montana

With so many units available in Montana the question of where to begin can be an intimidating area to start. With the wide array of terrain features available in the state, hunters can really choose a hunt that best fits their desires. Typically, those heading to the Treasure State specifically for deer will find far better opportunities in the eastern half of the state. However, hunters who are looking to make a combo hunt for deer and elk — particularly with the emphasis on elk — will find better options in the western half of the state. The most important factor to first consider will be your goals for the hunt.

Hunters shouldn’t expect a crazy high trophy potential in any unit in Montana — with the exception of some limited-entry permits — but with some research bucks in the 150”+ range are plenty doable.

Use our Filtering 2.0 tool to search historical data and find a hunt that is right for you. Utilize the trophy potential slider, public land filter and bucks harvested to really filter down the options. Keep in mind that the eastern half of the state is comprised of huge parcels of private lands. Some public land pieces in these areas can be completely landlocked and otherwise unavailable to hunters. Using land ownership maps can be a great way to find small access points into areas that other hunters may glaze over simply because access is difficult.

Montana mule deer harvest % by residency in Montana since 2010 - 2020 app strategy


B&C entry trends for Montana mule 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 mule deer

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Ravalli 7 General HDs:
240
Limited entry HDs:
204, 240, 250, 261, 270
Pondera 3 General HDs:
400, 404, 406, 441
Limited entry HDs:
441
Rosebud 2 General HDs:
701, 702, 704
Cascade 1 General HDs:
404, 405, 413, 421, 432, 444, 445, 447
Dawson 1 General HDs:
651, 703
Sheridan 1 General HDs:
640, 641
Toole 1 General HDs:
400, 401, 403, 406

Map of Montana's typical mule deer B&C all time entries 2020

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

County No. of
entries
Hunt Districts found within county
Lake 1 General HDs:
120130132
Limited entry HDs:
130
Park 1 General HDs:
301, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 393, 560, 580
Powder 1 General HDs:
704, 705
Sheridan 1 General HDs:
640, 641

Map of Montana's nontypical mule deer B&C all time entries 2020


Managing points and expectations

Maximum bonus points for deer: 16

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 separately after July 1 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!

Montana resident deer bonus points after the 2019 draw

Montana nonresident deer bonus points after the 2019 draw

MONTANA DEER POINTS AFTER THE 2019 DRAW

I have 0 preference points. What can I expect?

Last year, applicants in the zero point preference pool saw about a 50/50 shot of pulling a combo license. 2020 will likely be more of the same although it would not be surprising to see a slight dip. One caveat to the Montana preference point system is that hopeful applicants can actually purchase a preference point going into the draw. Effectively, anyone could put in at least one point every year. The cost for this point is $50, which is a small percentage of the total bill, and well worth the extra cost if you are planning to hunt the state.

Find your nonresident deer combo draw odds here

Find your nonresident big game combo draw odds here

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

Last year, applicants at the one point level saw odds in the 75% range on combo hunts while those at the two point level and up were at 100%. Again, this trend will likely stay the same for 2020, but we could begin to see the random odds trickling into the two point level as well.

Find your nonresident deer combo draw odds with 1 point here

Find your nonresident big game combo draw odds with 1 point here

Permit deer tags

Montana is a state that is managed for opportunity and, because of this, does not have the number of top quality districts found in surrounding states. Good hunt districts are available across the state with five to six points or under, but the top-tier districts will require maximum points and, even then, the odds will rarely eclipse 5% — even for residents.

Find your draw odds

I have 0 deer 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!

There are a few unlimited districts that could be worth considering at this point, but, at zero points, hunters will generally find their best opportunities on the general units. In general, if you have a desired top-tier district you’d like to hunt, then your best bet is to say a prayer and throw your name in the hat. 

Find your resident deer permit draw odds with 0 points here

Find your nonresident deer permit draw odds with 0 points here

What can I do with 3 or 8 deer bonus points?

Hunters in this point range do have a few more options although these will still be highly limited. 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 units where the trophy potentials will be slightly higher than what can be found in the general units. 

Find your resident deer permit draw odds with 6 points here

Find your nonresident deer permit draw odds with 6 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 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.

Applicants at this point level will generally be gunning for HD261 and 270. For a slightly better chance, HD250 and 300 can also provide good opportunities for mature bucks, albeit slightly smaller in size. 

Find your resident deer permit draw odds with 10 points here

Find your nonresident deer permit draw odds with 10 points here


Montana's 2020 whitetail deer breakdown

Throughout the state, whitetail populations are still doing great and quality bucks are being taken in each region. The western half of the state still produces the most bucks harvested, but some of the central and eastern portions of the state have been kicking out some giant bucks recently.

MONTANA STATEWIDE WHITETAIL HARVEST (2004-2018)

Percentage of whitetail deer bucks 4 points or more harvested in Montana since 2010 - 2020

2019 current whitetail deer herd condition

Montana whitetail population

Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Trophy potential for most of the state is good with the opportunities for bucks over 140” B&C being good in most units. Most hunters will generally harvest bucks around the 130” mark, but those specifically targeting larger deer have been killing some giants in recent years.

Private lands will generally provide the best opportunity for mature bucks; however, with the sheer amount of public lands in the state, the opportunity can be had anywhere. 

 

Montana whitetail regions

Montana whitetail deer bucks taken by Region 2018

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

Montana whitetail deer populations by region

Region Population Notes
1 67887 By far, the most whitetails found in the state are in Region 1. Vegetation and ground cover is generally very heavy here and hunting deer in the timber can be tough, but exciting. Private lands will generally hold the best bucks; however, some incredible deer have been taken on public.
2 36453 Along with Region 1, Region 2 provides some exceptional whitetail habitat with slightly more glassing opportunities. Private lands — particularly those in the Bitterroot Valley — hold huge populations of deer and good bucks. The mountain country surrounding the valleys is well known for producing heavy-antlered and very mature bucks.
3 20387 Region 3 is more widely known among mule deer hunters; however, the private lowlands provide great feed and sanctuary areas for whitetail. Private lands will provide the best opportunities for hunters, but don't overlook the foothill areas with public access.
4 28743 A good deal of prairie land and private ranches make up the larger portion of Region 4. Hunters will need to secure private access for the best odds of success and for the best odds of mature deer.
5 13160 Much like the other regions, private lands in the river bottoms will provide the best options for pursuing mature bucks. Small sections of public land can be found in and around these areas and can be good options for hunters to consider.
6 10846 The smallest population of whitetail is found in Region 6. Whitetails tend to hang around agricultural areas on private lands.
7 14827 Like Region 6, a small population of whitetails are found in Region 7 with most of them sticking close to agricultural and CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) fields. Brushy creek bottoms can be great places to keep an eye on.

A quick note on Montana deer success rates

When reporting on data for harvest surveys MFWP provides only the number of deer hunters; it does not differentiate between mule deer hunters and whitetail hunters. Because of this, showing accurate harvest success rates by individual deer species is impossible without it being largely skewed.

Copy: Montana whitetail harvest % by residency in Montana since 2010


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
Powder River 1 704, 705

Map of Montana's typical whitetail deer B&C all time entries 2020

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
Treasure 1 701, 702

Map of Montana's nontypical whitetail deer B&C all time entries 2020

How to find hidden gem whitetail deer units in Montana

With so many units available in Montana the question of where to begin can be an intimidating area to start. With the wide array of terrain features available in the state, hunters can really choose a hunt that best fits their desires. Great hunting for whitetail can be found statewide with the best opportunities found on private lands. Hunters who are looking to make a combo hunt for deer and elk — particularly with the emphasis on elk — will find better options in the western half of the state. The most important factor to first consider will be your goals for the hunt. 

Use our Filtering 2.0 tool to search historical data and find a hunt that is right for you. Utilize the trophy potential slider, public land filter and bucks harvested to really filter down the options. Keep in mind that the eastern half of the state is comprised of huge parcels of private lands. Some public land pieces in these areas can be completely landlocked and otherwise unavailable to hunters. Using land ownership maps can be a great way to find small access points into areas that other hunters may glaze over simply because access is difficult. 


The hunt choices

General season

The general units make up 98% of the opportunity in the state for whitetail deer. There really are only three options for whitetail buck permits in the state and these will usually not provide much more for opportunity than what can be found in the general units.

General season hunts are available as OTC for residents, but must be drawn by nonresidents through the deer combination or big game combination license. Different parts of the state will require different tactics and those who are flexible in their approach can find plenty of lightly pressured animals away from the crowds. With the wide array of terrain types offered in the state, hunters should have little trouble in putting together a hunt to meet all of their needs.

Draw odds and patterns seemed to have leveled some in Montana and, for 2020, hunters with two or more preference points should still be able to pull a tag without issue. The random odds at one preference point should still be good, but could see a slight dip.

goHUNT hitlist for general units in Montana
(not in order of quality)

Hunt District Trophy potential Bucks harvested 4 point or better % Public land %
121 140”+ 649 55% 82.6%
102 140”+ 630 60% 63.5%
411 140”+ 581 82% 19.7%
170 150”+ 565 58% 7%
130 140”+ 453 60% 89.8%
311 140”+ 389 81% 29.1%
312 140”+ 334 75% 23.3%
104 140”+ 323 58% 77.2%
600 140”+ 286 80% 20.1%
670 140”+ 219 90% 44.8%

As you can see from the above list, good units can be found across most of the state. Great whitetail hunting can really be found anywhere — particularly with some private access options into agricultural areas. The above list is also more geared towards a hunter who is purely heading to Montana to hunt deer. Keep in mind that if doing a combo hunt for elk you may be looking into different areas. Units in Region 3 will generally provide the best option for combo hunts.

Permit Hunts

As stated earlier, there are only three options for whitetail buck permits in Montana. Two of these are archery only and are actually considered as B licenses, meaning they act as a second deer tag. Successfully drawing one of these would allow hunters to harvest two bucks in a calendar year!


Managing points and expectations

Maximum bonus points for deer: 16

I have 0 preference points. What can I expect?

Last year, applicants in the zero point preference pool saw about a 50/50 shot of pulling a combo license. 2020 will likely be more of the same although it would not be surprising to see a slight dip. One caveat to the Montana preference point system is that hopeful applicants can actually purchase a preference point going into the draw. Effectively, anyone could put in with at least one point every year. The cost for this point is $50, which is a small percentage of the total bill and well worth the extra cost if you are planning to hunt the state.

Find your nonresident deer combo draw odds here with 0 points

Find your nonresident big game combo draw odds here with 0 points

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

Last year, applicants at the one point level saw odds in the 75% range on combo hunts while those at the two point level and up were at 100%. Again, this trend will likely stay the same for 2020, but we could begin to see the random odds trickling into the two point level as well. 

Find your nonresident deer combo draw odds here with 1 points

Find your nonresident big game combo draw odds here with 1 point

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 three hunt districts (HD260, 290 and 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 permit draw odds here

Find your nonresident whitetail deer permit draw odds here

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